Comments on the Transportation Study

Warning: This is quite possibly the longest, most detail-oriented post we’ve ever written. It is intended primarily for the the transportation study consultant team and various policymakers at the city and especially county level. It is not for the faint of heart.

Route 1

These are RTCP’s official comments on the Draft Route 1 Transportation Study presented on May 30th at CP City Hall. Essentially this study builds on past smart growth studies of the corridor and makes recommendations as to how the City and County can implement transportation policies that will help College Park achieve its vision of a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented community. It would be a huge mistake to view this report in a vacuum. It’s part of a larger multi-year effort to completely overhaul the Route 1 Corridor in College Park. The best way we can think to talk about this report is to summarize and explain clearly each major suggestion (avoid nitty gritty details and talk in generalities) contained with it and then follow each with our specific comments and/or concerns. At the end we note overarching problems with the study and make recommendations for improvement that we strongly urge should be included in the final version of the report.

1) Implement a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) District

University ViewA TDM district is basically a governing and funding mechanism for reducing parking demand and vehicle trips along Route 1. A TDM can pursue anything from shared parking structures to increased investment in transit, coordinated car sharing programs, and improved pedestrian facilities. It generally gets its funding from parking fees, development impact fees, special taxing districts, and/or government contributions. It would be managed as a non-profit, public-private partnership (which the study suggests could be created) between the County, College Park, UM, and local businesses. Perhaps the greatest advantage of a TDM is that it provides an avenue for developers to address traffic concerns through trip reduction plans rather than instituting roadway and intersection changes (as they do presently) that almost always further degrade the pedestrian environment.

We agree that a TDM district could be a viable mechanism for achieving a livable, walkable College Park. It should only be pursued in a clear and transparent manner which provides consistency and predictability for the development community. Overly complicated/vague regulations will only act to dampen the development environment in the city and lead to the defacto situation where developers are more comfortable with roadway “improvements” than legitimately engaging in the TDM program. If a TDM district is not pursued, we would at least like to see parking maximums on new developments be instituted and parking minimums eliminated. Developers should get credits for reducing parking (and thus car trips) especially when it comes to student housing projects. These and other such credits should be available by-right within the TDM framework or as part of the sector plan if a TDM district is not pursued.

Proposed 2) Overhaul Transit and Shuttle Service

The study’s main transit suggestions are that bus routes should be consolidated, coordinated, and clarified and that “super stops” should be built where several routes converge. Such “super stops” would include the utmost in rider amenities: seating, electronic bus schedules, etc. Such stops can “define major activity centers along the corridor” and the consultants allude to putting these stop in retail centers and development “nodes” proposed in past studies. They call for “branding” of the bus routes (run by different agencies) to improve visibility of transit in general and increase understanding of routes already in place and operated among several different agencies. Finally, they suggest a U-Pass program be instituted where UM students, faculty, and staff pay an upfront fee to ride all local busses for free.

Most of the transit suggestions are fairly obvious and they are more a matter of political will, collaboration (between agencies with no formal existing relationship), and funding than a failure to recognize the problem. WMATA service reliability and route advertisement are atrocious compared to Shuttle-UM and WMATA could take a lot of lessons from UM’s Dept. of Transportation Services. We do take some issue with the U-Pass program because we feel that a poor understanding of WMATA and “the Bus” routes contribute much more heavily to lack of student riders than the nominal fees it takes to ride these services on a daily basis. Instituting a U-Pass program would be analogous to throwing students’ money out the window if it weren’t also coupled with a bus branding strategy. According to UMD VP of Administrative affairs, the University’s student activity fee committee basically concured with our opinion when they handedly rejected the first proposal for such a U-Pass program at the end of last semester.

3) Rethink Parking Policy

This suggestion was basically already covered in the TDM section above. The idea is to allow developers flexibility in how much parking they build. This is particularly important given the odd lot sizes in the corridor and the large amount of space garages often take up (to the detriment of vibrant street activity). Parking induces auto dependence and auto-ownership is highly correlated with trip generation.
College Park Shopping CenterUniversity View

4) Improve Bicycle Facilities

We essentially covered this issue the other day. Unfortunately the purview of this study is only Route 1, when in reality biking in CP needs to be looked at (and is being looked at) in a much more comprehensive manner. More connections, more intuitive trails, and more signage are all essential to building a bicycle constituency. It all comes down to more money. Despite the best efforts of many, these ideals are a long way off.

5) & 6) Improve Pedestrian Facilities and Route 1 Reconstruction

Rendering of Route 1 MedianThe study provides a number of technical suggestions to modify the existing SHA Route 1 Reconstruction Plan to make it more in line with a “Complete Street” strategy. All suggestions should be considered by the SHA project team and most if not all of them should probably be pursued if the City and County are serious about changing Route 1 from a rural thoroughfare to a true urban boulevard.

OVERALL ISSUES THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED FOR THE FINAL REPORT

– Student housing and its tendancy to contribute to a net reduction in trips. There is a possible opportunity apply by-right reductions in parking requirements to student housing projects within the condensed fee waiver zone. Similar actions in other college towns like Ithaca, NY (elimination of parking requirements on student housing) have proven enormously effective at reducing congestion and meeting student housing demand.

– The issue of long term vs. short term parking

– How the University can work more collaboratively with the city in TDM-type solutions

– In its 86 pages, the study only legitimately uses the word “university” about 30 times. Much more needs to be done to examine specific case studies dealing with University TDM strategies and how Universities can work with local communities to capitalize on the uniqure smart growth opportunities that college towns present. The gross misstatement of the breakdown of the campus population and the on vs. off campus split only further shows that this study is more a generalized prescription for transportation solutions rather than a College Park-specific set of recommendations.

– The consultants need to closely examine the link between student housing, transit ridership, and Smart Growth.

Mazza 11x17 Site Plan– The consultants need to examine parking issues at the soon to be approved Mazza Grandmarc (almost a 1:1 parking ratio of tenants to spaces) and transit ridership (thorough detailed ridership counts are taken by Shuttle UM constantly) at University Town Center and make references to both in the study.

ERRORS IN THE REPORT (A couple indicate little to no coordination with the City of College Park during the drafting of the report)

– The study suggests a stoplight at Hollywood Rd when one is already planned for the Mazza Grandmarc project (also the report wrongly calls this project the “Mazza Commons”)
– The city will definitely take issue with the University View analysis on p. 37 because the complex is not complete. See: READ MORE.
– The existence of the $2.5 million connector road study needs to be addressed on p. 73. READ MORE.
– Should mention that the Purple Line (no longer officially called the Bi-County Transitway) could be included in the U-Pass program (University of Utah and U of Washington do this with their light rail) and that the Purple Line would consolidate several bus routes (RE: the map displayed at the meeting which shows several bus route going along Paint Branch Parkway)
– On p.4 the report suggests that mixed-use development should not have parking in front. We gather that no new development is proposing parking in front or at street level for the most part….
– p.28 the University has abandoned studying the shuttle circulator service proposed in their master plan. The appropriate phrasing would be “reconsider”.
– p.57 a double left turn lane has already been installed at Cherry Hill Rd (northbound Route 1).

Speaking of Biking in CP

Trolley Trail CrossingIt appears that the Trolley Trail is making one major step towards becoming a viable (as well as safe) commuter and recreational route. According to an email sent from County Councilman Eric Olson to constituents, the county has allocated $200,000 of this year’s budget for pedestrian crossing improvements at the wildly dangerous crossing that the trail makes at Paint Branch Parkway. Presumably it could be similar to the ped-activated crossing of the Northwest Branch Trail at Queens Chapel Rd or one of any several kinds of modern crosswalk technologies (you decide).

Thanks to Mr. Olson for prioritizing this very important safety improvement in Upper Marlboro. Local groups have been seeking this for some time and it will be essential for pedestrian mobility not only all along the trail but to and from East Campus from North CP. There will be a meeting with engineers of the project on July 10th from 6:30 to 7:30pm in College Park City Hall to discuss design alternatives.

What’s next on the agenda for the Trolley Trail (map of full trail in orange)? There are plenty of other gaps to fill which provide real impediments to the trail becoming more heavily used (and even known about). Continuity and clear wayfinding are key to building a true cycling constituency. Take a look at the existing conditions:

(From North to South)

Northern bike lane extension from Route 1 to Paducah Rd?
– Marked bike lane from Paducah Rd. to Greenbelt Rd.
– Dangerous crossing at Greenbelt Rd.
– Paved bike trail from Greenbelt Rd. to Berwyn House Rd.
– Residential street (sidewalk) from Berwyn House Rd to Pierce Ave.
– Paved Trail from Pierce Ave. to Paint Branch Pkwy.
Dangerous crossing and sound barrier at Paint Branch Pkwy.
– Residential street (mostly sidewalk) from Paint Branch Pkwy. to Calvert Rd. (improvements planned)
– Paved bike trail from Calvert Rd. to Albion Rd.
– Dirt Trail from Albion Rd. (College Park) to Farragut St. (Hyattsville). (probable improvements from the Cafritz Redevelopment and already planned improvements from Phase II of the EYA Arts district)
– Sidewalk thereafter to Charles L’Armentrout Dr (intesersection with the Northwest Branch Trail)

Route 1 bike lanes?

The State Highway Administration’s (SHA) Route 1 reconstruction plan (post on it here) and the recently released draft study of our beloved roadway both call for striped bike lanes along the corridor. A five foot bike lane (each way) is being considered between the Beltway and Berwyn Rd. and a six foot lane is being considered between Berwyn Rd. and College Ave. Should the funding gods ever prioritize one segment (or all three segments) of the Route 1 reconstruction project, planners hope these bike lanes, in conjunction with reduced traffic speed (25 to 30 mph), consolidated driveways, and more mixed use projects, will bring more people out of their cars and onto bicycles. Given the huge bike culture in college towns like Davis, CA, Madison, WI, and Cambridge, MA it’s clearly hoped that Route 1 bike lanes will capitalize on the aptness of college students to ride bikes and create a more pedestrian friendly environment for College Park.

Obviously we encourage any movement towards pedestrian-friendliness in the city. That being said, we doubt strongly whether these bike lanes, like so many other bike lanes in the area, will be used to any considerable degree as they are currently proposed. Take for instance several “biker-friendly roadways” that are already in existence around campus. “Bike lanes” on these roads are nothing more than narrow, gravel-strewn, storm drain-ridden car shoulders which only the hardiest of bikers dare ride on. We aren’t willing to forfeit the potential for new bike lanes on Route 1 because we think (if done right) they could be a valueable addition to the area and could work well if connected well with the Paint Branch Trail (not far to the west) and the Trolley Trail (not far to the east).

SHA should consider further modifying their proposed bike lanes by adding color treatments (as picture above) rather than simply adding a narrow asphalt lane. Studies show that colored bike lanes increase awareness of bicycles, improve pedestrian safety, slow traffic, and avoid confusing lane convergences at intersections. Such bike lanes (colors vary across countries) have been used for years in the Netherlands (red), Denmark (blue), and France (green). From what we can gather, such lanes are technically not allowed (on any road!) in the U.S. by the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, but College Park could conceivably apply to the FHWA via the MD-SHA for “permission to experiment” with them as has been done in cities like Arlington, Denver, and Portland, OR among several others.

It seems that street seperated bike lanes like the one below (in Silver Spring) are not being considered at all for Route 1. Probably because the on-street bike lane can be used by emergency vehicles whereas off-street ones can’t.
Seperated Bike Lane

Cafritz Workshop 1 recap

Saturday afternoon saw fruitful initial community input for planning of the potentially large development project at the Cafritz Property (interactive map). A healthy attendance was present along with a violinist and a caricature artist for entertainment. The workshop itself had the vibrant community feel that Cafritz Family hopes to create in its development.

**PLEASE NOTE, a second identical workshop is to be this Thursday, tell your neighbors!**

No plans for the site have been submitted yet and therefore the public is open to make any suggestions it pleases without disrupting predetermined designs/plans. This is a critical chance for the public to voice comments, questions, and concerns in person to a very receptive developer. We reiterate a statement by County Councilman Eric Olson: “Rarely do I find a developer who is so willing to engage the public before a complete plan is in hand… [I] want to acknowledge what I see as a true commitment to the community from [the Cafritz Family].”

Cafritz workshop1The workshop was organized into nine workstations where respective members of the development resource team were available to interact with attendees. Each workstation represented a different development issue. The issues were placemaking, livability, environmental sustainability, open space & connections, transportation, business & retail, history, culture & community, and the WMATA site.

Eight project values were described outright: 1) linking the development with surrounding communities to create a greater community, 2) high-quality mixed use development, 3) pedestrian safety, 4) integrating the arts into daily community life, 5) enhancing surrounding communities by making great places, 6) programming open spaces, 7) a choice of housing types, 8) sustainability.

Although no plans have been submitted for any type of approval, we do know some facts and ideas that are being worked with…

The project will be internally focused. This means that there will be limited frontage on Rt. 1 and surrounding neighborhoods. A patron would have to enter the property itself to really see what the development is all about. The community would have a central orientation rather than the peripheral facades that characterize most strip malls. This means that there could very well be a light natural (forested) buffer along Rt.1. That would somewhat maintain the present visual respite along Rt.1 that the forest on the Cafritz Property provides now.

more detailed cafritz mapThe WMATA site exists between Albion Road and the northern portion of the Cafritz Property (see the long boot-shaped portion on top of the Cafritz Property on the more detailed vicinity map). It was acquired by WMATA from the Cafritz property holding through eminent domain for Rt. 1 access to construct the Metro tunnel and building. The construction has obviously been complete for years and is no longer needed so WMATA could possibly transfer ownership of the property. The actual future of this WMATA property is unknown, but it is quite possible that it will remain as a natural buffer to Albion Road.

Through the middle of the property runs a trail connecting the end of the Rhode Island Avenue paved bike trail (a.k.a. the Trolley Trail) to the Riverdale Square Station. The dirt trail actually lies along a utility easement that PEPCO has maintained. Because of the easement, the trail will remain intact through the development (although it will likely be paved) and is a great opportunity for community connections (to the EYA Arts District in particular) and public outdoor living space.

Similar to much of Rt.1, pedestrian frontage along the Cafritz Property is non-existent or downright dangerous. The Cafritz Property’s portion of Rt.1 will be improved by the development. If a traffic access intersection is made on Rt. 1, a major pedestrian crossing will be integrated. This is much needed for pedestrians crossing to and from University Park as the only existing crossings are at East West Highway and Queens Chapel Road. Those crossings are fairly dangerous themselves and would not be particularly convenient to the new develpment . Pedestrian bridges across the CSX railroad tracks on the east side of the property would create much needed access to public recreation (Lake Artemesia, Wells Ice Rink & Pool). These are being assessed by the resource team to increase interconnectivity of the existing recreational trail system. Pedestrians would otherwise only have the pedestrian tunnel at the CP Metro Station.

p st whole foodsThe Business and Retail arm of the resource team stated that Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic President Ken Meyer has seen the Cafritz Property and said he would like to put a store there. The company is waiting on plans for the development in order to move forward. Fall is a reasonable time to expect a more definitive position from Whole Foods as to whether or not it will place a grocery store on the Cafritz Property.

Read the new Route 1 Growth Blog for a list of community suggestions for the Cafritz project. The RP Coffee House blog has a linked listing of the development resource team, as well as a discussion with graphics about footprint impact of a Whole Foods.

It was noted that the developer’s site will eventually have a forum to make comments.  They can presently be sent to info@cafritzpop.com.

Seeing the Purple Line by itself (+ a great map)

Purple Line Route

(SEE FULL SIZE – Courtesy of the Washington Post)

For I Dipt into the Future...The Purple Line continues to make its way into the papers with an article yesterday about the potential for 9 more stops on the transitway (in addition to the 12 already being considered – 4 of which are proposed at existing Metro stops). We’re starting to see that maps like the one to the right (which we produced in January) which are commonly put forth by transit advocates are actually rather deceptive. These maps unintentionally portray the Purple Line as a “Metro Line” when indeed it won’t be operated by the same body that runs the Metro (WMATA) nor will it in any way resemble the existing heavyrail system.

Indeed, the Purple Line has an entirely different purpose than the Metro system because the nature of Light Rail is so fundamentally different than heavy rail. Also, its inter-suburban route contrasts starkly with Metro’s DC commuter orientation. The new map above does a much better job of portraying the true nature of the project: a transitway with several stops in and between suburban communities with increasingly dense centers, but that also interfaces with the metro system, parking and road facilities, the bus system, and the regional trail system. Transit folks call that “multi-modal”, we just call it common sense.

Yes, it’ll have to be accepted that most of the Purple Line will be above ground (that’s the reality of the funding when planners look at the potential ridership), but fortunately the continued refinement of the alternatives is bringing about important changes that will reap tremendous benefits for communities like College Park (such as additional nearby stops). Over the long haul that can mean more transit-oriented and pedestrian friendly infill development like Bethesda, Silver Spring, and our own East Campus.