Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"P" is for Purple

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the new Silver Spring Library and the proposed "pedestrian" bridge connecting it to the Wayne Avenue (once known as the Doug Duncan) Parking Garage. The post was up for a brief time before I took it down later that day. I thought it would go unnoticed, but someone commented, wondering where it had gone. I answered that I had taken it down because I wanted to work on it and would post it again later.
I lied. Well - sort of.
I took the post down because I was afraid of criticizing the Purple Line.
The Purple Line has become a Sacred Cow to Silver Spring “Hippie-crits.” Even though the transit line is nowhere close to being built, the need for a light rail station in the same location has drastically altered the design of the new Library, moving the main entrance to the third-floor. Now - of course - you're going to need a bridge to fix this crazy design! All brought to you courtesy of the Purple Line.
I didn’t participate in the planning process or public comment. I wanted to, but I just didn’t have the time. I know a lot of caring people did, and they did their best to do a good job. I assumed it would be done right, and that is a mistake I make too often.

Instead, we now have a train station with a Library in it, not the other way around. Oh, BTW, there’s no train in sight. The debate about the pedestrian bridge is a proxy discussion. The real discussion should have been - are we going to accommodate people here, or are we going to accommodate the Purple Line? To me, it is clear that the Purple Line won this contest.

If people had won, the entrance to the Library would be on street level. There would be no need for a bridge. Instead, the new Library will turn its back to the community in favor of the parking garage. If the county builds the bridge it will be saying, in effect “We would prefer it if you would drive here.” Even though the new site will have a light rail station, the current design runs contrary to Smart Growth principles. It would be unfortunate to construct a public building so unfriendly to pedestrians.

Just because you walk over it doesn’t mean it’s a pedestrian bridge. The fact that it is connected to a parking garage at one end means it is intended to service drivers, not pedestrians. P is not for Pedestrian in this case.

Disabled people have varying degrees of mobility, and to assume we all need to be driven to the Library is both condescending and unrealistic. This is not Smart Growth. People are willing to spend almost $2 Billion on a train, but don’t care about the community’s ability to walk there. Why don’t they advocate for sidewalks on their own streets? Maybe it’s because taking five feet of yard might leave them with no where to put their “Purple Line, Greener Future” signs.
Silver Spring needs good sidewalks. We also need public buildings at street level where the doors open up to the entire community, not just those who park in the right place. Pedestrians should not have to enter the parking deck to get to the front entrance. Pedestrians should not be relegated to “back door status” either. Montgomery County should think beyond cars for a change, and design a Public Library that places equal emphasis on pedestrian access. I am afraid that the cavalier attitude of some Purple People scares away people who have legitimate concerns. As a consequence, decisions are made that cause unforeseen problems. Overbearing support for the Purple Line will ruin it.

“Purple Thinking” clouds the decision-making process in so many matters these days. I want a Purple Line, but I want one that works for everyone. Not connecting it to good sidewalks will keep the project from reaching its potential. If those rabid supporters really want a viable light rail line, they will subject the project to rigorous testing and honest appraisal of potential consequences. Facing the challenge of creating a useful transit line means asking the hard questions and being open to hearing the answers. Instead, everyone is expected to fall into line and support the train, regardless of the impacts. The majority of the compromises to accommodate the Purple Line will be carried by pedestrians, AGAIN. Big Stakeholders like Discovery get what they want without debate, while pedestrians are left to deal with the consequences. Who is looking-out for us?


  1. William, I sincerely doubt that anyone who supports the Purple Line would be opposed to making it easier for people to walk to it. I totally agree with the need for more and better pedestrian access in Silver Spring, including at the library. Certainly a lot of features had to be included in the library's program, but I don't think that accommodating the Purple Line will somehow preclude pedestrian accommodations.

    Frankly, I'm kind of confused that someone who cannot drive would be so critical of those who support better public transportation. BTW, the county just approved the Purple Line Functional Master Plan, meaning we're one step closer to making it a reality. Hope to see you on the train some time within the next few years.

  2. Let me say first that I am not in favor of the bridge either (UNLESS, as some say, it actually saves money by costing less than the price of excavating handicap parking spots under the library site). That said, I attended one of the design charrettes and have followed the process fairly closely, and from what I read in your post, I think you might want to look at the plans more closely. For example:

    "Pedestrians should not have to enter the parking deck to get to the front entrance."

    They don't. The front entrance will be on the street level. There will be stairs and elevators (maybe escalators--that seems to be hotly debated) leading to the upper floors where the library is. From what I can tell, the presence or absence of a bridge doesn't affect the design of the front/street entrance.

    I quite like the train station and library being integrated, precisely because it will decrease the need to drive to the library. I think you've set up pedestrian needs and transit needs as opponents, when they can and should complement each other.

    On a different note -- Your use of insults like "Purple People" and "hippie-crits" detract from the points you are trying to make. It just sounds like an angry rant, when in fact (1) you're right, there are valid issues to discuss here and (2) I think a lot of the people you are ranting against actually agree with you about sidewalk quality, pedestrian friendliness, etc. I don't think you'll get very far with engaging/educating the community (which would be too bad) if you use this tone. Wishing you the best, truly, because I've enjoyed your blog so far.

  3. I am saying that if you want to make changes to the way things are done in order to accommodate the Purple Line, you may want to start advocating for some decent sidewalks. Why do all of the changes have to be large, complicated, and expensive? I find it weird that advocates for a transit line are advocating for access to a parking lot. Go figure...

  4. Mimi, You're right, of course. This is the rant of a frustrated pedestrian. Is that a bad thing? In my experience, no one pays the least attention to a pedestrian advocate until he gets mad about it. I don't understand how people can be so eager to spend $1.7 Billion on a transit line, and completely ignore the poor pedestrian infrastructure right in their own front yards. In my experience, some Purple Line supporters are perfectly comfortable with making the hard decisions, as long as they adversely affect SOMEONE ELSE. These people have no problem wielding the term "NIMBY" at their neighbors, but won't discuss the problems in their own thinking.

    You provided me with some information, which I appreciate. I have no problem stating that I don't know everything. Life is a learning experience, and I hope I have a lot left to learn. I will take a closer look, as you suggest.

  5. I would be curious to see plans with an entrance on the ground level. The last that I saw one had to take outdoor stairs (which seemed unpleasant in the summer and dangerous in the winter) to get to the entrance by the bridge.

    I'm not in favor of the bridge simply because it seems a waste of money and I really don't understand how having two handicapped spaces next to the library could cost more. Then again, I'm not a city planner.

  6. There will not be any parking for people with disabilities next to the new library or under the new library. These spaces will be in the parking garage, which makes the pedestrian bridge a necessity.

  7. William, I'm pro Purple Line AND Pedestrian - imagine that? Seems hand-in-hand to me. Some facts:
    - had the library orientation been towards Fenton as originally wanted by the local community and the "affordable housing apartments" been placed on the other side NONE of this discussion would be happening, plenty of space for handicap access at street level, the PL running thru the apartment lobby next door, no need for a bridge, easy walking access, etc. Now because Leggett wants the entrance twisted away and towards Wayne we are running thru all these convoluted solutions.
    - Because the PL is coming to our community, we have an opportunity to ask for mitigations -- I have suggested this before and I'll do it again, the greater local community, both anti-PL and pro-PL, need to get together and make a lists of our wants and needs and that includes expanded, upgraded sidewalk network and buried power lines. Other communities will be grabbing their pieces of the pie, we need to step up fast so as not to miss our share.

  8. When Downtown Silver Spring was under construction some years ago, Fenton X Ellsworth was a real nightmare for pedestrians. I can only imagine how things will look at Fenton X Wayne during the Purple Line Station construction and track laying. I know there have been discussions about this. Can anyone tell me what the plans are to keep this vital route open for pedestrians?

    Then, of course, we have to get through here afterwards. Is there an initial plan for pedestrian access when a train starts rolling through? I'd love to look at that plan. The process used to determine the best configuration of this intersection needs to be thorough and innovative. This is a new kind of place for this community, and deserve a new approach. The same old approach WON'T WORK.