In 1986 CSX railroad stopped running trains on the Georgetown Branch right-of-way, a rail line between Georgetown, Bethesda and Silver Spring. In 1988 the State of Maryland bought the land specifically to be used for a transit line, and allowed locals to use it as a recreational trail in the interim period. Planning has been under way ever since, and as of 2008 funding is beginning to come together for what will be called the Purple Line.
Of course, it’s never that easy. The route bisects the Columbia Country Club, which though it operated successfully for 76 years with coal freight trains running on the Georgetown Branch, is heavily opposed to electric passenger trains using it. Likewise, the Town of Chevy Chase, a wealthy subdivision-sized municipality south of downtown Bethesda, opposes the route, ostensibly because the town wants to protect the recreational trail that has become very popular.
The Town and Country Club favor an alternate alignment called the Jones Bridge Road route. The alternate (shown in orange on the map below) would, according to opponents of the main alignment (in purple), save the Country Club and the recreational trail by following a route on surface streets further to the north. Never mind that the route isn’t as direct and that surface streets are slower for transit than a dedicated right-of-way, and never mind that the Town and Country Club are in favor of the route re-joining the trail once it gets a mile or so east of their boundaries.
BeyondDC was discussing the matter with some friends a few days ago when the subject of the Ride-On came up. Ride-On, Montgomery County’s bus provider, runs a route between Silver Spring and Friendship Heights that cuts along Leland Street, south of all the proposed Purple Line alignments. With that existing bus route in mind, we sketched out a third alignment (in teal below) following Leland Street and East-West Highway. It avoids the trail altogether. Then we stepped back, looked at what we’d done, and began to wonder why the Town and the Country Club haven’t thought of the same thing. If the point is to save the trail, then the Leland Street route we show does so much more effectively than the Jones Bridge Road route favored by the Town and Country Club.
For the record, BeyondDC still thinks the Georgetown Branch alignment is the best one for the Purple Line, as anyone primarily concerned with transit access will probably agree. But we can’t help but wonder what the Town and the Country Club think of our Leland Street alignment. They say they want to save the trail, and this route saves it better than the Jones Bridge Road route. Surely they would favor this alignment, right?
Or is it all just about their own back yards?
Three potential Purple Line alignments. Click to enlarge.