Response to UMD letter to Porcari

On November 19th, UMD Vice President of Administrative Affairs Doug Duncan wrote a letter to, his predecessor, MD Secretary of Transportation John Porcari. In the letter, Duncan and his staff attempt to clarify UMD’s Purple Line position by continuing to express the transitway’s supposed incompatability with the Campus Master Plan, aesthetic concerns, and concern over the implications for pedestrian safety.

On December 6th, we responded by pointing out several innacuracies and contradictions in Duncan’s original letter and laying out perhaps our most comprehensive case for the Campus Drive alignment to date. As of today, December 26th, there has been no formal response from the Administration, nor any attempt (publicly or privately) to answer any of the following questions we raised regarding the University’s continued adcovacy for only non-Campus Drive alignments:

1)       If Stadium Drive is a convenient transit route, why don’t all the current campus transit (Shuttle UM and commuter) routes run along it?   Long ago the university located its main transit hub in the heart of campus, where most commuter students, faculty and staff wish to go. What specifically about light rail necessitates parting with history?

2)       The Administration actively opposes an alignment which connects some of the area’s key existing daily destinations (the Green Line Metrorail station, the Student Union, UMUC) with important future activity centers (East Campus and M-Square). Can the university really justify a more circuitous route (Stadium Drive or Mowatt Lane) that bypasses key campus activity centers and plainly hurts ridership?

3)       If the Administration is so concerned with pedestrian safety on Campus Drive, why has it not pursued any of the transportation suggestions of the nearly seven-year-old Campus Master Plan? ( e.g. closing Campus Drive and other roadways to automobiles, initiating an internal a high quality internal campus shuttle loop, replacing the dangerously low level of lighting, and paying for other major streetscape improvements.)

4)       Considering the dreadfully worn state of Campus Drive, how can the Administration forgo an estimated $2 million in streetscape improvements— street treatments, street lights, crosswalks, landscaping, a potential bikeway— that would accompany the Purple Line?

5)       In light of MTA’s traffic analysis, what makes MTA’s proposal for Campus Drive more dangerous than the status quo?   Many cities across the nation and internationally successfully accommodate Light Rail in heavily populated places, even in busy public plazas.   What makes the University of Maryland an exception?

6)       Considering the importance of the ridership, which group will maximize use of the Purple Line— Terp fans or daily commuters?   Certainly the Administration and the MTA should prioritize the needs of the thousands of daily commuters over occasional, though passionately loyal, visitors.

7)       You note in your letter that the Master Plan calls for minimizing Shuttle-UM busses on Campus Drive in favor of an internal campus shuttle that links to commuter routes that would stop on the periphery of campus. Why isn’t the university pushing the internal shuttle and what would the added transfers mean for existing Shuttle-UM ridership? How is the Purple Line not consistent with this plan were it to ever actually be implemented?

8)       Does the Administration have enough confidence in its “analysis” to continue to go against a highly standardized, multi-year, multi-million-dollar public planning process?   The MTA studied alignments based on what experts’ opinions (not armchair analysis) believe to be the most useful and that which is most likely to receive Federal funding.  Is the Administration prepared to reject the Purple Line in any viable form?

–> Read the full letter from Doug Duncan to John Porcari (PDF)

–> Read our response (PDF)


24 thoughts on “Response to UMD letter to Porcari”

  1. An elevated monorail? Wouldn’t that be much more intrusive than overhead wires? With light rail is there any possibility for a “third rail” buried underground to avoid overhead wires in certain areas?

  2. I spoke to a MTA rep at the Purple Line Traveling sideshow, and she said that overhead wires were required. A third “hot” rail would be far too dangerous for pedestrians.

    I agree the overhead wires are going to be intrusive and ugly, but what are you going to do.

    I don’t think monorail has been used for this distance (16 miles). We are pushing the limits of Light Rail with this distance and its relative slowness compared to heavy rail (Metro Rail).

    Let me flog this dead horse one last time (sorry David). We are proposing a system that will not scale and will not fit the needs of the region for the long term. Various people have their personal agendas for pushing the Light Rail but I think it will be a waste of money.

  3. Wishful and futuristic thinking, but I think a monorail would be so coo. I wonder if someone could do renderings. I think it would look sweet coming from the College Park metro through East Campus. Then crossing over Route 1. After that, I’m not sure. Can’t monorail tracks be almost at grade? Maybe like 5ft off the ground in some places? OR do they all have a minimum track height? Also, the trains would be super quiet. People in classes and dorms would hardly notice it outside.

  4. Great questions David.

    I think you hit the crux of the matter in #6: Are we choosing an alignment that serves students or one that serves Terp fans? Like every other big school, sports are big business at UMD. If the Stadium Drive alignment is chosen, it wouldn’t be the first time that a university puts sports dollars ahead of serving the needs of their student body. This reminds me of my days at Syracuse…during game days, all campus buses were rerouted to shuttle fans from the parking lots to the Carrier Dome. Nothing quite like walking a mile to the library in 2 feet of snow.

    Why must money trump everything else in this country?

  5. I just came back from a post-exams trip to Istanbul ended and now realize how ridiculous some of the arguments against light rail are. Istanbul’s “tramvay” is a light rail that has significant pedestrian traffic (very few people who live in the downtown area drive). After two days, I never even noticed the overhead wires. When crossing the road that shared the bed of tracks, I was much more apprehensive about crossing in front of the cars than the trains.

    Istanbul’s light rail was built right on top of the existing road system without any of MTA’s proposed aesthetic improvements, but I thought it looked fine and was a huge help in getting around the city.

    You can find more info in Turkish and some pictures on what looks like is Istanbul’s public transportation web site:

  6. Justin,

    Was the tramway in Turkey 4 cars long and designed to be a commuter train that runs over a 16 mile stretch. Did its cars run every 3 minutes?

    Remember every single passenger who wants to use the Purple Line to travel from New Carrolton to Bethesda will have to creak through the UMD campus at about 5mph.

    This isn’t just a system for the UMD community. It is a lightweight solution to a heavyweight regional problem. It is being shoe-horned in by developer interests and myopic smart growth proponents.

  7. There is a fundamental contradiction to a set of arguments that include one that the proposed light rail transit line will not be designed to carry enough passengers and another that all it is about is more development. LRT is not a lightweight solution – it is a middle weight one, if you want to look at the range of capacities that could be handled by various types of rail or bus transit. It would provide plenty of capacity for the corridor well into the future (Remember that capacity is far greater than current projections of ridership (42-47k per weekday). Underground heavy rail would provide faster rides but with fewer stops would miss many potential riders who will use the Purple Line. A heavy rail line would also be 2 to 3 times as expensive as the light rail purple line – a cost that would require significantly MORE development to be justified. The development would not be consistent with many master plans, and probably not supported by the market over the course of the next 20 years.

    Travel speed is an important consideration as is consistency of schedule. For this reason, the devil is in the proverbial details and it is important to include some grade separations (overpasses or underpasses) and generally independent rights of way along the project alignment to make sure the LRT is not stuck in traffic. MTA continues to include a tunnel proposal in their high level scenario for LRT. However, this must be proven to be cost effective. We can wish all we want for lots of tunnels, but if they result in no federal money, this project will not happen.

  8. Joe,

    How many Light Rail systems run a route that is >15 miles long and is intended for daily commuters.

    Where are they?

  9. Boston’s Green Line is light rail. The total network is 26 miles, of which the longest individual route is the 13.4 mile “D” branch, which is heavily used and popular, despite considerable congestion. The MBTA is engaged in planning to extend the Green Line light rail network towards the northern suburbs of Boston.

  10. L.A. County’s Metro Blue Line is light rail, 22 miles long and averaging over 70,000 boardings each weekday, according to wkpedia. That would strongly suggest light rail can handle far more than the 46,000 daily Purple Line boardings estimated by MTA, if the capacity needs to be expanded in the future.

  11. Colin and Silver Spring,

    With the Boston and LA Light Rails is there a stretch of the track where the trains have to slow to 5mph for a considerable distance, like we will need at UMD campus?

  12. Sin V.:

    I have not been on the Boston or L.A. light rail systems, so I can’t speak to whether they have slow sections. But I have ridden the Blue Line of the San Diego trolley system, which is considered one of the most successful light-rail systems in the county. The system has three lines, with a total system length of 51 miles and a daily ridership of 124,000 (according to widipedia). The blue line is the longest line with the heaviest ridership. There is a Blue Line section that runs for at least several blocks on the street in downtown San Diego alongside street traffic and adjacent to sidewalks. If light rail can work in San Diego’s streets, it can work in College Park.

    Where did you get the “5mph for a considerable distance” requirement for operating on campus? Do the buses that run on Campus Drive run at “5mph for a considerable distance”? Why would light-rail be required to run slower than buses do now?

  13. Sorry it is 10-12 mph from a Nov 13. David Daddio article. That is still very slow. One consolation is that you can run and catch it from behind while on campus.

    This more than ten minute stretch to cross campus every day will become a huge time waster for commuters that need to pass through campus. This stretch of track will get old quick for folks commuting to work.

    It could be a great asset for the criminal element that can slowly roll by campus and “case the joint” in air conditioned comfort. ;0).

    “be careful what you wish for, lest it come true”

  14. Actually the 10-12 mph figure only applies to about 1/4 mile of the alignment thru the most pedestrian part of campus….. Check your math on that one.

    The light rail would be far faster than any other existing option. Since our choice is between this and the status quo, I’ll go with this if it gets funding.

  15. David,

    From your December 13 article.

    “The Purple Line would replace many buses, so the actual reduction in vehicle/pedestrian conflicts would be even more pronounced. Light Rail is no more inherently dangerous than buses. At 10-12 MPH through campus, Light Rail operators could easily stop the train for pedestrians. University administrators have yet to rationally explain how the Purple Line scenario proposed by MTA would be worse than the status quo.”

    When you say 10-12 mph through campus I take you at your word. I look to you to be the authoritative source on all things Purple Line.

    How fast will it travel through the rest of campus?

  16. I don’t know how familiar you are with CP geography. 10-12 MPH is most applicable to the quarter mile between the M circle and Union Drive on Campus Drive and perhaps the short stretch within the East Campus Development.

    There isn’t much left of campus after that, but the trains can go faster in areas not within that quarter mile cooridor because there is less of a concentration of crosswalks and pedestrians. All of this debate is essentially over one contentious quarter mile in College Park.

  17. MTA currently puts the overall travel time for the 16 mile purple line at between 52 (medium) and 46 minutes (high). This translates into an average travel speed of between 18.46 and 20.86 mph. This average includes an estimate of time for stops and for any time lost due to stop lights. It assumes that some free running segments will operate at speeds in the range of 30-35 miles per hour, which will offset the slower segments like the center of campus (if there is no tunnel in that segment). The transitway will need to operate in accordance with posted speed limits in campus and on any other roads where it is operating in traffic.

    The overall travel time for the entire length seems high and this hopefully can be improved as planning continues to refine the alignment. However, trip times to the university for people currently using transit are superior, in large part because anyone currently using the metrorail system has to add on time for transfer to Shuttle UM and the Purple Line will move more quickly through the 16 mile corridor than buses do.

  18. I thought the purpose for mass transit was convenience and to get more cars off the road. If time was the only factor, we’d all drive our cars to get there faster. As it is now, I can get to my job in Beltsville faster than if I took mass transit. Right now, I would love to catch the Marc straight to Beltsville. Time is not the issue. It’s price. If t was cheaper to take the Marc to Beltsville, I wouldn’t care it it took 15 minutes longer. I hate driving in traffic. I’m sure commuters wouldn’t care if they had to sit on a light rail car for an extra ten minute commute. Traffic is stressful. Especially since for some reason it has become popular to make right and left turns from the outside lanes in front of flowing traffic.

  19. Jeuill,

    Time is important. Time is especially important if you are trying to get home early enough to pick up a kid from child care (without $ penalty). Some of us need to leave work to go catch a child’s event whether it be a baseball game, a musical performance, or a play.

    How about a few extra minutes to get the evening’s dinner prepared.

    Still others need to hustle out of work to make an evening class at a University in time.

    Time is very important to most of us.

  20. When you take mass transit, you give up certain freedoms. Such as the freedom to drive as fast as you can without getting a ticket, skipping a stop or two to save time, or choosing an alternate route when there is traffic. You make a compromise. If your lifestyle is such that you absolutely have to be at multiple places on time everyday of the week, perhaps mass transit is not for you. In that case, driving gives you more control. On the other hand, mass transit reduces traffic so that people can save more time on the road if they choose to drive. In addition, Usually at peak travel times, rides are no more than 10-15 minutes apart.

    Those child activities you mentioned are important for a parent. But, I’ll guarantee you that if a parent had to choose between paying $420/month for gas (SUV/minivan because that’s what all parents MUST have these days) and parking, or loosing 10 10 15 minutes using mass transit, money will win every time. Because we all know raising children is expensive. Especially if they are involved in the many activities as you described.

  21. I’m a parent and I am extremlely proud to say I have never owned a minivan (honda civic, thank you). I am not expecting the mass transit to be cheap but I am hoping it will be efficient (fast).

    Travel time is very important to most of us from ages 18 to 67 (epecially if you have kids). If money is the number one motivator just take the bus. It will always be cheaper than rail.

    Do you think this Light Rail will be inexpensive? Have you ridden MetroRail lateley?

  22. Both cost, speed and travel time are important. The medium scenario Purple Line shows a travel time savings for some trips of 1/2 hour – so a daily savings of an hour. This is important-especially as SV points out – for parents.

    MTA has not shown how they factor trip cost into the equation, but it is important. Will metrorail or metrobus patrons get free transfers? If not, ridership will be suppressed.

    UM should strenuously argue for a fair free zone between UMUC and M-Square. to ensure maxumum usage of the Purple Line in the UM area. Such an agreement could be struck as part of a U-Pass if UM were to make an annual payment to the transit operator as has been done in university communities elsewhere (e.g. Chicago, Boulder)

  23. Both cost, speed and travel time are important. The medium scenario Purple Line shows a travel time savings for some trips of 1/2 hour – so a daily savings of an hour. This is important-especially as SV points out – for parents.

    MTA has not shown how they factor trip cost into the equation, but it is important. Will metrorail or metrobus patrons get free transfers? If not, ridership will be suppressed.

    UM should strenuously argue for a fair free zone between UMUC and M-Square. to ensure maximum usage of the Purple Line in the UM area. Such an agreement could be struck as part of a U-Pass if UM were to make an annual payment to the transit operator as has been done in university communities elsewhere (e.g. Chicago, Boulder)

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