Thursday, August 28, 2008

the purple line diaries: come on, baby, show me gridlock

part TWO of a series aimed to find out just how bad it is commuting across Montgomery and Prince George's counties without the Purple Line.

By 6pm, the Beltway going eastbound is stopped. "Come on, baby, show me gridlock," I say as our Red Line train flies over the carnage.

Chris and I are approaching the College Park Metro station, a fifteen-minute walk from our apartment. The platform is visible a few hundred yards away, as is our train, which is pulling out of the station. After nine minutes of sitting on the platform, cross-legged atop the bumpy dots at the edge, the train arrives. I've got my pad open, and I'm ready to take notes. Every few minutes, I jot down what happened.

2:48 board train to CP (nine-minute wait)
2:57 get off at Fort Totten

"You know, I like Fort Totten because nobody ever gets on or off here," I say. "People are always waiting. It's very poetic."

"Yeah, it sort of is," Chris replies.

"My aunt even lives at Fort Totten, and she doesn't use Metro."

"Why? It's so convenient."

"I don't know. You can see her house from the platform, and it's noisy, living up against the tracks. You pay a price for the convenience."

2:59 upper platform

"Okay, so you can't see her house from the platform because of those trees, but it's around here," I say.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Rockville Pike looking south towards White Flint.

3:00 get on Shady Grove bound train
3:13 Lots of people get on at Metro Center, standing room only

"You know, I can understand why people like in Langley Park would be opposed to the Purple Line," Chris begins, referring to a conversation we'd had the other day. "These people are just trying to protect their neighborhood, what they know."

"The Purple Line opposition isn't coming from Langley Park," I say. "The Gazette did a thing about it two years ago: people are either for it or they don't know about it. It's coming from Chevy Chase and East Silver Spring."

I explain about the Columbia Country Club, about the Capital Crescent Trail and Pam Browning, about SSTOP and my walk through East Silver Spring. "My problem with the people in Chevy Chase is that they don't seem to understand the world outside Chevy Chase," I say. "They'll re-route the Purple Line so it doesn't go on the trail in their community, but they don't care if it runs along the trail in Silver Spring. It's just not fair."

Chris shrugs. I don't like to go on at length about what my friends call "blog stuff," and I figured it was time to stop. "Hey," I say, pointing to a gentleman sitting by the door, "that guy looks like John Edwards."

3:17 notice guy who looks like John Edwards en route to Woodley Park
3:29 arrive at Bethesda
3:34 exit tunnel @ Beltway, I-495, stopped east bound
3:40 Twinbrook
3:43 leave station

To pro-pedestrian, pro-transit, and pro-city people, Rockville Pike is an evil bitch of a highway, eight lanes of office-park-and-strip-mall traffic hostile to any poor sucker who dared show up on two feet. But I'm not gonna lie: crossing the Other Pike wasn't particularly bad. The weather was really nice, and there were pedestrian signals, crosswalks, etc. There weren't any sidewalks leading into the shopping center, which was kind of miserable, but overall, I didn't mind the walk.

We spend a little over an hour in the art store, buying things for a new year of architecture school. There are a lot of things to carry: large shopping bags, a carrying case for art supplies; a long prism of a box for a rolled-up desk cover. "Metro wasn't such a good idea," Chris laments as we leave the store. "No, no, this is great for the experiment," I say. "I want this to be as horrible as possible."

"Dan, I don't want my things to get fucked up on the bus," replies Chris.

From there, it's across the parking lot to Panera Bread. Over sandwiches and soup, I go through a bus schedule in my head: there are J4 buses leaving Bethesda at 5:10, 5:30, 5:50. "There's one at 6:10," I say. If we want to catch it, we should get going. I think we've missed rush hour."

"That's good, right?"


A shoulder strap breaks, and a near-death experience crossing Rockville Pike ensues.

The walk back to the Metro is ten times more difficult with things to carry. Chris manages to hook the strap on his messenger bag to the tube and proudly fling it over his shoulder. There's a Ride-On bus at the corner. "Do you just want to take this bus?" Chris asks. I'm kind of taken aback by his enthusiasm, until I realize the bus is going to Medical Center, and that the driver isn't going to let us on away from an actual stop.

I shake my head and we press on. But then, three lanes into crossing Rockville Pike, there's a snap, and the tube falls to the ground. The Don't Walk signal is flashing, and the light's about to change. "I'll take it," I say, grabbing the tube, and we run across the Pike as the northbound traffic approaches. Chris tries to re-attach the strap on the other side. "I need some duct tape," he says.

5:52 get on at Twinbrook
6:20 get off at Bethesda

We're too tired and lazy to run up the escalator. Chris says he hates the Metro escalators because the hand-holds go at a different rate than the steps, and his arm slowly moves away from him as we reach the top. The Bethesda bus turnaround is a depressing place, dark, crowded, hard to navigate. It takes me a second to find the stand where the J4 stops, and another to find the often-busted electronic board that says when the next bus is coming.

Commuters bound down the escalator at Twinbrook station.

"6:17 J4 COLLE P RK," it says.

"Shit," I say. "What do we do now?" asks Chris. "Do we get on the Metro?"

"We can take two buses back, or we get on the Metro."

"Fuck that," Chris says. "Metro."

"Or we can take two buses back."

"But that would ruin the experiment," he protests.

"Not at all! Two buses would totally make the commute worse."

"But then the time would be screwed up."

"No! I want it to take longer."

"I'm taking the Metro."

And so we bounded down the escalator to wait for another Red Line train. Halfway down, I say, "You know, what if the J4 didn't come yet? Maybe we should wait a few minutes."

"I'm not going back up there."

6:28 get on at Bethesda
6:44 standing room only at Metro Center - people running into train last minute, announcer says 'we'll be waiting on the platform for a minute'
6:49 union station
6:59 arrive at Fort Totten. Green line train 2 minutes away
7:02 Get on green line train to CP, train ridership is light (Nats game & past rush hour?)
7:10 train stop @ CP


Commute from College Park to Twinbrook (Metro-to-Metro): 55 minutes
Commute from Twinbrook to College Park (Metro-to-Metro): 1 hour, 18 minutes
Chris status: Still hasn't ridden a bus yet

"You know, I started this series as a way of showing people who oppose the Purple Line what it's like riding a bus," I told Chris last night. "Now, after all the e-mails I've gotten about the first part, my goal is to get YOU on a bus."

"Boy, you're really adamant about this, aren't you?" he says.


Adam Pagnucco said...

I actually feel sorry for Chris. Dan's original intention was to get Purple Line opponents to ride a bus. But somehow, the goal has switched to condemning Chris - an innocent bystander - to the unspeakable fate of a bi-county bus trip.

Now don't get me wrong, I appreciate the entertainment value of this as much as anybody. But Chris should at least get a free glass of Chardonnay from the Columbia Country Club for all his troubles.

Thomas Hardman said...

No bi-county bus trip can be considered sufficiently punishing if it doesn't involve an after-sunset transfer at either Langley Park's "Crossroads" or perhaps at the intersection of Riggs Road and University Boulevard.

In the latter case, I recommend killing some time in the parking lot of Tick-Tock. Be sure to dress all upscale and flash some bling. That will give you something to write about, that's for sure.

We pray, nay, we demand, that in the interests of truth and enlightenment, that a trip be made from Twinbrook to College Park utilizing the C4 from Twinbrook to transfer to the J4 at Uni and Riggs. Alternatively you could transfer at Uni and Piney Branch.

at the beltway said...

I understand that the task was to make the trip as nasty as possible, but you also paint an incorrect impression. Although the time sink is still large, the C-8 Metro bus travels from College Park Metro to White Flint (via Adelphi, NH and Randolph), and then options on Rockville Pike are many.

Thomas Hardman said...

I think that it might be important to contrast and compare the differences between a dedicated light-rail line (or alternatively a dedicated express "bus train" route) and the current bus routes.

Questions for comparison might include requirements (versus opportunities) to transfer, time-sink waiting for transfer if fastest-transfer is missed due to traffic, security of transfer points, etc.

For example, would Purple Line as light-rail be suitable for government personnel shuttling between the post-BRAC sites, or will dedicated transport be required. Because, seriously, I don't want to think that someone carrying an attache case that matters from the new Walter Reed will be standing around at Tick-Tock waiting for a transfer after sunset (or before sunrise) to a connecting line to points a bit beyond Maryland City. Is a limo required or can something a bit less blatant be utilized?

Dan Reed said...

@at the beltway:

I absolutely agree. When you throw College Park-to-Rockville in the mix, there are considerably more options for both bus and Metro. As this series continues (and this may become a long-term thing) I may try taking the C8.