Rendering by the Maryland MTA.

As design work continues on the Purple Line, Maryland transit planners say they can convert two traffic lanes on University Boulevard in Langley Park for trains without impacting traffic.

It’s “a big plus for the community,” said Purple Line project manager Mike Madden at a neighborhood work group meeting last night in Langley Park.

As before, trains will run in the middle of University Boulevard between Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring and Campus Drive in Adelphi, where it will continue through the campus of the University of Maryland and on to the Purple Line’s terminus in New Carrollton. But instead of trying to keep the 6 existing traffic lanes while adding the Purple Line, the tracks will now replace 2 of the 6 traffic lanes on this section of University Boulevard.

Engineers from the State Highway Administration say that many segments of University Boulevard carry fewer vehicles today than 20 years ago, while elsewhere traffic levels are about the same. With a few changes, the street can carry as much traffic in 4 lanes as it does with 6 lanes today.

While the street will have to be widened to make room for station platforms, the MTA won’t need as much room as they did in their previous plan to keep all 6 lanes and add the Purple Line. With less space needed for car traffic, only 8 businesses will be displaced, compared to 25 before.

Reducing the number of car lanes on University Boulevard will cut speeding, meaning that a street where pedestrians are now frequent collision victims will be transformed into a safer and more welcoming place to walk or bike. There will be room for wider sidewalks and possibly even a cycle track, and there will be bike parking at each of the three Purple Line stations along the corridor, at Piney Branch Road, the future Takoma-Langley Transit Center and Riggs Road.

Meanwhile, key intersections will get traffic lights and turn lanes. This will not only make the street safer to cross, but allow trains to move more smoothly, reducing potential collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians.

These upgrades will help the Purple Line fulfill its economic promise. Both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties want to transform the aging strip malls along University Boulevard into an urban corridor akin to downtown Silver Spring. Making University Boulevard a safer and more attractive place to walk will support that goal.

This design change is also good news for Montgomery County’s bus rapid transit initiative, which proposes a countywide network of dedicated bus lanes. In dense, close-in areas like Bethesda, Silver Spring and Takoma Park that have the most potential ridership, existing pavement is often the only place new bus lanes can go. However, plans to repurpose traffic lanes for buses have met resistance from residents and county officials alike.

If transportation engineers say we can give car lanes to transit on University Boulevard, it can work elsewhere in the region as well. Hopefully, the Purple Line in Langley Park will serve as an example to the Montgomery County Planning Board and County Council as they consider the BRT plan this year.