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Member Research and Reports

Will Residents be More Active When the Purple Line Opens? A Maryland Study Will Find Out

A team from the University of Maryland School of Public Health is launching a long-term investigation into how a new light rail line may encourage active transportation activities among racial and ethnic populations who have been underrepresented in previous natural experiment studies of this type.

[Photo: Jennifer D. Roberts]

The Purple Line Outcomes on Transportation (PLOT) Study, whose protocol manuscript has been published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, will look at the behaviors and attitudes of Maryland’s Prince George’s County residents when it comes to activities like walking, biking or using public transportation before and after the new Purple Line is built.

The Purple Line is a 16-mile east-west light rail line linking Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley Park, the University of Maryland, and New Carrollton. Construction is expected to be complete by 2022 and officials project a daily ridership of 69,000 by 2030.

In the PLOT Study, researchers will pay special attention to African-American and Latino residents which make up about three-quarters of the county’s population.

“Even though African Americans and Latinos are both disproportionally impacted by the public health issues of overweight/obesity and physical inactivity, these populations are significantly underrepresented in research studies examining these health issues due to a strong hesitancy and an overarching sense of distrust of the medical and research establishment,” the authors said.

The PLOT Study is being led by department of kinesiology assistant professor, Dr. Jennifer D. Roberts. Research collaborators include UMD associate research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics Dr. Brit Irene Saksvig; assistant professor of the UMD School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Ms. Ming Hu; lecturer in the UMD Center for Geospatial Information Science Dr. Micah L. Brachman and University of Texas assistant professor of health promotion & behavioral sciences Dr. Casey P. Durand.

The research team will evaluate the Purple Line’s influence on adults over 18-years-old and youth between ages 12 and 17 with tools including focus groups, questionnaires, accelerometry and travel diary data. “We are thrilled to be partnering with CASA de Maryland and beginning our first round of focus groups next month,” Dr. Roberts said.

“While similar natural experiments on active transportation have been conducted in other U.S. cities, those studies lacked diverse and representative samples,” the study said. “The PLOT Study will take advantage of this natural experiment in an area enduring significant racial/ethnic and gender-based overweight or obesity and physical inactivity disparities.”

Examining the Influence of a New Light Rail Line on the Health of a Demographically Diverse and Understudied Population” was published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.