Why Light Rail?

Why Light Rail is the right choice for the Purple Line

  1. We need better east-west transit to reduce traffic congestion on the Beltway and other east-west roads. The Purple Line will pass through some of the highest density communities in Maryland outside of downtown Baltimore. These communities already support extensive bus service. Unfortunately, heavy traffic means slower buses, more diesel pollution and longer commutes.
    Light Rail in Houston, from MTA Purple Line AA/DEIS
  2. Light rail can provide greater capacity on transit corridors currently served by buses because it can carry more riders. A light rail train can consist of up to three cars holding up to 200 riders apiece. The Montgomery County Planning Board staff endorsed the light rail option for the Purple Line in November 2008 with capacity being the primary factor for their recommendation. When the Planning Board voted to support the staff recommendations, concerns about capacity were paramount.
  3. Light Rail transit is most cost-effective when operating costs and system lifespans are factored in and we look beyond the 15 year horizon. Since each car has twice the capacity of a bus one train operator can handle six times the capacity of a single bus. Rail cars also have a longer lifespan than diesel buses. For these reasons, operating costs are lower for light rail.
  4. Rail transit is better for the environment. From the Sierra Club, Montgomery County Group Feb 2009 Newsletter:
    "At the end of 2008, the executive committee of the Sierra Club, Montgomery County Group voted unanimously to endorse light rail for the Purple Line using the Georgetown Branch right of way between Bethesda and Silver Spring. The town of Chevy Chase and several residents have proposed bus rapid transit using existing roads between Jones Mill Road and the Medical Center metro station as an alternative.

    This alternative would preserve the wooded Georgetown Branch right of way between Jones Mill Road and Bethesda. However, light rail's greater capacity and the higher projected ridership of a direct route to Bethesda persuaded us to endorse the light rail option."
    In December, 2012 the National Sierra Club released a report Smart Choices, Less Traffic naming the Purple Line as one of the 25 transportation projects in the nation that would do the most to reduce oil consumption, increase safety, improve public health, and save money for taxpayers and commuters
    Light Rail in Barcelona, photo by John Norquist, from Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space
  5. Light rail is more compatible with the Capital Crescent Trail, which will share the Georgetown Branch right of way between Bethesda and Silver Spring. Trains can run on tracks placed in a grassy rail bed - reducing heat, noise and stormwater runoff. Additionally, a quiet, electric-powered light rail train will be far more pleasant for nearby trail users than a steady stream of diesel buses.
  6. Light rail has a far stronger record of promoting compact, pedestrian-oriented revitalization. The economic power of rail over bus is clear. Rail sends a clear message to investors about the permanancy of public commitment to an area. The message to residents and businesses in economically distressed communities such as Long Branch and Langley Park is that private reinvestment is warranted and the communities are on the mend. These economic advantages are in direct contrast to the current system whereby bus lines and associated services are frequently cut back or allowed to deteriorate in economically distressed areas during hard times.
    Light Rail at Portland University, from Rethink College Park
  7. Modern light rail provides attractive, first class service. It encourages transit ridership, often exceeding ridership estimates, because trips are faster and more pleasant than comparable bus rides. In places like Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Dallas, people who swore they would never use public transportation are riding light rail line to work every day. A US LRT Map(pdf) shows 28 cities with light rail, and Phoenix and Seattle have since joined the list. Dozens more are competing to get systems started.
  8. There is little public support for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Purple Line outside of the Town of Chevy Chase. The busway alternative evaluated for Bethesda to Silver Spring in the mid-1990s was rejected by M-DOT and citizens. Public opinion on this issue has not shifted with the longer Purple Line. In January 2009, the Montgomery County Planning Board opposed the proposed Jones Bridge Rd BRT alignment for the Purple Line by a vote of 5-0 and endorsed the Master Plan light rail alignment by 4-1, the Montgomery County Council voted 8-0 to endorse the Master Plan light rail alignment, and the County Executive endorsed the Master Plan light rail alignment. 

    Additional Reading: 
    1. Light Rail Now
    2. American Public Transit Association
    3. Rail Transit In America
    4. Bus Rapid Transit Analyses
    5. publictransportation.org
    6. Light Rail Transit Association (This is a UK-centered organization)

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