Response to UMD letter to Porcari

On November 19th, UMD Vice President of Administrative Affairs Doug Duncan wrote a letter to, his predecessor, MD Secretary of Transportation John Porcari. In the letter, Duncan and his staff attempt to clarify UMD’s Purple Line position by continuing to express the transitway’s supposed incompatability with the Campus Master Plan, aesthetic concerns, and concern over the implications for pedestrian safety.

On December 6th, we responded by pointing out several innacuracies and contradictions in Duncan’s original letter and laying out perhaps our most comprehensive case for the Campus Drive alignment to date. As of today, December 26th, there has been no formal response from the Administration, nor any attempt (publicly or privately) to answer any of the following questions we raised regarding the University’s continued adcovacy for only non-Campus Drive alignments:

1)       If Stadium Drive is a convenient transit route, why don’t all the current campus transit (Shuttle UM and commuter) routes run along it?   Long ago the university located its main transit hub in the heart of campus, where most commuter students, faculty and staff wish to go. What specifically about light rail necessitates parting with history?

2)       The Administration actively opposes an alignment which connects some of the area’s key existing daily destinations (the Green Line Metrorail station, the Student Union, UMUC) with important future activity centers (East Campus and M-Square). Can the university really justify a more circuitous route (Stadium Drive or Mowatt Lane) that bypasses key campus activity centers and plainly hurts ridership?

3)       If the Administration is so concerned with pedestrian safety on Campus Drive, why has it not pursued any of the transportation suggestions of the nearly seven-year-old Campus Master Plan? ( e.g. closing Campus Drive and other roadways to automobiles, initiating an internal a high quality internal campus shuttle loop, replacing the dangerously low level of lighting, and paying for other major streetscape improvements.)

4)       Considering the dreadfully worn state of Campus Drive, how can the Administration forgo an estimated $2 million in streetscape improvements— street treatments, street lights, crosswalks, landscaping, a potential bikeway— that would accompany the Purple Line?

5)       In light of MTA’s traffic analysis, what makes MTA’s proposal for Campus Drive more dangerous than the status quo?   Many cities across the nation and internationally successfully accommodate Light Rail in heavily populated places, even in busy public plazas.   What makes the University of Maryland an exception?

6)       Considering the importance of the ridership, which group will maximize use of the Purple Line— Terp fans or daily commuters?   Certainly the Administration and the MTA should prioritize the needs of the thousands of daily commuters over occasional, though passionately loyal, visitors.

7)       You note in your letter that the Master Plan calls for minimizing Shuttle-UM busses on Campus Drive in favor of an internal campus shuttle that links to commuter routes that would stop on the periphery of campus. Why isn’t the university pushing the internal shuttle and what would the added transfers mean for existing Shuttle-UM ridership? How is the Purple Line not consistent with this plan were it to ever actually be implemented?

8)       Does the Administration have enough confidence in its “analysis” to continue to go against a highly standardized, multi-year, multi-million-dollar public planning process?   The MTA studied alignments based on what experts’ opinions (not armchair analysis) believe to be the most useful and that which is most likely to receive Federal funding.  Is the Administration prepared to reject the Purple Line in any viable form?

–> Read the full letter from Doug Duncan to John Porcari (PDF)

–> Read our response (PDF)

 

RTCP Receives City Grant

The City of College Park has granted RTCP $500 through their community services grant program. The money will go towards supporting our hosting costs, and fees associated with some of the services we use such as Flickr.

We will also use some of the money for an advertising campaign and material to promote the site more widely in the new year.

We appreciate this city support and the continued support from our readers. Our biggest challenge remains identifying volunteers to contribute photos and writing to the site in order to keep the website up-to-date. If you are interested in helping in the new year, please contact Rob or me.

Purple Line Redux, Redux

Looking up the quad at Morrill Hall

Unsatisfied with the Maryland Transit Administration’s preferred Campus Drive alignment, several sources have told us that President Mote is urging the agency to consider yet another route. This new, southern route (blue line on the interactive map below) would run along Campus drive by the Architecture Building, then south on Preinkert Drive, then would veer eastward to climb the steep hill along the southern edge of the historic Morrill Hall (1898 – second oldest building on campus), then down the steep quad. At the bottom of the quad (pictured above), near the Skinner Building, the route would then run along the street between Marie Mount Hall and the Chapel. From there the route would descend Chapel Field, pass directly north of the Rossborough Inn (circa early 1800s) and would wriggle its way across Route 1 and into East Campus.

View the interactive map

Pres. Mote’s latest alignment, while an improvement over his Stadium Drive proposal (orange), poses numerous and perhaps insurmountable problems. For one, the route requires several steep grade changes, especially around Morrill Hall, which crowns a hill 167 feet above sea level (for comparison, Route 1 lies 80 feet above sea level at the Ritchie Coliseum). Though steep grades are possible to navigate, such a route could require costly tunneling or the digging of a trench that would present a depressed gash everyone wants to avoid.

Furthermore, Pres. Mote’s latest route would disqualify Campus Drive from the state- and Federally-funded streetscape improvements it desperately needs. Most importantly, this new route cannot compete with the Campus Drive alignment’s chief virtue of serving the center of campus.

The centrality of a transit stop increases the convenience to riders and thus maximizes ridership. Campus Drive by the Student Union sits between North and South Campus providing a convenient location for all.* Why else do so many ShuttleUM routes serve Stamp?

Though it is good policy for governments to consider the wishes of stakeholders, of which the University is an important one, Pres. Mote must keep in mind that the Maryland government does not exist solely to indulge each of his new alignments. Preliminary engineering studies are costly and further delay the project. Pres. Mote can suggest a web of new routes, but it is unlikely he will discover a new alignment that beats the MTA’s current proposal in convenience, respect for federally protected historic resources, practicality, and cost-effectiveness. Pres. Mote might find it more fruitful to submit to the MTA his own suggestions for improvements to the Campus Drive alignment the state has had on the books for several years.

It is notable that brief UMD advocacy for a Knox Rd/Mowatt Lane alignment met immediate and universal criticism. it was a non-starter for local politicians who rightly demanded that the Purple Line must be routed through East Campus if the university ever wants to see that development built. Hence administrators came up with this latest iteration…

We always encourage your feedback and this topic certainly elicits much of it. What do you think of this new alignment? What advantages and disadvantages does it provide over the other two routes?

*Centrality is particularly important since Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow at the October Purple Line community meeting stridently demanded a transit line convenient to the Comcast Center and Byrd Stadium. Certainly she would maintain the consistency of her position and oppose this new, southern route since it would prove inconvenient not only for regular commuters, but especially so for game fans.

Extend the Paint Branch Trail North?

paint branch trailWe’ve heard the concept tossed around a couple of  times, but what would it actually take to bring this great trail north of its terminus behind Home Depot? Crossing under 12 lanes of beltway traffic doesn’t appear to be the biggest obstacle since there is already a substantial underpass in place for the stream. The real question is will there ever be enough of a political coalition together to convince the USDA’s BARC facility to give up the necessary right-of-way (in red on the map). Once the county bridges that gap and brings the trail to its property (in green) just to the north of BARC, where is there left to go and would it be worth the added environmental disturbance in the first place?

–> See full sized map (produce from PGatlas.com).

Community Voices Supporting the Campus Drive Alignment

Over the past four days, over 100 faculty, alumni, staff, students, and neighbors have signed our petition supporting the Campus Drive alignment for the Purple Line on Campus. We have been overwhelmed by this outpouring of support and hope it demonstrates broad-based and diverse support for the alignment preferred by the Maryland Transit Administration’s planners and engineers. We thought we would highlight some of the interesting comments contributed by community members.

StadiumDriveFence_013“The University made a terrible mistake .. when campus leadership forced Metro off campus. We must not make the same mistake again. Light rail is part of any sane future energy and transportation policy and the University stop should be near the center of things. This will help the campus maximize its oft-boasted strategic advantage of having easy access to the research and internship opportunities of the National Capital area. Campus leadership has talked of closing Campus Drive to regular traffic for more than 20 years, but has done absolutely nothing. The Purple Line will increase safety by getting frustrated private vehicle drivers off Campus Drive, leaving it for the Purple Line, professionally-driven buses, and emergency vehicles.” — Professor Maynard Mack, Jr.

“This is a must to help make the campus more accessible and raise its status as a top-level university.” — Andrew Hallowell, Undergraduate

“I also live near campus. The purple line would make it possible for me to use Metro to travel to many place I regularly visit around the area. As Metro is presently constructed, it is often time consuming and inefficient to travel by Metro instead of car. This would increase my use of Metro. Furthermore, as a resident of a neighborhood close to campus, the Purple Line could enable many sports fans and attendees of other university activities to use public transportation rather than driving.” — Anonymous University Employee

“One of the main reasons I have not considered applying for jobs at the University of Maryland is that I want to live in a more walkable and transit-oriented community. For these things, I’ll stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan.” — Kevin Hawkins, Alumni

“The University should support the Purple Line down Campus Drive!” — Andrew Rose, Former Undergraduate Student Body President

Purple Line 5“It is crucial that UMD takes steps to reduce its CO2 output and the number of cars driving on campus. I spent 2 years commuting from Washington DC to the UMD campus. On a daily basis, the shuttle ride up Campus Drive was stalled by the high volume of traffic – mainly personal cars. Bringing the purple line to Campus Drive would make the campus much more attractive for pedestrians and would reduce the need for people to drive to campus.” — Heidi Ruffler, Graduate Student

“Making such a central and visible commitment to public transportation would really transform campus and the College Park community in a dramatic and very positive way!” — Dana Coelho, Alumnae

“It makes no sense to route the Purple Line down Stadium Drive. This route is longer, much less-convenient to the center of campus, and would present a safety hazard before and after football games. If the university is serious about getting people out of cars and into alternative forms of transportation, it should support the Campus Drive alignment.” — Jim Elliot, Graduate Student

“I support the Campus Drive alignment. There is no central gathering place on Stadium drive. Most of the foot traffic getting off at the Stadium Drive location would most assuredly migrate to Campus Drive and further south. Also, there is nothing to greet you at Stadium Drive. There is no central hang out.” — John W. Euill, III, UMUC Student

“This route is ‘straight’ and services two cores, the Stamp Student Union and East Campus since the line passes directly through them as opposed to a diverted route. Direct access is considered a boon to many and it is likely that the two centers will appreciate managed mobile options to attract regional clout. While safety concerns are always a priority in any project, I feel the ones that the president are coming up with are rather ludicrous and unfounded. Walking to Susquehanna every other day, I find that crossing Campus drive is already a chore dodging around cars and trucks and buses, and there are those few rude enough to keep going, but I wait patiently because I know I’M NOT GOING TO GET RUN OVER. … Adding a street train is no different than another bus or truck. Sometimes I think those trucks are more hazardous on campus since they … jump the curve … I feel many stand to benefit from a centralized location that serves the -region- as a whole. I don’t want future generations of passengers and students to suffer, Campus Drive is our best alternative!” — Andrew Newsome, Civil Engineering Undergraduate

> Sign our Purple Line on Campus Drive Petition
> Library Page on Purple Line
> See previous news items about the Purple Line

Sign Our Campus Drive Petition

3 Alignments

We have described before why we think the Campus Drive Alignment (purple above) is the best location for the Purple Line in College Park. However, some campus leaders have continued to advocate for an alternative, “Stadium Drive” alignment.

Today we launch a petition in support of the Campus Drive Alignment. Please add your name if you agree.

> iPetitions: Build the Purple Line on Campus Drive

Climate Change and City Planning

LRT in DresdenAn impressive environmental movement has been building lately concerned about the warming of earth’s climate and what we should do about it. A major force in it has been the passions of activists, especially college students. The recent Powershift 2007 conference at our campus brought together students from around the country to consider what should be done about climate change.

What has been primarily discussed is the adoption of cleaner, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar-thermal panels, photovoltaic solar cells, or hydroelectric power. Or, they stress the need to develop alternative fuel technologies that reduce our demand for finite fossil fuels such as hydrogen or biofuels. However, I would like to bring attention to another major factor in the climate change debate: the carbon emissions brought about by Americans who continue to support wasteful, unsustainable lifestyle habits that lead to greater sprawl, greater congestion, and greater pollution.

Recently, the study “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change” was released by the Urban Land Institute and Smart Growth America, in conjunction with the National Center for Smart Growth on the University of Maryland campus. The study found that vehicle-miles traveled (Or, “VMT”) in America are steadily increasing at a startling rate, three times the rate of population growth and at a faster rate than carbon emissions. VMT is scheduled to continue rising 60% over the next 30 years; all the while CO2 emissions would be 40% above 1990 levels even under a best case scenario with new Senate CAFE standards. Transportation CO2 emissions account for a third of total emissions in the US, and while policy initiatives have striven to improving fuel efficiency and carbon fuel content, precious little has been done to reduce the amount of driving that is being done.

Our communities have principally been designed for automobiles, where multi-lane freeways, spread-out subdivisions and expansive strip malls are the norm. Our attitudes have been cultivated from this way of living, with an increased prevalence in people moving farther away from work and eschewing public transit for time spent alone in their cars. These unplanned subdivisions encourage low-density zoning in areas that receive little to no benefit from mass transit, thus forcing everyone to drive to get around anywhere.

Portland Streetcar PlazaMost frustrating has been the lack of attention from environmental activists, especially students, on this topic. While policy initiatives on emissions caps are necessary and welcome, it takes a concerted emphasis on persuading the general public that global warming is real and is impacted by the decisions we make every day. Collective pressure on planning policymaking could bring about real change to the problem. While many “activists” are in tune with the more glamorous topics, such as the headline-grabbing “gloomsday” scenarios, they may be overlooking other aspects of the problem.

So here are the solutions. The best way to discourage driving is to reduce urban sprawl, which pushes communities further out from cities and increases vehicle travel distances that increase fossil fuel consumption and emissions released. These conditions lead to greater traffic congestion, which directly threatens the livelihood of our cities. Higher-density, mixed-use development around transportation centers (termed as “smart growth”), extensively implementing “green” building design features and promoting rural conservation efforts to control sprawl can have a pronounced effect on development patterns.

Environmental activist Mike Tidwell believes that it’ll be “very hard” to wean Americans off their unsustainable suburban existence, but it must happen eventually. We can start by giving citizens realistic alternative options to commuting in automobiles. Currently, the Federal Transit Administration appropriates 30 times less funding towards public transit projects than highway projects yearly, which reflects severe lack of foresight by this administration. The 2009 surface transportation bill (Transportation Equity Act) will decide the allocation of federal funding for the following 5 years and can set a tremendous precedent in reducing the amount of transportation greenhouse gases emitted. Further, cheap gasoline makes driving more financially viable to many compared to transit. Let’s fix that by instituting dramatically higher gas and displacement taxes that not only encourage people to drive less frivolously and carpool, but to use the extra proceeds to fund mass transit projects such as the Purple Line and reintroducing streetcar services. Antiquated zoning codes that worked to separate residential, commercial and retail spaces now work against achieving smart growth and must be reformed to encourage mixed-use development that puts everything within walkable distances. Local governments should also refuse to give sweetheart deals to private developers whose objective is to build over every last inch of open space.

And it’s important to note that I don’t believe that mass transit is the panacea to solve all of our traffic problems. Road improvements are long-overdue and even more necessary than before due to exploding population growth that has overburdened our transportation infrastructure networks. But diminishing the need for long travel distances by conveying changes in public attitudes and the way we plan cities is the vision that we need to start embracing. Promoting responsible planning and development is necessary to foster compact communities that can support lifestyles in the new age of conservation and sustainability. Curbing global warming takes more than just a signature. It requires a real, fundamental revolution in the way we live.

Purple Line Meeting Postponed Due to Weather

Tonight’s Purple Line open house in College Park has been postponed. In order to get late-breaking news like this please sign up to our announcement email list – scroll down on the right to find the space to leave your address.

Tonight’s Open House at the College Park Municipal Center has been postponed due to inclement weather. We are rescheduling the meeting for Wednesday December 19th, 5-8:30 PM, at the same location.

Sorry for the inconvenience, we hope to see you on the 19th, or at one of our other locations. For more details, see our website www.purplelinemd.com

Offer Your Feedback to the University’s Strategic Plan

University leaders are now accepting community comments as part of the process to create a new strategic plan for all aspects of the university’s development. In fact, one of the feedback questions directly concerns the East Campus project: “The East Campus redevelopment project will bring dramatic changes to the College Park environment. What other such projects can you suggest that might also have a strongly positive impact on studying, working, and living in the College Park area?” The Diamondback reported today that leaders hope to receive more student comment before the survey closes on Friday.

We invite our readers to participate in this process and share their views about how the university should grow.

> Strategic Plan Feedback

Sidelining the Metro: How Fear, Prejudice, and University Inaction Kept the College Park Metro Station away from Campus

The thousands of University of Maryland students, faculty, and staff who use Metro often wonder why the College Park Metro Station is located inconveniently far away from campus. A 1994 graduate study (PDF, 15 MB) led by Urban Studies and Planning Professor William Hanna came to the conclusion that during the Metro’s planning stages in the early 1970s, then-President Wilson Homer Elkins virtually ignored the alignment discussions and tacitly discouraged alignments that were too convenient to campus. The report asserted that Elkins’s lack of enthusiasm for Metro resulted from his uneasiness with metropolitan Washington and is linked with his lack of enthusiasm for racial integration.

Students, faculty, and staff often dread the long bus ride to the Metro station and wonder why it is so far away. The Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) actually considered several different station locations for College Park, including one under Route 1 at the Ritchie Coliseum and one on campus near what is now the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. However, as the current controversy over the Purple Line shows, political realities often force governments to compromise the convenience of public transit to appease oppositional constituencies—such is the nature of democracy. For different reasons, each alignment for the Green Line upset a different constituency in the surrounding neighborhoods. The default alignment included the current location of the station and though the Maryland DOT was actively considering alternatives that would be closer to campus the then-Administration remained publicly silent on advocating a closer location, leaving the debate to various NIMBY groups.

In fact, Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation at the time noted the current location’s “poor service to the University” and referred to his department’s ridership numbers that estimated the number of people that would board at each proposed station location. Obviously, the more convenient a station is to where people live and want to go, the higher the ridership. DOT’s damning conclusion shows that the public and then-President Elkins knew that the current station would be the least-used possible location for a Metro station in College Park:

1973 Projection of Boardings

We can never know for certain why Elkins failed to advocate one of the several proposed campus stations, even though such a decision would prove crucially important to the University’s future. Though these campus locations were shown to be more convenient and more popular among riders, the Hanna report asserted that convenience of transit was not Elkins’s priority at the time. The report suggested that racial animus (or at least ambivalence) subtly motivated the Elkins administration regarding enrollment and even regarding Metro planning decisions. On the matter of race, the report states:

There was never a George Wallace blocking the entry for African-Americans to the College Park campus. However, it is clear that during the years of Metro decisionmaking, there was no welcome mat. A distinguished [and unnamed] campus historian put it this way: “President Elkins didn’t want undesirable elements on campus, which [to him] meant black people from Washington.” Our research clearly indicates that some campus officials and others feared that a Metro link between the District and College Park would make it easier for African-Americans to come to campus. That result was contrary to the political will of the campus at the time. (PDF pp 54-5)

The report furthers discussed the fact that in 1973, though the Administration officially opposed racial segregation, “a federal civil rights agency conducted an evaluation of Maryland’s efforts, concluding that little had been done to foster [racial] integration.” (PDF p. 55)

The report links Elkins’s lack of support for a convenient station with a fear of racial conflict. The proposed Green Line would link College Park with places such as Columbia Heights and U Street, which had recently burned in the civil disorder that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968. The report posited another cultural motivation for the Administration beyond that of race. The University of Maryland serves the entire state of Maryland, but is situated in the Washington metropolitan area. The University’s rural, agricultural roots, the report asserted, contended with the University’s suburban metropolitan location:

Metro was seen as a threat to the non-urban character of the campus, and especially to the separation of the campus from urban ways and people. It is, therefore, easy to understand that a source of further stress and disruption was unwelcome. Only with the arrival of President John Toll, who grew up in Washington metropolitan area, did the position of the campus change. (PDF p. 58)

Indeed, how times have changed. The University of Maryland now graduates more African Americans than does any other top-25 public university in the nation. Furthermore, the University’s recruitment efforts these days often tout the proximity of Washington as a benefit of attending Maryland and the current Administration voices its support for better connecting the campus with the rest of the region through the Purple Line.

Though the Administration now supports the Purple Line, President Mote opposes the Maryland DOT’s current alignment for a light rail station in front of the Stamp Student Union. He is urging the state to change course and head for Stadium Drive instead. Mote fears that the line would degrade the currently worn down state of Campus Drive, even though any Purple Line construction would bring millions of dollars in streetscape improvements. His opposition is also based on a fear that a light rail train will cause damaging vibrations to nearby scientific equipment, even though modern light rail vehicles are quieter (and most likely produce less vibrations) than our current noisy diesel Shuttle UM buses. President Mote also states the unwarranted fear that train drivers will run down students, even though private cars on Campus Drive today are a greater threat to pedestrian safety than are trained rail operators who can simply apply the brake as with any other vehicle.

President Mote’s opposition to the Maryland DOT’s current Purple Line proposal for a stop on campus (above) is reminiscent of Elkins’s lack of support for a convenient campus station. Though President Mote is certainly not motivated by fear of racial conflict, he is motivated by other fears—fears of the new and unfamiliar—that prove similarly unconvincing. The President believes his fears, which he has not adequately proven in public, warrant the University to yet again forgo the convenient public transit the State of Maryland is offering and that students, staff, and faculty deserve.

> Read the study yourself: Metro Stop? Metro: Stop! The Politics of Transportation Planning (.PDF, 15 MB)