This Thursday, November 15th, Council members Olson, Dernoga and Campos are sponsoring a forum at the College Park City Hall to discuss the underlying plans guiding growth on the Route 1 Corridor (beltway to the DC border) and at nearby metro stations. I wanted to encourage you to take advantage of this rare opportunity to find out more about the major plans guiding growth in our area and meet with area planners, SHA staff, school board members, and school system staff.
Some key details:
* From 6:30pm-7:30pm, you will have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with key planners, highway staff, and school officials. White boards with the underlying plans for the area will be on display.
* Starting at 7:30pm, Planning staff will give a formal 10-15min powerpoint presentation discussing the main plans along and near the corridor. There will then be a chance for questions from the audience. Planners, school officials, and highway staff will be available to answer questions.
* Free parking is available at the College Park City Hall, 4500 Knox Road.
* Desserts provided by Franklin’s.
If you have any additional questions, contact Dannielle Glaros at dmglaros at co.pg.md.us.
There is something about human nature that makes every person want to put their pen to a map and draw their own alignments for transportation infrastructure. Go to any Purple Line Focus Group meeting and you’ll understand this phenomena. Everyone is encouraged to participate in this process, but regular citizens rarely if ever dramatically change alignments. Unlike regular citizens, leaders of agencies/major stakeholder groups can have a big influence – one that can be greatly disproportionate to their actual understanding of basic transportation principals… Such is the situation with UMD and the Purple Line.
Without a more thorough explanation of why MTA’s preferred alignment is a bad idea (read our counterargument), there seems to be little reason to seriously consider parting with it (in purple above). If the university wants to continue to go against a multi-year, multi-million dollar planning process, then the burden of proof is on them to prove the benefits of the Stadium Drive alignment (in orange above). Instead of providing a reasonable rationale, University Administrators continue to go around campus sewing the seeds of misinformation into every imaginable facet of the university bureaucracy. What’s worse is that they are resorting to scare tactics (such as suggesting the project will require a 5 foot fence on either side) to support their alignment. The only organizations with the will to fight them are the GSG, the Diamondback, and RTCP.
There are essentially 4 arguments administrators use to support their position (safety, aesthetics, the Univesity Master Plan, and the supposed “nearness” of Stadium Drive to Campus Drive), none of which are supported by the real facts…
If light rail is so unsafe, why does it succeed in other heavily pedestrian environments in some of the densest metropolitan cities around the country and world (including on other college campuses)? When Campus Drive is closed to private automobiles, that would amount to a 78 percent reduction of vehicles on the roadway. The Purple Line would replace many buses, so the actual reduction in vehicle/pedestrian conflicts would be even more pronounced. Light Rail is no more inherently dangerous than buses. At 10-12 MPH through campus, Light Rail operators could easily stop the train for pedestrians. University administrators have yet to rationally explain how the Purple Line scenario proposed by MTA would be worse than the status quo.
The MTA is proposing a series of avoidance and mitigation measures to ensure the Purple Line respects the core of campus. These measures include minimizing the appearance of catenary wires by affixing them to light posts and an estimated $2 million in streetscape improvements (new sidewalks, signalized crosswalks, street treatments, landscaping, and maybe even a parallel bikeway). The MTA proposes no fences like the ones described over and over again by University Administrators. Instead, the MTA plans a series of low barriers designed to discourage non-crosswalk street crossing. Some raise concern over noise and the effect of vibrations on research facilities. Modern Light Rail is extremely quiet. Indeed, many systems are so quiet that bells and flashing lights are installed at crosswalks to warn pedestrians of approaching trains.
The Campus Master Plan:
The Master plan clearly states that Campus Drive should become a dedicated transitway. The document is searchable. Look for instances where the words “Metro”, “Campus Drive”, and “Purple Line” occur. We challenge anyone to find one sentence in this document that categorically supports the Stadium Drive alignment.
The “nearness” issues:
If Stadium Drive is so convenient why don’t all Shuttle-UM buses run on it?
The University’s focus should be on working with MTA to maximize metro access to campus just as the University Master Plan suggests. They need to use their expertise on the campus community to find ways to maximize the potential benefits of the Purple Line on Campus Drive. Instead they continue to obstruct the process and propose alignments that are plainly inferior.
If they continue to insist on the superiority of the Stadium Drive alignment, we urge that they actually support their position by facts. Their strategy so far is to ignore the most basic principles of academic inquiry and prey upon the university community’s ignorance over the project. They are doing it with cheap scare tactics and a focused (although perhaps more reckless than intentional) campaign of misinformation.
As we’ve noted, the student housing landscape in College Park has changed dramatically in the past 6 months. Developers are falling over themselves to propose new projects.
Otis Warren/ Steve McBride (best known for building the University View) were at the City Council meeting last Wednesday. They are now proposing a 12-story, 154 unit (516 bed) student housing project directly in front of University View with 12,200 S.F. of ground floor retail (expected completion 2010). The site had previously been planned as an office building. This newly proposed building (previously called the University View Overlook) would house UMD’s Freshmen Connection program.
Warren/McBride are abandoning plans for a luxury condo building just north of the View (8400 Balt Ave). They acquired the Koon’s Ford Quicklane in front of that site and now are proposing a 9-story phased student housing project with 280 units (900 beds) and 18,040 S.F. of retail (expected completion 2012).
Also, the County Planning Board accepted the city’s downtown parking garage plan (w/ retail) for review and the commission now has 70 days to take action.
Pictures to come….
The latest installment in the campus debate about the proper location of the Purple Line on campus comes in the form of two op-eds, one by graduate student Danny Rogers and another by myself today. In mine, I analyze some of the data released by the Maryland Transit Administration last week. It turns out a majority of the people on Campus Drive are already riding public transit. Furthermore, I describe some of the serious drawbacks of President Mote’s proposed location:
No professors on our campus will accept “F” work. In fact, according to university policy, students receiving an “F” in a class receive no academic credit. Unfortunately, university President Dan Mote is failing transportation planning. Between classes, Campus Drive is at what planners describe as an “F” level of service: gridlock. And Mote’s proposed solution – moving all vehicular traffic and the Purple Line to Stadium Drive – fails to maximize access, efficiency and safety on the campus. […]
MTA has proposed closing Campus Drive to private vehicles and reserving it for buses and trains only. Let’s assume the 17 percent of cars just passing through the campus choose different routes and 10 percent of the remaining car commuters choose to ride buses or the Purple Line (which seems reasonable with housing being built nearby and huge increases in bus ridership as it is). The result is a net reduction of 1,391 vehicles from campus during the day on this road alone! Reducing the number of vehicles on the campus is something everyone can support and a goal supported clearly in the Facilities Master Plan.
And Danny Rogers urges the University to champion the project:
Any visitor to San Diego or Denver knows that light rail and pedestrian traffic are not mutually exclusive, nor is light rail an aesthetic death knell. The point of the rail line is to make the campus more accessible. Right now, the Metro station is inconvenient and dangerous to walk to. Why would we make the same mistake again by placing the Purple Line stop somewhere as inaccessible and inconvenient as Byrd Stadium?
One of the most important policies relating to the future of downtown College Park continues to make its way through a convoluted approval process that involves more lawyers than College Park Residents.
When it is implemented, the Old Town Historic District will require property owners within the designated area (shown on a map here) to apply to the County’s Historic Preservation Commission for a special permit before major construction, alteration, or demolition of any buildings. It is difficult, but not impossible, for a property owner to demolish a historic structure under the county’s law. A section of the district is sandwiched between East Campus and the Terrapin Trader facility, envisioned as a potential phase three to the East Campus project.
If implemented, the policy could effectively prohibit many of the ideas discussed during the College Park charrette, such as adding new development along corridors to connect the Metro station and Downtown. Although the criteria for new construction are designed to be flexible, the Design Guidelines prepared for the area by a city contractor describes the generally low-density character of the contributing resources. At the very least it would create additional regulations for any property owner seeking to develop in the area.
After it was approved by the city and HPC in 2006 the law has been appealed twice by a group including the Prince George’s Property Owner’s Association. Under county law, appeals relating to land use are first heard by the Zoning Hearing Examiner (ZHE). After the first appeal the ZHE ordered the city to take measures to better inform property owners including signs in the Old Town neighborhood. The decision from the second appeal was released on September 26th, and both parties have appealed the decision to the County Council. The council will hear the case at 10 a.m. on Monday, November 19th in Upper Marlboro. Issues of contention in the second appeal include what standards should apply to new construction, and whether a local advisory committee should weigh in on issues not concerning existing historic buildings.
Already a controversy has arisen about the long vacant Sigma Chi fraternity house, which county officials have prohibited the fraternity from demolishing. We hope property owners, renters, and others get involved now to learn about the impact of the policy so when it is implemented there are no surprises.
We usually shy away from outright advocacy, but the University’s actions surrounding the Purple Line are far too egregious to ignore. The Campus Drive alignment is a forgone conclusion and the current MTA study (brought on by the University’s request) will only show that a Campus Drive Purple Line is more technically feasible, more cost-effective, and will have higher ridership than the ill-conceived Stadium Drive alignment. University Administrators would be wise to abandon it now, rather than look foolish in a month when MTA has proven Stadium Drive inferior (and spent thousands of taxpayer dollars doing it).
We already outsmarted UMD once during their Purple Line tunnel boondoggle. How many times do they have to be shown up by their own students before they get the message?
Please join our facebook group on the matter and stay tuned to the website as our campaign to let the MTA do its job continues to unfold.
The general progression of Dr. Mote’s thoughts (past, present, and forcasted):
Insist on a tunnel that is neither prudent nor economically feasible.
Accept at-grade as inevitable, but advocate for an alignment that is inconsistent with the University Master Plan, is likely not technically feasible to build, and that poorly serves the vast majority of the campus community.
3) Let the MTA do their job and participate within rather than outside their process. Accept their preferred alignment and become an outright champion of the project.