“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the trail would be removed from the tunnel (virtually all signatures taken before 2009) are at least partially based on outdated, incorrect information about the trail at the tunnel.
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.
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?
Now let’s see how the “Save the Trail” petitioners represented the MTA concept while gathering signatures as recently as March, 2009:
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.