Quick Release: WABA Blog Front Page

The Purple Line is GOOD for the Trail

Last week, a public meeting was held by MTA on the future of the Purple Line and the accompanying trail improvements to the Capital Crescent Trail that would make the portion of the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring a more viable connection between these two employment and transit hubs.

After more than a decade of debate, you might think that questions about the future Purple Line would be put to rest.  But as work has continued, budgets have tightened, and cost estimates have been released, some trail opponents are bringing up the same misleading arguments about lack of public input, expense, and harm to the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT).

Throughout this planning process, trail opponents have cloaked their opposition with positive spin, naming the anti-Purple Line advocacy organization “Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail” and circulating a “Save the Trail” petition.  This has created a great deal of confusion, and we want to clarify—now that some time has passed—where WABA—as credible, regional cycling advocates who love the trail and have advocated  for it from its inception—stand on this project.

So let’s set the record straight: The Purple Line is not going to destroy the trail.  While the trail will change, in most ways it will be for the better.  The fact is that the Purple Line is the best way— in fact, the only realistic way—to get improvements to the existing segments of the CCT and to extend the trail into downtown Silver Spring.

WABA outlined our reasoning  for the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission in 2008:

WABA has studied the arguments of Purple Line opponents about the impact of a transit line running parallel to—and in the same right-of-way with— the Capital Crescent Trail with great interest.  We have considered their claims carefully, and we think they are simply incorrect.  The Purple Line build options in the environmental impact statement are fully consistent with preserving the trail . . . . WABA prefers the light rail versions to the bus line options because rail would more effectively integrate the area’s transportation infrastructure, including Metrorail and alternative modes of commuting such as bicycling.

WABA also noted that the infrastructure built for light rail will provide the maximum number of opportunities to include trail crossings to avoid several dangerous intersections:

The existing trail includes at-grade crossings with limited visibility or heavy automobile traffic at Jones Bridge Road and Connecticut Avenue . . . . Once the trail reaches the western part of Silver Spring, cyclists and walkers are dumped onto the streets, and they are forced to cross wide, busy intersections at 16th Street and at Colesville Road.  The heavier investment Purple Line options provide for the trail to cross all of these intersections on bridges or under tunnels, improving safety.

Montgomery County and MTA planners have adopted each and every one of the specific recommendations we made in 2008.   At a briefing for the board of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, MTA showed how the trail will be extended by an additional 1.4 miles into downtown Silver Spring as part of the Purple Line project.  The CCT will connect directly to the future Metropolitan Branch Trail in the new Silver Spring Transit Center, as WABA requested, to complete the missing northern link in the long-planned “bicycle beltway” beginning at Union Station, extending north to Silver Spring, west to Bethesda, and south again through the District of Columbia ending in Georgetown.

The rebuilt trail will be more complete, wider, better paved, and better separated from motor vehicle traffic than the interim gravel trail that exists today.  As WABA recommended, the trail will be paved and 12’ wide from the Bethesda tunnel to Silver Spring.  The trail will have grade separated crossings of all busy highways, including Connecticut Avenue, Jones Mill Road, 16th Street, Spring Street, and Colesville Road.  The trail will be safely separated from the transit tracks by a landscaped buffer and fencing, and it will include direct access to five transit stations, including at the Bethesda and Silver Spring Metro stations.

Now, will these improvements come without investment?  Of course not.  But the more recent release of a $65M cost estimate for completing the trail has brought trail opponents back into the picture.So let’s put that $65M in context.  Certainly, we could demonstrate that much of the cost allocated to the trail is actually for access to the rail stations that would exist, regardless of the trail’s status.  And we could argue that certain costs for moving the existing trail were computed in a way that is never applied to similar relocations of roadways.  But even if we accept the $65M, we can still show that, as a transportation investment, this trail is good buy.

Yes, $65M is a lot of money.  In the context of our own personal or family economies, it is overwhelming—and that is why opponents of the trail are citing it. It is a big number, and that is all they want people to hear, even if that big number represents a good investment in transportation infrastructure.

So let’s take that $65M and place it in the cost context of transportation infrastructure.  Looking at current projects in Montgomery County, a standard resurfacing of existing roadway is slated to cost $3.5M for a 1.4 mile stretch of roadway—with little to no change in transportation effectiveness. (Resurfacing University Blvd. from Arcola Ave. to Colesville Rd.) And improving a single roadway intersection is budgeted to cost $62.5M—nearly as much as the entire trail, even accepting the $65M figure. (Georgia Ave. at Randolph Rd.) And that’s not even comparing it to the truly expensive projects, such as the $2.5 BILLION Intercounty Connector, whose affiliated bicycle-related projects to serve east-west traffic already have been undermined.

So here is the bottom line:  Yes: $65M is a big number when compared to a weekly grocery budget.  But it’s not a big number when compared to the massive costs accepted simply as necessary to  move cars around our region.  And here, we know that this trail is a better investment in moving people because we already know that the paved portion of the CCT moves over a million people every year from DC to Bethesda, but experiences a significant drop-off in usage when it leaves Bethesda and becomes unpaved.

WABA looked at the Purple Line years ago and concluded that the rail option was the best thing for cyclists, and for the region’s mobility.  Looking at it again—in the context of regional growth, the progress in Silver Spring, and the ongoing work on the Metropolitan Branch Trail—we are even more convinced of that conclusion today. We know Silver Spring is growing.  We know Bethesda is growing.  And we know that regionally, Silver Spring is to become a major multi-modal transportation hub. Completing the Purple Line and accompanying trail continues to be the best and most effective opportunity to contribute significantly to the regional trail network in Montgomery County, and to enable people to travel by bicycle.

As mentioned yesterday, WABA will be at the Bethesda CCT trailhead and along the trail providing safety tips, route guidance, and other information to cyclists.  If you have questions about the trail or the impact of the Purple Line, we would be happy to answer them.  Look for us from 10am to 2pm.

Note: This posting is adapted from an article in the forthcoming issue of RideOn–WABA’s quarterly newsletter for members.  Thanks to Casey Anderson and Wayne Phyillaier for their contributions to the article and for their ongoing advocacy in support of the trail.

16 comments
Andrew
Andrew

I agree with Bill. This is a total sell out. We have little enough green space in the area and need to preserve it.

Bill S.
Bill S.

It's sad to see so many cyclists - really good people - being had by developers and others that want to urbanize our communities and destroy our park land and open space. They throw cyclists a little bone like paving and extending the CCT into downtown Silver Spring. Meanwhile, what they don't tell you is the only reason they are doing this is, in the case of Chevy Chase Lake, to build 4.3 million square feet of commercial offices, residential units, etc. in blocks and blocks of towers (12 of them rising 10-19 stories). And to accomplish that, they need an $800 million increase to the annual state gas tax and a one-time $900 million federal subsidy. All this for a shadeless ribbon of asphalt bike trail bisected by a 4.3 million square foot development? It's a shame that too many cyclists have fallen for this. The urbanization and increased congestion of lower Montgomery County is not inevitable if people who care about their quality of life wake up and get active. But the plan for the Purple Line is a good example how easy it is to manipulate a lot of well-intentioned people who genuinely care about their community, but have little clue about the real deal going down. If it happens...

Ajay Bhatt
Ajay Bhatt

A few thoughts on the above comments: "The Purple Line would mean less cars…" WRONG Look at the new massive developments planned because of increased zoning density. A fraction of those new commuters will take the PL MTA estimates that 80% of PL users from existing transit. There is NO NET LOSS of car traffic - it's the opposite. We're pro-transit! Transit that makes sense. Take a tiny fraction of that $2 Billion and build the Trail to Silver Spring NOW! $2 billion to subsidize developers and make traffic worse is in no one's best interest - except the developers. Plus we get to keep 20 acres of mature tree canopy inside the Beltway - Did anyone see the movie Avatar?

gwadzilla
gwadzilla

I want what is best for all... The Purple Line would mean less cars... which is great. If there is still a CCT and it is wider... well... we need to accept that change happens and that we expect this change to be for the better Bridges and Tunnels at the major crossings would be a huge improvement! I am curious to see what the future holds.

TC
TC

I totally agree with WABA! As a resident of Silver Spring, I can understand the concerns by Bethesda residents, but none of them probably venture on the trail beyond CT Ave. I have to cross 16th street, Jones Mill Rd and CT Ave before I get to a reasonbaly useful trail for running and biking. Let's get to "brass-tax" as is often said: The "save the trail" people are just plain selfish and greedy and don't want to share the trail and/or decrease their property values. Build the Purple Line and finish the trail ASAP!

Wayne Phyillaier
Wayne Phyillaier

Elizabeth: I live 2 blocks from that crossing. For cyclists - I strongly recommend "taking the lane" and staying clear of the crosswalk to avoid what you experienced. Turning traffic is heavy, the sightline is poor for the motorists, and the crosswalk is not a safe place to be. Of course pedestrians do not have that option. Those who are not familiar with this "trail" crossing of 16th Street can see it in action on youtube, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFXbAHyv-eU Just skip forward to the last minute of the video if you don't want to take the tour of Woodside.

Elizabeth | The Natural Capital
Elizabeth | The Natural Capital

I use the CCT to commute from Silver Spring to Bethesda. Last night at the intersection of 2nd Ave and 16th St I was nearly hit by a bus turning right onto 16th while I was crossing 16th, in the crosswalk, with a walk sign (which, by the way, takes several minutes to come on after requesting it with the pedestrian button). This is part of the ridiculously-labeled "trail" that is on-road in Silver Spring. So I am very much looking forward to these changes. And I'm looking forward to being able to take the Purple Line on rainy/cold days when I don't want to ride my bike.

Wayne Phyillaier
Wayne Phyillaier

"Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail" does not show the slightest interest in completing the trail east of Rock Creek. Their annual 5K fundraising race to showcase the trail does not even venture east of Connecticut Avenue - because the trail is too incomplete now to support a longer race that goes east beyond Chevy Chase. After all of these years, "Friends" still can not show any credible plan to complete the trail without it being part of a transit project. "Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail" has not even shown interest in paving the existing trail. The founder, Pam Browning, stated in a comments discussion on the WashCycle blog several years ago that she would support paving the trail only IF a crushed stone trail would remain for walkers and IF the paved trail could also be done in addition to a crushed stone trail without cutting any trees. That, of course, is not possible to do in the Georgetown Branch Corridor. "Friends" agenda has been consistent - to resist any change to the trail so that it remains as a lightly used local walking trail for adjacent neighbors. That is not a bad goal. But paving and completing the trail so that it is part of a complete, regional trail system that serves Silver Spring neighborhoods too, while also sharing the right-of-way with many more light-rail users, is a much higher goal. Many more people will use this publicly owned rail corridor, both as trail users and as transit users, if the Purple Line/CCT is built, than will be possible otherwise. See http://www.silverspringtrails.org for more on how the Purple Line will help complete the CCT. Thanks, Wayne Phyillaier

Ajay Bhatt
Ajay Bhatt

"opponents have cloaked their opposition with positive spin, naming the anti-Purple Line advocacy organization “Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail” and circulating a “Save the Trail” petition." Let me un-cloak Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail's aspirations: To leave intact a 20 acre forested park inside the beltway for generations of young and old, walkers, runners and bikers to enjoy. For $2 Billion a better transportation solution that doesn't destroy thousands of 50 year-old trees is possible. One that would actually reduce traffic would be a benefit. Completing the trail to Silver Spring should be part of Montgomery County's plan TODAY, not when we finally get federally funding as part of another project. I invite you to visit our website www.SaveTheTrail.org where thousands of Trail users from throughout the region have shown support for our cause. Thank you, Ajay Bhatt President Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail

Bill S.
Bill S.

I agree that we shouldn't re-hash arguments, so I'll limit this hopefully-last post by responding to a couple things you wrote that mischaracterize my previous post. I didn't argue that Metro would be fixed for $65 million; the point was that the billions of dollars for the Purple Line would be better spent on fixing Metro. (By the way, the Purple Line will not be part of the Metro system, but compete against it for operating support.) Second thing, I didn't argue that biking was not a "real transportation option," but certainly believe its potential is limited by choice. Let's be honest enough to acknowledge that most people don't bike to get around and never will. But let's do all we can to encourage it - within reason and our means.

Lawrence MacDonald
Lawrence MacDonald

As an Arlington bike rider who often enjoys the Capital Crescent on weekends and favors rail, I have been unsure what to make of the Purple Line trail debate. So it's helpful to have it laid out here so clearly. Thanks, WABA. I hope that the rail and trail are built soon.

Bill S.
Bill S.

Thanks for your comments, Shane. I think $65 million to pave a 3-mile recreational trail and extend it by 2 miles while clear-cutting a 20-acre canopy of tall trees (to be replaced by smaller ones set back from the high-power catenary wires) is a reckless waste of tax dollars. Extending the CCT as a bike path for 2 miles into Silver Spring is not worth spending $65 million, let alone $1.6 billion that must be spent first to build the Purple Line (as the extension of the trail won't happen without building the Purple Line). Let's fix Metro first. Let's invest in smart transportation choices like bus rapid transit. Let's not spend money on projects that increase congestion by being the foundation for more unbridled development. Let's also be honest enough to admit that biking, while a great way to get around and enjoyed by many people we know (I do about 50-100 miles a week), has a somewhat limited potential as a transportation alternative. Let's also be wise enough to recognize that the most powerful Purple Line advocates are the commercial developers who build greater density and produce more congestion as a result. For example, without the Purple Line the Chevy Chase Land Company cannot get a change in the sector plan to build a one-million square foot development on Connecticut Avenue with offices and a hotel. This project is opposed by many residents in the surrounding neighborhood - They don't want more congestion. That the WABA would support a bike path at any cost, whether measured in tens of millions of public dollars per mile or by the sight of cyclists walking their bikes up a switchback ramp inside an office building in downtown Bethesda on the "trail") is disappointing. It really does set the bar for greed and self-humiliation. Is there no cost that is too much? Find out more how to protect and preserve open space, park land and quality of life in lower Montgomery County at www.savethetrail.org. Thanks!

Shane Farthing
Shane Farthing

Bill, We're probably getting to that point of re-hashing our arguments at which it makes more sense to take this off-line. But to give a proper response to your comments: The trail's cost has been estimated at roughly $65M. That's the part that addresses cycling, and so the part that I'll take on the task of defending. And as I suggest in the original posting, that number is inflated in some ways. But regardless, it is on par with several individual intersection reconfigurations within the county. Transportation infrastructure is expensive, yes. But as transportation infrastructure goes, this is cost effective. And no one is arguing that we shouldn't maintain and improve the region's transportation infrastructure. As for fixing Metro: I agree that fixing Metro would be a wonderful step. But I'm not sure you could fix Metro for $65M. And even if you did, you'd still have to go all the way through DC and back to get from Silver Spring to Bethesda by rail. And cyclists still wouldn't have a completed path on which to bike there. (I also wonder what real difference there is between the purple line and any of Metro's other lines. Might you also, had the timing been different, have objected to the red line and listed precisely the same sorts of concerns?) As for the argument that cycling is not a real transportation option. I'll state for the record that I strongly disagree, but spare you my presentation on the viability of cycling as functional transportation. As you've been kind enough to come to the WABA blog to comment, I'd largely be preaching to the converted with that one. And yes, others--including developers--may like the purple line for a variety of reasons. WABA likes it because it means a completed CCT and brings all the associated benefits of that improvement to the county and region. Whatever change in development density may come in the future, the current level of economic and social activity--as well as accompanying congestion--in Silver Spring and Bethesda already justifies seeking transportation improvements that encourage travel by modes other than private automobile. And for WABA, the preferred improvement is a completed CCT and the preferred vehicle is a bicycle.

Bill S.
Bill S.

The Purple Line is not good for the Capital Crescent Trail as it exists today between Bethesda and Silver Spring. To say that a new trail will create "a more viable connection between these two employment and transit hubs" is really to say that bikers will be able to ride between Bethesda more easily than today. But this comes at a cost far beyond the $65 million to bulldoze the current trail, clear-cut the three-mile canopy of tall trees and pave a shadeless ribbon of asphalt. To pay for a paved Capital Crescent Trail all the way into downtown Silver Spring requires an $800 million annual tax increase to pay for the Purple Line (and other projects) as recently proposed in Annapolis. Without the tax increase, there's no money for the Purple Line and a paved trail into Silver Spring. But it's worse than that. Overall, the capital cost - not including any ongoing public subsidy - for the the Purple Line is $1.6 billion (in 2010 dollars). The operating subsidy will be millions on top of that. Moreover, the Purple Line is essentially a stalking horse for increasing the density of development in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, especially at the 21 planned transit centers along its route. Already, the start of the "new trail" in Bethesda is slated to be a concrete switch-back ramp inside a yet-to-be-built office building on Woodmont Avenue connected to a cage suspended above the tracks (yes, bikes will have to be walked up and down the narrow ramp). So, if you favor more congestion, more unbridled development, and the loss of open space and park land, by all means, support the Purple Line. But like the response to the one biker who at this meeting asked "will there be showers and changing facilities on the new trail?," the answer to the question "is the Purple Line as planned today worth its cost?," the answer is "no." Sadly though, the leadership of WABA has had its support for the Purple Line bought off by promises of an overall speedier and safer (and very expensive) bikeway between Bethesda and Silver Spring. To learn more about the real costs of the Purple Line, please visit www.savethetrail.org. Thanks!

Shane Farthing
Shane Farthing

Thanks for the comment, Bill. And welcome to the blog. We do support the trail becoming a safer, speedier means of access between Silver Spring and Bethesda. These are already areas of substantial economic activity and employment with major transportation hubs and traffic flow. The suggestion that providing a means for residents and visitors to forgo motor vehicle usage in favor of an off-road bicycle route will increase congestion seems contrary to logic. Currently, the path between these two significant cities in our region is crushed gravel, subject to pitting and damage every time it rains. And in part, it's hardly a trail at all--it's just signs along roadways that rather confusingly point toward downtown Silver Spring. Cyclists and others who wish to travel safely and efficiently to jobs, amenities, etc. in either of these cities should be able to do so. You admit the trail improvements will make the trip speedier. You admit it will make the trip safer. We at WABA believe that speedier, safer, more environmentally friendly forms of transportation that decrease auto congestion and air pollution while providing health benefits to the user should be encouraged. And while I might object to the phrasing that WABA has been "bought off," I will admit that our support can generally be attracted by offers of high-quality, safe, functional trail connections for cyclists within the region. Our mission, since 1972, has been: "to create a healthy, more livable region by promoting bicycling for fun, fitness, and affordable transportation; advocating for better bicycling conditions and transportation choices for a healthier environment, and educating children, adults, and motorists about safe bicycling." The completion of the CCT serves that mission. And the Purple Line project creates the best, most viable opportunity for the completion of the CCT. I do appreciate the comment, however. I simply think that your focus on keeping "the Capital Crescent Trail as it exists today" differs from our goal to make is as inclusive, safe, functional, and enjoyable as it could be for the region. But I do look forward to sharing the trail with you for years to come.

Mark Zimmermann
Mark Zimmermann

Excellent summary/discussion/explanation ... many tnx, esp. for cost analysis ... I love the CCT (as a runner; my son is the family cyclist) --- we live near the eastern end --- glad to hear it will finally connect properly to downtown Silver Spring!

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