Purple Line Paves Way for Environmental Debate

Critics say line will hurt; others disagree.


Nora Levy-Forsythe jogs the Bethesda segment of a 13-mile nature trail that links Georgetown to Silver Spring almost every day when home from college.

to plow through several miles of the , Levy-Forsythe said she would give up this oasis of nature.

And it’s not just the trail—19 acres of forest and more than 5,000 feet of streams may be demolished when the Purple Line is built, according to environmental impact documents the Maryland Transit Administration drafted in 2008.

“I’m totally for more public transportation,” Levy-Forsythe said. “If it means less SUVs in this neighborhood, less big cars, less any cars really, I’m fine with it.”

MTA officials insist the light rail will improve air quality by. Purple Line Project Manager Michael Madden said the environmental impact documents are outdated and that the MTA will release the final version next spring.

The MTA—backed by the Environmental Protection Agency—plans to begin construction of the line in 2015.

Critics such as Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt said the anticipated development that will spring up around Purple Line stations will increase the already debilitating traffic congestion.

“The amount of traffic that comes in and out of D.C. every day is tremendous,” Bhatt said. “It’s backed up from Chevy Chase Circle, passed the Beltway, into Kensington and if you put a large commercial district in here, the traffic is going to be that much worse.”

However, MTA says the light rail line, which will run through Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, will have little impact on the already urbanized environment. According to Madden, teams of engineers, environmental planners and the like have actively attempted to minimize any adverse effects.  

The report also projects that the change in air pollution from the Purple Line will amount to less than a half of a percent.

“It is a challenge,” Madden said. “There are several parts that we impact, but from a very minor standpoint. We’ve made every effort we can to revise the alignment to minimize any impact we can.”

As for Levy-Forsythe, she’ll continue jogging on the trail until construction begins for a project she says is a much-needed improvement.

“[To] make these streets more accessible for bikes, put in more public transportation, all of that,” she said, “I would give up this place to run.”

For more on the Purple Line, check out our series.

Do you think the Purple Line will hurt the environment? 

Jim Groves May 15, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Another tough decision that both sides have a legitimate argument for and against. You can not deny that having the ability to take mass transit accross the two counties is a good thing. I don't see anywhere on the PL site where it says how many people it will serve, but it has got to be thousands a day. Not that they all would drive, but many of them would. The downside is of course the enviromental impact. I would hope that in time there could be hiker/biker trails opened next to the PL route. Trying to weigh the benefits of less cars traveling East/West vs what it will be destroying is not easy.
HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter May 15, 2012 at 02:56 PM
I would have like to have seen it placed on the Beltway, with less frequent stops.
Wayne Phyillaier May 15, 2012 at 03:16 PM
The ridership estimate for the Purple Line is 60,000 boardings each weekday. There would be 11,500 boardings at the Bethesda platform each day - more in a single day than there are uses of the trail at the tunnel in an entire week (10,000 according to the 2006 CCCT traffic survey). And yes, the trail will be rebuilt and completed alongside the PL route from Bethesda to the Silver Spring transit center - to be a much more complete trail connection between these two urban centers than is the incomplete interim trail that is there today.
BD May 15, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I am very skeptical of these ridership estimates. I have been working in downtown Bethesda for the past 7 years and I have talked to a lot of people. They come from Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Potomac, McLean, Arlington, and DC. They don't come from, and have no need to go to Silver Spring, College Park, and other points East of Bethesda.
jag May 15, 2012 at 04:13 PM
"The Purple could exist today as bus rapid transit for the cost of buses." Not really. At least not successfully unless you pave new lanes on East-West and probably still put in overpasses at major intersections. BRT is an option (I don't know how viable a one it is), but it certainly couldn't be implemented today and probably wouldn't have less of an environmental impact either and most certainly wouldn't disrupt traffic less during construction.
John Payne May 15, 2012 at 04:25 PM
A reasoned analysis of the improved air quality brought about by having people ride the Purple Line instead of taking all those car trips by far outweighs the concern for the loss of the trees along the abandon railway/trail. Focusing on one aspect of an environmental analysis without considering the full impact can lead to the foolish claims of this slanted article.
BD May 15, 2012 at 04:44 PM
It is fallacy and presumptuous for you to state that your values (a perceived improvement in air quality) "far outweigh" the values of many other people. The trail is more than just a few trees. It is a park in a highly urbanized area that encourages healthy exercise (in a culture plagued by obesity) and an appreciation for the natural environment. You may not find these things important, but there are many people that do. There is nothing unreasoned or foolish about wanting to protect green space, particularly when it is such a commodity. As for air quality, it is myopic to think that merely adding a train will improve air quality. The PL is designed to spur more development along its entire length. That development will certainly bring more people, cars, and a variety of pollution to the area - pollution which certainly cannot be offset by a train.
jag May 15, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Whoops. Deleted my comment. Oh well, I'm confident people understand the absurdity of "[t]hat development will certainly bring more people, cars, and a variety of pollution to the area" w/o me pointing it out. :P
Wayne Phyillaier May 15, 2012 at 05:49 PM
@BD: "They don't come from, and have no need to go to Silver Spring, College Park, and other points East of Bethesda." Someone needs to come to Bethesda from the east, as evidenced by the back-ups on East-West Highway every morning, with J-2 Buses filled to standing room only and stuck in the traffic waiting through several light cycles to get through the Connecticut Ave. intersection.
BD May 15, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Unfortunately, I don't "understand the absurdity." Would you mind enlightening us? Are you denying that development brings pollution?
jag May 15, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Sorry, BD, I thought my original post would have reached you via email. I said something along the lines of...it's (to use your word) myopic to contend that the prospective increased development negatively affects the environment when we're talking about, e.g. fitting 800 people on 1 sq block v. clear-cutting a forest so those 800 people can spread out over a new 400 acre subdivision (and the zillion other negative effects, environmental and otherwise, that come from that). I do agree with you that the negatives of the PL, and there certainly are some, are hard to quantify. Same with the positives, though, including the increase in redevelopment you cite. You cite more cars/congestion due to the redevelopment, but the logic behind smart growth is that only a fraction of those new 800 1 sq block residents will drive (and they'll drive for a MUCH shorter time/distance) than those 800 exurb residents who are much, much more likely to drive AND will also have to drive much, much further (but still, eventually, reaching Bethesda, Silver Spring, DC, etc. for jobs, entertainment, etc.). The latter is exponentially more pollution and congestion for those of us living in the areas serviced by the PL, despite is seeming counter-intuitive on the surface.
Maya May 16, 2012 at 03:47 AM
In response to jag: "BRT...probably wouldn't have less of an environmental impact". Wrong! Of course BRT -- which uses the existing transportation infrastructure -- would have less of a destructive impact than putting rail on the trail. Rail on the trail would be enormously destructive, requiring the bulldozing of 20 acres of trees. Plus, the overhead wire system of a rail train would make the replanting of trees impossible. In that scenario, we lose precious shaded green space forever. This is shameful, given that there are other options.
Maya May 16, 2012 at 03:54 AM
I agree that a Purple Line along the Beltway might work. BRT along the Beltway leaves us the option of extending the route out to Virginia, up to Rockville or anywhere else. A big advantage of BRT over light rail is that it is cheaper and quicker to install and infinitely versatile as needs change in the years ahead. In contrast, a $2 billion Purple Line on the Trail dead ends at the movie theater and won't be easily adaptable in the future. 355 is already such a traffic disaster, especially near the expanded Medical Center and NIH. Why not use a BRT system that can also run North-South along that corridor?
Kate May 16, 2012 at 04:18 AM
For me the trail is a park, a living breathing ecosystem. I like parks,they are good for the community, the children and yes the environment. Please explain to me how we can give up the parks. When is the last time a government put a park IN? Once we lose a park, its gone. For good.
Maya May 16, 2012 at 04:32 AM
"Once we lose a park, it's gone. For good." Exactly! Every great city has great parks, places were all kinds of people can gather and enjoy the outdoors. With so much growth in Downtown Bethesda, high-rises being built one after the other, where will all the people go for some fresh air and shade?!? We shouldn't have to get into our cars to drive to a serene and green place...we are so lucky to have the lush, green trail in lower Montgomery County! Let's make sure that it will never be destroyed. My fear is that they will first bulldoze all the trees, then realize that we can't afford the $2 billion.
Maya May 16, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Really, Frank...did you actually think I was making that claim?! Seriously. The truth is that if my family wants to ride bikes in a safe and shaded place, we go to the Trail. If the trees are all clear cut and a high speed train is passing by at close range every three minutes we will get in our cars and drive somewhere else where we can ride in safety and shade, ie: Rock Creek Park. Shame.
Maya May 16, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Yeah. And there's been absolutely no change in our region in the past 27 years, right? So why adjust the old yellowed plans to reflect current reality???
HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter May 16, 2012 at 01:30 PM
I wouldn't go so far as to say that it would accomplish nothing. Largo -> New Carrolton -> Greenbelt -> Forest Glen -> Grosvenar It could diverge from the beltway to connect to these stations. Then it would be 1-2 stops to get to the corresponding city centers. But this is not the way it's going to happen, if it ever happens. And from what I've seen, most of the stops for the proposed purple line are in obscure non-TOD locations anyway. Overall, I support it no matter where it goes.
BD May 16, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Jag, thank you for your analysis. We could probably go on for hours on the subject, but I think we disagree on a major premise. If we don't build an 800 person condo on Conn. Ave, I don't think it's accurate to say that those 800 people will each buy 1 acre plots in Germantown. In other words, I don't believe that developing inside the beltway will somehow slow or prevent growth outside the beltway. City dwellers will live in the city, and suburban folks will live in the suburbs. If we allow it, all areas will be developed because DC is a very attractive place to live. My point is that if we stop developing inside the beltway, and focus our attention on smarter traffic grids, incentives for taking public transportation, more efficient buses, telecommuting, and other progressive ideas, we can save money, reduce pollution and avoid destroying our parks.
BD May 16, 2012 at 01:46 PM
The trail exists because nature and time have transformed an abandoned railway into something that our council members did not envision 27 years ago. It's not just a trail - it's a park that thousands enjoy regularly. I hope most people would agree that our government should make decisions based on current conditions, rather than what it thought the world would be like 27 years ago.
S.P. O'Neil May 16, 2012 at 01:53 PM
A BRT could take over one lane of the 3-lane 193 and take a widened right of way on Viers Mill Road, with little environmental impact. (Also if someone is wedded to trains, this could also be a narrow rail street car system). This would better serve the underserved communities of Langley Park, Four Corners and Wheaton than the rail line ever will. The real issue is the very expensive rail line will have high ticket prices for the well-heeled only, who really do not ever want to sit on a bus with the citizens from Langley Park etc. Those and the heavy duty supporters of the Rail line who are commercial property holders along the line, are the beneficiaries. All the rest of the beleaguered tax-paying residents of Prince Georges and Montgomery County will get the tax bill, lose a hike-bike trail (hiking and biking next to a treeless rail line is not pleasant) experience major siltation, heat sink, air pollution etc. environmental damage and no benefit at all.
Norman May 16, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Remember when they said there would be a trail along the whole ICC too? Didn't happen. I'm skeptical to say the least.
jag May 16, 2012 at 02:10 PM
@Maya "Of course BRT -- which uses the existing transportation infrastructure -- would have less of a destructive impact than putting rail on the trail." BRT has its own right-of-way (meaning it has its own bus lanes). There is no way the current infrastructure that is E-W could handle the incorporation of BRT. If you think adding two lanes and transit stops to E-W is less invasive than putting a PL along the trail, then that's a perfectly valid argument, but saying BRT doesn't require additional infrastructure or wouldn't affect the environment or wouldn't be a construction hassle or could be implemented w/only the cost of buses is just flat wrong.
jag May 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
@BD " If we don't build an 800 person condo on Conn. Ave, I don't think it's accurate to say that those 800 people will each buy 1 acre plots in Germantown." I think you're very correct - my example wasn't overly helpful since it was speaking on a macro scale of residential development. On the micro scale, you're right, most of those 800 new residents would just live in NoVa instead of to Germantown. Personally, I think that's a losing proposition to continue handing NoVa the majority of low-hanging fruit (college-educated 20somethings w/disposable income paying big $$ to live in walkable, transit oriented developments), but if most people in MoCo agree with you then I'll gladly wish MoCo the best and be on my way to Arlington Co. Ultimately, it looks like MoCo leadership currently favors increased development inside the beltway and along Ga. Ave. and 355, so hopefully I'll be able to stick around and you'll still be able to enjoy the area as well :)
L Will May 16, 2012 at 06:11 PM
The proposed Purple Line has been outdated for some time. The traffic on the north/south axis has grown to be the hot spot, not east/west. In Kensington, two main roads crossing Connecticut Ave are failed intersections already. Wisconsin, CT, and Georgia Avenues are all slated for massive development with no significant public transit projects.
jag May 16, 2012 at 06:18 PM
L Will, that's why the county has proposed BRT for all of those corridors you mention. I wouldn't be surprised if the county's BRT system (at least phase 1) gets funded before the PL.
L Will May 16, 2012 at 06:20 PM
The sad, completely unreported truth about the PL is that it will not take many cars off the road because most of the estimated riders are already riding metro. They would just switch to the PL. Mike Madden said that himself over a year ago. Now he is saying that bulldozing 17 acres of mature trees inside the beltway and hardscaping the area will only result in a 1/2 percent increase in air pollution and have only minor and little impact? I don't like to call someone a liar or manipulative, but this issue is too important not to apply those labels to Mike Madden and MTA.
L Will May 16, 2012 at 06:32 PM
What about the hundreds of residents who live along the proposed Purple line, many within the 40 feet from the right of way. At 40 feet, you will hear and feel noise and vibrations. What about their quality of life and property values? A couple of nights ago, an MTA official said the PL will not affect home prices. This is not true. Check out this listing for 7905 Kentbury Dr, Bethesda. This is a highly desirable area, with many new homes like it selling well. This house went into foreclosure because no one would touch it because of the PL. Check out the mention of the PL in the description under the photo. http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/7905-Kentbury-Dr-Bethesda-MD-20814/37179213_zpid/
Leslie Brownrigg May 19, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Join the Takoma Park - Langley Park "walk" on Saturday June 26, 2012 from 2 -6 pm along the proposed Purple Line route from Piney Branch x Flower Avenue to University Blvd x Riggs followed by a rally and press conference at the CASA Langley-McCormick Mansion supporting the Purple Line BUT opposing displacements of residents and businesses in the current plan -- Event sponsored by the Coalition for Fair Development. Banners and signs voicing whatever opinion on the Purple Line plan are welcome.
Zac May 31, 2012 at 03:58 PM
There is one thing that every "anti-PL" poster has a forgot on here; the CCT has railbanking to thank for its existence. CSX can come in there anytime that it wants and place a freight line in there again. What should have happened after the line was initially abandoned is that it should have been converted into light rail. Based on today's population numbers, the line would have been a success. And let's not forget that on some light rail systems elsewhere, they use grass tracks. They could use that on the PL. They're currently putting grass tracks on sections of the Baltimore Light Rail line: http://beyonddc.com/log/?p=3296


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