Thursday, August 6, 2009

guest blog: chevy chase on the purple line

The following is a guest blog by Pat Burda, Chevy Chase Town Councilmember, in response to a guest post JUTP ran last week by Jon Prater-Lewis of North Chevy Chase. Prater-Lewis lives on Jones Bridge Road - a proposed alignment for the Purple Line that the MTA rejected in favor of one running through the adjacent Town of Chevy Chase along the Capital Crescent Trail.

JUTP encourages anyone to submit guest posts, even on topics we don't agree on. (See our disclaimer below.) Send your thoughts to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

Chevy Chase Sign

On behalf of the Town of Chevy Chase, I appreciate the chance to respond to Mr. Prater-Lewis’s recent posting. I, and all Town Councilmembers, welcome any opportunity to debate the facts or merits of the Purple Line project. It is unfortunate that Mr. Prater-Lewis felt the need to go too far with many of his accusations and particularly of his characterizations of the Town.

Let me be perfectly clear, the Town of Chevy Chase feels strongly about providing a Purple Line east-west connection for all the reasons other supporters of the Purple Line do. Yet, we feel equally as strong about saving the trail. The fact of the matter is that the right of way behind the town and adjacent to the communities of East Bethesda and Edgevale is so narrow (narrower than most other locations) that the all mature trees will be clear cut (and cannot be replanted due to catenary wire and track issues), construction will require the removal of trees outside the right of way on private property, the trail itself will be narrower here than elsewhere unless private property is taken, and trains will be running at 35-50 mph within 7-10 feet of trail users. The pretty MTA-generated pictures folks have seen do not reflect the right of way behind the town. In fact, the one posted on JUTP of “the Purple Line in Chevy Chase” shows trains running through Columbia Country Club where the right of way is 34 feet wider and the terrain is flatter.

We wanted help analyzing the state’s alternatives. When we hired them, we knew and appreciated that they were transit advocates. Being from New York, they brought a new eye to the discussion, and they immediately identified that two parallel conversations were taking place in our region: BRAC’s relocation of Walter Reed to Navy Medical with a projected 4,000 new trips per day to the facility and the Purple Line which at a proposed $1.68 billion was planned to miss that site altogether.

As they looked more closely at the state’s Purple Line alternatives, they saw that there actually was one on the table that could kill the two birds with one stone, but it quickly became clear to them that something was amiss in the analysis of that option: the Jones Bridge Road bus rapid transit line as proposed by the state ran slower than the current buses along Jones Bridge Road. The more they looked, the more problems they found in the state’s analysis. Therefore the town asked the State to take a harder look at that alternative and to optimize its potential so that the greater community could evaluate its potential fairly.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Yes, the Jones Bridge Road alternative was added to the Purple Line alternatives years ago under Governor Ehrlich’s direction; I, too, have heard he did so in order to appease Columbia Country Club. And, it probably would have died a natural death except for the rather significant BRAC issue that dramatically changed the equation. The BRAC DEIS itself states that traffic on Jones Mill Road between Connecticut Avenue and East West Highway will increase 15-17% due to the relocation. That is east-west traffic, not north-south as Mr. Prater-Lewis suggests all the increased BRAC traffic will be.

We all feel for the people on Jones Bridge Road – they are frankly between a rock and a hard place. Something has to change on that street to accommodate what is coming. Yet, when Mr. Prater-Lewis chastises the Town for suggesting that transit is needed on his “quiet residential neighborhood” street, he needs to be more up front: Jones Bridge Road has morphed over the years into a heavily trafficked four-lane road that is a major cut-through to the Beltway and over into Bethesda from East-West Highway. He notes that it has already reached “maximum sustainable levels.”

Others have criticized the Town because “you can’t put bus rapid transit on such a heavily used road.” But, isn’t that exactly the point of transit – provide a good transit alternative and you’ll get people out of their cars? If bus rapid transit can work in mid-town Manhattan, I am perplexed as to why it cannot work on Jones Bridge Road. For that matter, if bus rapid transit or light rail can work on Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring, why can’t it work on Jones Bridge Road? The fact of the matter is, it probably can . . . but we’ll never know because the state refuses to give it a fair analysis.

Mr. Prater-Lewis suggests that “scores of homes would have to be pulled down” in order to accommodate the bus rapid transit. SSE shows that not only will no homes have to be removed, but any widening would not have to go beyond the sidewalks in the already-owned state right of way. Unfortunately, in not embracing a transit alternative for that area, the state has recently recommended condemning six houses in Mr. Prater-Lewis’s community.

It is frankly outrageous to suggest that we think our school children are more important than those that live in the North Chevy Chase community and that we are “indifferent” to the threat to the safety of “their” children. Of course we want all children to be safe. I’m sure it is a constant worry now to parents who live along Jones Bridge Road that their children have to traverse this busy four-lane road at morning rush hour in order to get to school. Again, though, without providing a transit alternative, there will be approximately 125 more cars in front of the school between 8:15 and 9:15 each morning according to the BRAC DEIS calculations. In fact, the state has already floated widening the road in front of the school to accommodate those cars. It seems the neighborhood has fought that off for the moment, and rightly so. It is a bad idea.

BRT would reduce the number of cars in front of the school, is safely used near schools in other cities and locations, would not run any faster than current speed limit, and would abide by any traffic precautions. Not so, however, the light rail on the narrow right of way into Bethesda that runs within several feet of homes, backyards, a community park, and even a day care playground. Students walking from the town to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School or Our Lady of Lourdes will be expected to cross the trail at-grade, often in the morning darkness, with trains running at high speeds on the open right of way (the light rail needs to make up time here that it loses in Silver Spring). We’ve seen the state’s drawings . . . there are no precautions for crossings on this section of the right of way. Again, we want all children to be safe, including our own.

Unlike what Mr. Prater-Lewis said in his letter, the National Naval Medical Center did not oppose BRT on Jones Bridge Road. It did, however, raise many questions for the state, including how the state came up with such a low number of potential riders for a transit line to that location. The fact of the matter is that the state relied on old MCOG projections that did not include adjustments for the upcoming BRAC realignment. This is just one of the issues raised by the town in our public comments. And, the town has said that with a single employer of such significance at NNMC and NIH – the federal government, you’d have even greater opportunities to provide incentives for employees to use a transit for commuting than with the multiple small disparate businesses in Bethesda.

The town has not paid for any lobbyists or public relations help – maybe we should have because it certainly worked for Purple Line Now! The real benefit of their lobbying, however, goes not to communities but to developers like the Chevy Chase Land Company. Thanks to them, we’re spending a billion more of taxpayer’s money than we have to in order to raise the value of CCLC’s Chevy Chase Lake property by hundreds of millions. Thanks to them, we’ll also be putting more traffic on Connecticut Avenue near that development making commutes for people north of Chevy Chase far worse while they get to pay for it with a hiked gas tax. (Fun fact: the former president of Chevy Chase Land Company and founder of Purple Line Now!, Ed Asher, is a neighbor of Mr. Prater-Lewis in his “less affluent” community.)

We truly believe that BRT on Jones Bridge Road will help alleviate problems, not exacerbate them. And, we see clear benefits to the entire region by supporting a cheaper bus rapid transit Purple Line that could allow easy linkages to Councilmember Elrich’s proposed system in the County, MCOG’s Transportation Planning Board’s metropolitan area proposal, and we can dream, a Corridor Cities Transitway. If the state decides to push hard to fund the expensive light rail, there will be no money left for these other important projects. Do we really want to spend all our transit money on just the Purple Line, an orphan line at that?

And, finally, I have to address the issue of political donations. Chevy Chase Land Company worked so hard and, I have to give it to them, effectively over the years to build political support. Does anyone really think that they, and other developers, didn’t support any political campaigns in this area? So, if by “overwhelming public support” for light rail Mr. Prater-Lewis means elected officials in this area, he’s probably right. If he means developer and business interests, he’s again right. If he means residents in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area, he is flat wrong, and the public record shows it.

Let’s face it, NIMBYism can be applied to this project in many instances, and yes, to the town which loves its trail. But it can also be applied to the founder of the Action Committee for Transit who told me he started the light rail movement for the Purple Line 20 years ago because he didn’t want buses running next to his house in Silver Spring and to Mr. Prater-Lewis who doesn’t want transit near his home which is adjacent to Jones Bridge Road. Yet, it is not NIMBYism to try to save the state $1 billion, get cars off the road throughout the region, and save an important urban greenspace – the most popular trail in Maryland – from environmental destruction.

I’m sorry this letter is so lengthy, but Mr. Prater-Lewis’s accusations and distortions could not go unanswered. And, I hope I have explained more clearly the town’s concerns and frankly, our frustrations. The Town Council has not yet decided what next steps, if any, we’ll be taking. We do not take any of this lightly.

Pat Burda, Councilmember, Town of Chevy Chase

Disclaimer: the statements above are those of Pat Burda and belong to her alone. I am an aide to Councilmember George Leventhal, an ex-officio board member of Purple Line Now!, a group advocating the project's completion.


Melanie said...

In response:

Yes, trees will be cut down because they need to build this train, so that we might save even more trees because this train will remove that many more polluting cars from the roadway. And trees can always be replanted.

The train will run 7-10 feet from trail users because there is a secure fence between them. People walk 7-10 feet from equally fast cars and trucks through out DC and they're not on tracks and with out security fencing separating them.

The traffic consultant you hired was shown to be working with fradulent data, to say nothing of the fact that they couldn't be inpartial since the town paid them.

Adding a dedicated bus line on Jones Bridge Road considering it is already completely congested, will only get more congestion, and has an Elementary school on it...versus puting a quiet train on an existing train right of way, that was always planned to have said train, makes no sense.

If houses where built up to the trail and people bought them knowing or not that the county always intended to build this train is too bad for the home buyers and shame on the builders, but should not be taken out on North Chevy Chase or the thousands that would save on car payments by taking the Purple Line to serve Lattes to Chevy Chasers etc.

I grew up in Chevy Chase and crossed those tracks when the old freight train would roll through now and then, but I don't remember any fake outrage back then. I guess because the Town of Chevy Chase hadn't yet been taken over by people more concerned with their own parochial concerns over the good of the greater community.

And finally the wierd accusation that some how developers wouldn't get excited about building around a permanent trolley versus a bus route. The whole point of smart growth is to channel the growth that this area will inevitably get around trains to promote walkable density and downtowns for both environmental and sociological reasons. If one preferes an area with no growth, there are many people in sleepy municipalities around the country that would gladly trade places with you.

It's time to move forward with this train to help all our communities move forward in the healthiest way possible, especially since everyone has known for decades that this was our County's intention all along.

silverspringtrails said...

Pat Burda said:

"The town has not paid for any lobbyists or public relations help – maybe we should have because it certainly worked for Purple Line Now!"

BUT - It is well documented that the Town paid Sam Schwartz $430,000 as a consultant. Part of his work contract was to assist the Town in its public relations efforts. He helped run the May 30, 2008 Purple Line protest event at the Town, pictured in the Washington Post, before he had completed his study and report.

The Gazette reports that the Town is seriously considering spending $500,000 to $750,000 to bring a lawsuit to stop the Purple Line, see Many Chevy Chase residents favor lawsuit.

In contrast, Purple Line NOW! paid a young "campaign manager", David Moon, for 1/2 time work in the fall and winter of 2008-2009. The Purple Line NOW application for IRS tax exempt status, available at who we are, show the total expenditures for all expenses over that period was less than $22,000. Most of that revenue was generated by the fundraiser held in 2007, and the "benefit hosts" also available at that webpage shows a large percentage of income was from small donors.

If such a small public relations effort from Purple Line NOW! can neutralize the huge expenditures Pat Burda is overseeing on behalf of the Town, then maybe that is because the Town is trying to put lipstick on a pig when it promotes BRT on Jones Bridge Road. The Town is not failing to win public support for lack of spending money.

phenotypical said...

Wonder how many trees had to be cut down to make way for those lovely putting greens in the Columbia County Club. It's a Golf Course folks. It's already ecologically the worst possible use of that land. Now suddenly they're "green"?! Please.

And what is with this "save the trail" red herring? The proposed Purple Line shows a clear and dramatic expansion of the trail along its entire route.

The time has come. You took land that wasn't yours. The people are taking it back.

brh said...

@phenotypical - "The time has come. You took land that wasn't yours. The people are taking it back."

Couldn't have said it better if I tried. I also love the skirting of the issue of the money that CC has paid for the so-called traffic consultant.

Adam Pagnucco said...

Dan Reed has been pro-rail on the Purple Line for a long time and works for the champion of Purple Line rail, George Leventhal. Dan deserves a lot of credit for printing Pat Burda's response.

Rich said...

I think printing Burda's response only helps the Purple Line's cause, so transparently specious are his arguments.

I keep chuckling over the audacity of the golf course a few months back to send out its pudgy, izod-clad members in golf carts across immaculately sanitized greens to tie purple ribbons to trees all over the property (not necessarily anywhere near the trail) as some sort of protest against the Purple Line, not appreciating the full visual effect of their act which was merely to highlight how many trees have been cut down to make way for their golf course.

I just moved here a few years back: how in the world did the community ever allow that club to steal 100 feet wide land along the trail - AND make the taxpayers pay for that ridiculous fence to confine them to a 16 foot wide space?!?! Was everyone just out to lunch?!?!!

If there is any justice, when all their frivolous lawsuits are finally laid to rest, they will be made to pay every penny the taxpayer has spent on fighting off their laywers. Make them pay back the fence too! Oh and run 5 laps (without the golf cart :)

WashingtonGardener said...

>>If there is any justice, when all their frivolous lawsuits are finally laid to rest, they will be made to pay every penny the taxpayer has spent on fighting off their laywers. Make them pay back the fence too! Oh and run 5 laps (without the golf cart :)<<

Amen. And fine them for the fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide run-off coming on to the county own trail right-of-way from their grounds.

Thomas Hardman said...

Printing that response demonstrates Integrity, an extremely valuable political commodity that is rapidly becoming an endangered species.

Kudos for Dan.

Many Kudos.