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MTA Stands Behind Purple Line Ridership Estimates

by Aaron Kraut | July 30, 2014 at 11:35 am | 143 views | 2 Comments

Purple Line route and station map, via Maryland Transit Administration

A week after the Town of Chevy Chase challenged its ridership estimates for the Purple Line, the Maryland Transit Administration said it stands behind its projection that the light rail will see 74,000 riders a day by 2040.

The MTA also provided the Town all of the data it used to prepare its ridership forecast, methodology reports that have been available on the project website since last year and information about how to buy the software the MTA used to compile the results.

The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the state agency for the data and said previous attempts to get the data were rebuffed by MTA because of “proprietary issues” involved with the outside engineering firm that conducted previous research.

The Town is officially opposed to the Purple Line, a section of which would run behind homes in the Town on the existing Georgetown Branch extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from a Wall Street Journal columnist, questioned if the numbers in the MTA’s final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”

“In developing the Purple Line the MTA has used nationally accepted practices for travel forecasting and we stand behind them,” read a statement from the MTA provided to BethesdaNow.com on Wednesday. “Hopefully this will demonstrate the transparency with which the MTA has operated throughout the Purple Line ridership projection process.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm that provided ridership projections for earlier Purple Line studies, projected 68,000 trips daily. The light rail will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton with stops in Chevy Chase Lake, Silver Spring, College Park and other places in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

In a press release on Tuesday announcing the official Request for Proposals for the project, MTA said estimated ridership is now 74,000 riders a day by 2040.

In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.

“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda said last week. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”

The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, where construction is scheduled to begin in late 2015 and last five years.

The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.

Via MTA

Maryland Releases Request For Purple Line Proposals

by Aaron Kraut | July 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm | 333 views | No Comments

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Gov. Martin O'Malley announce that the state will pursue a public-private partnership to design, build and operate the Purple Line light rail in August 2013 at the Bethesda Metro station (file photo)The Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transit Administration have released detailed requirements for the four private concessionaire teams bidding to build and operate the Purple Line light rail.

The Purple Line Request for Proposals was issued Monday and must be submitted by Jan. 9, 2015. MDOT and the MTA will then select a preferred partner out of four teams on the shortlist by March 12.

The public-private partnership — which would include helping the state design, build, finance, operate and maintain the 16-mile system — would be for a 35-year contract term.

The selected private concessionaire team would be put before the Board of Public Works for approval in spring 2015 and, if approved, construction of the Purple Line would start later in 2015.

“This is a significant milestone towards construction of the Purple Line, which will help us grow our economy, create jobs for Maryland’s workers, and strengthen communities in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties,” Lt. Gov. and Democratic governor nominee Anthony Brown said in a statement. “Building the Purple Line as a public-private partnership will allow us to continue our commitment to fiscally responsible budgeting while using the knowledge and skills of the private sector to expand our transportation infrastructure.”

Whichever private concessionaire is picked is expected to finance $500 million to $900 million of the overall $2.37 billion project.

Amphipod ‘Recovery Plan’ Could Spell Trouble For Purple Line

by Aaron Kraut | July 29, 2014 at 10:05 am | 523 views | 11 Comments

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityA major environmental group on Monday petitioned the federal government to implement an endangered species recovery plan that could have major ramifications for the Purple Line light rail.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan for the Hay’s spring amphipod, a tiny shrimp-like critter just 5-10 millimeters in length that is colorless, blind and lives most of its life underground.

The organization joined the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and other Chevy Chase residents last month in threatening to sue federal government agencies that the group said didn’t adequately take into account how the Purple Line would harm and possibly destroy amphipod populations in Rock Creek.

Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director for the Center, wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exempted the amphipod from recovery efforts when it was named to the endangered list in 1982 because it was thought to exist in just one spring.

“…the Service exempted the species from recovery planning because it felt that the conservation options for the species were simply too limited for anything proactive to be done to help,” wrote Hartl.

But the amphipod has been found in four more springs in Rock Creek in the District. And according to an American University biology professor hired by the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, it’s likely to exist in three springs in a Montgomery County section of Rock Creek that would be threatened by construction of the Purple Line.

The professor, Dr. David Culver, is expected to resume his search for the critters in the fall, when they are more likely to come out from underground.

Hartl urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to initiate a recovery plan, which would involve maintaining a buffer area around each of the springs and seeps and could mean prohibiting any type of construction or increase in impervious surfaces — including a new trail.

The petition also asks the Service to take its own samples at the three Maryland sites where the Center for Biological Diversity believes the amphipod species lives.

Last week, the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and many of the same residents of Chevy Chase filed a similar notice of intent to file suit against the state of Maryland, where an additional amphipod species thought to live in the area is already identified as endangered under state law.

Photo via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

Rapid Transit Supporters Bringing Campaign To County Fair

by Aaron Kraut | July 25, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 149 views | 1 Comment

Potential look for a Bus Rapid Transit vehicle in Montgomery County, via County Planning DepartmentAmong the rides, food and farm animals at this year’s Montgomery County Agricultural Fair will be a group of bus rapid transit boosters offering a look at what a future county rapid transit vehicle might look like.

The Communities for Transit, a nonprofit created to push the county toward implementing its bus rapid transit master plan, will hold court at the annual fair in Gaithersburg when it starts on Friday, Aug. 8.

Members will give out information to fair-goers about the latest details of the system — which could include a bus rapid transit corridor along Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road.

David Hauck, the group’s executive director, told a group of supporters at an event in White Flint this week that County Executive Isiah Leggett is expected to show up at the display on Aug. 12 for a press conference. He encouraged as many BRT supporters as possible to show up.

A BRT system is also planned for the Corridor Cities Transitway, meant to connect residents of Gaithersburg, Clarksburg and nearby places with the Shady Grove Metro station.

BUP Reports Record Ridership On Bethesda Circulator

by Aaron Kraut | July 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 180 views | 1 Comment

A Bethesda Circulator shuttle in Woodmont Triangle (file photo)Monthly ridership on the Bethesda Circulator surpassed 30,000 trips for the first time in the history of the service in April and increased again in May.

Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, reported the numbers in a regular email to subscribers on Thursday.

The 30,484 riders in April were an 18 percent increase compared to April 2013. The 31,043 riders in May were a 10 percent increase compared to May 2013.

The free shuttle is operated by the Bethesda Urban Partnership and hits 19 stops stretching from Woodmont Triangle to Bethesda Avenue, with stops in and around the Bethesda Metro station in between.

In 2006, BUP took over operation of the Bethesda Trolley as Ride On planned to shut it down. In 2011, BUP switched out the old-school trolleys for sleek, modern Circulator buses similar to the vehicles in downtown D.C.

Expansion of the service is a possibility, according to BUP officials, though there are no imminent plans. Any expansion would of course depend on funding. BUP gets a majority of its funding through Bethesda’s Parking Lot District — the parking fees paid at Montgomery County meters in the Central Business District.

Much could depend on any new recommendations in the upcoming Bethesda Downtown Plan. The last master plan for downtown Bethesda, written in 1994, outlined the idea of a shuttle to transport people around various spots downtown.

Earlier this year, BUP put out a survey about the Circulator.

Residents, Environmental Group Threaten State With Purple Line Lawsuit

by Aaron Kraut | July 25, 2014 at 9:10 am | 384 views | 19 Comments

Kenk's amphipod, Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityA month after threatening the federal government with legal action over the Purple Line light rail, an environmental group and many of the same Chevy Chase residents have done the same to the state of Maryland.

The Center for Sustainable Economy, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, and 16 individuals including a member of the Town of Chevy Chase Council have filed a Notice of Intent to sue state agencies for what the group says is the state’s violation of its own endangered species law.

At issue again is the existence of three types of amphipods, shrimp-like creatures known to live in the area’s streams that serve as an indicator of good water quality and healthy ecosystems. The group claims the state hasn’t adequately taken into account how construction and operation of the Purple Line would harm seven springs and seeps, plus two wetland areas in the path of the project or downstream.

“While this letter is a statutorily mandated precursor to filing a lawsuit, my clients are far more interested in the development and implementation of a conservation plan for protection of the endangered amphipods and their habitat than they are in litigation,” wrote Rockville-based attorney David Brown, who’s representing the group.

The notice letter cites research from American University biology professor David Culver, who the group claims has found evidence that the shrimp-like critters live in stream areas that would be directly affected — and perhaps wiped out — by construction of the 16-mile light rail through Chevy Chase.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail hired Culver to conduct surveying for amphipods with a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Culver is scheduled to go back out to the streams in the fall to survey for the creatures.

Also in the notice letter is a second expert opinion from Dr. David Berg, a biology professor at Miami University of Ohio who specializes in freshwater invertebrates, including amphipods.

Maryland has formally listed the Hay’s Spring and Kenk’s amphipods as endangered. The Kenk’s amphipod is still only a candidate for endangered species under federal law.

Not included in the notice letter to the state (see PDF below) is the Center for Biological Diversity, a major national organization that boasts 775,000 members that is a part of the complaint against the federal government.

The Center for Biological Diversity drew criticism from some Purple Line supporters, who said they were surprised to see such a major environmental organization opposed to a major transit project.

Also on Thursday, Town of Chevy Chase resident Christine Real de Azua urged the Planning Board to let developers in Chevy Chase Lake know that they should be responsible for protecting the amphipods, or face legal action.

The Board on Thursday approved the sketch plan for a 392 apartment and townhouse units on Chevy Chase Lake Drive, on the existing site of a series of two-story garden apartments.

While environmental steps aren’t ironed out in the sketch plan stage of the approval process, Real de Azua said planners should let the developer know of the amphipod issue. Planners have already told the developer that some efforts might need to be taken to protect a local population of herons:

But additional adjustments may be needed for amphipod protection, and traditional “rip-rap” rock and wire, or other bank stabilization may destroy stream bank seeps that are amphipod habitat. In short, the appropriate steps to protect the amphipods have yet to be determined. It is therefore important that the applicant be made aware through this Sketch Plan review process that the current proposed scale and configuration of this project is subordinate to the protection of all Endangered or otherwise protected species threatened by the project, not just the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.

In the notice letter, the group said the specific locations of the at-risk seeps and springs found by Culver were redacted “out of concern for the integrity of the amphipod habitat.”

Residents part of the notice letter include Real de Azua, environmental attorney John Fitzgerald and Town of Chevy Chase Councilmember John Bickerman.

PDF: Notice of Violation – Endangered Species Act

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

Town Of Chevy Chase Wants To See Data On Purple Line Ridership Projections

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 12:40 pm | 378 views | 7 Comments

Rendering of the Bethesda Purple Line station, via Maryland Transit AdministrationPurple Line foes in the Town of Chevy Chase are questioning the validity of ridership estimates for the state’s light rail project and will request details of how a consultant developed the numbers.

The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Maryland Transit Administration asking for “the methodology and models used to develop ridership estimates for the proposed $2.37 billion light rail system.”

The Town, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line, said past requests to MTA for the data were refused, as the state cited “proprietary issues of the engineering firm [Parsons Brinckerhoff] that was paid to conduct the research.”

MTA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The firm projected riders on the 16-mile Purple Line would make up to 68,000 trips daily. But the Town of Chevy Chase, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, questioned if the numbers in the final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”

The Town’s press release cited O’Grady’s column, which questioned if the ridership projections were overinflated and if the state should instead pursue a bus rapid transit network near the proposed Purple Line route.

In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.

“The justification for the Purple Line light rail train is reminiscent of the wildly inaccurate process used to estimate ridership on the Intercounty Connector,” said Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda.

The Intercounty Connector, a state highway built to connect Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, has fallen short of toll revenue forecasts made in 2005, when state lawmakers voted to increase the state’s debt to build it. Those forecasts have since been revised downward.

“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Burda said. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”

The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, which in Chevy Chase would run along the existing Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.

That group recently joined with a major environmental organization in threatening the federal government with a lawsuit if it doesn’t perform more environmental studies of the area. The Federal Transit Administration endorsed the Purple Line project earlier this year when it issued its Record of Decision on the MTA’s final environmental impact statement.

The MTA hopes to pick a private concessionaire to help build and to operate the Purple Line, with construction starting in 2015.

Rendering via MTA

So Far, Mixed Feelings About Purple Line Advisory Group

by Aaron Kraut | July 17, 2014 at 9:20 am | 375 views | 1 Comment

The Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group prepares to start its meeting Wednesday in Silver SpringNo fewer than 50 people filled the Great Hall at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Wednesday, a mix of civic leaders, residents, business owners, government officials and transit advocates sitting around tables set up in a large rectangular formation.

A Silver Spring resident presented a power point full of parking questions and pedestrian safety concerns related to the Purple Line’s operation in mixed traffic. A Chevy Chase resident complained that his street would become “ground zero” once Purple Line construction starts.

Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration — in charge of the proposed 16-mile light rail — sat and listened.

MTA and Montgomery County officials answered some questions, corrected some misconceptions and assuaged some fears, but to some, it’s unclear if the county-created Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group will have any affect on the broader Purple Line picture.

“It’s by nature a hard-to-get-your-arms-around situation,” said Mary Anne Hoffman, a member of the group and the chair of the Town of Chevy Chase’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group. “Our concerns are so disparate and so many that I think it’s unrealistic to expect that we’re going to walk out happy after six meetings.”

The group, known as PLIAG, was set up by County Executive Isiah Leggett in the spring in response to a request from Councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda, Chevy Chase) and Cherri Branson (Silver Spring). Berliner and Branson asked Leggett to create a formal task force that would bring officials from MTA, MCDOT and MTA’s yet-to-be picked private concessionaire to the table with a recently formed group of neighborhood and civic associations along the Purple Line route.

That group, known as the Coalition of Purple Line Neighborhoods (or COPLN) got together in December with concerns about noise, vibration, tree loss, tree replacement, pedestrian and traffic safety issues surrounding the Purple Line.

Wednesday’s meeting in Silver Spring was the group’s sixth. MTA Purple Line project manager Mike Madden and a host of county Department of Transportation officials were in the room.

The meetings so far have generally consisted of an issue paper presentation from a member of an affected community. On Wednesday, the main presentation came from Jonathan Halpern, from the Sligo Branview Community Association in Silver Spring.

Unlike in Chevy Chase, where the Purple Line is planned to almost exclusively run along an existing off-road trail, major portions of the light rail in Silver Spring are expected to run in mixed traffic.

Halpern shared concerns about residents losing street-side parking spaces, school bus stops, Purple Line users who might want to park for free in local library lots and catenary poles placed on sidewalks, among others.

Matt Stork, MTA’s main traffic engineer on the project, gave a presentation of his own that explained how Purple Line trains would operate at intersections, where fencing would go to prevent mid-block pedestrian crossings and how the agency and concessionaire would manage construction traffic.

“It’s a great opportunity to have the MTA in a room consistently but I think, let me say this, I think other groups have been more successful when they create these smaller focus groups,” said Kate Detwiler, a resident of the Edgevale neighborhood of Bethesda who presented an issue paper earlier this month.

Detwiler’s Edgevale Street home backs up to the Capital Crescent Trail and future Purple Line route. Her concerns include noise and vibration effects from the light rail for both the neighborhood and trail, to be rebuilt alongside the light rail tracks with $95 million in funding from Montgomery County.

On Wednesday, Detwiler pressed Madden to do a noise study of how the light rail would affect trail users. At issue is the location of noise walls that are now planned to go on one side of the light rail tracks and the outside boundary of the trail.

“The bottom line is it remains an open issue,” Madden said, after Detwiler pressed for a study.

“I think it is a good forum for dialog and for information, but I’m not sure when it comes to an actual product,” Detwiler said.

Many in the group are looking toward the MTA’s Request for Proposals as an indication of how much traction their input made. The MTA was scheduled to put out the RFP for private concessionaires in June. The PLIAG’s next meeting was originally set to dive into that RFP, but according to Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street, that discussion will have to wait.

“From a broader perspective, why all of us are here and how the implementation group is affecting the RFP and affecting the process, I don’t really know that it’s been that successful,” Detwiler said.

“It ain’t perfect, but it ain’t over yet either,” Hoffman said.

Lynn Drive Crossing Cost Estimate: $7 Million

by Aaron Kraut | July 9, 2014 at 11:35 am | 199 views | 3 Comments

Design of the latest MTA proposal for a Lynn Drive Crossing of the Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail, via MTAAhead of its public hearing on the issue Wednesday, the Town of Chevy Chase says it now has a preliminary cost estimate from the state on an underpass crossing of the Purple Line at Lynn Drive.

The Town says it could cost $7 million to build a new Lynn Drive crossing. Some in the Town hope the Maryland Transit Administration includes the project in Purple Line plans, as the existing path serves about 230 crossings a day — including many Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students from the Town.

But the Town and the MTA have also been at odds about what a new Lynn Drive crossing should look like. The existing path isn’t an official one, meaning that users are technically trespassing on a Montgomery Avenue property each time they use it.

That and the inability to reach agreement with the Town on a new crossing, led the MTA to make the no build option its preference.

Then in June, the MTA came back to the Town’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Committee with a final attempt at a solution, but made clear the Town and potentially Montgomery County would have to pay for it.

According to a notice the Town of Chevy Chase sent Wednesday morning, the state actually might be willing to pick up part of the tab:

The best cost estimate available for all the elements of the underpass (sidewalk from Lynn Drive path, underpass itself, property acquisition for switchback connection to Montgomery Avenue and construction of switchback connection) is $7 million. This is a total cost and MTA, the County and the Town have not yet discussed cost-sharing. It is clear that the Town would have to pay for the construction easement and cost of building the sidewalk to the underpass. MTA has said it will pay for the underpass itself, for additional walls and for the structure over the underpass.

That leaves the property acquisition of a house at 4306 Montgomery Ave., which the proposal would require for construction of a switchback ramp to connect to Montgomery Avenue and a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town Council is expected to deliberate after the public hearing, which is set to start at 8:30 p.m.

It’s also possible Montgomery County could add the cost of the Lynn Drive crossing to the $95 million it has budgeted to rebuild the Capital Crescent Trail along the Purple Line tracks.

Gary Erenrich, from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, told the Mitigation Committee in June that the county might be willing to help, as the crossing project connects directly to the Trail.

Image via MTA

Chevy Chase Land Company Wants To Fund New Bikeshare Station

by Aaron Kraut | July 7, 2014 at 10:20 am | 611 views | 2 Comments

Capital bikeshare bike and helmet on display during a MCDOT public meetingMontgomery County’s leap into Capital Bikeshare seems to be picking up steam, and one property owner hopes to take advantage of the momentum.

The Chevy Chase Land Company is offering to pay for a new docking station, bicycles and installation of a Bikeshare facility at its 8401 Connecticut Avenue office building that backs up to the Capital Crescent Trail.

In a letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett, Chevy Chase Land Company Vice President Miti Figueredo described the developer’s goals as two-fold. First, the Land Company wants to fill in “a critical gap” in the Bikeshare network about half-way between downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring along the Trail.

The Land Company also hopes “to begin the transition toward a more multi-modal neighborhood,” as it gets closer to redeveloping the Chevy Chase Lake East shopping center into a mixed-use community with about 600 new residential units.

“Bikeshare will be an important amenity for new and existing residents alike, and will reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips in and out of the area,” Figueredo wrote.

The County Council approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan in July 2013, which cleared the way for redevelopment of the area. Permitting for some of that redevelopment will not be allowed until construction starts on the Purple Line, which will include a Chevy Chase Lake station next to the 8401 building.

The Land Company is the only business so far to fund Capital Bikeshare stations in Montgomery County. Figueredo said the Land Company spent $112,000 to install the stations near its office buildings at the Friendship Heights Metro and near the Bethesda Metro at Montgomery Avenue and East Lane.

According to first quarter 2014 trip data, those stations have been the most used of the network in downtown Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Montgomery County has since installed a Bikeshare station in the Bethesda Metro Plaza and plans to install one at the Medical Center Metro in the next few weeks.

Figueredo said the cost to buy and install a 19-dock Bikeshare station with 10 bikes is about $54,000. In the letter, Figueredo asks for Leggett’s help in starting the process as soon as possible. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation operates the Bikeshare program in Montgomery County.

PDF: Chevy Chase Land Company Capital Bikeshare

Town of Chevy Chase To Decide On Lynn Drive Crossing Next Week

by Aaron Kraut | June 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm | 214 views | No Comments

Design of the latest MTA proposal for a Lynn Drive Crossing of the Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail, via MTAThe Town of Chevy Chase Council next week will hold a public hearing on the latest Maryland Transit Administration proposal for a Purple Line crossing at Lynn Drive.

Earlier this month, MTA officials presented what they called their last stab at a Lynn Drive crossing to the Town’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group. There are about 230 crossings a day of the Capital Crescent Trail on the existing small path there, including many students making their way to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

But previous proposals were either ruled out by MTA or rejected by the Town because of concerns about high retaining walls behind homes in the Town.

MTA engineers said they can lower the height of the Purple Line retaining wall about five to six feet by moving the underpass about 250 feet to the west of the existing crossing. The design would require a right-of-way acquisition of the property at 4306 Montgomery Ave. Once that property is acquired, there would be room for a switchback ramp that would offer access to the rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail and Montgomery Avenue.

To access the underpass, Town residents would have a five-foot-wide sidewalk running along the base of the retaining wall to the tunnel, which would be about 10 feet high and 14 feet wide.

The sidewalk would require a temporary construction easement into the backyard of John Keppler, who lives at 7508 Lynn Drive. At the meeting in early June, MTA Purple Line project manager Mike Madden said no temporary construction easements on Town property will be necessary for the construction of the Purple Line or trail.

MTA officials also said either the Town, Montgomery County or some combination would be responsible for the costs associated with the crossing project.

Last month, the Town of Chevy Chase Council voted 4-0 to request MTA include the underpass design as a placeholder in its Request for Proposals issued to private concessionaires bidding to build the light rail system. If the Town decides against the MTA proposal, MTA officials have said they will include no Lynn Drive crossing of the Purple Line.

The public hearing is set to start at 7 p.m. on July 9 at the Town Hall (4301 Willow Lane).

Image via MTA

Major Environmental Group Backs Purple Line Opponents

by Aaron Kraut | June 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm | 431 views | 6 Comments

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

A major environmental group’s backing of Purple Line opponents has some transit advocates scratching their heads.

On Wednesday, a group including the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to sue federal government agencies involved in environmental assessments of the planned Purple Line light rail route.

Kenk's amphipod, Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityThe group claims the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Federal Transit Administration didn’t properly take into account an endangered species of shrimp-like critters that could exist in Rock Creek Park and Coquelin Run.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a major national organization that boasts 775,000 members with the mission to protect endangered species. Much of the group’s claims are based on a study from an American University biology professor who’s surveying for the critters with funding from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Kelly Blynn, from the Coaliton for Smarter Growth, voiced her surprise over Twitter that the Center for Biological Diversity would join the suit:

Jeff Cronin, director of communications at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tweeted that the group’s participation was a “shame:”

“We support mass transit and the Purple Line, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of endangered species habitat, our public parks or our precious wetlands,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “Instead of reaching out to one of the world’s experts on these species — who happens to work just five miles away from the project — the agencies did a cursory review, ignored the likely impacts to these species, and failed to consider ways to reduce those impacts.”

The expert referred to in the quote is David Culver, the American University professor who found the amphipod in question during his surveying of Rock Creek Park in D.C.

Culver and John Fitzgerald, a Town of Chevy Chase resident also named in the 60-day notice letter, say there are likely other types of amphipods in the streams.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the amphipods are important indicators of water quality — a trait the group worries will be lost if the transit system is built.

“Amphipods are tiny — less than half an inch in size — but their presence or absence offers an important measure of water quality,” Hartl said in the release. “Protecting these amphipods will have many benefits for people by helping protect Rock Creek Park and freshwater in the metro area.”

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

Chevy Chase Residents, Environmental Groups Threaten Lawsuit Over Purple Line

by Aaron Kraut | June 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm | 531 views | 13 Comments

An example of an amphipod specieas, Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal MaňasA group of Chevy Chase residents and two environmental groups have threatened to sue the federal government unless it reconsiders its evaluation that no endangered species will be harmed by the building of the Purple Line light rail.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sustainable Economy, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and three Chevy Chase residents including John Fitzgerald sent the Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies an official notice on Wednesday (see PDF below).

The group claims the FTA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in deciding that the Purple Line would have “no effect” on the endangered Hay’s spring amphipod and Kenk’s amphipod believed to live in various areas along the nearby banks of Rock Creek and Coquelin Run.

Unless the agencies agree to meet with the group and address their concerns within 60 days, the letter says the group will file a lawsuit claiming the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.

The group also cites the unfinished research of American University biology professor David Culver, who the group claims has found evidence that the shrimp-like critters live in stream areas that would be directly affected — and perhaps wiped out — by construction of the 16-mile light rail through Chevy Chase:

As discussed below, while the Service has stated that the Project will have “no effect” on either species, see 1/7/14 Letter from Genevieve LaRoche, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to Daniel Koenig, Federal Transit Administration (Attachment A) — and that determination has evidently been relied on by the FTA as a basis for avoiding formal section 7 consultation– new research conducted by a leading expert on the species, Dr. David Culver at American University, calls that conclusion into serious question and, at the very least, warrants further scrutiny by the Service before irreversible damage may be done to the habitat of these two highly imperiled species. We would therefore like to meet with representatives of the Service to discuss this recent research; what additional relevant information may be obtained in the near future; and the Service’s willingness to conduct an on-site review of some of the pertinent sites so that the agency may gain a better understanding of the impacts and risks entailed by the project.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail hired Culver to conduct surveying for amphipods with a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Culver is scheduled to go back out to the streams in the fall to survey for the creatures:

The most successful sampling technique for amphipods cannot be used in areas with high amounts of fine sediment making detection more difficult. A 2004 study on amphipods in Rock Creek Park demonstrated the relative success rate in detecting amphipods by seasons, showing that amphipods could be found in springs at some months of the year even when none were detected just a few months prior. Simply put, the inability to locate either amphipod species at a given time does not indicate they are not present in those habitat since it is characteristic of the amphipods (even more so than many other endangered species) to be difficult to find.

The letter said Culver has found seven springs and seeps close to the projected path of the Purple Line, as well as two small wetland areas that may provide suitable habitat for the Hay’s spring and, or Kenk’s amphipod. Two of the seeps are just east of Rock Creek and below the Capital Crescent Trail and are immediately adjacent to the Project. The letter said those areas would be destroyed if the Purple Line were to move forward as planned.

The FTA did not do a “Biological Assessment” because of the conclusions of Fish and Wildlife officials. Fitzgerald and the environmental groups want the agencies to do a more detailed evaluation within a supplemental environmental impact statement.

The letter quotes Culver, known for finding the amphipods in D.C., as saying, “It’s not like there’s a wall between D.C. and Montgomery County….The only reason not to look is if you don’t want to find anything.”

The group said it does think the Purple Line project can happen — if it includes suitable protections for the amphipods.

“We believe that there are solutions and alternatives available that can allow the Project to move forward without harming any endangered species,” read the letter.

But time is ticking.

“However, if the Service and FTA do not act within 60 days to correct the violations described in this letter, we will have no choice but to consider pursuing litigation to address these failings,” the letter concluded.

PDF: 60-Day Notice: Amphipod Protection Along Purple Line Route

Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal Maňas

Bethesda Company Honored For Transit, Commuter Benefits

by Aaron Kraut | June 25, 2014 at 1:40 pm | 143 views | No Comments

Montgomery County and groups such as Bethesda Transportation Solutions are striving to get commuters out of their cars by promoting other transportation options.

What does that effort look like within a specific company in downtown Bethesda?

The Cadmus Group, a national consulting and management firm with an office at Bethesda’s Garden Plaza building, offers a glimpse. Commuter Connections, a program of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, honored Cadmus with an award on Wednesday for its commuter benefits program.

Cadmus offers employees who use Metro a $160 transit subsidy each month and a $100 yearly bicycle subsidy to those who bike to and from work. The Bethesda office is at 7700 Old Georgetown Rd., just a few blocks away from the Bethesda Metro station.

According to MWCOG, Cadmus offers a shuttle service from the Metro station and offers on-site lockers, shower facilities and bike racks. All employees can telework and take part in a compressed work schedule.

Of the company’s 83 employees split between Bethesda and Arlington, roughly 65 have found alternatives to drive-alone commutes. In the video above, produced by MWCOG, Cadmus CEO Ian Kline says getting employees out of their cars does more than benefit area traffic patterns during rush hour.

“We don’t want stressed out, frustrated employees who have just spent 45 minutes on the Beltway,” Kline said. “We want happy employees who are deeply engaged in our work, who are making choices they feel great about and coming into work ready to do the important work we do every day.”

Kline estimated the company’s alternative commuting subsidies have saved its employees anywhere from 375,000 to 400,000 vehicle miles traveled and almost 20,000 gallons of gas.

Others recognized at the MWCOG event on Wednesday were the USDA Forest Service for its teleworking program and FDA in White Oak for its marketing of alternative commutes.

Almost 9,000 employees are expected to move to FDA’s White Oak campus as part of a recently approved Montgomery County master plan for the area. The federal agency will have two parking spots for every three employees on campus.

Video via MWCOG

Could Expansion Be Coming For Bethesda Circulator?

by Aaron Kraut | June 25, 2014 at 10:20 am | 596 views | 4 Comments

A Bethesda Circulator shuttle in Woodmont Triangle on Wednesday

Adding stops to the downtown Bethesda Circulator route is among the most common requests the Bethesda Urban Partnership gets.

The simple mechanics of running an efficient and popular  2.1-mile, 19-stop bus loop mean additional stops or routes aren’t coming immediately. But in a conversation about BUP’s 20-year anniversary, Executive Director David Dabney said new areas of redevelopment spurred by the ongoing Bethesda Downtown Plan could one day lead to some expansion.

“This is the biggest challenge strategically for us because the sector plan will really kind of outline any growth or potential growth,” Dabney said.

In 2006, BUP took over operation of the Bethesda Trolley as Ride On planned to shut it down. In 2011, BUP switched out the old-school trolleys for sleek, modern Circulator buses similar to the vehicles in downtown D.C.

Last month, the Bethesda Circulator service provided 31,000 passenger trips on the route that connects Woodmont Triangle, the Bethesda Metro and Bethesda Row.

BUP promotes the service as a way to get to and from Metro. But mostly, BUP hopes people use it as a way to park in less popular parking garages before hitching a ride to activity centers such as Bethesda Row.

“It was really built around that, as to how to move people and to mitigate traffic,” Dabney said. “You want to be able to move people from one end of town to the other.”

Some would like to see the Circulator expand its definition of where downtown Bethesda ends. The route now reaches Rugby Avenue at its northern-most point and Bethesda Avenue at its southern-most point.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the requests for expansion come from those looking for stops on Battery Lane and on Bradley Boulevard.

Bethesda Circulator map, via BUPThe difficulty, Dabney said, is maintaining the system’s headway. BUP tested the idea of bringing the route east of Wisconsin Avenue during a recent winter holiday season. BUP pushed the route along Montgomery Avenue and East-West Highway and the shuttles showed a net loss in ridership, Dabney said.

There were some new riders, but some of the regulars didn’t like the changes and the idea of getting off an eastbound shuttle to wait for the next westbound one.

Now, the idea of a new “Pearl District” centered around Pearl Street is floating around in Bethesda Downtown Plan discussions. BUP Marketing and Communications Director said any master plan changes will have to be taken into account. The original concept for the Circulator was in the 1994 Bethesda CBD Master Plan (though in that process it was called a jitney).

“I think it’s a matter of what comes out of the plan and funding,” Coppula said. “Right now, we’re doing as mch as we can do based on the funding.”

BUP’s funding for the Circulator comes mostly from parking fees collected at public garages, lots and curbside meters in the downtown. There’s also some revenue that comes in from advertisement space on the shuttles.

Dabney said the more immediate improvements possible for the Circulator service involve technology that lets users know exactly when a shuttle will arrive at a particular stop. BUP and its Board are taking on the idea of establishing a phone app locator for Circulator shuttles.

“If you don’t wan to wait 10 to 15 minutes, which can happen if the shuttles are in traffic, I could see on my app where that Circulator is,” Dabney said. “I’ll go to Starbucks and get a coffee. If that could happen, I don’t think it would be that difficult to go to Bradley or Battery because then, they’d know when it would be there. They could time it.”

Circulator Map via Bethesda Urban Partnership

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