Observations from..., Random DJB Thoughts
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Observations from…The City of the Future

Depending on your age and where you lived, your childhood construction toys of choice may have been Tinkertoys (my favorite); Meccano (if you or your grandparents were European); an Erector Set (I may still have the scar from falling off the top bunk onto one of our construction sites); or Legos (our children’s favorite).

I started thinking about construction toys while standing on the top level of the Silver Spring transit center this afternoon, talking with an engineer, and looking down at the vast construction site that is now our front yard (of sorts). My mind wandered to, “These men and women on the site below may have started out on the family rug many years ago with the Erector Set.” Some of them may, in fact, be living their dream!

Purple Line 4 February 2020

View from the Sarbanes Transit Center of the Purple Line construction site in Silver Spring

For the past twenty years, we have lived in downtown Silver Spring. We cross a relatively narrow residential street and a small plaza set in the center of an office complex to get to the Metro station, which houses the Red Line. I use to say that I rolled out of bed and onto the train to get to work. Five years ago the multi-modal Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center opened next door to the station (after a host of embarrassing construction problems), to consolidate bus lines and other forms of transportation. And in 2022 or 2023 (depending on who you believe), we will have a new Purple Line light rail station as well as a downtown connection to the Capital Crescent Bike Trail which goes from Silver Spring to Georgetown (and connects with other bike trails on both ends). It is this Purple Line project that has me walking the edges of the construction site on a daily basis, taking pictures to send to my children, and—yes—thinking about Tinkertoys.

Purple Line 1 January 2020

View from the corner of Second Avenue (our street) and Colesville Road toward the Metro station for the first of what promises to be a long line of weekend road closures)

We’ve watched for the past year as sites were cleared for the light rail; massive concrete and steel girders were constructed to support the elevated Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail tracks; and cars, buses, pedestrians, and bicycles were rerouted on a regular basis. But beginning in early January, the first of what promises to be multiple weekend closings of Colesville Road took place. It was time, dear reader, to begin the process of flying the Purple Line tracks over the Red Line and a major four-lane highway in the heart of our city.

In January, the construction crews—working 24 hours from Friday evening until Monday morning—placed the bridge for the Capital Crescent trail across Colesville Road.

Purple Line 5 January 2020

Capital Crescent bridge over Colesville Road under construction. The concrete girder in the center is to hold the Purple Line bridge.

As planned, the Purple Line will rise over the existing Red Line tracks, beside the Transit Center, before coming down to ground level near the intersection of Bonifant Street and Ramsey Avenue. We began to see the approach for this bridge show up in early February.

Purple Line 7 January 2020

Purple Line bridge under construction as it begins to rise over the Silver Spring Metro Station and the red line. View from the Metro station platform, looking north.

The construction crews chose this weekend — President’s Day — to take advantage of the Monday holiday and begin to connect the light rail bridge over the metro tracks and up to the edge of Colesville Road.

Purple Line 1 February 2020

Construction crews begin to connect the light rail bridge over the Metro tracks

Purple Line 3 February 2020

Light rail bridge comes to the northern edge of Colesville Road

As I’ve talked about this project with friends and family, I’m often asked, “What’s it like?” My answer is always the same. Remember those great pictures from the 1900s showing an artist’s depiction of the city of the future? Well, here it is. We have your multi-modal transportation systems, with tracks flying over other roads and railways, and everything appears to be humming along without any problems.

Funny how the future didn’t quite turn out that way.

Grey's London

Grey’s “London of the Future”

Downtown Silver Spring has been a perpetual construction zone for much of the time we’ve lived here. We’ve seen changes for the good (such as the well-designed courthouse across the street from us, that replaced a gas station which doubled as a drug dealing hangout.) We’ve seen changes that aren’t to our taste (such as the proposed design for the downtown Silver Spring development). We’ve certainly seen construction delays, screw-ups, miscommunication, and more.

Purple Line 2 February 2020

In two weeks time, Colesville Road will be closed again so that the bridge span across the highway can be completed.

But this is just one more stage to live through. As I was traveling by car to Bethesda several nights in a row a few weeks ago to catch the final six Best Picture films, I often had the thought: I wish I could just jump on the Purple Line train. Give it a couple of years. Until then, just watch your head as you come visit us.

More to come…


P.S. – For those who want to keep up with the project, visit the gallery pages for the Purple Line website.

This entry was posted in: Observations from..., Random DJB Thoughts


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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