For some neighborhoods, the Purple Line is more than a transit line. Without the Purple Line, revitalization might not happen in Long Branch, on the border of Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
Long Branch has long been an immigrant hub. Tens of thousands of people from Central America, West Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere have moved to the area in recent years, attracted by low-cost housing and economic opportunity. Nearby Langley Park is widely known as Maryland’s International Corridor.
But the neighborhood is also isolated from opportunities in the larger DC area. While it’s a mile away from the revitalized downtown Silver Spring, Long Branch continues to struggle with crime, disinvestment, and a lack of economic opportunities.
Laying the groundwork for a new Long Branch
Attempts to give Long Branch new life have come in fits and starts. In 2002, the Long Branch Task Force began planning for how to bring down street crime and code violations in rental housing, both of which had become rampant. Two housing organizations with close ties to county government renovated hundreds of units nearby, preserving affordability for qualifying residents and providing resident services such as after-school programs.
But there’s been little momentum in Long Branch’s commercial core, centered on what planners refer to as Long Branch’s “superblock,” centered on Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Road. While Flower Avenue is a lively, walkable street that already attracts people, Piney Branch is a commercial strip designed for heavy car traffic, with oversized lanes and retail parking lots that doesn’t match Flower Avenue’s forward thinking.
Commercial landowners who have failed to invest in their properties over the years would see increasing land values with two Purple Line stations, at Piney Branch and Arliss Street and at Piney Branch and University Boulevard. With Purple Line trains passing down the center of Piney Branch Road, they’ll finally have an incentive to remake the area as a more walkable urban place.
To attract and shape redevelopment, Montgomery County passed the Long Branch Sector Plan last year. A theme of the county’s planning approach is a “road diet,” redesigning Piney Branch Road with a median and wider sidewalks to create a safer pedestrian environment. As a light rail line that runs in the street, the Purple Line can build on existing neighborhood connectivity and not create new impediments.
The plan also creates a “commercial revitalization overlay zone” for most of the town center. This is one of the new overlay zones in a revised 2014 zoning code designed to encourage higher-density, mixed-use development in many locations around the county where high volume transit exists or is planned.
Meanwhile, the City of Takoma Park is leading the Flower Avenue Green Street project, which will make this walkable street even better with traffic calming features, improved sidewalks and advanced stormwater management.
Long Branch needs the Purple Line to stay on the right track
The Purple Line’s two stations in Long Branch will solidify the groundwork that the county has laid there. Long Branch is already a transit-dependent community; ridership on the area’s eight existing bus routes is significantly higher among Long Branch residents than elsewhere, and household car ownership is sharply lower than other suburban areas.
The Purple Line would put important job centers like Silver Spring, College Park, and Bethesda a short train ride away, instead of a long and inconvenient bus trip as it is today. It will also makes Long Branch more attractive to investors, meaning residents will get the amenities they need and that Long Branch will become a more pedestrian-friendly urban district, which is what the county wants.
The effect the Purple Line will have on Long Branch is also important at the state level, as Maryland has started to recognize that transit that links inner-Beltway communities is a must if we are to avoid suburban sprawl.
However, new Governor Larry Hogan could stop this project altogether, and his intentions aren’t clear yet. Much is at stake for Long Branch and other neighborhoods along the International Corridor as they wait to see if the new governor takes the logical next step to overcome blight and unlock economic opportunities for residents.