Friday, August 24, 2007

purple line haze: trail on the wrong side of the tracks

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, 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."


Anonymous said...

Great article. But one detail is wrong - it's unfair to lump Bethesda residents in with the Chevy Chase opponents of the Purple Line. Opinion about the Purple LIne in Chevy Chase is split fairly evenly. But except in a small area of East Bethesda near the rail right of way, Bethesda residents overwhelmingly support the Purple Line.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"Bethesda residents overwhelmingly support the Purple Line."

As Kip Dynamite once said, "How can you even know that"?

Anonymous said...

sin verguenza: veta pal carajo! (just kidding)

Anonymous said...

Kip Dynamite actually said: "How can anyone even know that"?

Sin Verguenza does make a good point. Unless you have done a door to door poll and pulled a truly random sample of Bethesda residents how can you say that Bethesda is for the Purple Line (especially as a light rail).

Anonymous said...


You are a vulgar piece of slime. Are you a typical east-county resident? Good lord, know wonder the folks from Bethesda and Chevy Chase want to keep you out of their neighborhoods.

You have no class.

Anonymous said...

This guy looks an awful lot like Ben Ross (Action Committee for Transit). Perhaps the Chevy Chase Land Company has taken their zillions of dollars to complete the process of human cloning.

They are now creating an army of these clones and programming them to become Light Rail fanatics.

Anonymous said...

anonymous: Granted my PG-13 potty humor wasn't that funny, but seriously get over yourself. Te mando un besito!

Dan Reed said...

I'm shaking my head - but cussing in other languages just seems so much more clever than doing so in English =)

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the subject at hand. I feel that some of the Silver Spring residents are forsaking the pusuit of a great regional transportaion solution, heavy rail buried that will be able to eventually circle Wasington DC., for a stop gap solution that will give them bike trail access.

I am sorry you don't have direct access to the bike trail or a pristine trail for exercise. We in the west don't have the Silver Theatre.

The Gergetown Branch Trail really is a great resource that is used daily by loads of Montgomery County/MD /US/World citizens.

I have met people from all parts of the world who were using the trail and who loved it.

Why do you want to take that away?

Why all of the hate and envy.

Anonymous said...

On a day like today with expected temps of near 100 degrees the trees along the trail are essential.

If the Purple Line goes through and the trees are clear cut forget about using the trail on a hot summer day.

If Global Warming is a reality, and I tend to think it is, we are going to have more and more of these super hot days.

Save the trail, bury the rail, keep the trees along the trail. We are going to need them.

WashingtonGardener said...

I do not know of any PL supporter who "wants to take the trail away" nor remove the tree canopy - in fact they want the trail widened, completed, and better forested as an essential piece in the PL's completion.

Global warming is a great point and a main reason to build the PL. It is also a central reason why I'm pro-transit.
Being car-free, I am very familiar with the local trail systems and those of us who use them and local mass transit to get around (not just for pleasure outtings) depend on them. When you are paying $10 a gallon for gas in the next decade (as predicted by several experts on the fuel market), I'm sure you'll be kicking yourselves that you do not have this transportation alternative. The PL is long overdue and it is time to pool our resources for a better future.

Anonymous said...

WashingtonGardener said...

"I do not know of any PL supporter who "wants to take the trail away" nor remove the tree canopy - in fact they want the trail widened, completed, and better forested as an essential piece in the PL's completion."

How is it goig to be better forested? You can't just install 70 to 100+ year old trees. The little sprouts will take decades to form any kind of canopy.

It going to be really hot using this new cement trail. Forget about taking a nice leisurely walk like many senior citizens currently do.

Have you walked the Georgetown Branch Trail?

Anonymous said...

"It going to be really hot using this new cement trail."

It will get even hotter if CO2 levels continue going up...

Anonymous said...

rd said...

It will get even hotter if CO2 levels continue going up...

Granted, the problem is that the Purple Line will do nothing to knock down C02 levels. Why do you pro-Purple Line folks keep perpetuating the myth that this new rail will help in this regard. The Purple Line will not remove cars from the road the way the Corridor Cities Transitway will. They have no mass transit in Clarksburg/Urbana/Frederick. Cars will be removed from the roads if you build the CCT.

The Purple Line is merely for developers / social activists / and people who want access to the bike trail.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (August 27, 2007 3:07 PM):

First of all, how freakin' hard is it to pick a random username?

And lastly... you're wrong about the Purple Line not taking cars off the road. Enough said, I'm done with you.

Anonymous said...


You are full of bologna (bulloney). Where is the math that says the Purple Light Rail will remove cars from the streets. Even Md's head of transportation says that the riders will be current bus patrons.

Now I am through with you. PELOTAZO

Anonymous said...

Of course the Purple Line is going to take cars off the road. And, while the Corridor Cities Transitway is designed to be used primarily by people who drive there and park, The Purple Line will have no park-and-ride lots (except at existing Metro stations that have them anyway) and will be reached on foot, by bicycle, and by bus.

Yes, many, probably most at first, of the people who use the Purple Line will be people who now use the bus. But arguing that it's useless because it only benefits people who already ride the bus is like arguing that the ICC is useless because it only benefits people who already have cars.

Or are people who ride the bus second class citizens?

Anonymous said...

In some circles, the people who already ride the bus don't even exist. The East Bethesda Citizens Association website argues that only 2000 people a day will use the Purple Line. (At, the Light Rail webpage) That number comes from the first crude estimate for the beginning ridership for the old single track concept that only ran from Silver Spring to Bethesda. But that estimate showed 22,000 people a day would use the single track light rail, with 20,000 people a day switching from buses to the faster rail service, and another 2000 people a day being new users who left their cars at home. For the authors of the EBCA website article, the 20,000 bus riders are not worth mentioning.

Of course it is bogus to use numbers from the old single track concept in the current discussion. The ridership will be much higher with the bi-county, two track system that is now proposed.

Anonymous said...

Is the light rail fare going to be priced the same as a bus?

WashingtonGardener said...

Anon - As far as fares go - that will be determined by whatever agency oversees the operations of the Purple Line - most likely it will be WMATA since the PL will be cross-jursidictional. The expectation is that yes the fee will be the same as bus fare and that transfer from/to metro will work the sam we way. However, there are no guarantees in life and that part of the planning is far, far down the road.

Anonymous said...

The Purple Line Light Rail would be no more a part of the current Metro Rail System than is a Metro Bus.