Monday, February 02, 2009

Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher on the Purple Line

Following is Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher's (D-18) position on the Purple Line. Previously, we have carried the positions of County Executive Ike Leggett, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), Delegate Al Carr (D-18) and County Council Member George Leventhal.

January 14, 2009

I. Introduction

When it comes to the Purple Line, I am where I have always been: I remain a loyal friend of the Capital Crescent Trail. I strongly support a Purple Line that leaves the trail unmolested and retains both its utility and its majesty.

Most of the comments to this DEIS have discussed the substantive merits of its various alignments. I emphatically join the comments of my colleagues Del. Al Carr and Sen. Rich Madaleno. Their preferred alignment is also mine. I write separately, however, because transportation dollars generally, and transit dollars specifically, are scarce and finite. To comment on the Purple Line in a vacuum is to do a disservice to my constituents and the people of Maryland. Instead, these comments take a comparative view.

II. Transit Goals

Just as Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs, so too must we enumerate our shared values when it comes to comparing transit projects in a finite funding environment. What do we want transit to do? What are the environmental goals? The social goals? If we had to list those goals, what order would they take?

Transit provides enormous benefits to our community. It promotes walkable communities, enhances our shared sense of togetherness, and provide the less fortunate a reliable and inexpensive way to get to work. Transit is an antidote to sprawl, a counterforce to six-lane highways, and a curative to the curse of SOVs [single-occupancy vehicles].

But in these historic times, multiple transit alternatives often compete for diminishing resources. How should we judge if one project will better promote transit-oriented development will better serve underprivileged communities? How should we judge if one project will better curb sprawl while its competitor will move folks faster?

III. The Critical Need to Reduce SOVs

My answer is simple. The most important thing transit can achieve – more important than its tremendous social benefit, more important than its tremendous environmental benefits – is to reduce the scourge of single-occupant vehicles. The climate is quickly warming, and we’ve lost eight years of progress to a war on science, a war on the obvious. Policy makers must move quickly to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, much of which come from the tailpipes of automobiles. [Footnote 1] Our most critical need at this most critical time is getting cars off the road. More than any other environmental solution, reducing SOVs clears our air, reduces global warming, preserves open space and improves our quality of life.

If we are to compare transit facilities in a budget environment the likes of which we have never seen, we must first build the facility that eliminates more SOVs.

IV. A Startling Statistic

The DEIS is a comprehensive, statistic-laden document. Within it lies the most startling statistic of all. If the Purple Line runs along the Capital Crescent Trail, 70% of riders will simply be switching from other modes of transit. In other words, less than a third of all Purple Line riders will be coming from SOVs. This is a dramatic number, one that hasn’t been picked up by the advocates of either side. The startling nature of this statistic cannot be overstated as we forge headlong into our decision-making.

Now let’s look at the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line’s primary competitor for funding. The CCT is a proposed transit corridor along I-270, designed to take cars off that road and better connect the upcounty area to the western half of Metro’s Red Line via Shady Grove. The result is another dramatic number, but dramatic in the opposite direction. In contrast to the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway DEIS indicates that almost 90% of riders will be new to transit. [Footnote 2]

In other words, the Corridor Cities Transitway has a 60 percentage point advantage over the Purple Line when it comes to reducing SOVs. This is an incredibly significant difference, as every SOV taken off our road reduces our carbon footprint and helps clear our air.


In a budget environment limited by historic circumstances beyond our control, we must closely compare projects to maximize environmental benefits and minimize SOVs. I strongly support a Purple Line that leaves the Capital Crescent Trail untouched. But looked upon comparatively, it’s clear the Corridor Cities Transitway is the most beneficial project when it comes to reducing global climate change and taking cars off our roads.

Footnote 1: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average car emits 575 pounds of carbon monoxide, 38.2 pounds of nitrogen, 11,450 pounds of carbon dioxide and 77.1 pounds of other hydrocarbons per annum. The average SUV or pickup truck (aka light truck) emits 854 pounds of carbon monoxide, 55.8 pounds of nitrogen, 16,035 pounds of carbon dioxide and 108 pounds of other hydrocarbons per annum. Because, again according to the EPA, about half the U.S. fleet is light trucks and half is cars, the average U.S. vehicle thus emits 715 pounds of carbon monoxide, 47 pounds of nitrogen, 13,753 pounds of carbon dioxide and 93 pounds of other hydrocarbons per annum.

Footnote 2: To be clear, this number includes folks who drive to the Shady Grove Metro station. In other words, the statistic is accurate because it includes car drivers who drive the proposed corridor, despite the fact that they are driving the corridor to access other transit.