Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Debate that (Finally) Makes Sense

The Purple Line is a proposed transitway which will traverse Washington's northern suburbs. Running from Bethesda in the west to New Carrollton in the east, the line will link some of the larger job centers in the Maryland suburbs and could be the stepping off point for a fully circumferential rail line around the city.

The rail line will not be the same type of service as the existing metro, instead it will be either light rail or bus rapid transit. These modes do not have to be fully grade separated from other types of traffic, and in this case, very little of the Purple Line is likely to be elevated or in subway.

The lack of grade separation has been a contentious issue for some time at various points along the proposed route, however some of the loudest discussion came from College Park, where the proposed routing would traverse the University of Maryland on Campus Drive.

The University administration called for alternative alignments, costly subway construction, and further study; while students pushed for a central location and a speedy construction process. To many, it seemed that the debate was getting us nowhere, with the University proposing new alignments seemingly every week and forcing the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to rehash old arguments over and over. The student government organizations at both the undergraduate and graduate levels passed resolutions calling for the Campus Drive alternative, but President Mote would not meet with representatives from those bodies to even discuss the substance of UM's objections.

Finally, however, the debate has settled down into a calm, rational discussion of the issues. The administration, reports the Diamondback, will drop its objections to the MTA-preferred alternative if MTA can allay the fears that trains will be a danger to pedestrians and disrupt research. Accordingly, MTA is studying the potential effects, from vibrations to electromagnetic radiation. They've also released revised plans for pedestrian movement and design which will truly improve the appearance of central campus.

The Purple Line is a golden opportunity for UM and the Washington region. By improving transit access, the University can reduce the footprint of its parking facilities and increase students' access to jobs throughout the region. The region will increase its mobility and will build a vital link missing from the transit infrastructure for so long. If UM's support is indeed forthcoming, this vision of Washington's future will be one step closer to reality.

The Purple Line will probably most
resemble Charlotte's new Lynx LRT

Matt is an occasional contributor to Rethink College Park. A different version of this post will appear there this week.

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