Save the Trail petition Part Two – tunnel vision

“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the trail would be removed from the tunnel (virtually all signatures taken before 2009) are at least partially based on outdated, incorrect information about the trail at the tunnel.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.

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3 Responses to “Save the Trail petition Part Two – tunnel vision”

  1. Pam Browning says:

    The Petition has always asserted that the light rail Purple Line will either close the Tunnel to Trail users OR ramp Trail users above the trains and catenary wires in the Tunnel.

  2. MAW says:

    Okay, let's cut to the chase on this. Any transit option is – right now – most likely a pathetic waste of money.

    Why? The answer is simple. No one – no supporter of any option – has any idea what use/ridership will be, not for light rail, bus rapid transit, any other option.

    Not a single taxpayer was asked by anyone in the entire planning process "if they would ride" a particular option, how it would benefit potential riders, etc. Instead, people were asked if they "support" one option or another and computer models were used to "estimate" ridership. I would love to be corrected, but I personally asked anyone who would listen if they could share the consumer research data on who would ride/use the different options etc. I was continually presented with computer model analysis of “similar” environments and how many people said they “supported” a particular option.

    Let me ask you this. If you – personally – were starting a business, would you:

    a) Ask people what product they would “support” or vote for?
    b) Survey and interview your target market to understand what product they wanted and would pay money for/buy?

    If you answered a), I have some land to sell you!!

    You do not have to take any side of this argument to realize and admit how insane spending $1, let alone hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, on any of the options is without taking the most simple (and inexpensive by the way) of steps – thoroughly surveying, analyzing, and understanding who will use a particular option, with what frequency, how riders make choices and tradeoffs with their transportation needs, dollars, time, etc.

    Whatever is built, please be clear, it will be built with absolutely ZERO understanding of how people may or may not actually use it. Whatever is built, it will be done so based on political values and not on what should be the determining factors – consumer research on who will use it!!

    We have no idea if people will ride light rail, bus rapid transit, etc. We just know what people – most of whom would not ride either option by the way – would vote to build.

    I do have a preference on the issue, but that is irrelevant. If the proper research is done and it says build light rail, build the outer Purple Line, implement bus rapid transit or whatever, I am in!!

    Congratulations on inefficiently spending many many millions of taxpayer money while also ruining a very nice tract of tree lined trail property forever based on none of the facts that matter!!

    Nice work!! Good luck Governor O’Malley on explaining this one 20 years from now!!

    The good news is, you still have time to stop this gross negligence and waste of taxpayer money – buy the right solution and not votes!!

  3. [...] This plan for the CCT on the tunnel overhead is far from the narrow, enclosed, tomb-like plan that “Save the Trail” has been presenting as part of their keep-fear-alive petitioning effort – at Tunnel Vision. [...]