Archive for the ‘Save the Trail petition’ Category

Save the Trail petition Part Six – locally owned

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

The first post of this “Save the Trail” petition series summarized the history of the petition. The next posts detailed some of the misinformation and gross exaggeration that many of the petition signatures are based upon. This concluding post of the series will look at who is behind the petition drive, and examine whether they are motivated to fairly represent all of the many and diverse trail users throughout the region.

I’ll go straight to it – I believe the “Save the Trail” petition organizers are interested in local neighborhood interests much more than in regional trail interests. I believe the petition organizers want to preserve the Interim CCT as a local neighborhood walking trail for the principal benefit of the adjacent neighborhoods, and are hostile to the goal of having the Interim CCT become a regional trail that can better support purposeful bicycling and other uses. The websites of the petition sponsor and of the petition organizer and comments they have made on the record make the case.

The sponsor of “Save the Trail” petition is the Greater Bethesda – Chevy Chase Coalition (GBCCC). They describe themselves at their website. Twenty nine GBCCC “Save the Trail” organizational supporters are listed on their website under “Who we are”. All of those listed are local neighborhood associations or condominium associations except two – the Columbia Country Club and the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trial (CCCT). But the CCCT does NOT support the cornerstone “Save the Trail” goal of “… fighting to preserve the green space of the Capital Crescent Trail — Georgetown Branch — right-of-way as solely a hiker/biker trail”. The CCCT position is that transit and trail can share the corridor, provided key design requirements are met. The CCCT testimony on the Purple Line AA/DEIS was reported in a previous post. The full CCCT Purple Line position statement is available on its website at the “Advocacy” web page. GBCCC is dishonest to list CCCT as being with them in fighting to preserving the corridor for the exclusive use of the trail. When CCCT is removed from the supporter list, GBCCC does not have a single environmental or trail oriented group remaining as a member.

The petition organizer, Pam Browning, describes the “Save the Trail” mission in her website. Her website gives lip service about the importance of this essential trail link between Bethesda and Silver Spring in a few places, but the information presented on the website is focused solely on less than ½ of the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring – the part in Chevy Chase neighborhoods. The website features many photos of the part of the trail to be “saved”, but the photos shown are almost exclusively within the less than two mile section of trail between East-West Highway and Jones Mill Road. The website does not have a single photo of the trail east of Rock Creek even though that makes up half of the Georgetown Branch Trail. There is not even an acknowledgement on the website that the trail remains largely unfinished in the Silver Spring neighborhoods.

The bias of “Save the Trail” was displayed recently in the comment left by Pam Browning on the Post article by Dr. Gridlock, Purple Line passes important test:

“Mr. Thompson, your reporting on the Purple Line is always shamelessly biased. This was not an even handed report of the COG Transportation Planning Board Meeting.”

“For example, why not for once mention that the Purple Line Draft Environmental Impact Statement clearly states that the Trail can be extended into the Silver Spring Transit Center with all of the Bus Rapid Transit alternatives, including the Jones Bridge Road alternative?”

“Light rail along the trail is not necessary to extend the Trail.”

“The only reason I can see for a biking organization like WABA to support the closing of the Trail for years of Purple Line construction, and the needless destruction of all the trees and shade along the Trail, is that perhaps WABA cares only about high speed biking and is happy to create a Trail that will in effect remove walkers, families and children, nature lovers, dog walkers, and anyone who might slow them down.”

Posted by: PamBrowning | June 17, 2009 10:28 PM

The hostility Pam Browning has for purposeful cyclists and to organizations like WABA that represent them is evident. But also consider the disregard Pam Browning shows for the trail outside of her own Chevy Chase neighborhood. Pam Browning is advancing the Bus Rapid Transit on Jones Mill Road (BRT on JBR) alternative here. The deficiencies of BRT and of the JBR route as a good transit alternative were discussed in a previous post series and need not be repeated here. But BRT on JBR is also a bad alternative as it relates to the trail. BRT on JBR would place transit directly alongside the trail for over ½ of the length of the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring. That includes across the only true park in the corridor, Rock Creek Park. That also includes through sections where the trail now has a full tree canopy that is as strong as any in Chevy Chase.

The BRT transit mode Pam Browning supports for Silver Spring neighborhoods would have buses that emit exhaust directly along the trail, while running on a solid asphalt or concrete two lane roadway. Pam Browning asserts that running emission free light rail transit vehicles on grass tracks will devastate the trail in her own Chevy Chase neighborhood, while at the same time she advances buses running alongside more than 2 miles of the CCT as acceptable for Silver Spring neighborhoods.

The Greater Bethesda – Chevy Chase Coalition has every right to make its voice heard on behalf of its member neighborhood associations. But when the GBCCC tries to mask its local neighborhood interests by wrapping the “Save the Trail” banner around itself to appear as an environmental or trail user organization, and then Pam Browning speaks for them as though she knows what “overwhelmingly, trail users believe…”, then GBCCC deserves to be called out. Waving boxes of “Save the Trail” petition signatures that contain many very outdated signatures, gathered while presenting gross misinformation about the Purple Line plans, does not give GBCCC standing to speak for all of the many diverse trail users throughout the region. If politicians, decision makers, and reporters want to know what trail users want, then they need to do the hard work of listening to the many diverse organizations that represent them, including not only “Save the Trail” but also WABA, CCCT, MoBike, the Sierra Club and others.

Save the Trail petition Part Five – grass is green too

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

We look at the green space issue in this post of this Save the Trail petition series.

The Save the Trail petitioners have a good point to make when they protest that the Purple Line will result in removing all trees within the Georgetown Branch Corridor. That is the one point they make that cannot be reasonably disputed. But, like so much else they present, they then go on to present a very extreme, unbalanced version of the impact transit will have on the trail.

Save the Trail petitioners assert that transit will transform the corridor into a barren wasteland that will make the trail so uninviting that no one will use it. They present this sketch to illustrate their vision:

A brown trail at the Town of Chevy Chase

Let’s do a reality check on their sketch of a brown, barren wasteland. First, let’s get grounded by taking a look at what is there now:

At the Town of Chevy Chase this spring.

Of course there are several sections on the Georgetown Branch Corridor that are now under a full tree canopy. But much of the section shown in the Save the Trail sketch as at risk of being deforested by the Purple Line is like the photo above. Other sections are also largely without trees, including at much of the Country Club and at the Connecticut Ave. crossing. Save the Trail claims that the entire Georgetown Branch Corridor is in a full forest are exaggerated.

Now let’s take into account the fact that the Purple Line that is being endorsed by the County Council and County Executive will have grass tracks in the Georgetown Branch Corridor. A two track light rail transit with grass tracks looks like this:

Transit on grass tracks in Freiburg.
More examples are shown at

Grass tracks will be green. The grass can absorb storm water runoff, and also can absorb the summer sun so there will be no heating effect from large areas of pavement. The only part of the corridor that will not be green where grass tracks are used will be – the trail!

In fairness we must yield the point to “Save the Trail” that many trees will be cut for the Purple Line. But it does not follow that the corridor will be barren, hot, and brown. The trail will still be very inviting and heavily used.

The next post will be the last of the series, about how very local neighborhood interests drive the “Save the Trail” petition effort.

Save the Trail petition Part Four – trail with walls

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

In this post of the Save the Trail petition series we look at how the petitioners misrepresent the impact of the Purple Line on trail width.

The width of the future Capital Crescent Trail with transit has been discussed extensively on this blog, most recently in the “A wider trail is not rocket science” post. We have seen the profile drawings and have done the basic math that shows it is easily possible to place a trail that is wider than 10 feet inside a 66 foot wide corridor along with the two track transit, including where retaining walls are needed. I will not repeat all of that in this post. It is evident that the Maryland Transit Administration assertion that the future trail will be at least 10 feet wide continuous from Bethesda to Silver Spring is credible, and that an even wider trail is feasible. A 10 foot width will make the future trail wider than the Interim Trail is today in some places.

But “Save the Trail” petitioners stubbornly refuse to yield to the basic math, and continue to insist the trail will be narrow alongside the Purple Line. They tell trail users it will look like this:

Poster presented by petitioners at the March 4, 2009
“No Rail on the Trail” event

I apologize for the poor photo quality. But the photo is adequate to show how petitioners portray the future trail – pinched tightly between high solid walls. The solid walls Sam Schwartz insists must be used to put the trail in a “tomb-like” box in the tunnel are now also apparently needed on trail ramps as well.

Yet again we see the petitioners presenting their own version of the trail plan as the “MTA plans…” But MTA has always stated that the trail on this ramp near Pearl Steet would have an effective 10 foot width, with 2’ shy space on either side between the trail edge and fences. That would make this ramp be very similar to the Capital Crescent Trail ramps at the River Road bridge:

Trail ramps use fences, not solid walls, for safety.

What trail user would NOT sign the “Save the Trail” petition when shown the sketch of the grotesque trail ramp by petitioners? How many petition signatures are based on this kind of misinformation?

In the next post of the series I will discuss the “green” in the future trail.

Save the Trail petition Part Three – at Woodmont Avenue

Friday, June 19th, 2009

The previous two blogs of this series discussed the history of the “Save the Trail” petition, and claims the petition organizers make about the impact of the Purple Line on the trail in the Bethesda Tunnel. This post will discuss the impact of the Purple Line at Woodmont Avenue.

“Save the Trail” petitioners regularly present this vision of what they say the north east corner of Woodmont Avenue and Bethesda Avenue will look like if the Purple Line is built:

This concept sketch has presented at the trail during petition signature gathering efforts as recently as the March 7, 2009 “No Rail on the Trail” event.

But most of the parcel shown in the “Save the Trail” sketch is privately owned. The Planning Board has approved a development plan for this area that includes an office building, and the approved development plan looks like this:

The vision presented by the “Save the Trail” petitioners in their sketch has several gross misrepresentations:

1) The large open space and park portrayed in their drawing, that they claim will be destroyed by transit vehicle parking, will NOT be built. As petition organizers well know, plans to have the county purchase this parcel and create a park were rejected by the Planning Board in October 2007, see the Gazette report. The Planning Board has instead approved an office building and small public plaza in this space as shown in the development plan above. See the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail discussion of the recently approved development plan. There will never be a large open space park as shown in the “Save the Trail” drawing, regardless of the Purple Line.
2) Transit vehicles will NOT be parked far forward, to obstruct the public sidewalk and open space near Woodmont Avenue, as depicted in the “Save the Trail” drawing. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) briefed the County Council on Oct. 21, 2008 that they would only need to extend the transit tracks about 100 feet west from the tunnel portal to provide the tail track space they need for occasional emergency vehicle parking. That is only about 1/3 of the distance forward from the tunnel portal to Woodmont Avenue. Transit vehicles would remain far back, near the tunnel portal, and the tracks will end so that vehicles can never extend as far forward into the common area as the theater entrance or Gifford’s Ice Cream. The planned broad pedestrian sidewalk and public plaza along Woodmont Avenue will never have transit vehicles near them.
3) The unsightly fence shown in the sketch is an invention of Sam Schwartz, much like the solid walls he invented for the trail in the tunnel discussed in the previous post. MTA has always insisted fences would NOT be needed at its tail tracks.

The “Save the Trail” concept sketch of the Purple Line at Woodmont Avenue is presented as “The State’s plans…”. But this sketch has never fairly represented MTA plans. As discussed in the prior post for the tunnel, if “Save the Trail” wishes to present their own interpretation of a Purple Line concept they are free to do so. But they should not then present it as though it is from MTA.

The next post of this series will look at claims “Save the Trail” petitioners make about the trail width and green space in the Georgetown Branch Corridor.

Save the Trail petition Part Two – tunnel vision

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

“Save the Trail” petitioners have asserted through most of their seven year signature gathering effort that if the Purple Line is built, then the Capital Crescent Trail will be ejected from the Bethesda Tunnel and will instead follow an unacceptably dangerous alternate route across Wisconsin Avenue at-grade.

Several of the Purple Line alternatives under consideration until recently would eject the trail from the tunnel. But it has become evident that the Purple Line alternative that is now being advanced will NOT remove the trial from the tunnel. The Purple Line alternative endorsed in January by the Montgomery County Executive and Council is the light rail transit (LRT) medium investment option modified to incorporate the high investment option LRT design at the Bethesda tunnel, to keep the trail in the tunnel. All petition signatures gathered under the assumption that the trail would be removed from the tunnel (virtually all signatures taken before 2009) are at least partially based on outdated, incorrect information about the trail at the tunnel.

The MTA concept sketch with the trail
over the south transit tracks

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) concept for the Purple Line LRT high investment option, presented by MTA in the public workshops in spring and summer 2008 and in the AA/DEIS released in October 2008, showed the south track of the Purple Line would be lowered in the tunnel to allow the trail to be carried on an elevated structure. The MTA concept drawing shows the trail is fenced on the sides. The south side fence would be almost against the south wall of the tunnel, but the north side fence would allow good visibility from the trail to the north side platform of the Purple Line station in the tunnel below. The trail width is not specified in the MTA concept drawing but appears to be full width. As much as ½ of the 32 foot wide tunnel is available to the trail for more width if desired. The trail passage depicted in the MTA concept drawing is like a long, wide balcony with a fence on the side.

In October 2008 the MTA briefed the Montgomery County Council that the plan is now to lower both tracks, and to have the trail centered in the tunnel. The MTA stated that the trail would be much wider than 10 feet.

The MTA concept drawing presented to the
County Council on October 21, 2008

Having the trail be between two tall fences in the tunnel is very similar to the existing condition. Can we reasonably claim the proposed MTA design is much worse than the tunnel today, when you consider the improved trail safety that will come with having many more people in the tunnel using transit that can see trail users and discourage loitering and crime?

The existing Bethesda Tunnel

Now let’s see how the “Save the Trail” petitioners represented the MTA concept while gathering signatures as recently as March, 2009:

The tunnel concept sketch presented at the
March 7, 2009 No Rail on the Trail event

The poster shows the trail will be in a narrow tube. The fences shown in the MTA drawings have been replaced by solid walls. The trail is completely enclosed except at the ends, to not allow any air or light to enter from the sides and to completely block any visibility trail users have to the rest of the tunnel below. The trail is presented to be only 10 feet wide between these solid walls, with no “shy space” so the effective width would be less than 10 feet. Note that the poster is clearly labeled as “MTA’s Trail Option for the Tunnel” to imply that this comes directly from MTA. But this drawing is very different than the MTA concept drawings, having been prepared for the Town of Chevy Chase by their “independent” transportation consultant, Sam Schwartz. I don’t expect “Save the Trail” petitioners to accept the MTA’s vision for the trail in the tunnel without question, but fairness requires that if they do present an alternative vision that they think is more realistic, they should present it as their own vision and not try to pass it off as the MTA vision.

I explored the faulty logic Sam Schwartz uses to try to justify his solid walls in a previous post. It is absurd to insist that solid walls are essential as a barrier between trail users and the transit tracks below. Chain link fences are the common accepted design practice for separate trails and sidewalks when they are above highways, heavy rail lines, and transit rail lines. The trail bridge over River Road is an obvious example for a trail over a highway. I walk my dog on the Spring Street Bridge sidewalk over the Metro Red Line transit tracks and CSX tracks daily, and that sidewalk is separated from the active electrified transit tracks below by a simple chain link fence. It is a very ordinary bridge sidewalk. I can find no example of a sidewalk or trail over active transit tracks where a high, solid wall is used. Yet Sam Schwartz and “Save the Trail” insist, without foundation, that the trail must be separated from the light rail below by high, solid walls. Then, having used these walls to create a “tomb-like” trail concept, they present the concept to trail users as the MTA concept. What trail user, upon being presented with this grotesque misrepresentation of the MTA concept, would NOT sign a “Save the Trail” petition?

The next post of this series look at how petitioners present the Purple Line in the planned Woodmont Plaza.

Save the Trail petition Part One – some history

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

“Save the Trail” petition organizer Pam Browning uses her petition as a platform to speak on behalf of trail users on Purple Line issues. For example, when she spoke before the Transportation Planning Board of the Council of Governments on May 20, 2009 she opened by citing the 17,000+ petition signatures, and then went on to speak as if she knew what the overwhelming majority of all trail users want, quote:

“And we are not opposed to rail, but overwhelmingly, trail users believe that if the Purple Line is going to be a rail line, then it should be a Metro loop, not a light rail, at least in the segment connecting the two legs of the red line — to create a seamless circuit that would significantly improve the Metro system.”

See the testimony at

Everyone should feel free to speak their mind about the Purple Line. But trail users are so numerous and so very diverse that we should challenge anyone who claims to know what “…overwhelmingly, trail users believe…” about either the trail or transit.

Pam Browning’s credibility to speak about what the majority of trail users believe is built on the “Save the Trail” petition. But let’s take a look at that petition and see if it is what it appears to be.

First, some basic petition history:

1) The petitioning was underway as long ago as 2002.
2) The first 10,000 petition signatures were presented to former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan in 2003. Those signatures are now over six years old.
3) The petition has been presented repeatedly on the trail over the last seven (7) years. How many visitors to the trail have signed more than once, thinking the more recent presentations of the same petition were a new and different petition?
4) The majority of the petition signatures were collected long before the major features of the Purple Line/trail project were known.

Pam Browning presents 10,000 signatures to
Doug Duncan on Feb. 1, 2003.

It has only been in recent months that the Purple Line AA/DEIS has been released and the County Council and Executive have recommended one of the six Purple Line alternatives. People who signed the petition before that did so before they could have known very significant features of the proposed Purple line transit and trail design.

The great majority of the 17,000+ signatures on the “Save the Trail” petition are years beyond any reasonable shelf life. Normal accepted petitioning practice sets a time limit on signature gathering, in part to avoid some of the serious flaws evident in the “Save the Trail” history that can lead to inflated and outdated petition results. For example a typical petition gathering window for state referendums is 45 to 60 days, as the local anti-speed camera group is now learning (Gazette – Failed speed camera effort brings calls for reform, June 12, 2009).

Posters the “Save the Trail” petition organizers were presenting
at the March 7, 2009 “No Rail on the Trail”.

But the biggest flaw in the “Save the Trail” petition is the very misleading and outdated information about the Purple Line that was presented by petitioners to trail users throughout the length of the petition gathering. This includes after the AA/DEIS had been released when good information was readily available elsewhere. The AA/DEIS was released in October 2008, but outdated information contrary to the AA/DEIS was being presented as the current MTA plan nearly five months later during petitioning at the March 7, 2009 “No Rail on the Trail” event.

In following posts of this series I will show some examples of the misleading information the “Save the Trail” petitioners presented while collecting signatures.