The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to support light rail on the Purple Line. They also showed that they supported building a trail not as an afterthought but as an equally important component.
Still, Montgomery County Council Vice President Roger Berliner held up a rendering of a tree-filled walking and biking trail next to a light rail train in Tuesday’s meeting. “This representation needs to turn into reality,” he said, “because this is the promise we are making to the people.”
The council did add one caveat. In a motion that passed 5-3, it asked state officials to look into running portions of the line on a single track to cause less disruption to the adjacent trail and tree canopy.
Mr. Berliner's comments, and the caveat, seem to be in response to what Michael D. Madden, manager of the state's Purple Line study, told the Montgomery council
Madden said his team would reconsider a single track but said such systems generally make trains slower and less reliable.
[Mr. Berliner] said, "anything we can do to minimize the impact on the trail, I think we have an obligation to do.
Update: Roger Berliner might have hurt himself politically with his vote.
With some "aggressive landscaping," Berliner said, he thinks the popular walking and bike path will someday return to its green, wooded feel. He might take a political hit, he said, but overall a Purple Line "advances the common good, and that's our job." End Update
Despite everyone falling all over themselves to talk about the trail and its primacy, not everyone is convinced.
Geoff Gonella, a country club board member and executive director of the Alliance for Smart Transportation... said, "I don't think anyone can reasonably look at this and think the trail is going to come back."
Huh? Maybe he means "come back exactly the way it was before" but it certainly seems there will be a trail - paved and connected to Silver Spring, but without the same tree canopy or natural feel.
Finish the trail, meanwhile, has noted increased interest in building a 16' wide trail - as picture above - instead of a 10' wide one.
Trail users must accept some trade offs for a wider trail, especially in the more constrained sections of the Georgetown Branch Corridor where the right-of-way is 66' or less. Either more trees and buffer must be removed between the trail and the right-of-way boundary, or some of the landscaped buffer must be removed from between the trail and the transit tracks.
They suggest nixing some of the buffer instead of trees.
people routinely go about their business quite close to transit or trolley tracks elsewhere throughout the country and around the world, usually with no fences at all. Cyclists and pedestrians walk and bike on sidewalks and sidepaths directly alongside motor vehicle traffic all of the time. Most of us feel safer walking or biking alongside rail vehicles than alongside motor vehicles. We know derailments are extremely rare. Do we really need all of that 10' buffer between the trail and the transit tracks?
I have to say I agree. The rail width is beyond compromise. The others items in order of importance in my opinion are the trail, the outside buffers and then the inside buffer.
As for what happens next...
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is expected to submit a Purple Line project to the Federal Transit Administration for funding this spring, entering the state in a fierce competition for construction money. The light-rail project has been endorsed by the Montgomery council, Prince George's council and both counties' executives and is estimated to cost $1.2 billion to build. State officials have said they can't afford that without the federal government covering at least half.
Transit advocates are optimistic that President Obama's plans to spur the economy by investing in infrastructure will mean more money for such projects. But the demand for construction money will probably continue to far outpace supply, they said.
Webb Smedley, chairman of Purple Line NOW, said the project will compete well, especially if the Obama administration considers how it would limit sprawl and serve lower-income riders.
It still faces years of work. The earliest it could be ready is 2015.