At the city council meeting last Tuesday, council members Marcus Afzali and Patrick Wojahn were able to get Route 1 Bus integration/consolidation on the agenda for the next City-University Partnership meeting. The idea originated from a 2008 City-contracted transportation study of Route 1 in College Park (RTCP discussion/ analysis HERE), which envisioned bus “super stops” around development nodes on Route 1, common branding of service across the three area transit providers, and other transportation demand management strategies designed to reduce congestion and increase accessibility. Unfortunately, thus far, the only tangible thing that came out of that $150,000 consulting report was a reworking of the Prince George’s TheBus Route 17 along Route 1 which provides a miserable 40 minute headways (wait time between buses). City efforts for more systematic coordination of transit service have thus far been thwarted by limited funding, WMATA intransigence, and lackluster participation by UMD. With the impending completion of two more student housing projects on Route 1, however, there may be light at the end of the tunnel… and soon.
As currently planned, two new separate Shuttle UM routes serving the Varsity and Starview Plaza student housing developments opening this fall. When you consider the already completed University View and Mazza GrandMarc, that means by August there will be four developer-funded routes servicing each development individually for an annual total payment of about $500,000 to Shuttle-UM for four projects housing about 3,500 student. Alone, each route has (or will have) pretty bad headways (U-View and The Varsity- 10-20 minutes, Mazza 25-30 minute, Starview somewhere in between), especially for nights and weekends. Three or even all four routes could easily be consolidated to provide much more frequent service along most of Route 1 (3-5 minute headways during peak hours, roughly 10 minute headways for nights and weekends). Such a service could form the backbone of north-south transit service along Route 1, which is already available to non-UMD affiliated city residents.
The idea behind transit coordination and consolidation is simple. People do not care what name is on the outside of the bus. They care how much it costs, where it goes, and how quickly they can get to their destination. Unfortunately, the current haphazard provision of bus service in the city means that people have only a limited notion of the services available. Transfers between service providers are almost unheard of. Students ride Shuttle-UM, area residents/faculty/staff ride WMATA and Shuttle-UM, and pretty much nobody rides (or has even heard of) TheBus. The concept behind bus super stops, is that a few high profile bus shelters along a corridor could raise the profile of transit and help people understand and take advantage of all transit options and transfer opportunities regardless of transit operator.
Up until now, there really has not been the density of passengers needed to justify frequent bus service along Route 1. Indeed, UMD scuttled service from Ikea to downtown Hyattsville two years ago for lack of ridership. However, with the completion of several student housing projects all along the corridor (each paying Shuttle-UM to provide individual service to campus), there are the makings of regular transit service again. Eventually, beefed up bus stops sporting real time displays could further complement already high student trasit ridership from these new dense, transit-ready development popping up all over town. We attribute the high ridership of the University Town Center and University View routes to student finances, the price and difficulty of parking at UMD, and the relatively close proximity of these projects to campus. There is lots of potential. Unfortunately, August is just three months away and this conversation has not even really begun. The council meeting last Tuesday reflected the limited understanding that city elected officials and planning staff have of the opportunities as well as the nascent stage that the conversation is at despite the three years that have passed since the Route 1 Transportation Study.:
It seems like there are three areas emerging as candidates for super stops. Each of these locations is ideal not only because the development community is already building and required to pay Shuttle-UM for service there, but also because they are primary crossing points for MNCPPC’s trail network on the other side of Paint Branch Stream. They are also located on signalized intersections where pedestrians can cross Route 1 relatively safely. Furthermore, each area is zoned as an activity node and slated for dense, mixed-use redevelopment (as depicted to the right):
- The North Gate Area (roughly centered around #1 Liquors)
- Starview Plaza @ Route 1 & Metzerott Rd. (perhaps in front of Jiffy Lube)
- Mazza GranMarc @ Route 1 & Hollywood Rd. (with a convenient turn around if service does not continue on to Ikea)
WMATA and TheBus could probably be cajoled to at least service these super stops; further improving already respectable headways that a consolidated Route 1 Shuttle-UM service would provide. Unfortunately, without decent crosswalks on Route 1, it is somewhat difficult to get people to and from the stops safely. Most development activity is occurring on the west side of Route 1. Since the vast majority of riders will wait at stops to head south towards campus, it makes most sense to invest in super stops on the west side of Route 1. Northbound transit service would drop passengers on the east side of the roadway. Few transit riders would wait for northbound buses there, but safe access to the west side of the highway is essential to attracting an sustaining reliable bus service.
On a related note, in February 2010 we reported that almost $1 million in federal stimulus funds will go towards bus prioritization improvements on Route 1 in Prince George’s County. The money was awarded to as part of USDOT’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Competitive Grant program– a $1.5 billion slice of the stimulus package designed to invest in innovative, multi-modal, and multi-jurisdictional transportation projects. Hopefully Shuttle-UM can partner with WMATA and the Maryland Department of Transportation to take advantage signal prioritization being implemented at traffic lights throughout the area.