City’s First Bike Sharing Program Shows Success, Promise

Though a lack of funding recently prevented our city from riding on a local bike sharing program, there is a good news to celebrate elsewhere.

Last month, a team of recent UMD graduates presented their class project in a manner that would likely earn them an A: they launched their first revenue-generating service of weBike, a community bike program that operates the country’s first station-less model of bike sharing.

weBike was created three years ago while teammates Allie Armitage, Brad Eisenberg, Yasha Portnoy and Vlad Tchompalov were taking a course at the University of Maryland with Professor of the Practice Dr. Gerald Suarez. The class, “Systems Thinking for Managerial Decision Making,” became a platform for the team to craft their class project into an ideal version of bike transportation in a college community. When class was over, the students felt their idea had enough value to pursue weBike’s implementation on campus. Upon receiving encouragement from Dr. Suarez, they launched a prototype in College Park and now operate weBike as an incorporated company.

weBike’s model of bike sharing is based on an SMS text message platform, which enables riders to rent and return bikes through their cell phones. Riders can check out a bike out by sending weBike a text to receive a code to unlock it; the weBike fleet is uniform and easy-to-recognize. They can then ride wherever they need to go within a given period, and when they’re finished, return the bike and text weBike to complete the transaction. Through this simple platform, users have access to a bike to get from A to B without the worry of theft, maintenance or the hassle of where to store a bike in a small apartment. Users also save time waiting for public transportation and avoid the hefty fees to park a car on campus.

The first official system of weBike is currently being operated at the Mazza GrandMarc Apartments, a complex located on Route 1 just 1.5 miles north of the UMD campus. Residents at the building have quickly picked up on the value of this flexible form of transportation. “Usually I use weBike three or four times a week,” says MGM resident Nicolas Patrick. “It feels so rewarding cycling to get a couple groceries or to pick up a take-out.” Riders also use the bikes to travel on Paint Branch Trail directly to the University of Maryland campus. “I use bikes almost every day of the week,” comments international student Francesco Scorcelletti. “weBikes have been my only vehicle for [my stay in] the US. I prefer by far to ride around the trail whenever I need rather than wait for the bus.”

Because the cost to offer the system is paid for by the Mazza GrandMarc management, usage of weBike is free for all residents. The system launched in early September, and since then around 85 users have registered for the program, over 300 rides have been logged, and the system has sent and received over 2,500 text messages. “The feedback we get from people using the system is very positive,” says co-founder and marketing director Allie Armitage. “It’s exciting to see how quickly weBike being adopted. Knowing that something we created is valuable to others is incredibly rewarding.”

weBike’s business model is “less expensive” compared to other public bike sharing programs, claims Armitage. weBike systems are composed of equipment (bikes, locks, accessories), technology (text message server, online applications, back-end database management system) and a maintenance platform (monitoring bikes and keeping the fleet in shape). “Because there are no stations in our system, the total cost to operate weBike is significantly less than many others that currently exist, like Captial Bike Share, where each station runs ~$35k. Our systems are usually paid for by the municipality, and they can choose how to fund the system. Ideally, funding is completely covered so it’s offered for free to users (as it is at Mazza). However it depends on the financial status and vision of the municipality.”

The team is excited to grow to new locations in the future and is actively pursuing opportunities to expand. Armitage said the team would love to expand the system in College Park–particularly to the metro station. “There are so many residents who would benefit from bike sharing, and it would be a huge step towards sustainability for the community. Last year we met with the City Council in College Park and received some positive feedback on weBike, but found no real leads towards implementing a service,” she said.

They’ve come a long way from the classroom, weBike’s founders still have high goals to reach in making bike transportation as reliable and convenient as, say, the metro. Most importantly, they believe in what they’re doing; as their slogan says, they’re out to “make shift happen.” It just goes to show that when passion is the driver behind the wheel(s), the results will be powerful.

Making College Park A Bicycle Friendly Community

Commons Bikes

The League of American Bicyclists, the nation’s premier cycling advocacy organization, recently released its list of Bicycle Friendly Communities, recognizing municipalities and states that have shown an across-the-board commitment to making their communities bikeable. In the Washington Metropolitan Area, many communities are dedicated to making cycling a viable form of transportation—the state of Maryland was ranked 11 out of 50 in terms of Bicycle Friendly States and Baltimore has achieved the bronze designation for its efforts. Other college towns like Bellingham, Washington, Boulder, Colorado, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina are rated. However, College Park seems to be getting left behind; it’s unclear whether or not the city has even submitted an application. Using the League’s criteria, let’s consider College Park’s prospects of becoming a bicycle friendly community.

Engineering. In terms of bicycle friendly infrastructure, the university falls short. The campus is nearly impenetrable by bicycle, relegating cyclists to sidewalks and paths better suited for pedestrian usage. There is a dearth of bicycle parking near campus buildings. Bikes are instead haphazardly locked to trees and fence posts, while the inconveniently located cycle parking in Regents Drive and Mowatt Lane garages goes unused. The university is making attempts to rectify this situation, allowing bike commuters to request new bike racks and incorporating biking into the update of the Facilities Master Plan, yet as Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Frank Brewer readily admits, “Biking hasn’t really been a part of the culture at Maryland because we don’t have enough paths, racks or storage areas.” It will take a great deal of work to change this culture.

Education. University officials are making big strides in education. First, the Department of Transportation Services is in the process of redesigning its website with a hearty cycling section, including information on convenient routes, safety regulations, and local bike shops. They have also launched bikeUMD, an initiative that uses social media and on-campus events to connect with and educate students. While bicyclists are becoming more knowledge about their resources and rights, drivers have been left out of this educational process. It takes two to share the road; without motorists being well-versed in cyclists’ rights, cyclists cannot safely transverse the city.

Encouragement. Through bikeUMD’s presence at on-campus events, including its first Bike Week last spring, the university administration has been working to encourage more students to ride their bikes. However, as The Diamondback reports, there is a gender gap in the on-campus cycling population; only 20% of riders are female. The university has yet to address this issue. Without advocacy efforts to engage half of the campus community, it is hard to imagine cycling on campus increasing.

Evaluation and Planning. The university has worked to make bicycling a priority of future development by hiring a new bike coordinator, working bicycling into the Facilities Master Plan, and funding the Campus Bicycle Study. Yet, there are still a few roadblocks to comprehensive bicycle planning in the city. The City of College Park’s strategic plan initiated much need collaboration between the university and the city government on smart growth initiatives. With plans for a “city-wide bike route,” it seems local officials are moving in the right direction, yet the strategic plan has been deemed “weak” and “vague” by some city officials. Without clear steps for implementation, the strategic plan will remain a “dream book.” Further, the university is known for taking one step forward and two steps back on cycling. While the administration originally planned to spend $1 million on biking over the next three years, it has only budgeted $100,000. As we’ve previously reported, despite the economic climate, the university must present a sustained commitment to making College Park more bicycle friendly.

Enforcement. While College Park has followed a few of the League’s enforcement regulations, such as increasing its use of bicycle patrol officers, its attempts to maintain the rights and responsibilities of all road users has come with mixed results. Cyclists are frequently targeted with harsh fines for unlawful behavior, yet much of this behavior spawns from poor cycling infrastructure that makes following laws unsafe. For instance, one student recalls receiving a ticket for running a red light to escape fast-paced Route 1 traffic. Instead of educating both drivers and cyclists on how to best share the road, local police have resorted to the easy solution of “threatening” cyclists. It seems that College Park has faltered in “[treating] bicyclists equitably.”

In terms of on-campus cycling, the university has made education and encouragement a clear priority. Their commitment is commendable, but if cyclists have nowhere to ride, increased advocacy becomes pointless. A commitment to advocacy must be matched with a commitment to infrastructure. Planning must be met with implementation. Until then, College Park will remain unfriendly for bicyclists, falling behind its local peers.

RTCP Contributor Featured On Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local

Rethink College Park contributor Marcus Afzali’s piece, “Will U-Md.’s new president get on board the Purple Line?” is live on the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local blog went live late last week.

An excerpt:

“And the city’s future relies in part on the completion of the Purple Line — and, in particular, whether Loh will support running the light-rail transit line down Campus Drive, the state’s preferred alignment. The city of College Park, Prince George’s County, the University of Maryland Student Government Association and local transportation advocates have all strongly promoted the Campus Drive route for years. The university administration alone has stood against it.”

Be sure to click through here to read the read of the post and leave a comment if you are so inclined.

Afzali also represents District 4 on the College Park City Council.

Quick Updates and News on College Park Developments

STATUS OF DEVELOPMENTS

DOMAIN AT COLLEGE PARK

Conceptual Site Plan CSP-09002
Preliminary Plan 4-09039

Status: The Planning Board reviewed and approved Domain’s Conceptual Site Plan and Preliminary Plan with conditions.  The Detailed Site Plan for this project has been accepted by M-NCPPC.
Location: 7720 Mowatt Lane (southwest corner of the Campus Drive and Mowatt Lane intersection).
Developer: Hanover Company.
Description: Mixed-use residential with 258 multi-family units and 11,400 square feet of retail.

MOSAIC AT TURTLE CREEK

DSP-080001

Status: The developers of this project are requesting a departure to reduce the number of required parking spaces by 365 from 700 to 335.  The Planning Board hearing is tentatively scheduled for December 9, 2010.
Location: Approximately 800 feet southwest of the Campus Drive and Mowatt Lane intersection.
Developer: Owner Entity Fund II, LLC.
Description: Multi-family residential containing 300 housing units.
Other Info: The developer proposes to develop intergenerational housing based on a concept that builds on the strong attraction that alumni have to their alma mater. Mosaic’s Detailed Site Plan was approved by the Planning Board on October 30, 2008.

MAZZA GRANDMARC APARTMENTS

DSP-04049

Status: Collegiate Hall broke ground in November 2008. Mazza is now completed and students have been moving in since mid-August.
Location: 9524 and 9528 Baltimore Avenue.
Developer: Collegiate Hall Properties.
Description: 231 units (630 beds) of under-graduate and graduate student housing.

STARVIEW PLAZA

DSP–04078

Status: The Starview, which is being constructed as a two- phase project, has been renamed the Enclave.
Developer: Starview Plaza, LLC.
Description: Mixed use; commercial and residential; 177 units (662 beds) of student housing, 9,487 square feet of ground floor retail, and a 355 space parking garage.

UNIVERSITY VIEW II (UNIVERSITY OVERLOOK)

DSP-2027-3

Status: The University View II building is now completed.  In mid August, the View 2 reported leasing up 100% of its student units for the 2010-2011 school year; 11,600 square feet of the project’s ground floor retail is available for lease.
Location: 8300 Baltimore Avenue
Developer: Clark Construction
Description: Multi-family residential; 154 units (516 beds) of student housing and 11,600 square feet of ground floor retail.

THE VARSITY

DSP-07062

Status: Potomac Holdings expects the Varsity to be completed for leasing by the fall 2011 semester.  Looney’s Pub will be the anchor tenant for the Varsity’s ground floor retail with the remaining space expected to be taken by Royal Farms, Izzie’s Bagels and a Chinese carry out.
Location: 8150 Baltimore Avenue
Developer: College Park Gateway Properties/Potomac Holdings
Description: Mixed- use residential with 258 units (901 beds) of student housing and 20,019 square feet of ground floor retail.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND EAST CAMPUS

Status: The University of Maryland is in exclusive negotiations with the Cordish Companies as Master Developer for the East Campus project.
Location: Southeast corner of the US1/Baltimore Ave intersection with Paint Branch Parkway at the main entrance to the University of Maryland.
Developer: To Be Determined.
Description: The University hopes to build a 500- seat music hall run by the Birchmere, market rate and graduate student housing over 100,000 square feet of retail, and a conference hotel. Included in the 100,000 square feet of retail will be a grocery store. The first phase will occupy 22 of the 38 acres that comprise the redevelopment site.
Other Info: Cordish plans to partner with Clark Construction and the Design Collective to design and build the project.  The Cordish will also be holding an East Campus community forum on Tuesday November 30, 2010 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.  The event will be held in Ritchie Coliseum to solicit community input on the preliminary concept plan to be presented.

7501 BALTIMORE AVENUE (MARYLAND BOOK EXCHANGE SITE)

Status: The property has been purchased and is in design phase.
Location: 7501 Baltimore Avenue; intersection of College Avenue and Baltimore Avenue.
Developer: Ilya Zusin/Josef Mittlemann.
Description: Developers are proposing student housing, UMD affiliated and graduate housing, and 15,000 square feet of retail for this 2.5 acre site. Although the Maryland Book Exchange is expected to be re-located during construction, it plans to occupy part of the retail space when the project is completed.

NEWS

BERWYN WAREHOUSE DISTRICT
Strickland Properties is selling its portion, the Kidwell Addition, of the Berwyn Warehouse District. Located at the end of Berwyn Road, adjacent to MARC and Green Line Metro rail tracks, the Kidwell Addition consists of 8 separate buildings on 5.43 acres. The buildings comprise 80,000 SF of office/ warehouse space. The sale price for the property is $4,599,000. For more information, contact Chris Marshall of Keller Williams at 410-972-4023 (office) or 410-808-1877 (cell.)

NORTHGATE PARK
Located on the west side of Baltimore Avenue, between Lakeland Road and Melbourne Place, Northgate Park is now under construction. The 4.344- acre urban park is also adjacent to the Varsity student housing project, which is also under construction. The developer of the Northgate Park is the University of Maryland.

Collecting College Park: The Weekly Link Roundup

Welcome to Collecting College Park, a new weekly feature here at Rethink College Park. On Friday mornings, you can expect to see this weekly news roundup of stories relevant to development, planning, transportation, and quality of life around the city and the campus.

  • Bar Talk: A Q&A with Mark Srour, Owner of Cornerstone Bar & Loft (Patch): Patch’s Lauren Evans has a great interview Srour and chats with him about the state of bar-going in College Park. Srour says, “I mean, the house parties are always going to be there. You’re away from your parents, you’re going to start drinking, or whatever. It’s just part of growing up. Hopefully the future of College Park will get better and more exciting for the college kids, and hopefully I’m there to help out.”
  • A shadow of its former self: Turtle showed promise before fall (Diamondback): Another post-mortem for the fallen bar: “As a new business in downtown College Park, its goal was difficult but crucial: to strike the balance between a family-friendly atmosphere and a fun nighttime spot for students to drink and dine. ‘The only way to survive is to cater to [residents] too. … You have to make sure you don’t specifically target one market. That’s how I’ve stayed in business for so long [at Alario’s],’ Turtle owner Alan Wanuck told The Gazette before the establishment opened. But Turtle fell from grace a short three years after opening when an employee opened the doors a little too wide and admitted two underage police aides Sept. 23. Last Wednesday, Wanuck handed over Turtle’s liquor license permanently after it was revoked a few days earlier.”
  • Route 1: Bankrupting Local Businesses (Diamondback): A Diamondback opinion columnist humorously raises the issue of high rents in downtown College Park: “Earlier this year, one of my favorite restaurants, Chicken Rico, closed for seemingly no reason. It couldn’t have been because of the food  — the food was delicious. Like really, really good. And while the customer base (me) was admittedly small, it (I) was very loyal. But like so many other businesses on Route 1, Chicken Rico eventually disappeared. Since its demise, I’ve heard rumors about high rent, lack of student interest and a landlord who may or may not have been Lord Voldemort. But none of that matters to me. This is bigger than Chicken Rico. There have been other places, too. This is very much a trend.”
  • City waits to take stand on high-rise (Diamondback): “In last night’s city council work session, Stullich presented a letter from the Old Town Neighborhood Association outlining aversion to the project by non-student residents of southern College Park — those who live in homes between downtown and the Metro line. Stullich used the letter to advocate for the council to side with residents: in a 24-0 vote last month, the neighborhood association opposed the project, citing concerns about a possible increase in noise and other disruptions that many residents felt would occur if hundreds of additional students moved into the area. But other council members, who said they understood residents’ concerns, decided they wouldn’t take a stance on the project until the developer made detailed plans for the apartments available to the public.”
  • That’s it for this Friday! If you’ve got tips, suggestions, or pointers for next week’s edition of Collecting College Park, leave them in the comments or email Alex at lxdlnbc@gmail.com.

    Greenbelt Metro Deal Leads to Johnson’s Arrest

    The bribery related charges surrounding the Greenbelt Metro station development could be one of the reasons why the current county executive Jack B. Johnson, who will be leaving office after this term,  was arrested yesterday.

    WTOP reported that a source close to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore says the investigation is linked to a developer who sought to involve Johnson in a land deal at the Greenbelt Metro station. The investigation is also linked to the transfer of a residential property involving Johnson, the source says.

    As reported by The Washington Post:

    “Since taking office in 2002, Johnson has been linked to investigations by various authorities, including a pay-to-play accusation involving a county contract to lease office space and a broad FBI investigation involving a massive development project near the Greenbelt Metro station that Johnson had strongly backed.

    “Both investigations have involved a number of Johnson associates either requesting payment or receiving strong government support. A Washington Post investigation of Johnson’s first term in office found that he had given 15 friends and allies 51 county contracts totaling nearly $3.3 million.

    “In all, Johnson has come under scrutiny for county development deals worth millions of dollars that have gone to people with ties to the county executive. Several of those people had little or no development experience or were given no-bid contracts, according to government records.”

    The U.S. attorney investigating the case called it the “tip of the iceberg” and part of a broader corruption investigation in Prince George’s county.

    You can see the original Jack and Leslie Johnson affidavit here.

    Collecting College Park: The Weekly Link Roundup

    Welcome to Collecting College Park, a new weekly feature here at Rethink College Park. On Friday mornings, you can expect to see this weekly news roundup of stories relevant to development, planning, transportation, and quality of life around the city and the campus.

    This week saw plenty of coverage on the rise and fall of the Thirsty Turtle. See the following links for details:

    • Thirsty Turtle Surrenders Liquor License (Patch): “According to a representative from the liquor board, the attorney representing Turtle owner Alan Wanuck submitted a three page letter citing the reasons for surrendering the license. The representative declined to release the contents of the letter before the hearing tonight. The College Park City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday night in favor of revoking the bar’s license.”
    • The Whipping Boy (Diamondback): The student newspaper editorializes on Turtle’s closure: “Although reaction to the liquor board’s decision has been split, with some students mourning what will likely be the bar’s demise and others lauding the decision as an act of justice, both sides seem to miss the broader point. While other bar owners, such as Mark Srour of Cornerstone Grill and Loft, may lambaste Turtle’s recklessness or crow the fall of a major competitor, it would be naive to think that other city bars are any less guilty than Turtle. Both Cornerstone and R.J. Bentley’s passed police’s test with “flying colors” and have not been issued liquor citations in more than a decade, but it is no secret that each and every bar that has ever made a dime in this city has done so with the help of underage patrons. And while bar owners may deny such claims as hyperbole, students know it to be true. Yet despite this equal claim to guilt, Turtle has become the scapegoat for university and local officials. To single out Turtle alone for somehow being the kingpin of underage drinking in the city completely ignores much larger issues.”
    • Thirsty Turtle Closed Last Night After Stabbing, Repeated Violations (TBD): The closure’s ripples have hit the DC news outlets, too. TBD’s four-page story on Turtle (tweeted as “the short, brilliant life of the Thirsty Turtle”) is, perhaps, a cultural history of the bar: “Turtle, located at 7416 Baltimore Ave., didn’t make it to its third birthday. It closed Wednesday, less than a month short. It’s odd to think of a such short-lived business as leaving a legacy, but Turtle did. It’s a complicated one, too: For some Maryland students, it became a mecca. Others considered it a bar of last resort, a place so disgusting nothing could drag them there. For adults, Turtle was a nuisance. The students who loved Turtle went there to fulfill their God-given right as college students — to get irresponsibly drunk and make the types of poor decisions irresponsibly drunk people make. Via cheap drinks and an anything-goes vibe, Turtle served up the fun, stupid part of the college experience. The objective behind a visit to Turtle was to get drunk, laid, or both. Providing a place to do that was the essence of Turtle’s appeal.”
    • Jamaican Restaurant Moves Into Perk House (Diamondback): Has all this talk of the bygone days of $2 pitcher nights exhausted you? Maybe some jerk chicken is the solution. About a mile past campus up Route 1, Jamaican restaurant The Jerk Pit has relocated to the former site of the College Perk coffeehouse. If you’ve got a craving, go ahead and make the trip—it’s a less visible storefront than the restaurant’s former strip mall digs. “The Jamaican restaurant is moving nearly a mile north of the Campus Village shopping center to the building at the corner of Route 1 and University Boulevard. That location was once occupied by the College Perk until its owner lost the property to foreclosure in January 2009. The restaurant, whose original storefront closed Sunday, will be reopened by tomorrow or Friday to offer its Jamaican jerk chicken dishes to walk-in and delivery customers, said Lisa Rose, who opened the restaurant in 2005. The new facility will offer a 50-percent expansion, a more visible location, a private dining area and outdoor porch, she said, providing patrons with a more authentic, laid-back island feel.”

    That’s it for this Friday! If you’ve got tips, suggestions, or pointers for next week’s edition of Collecting College Park, leave them in the comments or email Alex at lxdlnbc@gmail.com.

    College Park Resident Survey Now Available!

    The City of College Park Resident Satisfaction Survey is back!

    Tell us what you think about where you live in the 2010 City of College Park Resident Satisfaction Survey.

    What is the purpose of the survey?
    The City uses the Resident Satisfaction Survey as a tool to see how well we serve you through City services. The last survey, completed three years ago, provided us with valuable input that helped develop our budget and make service improvements. This year, the survey is ONLINE! This allows you to access the survey at anytime and to get your results to us faster.

    How can I complete it?
    Go to
    www.collegeparkmd.gov/survey to complete the survey starting November 3, 2010. Please complete only ONE survey per household. You can save and exit your survey and come back anytime to complete it.

    What if I want a paper version of the survey?
    Give us a call at 240-487-3501 and request a survey in either Spanish or English and we’ll send one to you.

    Complete your survey TODAY! All surveys, online and paper, must be submitted by January 10, 2011.

    For questions, contact Chantal R. Cotton at
    ccotton@collegeparkmd.gov.

    For more information and survey results, go to the City Website.

    The Enclave at 8700—formerly Starview Plaza—launches website

    Just weeks after the launching of The Varsity website, The Enclave at 8700, formally referred to as Starview Plaza, has launched its website. The Enclave at 8700 is located just south of Metzerott Road and will feature a mix of 2, 3, and 4 bedroom suites. Flashy pictures and a cheesy slogan, “Explore the Evolution of You,” echo the marketing campaign of The Varsity (however, The Enclave has yet to launch its own YouTube page).

    Also of note is The Enclave’s attempt to attract students from other area universities such as Catholic, American, and Howard: “College Park, Maryland is conveniently located between Washington, DC and Baltimore, both of which are only a quick Metro train ride or drive away…University of Maryland joins 171 other nearby colleges and universities in Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia all of which are welcome to stay at The Enclave at 8700.”

    The website’s renderings and recent pictures from the site indicate ground floor retail at sidewalk level, large windows, and opportunities for outdoor seating. This should provide a great recipe for the beginning of active street life and pedestrian activity along Route 1. Like The Varsity and already complete, Mazza Grandmarc, The Enclave will offer students an opportunity to walk or bike to campus via the Paint Branch Trail or ride a shuttle down Route 1. Because of this, the developers of The Enclave were able to arrange a 20% reduction in parking spaces for the site.
    starview half
    starview1