Purple Line study: Unaided, the light rail line will bring gentrification

Government officials and community groups should protect affordable housing and small businesses to prevent gentrification around Purple Line stations under construction in Maryland, according to a two-year analysis released Wednesday.

The 16-mile light rail line that will connect Montgomery and Prince George counties – the first direct commuter-to-suburban rail line in the Washington area – is designed to help revitalize former inner suburbs while providing a faster and more reliable mass transit. Some local officials and community leaders have long feared that, without attention, rising land values ​​and rents around the 21 stations could dent businesses and residents, especially in low-income communities in the Prince George International Corridor.

Communities most at risk include Long Branch, Langley Park and Riverdale Park, study officials said.

The study came from the public-private Purple Line Corridor Coalition, a group made up of government officials, community activists, nonprofits, businesses, and academics. The group organized in 2013 in an attempt to prevent the kind of displacement that has traditionally followed many subway stations and new transit lines across the country.

Along the Purple Line, there are fears that new public transit will lead to higher rents

“The true test of our work on the Purple Line…is that all communities are able to thrive through construction and after, that we leave no one behind,” Del said. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) at an event celebrating the release of the report in downtown Silver Spring.

From recommendations: Make Purple Line stations safer to reach by bike and on foot, especially for low-income transit users who do not own a vehicle. He suggested providing more funding to preserve affordable housing and make it easier to build homes for low- and middle-income residents. The report also recommended helping small businesses survive construction, while working with residents and communities of color to preserve local cultures.

“We have seen time and time again that light rail service has not been good for local low-income communities, especially communities of color,” said Prince George Council Member Deni Taveras (D -District 2).

The findings come as major work on the Purple Line resumes this fall under a new construction contractor. Most construction work halted in the fall of 2020 after the original contractor left amid a years-long dispute with the Maryland Transit Administration over delay costs.

How Purple Line’s new contractor plans to open the line by the end of 2026

The line, which was originally scheduled to begin carrying passengers in March, is now expected to open in fall 2026, more than four years behind schedule and $1.46 billion over budget.

While most construction sites have been idle for the past two years, coalition members said they continue to research and discuss ways to promote equitable development along the Purple Line corridor through a $2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The work was based on technical analysis from the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland.

Gerrit Knaap, the coalition’s founder and director of the smart growth center, said property values ​​and rents are already rising in the corridor.

“The threat of gentrification and displacement is significant,” Knaap said, “and it’s already happening.”

Transit-seeking suburbs are looking for ways to keep residents from being overpriced

As well as acting quickly to help small businesses and preserve and create more affordable housing, he said, local authorities must improve sidewalks, add more buffers between pedestrians and traffic and expand cycle networks. near train stations.

Purple Line stations need safer pedestrian access, Montgomery planners say

“This is a great transit opportunity and investment, but it’s placed in a location that wasn’t intended for that,” Knaap said. “We need to focus on people rather than cars.”

Gustavo Torres, executive director of immigrant advocacy group CASA, said thousands of Corridor residents were excited to one day travel the Purple Line 15 minutes from Langley Park to jobs in Bethesda – a journey that now takes two hours by bus.

Even so, he said, many fear they will not be able to afford to continue living near stations as economic development follows construction. Some landlords end leases knowing they can charge more with the purple line down the road, he said.

“Our job,” Torres said, “is to make sure the people who fight for the Purple Line are going to benefit from the Purple Line.”

Jose P. Rogers