Wednesday, August 22, 2007

purple line haze: one coalition, two sides to a cause

The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail fights for the popular path, but is split over its future. Check out part FIVE of a series on the Purple Line. On FRIDAY, we'll walk the Silver Spring portion of the trail with Purple Line supporter Wayne Phyillaier.

Peter Gray, chair of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, at Kirsten's Cafe in Montgomery Hills. Check out this slideshow of the unfinished trail in West Silver Spring.

Anyone who thinks that Silver Spring's caught up with its ritzier, wealthier neighbor Bethesda might want to take a ride down the Capital Crescent Trail into Downtown Silver Spring. That is, if they can.

Not long ago, "you couldn't ride it on a road bike safely," laments Peter Gray, chair of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail. "That part of the trail was in horrible shape."

A seventeen-year resident of Silver Spring, Gray first joined the Coalition - a hodgepodge of citizens and civic groups united in their love of the trail but divided by how it should be used - because "I was disturbed about the state of the trail east of Rock Creek," he says.

Drainage problems and an uneven trail surface made it a difficult ride for bicyclists - not to mention the fact it currently ends a mile west of Downtown Silver Spring, forcing riders onto a poorly marked, convoluted route through neighborhood streets for the remainder. While the county recently spent $100,000 to rebuild a portion of the trail so it would drain properly, there remains a lot to be done to bring Silver Spring's part of the Capital Crescent up to par.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Montgomery County recently spent $100,000 to correct drainage problems along the Capital Crescent Trail in Silver Spring by installing white rocks in the trailbed.

If the Purple Line is built alongside it, according to Gray, the trail would be fully paved between Bethesda and Silver Spring, replacing the current gravel surface. "The County is not spending millions of dollars to build a trail," he notes. Groups like the Action Committee for Transit have opposed previous campaigns to have the trail paved because "it would preclude the perception of the Purple Line being built," says Gray.

Purple Line or no, the trail is not a high priority for local politicians. "I think the County doesn't seriously take biking as a form of transportation," he says. "For me to be seen biking to work or biking in my neighborhood, it's seen as a little . . . odd."

That sense of being ignored is what unites the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, which is officially "neutral" on the Purple Line. Within the Coalition, you'll find people like Pam Browning, who's collected 10,000 signatures on a petition to keep the rails off the trail entirely. You'll also find people like Wayne Phyillaier, who considers the transitway "our best chance" of finishing the trail in Silver Spring.

"We have people who are adamantly opposed to putting rail on the trail," Gray says. "Folks I would characterize as living right by the trail in Bethesda . . . [And] we have people who are passionately for it."

That split makes the Coalition a fragile one, especially given the Capital Crescent Trail's origins as a freight line given over to recreation. "The neighborhoods that [the trail] goes through were vehemently opposed to it going in," explains Gray. "They thought poor people were going to ride their bikes in and rape their women! And now, ten years later, everyone's going 'Wow! My property values are up because of this trail.'"

And while his organization's common goal is the preservation of the trail, individual members have their own goals. "You have to balance it off the 'greater good'," he says. "For them, the 'greater good' is their neighborhood . . . for people waiting for the trolley, it's not their concern."

Unfortunately, Gray says, the fight over the future of the Capital Crescent is one at least partially determined by where you live. It's a revival - or a continuation, really, of the age-old rift between Bethesda and Silver Spring. "I don't know anyone on this side of the County saying 'oh, I don't want to see the trees cut down in Bethesda' or 'oh, I have enough ways to get to Bethesda," states Gray.

And while Purple Line opponents Pam Browning and Mier Wolf use the high number of trail users in Bethesda as a reason for keeping it the way it is, Gray suggests it's only because their end of the trail is complete.

"It is difficult for people to find the trail in Downtown Silver Spring," Gray points out. "If it went into Downtown Silver Spring, people would use the trail."