Stimulus Money Awarded for Route 1 Buses

Proposed "Super Stop" LocationsPlanners and transit geeks have been waiting for months for USDOT’s announcement of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Competitive Grant recipients – a $1.5 billion slice of the stimulus package designed to invest in innovative, multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional transportation projects related to the nation’s road, bridge, rail, port, transit and intermodal facilities and infrastructure.

USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced the winners yesterday in Kansas City, MO and it turns out College Park and the immediate area is getting on board the stimulus train (or bus in this instance). The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments received nearly $59 million in funds towards a planned $83 million improve to the efficiency and reliability of the region’s buses.

Construction is planned to begin ASAP and take about two years. Part of the federal money will go towards consolidating bus stops at a new Takoma/Langley Transit Center at University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue ($12.3 million – photos HERE). That project will not only improve buses, but will pave the way for the Purple Line. According to BeyondDC, almost $1 million will go towards improvements to Route 1 between Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station and Laurel. It is unclear whether bus improvements will be like the “super-stops” (pictured above) envisioned in the 2008 City-contracted transportation study of Route 1 in College Park (RTCP discussion/analysis HERE). Another $1 million will support similar investments on University Boulevard in conjunction with the transit center:

  • Takoma/Langley Transit Center
    This bustling intersection is one of the busiest transit locations in the DC area, however bus stops are currently scattered far from each other at different locations around the intersection. The new transit center will consolidate all the bus stops at the intersection into one facility. This will eliminate the need for transferring passengers to cross wide and busy roads where there is an unfortunate history of vehicles colliding with pedestrians. This will also provide a permanent and visible transit amenity. Through new bus bays, pedestrian walkways, a full canopy, restrooms, lighting, and bus information, the transit center will ultimately provide a safe, attractive, comfortable and efficient facility for passengers and for bus transfer activities, and will also improve pedestrian safety, accessibility, and connections to bus services in an area that is largely low income and transit dependent.
  • U.S. Route 1 Bus Priority Improvements: Capital improvements proposed include queue jump lanes and transit signal priority at several intersections.
  • University Boulevard Bus Priority Improvements: Improvements include four queue jump lanes, transit signal priority at around 20 intersections, and a number of bus stop enhancements, such as the deployment of NextBus technology. This project will support planned light rail transit, such as the Purple Line, and will utilize the Takoma Langley Transit Center also included in this proposal.

Continue reading Stimulus Money Awarded for Route 1 Buses

Who is Dan Mote?

“Dan cut to the meat and found out what needed to be done, and if that meant ruffling up some feathers, that would be done, as well,” Lieu said. “He has definite feelings on how things should be done. Dan would pick a path and stick with it until it gets done. ~ former Mote assistant at UC-Berkeley

A virtual unknown on the east coast at the time, after 31 years at the University of California at Berkeley Dan Mote was asked to assume the presidency of Maryland’s flagship university in 1998. He served the university and the state phenomenally well in the proceeding 12 years. Yesterday he announced his retirement.

In 1997, UMD research dollars totaled about $155 million. Last year, thanks in large part to Mote’s leadership and fund-raising prowess, that number was $518 million. In 1998 the university ranked No. 30 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings among public institutions. Despite it’s proximity to Washington, at the time UMD held basically no national or international academic esteem. Since then UMD’s student applicant pool has increased by 78% and six-year graduation rates are at an all-time high. Last year UMD ranked No. 18 nationally and is now considered one of the world’s premiere research institutions.

Mote also oversaw a building boom that added the Comcast Center, the 130-acre M-Square research park, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, bioscience and engineering buildings and several other large academic halls that brought the campus into the 21st century. In 2000,  he appointed a steering committee to develop a modern master plan for the sprawling College Park campus which has proven extremely effective in encouraging the rational growth of campus. Later, in 2007, he signed the far-reaching Presidents’ Climate Commitment which led the way to an institutional plan for climate neutrality.

By many accounts, Dr. Mote’s take no prisoners leadership style has put UMD on the map and allowed the university to reach it’s full potential as an economic engine for the state. But all this success is tempered with plenty of failings. That same leadership style that brought the university out of obscurity oftentimes translated to intransigence when it came to consensus building and planning the built environment. As former Graduate Student Government President Laura Moore pointed out in yesterday’s Diamondback, Mote’s actions throughout the years have only deepened the surrounding community’s mistrust of the University:

“I think those relationships have become so bitter you almost have to have a person come in and make things better,” she said. “Neither side trusts the other, each blames the other for the bad things that have gone on in the history of the relationship. … I hope with a new person we can have a fresh start.”

When it comes to planning, gut instincts and shooting from the hip rarely lead to favorable planning outcomes. More often than not Mote’s stubbornness resulted in the further deterioration of the surrounding community. Rather than embracing the university’s shared destiny with College Park, Mote ran from it. He sought to build a bubble around the campus, alienated local leaders and consistently pursued the university’s narrow interest instead of its shared future with College Park.

Mote fought tirelessly for a four-lane, 1.5-mile “connector road” between campus and I-95 that will surely never be realized. Mote foolishly wrote a  letter to Maryland DOT in 2006 supporting Route 1 reconstruction only where it crosses University property despite the fact that much of university-oriented private development is taking place outside this area. He and his top administrators forged ahead with plans for East Campus with surprisingly little political adroitness and even less public participation. Perhaps Dr. Mote’s single greatest failure was his unwavering and completely illogical commitment to keeping the Purple Line off Campus Drive.

We can only hope that Dr. Mote’s replacement carries on his great legacy of fund-raising, capacity-building, and cheer-leading…. and leaves planning to the planners.

Peek at the New Journalism Building

knighthalllocationThe Journalism School’s $30 million Knight Hall, having originally been announced in 2006, is now complete. According to the school’s press release, a few spaces in the building won’t be quite complete later this semester but we’re happy to see UMD’s planned west mall (to take the place of lot 1) starting to take shape. It’s expected to be the first building on campus to be certified LEED gold for its many environmental features. Truly a word class facility for one of the nation’s top journalism programs.

Two criticisms:

  • For some reason UMD decided to maintain a rather sizable parking lot between the new building and the Benjamin Building (education school) directly to the east. This is blatantly contrary to the stated vision of the Campus Master Plan to make such intimate spaces pedestrian areas. It’s a strange juxtaposition when you consider the parking lot is adjacent to a very environmentally friendly courtyard next to night hall that uses recycled rain water.
  • Despite UMD’s expansive Campus Bicycle Plan only one rack was installed next to the building. It holds a measly 6 bikes. Either journalism students don’t bike to class or UMD-DOTS is not as fully engaged as they claim to be in the bicycle parking placement process.

Trolley Cars and Sandbags

The following was written by Dr. Ralph Bennett, Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and will appear in the March 2010 edition of the Faculty Voice. Dr. Bennett has been a tireless advocate of sane campus development for well over a decade and continues to serve the campus community in several capacities… including his recent appointment to Dr. Gerlald Miller’s ad hoc Senate committee on campus land use decisions.

The University of Maryland will be widely recognized as a national model for a Green University. In ten years time the University will have made substantial progress towards addressing energy issues. It will have slashed energy use, expanded green spaces, dramatically reduced its carbon footprint, and built and retrofitted buildings to strict environmental standards.” The University will complement these concrete actions with its teaching, research, and development efforts in energy science and policy, smart growth, environmental mapping, sustainable agriculture, and other fields.
~University of Maryland Climate Action Plan, 2008

Two years ago, I wrote on these pages about the University’s apparent delaying tactics in supporting and planning for the Purple Line (“Red Herrings and the Purple Line”, 2008). Since that time, the State has shown remarkable leadership in re-starting the project after years of delay. Light rail on a route which brings it through the campus has been designated as the Locally Preferred Alternative by Gov. O’Malley and endorsed by the Council of Governments and Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties – all milestones necessary to make the project eligible for Federal planning and construction money. And detailed design is well underway. Continue reading Trolley Cars and Sandbags

RTCP 2.0 and New Twitter Account

If you have been following the site for awhile, you probably have noticed that we’ve implemented a new theme over the last couple weeks. We’re very excited to bring all our old content and great new content onto a more modern blogging platform. Please bear with us as we work out some of the kinks and tweak the new layout. Comment on this post if you notice any problems. Also, join the conversation on our new twitter account!

City Could Lose $500k a Year If University Abandons Ticket Tax

Route 1 in CP

In case you missed it, the University is considering if a recent court ruling would mean it could be exempt from the city’s admissions and amusement tax. The tax is charged on admission to intercollegiate athletic events at the school and accounts for as much as $550,000 a year in tax revenue for the city… making up a significant chunk of the city’s annual $13.3 million budget.

One of the founding visions of Rethink College Park is to bridge the divide between the City and the University. Were this money to be diverted from city coffers and not replaced with a comparable funding stream, we feel this action would deal a devastating blow to already tenuous City-University relations.  Such skulduggery on the University’s part has no place in College Park…. especially at a time when UMD is trying to pick up the pieces of East Campus and needs the cooperation of local officials more than ever.

Instead of  trying to build a bubble around itself, UMD needs to embrace its shared destiny with the City. This latest development is nearly as foolish as Dr. Mote’s 2006 letter to Maryland DOT supporting Route 1 reconstruction only where it crosses University property. It’s a narrow-minded mentality that fails to recognize that College Park’s prosperity and future are inextricably linked with the University’s own vision to be a top ten public university. East Campus is a good start but that development alone will not be enough to unblight Route 1 and transform the city into a national model for smart growth. Realizing that vision will take a level of mutual trust and mutual respect between the City and University that we have yet to see.

From a Diamondback editorial on this latest UMD move:

With congested traffic and decrepit liquor stores, College Park is far from paradise. However, if university officials get their way, things could get much worse…………

Although we generally support efforts by university officials to save hundreds of thousands of dollars, trying to become exempt from the amusement tax would be insulting to the city and short-sighted.

Article on possible tax exemption from the Diamondback and Gazette.