Chevy Chase neighbors clash over Purple Line plan
Jones Bridge Road residents fear increase in traffic, safety problems
When Shu-Ping Chan gets ready leave his driveway on Jones Bridge Road in the morning rush hour, he has a mantra: "Strap in your seatbelt, get ready for takeoff and we're going to slam on the accelerator."
Chan is among several Chevy Chase residents living near the congested Jones Bridge Road who haven't taken kindly to the Town of Chevy Chase's suggestion that the proposed Purple Line transportation project consist of rapid buses along that street, instead of a light rail on the Capital Crescent Trail.
The Purple Line is a 16-mile transportation project that would link Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring. The Planning Board and County Council have voted in favor of the light rail option. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is expected to decide soon on the state's preferred mode and location for the project, which must be given final approval by the Federal Transit Administration. The state's cost estimate for building the proposed light rail option is $1.68 billion, while various rapid bus options range from $380 million to $1 billion.
Residents of North Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Valley, two communities located along Jones Bridge Road, are concerned that the rapid buses would make a bad traffic situation worse, and may impact the safety of North Chevy Chase Elementary students. They also said the town has not been effective in reaching out to the Jones Bridge Road community, which several residents described as being universally opposed to rapid buses on the street.
The town, however, said the split between itself and Chevy Chase neighbors to the north is due in part to misinformation about rapid buses. They said that buses would travel at reasonable speeds, require minimal right-of-way acquisitions, and would not spew diesel fumes into the air.
"I do feel like they've gotten bad information, absolutely," said Pat Burda, a Town of Chevy Chase councilwoman.
Carrie Witkop, who works on pedestrian safety for North Chevy Chase Elementary School's PTA, said a quarter of the students walk or bike to the school on the north side of Jones Bridge Road. Improving pedestrian safety conditions on Jones Bridge Road, she argued, should take priority over improved traffic flow.
"The more lanes that the children have to cross, the more dangerous it is for them," Witkop said.
Some have questioned how rapid buses could effectively decrease travel times. Jones Bridge Road resident Joe Morquecho said he often waits through three or four traffic signal cycles at Jones Bridge Road and Connecticut Avenue to get through.
"How are they going to go faster? Are they going to hover above everything else?" Morquecho said of rapid buses.
According to a June 2008 study prepared for the town by Sam Schwartz Engineering consultants, however, rapid buses could move effectively at an average speed of 20 miles per hour and coordinate with traffic signals to provide an efficient bus service that would use clean energy technology.
"If anything, you'd rather have trained bus drivers than just more people," Burda said.
Adrian Andreassi, chairman of North Chevy Chase's village council, said the community has officially endorsed light rail on the trail. He said the buses would worsen existing problems at intersections such as Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road.
"You need to go there in the morning and sit in traffic and see what it's like to get through those intersections," Andreassi said.
Communication between the town and Jones Bridge Road residents has also been an issue. Ken Strickland, president of the Chevy Chase Valley Citizens Association, said was not contacted by town representatives to discuss the matter. Andreassi said North Chevy Chase has been in contact with two pro-light rail groups, Action Committee for Transit and Purple Line Now, for information about the project.
"We never were contacted. We learned about it when they started getting their studies and proposals," said Allen Hutter, who lives a few doors down from Chan on Jones Bridge Road.
Burda said Jones Bridge Road residents did attend a Purple Line presentation Sam Schwartz held last year. She conceded the town could have done a better job reaching out to the Jones Bridge Road community, but added that speaking to its northern neighbors one-on-one has proven difficult due to scheduling conflicts.
"I think understanding of BRT (bus rapid transit) is … just now becoming more widely disseminated," Burda said.