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Residents support the Purple Line at Bethesda/Chevy Chase hearing

I testified at the Bethesda/Chevy Chase Purple Line hearing last night. Most speakers rehashed the same arguments made back and forth in western Montgomery County over the past few years. The "Save the Trail" crowd repeated their parochial concerns.

The Purple Line's enemies. Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

But these opponents were definitely the minority. 60-80% of the people who spoke before me (I was nunmber 30) supported the light rail Purple Line. A few (including me) specifically spoke up for the High Investment Light Rail option. It was an excellent hearing, especially for light rail Purple Line proponents.

A wide cross section of people spoke for the project: transit advocates, citizens at large, citizens of the Town of Chevy Chase who were upset about their town government's stancec, senior citizens who remembered streetcars and lamented them ever disappearing, various local Chambers of Commerce, a representative from the Montgomery County League of Women Voters, a representative from the Town of North Chevy Chase, and others.

The Town of North Chevy Chase opposes the Jones Bridge Road bus alignment (Low Investment BRT) because it would literally increase traffic in their front yards. It would mean buses every two minutes right in front of North Chevy Chase Elementary School. The town's representative pointed out that light rail on the old CSX freight railroad tracks has been part of the county's Master Plan for 20 years. The Jones Bridge Road busway only came up earlier this year when the Town of Chevy Chase commissioned Sam Schwartz to do a study, completely funded by the town, that (surprise!) supported the town's position.

I was the only speaker I saw who was under 30. Another guy, who appeared to be in his thirties, said he favored the LRT because he's committed to a green, transit oriented lifestyle and was sick of standing for 24 minutes on a J2/J3 bus from his home in downtown Bethesda to get to Silver Spring. I commend him for sticking to his convictions, and speaking out about it when it counts.

I tried to use my three minutes to say something that none of the other 29 speakers before me had already said. I focused on the long, long term costs of the High Investment LRT option. The New York City Subway has been running for approximately one century. Our Metro has been running for a little over 30 years. The cost-effectiveness estimates in the Maryland MTA's Draft Environmental Impact Statement centered around 2030, because of the rules for federal funding.

The longer a time frame we use to amortize the initial construction costs, the smaller the High Investment LRT's capital costs become compared to the benefits of the higher investment. The lower investment options cost less up front, but also deliver disproportionately fewer benefits over the life of the transit line. Light rail is the most expensive, but also the best value. Just like our existing Metro, you get what you pay for.

(And all options are deemed to be cost-effective enough for federal funding, according to FTA metrics.)

Since I hail from a different generation than most other speakers, I emphasized that this project is about the future of our region, not just about money. I pointed out that most young professionals in the Washington region prefer to live in a vibrant walkable environment. Even those who want to have yards and single family houses don't put the big yard on the same pedestal as our parents do. Most want a place where there is some form of community, whether a small town, walkable suburban town, or neighborhood in a major city. Such places need infrastructure to support them. Electrified rail is the highest performance transportation infrastructure in a walkable environment. Our region needs more as we continue to add jobs, residents, wealth, and vibrancy.

I had fun, and feel like I made a positive difference for my community and my region.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 


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Thank you for being there, and for saying what you said.

by Elizabeth on Nov 19, 2008 11:18 am • linkreport

"I pointed out that most young professionals in the Washington region prefer to live in a vibrant walkable environment. Even those who want to have yards and single family houses don't put the big yard on the same pedestal as our parents do."

GGW - the voice of a generation. How's that for a tagline.

How many people did you survey to come to that conclusion. As far as what your parents wanted, you have to consider they were much older than you and a different place in their lives when you first met them. What I am saying is that they may have wanted the same things that you want before they were married and had little greater greaters. As far as how you and the generation that you represent will want to or afford to live when you go the enevitable passage from urban singles to married with children will change.

Did you ever think of that?

by Tom on Nov 19, 2008 11:33 am • linkreport

I understand the lock-in effect from the EIS, but has anyone seriously considered a suspended train like Aerobus? Seems like it would be a lot more environmentally agreeable with a high-pedestrian-traffic stream-valley, and it's naturally grade-separated so alignments like "Smack down the middle of Ellsworth Drive" don't require extended tunnelling. A few thick steel pylons are a lot less dangerous and have a lot less environmental impact than a gravel railbed. I suspect it could be built for less than the high-investment-LRT's while being faster and *much* more versatile at navigating past freeway obstructions.

by Squalish on Nov 19, 2008 11:39 am • linkreport

Great reporting, and thanks a bunch for being there and saying what you said. As a native Clevelander, I wish we had more people like you in our city. keep it up!

by Phil K (Turk) on Nov 19, 2008 11:41 am • linkreport

It's sad that the state's lack of transportation funding will likely delay this for years, but I am very happy with the outcome of the hearings! Thanks for contributing in a meaningful way. It all starts at the grass roots.

by SG on Nov 19, 2008 12:07 pm • linkreport

I was speaker 24, just ahead of you. I was pleased so many came out to speak for the Purple Line. The recent endorsement of the Purple Line light rail by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association was cited by several speakers to challenge the "Save the Trail" hype coming from the transit opponents.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Nov 19, 2008 12:29 pm • linkreport

I just posted a comment with a bunch of references in "cutting transit" below that is relavent to the argument in favor of the purple light rail for anyone interested.

by Bianchi on Nov 19, 2008 12:36 pm • linkreport

Wayne, I enjoyed your testimony last night. It was great to hear so many people with so many different viewpoints agree on the need for this project as a (High Investment) Light Rail. I read your blog at least once a week. Since I don't own a bicycle, it's great to hear a view from the cyclist community.

Tom, that point I closed my testimony with was something called rhetoric. I'm sure the engineers and the audience saw it as such. I didn't have time to break down trends in the regional real estate market. However, anyone can see all the young adults walking and living in places like Silver Spring, Bethesda, DuPont Circle, Columbia Heights, Clarendon, etc. I used that passage as a device to illustrate the idea that we need to build infrastructure that will not hamper the real estate trends. Remember, speakers only had three minutes. I spent my first 2:30 arguing about cost effectiveness in the long term. I wanted to close with something less dry.

Bianchi, the irony of this post juxtaposed to the news this morning and my post yesterday is quite thick. However, we have to remember that the Purple Line will receive federal funding since all options are deemed as cost-effective according the FTA metrics. Also, the capital costs will be payed over many years, possibly through bonds. The project won't come from a single year's budget in cash. There's still plenty of reason to keep on this one. Plus, the governor is in favor of it. He picked it up off the floor of the Ehrlich Administration.

by Cavan on Nov 19, 2008 12:56 pm • linkreport

Cavan, good job testifying at the Chevy Chase hearing. I'm also under 30, and I testified at the one in New Carrollton. There was one other person our age who testified at that one, she was a representative of a student organization. I couldn't make it to the hearing, but I'm glad to hear the speakers at the Chevy Chase hearing were generally in favor of light rail. Thanks for the update.

by Ted on Nov 19, 2008 2:05 pm • linkreport

Great to hear that the majority was supportive, Chevy Chase is the toughest crowd. I did my three minutes was at New Carrollton where as was said earlier the crowd was strongly favorable but was worried that there might be more opponents at Chevy Chase.

by Greg Sanders on Nov 19, 2008 2:08 pm • linkreport

Where is the money for this band-aid of a transportaion solution. Unless you activists start earning some serious money and paying some serious taxes there will not be enough money to either build this beast or to keep it fed.

btw, Anti-purple Line folks were cleary in the majority. ACT had its minions here and there but they did not impress me with their arguments.

by Ned on Nov 19, 2008 2:10 pm • linkreport

btw, no they weren't. See my previous comment for money related issues.

by Cavan on Nov 19, 2008 2:15 pm • linkreport

I am tired of these "save the trail" people. I was glad when the NIMBYs were overruled for the ICC and hope they will face the same fate for the Purple Line.

by Omari on Nov 19, 2008 2:23 pm • linkreport

Ned, you sound pretty bitter. Do you live nearby and are afraid "those" people might use the Purple line? Or perhaps are a member of CCC?

by SG on Nov 19, 2008 2:39 pm • linkreport

Members of ACT are "minions" rather than community residents? I guess we don't live in "real Maryland."

by Ben Ross on Nov 19, 2008 3:04 pm • linkreport

Cavan- what "news this morning"?

by Bianchi on Nov 19, 2008 3:13 pm • linkreport

Bianchi, I'm referring to the news in David's morning post about the decline in Maryland state transportation revenue.

by Cavan on Nov 19, 2008 3:31 pm • linkreport

You guys are in your own little "developer sponsored" Nirvana. Do you see the 90+ year old NIMBY go to the mike and make quite a speech in support of preserving the trail. Most of you ACT folks live no where near the trail and are only involved because of developer$$$. You are delusional if you think the only resistance to this boondoggle of a white elephant is in Chevy Chase.

I will give you one thing, you developers are tenacious.

We'll see how it goes.

Hey SG, cool it with the class warfare. I grew up in Langley Park and know a jerk when I hear one. They are both rich and poor.

by Ned on Nov 19, 2008 3:45 pm • linkreport

I think Ned's demeanor and words say quite a lot, unfortunately.

by Cavan on Nov 19, 2008 3:50 pm • linkreport

Squalish, the Aerobus looks like an interesting solution for the western section of the project, but I still think it would have considerable visual clutter in silver spring. It would look really cool and offer tremendous views at a low cost, but I don't see it being that easy to push through. Even then, I'd rather go with a system that has a low profile, can interconnect directly with DC streetcars, and has already had an EIS.

by The King of Spain on Nov 19, 2008 3:53 pm • linkreport

"developer$$$" is the new "AmeriKKKa."

by The King of Spain on Nov 19, 2008 3:54 pm • linkreport


"I had fun, and feel like I made a positive difference for my community and my region."

I love you too.


by Ned on Nov 19, 2008 3:59 pm • linkreport

um... "I...know a jerk when I hear one."

(pssst. it takes one to know one)

by Bianchi on Nov 19, 2008 4:29 pm • linkreport

Oh Ned, when you lead with this gem: "Unless you activists start earning some serious money and paying some serious taxes there will not be enough money to either build this beast or to keep it fed." ... Then of course no one is going to take you seriously. We can read between the lines. Just come out and say what you really feel, rather than beating around the Bush... I mean bush.

by SG on Nov 19, 2008 4:48 pm • linkreport

>I understand the lock-in effect from the EIS, but has anyone seriously considered a suspended train like Aerobus?

This is a huge oversimplification, but generally speaking monorails give you light-rail-like capacity for Metro-rail-like cost. There are so few monorails in the world because except in rather extraordinary circumstances, they're just not the best solution.

>You guys are in your own little "developer sponsored" Nirvana.

Comments like this are why fewer and fewer moderates take the Purple line opposition seriously. Honestly Ned, if you really believe that the only people who want a light rail line in Chevy Chase are in the pockets of developers, then frankly you are not perceptive enough to be listened to.

There are plenty of good arguments that reasonable people can make on both sides of this issue. Suggesting that one side has simply been bought off is obtuse.

by BeyondDC on Nov 19, 2008 7:24 pm • linkreport

Gee thanks, It is great to have an audience.

I have been involved in this purple line debate for what seems to be over 10 years. During this time the only constants I have seen are ACT, who accept funding from a certain Land Company, and the Save the Trail Folks, many of whom actually use the Trail because they live in that neighborhood. I don't know anyone from the Columbia Country Club but I am sure they are rather snooty.

ACT and the Land Company have been the engines behind keeping the rail line alive way before there was any mention of anything called the Purple Line. Back then it was only going to be a single line trolley between Bethesda and Silver Spring that would still enable increased development at Chevy Chase Lake.

So if you have nothing to do with developers and are only in this because you want to add a Light Rail system to our Metro Rail please excuse me,

I believe that once this Light Rail is in place the idea of having a rail line that actually circles DC is finished. Forget about it.

Those cute maps published by the Sierra Club have the same chance of becoming reality as I have in joining the Columbia Country Club, Zero.

The plan most of you are pushing will never be as good as it could be if we demanded a standardized fast moving rail line that could go west from Bethesda into Virginia.

by Ned on Nov 19, 2008 9:07 pm • linkreport


First off Ned, thanks for your generous of acknowledgment of the hard work ACT has done on this issue. Perhaps you should put that sort of work towards getting your Bethesda to Virginia line.

I normally wouldn't use it, I mostly go to Virginia to visit friends or the occasional company picnic. Though sometimes when I do it's incredibly backed up, so I wouldn't be surprised if there was enough demand. But as someone who lives in Silver Spring, I do more often go to Bethesda and would go a lot more if there's rail. Similarly, I'm now long since graduated, but I would have loved a College Park light rail connection, Metro works but it can be pretty inconvenient, particularly since the line doesn't run to campus itself like the light-rail did.

Regardless, the trail will still be there when the Purple Line is built, so at those times when you aren't walking it I look forward to working with you to help achieve other mass transit projects.

by Greg Sanders on Nov 19, 2008 9:17 pm • linkreport

Having grown up in Chevy Chase when it had a substantial middle class population, and when freight trains used to use the capitol crescent tracks, I can tell you it's no big deal to have the tracks returned to their original use. Anyway, the new plan provides for the bike/jogging trail right along side it. The farcical argument that anyone infavor of good public transportation is somehow in the pocket of developers hasn't spent time asking the working class populations what benefit a rail line would be in getting them to the menial service jobs up the pike when they can't afford a car. If the land prices go up around the purple line it's because transit oriented housing is still too scarce a commodity. Look at New York which is completely traversable by trains and tell me if you see yuppies flooding to East New York, Brownsville, or a slew of other working class neighborhoods.

by Thayer-D on Nov 20, 2008 7:28 am • linkreport

Unless the cost of the rail line is less than the bus the people who work "menial service jobs" will continue to use the bus.

I have been to South and Central America many times and in the countries I have visited the bus is a pretty cool way to get around.

I heard someone say that there are > 50,000 workers in Bethesda. How many are knowledge workers and how many live along the Purple Line route? What "menial service jobs" are in Bethesda?

by Ned on Nov 20, 2008 7:57 am • linkreport

I don't know how many "menial service jobs" are in Bethesda. But there are apparently enough to cause the J-2 buses to be filled to capacity every morning. And the buses are stuck on East-West Highway waiting for several light cycles to cross Connecticut Ave. along with all the rest of the traffic every weekday morning.

I also see dozens of cyclists, including a few apparent "menial service" workers riding old, beat up bikes, riding the trail west from Silver Spring toward Bethesda in the mornings. And that is under the current trail condition which is mostly unfinished crap in Silver Spring.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Nov 20, 2008 8:29 am • linkreport

Who do you think cleans the toilets of the "knowledge workers" or serves them bagles in the morning? What about all the retail jobs up the pike, are those knowledge workers? While in South and Central America, did you notice the thousands of cars competing with those cool buses? I'm guessing riding a bus is cool when that's the only thing most people can afford, because the roads would be free of all the cars. It just ain't so here, so a dedicated rail is the only way to not exacerbate the congestion. Oh, if you don't like the term menial, hows about proletariat?

by Thayer-D on Nov 20, 2008 9:12 am • linkreport

I will ask the question again. Does anyone know the % of the 50,000 workers in Bethesda that are knowledge vs non-skilled labor.

Thayer D, do you think the people cleaning toilets and serving you bagels will be able to afford the Light Rail price. If they see an inflation adjusted price of $1.75 (bus) $3.00 (LR) what do you think they will go for. Surely the price for LR will be far higher than for bus.

by Ned on Nov 20, 2008 12:23 pm • linkreport

By the way Thayer D, there are thousands of cars competing with buses in these cities I have visited, Caracas, Rio, BA, even little Montevideo. You should try traveling a bit it might teach you a few things.

by Ned on Nov 20, 2008 12:33 pm • linkreport

I would just like to politely point out that no "Bus Rapid Transit" line in the United States has a daily ridership of 68,000 people per day.

by Cavan on Nov 20, 2008 2:20 pm • linkreport

Although Ned is speculating all over the place, they will pay more if it means they can get home to their families, or get to their second jobs on time so the boss doesn't scream at them for getting stuck on Jones Bridge Road. Most people who bus commute have passes with slightly reduced fares, anyway.

Me, however, I want developers to get rich building buildings next to transit. They'll have to generate demand for their units, so they'll hire an agency to market urban living and working, thus making transit more cost effective. Win-Win, Baby!

by The King of Spain on Nov 20, 2008 2:30 pm • linkreport

King of Spain,

This rail is not being built for low wage workers. They will be priced out of the area quickly. It it being built for the bourgeoisie. I am sure the developers really want to construct and rent affordable housing along this line. Please save that bologna for someone else.

And the workers that Wayne sees riding on the CCT, forget it, they will have to move once Langley Park gets gentrified.

Thayer-D's NYC yuppie dream will come true.

Your words have exposed you as the phonies you are. You are not for the poor "menial laborer" you are for the Takoma Park style yuppie who would be scared to death to go anywhere near a Brazilian "favela" or a Venezuelan "ranchito".


by Ned on Nov 20, 2008 5:50 pm • linkreport

Ned's speculation about ridership is baseless. The actual models built by actual transportation professionals show far higher ridership on the rail line than the bus line. If Ned (or anyone) is going to argue that the models are wrong, they'll need far more convincing arguments than have been put forth here so far.

by BeyondDC on Nov 20, 2008 5:50 pm • linkreport

I am done. I will leave you like minded folks alone now.

by Ned on Nov 20, 2008 6:00 pm • linkreport

Well that was fun.

by Cavan on Nov 20, 2008 6:24 pm • linkreport

I found your comments above slightly misleading and insulting. I spoke in in Opposition to the trail, as did many others. While you gave a good presentation, my math does not show pro purple in the majority. Moreover, contrary to your summary characterization, I am not a NIMBY. My house is not on the trail, but I still oppose the light rail purple line AT THIS POINT due to fiscal, not NIMBY reasons. I was not alone. I understand the need for mass transit but there are some serious flaws with the DEIS that should be addressed before the state commits 1.6 BILLION taxpayer dollars. If the inadequacies are addressed and the best alternative remains the rail on the trail, so be it, but that has not been shown as of yet. I also appreciate hostility to NIMBY concerns, but we should also try to respect that this is people's backyard we are talking about and insist that MTA meet is promises of noise mitigation, like grass tracks. We owe this to our fellow residents. The "that is their problem" attitude is just as bad as the strict NIMBY attitude you complain about. Finally, as it stands, there is no secure funding for the trail or many of the noise and visual mitigation measures that have been advertised- this is from the text of the DEIS - not just propaganda, I can cite the pages to you if you like. I think it is completely reasonable to put MTA's feet to the fire on this issue and demand truth in advertising. They are selling this as a trail along the rail with grass tracks and landscaping - but there right now there is no guarantee of a trail. These issues impact not only Chevy Chase, by residents along Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring, as well as all trail users. Just to give this some perspective. Regardless of people's positions on the purple line, I think it is a good thing that young and old alike came out in numbers to let their voices be heard. Cheers.

by Not a Nimby on Nov 20, 2008 8:21 pm • linkreport

Hey Ned,

Thanks for rooting for my yuppie dreams. Guess what, when my mother was a little girl growing up in the Venezuelan Ranchos, quess what she was dreaming of??? While your intentions sound noble, you are a little naive. Keep up the fight, but whach out for those conspiracy theories.

by Thayer-D on Nov 21, 2008 7:43 am • linkreport

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