Transit Planners Plan Transit Projects, Not University Presidents

Today our response to Dr. Mote’s op-ed where he advocates for a non-central campus Purple Line is running in the Diamondback. We highly encourage everyone to attend the Purple Line focus group meeting today at 7 p.m. in the University Visitor Center.

>> “Purple Push“, Diamondback, 10/29

Trastevere #8 Light Rail LineWe were pleased to read university President Dan Mote’s Oct. 25 editorial titled “Support for the right location,” in which he ended nearly six months of his administration’s silence on the proposed Purple Line. The university administration now deems a street level (at-grade) campus crossing of the proposed rail line as inevitable for cost reasons. This new position is exactly what we and other student leaders advocated for in an April 25 letter to Mote urging him to accept the realities of federal funding requirements. Now that the tunneling issue is behind us, we can focus on finding the best at-grade campus crossing.

Unfortunately, rather than supporting the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) preferred alignment on Campus Drive with a stop in front of the Stamp Student Union, Mote is now advocating for an at-grade route on North Campus along Stadium Drive. The MTA already considered and dropped that alignment some years back, and Mote’s new position continues to work against a multi-year, multi-million dollar public planning process. Much of his reasoning for opposing the Campus Drive alignment is based on an unsupportable knee-jerk reaction and demonstrates a continuing lack of coordination with MTA:

Stamp Bus Bay1. Mote claims campus plans call for Campus Drive to become a “major pedestrian walking mall” and that turning the road into a “dedicated transit way” would go against the university Master Plan’s stated goal of promoting “unimpeded [pedestrian] movement across campus.” Mote should have provided the full sentence from the Master Plan: “reduce the number of automobiles on campus and eliminate vehicle congestion to the extent possible while promoting unimpeded movement across the campus.” To rephrase: We want to move people, not cars. Indeed, the Master Plan does call for closing Campus Drive to cars, but not for a pedestrian walking mall as Mote suggests. The purpose of the planned closure is to better facilitate busses, which currently have trouble traversing the heavily congested roadway. The Purple Line would go one step further by replacing several bus lines that currently compete with pedestrians on the road.

UTAH TRAX2. Mote has legitimate concerns about light rail and pedestrian compatibility along the Purple Line, but personal views are not a substitute for careful study. There are dozens of examples nationally and internationally, including on other college campuses, where light rail succeeds in heavily pedestrian environments without safety concerns. Many of these projects are in far more densely populated areas with as many or more pedestrian crossings per day. The MTA has already produced studies and campus renderings to make this case and they need proper consideration. Similarly, we also believe the best Purple Line route for East Campus development is MTA’s preferred alternative through, not around, that project.

3. Mote expresses concern over potential aesthetic impacts to the campus were the project to go along Campus Drive. He cites overhead wires, the prospect of a fence and the destruction of the “M” circle as several reasons to locate the project in a less prominent part of the campus. The importance of these aesthetic concerns pale in comparison to the benefits of a more central Purple Line stop, but they are still worth addressing. A federally funded project of this nature would bring millions of dollars to the university in the form of streetscape improvements and mitigation funds. We can expect to see new sidewalks, signalized crosswalks, street treatments, landscaping and maybe even a bikeway running along the transitway. Were a fence to be necessary along any portion of the right-of-way, it would be a short one designed to discourage non-crosswalk pedestrian crossings. MTA mitigation plans already call for moving the “M” circle slightly to accommodate the Purple Line.

The Purple Line is the greatest single opportunity to correct the mistake of putting the Metro Green Line more than a mile from the center of campus. That decision, made in the late 1970s and shaped largely by misplaced (and backroom) opposition by top university administrators at the time, was hugely detrimental to the university community. Our only concern is that the university administration is now compounding past mistakes with present ones. To do so without full comprehension of what they are doing is the worst kind of irony.

We encourage everyone with a stake in these decisions to attend the MTA’s Purple Line focus group meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in the university visitor center and become engaged in a broader campus conversation about the best way to route the project.

For I Dipt into the Future...

24 thoughts on “Transit Planners Plan Transit Projects, Not University Presidents”

  1. In the past I have questioned President Mote’s agenda with regard to that crime flare up a year or two back. It seemed to me that he was more interested in relations with China while things on the home front seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

    However, with the hiring of a top flight individual such as Doug Duncan, our Univ Leadership has demonstrated a committment to improving the area. I think this story or at least the title takes the rhetoric in the wrong direction. Give the guy a break, he has a ridiculously difficult base of constiuents he needs to deal with on a daily basis (and by that I mean tough to please alumni donors who may or may not “get it” when it comes to this issue. all they think of are overhead powerlines junking up Campus Drive and Im sure they are yelling in his ear.) Please dont personalize this and make it about President Mote. We all know he has a team of advisors working this issue.

    We really need to give President Mote more credit for his commitment to sustainability and a green campus and take into account how incredibly difficult it must be for him to balance “the old guard” with the new more progressive set. (BTW, just the age demographic alone makes this an uphill battle as those with the ways and means to give the most to the Univ are older, while those with a more progressive outlook towards the purple line are earlier in their careers)

    A bit off subject here, but I also hope that President Mote and Doug Duncan dont lose sight of the Knox Box area once the dirt starts moving on East Campus. I know its a lot and its ambitous but time is of the essence.

  2. Donors aside, Dr. Mote can’t ignore the realities of the planning process. Instead of working outside of the process, he should either work within it or not at all.

  3. I think there is something going on here that we haven’t heard about. I find it very hard to believe that concerns for pedestrian safety is driving this issue. I agree with Kevin that Mote has a difficult job and the hiring of Duncan is a HUGE benefit, but I have to say I smell a rat. There was a large contingent of “stadium drive” supporters from Athletics at the meeting. What that means I’m not sure but I am sure that everything isn’t on the table.

    -Clay

  4. Mr. Daddio,

    Why don’t you lose the bogus MetroRail Map. Both the Sierra Club and Wikopedia have removed this disinformation. What, did the developers threaten to eliminate your stipend if you refuse to do their bidding?

    I know that on this very website Ben Ross from the “Action Committee for Transit” scolded you when you last admitted that the Purple Line was not actually part of MetroRail.

  5. Personally, I like that metro map because it uses visuals to make an important point. It helps non-planner types to see something important and valuable and that is the linkages that the line could provide. I dont think its “bogus”

    Furthermore, a lot of people I have shared it with became very excited thinking about being able to get on the green line at BWI. What a huge benefit to the region. It sparked the thought process which hopefully translated to action in terms of letting their politicians know what a great idea it is.

  6. It is bogus because most of the public has been duped into thinking that the Purple Line will be like any other Metrorail Line. That perception is due in part because of these doctored maps.

    Most people I speak to have no idea that the Purple Line will be slower Light Rail Cars that don’t truly connect to the existing Metrorail system.

    Why not let the politicians/public decide based on facts not on disinformation.

  7. David,

    By the way, just kidding about the stipend I certainly hope a bright young fellow like yourself does not hook up with 2nd rate group of lobbyists like ACT. Go to the Hill where you can make a big impact and play in the big leagues.

    Your website is really very well produced.

  8. One last question. Has WMATA agreed, at least in theory, to roll this sytem into theirs? Will you be able to use the WMATA trip planner and other such things with the Light Rail Purple Line?

  9. Three points:

    1. University Presidents do plan transit projects. So does everyone else. As a person getting a degree in transit planning, I sympathize with RTCP’s view that President Mote shouldn’t grandstand in an attempt to get what is essentially an impossible or impractical alignment. However, the communities through which transit projects run can and should have an impact on the process. Planners do not always get it right, and they don’t always know best. Planning’s objective is not to plan for a community from outside, but to plan within a community. Therefore, it is disrespectful of the entire process to disregard Mr. Mote’s comments merely because his Ph.D is not in transportation planning. I, of course, agree with RTCP’s opinion in this case. The Purple Line should use Campus Drive. I just think that the subject line might be a bit strong.

    2. The vision map is a strong tool in advocacy. A transit advocacy group which I worked with during my time as an Atlanta resident created a similar vision map, http://www.cfpt.org/pages/wctv. A major difference in this map is that different modes are clearly marked. The vision map included in the post here shows a route. No statement is made about the type of trains or the grade. This doesn’t make the map false. It allows people to have a better spatial understanding of the parts of the region to be served by potential transit extensions. Los Angeles’ Metro System includes both heavy (metro) and light rail lines. Their map, http://www.metro.net/images/rail_map.pdf, makes no distinction between the modes. As a matter of fact, you can’t tell at all from the map alone which modes are which. Does that mean that LACMTA is being dishonest? No, it means that when people look at a subway map, they want to know about simple spatial and operating relationships. In this case, the Purple and Red Lines are heavy (metro) rail. The other solid lines are light rail, and the “transitways” are busways.

    3. No one yet knows who will be operating the Purple Line, or whether it will be rolled into the WMATA trip planner. The Atlanta advocacy group that I mentioned before created their own regional trip planner. Not only does Atlanta’s heavy rail (metro) and bus operator, MARTA not have a trip planner, but there is no planner for people who need to use different services. CfPT’s trip planner incorporates routes and travel times from MARTA, three county operators, and a regional express operator. It will eventually be expanded to cover university shuttles and a commuter rail system if one ever gets built. It is very likely that MTA will work closely with MTA to ensure that riders are able to connect between the systems. MARC is a separate agency, but that doesn’t stop its stations from being well connected in many places (like Greenbelt, Rockville, and New Carrollton, for instance).

  10. Sin, you show your ignorance with your last post. The WMATA trip planner includes rail, bus, and even Ride-on and The Bus.

    You guys don’t like the map because anyone can look at it and see how useful the Purple Line will be. It will be just as much a part of our Metrorail system as Boston’s light rail Green Line is part of their T. And yes, Metro will accept it, in fact Metro was designing the section from Silver Spring to New Carrollton until Gov. Ehrlich pulled the money back from them as part of his efforts to make Columbia Country Club happy.

  11. Ben,

    It is not only the Columbia Country Club that doesn’t want this line in its current form and alignment.

    * UM Administration

    * Save the Trail is a group that is growing bigger by the day.
    http://www.savethetrail.org/

    * East Silver Spring:
    http://www.sstop.org/

    Others to follow as the public becomes more and more aware of this badly designed system that will not scale to the future transportation needs of the region.

    These NIMBY groups are just as determined although not quite as well funded as the development interests that you represent. Most importantly they are not doing it for money. How about you?

    I guess UM could be called NIMFY (not in my front yard).

    May the best side win.

  12. Sin – the Purple Line is supported by the vast majority of the delegations of both Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties as well as County Executives and Councils from both counties.

    The opponents to some Purple Line options in east Silver Spring has always coached their concerns with “we support the Purple Line”. This includes the three major civic associations in that area (SOECA, ESSCA and Park Hills). The two major candidates for Montgomery County Council District 5 (Silver Spring/Wheaton) were both strongly supportive of the project (Hans Riemer and Valerie Ervin, the victor). The winner in District 1 (which includes Chevy-Chase home of the so-called Committee to Save the Trail), Roger Berliner supports the Purple Line as does the Md District 16 delegation. Berliner beat the last Montgomery County Councilmember opposed to the Purple Line.

    Concern about specific alignments is normal and a part of healthy dialogue. Concern about traffic congestion is growing far more than opposition to the Purple Line. Why? Because traffic is becoming nightmarish. It can take 25 minutes to get up Rt. 1 to the beltway from UM. For someone travelling to Bethesda or Silver Spring, the Purple Line will move quickly enough to provide a great alternative for many trips. While opponents dismissed earlier ridership estimates of 50 to 70,000, it is clear that a good light rail system will be embraced by the public here as they have been in other American cities.

  13. Joe,

    Your statements seem fair enough and I agree that traffic in this region has become horrendous. I only wish that the project was taking a long view on the transportaion requirements. I think that people are so frantic to have a traffic solution that we are going to sink our one and only shot at a rail line that parallels the beltway with a system that is not expandable.

    I also feel that development interests don’t have the entire region in mind with their support of the PL light rail. They are trying to shoe-horn this insufficient system in place to meet their business requirements along the route.

    How will the system go west from Bethesda and southeast from New Carrolton? I have asked that question a hundred times and never gotten an answer.

    I am still listening and I am wise enough to change my mind every now and then.

  14. I support the purple line but in reponse to Joe’s
    “Because traffic is becoming nightmarish. It can take 25 minutes to get up Rt. 1 to the beltway from UM.” There are many alternative routes to get to the beltway from UM that are not “nightmarish” now, in the future they may be.
    1.Campus Drive to Adelphi Rd to New Hampshire to the Beltway it’s quick.
    2.Paint Branch Drive across Univ Blvd to Metzerott to Adelphi Rd to New Hampshire to the Beltway it’s quick.
    3.Campus Drive to Paint Branch Pkwy to Kenilworth Ave North to the Beltway it’s quick.
    4.Stadium Drive to Univ Blvd West to the Beltway or to Adelphi Rd to New Hampshire to the Beltway is quick.
    5.Stadium Drive to Univ Blvd East to Metzerott to Adelphi Rd not as quick as 4 but quick.
    If you’d like to know about other options there are several. There is no need to sit in traffic on Rte 1 I never understand why people sit on Rte 1 in traffic. Does the Univ promote these alternative Rtes to avoid traffic on Rte 1, if not why not?

  15. I know the saying “don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good” but I feel like the Purple Line is the one crack we will have at making a rail system that parallels the beltway.

    http://www.sierraclub.org/dc/sprawl/purple-line/purple-line-map-large.html

    The Sierra Club has this right. This could be a great regional solution if we take the long view on this project. This is more than just a College Park project and it should benefit the whole region.

    This is our one shot. Lets not blow it on a short sighted solution that is not scalable.

    It is like buying a bicycle at “Target” because it is cheap and works for now, or waiting, saving, and buying a bike at “City Bikes” that you will be happy with for years and years.

    I believe if we build the Purple Line “light rail version” we will have buyer’s remorse not too long after it is complete.

    How will it go west from Bethesda and Southeast from New Carrolton. Would someone please answer that question?

  16. It is good to see some middle ground thinking. Clearly the project that moves forward will be one that will be neither a lexus or a horse and buggy. A totally on-the-cheap Purple Line would be a mistake for many reasons and there are no suburb to suburb underground heavy rail systems being built in the U.S. due to the prohibitive costs despite the fact that the travel times would be better. Our goal needs to be travel times that are significantly better than existing bus times matched with reliability, capacity and the quality of ride that is FAR better.

    Earlier ridership projections (circa 1999) showed weak demand west of Bethesda and east/southeast of New Carrollton. The segment beyond the Bethesda to New Carrollton alignment showing the best ridership was the Woodrow Willson bridge crossing between Oxon Hill and Alexandria. Virginia set back planning for that with its complete lack of interest, although that is changing and Prince George’s continues to put rail on the bridge on its priority list. Prince George’s has also asked for a study of the New Carrollton to Largo corridor to try to do some forward thinking for this (extending to another radial metrorail line). The important thing for long range planning is to plan the New Carrollton stop in a way that will allow an extension and coordinate that with replanning of the New Carrollton metrorail station area. The county also need to revise zoning ordinances to encourage density in appropriate locations along existing and new rail routes (also discouraging development in environmentally sensitive areas).

    For CPW – the Kenilworth route may be marginally time-effective for someone going west if there is an accident. In other situations, it is a crap shoot. Crossing campus is increasingly time-effective which is why UM had better address the situation if that want to continue pretending that enhancing the pedestrian environment is a goal. Otherwise, Campus Drive’s 7,000 cars per day will increase dramatically.

    I agree 100% that UM should deemphasize Rt 1 in favor of other routes to campus. Certainly there is room to bring more people in from Rt 1 and Adelphi to University and from there directly to parking. However, if East Campus is not planned in a transit oriented manner, whatever offsets are accomplished will be neutralized but this regional commercial development. It should be a big concern to College Park that the planners are talking about needing to plan parking as if they Purple Line will not be built. Why not improve bus service and otherwise build the project to be “purple line ready” and have more constrained parking?

  17. Joe,

    Have you ever tried to drive from Bethesda to Tyson’s Corner. Weak demand, you must be joking. Clearly a lot of the traffic is coming down from 270 (Corridor Cities Transitway). The fact that you are just blowing off transit heading west from Bethesda, or better yet Medical Center, tells me that you don’t travel in that region very often.

    I see the Purple Line light rail more as a Honda Civic with a 1.5 gallon gas tank.

  18. Sin –

    There is no need to be personally offensive. The fact that there is a lot of traffic on 270 and the beltway across the American Legion Bridge does not necessarily translate into transit demand that can support a rail line. There definitely is a need for better transit but the conclusion in 1999 was that a LRT or BRT line was not viable. This is not my conclusion – it is that of early studies for the entire beltway corridor that preceded the current 16 mile Purple Line study. The likely reason for this conclusion is the sprawling nature of the development that might be served. It is also true that many inner suburbs of Md will be able to get to some Fairfax destinations when the Dulles rail project is completed.

  19. Joe,

    Wasn’t intending to offend it just seemed you were minimizing traffic issues west of MD 355. The inner suburbs of Maryland will be able to use the Silver Line but they will need to travel into DC to do it.

    Isn’t this the BIG reason for the Purple Line connecting to existing Metro Stations, so you don’t have to go into DC to complete the trip. Heck, you can already get from Bethesda to Silver Spring with the MetroRail, and Bethesda – New Carrolton, Silver Spring – College Park, Silver Spring – Greenbelt…

    In your mind, is the major reason for the Purple Line more about development centers rather than transportaion?

  20. Sin,

    If you think it’s urgent to extend the Purple Line to Tysons, you should be advocating for an above-ground heavy rail line through Chevy Chase and replacing the bike trail through a significant portion of Bethesda. That would mean no trail, or a significantly poorer trail, along much of the route, but surely we shouldn’t waste a billion dollars going underground when we need that money for the extension to Tysons.

    Light rail represents a compromise – it provides a good trail and something that is less intrusive into the surrounding community, but the price is that it fails to maximize the transit possibilities of the corridor.

    The problem with the Bethesda-Tysons rail connection is that there are relatively few and small trip generators between Bethesda and Tysons. The reality of circumferential transit is that for it to succeed, you need to have lots of places where a moderate number of riders get on and off (like Bethesda, Silver Spring, Langley Park, UM, and New Carrollton). You don’t have a huge destination point like downtown DC. Even Tysons isn’t that kind of destination – it’s really not that dense. It seems that way because it’s so ugly, but because of all the parking lots it’s actually much less dense than downtown Bethesda or Silver Spring, let alone DC.

    Thus it seems to me that it’s reasonable, when building the Purple Line between Bethesda and Silver Spring, to give up some transit functionality for the benefits of the trail and something less intrusive into the neighborhood. But if you think the transportation demand justifies heavy rail in the corridor, the extra intrusion into the neighborhood of above-ground heavy rail would be a small price to pay – a much smaller price than the billion dollars required to put it underground between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

  21. tt: I’ll repeat the question here that I’ve asked elsewhere: Why would heavy rail need to push the CCT out of the corridor between Bethesda and Silver Spring? The concept plan presented by MTA as shown in the maps on its website show the trail has good separation already from the light-rail along the whole corridor. All trail and trail access crossings are already, or can easily be, grade separated from the rail. Heavy rail is not much wider than light rail, so it will fit in the available r.o.w. with the trail. So the main change for the trail might be that the fence between rail and trail would be higher.

    We see the MetBranch Trail being built alongside heavy rail in D.C. and in Takoma Park. So why can it not be done in Bethesda?

    I am not advocating heavy rail for the Purple Line – it would not work without extensive tunneling elsewhere where we can not use an old railroad corridor, and would have to be tunneled under the U. Md. campus. We can’t afford it. But your point to Sin is a good one. If he really believes in heavy rail, he should be calling for it in Bethesda on the surface. He doesn’t even have to give up the trail.

  22. Wayne,

    I am absolutely advocating heavy rail. It should however be running from Silver Spring to the Medical Center where the real demand will be. The Georgetown Branch Master Plan was written for a single track trolley system not a regional transportation solution. Leave the trail for transportation of the walking and cycling variety.

    Oh yeah Wayne, I forgot, you won’t have direct access to the trail, so if you can’t have your way let’s punish those who have a great resource.

    If anyone reading this hasn’t walked, or better yet cycled, the Capital Crescent Trail from Susanna Lane to Georgetown down Rock Creck Parkway and up Beach drive, it is wonderful. Come on over check it out, all are welcome.

    Save the Trail

  23. Sin, let’s suppose we have enough money to put the Purple Line underground through Chevy Chase. (And let’s further suppose that we’d rather spend it on parkland than on the Corridor Cities Transitway, rail out US 29, or any other transit improvement.) Why wouldn’t it make more sense to build the Purple Line above ground and condemn Columbia Country Club to turn it into a state park?

  24. tt,

    I can honestly say that the Columbia Country Club’s fate is not one of my primary concerns. It does provide beautiful scenery as you pass by walking or on bike. I would be no more welcome there than you.

    The Medical Center will be where most of the traffic is heading. The line should stop at Medical Center.

    The problem with the Silver Spring to Medical Center route is that it will not allow for increased development density at Chevy Chase Lake. The leadership at the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and the Chevy Chase Land Company (one and the same) will not be happy because their plans for some more Jimmy Choo type shops will be thwarted. On my rides past Connecticut Avenue I would much rather look at some well maintained landscape (golf course), than I would some face-lifted, Bentley driving, Eurotrash, there to buy $1000 handbags.

    This issue isn’t as black and white as most will have you believe. There are extremely wealthy people on both sides of this debate along with NIMBYs and transit advocates.

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