“We really just want to see what sort of problems would occur so it could inform our thinking in the future,” Millree Williams, University spokesman
Students and Purple Line supporters made sure their voices were heard loud and clear at a meeting yesterday afternoon to gather input on the impending test closure of Campus Drive to all vehicles including nearly all public transit this summer. Those in attendance seemed to overwhelmingly share RTCP’s view that the attempt to create a “traffic-free, pedestrian-friendly zone” on Campus Drive would reduce campus accessibility and safety, suppress transit ridership in the long run and directly contradict the Campus Master Plan.
The only positive comments on the administration’s plan amounted to support for closing the road to cars. Both Frank Brewer, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management, and David Allen, Director of the Department of Transportation, fielded tough questions for nearly 1.5 hours. RTCP was extremely impressed with the thoughtful student comments and their steadfast support for smart and sustainable campus transportation policy. Many in attendance scoffed at administrators and were both unsatisfied with the responses and shocked by how poorly thought out the plan seemed to be. We were taken aback by how ill-prepared these two top University administrators were for the questions and couldn’t help but feel bad that they had been forced to toe an indefensible line for their superiors (Dr. Wylie and Mote).
We’re hoping to get a full video of the meeting, but until then here are some of the major holes in the plan that were pointed out at the forum:
- Dan Reed from Just Up the Pike made a number of excellent points about the WMATA buses he frequently rides to campus from Montgomery County. His comments led to a Brewer admission that UMD has no transit planners on staff and that no transit planners whatsoever have weighed in on their proposed trial run. Reed forced Allen to reveal that UMD has no idea what the impact of the proposal will be on WMATA buses who will be diverted onto Regents Drive along with cars. Allen claimed that WMATA bus specialist Larry Glick thinks the diversion will improve route speed and reliability. RTCP’s own communication with Glick revealed that he’s much more interested in testing how the removal of cars from Campus Drive will improve WMATA’s existing routes.
- It was revealed that this plan was thrown together over the last 4 weeks after it was realized that this summer would be the only chance to get a test run complete before a Campus Master Plan update begins in the fall. No student input was sought in the plan until an outcry from student leaders led to this forum.
- Brewer and Allen repeatedly claimed that the administration was only carrying out the recommendations of Campus Master Plan. A number of students came with copies of the plan in hand and showed how closing Campus Drive to transit was in direct contradiction to implicit guidance and explicit goals of the Campus Master Plan. Jesse Yurow, a junior at UMD, pointed out that the bus closure ignored two key goals of the Campus Master Plan including: “maximize use of alternatives to driving to campus” and “improve the campus’ integration into the regional transit system network.” Brewer’s response was: “OK.”
- Allen stuck to a strict reading of the master plan, which envisions a internal shuttle loop that would utilize Campus Drive, but one that UMD has not seriously considered implementing. The internal shuttle loop is very roughly approximated by the Campus Connector North and South routes that will stay on Campus Drive in the proposed pilot. Unfortunately, that 10-year-old vision requires the vast majority of commuters who take buses in from off campus to transfer to buses once they get on campus. The proposed pilot has those transfers occurring at Regents Drive Garage… the Campus Connector North and South routes only come every 30 minutes (in the summer and all year round as things currently stand). The Campus Master Plan pre-dates the entire Purple Line planning process (see below) and doesn’t anticipate the tremendous growth in bus ridership from developer-funded Shuttle UM routes to private student housing projects.
- Brewer repeatedly said that the bus closure had no connection whatsoever to the Purple Line. According to RTCP conversations with Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) Purple Line planning team, UMD has not contacted them about this bus plan. Brewer’s claim and the UMD failure to contact MTA are fairly extraordinary seeing as it is absolutely essential that Shuttle UM buses operate in conjunction with the Purple Line. I posed the question: “Why are we relegating buses to the edge of campus when today they are precisely where they need to be to work in conjunction with the proposed Stamp Student Union Purple Line stop?” I pointed out that Brewer falsely cited the existence of “3 proposed alignments through campus. ” In reality, there is only one achievable alignment and two (fantasy) alignments supported by UMD which the MTA has categorically said are unsafe and too expensive to ever build (see below).
- A number of people expressed concerns about safety, paratransit services and accessibility for the handicap.
- There was a lot of discussion about how UMD intends to run a valid test since the transportation picture in the summer is so much different than the fall or spring semesters. Indeed, on a regular school day in the fall or spring, 750 buses and 5,500 cars traverse the roadway. In the summer 1/3 of the buses (half of all Shuttle-UM service) are not in operation and far fewer cars are on campus. So we’re doing testing with fewer buses and cars, but forcing the vast majority of vehicles onto Regents Drive. Brewer and Allen acknowledged that Regents Drive could not take the brunt of bus diversions during the regular semester and there could be “perhaps as many as four” final campus transit hubs if they pursue the long term closure of Campus Drive to transit. They also acknowledged that future alternative trials like this could be run before any full-fledged implementation.
RTCP feels it would make far more sense and be a much more valid test to proceed with just the car closure. Perhaps UMD could make the closure permanent in the fall if transit service improves and those in the campus community who drive adapt quickly to the changes. The current plan is basically like throwing darts blindfolded. There are no independent variables. The University is just tossing the chips around the table with no real plan or vision for how things will look in the end and no real internal expertise to speak of. The results of this “test” will prove of questionable value because the proposed bus routes bear little resemblance to the routes that will actually be implemented in the end. Furthermore, it’s not sound transportation planning to disperse transit hubs around campus, complicate and repeatedly change routes, and force riders to transfer. Regardless, all of it will have to be moved back to Campus Drive if and when the Purple Line is built.
The Washington Post published a story on the bus controversy later in the afternoon, but didn’t report on the forum since they weren’t there. Still there are a number of quotes that are worth pointing out:
“A lot of people view it as relegating transit to the edge of campus,” said David Daddio, editor of the Rethink College Park blog.
“I think they’ll try to use [a future pedestrian mall] as justification against a Purple Line alignment” there, said senior Joanna Calabrese, director of environmental affairs for the student government.
University spokesman Millree Williams said:
“There is no preemptive strike” against a Campus Drive route. “The Purple Line has not been part of these discussions.”
Michael D. Madden, project manager for the state’s Purple Line study probably sums it up best;
“If [the Purple Line] is not on Campus Drive, we don’t know where else on campus it could be,” Madden said. “We’ve emphasized that the Purple Line needs to be fully integrated” into university plans.
When will the University administrators come to the same conclusion countless others already have that the proper location for transit is on campus is Campus Drive? It also happens to be the only place the Purple Line can be built. Taking into account reality and facts are normal principles of academic inquiry. When will the administration accept the realities of the Purple Line planning process, embrace the advice of transit planners and integrate their transportation plans with MTA? When will they stop paying lip service and actually champion the Purple Line?