From the Forum… Purple Line “will destroy the nature of campus life”

In the recent Purple line post reader Cornelius Davies writes..

As a graduate of the University of Maryland, I am upset to see the Purple Rail routed through the heart of the campus. It will destroy the nature of campus life. It will be ugly. It may be good for the developers but bad for the school. When you allow the rail to be built on campus you will loser my support as an alumni. It forever change the wonderful institution I have been so proud to call mine.
Many parts of the proposed Purple Rail route are poorly planned. The campus route is about the worst.
Maps showing it as a part of the Metro system are misleading. It is not. It is also misleading to refer to it as the Purple “Line”.  The university could well be served by light rail…. But not through the center of the campus.

As a response for RTCP Colin Phillips writes..


thanks for your message and your interest in rethinkcollegepark. The  blog welcomes lively debate on all issues that affect the future  development of College Park, and we can assure you that there is  ample difference of opinion on the best way forward. As you have  noticed, however, the blog does have a bit of an editorial bias  regarding the Purple Line and its routing through College Park.

I should mention a couple of relevant facts about the Purple Line (by the way, this is the name that the Maryland Dept of Transportation uses, and so that strikes us as a reasonable term to use.)

— In the College Park area there is overwhelming support for the line. At the public hearings in this area one does not encounter the hostility that on that issue that one finds in certain parts of Bethesda and Silver Spring (i.e., Columbia Country Club and Wayne
Avenue). The university’s higher administration, which shares your views on the campus drive routing, is very much a minority view here.

— The undergraduate and graduate student organizations have both expressed a clear preference for the Campus Drive alignment, so this is not going against the wishes of students. Students recognize the sound transportation planning that favors that routing (serves more people, serves key areas, allows integration of different transportation modes, removes thousands of cars per day from Campus Drive, etc.). It’s probably fair to say that there’s a diversity of views on the issue among faculty and administrators.

— Anybody who is concerned about the beauty of Campus Drive should drop by some time to check it out during a semester morning. Preferably not by car. It is a mess of cars and people. The light rail would undoubtedly reduce the vehicular traffic on that route. Also, MTA has made serious efforts to create a visually appealing design – check out their movie clips to see what they have in mind. Think Amsterdam or Portland, rather than having the Red Line run through the campus. If Campus Drive was one of the beauty spots on the campus, then you might expect it to show up in some of the university’s selection of images of campus. It does not. If one looks at what the University itself considers to be its visually appealing features, it’s clear that Campus Drive is not something that it is proud of currently.

— The MTA has studied every alternative offered by the university in good faith (some of the RTCP staff have been to countless meetings and discussions about this), and it consistently becomes clear that the university has not really thought through its alternatives carefully. The so-called Preinkert alignment that the university favors is fraught with problems that the university is unwilling to discuss. Unfortunately, the university’s shifting rationale for its objections has undermined its credibility. It tried safety considerations, but then advocated a proposal that was even worse on safety grounds. It tried aesthetic arguments, but is currently proposing an alternative that is even worse from that perspective. It’s now pushing arguments based on impact on its science activities. These are not groundless, but they’re not being presented in a fair manner, and at this point many are reluctant to take those arguments seriously.

— Your remarks about developers benefiting from this likely have no impact at all upon the routing through the university. The part of the routing that impacts the proposed private development on East Campus is agreed upon by all concerned, as the proposed private developments on the Adelphi end of Campus Drive are similarly compatible with both routings. The choice of routing through the campus will not impact private developers in any way, so this is not the issue that some are making it out to be in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

So we certainly welcome your opinion on this, but one should recognize that the position that is favored by most groups that have
studied this carefully is not something that was dreamt out of thin air.

I’m pasting in here another reply to your message, from councilman Bob Catlin of College Park, which you may not have received because of the way that our email list is configured.

Over the past year the only substantive reason the University now raises as to the route through the heart of campus has to do with the impact of electromagnetism and vibration on research equipment along that proposed route.
Bob Catlin


Colin Phillips

9 thoughts on “From the Forum… Purple Line “will destroy the nature of campus life””

  1. Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t the university research vibration dampening technologies for the section of track closest to the engineering buildings? Have students try to come up with the best possible technology. Or, simpler still, what if the trains run at a slow speed as to cause little vibration? The only thing I can think of that causes vibration is the joints in the rails as the wheels “fall” on to the next span of rail, or “hops up” on to the next span. If all the spans are made to be level, there should be little to no vibration.

  2. Colin,

    Great response!!! Lucid, succinct, and very informative. I briefly lived in College Park’s Seven Springs community and didn’t last long due to my commute to Georgetown and the distance of that housing hub to the train station. Your college community will be blessed when the Purple Line opens. I would predict many fewer car trips, a stronger connection to the DC metro area, and maybe even an uptick in students and staff who are drawn to your campus because of its transit accessibility.

    Here at UCLA, some of us asked our transit agency to study the feasibility of having a future subway line go straight to our campus center, which is also at the center of our campus. It got tossed out for a myriad of logical reasons. Instead, the station will go about one mile south of campus, right to the edge of UCLA’s adjacent retail village. But I’m grateful that the agency considered the idea of sending the subway right into campus worth considering.

  3. I agree with you that Campus Drive doesn’t have a lot of beauty to preserve, so I haven’t really seen any decent objections put forward by the university administration itself, but if the Purple Line is supposed to be any sort of quick way of getting around, it seems like Campus Drive would be one heck of a bottleneck that might even harm ridership.

    Already, the campus buses, Metrobuses and PG County buses pretty much crawl along there because of all the cars and also the ten billion crosswalks that the students dart across without even looking to see if there’s a bus bearing down on them. When I was going to UMD a couple of years ago I remember agonizing waits on buses when I wished they had traffic lights at the crosswalks so the endless stream of people crossing could occasionally let a bus through — and I thought that even though I was usually a pedestrian there myself.

    It sure seems like it might have a negative effect on Purple Line ridership if prospective riders can expect to take 25 minutes to go a mile or so across the UMD campus at rush hour. The routing makes sense if it can really take a lot of cars and buses off Campus Drive, but I’m doubtful — I don’t think I would want to ride it through CP unless my trip was way off peak hours, and I say that as a big Purple Line booster.

    (Now, if they wanted to help pay for the Purple Line while also reducing Campus Drive traffic by jacking the price of campus meters and parking passes up to the stratosphere, that might be an idea.)

  4. Went I went to Maryland in the early part of the decade the talk at the time was to route the train underground, was I mistaken or was that idea shelved?

    Whats wrong with sending the light rail underground in College Park, or at least through campus. I know that would be a construction nightmare, but considering all the new buildings they have added in the last 10 years it would not be anything new.

  5. I’ve been ready to be excited about the Purple Line for years. Kinda reminds me of the ICC. Well, as far as I can tell, people were screaming bloody-murder about the ICC until significant parts of it were finished. Granted, I might be missing something, but I haven’t heard many complaints recently.

    If CP is going to continue being an important spoke in the Beltway wheel, it needs better connectivity than the Green Line, the 81(huh, what’s that?,) 83, and 86 bus routes.

    That said, Purple line through campus can be scrapped if anyone can propose some kind of turbo-bus route through campus. Or around. Really, traffic is so light with either choice, it shouldn’t be hard.

    Oh. Wait.

    And if the argument is about “campus beauty,” just think how nice it will be when there’s an easy commute from a few miles away and people stop speed-building ugly-ass Ghostbusters-looking high-rises on the edge of campus…

    Trending topic on Twitter, anyone? #purplelinenow!

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