The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail fights for the popular path, but is split over its future. Check out the end of a series on the Purple Line.
Wayne Phyillaier on the unfinished Capital Crescent Trail near Brookville Road. Check out this slideshow of the CCT in Silver Spring.
Reggaeton blasts from a stereo just out of sight. The smell of old trash mixed with new rain fills the air. Dirty walls peek through the foilage, revealing layers of graffiti.
Welcome to Silver Spring's end of the Capital Crescent Trail, a popular hiker-biker path that swings around from Georgetown, through Bethesda, before ending abruptly in Lyttonsville, an industrial area a mile west of Downtown Silver Spring.
"Most people, when they talk about walking the trail, they see Pam Browning's version of the trail," says trail enthusiast Wayne Phyillaier, referring to his colleague in the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail. "She'll take you Connecticut Avenue and turn around. Maybe even the Rock Creek Trestle, and that's only half of the way to Silver Spring."
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
The Capital Crescent Trail passes through an industrial area before ending a mile west of Downtown Silver Spring.
From Rock Creek Park east, the trail becomes weedy and overgrown, and the gravel surface is uneven. The path was draining so poorly that giant ruts had formed; last year, Montgomery County spent $100,000 last year to rebuild a portion of the trail. A Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail survey taken on the trail last year showed 23,000 weekly uses at Bethesda Row. A few blocks east in Chevy Chase, that number falls to 10,000. At Grubb Road in Silver Spring, only 2,586 uses were recorded.
"Just think of how many people would use this trail if it went all the way into Silver Spring," says Phyillaier. A Woodside resident, he's also editor of www.SilverSpringTrails.org, a website about biking in Silver Spring. "As popular as it is, it's only using so much of its potential."
According to the Action Committee for Transit, the Purple Line has been endorsed by several neighborhood associations along the trail in Silver Spring, including Woodside, North Woodside and Linden. Meanwhile, Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents continue to protest the Purple Line's construction due to the number of trees that could be lost on the trail. Save The Trail, the leading Purple Line opposition group, claims that "4,500 trees would be clear-cut," while the Save The Trail Petition says "all of the trees" would be removed.
Those numbers may be exaggerated. Two decades ago, when Montgomery County first bought the Georgetown Branch for transit and trail use, they tagged every tree in the right-of-way. 5,400 trees were tagged. But since the width of the right-of-way varies, more trees would be needed in some areas than others. And some of the tagged trees that sit in the path of the Purple Line have already died from other causes.
Nonetheless, Phyillaier is disturbed by the trade-offs. "It bothers me. I don't like the idea of cutting trees either," he says. "But they're looking at it from such a limited perspective . . . if they'd just step back and look at all the other neighborhoods, they'd understand why so many trail supporters refuse to join their parade."
Echoing concerns made by Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail head Peter Gray, Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents have focused on their own neighborhoods too long. Chevy Chase resident Amy Kostant's letter to the Gazette - made infamous by a Just Up The Pike post last winter - said the Purple Line would prevent her kids from running a lemonade stand on the trail.
"There are people who want the Capital Crescent Trail not to be a regional trail and to be kept as a neighborhood park," Phyillaier says. "It's a decision about what kind of trail we want to have - a local trail or a regional trail."
Phyillaier insists that the transitway may be the Capital Crescent Trail's only hope of being completed. "I think the Purple Line is our best chance of finishing the trail," he says. At Stewart Avenue in Lyttonsville, the off-road portion of the trail abruptly ends in an industrial district. A string of poorly-marked signs attempt to guide users to neighborhood streets in Rosemary Hills and Woodside, following a convoluted, mile-long route that ends at the Silver Spring Metro.
"You're stuck with these side path diversions," he says. "The local streets, they're narrow, they're old."
If the Purple Line were built, Phyillaier suggests, the trail and the rail could follow the rest of the unused Georgetown Branch right-of-way - currently owned by CSX and overgrown beyond recognition - behind the neighborhood and onto tracks that lead to the Silver Spring Metro. The trail would likely be elevated over the railway. "If [the Maryland Transit Administration] can negotiate with them, we have the access we need," says Phyillaier, but CSX will not grant the right-of-way for a trail alone.
While the idea of biking on top of trains may scare some, it's the only direct way into Silver Spring, Phyillaier says. "I know Isaac [Hantman, Bethesda resident and Purple Line opponent] rants about what a horrible corridor this is for a trail, but what's the alternative?"
Users of the trail would be ensured complete separation from other traffic, something than an on-road trail can't provide. "Compare that with if you're on a road," says Phyillaier. "How many cars will go by you when you're on Second Avenue? Is that better? I don't think so."
While Phyillaier stresses the significance of the Purple Line in completing the Capital Crescent Trail, he insists that the two projects are not fully intertwined. But it's hard to understand what he means when a business card advertising his website reads Finish The Trail - Build Light Rail at the bottom.
"I would never make the argument that we need the light rail to build the trail," he says. "We can't have the tail wag the dog . . . I think we should sell the Purple Line for its own reasons."