Purple Line Redux, Redux

Looking up the quad at Morrill Hall

Unsatisfied with the Maryland Transit Administration’s preferred Campus Drive alignment, several sources have told us that President Mote is urging the agency to consider yet another route. This new, southern route (blue line on the interactive map below) would run along Campus drive by the Architecture Building, then south on Preinkert Drive, then would veer eastward to climb the steep hill along the southern edge of the historic Morrill Hall (1898 – second oldest building on campus), then down the steep quad. At the bottom of the quad (pictured above), near the Skinner Building, the route would then run along the street between Marie Mount Hall and the Chapel. From there the route would descend Chapel Field, pass directly north of the Rossborough Inn (circa early 1800s) and would wriggle its way across Route 1 and into East Campus.

View the interactive map

Pres. Mote’s latest alignment, while an improvement over his Stadium Drive proposal (orange), poses numerous and perhaps insurmountable problems. For one, the route requires several steep grade changes, especially around Morrill Hall, which crowns a hill 167 feet above sea level (for comparison, Route 1 lies 80 feet above sea level at the Ritchie Coliseum). Though steep grades are possible to navigate, such a route could require costly tunneling or the digging of a trench that would present a depressed gash everyone wants to avoid.

Furthermore, Pres. Mote’s latest route would disqualify Campus Drive from the state- and Federally-funded streetscape improvements it desperately needs. Most importantly, this new route cannot compete with the Campus Drive alignment’s chief virtue of serving the center of campus.

The centrality of a transit stop increases the convenience to riders and thus maximizes ridership. Campus Drive by the Student Union sits between North and South Campus providing a convenient location for all.* Why else do so many ShuttleUM routes serve Stamp?

Though it is good policy for governments to consider the wishes of stakeholders, of which the University is an important one, Pres. Mote must keep in mind that the Maryland government does not exist solely to indulge each of his new alignments. Preliminary engineering studies are costly and further delay the project. Pres. Mote can suggest a web of new routes, but it is unlikely he will discover a new alignment that beats the MTA’s current proposal in convenience, respect for federally protected historic resources, practicality, and cost-effectiveness. Pres. Mote might find it more fruitful to submit to the MTA his own suggestions for improvements to the Campus Drive alignment the state has had on the books for several years.

It is notable that brief UMD advocacy for a Knox Rd/Mowatt Lane alignment met immediate and universal criticism. it was a non-starter for local politicians who rightly demanded that the Purple Line must be routed through East Campus if the university ever wants to see that development built. Hence administrators came up with this latest iteration…

We always encourage your feedback and this topic certainly elicits much of it. What do you think of this new alignment? What advantages and disadvantages does it provide over the other two routes?

*Centrality is particularly important since Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow at the October Purple Line community meeting stridently demanded a transit line convenient to the Comcast Center and Byrd Stadium. Certainly she would maintain the consistency of her position and oppose this new, southern route since it would prove inconvenient not only for regular commuters, but especially so for game fans.

40 thoughts on “Purple Line Redux, Redux”

  1. I still think if the campus is going to have a major transit hub, it should be the student union. I don’t understand why the President doesn’t want that alignment. Aesthetics? Is there some future development in West Campus that the line will get in the way of?

  2. Not sure what to make of this.

    Certainly it’s an improvement over Stadium Dr., since it will go through east campus and be closer to central campus. But the aesthetic damage to campus is clearly greater than the Campus Dr. alignment. (Unless you believe that the only thing on campus worth preserving is the M circle???)

    This route takes great pains to avoid areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. Which is odd, since that’s exactly where public transit should go.

  3. I agree with Carter. If aesthetics are the issue (preserving the M circle / main entry into campus) then this seems even worse as it would degrade the Chapel and the Chapel lawn.

    I “dunnow” about this….something seems awfully fishy to me. I like the directness of the route (almost a straight shot as the line enters campus from the west….although an awkward zigging and zagging around Worcester Hall…..would it go between LeFrak and South Campus Dining Hall or across the lawn between LeFrak and Tydings?) but Id be inclined to be more protective of the Chapel and Chapel Lawn than the M circle. Which is where/why I get suspicous.

  4. What was Dan Mote smoking when he conceived this? What happened to him saying that the Campus Drive alignment would “hurt aesthetics”? That he would turn around suggest a Purple Line route across quads, courtyards and Chapel Field – and through the historic heart of campus! – only further illustrates that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    I can’t believe this debate is being held. Talk about an abuse of power . . .

  5. If this is really acceptable to Dr. Mote (is that in writing somewhere?), then the debate really does narrow to a stretch of Campus Drive between the M and Cole. Your post rightfully points out that the proposed East Campus stop – on Rossborough between Ritchie and new development replacing what is now the police headquarters – is a good compromise. It is a little closer to downtown CP, which is an advantage (a little further from engineering/comcast area of north campus, however).

    The trip west to Regents Drive from this point is equivalent whether you gou go around the Armory on the north or south, as Carter has noted. However, On the edge of engineering fields is one thing, on the edge of the Chapel is quite another. The hill rises far more sharply towards the Chapel and Morrill Hall and this new route puts it closer to Rossborough, Shoemaker, Morrill, the south hill dorms and some of the other oldest buildings on campus. Morrill quad is lovely – intimate (unlike McKeldin Mall). It would be an easy $50 million to go under it and the portals at either end would be very poorly located unless the tunnel were quite long – which gets back to the high option for Campus Drive.

    So where is the central campus stop on this alignment? At South Campus Dining Hall? At Preinkert Hall? These are convenient to the southern end of campus, but not to the north. It is important for the central stop to be a convenient transfer point to the campus Shuttle system.

    Hopefully this option will bring us back to Campus Drive. MTA need to focus on visual simulations and better graphics for the central half a mile. And take Mote on a road trip – to Paris for the T-3 LRT line, or to Portland.

    Have him check out the Czech cars now operating in Seattle: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004068617_streetcar13m.html

  6. I also struggle to understand where the on campus stop would be located? Would we turn the Morrill Quad into a station? how do the shuttle buses connect for transfers? Speaking of……

    I know folks say the purple line up campus drive with a stop at the union will reduce shuttle UM activity. is that true? or will it increase when that lot becomes even more of a transit hub?

    I do like the thought of a purple line station near Richie though and the convenience to both East Campus and Downtown.

  7. Unparalleled arrogance on the part of Dr. Mote is the only explanation for this. It is a reckless use of taxpayer dollars if MTA actually has to study this.

  8. If the Purple Line turns out to be rapid-bus, I’d (unfortunately) want it as far away from campus as possible…

  9. Uh -oh:

    a quote from the article in Joe Dexter’s link:

    “Patricia Lenssen held a “Watch for Injured Cyclists” sign at the opening ceremony. Lenssen said she broke her jaw and two front teeth May 29, when her bike wheel became caught in a rail groove.”

  10. “…she broke her jaw and two front teeth May 29, when her bike wheel became caught in a rail groove.”

    I’m an avid cyclist. I’ve even had my share of accidents. (Spent the night in a hospital b/c a driver pulled in front of me)

    For this person to use her mishap with a rail groove is irresponsible. Any cyclist or motorcyclist KNOWS that rail crossings of any kind are dangerous and require caution. If she jammed her front wheel and lost control who’s fault is that?

  11. Its all about dollars. My opinion is that administrations real reason for opposing the campus drive alignment has to do with its impact on athletic events. The Terrapin Club stands to lose parking spaces in Lot 1 with the Campus drive alignment.

    I find it interesting that during the initial meeting representatives expressed concern about the distance of the Campus drive alignment to Comcast Center. This new alignment is even farther away! Bottom line, don’t mess with Athletics.

  12. Cha-ching

    Clay is right. It is all (mostly) about dollars for President Mote. As well it should be. Didn’t an Athletics booster just give $10m to the fund.

    UMD = $387m
    UNC = $1.7b
    UVA = $2.5b

  13. Why doesn’t someone write Sergey Brin, (UM Alum, Google Co-Founder, net worth $18.5b). Ask him if he supports the Purple Line on Campus Drive and if he would float a couple $b towards the UM Endowment. I am sure President Mote would happily have the train run within a couple of inches from Stamp Union’s front steps.

  14. The disadvantages are clear:
    Less convenient transit for Students, staff, faculty, and visitors.

    The only advantage I can see is that having a transit stop located near the traditional downtown of College Park will spark redevelopment and new growth, perhaps acting as a general catalyst for improving the character of route 1. I believe that this alignment creates the most advantages for the City of College park.

    The Stadium drive alignment creates the most advantages for University athletics, and the central Campus drive alignment… naturally, strikes a balance between the needs of the STUDENTS, the visitors, and the city (through East Campus).

  15. I don’t get why Sergey Brin doesn’t publicly support the University more. He is for sure the most conspicuously absent rich donor from the Great Expectations press releases (although his dad donated a few million dollars).

  16. I think Mote should instead focus his efforts on getting MTA to tunnel under Campus Drive as that would provide the best outcome for UM. Just imagine an underground station as a part of Stamp (although I shudder to think how long a second Stamp construction would take). As a recent alum I would hate to lose the beauty of the M, Hornbake, Nyumburu stretch of campus, but the Stamp location makes the most sense from a transportation point of view. Plus, if the rail is above ground, how would the UM bus system work effectively in the same space as the rail? All in all, I know it would cost more, but the best long term outcome for UM would be a tunnel under Campus drive entering the tunnel just in front of the M and popping back out in the UMUC parking lot.

  17. I feel as though the only way this allignment could even be considered is if it were to be a tunnel possibly starting somewhere on chapel field, run underneath south campus, and then re emerge near the arcitechture building. I almost think this is why Mote suggested it. If it were to be above ground, this alignment is a horrible idea.

    But if it were to go underground, it is a decent compromise. Albeit, a slightly further walk to Stamp, but still just off the Mall, and for those that are really concerned about a light rail running above ground for pedestrian and aesthetic reasons, it could work for them as well.

  18. The Purple Line open house tonight confirmed the route variation is largely underground with an underground station.

  19. So how is this underground alternative more feasible than an underground campus dr alternative? I guess it would be shorter, but considering the tunnel portals necessary and appropriate placing of them, it seems that this tunnel would still have to be pretty long. Also the shuttle um bus depot would need to be moved….

  20. Underground seems to be the “everybody wins” scenario (unfortunately it is also the “everybody pays” scenario as well!!)

    If its going underground then they will want to take the straightest most direct shot which would appear to be the latest route proposal

    but I still dont get where the rendezvous point for the buses would be located – back behind LeFrak and South Campus Dining Hall?

  21. Mote has let this get personal. He’s let the debate get under his skin, and he’s willing to do anything but let those who support the Campus Drive “win.”

    Here’s why I say that:

    – According to the powers that be who like to explain why Georgetown isn’t serviced by the metro, grading is the reason a stop there doesn’t exist. Someone’s wrong here. Either the Gtowners are secretly racists, or Mote is going to push for an extraordinary (extraordinarily expensive?) engineering feat.

    – Aesthetics. Like some of the other posts mention, this would be uglier than ugly. If Mote can offer up aesthetics as a reason why not to align the tracks on Campus Drive, I don’t understand what makes this option any better.

    – Cost. If Mote thinks Campus Dr. is going to cost a lot, what does he think is going to happen here? Maybe they’ll find buried pirate treasure when they’re digging the tunnels…?

    And it’s just a crappy idea. Half of the campus is still at a disadvantage. Basically, Mote has to stop letting this be so personal. This latest move has more issues than Campus Drive, is more costly, is less aesthetically pleasing, still less practical, and it smacks of a personal interest in not “caving” to popular pressure.

  22. I like Brian’s idea. Having it dip underground at the M. This leaves campus drive open to cars and buses. That gives you a drop off point like Metro’s Kiss & Ride. Campus drive is already set up as a bus depot. No changes need to be made there. Although, like everyone said, an underground station is very costly. It’s not just the tunneling, but the whole construction of the underground space and its connection to Stamp. How elaborate would the underground station be? Simple and dark like NYC? Or a bit more open and spacious like WMATA? How deep do you dig?

  23. All that really needs to be discussed is what’s prudent and feasible given very limited funding at the federal level. There will not be any tunneling. We’ve been trying to explain that for 7+ months.

  24. David,

    The ridership numbers are big (47,000 per day). From what I understand that is nearly a 2 to 1 ratio versus any rival projects. Why wouldn’t you be able to validate additional funds for tunnels. Doesn’t the FTA calculate using a per rider cost model?

    Once again if anyone disagrees with you, or makes you RETHINK your position in any way, you get exasperated. If you have been explaining that for 7+ months maybe you are not explaining your flawlessly researched findings well enough.

  25. Sin,
    Some of the more expensive MTA scenarios do include a tunnel under campus drive. While the mid-cost Purple Line scenarios are at the upper end in terms of ridership, that doesn’t mean 10s of millions of dollars of extra expense will be justified to go with the highest expesne alternative.

    We won’t be seeing a tunnel on campus and if we did, why would a tunnel alignment at this new location be more preferable to the equally fanciful tunnel alignment on Campus Drive?. The formulas are much more complicated than one absolute ridership number. I’ve never said our research is flawless. The MTA has to be flawless by law and their gut reaction is that a tunnel won’t happen and that this newest alignment is entirely ridiculous.

    “Exasperated” is a bit of an overstatement.

  26. David

    Given your knowledge on this topic what are the odds that the purple line will even get built? is this thing a definite? or is it a pipe dream? or somewhere in between?

    Is the country club issue another roadblock similar to campus?

  27. I concur that a Tunnel is very unlikely. Yes, it would be the Best Compromise save the Price. To receive the Most Funding from the FTA, keeping Cost down is a Must or else it’ll simply be passed on to MD Taxpayers. And, given the State of the Current Budget, I don’t think People will be Happy with Another Tax Increase.

    I also think they are a Lot of Misconceptions that the Light Rail will be Atrocious. Bus-Rapid Transit, I agree, would be, but Light Rail can be designed aesthetically pleasing. Its Tracks can be built into the Ground so that Busses and Emergency Vehicles can still utilize the Road. Trains won’t be coming through that frequently so it will be like a Normal Road Most of the Time, and even when their are Trains, they are simply treated like any Car or Bus. President Mote cites Safety Concerns, but I feel People need to assume some Personal Responsibility for this One. Train Operators should be Vigilant and I think it should yield for Students. Also, I am slightly puzzled about the Concern for Vibrations. For One, I don’t know what highly Sensitive Experiments are going on in BPS, MCB, or HJP. I think it’d be More of a Concern down near Engineering and Physics where the Stadium Drive Alignment would go. Plus, I’m Sure Dampening Materials can be placed underneath the Road to absorb Vibrations if need be.

    I think the Purple Line will be an Eventual Reality. Maybe not on the Timetable of Many Proponents, but I think it’ll happen so long as it receives Funding and can get past the Chevy Chase Debacle. Or, at Least that’s my Knowledge of Possible Delays.

  28. Ryan Porter said:

    “Trains won’t be coming through that frequently so it will be like a Normal Road Most of the Time”

    From what I understand the trains will be passing every 3-5 minutes. Even with the frequency of the trains I agree that safety should not be a concern at UMD.

  29. I safely assumed they wouldn’t run that often, but I may be Wrong. More Frequent Trains would certainly make Things More Complicated.

    I hope they don’t have that Frequency except for Rush Hour. Running Trains that often, I think, would greatly impact Operating Costs and I not as Optimistic that there will be a Large Number of Riders at, say, 11a.

  30. As a UM student it is sad to hear about these light rail proposals running through one of the hearts of campus. UM is not the prettiest school on Earth, but I love walking down Campus Drive, sitting in front of the Math building, etc. It is upsetting to know that already much of the campus is not very “collegiate” (ex. all of North Campus) and they are taking away from it even more.

    Also, pedestrian traffic is EXTREMELY heavy across Campus Dr. If it is true that trains run every 3-5 minutes, it does indeed pose a safety hazard and will make commuting more of a chore than it already is due to traffic.

    I think President Mote’s alternatives are silly but bloggers calling his concerns “a power trip” are wrong. His job is to care about the university’s reputation and the students, both of which stand to lose from this proposal.

  31. Great discussion here. A couple of contributions.

    First, on the tunnel cost feasibility discussion, David is correct that every indication from MTA suggests that they have not found most of the tunnels proposed along the right of way to be justified when evaluating the projected additional riders, the travel time savings and the overall cost. Alt 8, the high LRT alternative which includes the Campus Drive tunnel option results in a slightly higher range of projected riders (up to 47k from 45k for the overall option) but the capital cost is really pushing the envelope (1.58 billion to $1.78 billion). All in all the focus will now be on honing in on a medium level option that is good enough to be reliable, have good travel times and gain ridership, but that will still be affordable in the eyes of both the State and FTA.

    On the recurring concern about getting hit by a train on Campus Drive expressed by UM Student, here is some math to put the concern in perspective: At rush hour, one train in each direction every 6 minutes. So one train every 3 minutes, or 20 trains an hour. Most students aren’t even awake for morning rush hour but those that are can probably manage not to walk in front of these trains. If there are 700 automobiles passing through campus drive an hour during the peak hour that is 11 cars a minute, a number destined to grow if East Campus goes forward and UM doesn’t start taking transportation planning more seriously.

    Looking at it another way, A trolley will stop at SSU. Before it pulls out, it will ring a bell. If a 200′ trolley pulls out and accelerate to 5 miles an hour, the flow of students will have to stop for about 27 seconds so the train can move on down the road. The total “disruption” for the rush hour at any crosswalk is 27 seconds x 20 trains. So at rush hour, a train will be passing for 9 out of 60 minutes = 15% of the time which means that for 85% of the time there will be no trains passing at all.

  32. It is great to see a U M Student that is fair and level-headed and reasonable with regard to President Mote. I am sure frequent visitors to this site are tired of reading my posts asserting that it seems unfair to attack President Mote merely for doing his job. It is his job to listen to his constituents and protect their interests. His positioning on the Purple Line issue is the result of much deliberation and data gathering / fact finding by his team. It has nothing to do with “power tripping.” Our job is to bring facts (GREAT post above Joe Dexter) to help him see that perhaps the views that he brings to the table may not quite be 100% correct. We must focus on pointing out the weaknesses or inaccuracies and presenting sound alternatives.

    For example, some may think it IS in U Md’s best interest to force the purple line away. We then counter with all of the facts supporting why it is critical to the future long term success of the institution. For the most part a great job has been done countering inaccuracies and misconceptions (one of the best ever was Rob’s statistical anlayis refuting the long held belief that bringing in metro increases crime)

    I still think if Dan Mote was Joe Average Public Citizen and did not have to lead the huge, complex, diverse entity that is U M C P, he would love to see the purple line run right up campus drive to the Union. Id be willing to bet enough money to bury the power lines along Rte 1 (if I had it!!!! easy to bet what you dont have!!!) that deep down inside, Private Citizen Mote likes the concept but The highly visible President Dan Mote has to execute what his team tells him to based on input from teh vast constituent base he must serve.

    I would encourage all of you who think he is power-tripping to go do a little research on “Servant Leadership” – I think that is what is really taking place here. He is acting as a “Servant Leader” serving the interests of his vast constituent base.

    Like it or not, leaders in higher education have been forced to become slaves to the almighty dollar to keep their institutionsm healthy. In a lot of ways it is unfortunate. But it is the way it is now-a-days and we have to work within those parameters.

  33. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – every action Dr. Mote has taken on this issue has been based on a personal knee jerk reaction. Neither he nor Doug Duncan understand even the most basic components of the planning process. I certainly do not make such a statement litely. From every public statement they’ve made, from every private conversation I’ve had with major stakeholders, and from every internal letter I’ve read, I know this to be true. Sorry Keven, but let’s not get caught up in terrapin pride here. Dr. Mote has seriously faultered on this issue and his poor reputation in the community is only getting further damaged by this debacle. He needs to be held accountable, especially since he is recklessly asking for taxpayer money to fund the study of alignments that will never be built.

    If Mote/Duncan don’t have time to investigate all the issues involved, they need to deffer to their staff or just let MTA handle this. This thing has gotten beyond ridiculous.

  34. I agree with David. As a taxpayer and a student, it seems pointless to spend more money and more time on other alternatives when years of research have already been concluded. Don’t impede progress just because you don’t like the color. MTA has no incentive to force the President against his will or the will of the University. On the other hand, this Purple Line server a much wider community than just U of MD. If I’m not a student, and I want to go to the bank in the Student Union or grab something, would I prefer to walk from Stadium drive or some other location – possibly in the cold rain when I shouldn’t have to? It doesn’t make sense. I’ve been following this for a few months and I still haven’t seen a valid argument against the Campus Drive alignment. ALso, why does the safety issue keep coming up? AS if a student can’t get hit by any number of the buses and cars that travel on Campus Drive already. Has anybody ever heard of a pedestrian traffic management device? It’s called a walk signal! Don’t walk when there’s a train approaching. Walk when there is no train. Simple! Is that so hard to conceive?

  35. I share Kevin’s antipathy about Mote-bashing which isn’t exactly the best way to lead to the desirable consensus on the Purple Line route. However, the administration isn’t exactly demonstrating the highest level of analysis in its evaluation of the Purple Line or any other transportation issues. How many options has it embraced over the past two months to avoid Campus Drive?

    At the Visitor Center Focus Group meeting (Nov?), MTA Consultant Joel Oppenheimer reviewed the analysis of traffic pattern changes and demonstrated that a partial closure would result in minor spillover to other streets (Stadium, Paint Branch, Fieldhouse) if Campus Drive were partially closed. He pointed out that use of one of these other streets would require greater use of Campus Drive for traffic (obviously) to which the Assistant President, Dr. Anne Wylie said “we will worry about traffic on our own streets”.

    Where is the evidence of this worry? The administration appears to have worried primarily about how best to launch a public relations campaign against the Campus Drive alignment, throwing every half baked argument into the bot like a freshman policital science essay deserving of a D-. The have evidently called for the closing of ranks in a manner that is heavy handed and absurd given that the initial focus of this campaign was the flawed Stadium Drive alignment rejected by the campus’ own transportation committee in 2003.

    And now they are coming around to yet another option that is sure to be opposed by the Maryland Historical Trust and many others and that will add something like $100 million to the project cost for a tunnel and underground station. $100 million – almost the cost of the Clarice Smith Center, or the Comcast Center – and more than the typical University’s capital improvement budget each year. Enough for another two miles of at-grade alignment towards the New Carrollton terminus.

    These facts underline the bottom line here which is that the University has an important role to play but proposals that are not grounded in good analysis and that add significant costs can not be acceptable to MTA, to the taxpayers of the State of Maryland or to the Federal Transit Administration.

    The one thing I would disagree with Jeuill on regardings the expenditure of money to finalize a side-by-side comparison of alternatives. Do it! Let the University hire its own transportation planners to pick at it! Let the University community have an opportunity to review the full analysis – not in the form of one-sided presentations by VP Duncan to the Senate, or flawed e-mails by Dr. Wylie or the Terp Club Director to turn the process into a political one. Give the planning process some air and let the facts dictate the final outcome.

  36. well seems like a nice plan.. But i am not comfortable with the line oing directly on campus drive. reason well its above the ground and it will look like a mess what design the support columns, tracks or the Rail has it wont look good.
    It will like a cut across the center of face of a Movie hero ( ever seen one..Nhaa its always on side)
    so i would prefer it running either way (Orange or Blue) as shown in the map above Not thru the campus drive
    and for those who say that a stop at Stamp union will make it more accessible well can’t they walk like .30 miles..

  37. I’m new to this discussion, so pardon my ignorance. (It’s a lifestyle thing, I’m used to it.) But have engineers or anyone considered splitting the difference between the MTA alignment and the Stadium Drive alignment, i.e. a route that spins off the M Circle and roughly follows Field House Drive?

    It’s windy, yes, but not particularly hilly. There’s little pedestrian traffic to worry about. It takes rapid-bus/light rail traffic off Campus Drive but is still basically in the center of campus, serving Hornbake, the Union and Cole — just on the north side of those buildings instead of the south — and also putting a stop right at the door of Byrd, the alumni center and Clarice Smith. (That it would then run right behind the president’s house, well… ooops!)

    A transit hub would be hard to fit into that alignment, except maybe in Lot 1 near the tennis courts and the alumni center. Just a thought. I’m curling into defensive posture now, feel free to flame away!

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