Greater Greater Washington

Posts about FTA

Transit


Should the FTA regulate urban transit agencies?

Imagine if Metro had to pay a fine for every safety standard violation. What if Metro officials and operators lost licenses to work in transit if they repeatedly violated safety standards?


Photo by atomicfamily on Flickr.

These ideas could become reality if the FTA gains the ability to regulate public transit agencies. And while many Washingtonians regard this as a no-brainer, there are serious concerns that few are considering in the post-Red Line Crash fear-mongering.

The standard argument in favor of FTA regulation is that regional safety oversight bodies are simply too unprepared and ill-equipped to assure safety on America's transit systems.

These bodies, like the Tri-State Oversight Committee which provides safety oversight of Metro, have little to no staff and no enforcement powers. The DOT oversees safety on Amtrak, so why not subway and light-rail systems too?

While this standard argument is compelling, there has been little engagement with the counterargument to federal oversight of urban transit. Consider the following concerns.

Urban rail is very safe: Subways and light rail are already very safe, safer by far than other modes of transportation that are regulated by the DOT including air travel. One wonders then if improving on an already very low fatality rate should be a priority for federal dollars given the other more dangerous modes regulated by the DOT.

The TOC can be improved easily without federal intervention: The criticism leveled against the TOC is not directed at their competence, but at their lack of enforcement powers and funding. So, instead of building a new federal agency, why not give the TOC enforcement powers and increased funding?

TOC audit was actually better than the FTA audit of Metro: While it received little press attention, the TOC audit released earlier this month was more detailed and actionable than either the NTSB or FTA audits concerning the systemic safety hazards at Metro.

Federal urban rail regulation may be unconstitutional: Federal regulation of urban transit systems may ultimately be overturned by the courts. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution limits federal regulation to interstate commerce, and most urban transit systems don't cross state lines like Metro does.

NTSB previously opposed FTA oversight of urban rail: Every urban transit system is very different, despite appearances to the contrary. Unlike other transit modes regulated by DOT which share a common network, urban transit systems develop independently according to unique needs and constraints. The NTSB argued in the 90s that this was reason enough to support the regional system of safety oversight in place today.

For these reasons, I would strongly oppose FTA regulation of Metro and other urban transit agencies if not for one prominent benefit that would result from FTA regulation:

FTA can balance NTSB: While the NTSB serves a valuable role in transportation safety, they are an exclusively reactive organization by statute. Unfortunately, the political pressure to implement any and all NTSB recommendations is overwhelming. This undermines attempts to create a proactive safety organization.

The USDOT, which requires transportation providers to take a more proactive approach to safety, balances the NTSB in the transport modes that it regulates. This balance will never be provided by the TOC or other regional safety oversight bodies.

I am honestly on the fence on this critical issue. While the answer to this issue seems obvious to many, I suspect that the damning of all things Metro since the Red Line Crash is undermining the healthy debate that this issue deserves.

The Obama administration supports a bill that would give the FTA this power, but Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has put a hold on the bill in the Senate for many of the reasons listed here, as well as the lack of offsetting spending cuts or taxes in the legislation.

What do you think? Should the FTA regulate urban transit agencies?

Transit


New Jersey says no to FTA money. What would you build?

It was reported yesterday that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, is expected to kill the ARC Tunnel project. The tunnel would double rail capacity under the Hudson River, and would allow more trains to enter Manhattan each day.


Photo by Rrrodrigo on Flickr.

Christie, it seems, plans to take the state's share of the project and devote it to building roads. This means that New Jersey will lose some $3 billion in federal funding for the project while furthering its sprawl. That money will end up going to other transit projects in other cities.

If the governor does indeed cancel the project, it will be a big loss for the region, and for the Northeast as a whole.

Currently, the only railroad access from New Jersey into Manhattan is through the North River Tunnels, each with one track, which were built in 1910 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. This bottleneck means that all Amtrak and NJ Transit trains operating along the Northeast Corridor into Penn Station fight for space in the tunnels, which are operating at about 100% capacity.

While the ARC Project isn't perfect, it's still an essential project. New Hudson River tunnels will need to be built eventually, and it's unfortunate that the taxpayers of New Jersey are losing out on this opportunity for a federal partnership.

But without the local match, those federal dollars will go elsewhere. While there's no indication that a project in this region would be likely to receive this funding, it is an interesting thought exercise to wonder what we could do with $3 billion.

Considering that we'd need a local match of at least $3 billion, that would mean $6 billion in funding for transit projects in our region. I asked the contributors what they'd spend that on. Here are some of the ideas they suggested (ordered by overall cost):

Metro capital upgrades: WMATA estimates $11 billion in unfunded capital needs over the next decade. Spending this money toward keeping Metro in a state of good repair would be an excellent use of these funds, even if maintenance isn't as "sexy" as a shiny new rail extension.

Separated Blue Line: With congestion on the rise in the Blue/Orange subway, it's only a matter of time before we'll need a separated Blue Line in Downtown DC. Some estimates show this project costing upwards of $6 billion.


Image by David Alpert.

DC Streetcars: At about $25 million per mile, $6 billion could build about 240 miles of streetcar. That would certainly finish off DC's planned 37-mile system and those planned in Northern Virginia, with plenty of room for expansion.


Image from NCPC.
Washington freight bypass: NCPC studied ideas to reroute freight rail traffic around the Washington region. These concepts are estimated to cost between $3.2 and $5.3 billion, depending on the alternative. A freight bypass would speed commuter and inter-city trains (and add capacity). It would also move hazardous rail cargoes outside of the central business district.

MARC investment and expansion: In September 2007, Governor O'Malley put forth a plan to quadruple MARC capacity by 2035. Doing so would cost about $3.8 billion, with the majority ($2.9 billion) going toward the Penn Line. It would include through-running of MARC trains into Northern Virginia by 2020. But the recession has meant the plan is unfunded.

Baltimore-Washington Maglev: In 2002, this project was estimated to cost $3.2 billion. It would provide a very high-speed link between Washington, BWI Airport, and Baltimore.

100% 8-car operation: It would cost about $600 million to buy enough railcars to allow the system to operate all 8-car trains during peak periods. This is essential to increasing capacity on the system.

Metro station pedestrian connections: With congestion at the downtown transfer stations growing, many have called for connections between the Farraguts (around $72M) and between Metro Center and Gallery Place (around $100M). Both of those could be constructed for well under $6 billion.


Image from DDOT.
K Street Transitway: In February, DC was turned down for a TIGER grant to fund this project. The $140 million busway would've increased travel speeds and added improved stops for many of the buses serving Downtown DC. Whenever it's constructed, it will also be home to the K Street streetcar line.

Water taxi docking stations: With water taxis starting to troll the Potomac between Alexandria, National Harbor, and the Waterfront, one wonders if money couldn't be spent to build stations along the Potomac to encourage small-scale ferry service between Virginia and Washington.

If we could get New Jersey's transit money, what would you suggest we spend it on?

Update, October 7: Governor Christie has officially killed the ARC Tunnel.

Transit


Metro needs calm, proactive hazard analysis

NTSB members' emotional tongue-lashing of Metro last week may have been well deserved. But the NTSB critique also risks being counterproductive unless cooler heads prevail at WMATA, focused more on actual safety than on just responding to NTSB.


Photo from the NTSB.

NTSB's safety recommendations are reactive, not proactive. They illuminate the facts of the crash, but are unhelpful in preventing the next crash, whose specific causes are likely to be very different given the rarity of accidents in any transit system.

Furthermore, because NTSB's makes its recommendations without regard to costs, yet expects WMATA to implement them in their entirety or suffer further tongue-lashing, they risk stealing funds from higher priority corrective actions. WMATA really needs a prioritized list of initiatives (corrective action plans, or CAPs) that would boost safety, without regard to whether NTSB has made political footballs of them or not.

Where should such a list come from? Hazard analysis, conducted systematically, is the central discipline in safety management, and it is missing at WMATA and from NTSB's recommendations. It is common practice in industries such as airlines and nuclear power.

A hazard is a cause of an accident, and the purpose of hazard analysis is to identify as many hazards as possible and then prioritize them by likelihood, severity of the consequences, and the cost of correcting them. There are two types of hazard analysis, and both are critical.

Root Cause Analysis: Whenever accidents happen, root cause analyses must be conducted to identify the root causes, or hazards, that led to the accident. NTSB conducted an excellent root cause analysis of the Red Line crash. The problem with relying on root cause analyses alone is that systems with very, very few accidents present few opportunities to identify root causes, and the root causes of each accident are statistically likely to be different.

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA): A more proactive approach to hazard analysis is to identify all of the ways in which a system might fail. These are the system's failure modes. Loss of train detection by the automatic train control system was the failure mode implicated in the Red Line crash. But there are dozens of other failure modes. FMEA identifies as many failure modes as possible, identifies the causes of each failure mode, and then prioritizes the actions that would correct each cause by the severity and likelihood of the effects of their failure mode and the cost of the corrective action.

NTSB rightly identified the deeper cause of the Red Line crash as not the failure of track circuit modules but an institutional failure to address safety. This institutional failure, though, was unhelpfully generalized as the "lack of a safety culture." How does one get a "safety culture"? NTSB's recommendations are sorely lacking in detail on this topic, with no mention of hazard analysis or FMEA. The result, as has been said, is a tone of petulance by the NTSB.

When WMATA calmly, systematically begins to conduct hazard analysis, publicly displays the resulting prioritized list of Corrective Action Plans in its monthly Vital Signs report, and then updates the list itself (as hazard analyses are conducted continuously) and the status of each plan, then people will think of WMATA as having a "safety culture".


FTA Guide for Transit Hazard Analysis.

In this regard, the FTA was much more helpful than the NTSB in the FTA Audit's recommendations for a "Hazard Management Program". The institutional root cause of the Red Line crash, unidentified by NTSB, was described perfectly by the FTA: "There is no evidence that safety analysis is being performed to prioritize hazards for elimination and mitigation."

Will cooler heads at WMATA prevail? Preliminary signs are not encouraging. The WMATA Board criticized the failure to implement over 100 Corrective Action Plans. Similarly, a WMATA official told the Riders Advisory Council, in explaining why the new 7000 series of rail cars will forego longitudinal seating, that if there were anything it could do, no matter what, to improve safety, then they would be remiss in skipping it.

Both of these incidents portray a shell-shocked WMATA that is reflexively saying "of course" to any idea that could improve safety. This emotional response to safety is precisely what leads to the false "safety vs cost" trade-off. A proactive hazard analysis program, however, must prioritize this list of ideas because it has produced far more corrective action plans than there is money or time to ever implement.

This results in a lean safety agenda that prioritizes CAPs with a high safety return on investment, not those that will only push large volumes of riders into cars for a minimal improvement in safety. That's why the FTA asked WMATA for its list of "top ten" hazards that it plans to address.

Furthermore, it's unclear if FMEA and Hazard Analysis are skills that exist within WMATA. The recent WMATA Vital Signs monthly report of Key Performance Indicators, such as passenger injuries and bus on-time performance, is to be commended for transparently monitoring and reporting metrics. But the discussions of "Why did performance change?" and "Actions to improve performance" for each KPI seem so arbitrary that it appears no root cause analyses were conducted for each KPI that was below target. Hopefully new Chief Safety Officer James Dougherty can bring these skills to WMATA.

It's time for calm, proactive analysis to replace emotional, reactive safety initiatives. The Metro Board and GM, as well as journalists and bloggers, can be more helpful by asking the right questions, as the FTA did, instead of exposing every safety idea that WMATA has not implemented as indicative of an agency with no "safety culture."

Transit


7000 series designs sacrifice capacity for vague safety

The team working on the 7000 series, the next generation of Metrorail railcars, has chosen to keep the current "transverse" seating instead of switching to a "longitudinal" arrangement based on unquantifiable safety benefits. In doing so, they've given up the opportunity to substantially increase Metro's capacity as overcrowding gets worse.

Early designs for the 7000 series had two possible seating arrangements under evaluation. The first, transverse seating, is what Metro uses today. The new cars make some specific changes to the current layout, including moving the end doors closer to the center and therefore having more seats at the ends and fewer in the middle. In general, though, it's what we're all used to.

The other option, longitudinal seating, involves a row of seats facing the center on each side. Many transit systems around the world use this seating arrangement. It has the advantage of holding more standees, as there is more open space in the center.


7000-series transverse (left) and longitudinal (right) seating arrangements.

The longitudinal arrangement does sacrifice some seats, though surprisingly not very many. It seats 122 per pair of cars, compared to 126 per pair in the current (transverse) 6000 series, and 130 per pair on the 7000 series in transverse configuration. But it holds more people standing. If trains started using longitudinal seating, the seats would fill up scarcely faster than they do today, but trains wouldn't become crush-loaded as much.

Similarly, Metro decided not to explore having 4 doors per side on each car. Many other systems have 4 doors on cars of this length. New York even has 4 doors on many 60-foot cars, compared to Metro's 75-foot cars. More doors mean the car can load and unload faster, reducing dwell times and keeping trains moving. That increases capacity as well, because the faster each train gets in and out of the busiest stations, the sooner another train can come in and the more trains Metro can run overall.

Why has Metro chosen to forego this opportunity? They say it's because of safety. According to Debo Ogunrinde in a presentation made to the Riders' Advisory Council, the engineers believe there's some safety benefit to transverse seating. Having seats in front of and behind some riders could keep them from sliding into other riders or flying toward the end of the railcar in the event of a crash.

The argument is similar for doors. Fewer doors mean stronger car walls. Of course, the wall strength wasn't the problem in the June 2009 Red Line crash, where the cars telescoped, but there could be crashes where it matters.

That's probably right. But is it worth sacrificing capacity? Consider that overcrowded platforms and escalators present their own safety hazards. And overcrowding is a certainty, while train crashes are hopefully avoidable.

And the more crowded Metro gets, the more people will drive. If they do, they're much less safe. After the crash, BeyondDC calculated that driving Metro is 34 times safer per passenger mile than driving. Is the benefit of transverse seating 34 times greater than longitudinal?

Unfortunately, Metro's engineers don't have (or haven't been willing to share) any sort of quantifiable assessment of the safety value of transverse seating. It's just "some." But we can't tell if it's more of a safety benefit than the safety benefit of less crowded platforms and escalators. And we don't know if it's more of a safety benefit than the benefit of moving a few more people by rail instead of by car.

Mr. Ogunrinde said that Metro felt if there were anything it could do, no matter what, to improve safety, then they would be remiss in skipping it. But is that really true? Why haven't they designed the cars with seatbelts? What about four-point harnesses like on military jets? Airbags? Padded walls? If fewer doors is stronger, why are there still windows on the cars? Why don't the cars have foam peanuts filling their space, which riders can worm their way through? Maybe Metro should run every train at 10 mph?

When the FTA first announced its desire to regulate trainsit safety, I worried that this shortsighted tradeoff is exactly what would happen. Regulators whose sole responsibility is to prevent deaths or injuries in crashes would push transit systems to make changes that reduce the risk of crashes but increase other risks, like crowding and driving. That's what happened when the Federal Railroad Administraton over-regulated commuter and intercity railroads to make cars heavier and therefore slower, harming the overall value of rail passenger service.

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff has assured everyone this is not what the FTA would do. He said,

We must remember that, despite WMATA's safety challenges, every Washington area commuter is safer traveling on WMATA than they are traveling on our highways. Thus, we cannot allow any degradation in WMATA's reliability and performance such that commuters opt to abandon Metro in favor of our already congested highways. We must also caution against any proposals that will reduce significantly WMATA's existing capacity, forcing more commuters onto our highways. Any actions or proposals pushing WMATA riders onto our highways simply will degrade safety and worsen congestion in the region.
Hopefully he's right and the FTA will avoid following the FRA's path. But Metro is going ahead and doing the same thing all by themselves. I can understand the viewpoint of the railcar designers as well. If someone is hurt in a crash, people might ask why the railcars weren't designed differently. But if people are hurt in stations, the questions won't revolve around the railcars. And if people die out on the roads, nobody (except maybe us) asks why that person couldn't have been on transit, where they would have been safer.

I don't know if the current political climate allows Metro to design its railcars for the maximum capacity and with the overall transportation safety picture in mind instead of the narrow goal of safest railcars at any operational cost.

Certainly Congress keeps hammering at safety without really analyzing the big picture. Yesterday, a Senate committee approved this year's $150 million federal contribution, but Senator Barbara Mikulski attached conditions that all money be spent on safety and WMATA report quarterly on its progress on safety. The focus on safety is important, but the big picture is more complex than a sound bite.

The Board is supposed to take the broader view. Can they? Is it politically feasible to approve railcars with higher capacity, which will cut down on unsafe overcrowding and reduce reliance on dangerous cars even though some engineers say that transverse seating is safer to some, undetermined and vague degree?

Hopefully they will, asking staff to go back to the longitudinal seating as well as evaluating whether it would bring additional cost to build railcars with 4 doors. Riders in 2030 would be glad they did.

Update: What about articulated cars, where the doors between some cars are replaced with flexible sections creating, in effect, double-length cars or even making the whole train a car? Mr. Ogunrinde said they had rejected that for three reasons.

First, security agencies say it would make things more difficult, perhaps by letting a suspect roam through the train to evade capture. That seems a little dubious. Second, there aren't examples in the US of these working in heavy rail environments. However, there are plenty of examples around the world. But third, and the one that is somewhat persuasive to me, Metro's existing facilities aren't set up to be able to handle articulated cars, making it very costly to switch.

Politics


NCPC not why DC lost streetcar grant, politics may be

A source familiar with the Urban Circulator grant process says that Urban Circulator grant awards had been decided before NCPC Chairman Preston Bryant sent his letter to the FTA.

According to the source, FTA had chosen the recipients for the grant over a month ago. Bryant only sent his letter two weeks ago. Therefore, disappointing as it is, DC wouldn't have gotten the $25 million to extend the H Street streetcar line across the Anacostia River in any event.

On the other hand, it's certainly possible that politics played a role in several ways. Several people inside USDOT have said that part of the discretionary TIGER grant process involved political calculations. (Though nobody ever accused the previous administration of not being extremely political either). Several commenters noted that the Urban Circulator grants seemed focused on swing states.

In addition, Congressional representatives can play a role in influencing these decisions. With no voting representatives, DC is at a disadvantage to getting federal money. Furthermore, Eleanor Holmes Norton has expressed trepidation in the past about streetcars, and seems to be approaching this home rule debate with NCPC less fiercely than on many other issues.

Perhaps that's tactically a smart move to avoid a lawsuit that could set a bad precedent harming DC home rule more broadly, but her lukewarm feelings about the project could play a role in deciding which battles to fight and when to stay on the sidelines.

page/2

Transit


DC rejected for Urban Circulator streetcar grant

The Federal Transit Administration has selected 53 winners for transit grants, including the Urban Circulator which DC was hoping to get to extend the H Street streetcar across the Anacostia to Benning Road.


Segment applied for in the grant. Image from the DC Alternatives Analysis.

Almost two weeks ago, NCPC Chairman Preston Bryant asked the FTA to deny this grant because of NCPC's concerns with overhead wires and its jurisdictional dispute with the DC Council, even though the streetcar segment the grant would have covered lies outside the overhead wire ban.

Bryant's "budgetary blackmail" now becomes particularly foolish. Whether or not he successfully blocked DC from getting a grant, he hasn't succeeded in gaining more authority for NCPC, and now DC has even less incentive to work with NCPC now that the grant is out of the picture and NCPC has tried to interfere with home rule.

The urban circulator grants went to rail streetcars in Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Fort Worth, and St. Louis, along with a BRT program in Chicago.

The rest of the grant recipients got money for a "bus and bus livability" grant, which obviously the streetcar was not eligible for. Maryland got money for buses in Baltimore and Prince George's County, and Virginia for express bus purchases in Richmond.

page/2

Transit


NCPC Chair Bryant asks FTA to deny streetcar grant to DC

Is expanding the power of a federal panel more important than transit and economic development in the District of Columbia?


NCPC Chair Preston Bryant.

If you're Preston Bryant, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission and an economic and infrastructure consultant in Richmond, yes it is. Bryant sent a letter to FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff asking the agency "to withhold federal funds from the District" for the streetcar system.

The H Street-Benning Road line would not involve federal funds, but DC is looking for an "urban circulator" grant to extend the planned streetcar across the Anacostia River to Benning Road Metro.

This segment would almost entirely lie outside the L'Enfant City, the only area that has ever had a ban on overhead wires. That means that Bryant is asking FTA to refuse to fund a project which is legal even without changing any laws.

NCPC is tasked with protecting the "federal interest." The federal government, and NCPC, have taken very little interest in most of the District's planned streetcar corridors, including H Street and Benning Road, Georgia Avenue, and neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8.

Items that impact the Mall and views of major monuments are generally agreed to be part of the federal interest, and DC has clearly offered to protect those. The updated draft of the DC Council's overhead wire legislation even more clearly protects these. All new streetcar purchases will be required by law to operate for one mile without wires, and the Council will need to approve any new segments including a plan detailing the potential impacts on view corridors or historic districts.

However, Bryant is not satisfied with that or even giving NCPC heightened power to guard against wires on their view corridors (even though NCPC seems relatively uninterested in other blights on their view corridors). He has asked the DC Council to give NCPC the right to review and approve every single streetcar segment, no matter where in the District, even outside the L'Enfant City.

Has June been proclaimed Richmond Republican Power Grab Over Washington Month and nobody told me?

The full Commission didn't even approve these letters, despite their appearing on official NCPC letterhead. According to people who've spoken with various NCPC representatives, some members don't personally like wires, or aren't convinced that streetcars are worth the money. Some commenters here share some of these concerns.

However, appointees of the President, the Park Service, DoD, GSA, and Congress should not be deciding what individual DC neighborhoods should look like or what is or isn't a prudent investment of capital dollars. That's why we have a democratic political process of home rule, and that's what democracy is about. People get to decide for themselves instead of having some "king" decide for them.

Bryant also expresses concern that the public be involved in the streetcar planning. That is important, but since when is this NCPC's responsibility? They haven't done the same for other, not so federal items in the past.

H Street wants the streetcar. Downtown businesses want the streetcar. Georgia Avenue wants the streetcar. It doesn't affect the federal government if there are streetcars there, even ones with wires, except right past the national parks and on the view corridors. The NCPC members should stop trying to be the Mayor of DC and worry about the real federal interest instead of their personal interest.

We're working on a page for you to reach out to NCPC members about this, but in the meantime, feel free to email your Councilmembers and the Mayor. Thank them for their streetcar support so far and encourage them to stand up for our right to home rule.

Transit


UMD tries another Purple Line route

As reported yesterday by the UMD Diamondback and Rethink College Park, the University of Maryland has proposed yet another alignment for the Purple Line on campus.


Streetcar and pedestrian at Portland State

Under the title "Purple Line may be built partially underground", the Diamondback reports on a meeting between the campus administration and the University Senate. The author reports that a deal is close to being struck about an underground Purple Line route through campus. According to the Diamondback, the Maryland Transit Administration suggested the subterranean alignment.

Unfortunately, this is inaccurate. I spoke with both Michael Madden, project manager for the Purple Line, and Ann Wylie, UM's Vice President of Administrative Affairs, yesterday. They confirmed that the University requested that the Maryland Transit Administration conduct a study of the feasibility of a new tunneled route. Furthermore, MTA and UM still disagree on the preferred route.

For several years now, the University of Maryland administration has adamantly opposed any surface or aerial rail transit on campus. They have opposed any reasonable alternative, despite large support in the student body for a central route. They have long maintained that an underground placement of the line is the only acceptable alternative.

Transit dollars in the United States are scarce. So for as long as the University has opposed a surface alignment, MTA has called for one. Burying the line across campus would be prohibitively expensive, and without meeting federal cost-effectiveness criteria, the project won't get built.

But the University continues to waste time and resources studying infeasible routes. The new proposal calls for a tunnel running south of the McKeldin Mall, south of Tydings and Francis Scott Key Halls. The map below shows a rough alignment. Neither MTA nor UM were able to provide information about the specific route the tunnel would take.


The locally preferred alternative is shown in purple. The new UM proposal
is in blue, with the tunnel section darker. (larger map)

In regards to this new proposal, "no agreement has been made," said Dr. Ann Wylie, VP of Administrative Affairs.

Michael Madden explained that MTA had studied the tunnel alignment at the request of the University, but the results found that the tunnel was "not viable." Dr. Wylie pointed out that MTA's main objections to tunneling are cost-related. She indicated that the University was looking into funding.

Unfortunately, though, federal cost-effectiveness guidelines don't take into account merely the amount of federal funding, but the entire cost of the project. Even if UMD was able to fund the full additional cost of the tunnel, it could still kill the project.

But there was more to object to in the Diamondback's article than an inaccurate headline and getting the main point wrong. Despite overwhelming support among students, the reporter did not include the sentiments of a single person supportive of the Purple Line, not even a tunneled Purple Line.

The article dwells on the major problems some claim the Purple Line will bring to campus: crime and maimed pedestrians. The article fails to mention a single benefit of the Purple Line.

And to drive her point home, the reporter brings evidence to the table about the destructiveness of rail in a campus environment. Years of disruptive construction were followed by a divided campus and pedestrian fence corrals at the University of Minnesota, she says. The implication is that the "electric train" there has ruined the aesthetic quality and the pedestrian mobility of the campus.

But there's one problem with this argument: Minnesota's Central Corridor, which will link Minneapolis and Saint Paul, hasn't opened yet. In fact, construction only started a few months ago and hasn't even reached the University of Minnesota.

The fact of the matter is that rail can peacefully coexist in campus and urban environments. Streetcars cross a pedestrian plaza at Portland State University and the University of Pennsylvania has several trolley lines nearby.

The University of Maryland will benefit greatly from this investment. Students, faculty, and staff will see improved access to the region. And the elimination of cars from Campus Drive (a part the Purple Line project) will actually improve pedestrian safety in the center of campus.

Of course, the reporter could have a point. In the video below, watch normally orderly Germans flee from a careening tram in Berlin's Alexanderplatz.

Update: the Diamondback has published an updated article.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC