Imagine: College Park/University of Maryland Arboretum

College Park has the fortune of having a unique system of trails and open spaces running through and around the city. However, there are some instances where this system of open spaces serves to divide the community rather than bring it together.

One such instance is the large, wooded open space directly north of Paint Branch Parkway and east of Baltimore Avenue. This land sits at the geographic heart of College Park and has the opportunity to serve as a gathering place for local residents and the University community. Unfortunately, this land is vastly underutilized due to difficult and unattractive pedestrian and bicycle access and a lack of visibility.

College Park Arboretum
Open land that could be used as a world-class arboretum

During my frequent runs and bicycle rides around Lake Artemesia, I am amazed by the lack of University students taking advantage of this amenity. I have come to the conclusion that the few number of students who utilize Lake Artemesia’s pathway and surrounding trail system is driven both by a lack of perceived safety and simply being unaware that such an amenity exists.

With so much beautiful open space directly adjacent to the University and many of College Park’s neighborhoods, it is unfortunate how cut off this land is from campus and surrounding neighborhoods, especially Old Town. Unfortunately, physical barriers, such as dangerous Route 1 and a sound wall along Paint Branch Road, along with psychological barriers, such as a perceived lack of safety, are currently discouraging more recreational use of this area. Additionally, though the university sits less than a mile away from Lake Artemesia, the distance seems much further due to the convoluted path system and a lack of sight lines between the two destinations.

A little planning and creativity could go a long way in creating a world-class arboretum right here in College Park. The solution to increasing usage lies in creating a highly pedestrian-oriented system that emphasizes safety and the natural beauty of the Paint Branch stream. The first step is creating a safe pedestrian crossing across Route 1 near Campus Drive. This includes curb bumpouts and pedestrian islands to reduce the distance and time necessary to cross this extremely busy road. Second, a pedestrian countdown signal and shorter light signals will emphasize an intersection that is geared toward people, and not only cars. Third, a wide, relatively straight, and well-let pathway that follows the Paint Branch Stream will shorten the distance between the university and Lake Artemesia, provide sight lines, and go a long way in increasing the perceived and real safety of this area. Finally, a high-class pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks will avoid the unsettling concrete tunnel that currently traverses below. This bridge will enhance visual interest, improve safety, and provide a new perspective on the lake and surrounding open space. In the long run, more amenities such as an outdoor amphitheatre, exercise equipment, a flower garden, and nature center could further enhance the attractiveness and desirability of the arboretum.

Early morning at Lake Artemesia
The Dallas Arboretum

It is imperative that the university and city join forces in creating unique and desirable assets throughout College Park. We can hope than new University of Maryland President Loh will play an integral role in building this strong relationship. An enhanced and improved public space between the university and Lake Artemesia could create a much-needed amenity, serving both permanent residents and students. An arboretum could go a long way in making College Park more than just “a livable community”; it could propel it to be a top-notch college town and a regional attraction.

With the coming of the Purple Line and East Campus, College Park has the opportunity to capitalize on improved accessibility and attractive new development and provide another highly desirable amenity and reason for people to visit and move to College Park. It’s time for College Park to step out of the shadows, build upon its natural assets, and create a highly pedestrian-oriented public space that will serve as a community gathering place and transform College Park into the college town that it should be.

Third Time’s the Charm? For Bikesharing Efforts in College Park, Maybe.

Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare has been wildly successful. College Park is attempting to tie into the same system (photo via Flickr user DDOTDC).

After at least two failed attempts to roll out bikes on city streets, the city of College Park is trying once again to secure funds for bikesharing—this time, on a much smaller scale. The city is planning to apply for the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grant program, which is due on March 4, 2011.

City staff have proposed requesting matching grant funds totaling $66,000 to initiate a pilot bikesharing program that would build on the existing Capital Bikeshare program in Virginia and the District of Columbia. Proposed locations for bikeshare stations are downtown, at the College Park Metro, and in the Hollywood Commercial District.

Funds would be matched with $66,000 from developer contributions ($10,000 from the Varsity project and $31,000 from the Domain project) and the City’s FY 11 Operating Budget ($25,000), according to city officials.

Early last year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) failed to win $10 million for expansion of its then-fledgling bikeshare program. The City of College Park and the University of Maryland had jointly applied for the grant through the federal stimulus program TIGER.

The original TIGER application asked for 2,250 bikes at 225 stations in D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, Hyattsville, and National Harbor, in addition to the 1,000 the District had already funded. A second similar application also failed to secure funding from the USDOT last fall.

The university is also looking at bikesharing opportunities, as part of the update to its Facilities Master Plan.

Despite College Park’s lack of an “official” bikesharing program, weBike, an independent project, rolled out its own version of bike sharing between the Mazza apartments and the university’s campus last year.

Councilmembers Criticized by WaPo for Opposing Baker Reform Bill

Photo of Rushern Baker by Flickr user herrvebah

When County Executive Rushern Baker introduced a reform bill to “clean up the county council,” most councilmembers criticized it. Members became worried about potential loss of vote for several years on development projects requested by campaign contributors, as the Gazette reported.

Baker introduced the bill after former county executive  Jack B. Johnson was arrested on a series of dramatic corruption charges. His wife and current council member Leslie Johnson was also arrested after her husband was recorded by the FBI telling her to flush a $100,000 check down the toilet and hide $80,000 in suspected bribes in her bra.

Baker’s first reform bill would ban council members from voting on any project request from a developer who has contributed to their campaign or slate in the past three years.

The second bill would prohibit councilmembers themselves from calling for review of a development site plan. According to a news release from Baker, reported in the Gazette, the second bill was drafted “to address prior instances of ‘pay to play’ where council members have ‘called’ up cases for purposes to seek concessions from developers.”

Councilman Will Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville and Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro have opposed the proposed bill, while others also have criticized Mr. Baker for “lavish spending” during his inauguration sworn-in ceremony as county executive.

Council members’ opposition to Baker proposed reform plan however drew a sharp criticism from the Washington Post. In an editorial last Friday,the Post wrote:

The truth is that Prince George’s recent ethics record is so horrendous—and the resulting failures of economic development have inflicted such long-term damage—that radical surgery is required. Prince George’s needs to go the extra mile to prove, most of all to its residents, that it’s cleaning up its act. And yes, it needs to go further than its neighbors. If the council blocks Mr. Baker’s reforms, it will have itself to blame for the county’s continued second-class status and subpar economic performance.

The “call up” issue in the bill would prevent the tactics council members used to use to stymie projects. There are many different kinds of “pay to play.” Some for campaigns, others are shakedowns to make politicians look good to their constituents. Critics say such tactics ultimately harm the development review process.

State Delegates will be voting on the proposed bill. So far. Dels. Justin Ross (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville and Barbara Frush (D-Dist. 21) of Beltsville have both expressed support for the legislation. A public hearing on the bill will be held on the bill coming this Saturday (Feb. 12).

At UM Forum, Same Issues as Usual Plague Purple Line’s Progression

Purple Line 5

I wasn’t able to attend last Tuesday’s Purple Line forum, as I was happily riding a crowded Amtrak train. But the university helpfully posted a high-quality video of the event online. You can watch it here. If you don’t have  2 hours to spare, here’s what you missed:

This forum had a lot in common with  similar forums in recent years. There was a large turnout—the Purple Line is something that the community feels strongly about. As usual, MTA’s preferred Campus Drive surface alignment was pitted against the latest version of the university’s preferred anything-but-Campus-Drive alignment. In this case, a new incarnation of the southern Preinkert Drive alignment that includes a tunnel that starts near the Chapel and runs under Morrill Quad. As usual, audience input was overwhelmingly skewed in favor of the Campus Drive alignment. In the discussion period 10 people spoke in favor of Campus Drive, and 3 against (a further 6 raised other issues).

There were also some clear differences. There was a wider range of voices, including former Gov. Parris Glendening, who was Prince George’s County Executive when Metro’s Green Line alignment was being disputed, and Beth Day of the Federal Transit Administration, who offered some sobering truths on what it takes to compete successfully for federal funding. The event was kicked off by new UM president Wallace Loh, who continues to give no indication that he shares Dan Mote’s very strong views on Purple Line routing. It may be no accident that the university did not make the case for the Preinkert alignment as aggressively as it has in the past. There was a presentation from HMM, the authors of the university’s not-so-neutral recent report on the competing alignments, but it was not clear whether they were representing the current university administration, or Dr. Mote’s shadow. Overall, the tone of the meeting seemed less contentious than previous meetings.

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