Rectifying Route 1, A Pedestrian’s Perspective: The Intersection at Hartwick Rd

Last night, I crossed Route 1 at Hartwick Road. Once again, I risked my life just to cross a street.

We all know that Route 1 is an unpleasant experience for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. But the line between unpleasant and unacceptable is crossed at this intersection. The intersection lies along College Park’s main retail corridor and is within a quarter mile of UMD’s campus, an area where there is obviously a high level of pedestrian activity.

However, the State Highway Administration and elected officials have continued to disregard pedestrian safety to focus on autocentric policies and projects. What will it take for the city and state to wake up and realize this is a death trap? Do we have to wait until a resident or student is critically injured or killed?

Route 1 and Hartwick, no pedestrians signals
A lack of lighting, no pedestrian signals, no pedestrian islands, and speeding traffic combine to make this intersection extremely unsafe.

The Hartwick Road/Route 1 intersection lies within a stone’s throw of College Park’s main office complex, a CVS, a strip of shops and restaurants, a bank, and a hotel. It provides one of the most direct links between the Metro Station, the aforementioned amenities, and the university. In theory, this intersection should be the epicenter of pedestrian street life in our college town.

Unfortunately, the current design of this intersection completely disregards pedestrian safety in favor of allowing cars to plow through the middle of town at at least 40 miles per hour. There are no traffic islands to allow pedestrians to cross half way at a time and no signals or flashing lights to indicate to motorists that a pedestrian is attempting to cross this street. At night, the intersection is exceptionally dark and a steady flow of left-turning vehicles prohibit drivers from making eye contact with pedestrians.

When will this insanity end!?

A recent email exchange with city engineer, Steve Halpern, led me to believe that it will be later, rather than sooner. In his response, he stated that the State Highway Administration is in the design phase for the “construction of pedestrian ramps and the reconstruction of existing crosswalks.” While this is a start, it hardly scratches the surface in addressing the urgent and dire need to create a safe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists along Route 1. Unfortunately, Mr. Halpern’s email also stated that “pedestrian signal improvements will not be a part of this contract.” This means we are unlikely to see any type of traffic light at Hartwick Road any time soon. I fail to understand how this is not a priority.

While we wait for the long-anticipated pedestrian-safety improvements to Route 1, I continue to wonder what it will take for our local and state officials to wake up, recognize one of the greatest threats to our safety in College Park, and take action before it’s too late.

Purple Line Town Hall Meeting 2-1-11

3 Proposed alignments

From: President Wallace Loh

Dear University of Maryland Community:

Faculty, staff and students are invited to a town hall meeting, hosted by the President’s Office, to discuss the Purple Line light rail system.  As you may know, the proposed transit line would run between Bethesda and New Carrollton, passing through Silver Spring, Takoma Park, the College Park campus, and Riverdale.

The town hall will be held on Tuesday, February 1, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., in the Colony Ballroom, on the second floor of the Stamp Student Union.

A formal program will open the meeting, providing information about the federal competition for light rail funding, factors affecting the decision about the University alignment, and the pros and cons of at least two campus alignments.   A panel of experts will include representatives from the federal government, the Maryland Transit Administration, Hatch Mott MacDonald (engineering consulting firm), and our faculty and staff.  Don Kettl, Dean of the School of Public Policy, will serve as the moderator.  Following the short formal presentations, we will welcome questions, suggestions, and comments from the audience.
Because of limited time, we ask that questions and comments be kept to two minutes.

Proceedings of this Purple Line forum can also be viewed live via web stream (www.umd.edu), and a videotape of the meeting will be posted on the University website.  Those who cannot attend the meeting can also submit their comments to president@umd.edu.

We look forward to your participation in the town hall.

Sincerely,

Wallace D. Loh
President

UMD, Residents to Design Hollywood Gateway Park

Site of Proposed Hollywood Gateway Park

The city council recently voted to authorize city staff to pursue a grant funding design and building of the park at the intersection of Route 1 and Edgewood Road. Now, the University of Maryland has shown interest in working with residents to design the park.

Earlier, the North College Park residents formed a committee to study the proposed eco-park.

At the last month’s NCPCA meeting, committee chair Larry Bleau told members that the city’s Department of Planning, Community and Economic Development director Terry Schum was looking to see if the Landscape Architecture department at the University of Maryland would be interested in developing some conceptual designs as a class project.

“We have had a positive response (from the UMD) and are working out the details now. Having this as a class project is a good way to brainstorm conceptual ideas to see the range of possibilities before working with a design professional,” Ms. Schum wrote in an email.

“The class instructor has indicated availability in March 2011 but the logistics still need to be finalized,” she added.

A similar landscape architecture class project participated in North Gate Park. The project was coordinated by a city-university partnership; its final design was derived from a 22-student sophomore landscape architecture class competition.

Ms. Schum also said that the city’s planning department has met with an organization about the deconstruction or demolition of the site.

The property on the site was up for sale for over two years. The city purchased the property for $346,000, based on average of two appraisals. The city intends to redevelop the lot and spend $185,000, of which it will use $100,000 from a community legacy fund. The city of College Park has considered using a green job vocational training program to deconstruct the existing single family home and salvage building materials, but the timing and method for demolition has not been finalized.

Collecting College Park: The Weekly Link Round-Up

Collecting College Park took a brief hiatus between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but is back on track for 2011.

As usual, 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.

A short list of links today, to get back into the swing of things:

  • Green projects, transportation, and development top Northern Prince George’s agendas (Gazette): “Major issues in College Park will include the decennial reconfiguring of City Council districts to coincide with population shifts; a controversial proposal to build student housing at the site of the Maryland Book Exchange despite complaints from nearby residents; and whether new University of Maryland, College Park, President Wallace D. Loh will continue the administration’s opposition to a Purple Line light rail route through the heart of campus. City Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) said he will also push for expansion of neighborhood watch programs throughout the city, and improvements to North College Park’s Hollywood Commercial District. “We’d like to see some higher quality development there and businesses that better serve the neighborhood,” Wojahn said, adding that aesthetic improvements to the area could attract new businesses.”
  • Maryland making little progress with smart growth, study says (Sun): “In its most comprehensive review to date, the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research says development patterns, commuting times and other trends indicate that the state “has not made measurable progress toward improving its performance in many of the areas it says it cares about.” Gerrit Knaap, director of the center, said there are ‘a few bright spots,’ notably the preservation of land and recent promotion of development around transit stops in the Baltimore and Washington areas. But overall, he said, “‘he evidence suggests that we haven’t really bent the curves [of growth] in ways we hoped we would.'”
  • New bar may open in Thirsty Turtle space (Post, Gazette): “John McManus, owner of the Barking Dog in Bethesda, has expressed interest in opening a second location at 7416 Baltimore Ave. in College Park, formerly home to Thirsty Turtle. McManus is scheduled to go before the Prince George’s County Board of License Commissioners on Feb. 22 to request a liquor license for the property.” Read the full story at the Gazette.

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.

2010 in Review and a Preview of College Park in 2011

Yet another year has disappeared from the city’s screen. Residents and the officials of the City of College Park recently engaged in a lively discussion on what they think about the progress made in the past year and what to expect in 2011.

The city saw its leanest budget in years, due to thousands of dollars of loss in state revenues and property taxes. However, there were signs of progress that several city officials attempted to highlight.

Residents have mixed reactions to the slimmer funds and emphasized improvements.

The issue of public safety is still a hot-button issue. While Prince George’s County overall crime rates have seen a 35-year drop in the past year, the city has seen a modest rise in violent crimes such as assaults, homicides, and robberies. The overall violent crimes against persons, from 2009 to 2010, have increased 10%. Crimes against properties, such as burglaries during the same period have gone down 18.4%.

There are, however, attempts to improve public safety, especially in downtown area. “Crime is an issue, but as a result of a state grant we were able to install about 20 security cameras downtown at year’s end. In 2011 we will be able to judge their effectiveness and determine if such cameras are an economical substitute for adding more police,” said District 2 councilmember Bob Catlin.

There were no such security cameras for North College Park residents. The neighborhood was shocked by a sexual assault incident, wherein a 15 year girl was attacked by a stranger at the north entrance of the Greenbelt metro station in the summer of 2010. Though the suspect was arrested 3 months later, residents felt a security camera at the station entrance could have prevented the incident. The city will soon send a petition with over 300 signatures to WMATA asking for cameras to be installed at the station’s entrance.

There were concerns about police presence. PGPD’s District 1 had a new police chief in 2010 (Maj. Liberati) and  a new community liaison officer (Jaron Black). The new leadership is publishing crime reports for the north and the south areas of College Park on a weekly basis. They also host a weekly morning coffee club gathering to update neighbors about the crime incidents.

Those efforts did not stop some residents from expecting more. “The police still do not get out of their cars and their reports still include inaccuracies and people still have trouble with responsiveness. I don’t think we will see any real changes unless and until we have our own police force, “said Stephen Jascourt, a north College Park resident. However, Mr. Jascourt does think that some attempts have been made to increasingly involve the police in the community and get more information to the community faster.

Continue reading 2010 in Review and a Preview of College Park in 2011

UMD Releases Purple Line Consulting Study

UMD just released its much anticipated consultant study of Purple Line alternatives through campus. The study, produced by Hatch Mott MacDonald (HMM), a Canadian-based engineering firm, sheds light on UMD’s current feeling on a controversy that has consumed the campus for nearly four years.

We reported a couple weeks back about our cautious optimism that President Loh may be preparing for a workable resolution to the Purple Line debate. We’re still digging into the 169-page document, but its important to note up front that the document was commissioned well before Loh was tapped for his new post. Indeed, President Loh is scheduling an open forum on the alignment issue on Feb. 1. We commend him for this step. He has invited Garth Rockcastle, former dean of the UMD College of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, to speak on the benefits of the Campus Drive alignment, which Rockcastle believes in completely. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will speak as well. We are unsure who else will attend, but aside from MTA, we expect the majority to be campus administrators and staff.

Some of the items in the report are quite technical, but overall the study seems to suggest that UMD continues (at least as far as we can tell) to grasp at straws: Choosing to focus primarily on pedestrian safety and unworkable south campus alignments rather than the realistic and fundable Campus Drive alignment.

MTA’s written response towards the end of the report is quite revealing. The fact that they had a limited role in the production of this document only confirms the report’s single-purpose nature: to poke holes in the Campus Drive alignment while building the case for the report’s pre-determined conclusion. HMM ignores that a Preinkert Drive tunnel is neither prudent nor feasible…and never mentions that such an alignment is fundamentally unattainable from a funding perspective. UMD has succumbed to one of the most pervasive pitfalls in all realms of transportation and land use planning: The lure of fantasy alternatives and “visions” has thus far obscured the path to pragmatic, achievable compromise.

HMM should have at least acknowledged that Campus Drive is the most likely alternative to reach fruition. In ignoring this basic fact, UMD missed a great opportunity to suggest ways to tweak the Campus Drive alignment to make it more compatible with the pedestrian activity on campus. Pedestrian safety is a legitimate concern, but the issue can’t be adequately adressed without a true partnership between UMD and MTA.

Despite a few promising steps towards collaboration along the way, UMD long ago forfeited any real opportunity to take on a leadership role. Astoundingly, UMD’s consultants now underestimate the time and resources MTA has invested in studying various proposed alignments which UMD itself put forward. We hope that President Loh can help reverse the unconscionable course that his predecessor set and forge a new transportation future for the the state of Maryland’s flagship campus.