Tuesday, May 20, 2008

student leaders, transit advocates team up for purple line push

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Planning Board approves requirements for SilverPlace headquarters; New building on FDA campus dedicated; Metro plans rapid-bus expansion along 16th Street, Veirs Mill Road by 2009.

As Downcounty residents pored over the MTA's latest plans for the Purple Line last Wednesday, a group of student leaders met with members from the Action Committee for Transit at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School to learn how to make the proposed transitway between Bethesda and New Carrollton a reality.

"I think students and people in general are vested in the interest for transit," says Ben Moskowitz, senior at Walter Johnson High in Bethesda and student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Roughly ten students, representing their schools' student government associations and newspapers, came from as far away as Watkins Mill High in Montgomery Village and Centennial High in Ellicott City. ACT President Ben Ross says it's just a sign of how popular the Purple Line is across the region.

"All I can say is . . . it is not just students that we see support from Upcounty," says Ross. "We leafletted the Metro stations two years ago and letters came from all over the County . . . people just look at that map and say 'this makes so much sense'."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Deirdre Smith and Carlos Abinader from the MTA gave a brief presentation on the project, including an explanation of light rail and Bus Rapid Transit, the two technologies proposed for the Purple Line. Abinader, who lived in Germany for several years, stressed how important transit can be to its users. "Kids, adults, everyone, they live it, they breathe it, they ride it," says Abinader. "It's wonderful."

One student from Whitman High in Bethesda expressed concerns about the line's effects on existing residential neighborhoods. "Things will be impacted," responds Abinader, "but we are trying to minimize any impacts."

A successful student-led protest against proposed Ride On cuts last winter encouraged ACT to reach out to high schoolers. "You need a few people who are really committed and it'll sweep the schools," says ACT Vice President Hans Riemer, who recently left a position as youth coordinator for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. "Student empowerment, that's the core tactic . . . talking to students about their power."

The students joined Ross for a round-table discussion about ways to generate interest in the Purple Line, with suggestions ranging from additional student meetings to a new Facebook group. Alex Blocher, a junior at Blake and president of its SGA, says he hopes to reach out to people who don't see the utility in the project right away. "People who have a reason for it . . . who actively travel Montgomery County are aware of it," states Blocher, "but the general population isn't as aware as I'd like it to be."

Moskowitz knew about the Purple Line for years, but first became interested in supporting it after working on Steve Silverman's County Executive campaign in 2006. As the campaign and his position on the Board took him across the County, he "became even more passionate about it in my car driving from Bethesda to Silver Spring and once even taking the Metro from Glenmont to White Flint."

Although he'll be going to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, Moskowitz hopes events like this will groom a new generation of student advocates. "The biggest advantage we have is there's a lot of people who have time to stay with this," he says.

Riemer looks forward to the possibilities. "I know that high school students in Montgomery County are some of the most organized around," says the East Silver Spring resident, who ran for County Council two years ago. "What if you could get the media to see young people care about the Purple Line rather than focusing on the people carping about what they might lose?"


Anonymous said...

I believe the children are our future. -Whitney Houston

And they understand the need for environmentally friendly public transportation. I hope they convince their parents and grandparents of that fact.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what private schools near Chevy Chase are teaching these days...

Thomas Hardman said...

While running for the District 4 Council seat, I was privileged to be interviewed by the Bethesda/Chevy-Chase Chamber of Commerce.

During part of that interview, they mentioned that they were really hoping to see approval for expansion in their area, more or less the equivalent of the "Discovery" complex in Silver Spring.

I asked them if they thought they had enough public transit capacity. One of the folks said something to me, practically as if I were woefully uninformed, to the effect that "we have five stations in our business districts".

I should have made myself more clear, I suppose. Having five stations on one line doesn't do you much good if that one line is overcapacity.

Adding the Purple Line would do something to relieve a lot of the strain on the rapidly-aging Red Line, which will only be increased once the Base Realignment and Closures project is done tripling the size of the Bethesda Naval/NIH complex. However, the Purple Line could potentially only add to the overcapacity problems of the Red Line, especially as people transfer off of it and travel on the Red Line to other destinations in Bethesda.