Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wayne Ave. residents sign-on to Purple Line opposition

Neighbors post placards on their lawns to protest plans for proposed transit line

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Signs like this one are posted on lawns throughout the Seven Oaks-Evanswood neighborhood near downtown Silver Spring in protest of a Purple Line route along Wayne Avenue, the main road running through the residential community.
A new kind of lawn accessory has decorated many of the front yards near downtown Silver Spring since late last month — bright purple signs that declare ‘‘No Train on Wayne” in protest of a proposed mass transit route through the neighborhood.

Neighbors say they hope the signs make it clear to state officials that residents in the neighborhood are strongly against an at-grade alignment along Wayne Avenue of the Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile east-west bus rapid transit or light-rail line that would run between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

Officials with the Maryland Transit Administration have listed possible station locations at Wayne Avenue and Dale Drive, and another off Manchester Road or Plymouth Street. A stop is also planned in the area of Bonifant and Fenton streets where the new proposed Silver Spring Library would stand.

‘‘I would be happy if the train went underground. ... Not on Wayne, but under, in the least disruptive way,” said Cathy Kristiansen, who created the sign campaign with a group of neighbors.

The signs have popped up in front of homes not only along Wayne, but down roads like Cedar Street, Dale Drive and Dartmouth Avenue that branch off the residential street. Kristiansen said her informal group has run out of the 200 signs initially ordered. It took about $1,000 from neighbors to pay for the effort.

Wayne Avenue resident Karen FitzGerald, who has a ‘‘No Train on Wayne” sign in her yard, said opposition to the Purple Line grew as residents became concerned about potential effects on traffic, pedestrian safety and noise.

‘‘We believe in transit. ... But the more we learned about the potential impacts on the neighborhood, we just couldn’t support the street-level route,” said FitzGerald, chairwoman of the Seven Oaks-Evanswood Civic Association’s Purple Line Task Force, which is independent of the sign effort.

Last February, the neighborhood’s residents group took a vote to determine where residents stood on the issue. About 70 percent voted to oppose a Purple Line at grade level along Wayne Avenue, but about 70 percent also voted in favor of an underground alignment. Such a route would add to the system’s projected $420 million to $1.63 billion in capital costs. Proponents of the Purple Line fear that additional expenses would work against Federal Transit Administration funding and approval.

Jonathan Elkind, chairman of the Silver Spring Advocates, a pro-Purple Line group, said many of the concerns neighbors have about the transit system could be handled by the state and county as they built it.

‘‘I would personally love to see an underground passage. But if that’s not in the cards ... then it’s much more important, essential, to get a good, well-designed Purple Line, even if it’s at street level in my neighborhood,” he said.

Webb Smedley, a member of the board of directors for advocacy group Purple Line Now!, said Wayne Avenue residents need to consider the potential for traffic growth in their neighborhood. If a mass transit system is not chosen to run down Wayne, the negative impacts could come from more vehicles, he said.

Maryland Transit Administration project manager Mike Madden said an analysis of traffic for the year 2030 if the Purple Line were built showed a reduced number of car trips not only along Wayne Avenue but throughout Silver Spring, due to an increased number of transit users.

But Mark Gabriele, president of the Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens Association, said the state’s models failed to assume that more cars would drive down Wayne after construction was completed because the road would be wider and faster for motorists.

‘‘It’s going to be a really busy residential street,” Gabriele said.

More information on what lies ahead for both Purple Line advocates and opponents will be available in September, when an analysis of alternatives and draft environmental impact statement will be completed. Public hearings will be scheduled in November. For more information, visit www.bi-countytransitway.com.