Thursday, August 3, 2006

Hometown Week: A Suburb-to-Suburb Subway?

[Hometown Week]

   A politician running for local office in Maryland this year has a billboard that reads: "Tired of Traffic?  Vote for ---."  Humor aside, a focal point of his campaign is to add another route, centered around my old hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, to the Washington Metrorail system.  The proposed "purple line" (the system already has red, blue, green, yellow, and orange lines) would run from the suburban Amtrak town of New Carrollton to the University of Maryland in College Park (near Greenbelt, the famous New Deal planned town), through the growing office suburb of Silver Spring, and stop in the established business and entertainment downtown of suburban Bethesda.  The revolutionary thing about the plan is that, although it would connect to routes heading to D.C., by itself the purple line would be a purely suburban line.  As far as I can tell, it would be the only purely suburb-to-suburb subway line in the nation (not counting L.A.'s airport-oriented green line).  There's already fairly decent bus service between these locales, but of course buses are often slow, unreliable, and stuck in traffic.  The great question of policy is whether travelers would give up suburban auto trips (all these areas have ample parking) in numbers large enough to justify (traffic externalities, energy, and global warming all included in the calculus, of course!) the millions to build the subway.  If the purple line were to succeed, it would be stunning evidence that public transportation can work in at least moderate-density suburbs.

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