Purple Line Redux, Redux

Looking up the quad at Morrill Hall

Unsatisfied with the Maryland Transit Administration’s preferred Campus Drive alignment, several sources have told us that President Mote is urging the agency to consider yet another route. This new, southern route (blue line on the interactive map below) would run along Campus drive by the Architecture Building, then south on Preinkert Drive, then would veer eastward to climb the steep hill along the southern edge of the historic Morrill Hall (1898 – second oldest building on campus), then down the steep quad. At the bottom of the quad (pictured above), near the Skinner Building, the route would then run along the street between Marie Mount Hall and the Chapel. From there the route would descend Chapel Field, pass directly north of the Rossborough Inn (circa early 1800s) and would wriggle its way across Route 1 and into East Campus.

View the interactive map

Pres. Mote’s latest alignment, while an improvement over his Stadium Drive proposal (orange), poses numerous and perhaps insurmountable problems. For one, the route requires several steep grade changes, especially around Morrill Hall, which crowns a hill 167 feet above sea level (for comparison, Route 1 lies 80 feet above sea level at the Ritchie Coliseum). Though steep grades are possible to navigate, such a route could require costly tunneling or the digging of a trench that would present a depressed gash everyone wants to avoid.

Furthermore, Pres. Mote’s latest route would disqualify Campus Drive from the state- and Federally-funded streetscape improvements it desperately needs. Most importantly, this new route cannot compete with the Campus Drive alignment’s chief virtue of serving the center of campus.

The centrality of a transit stop increases the convenience to riders and thus maximizes ridership. Campus Drive by the Student Union sits between North and South Campus providing a convenient location for all.* Why else do so many ShuttleUM routes serve Stamp?

Though it is good policy for governments to consider the wishes of stakeholders, of which the University is an important one, Pres. Mote must keep in mind that the Maryland government does not exist solely to indulge each of his new alignments. Preliminary engineering studies are costly and further delay the project. Pres. Mote can suggest a web of new routes, but it is unlikely he will discover a new alignment that beats the MTA’s current proposal in convenience, respect for federally protected historic resources, practicality, and cost-effectiveness. Pres. Mote might find it more fruitful to submit to the MTA his own suggestions for improvements to the Campus Drive alignment the state has had on the books for several years.

It is notable that brief UMD advocacy for a Knox Rd/Mowatt Lane alignment met immediate and universal criticism. it was a non-starter for local politicians who rightly demanded that the Purple Line must be routed through East Campus if the university ever wants to see that development built. Hence administrators came up with this latest iteration…

We always encourage your feedback and this topic certainly elicits much of it. What do you think of this new alignment? What advantages and disadvantages does it provide over the other two routes?

*Centrality is particularly important since Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow at the October Purple Line community meeting stridently demanded a transit line convenient to the Comcast Center and Byrd Stadium. Certainly she would maintain the consistency of her position and oppose this new, southern route since it would prove inconvenient not only for regular commuters, but especially so for game fans.

Sidelining the Metro: How Fear, Prejudice, and University Inaction Kept the College Park Metro Station away from Campus

The thousands of University of Maryland students, faculty, and staff who use Metro often wonder why the College Park Metro Station is located inconveniently far away from campus. A 1994 graduate study (PDF, 15 MB) led by Urban Studies and Planning Professor William Hanna came to the conclusion that during the Metro’s planning stages in the early 1970s, then-President Wilson Homer Elkins virtually ignored the alignment discussions and tacitly discouraged alignments that were too convenient to campus. The report asserted that Elkins’s lack of enthusiasm for Metro resulted from his uneasiness with metropolitan Washington and is linked with his lack of enthusiasm for racial integration.

Students, faculty, and staff often dread the long bus ride to the Metro station and wonder why it is so far away. The Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) actually considered several different station locations for College Park, including one under Route 1 at the Ritchie Coliseum and one on campus near what is now the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. However, as the current controversy over the Purple Line shows, political realities often force governments to compromise the convenience of public transit to appease oppositional constituencies—such is the nature of democracy. For different reasons, each alignment for the Green Line upset a different constituency in the surrounding neighborhoods. The default alignment included the current location of the station and though the Maryland DOT was actively considering alternatives that would be closer to campus the then-Administration remained publicly silent on advocating a closer location, leaving the debate to various NIMBY groups.

In fact, Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation at the time noted the current location’s “poor service to the University” and referred to his department’s ridership numbers that estimated the number of people that would board at each proposed station location. Obviously, the more convenient a station is to where people live and want to go, the higher the ridership. DOT’s damning conclusion shows that the public and then-President Elkins knew that the current station would be the least-used possible location for a Metro station in College Park:

1973 Projection of Boardings

We can never know for certain why Elkins failed to advocate one of the several proposed campus stations, even though such a decision would prove crucially important to the University’s future. Though these campus locations were shown to be more convenient and more popular among riders, the Hanna report asserted that convenience of transit was not Elkins’s priority at the time. The report suggested that racial animus (or at least ambivalence) subtly motivated the Elkins administration regarding enrollment and even regarding Metro planning decisions. On the matter of race, the report states:

There was never a George Wallace blocking the entry for African-Americans to the College Park campus. However, it is clear that during the years of Metro decisionmaking, there was no welcome mat. A distinguished [and unnamed] campus historian put it this way: “President Elkins didn’t want undesirable elements on campus, which [to him] meant black people from Washington.” Our research clearly indicates that some campus officials and others feared that a Metro link between the District and College Park would make it easier for African-Americans to come to campus. That result was contrary to the political will of the campus at the time. (PDF pp 54-5)

The report furthers discussed the fact that in 1973, though the Administration officially opposed racial segregation, “a federal civil rights agency conducted an evaluation of Maryland’s efforts, concluding that little had been done to foster [racial] integration.” (PDF p. 55)

The report links Elkins’s lack of support for a convenient station with a fear of racial conflict. The proposed Green Line would link College Park with places such as Columbia Heights and U Street, which had recently burned in the civil disorder that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968. The report posited another cultural motivation for the Administration beyond that of race. The University of Maryland serves the entire state of Maryland, but is situated in the Washington metropolitan area. The University’s rural, agricultural roots, the report asserted, contended with the University’s suburban metropolitan location:

Metro was seen as a threat to the non-urban character of the campus, and especially to the separation of the campus from urban ways and people. It is, therefore, easy to understand that a source of further stress and disruption was unwelcome. Only with the arrival of President John Toll, who grew up in Washington metropolitan area, did the position of the campus change. (PDF p. 58)

Indeed, how times have changed. The University of Maryland now graduates more African Americans than does any other top-25 public university in the nation. Furthermore, the University’s recruitment efforts these days often tout the proximity of Washington as a benefit of attending Maryland and the current Administration voices its support for better connecting the campus with the rest of the region through the Purple Line.

Though the Administration now supports the Purple Line, President Mote opposes the Maryland DOT’s current alignment for a light rail station in front of the Stamp Student Union. He is urging the state to change course and head for Stadium Drive instead. Mote fears that the line would degrade the currently worn down state of Campus Drive, even though any Purple Line construction would bring millions of dollars in streetscape improvements. His opposition is also based on a fear that a light rail train will cause damaging vibrations to nearby scientific equipment, even though modern light rail vehicles are quieter (and most likely produce less vibrations) than our current noisy diesel Shuttle UM buses. President Mote also states the unwarranted fear that train drivers will run down students, even though private cars on Campus Drive today are a greater threat to pedestrian safety than are trained rail operators who can simply apply the brake as with any other vehicle.

President Mote’s opposition to the Maryland DOT’s current Purple Line proposal for a stop on campus (above) is reminiscent of Elkins’s lack of support for a convenient campus station. Though President Mote is certainly not motivated by fear of racial conflict, he is motivated by other fears—fears of the new and unfamiliar—that prove similarly unconvincing. The President believes his fears, which he has not adequately proven in public, warrant the University to yet again forgo the convenient public transit the State of Maryland is offering and that students, staff, and faculty deserve.

> Read the study yourself: Metro Stop? Metro: Stop! The Politics of Transportation Planning (.PDF, 15 MB)

Maryland’s LEAFHouse Scores Second in Architecture

Maryland's LEAF House at the 2007 Solar Decathlon on the National Mall

(Fawna Xiao of the University of Maryland is ready for the next round of visitors at the 2007 Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 15. The Maryland team took second place in the architecture portion of the competition. Credit: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)

The U.S. Department of Energy inaugurated its biennial Solar Decathlon on Friday, bringing online a neighborhood of twenty solar-powered houses on the National Mall. The University of Maryland School of Architecture’s entry, the LEAFHouse (interior pictured above), already picked up second place in the architecture contest, which compared the houses on firmness, utility, and delight. (Ironically, though the competition highlights new technology, the architectural criteria are derived from three ancient Roman architecture principles).

The decathlon will judge the houses in nine more categories, the results of which will be tabulated on Friday, October 19. A quick tour of the house today proved that environmentally conscious architecture can also be beautiful.

Though the school’s 2005 entry was sadly scrapped after the competition, we certainly hope this year’s superb entry will return home to College Park intact for for public display and enjoyment.

Website: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
Schedule: The Solar Decathlon houses are open for public tours through Saturday:

  • 11 am – 3 pm on weekdays (all houses will be closed Wednesday).
  • 10 am – 5 pm on Saturday.

Location: On the National Mall, south of the Museum of Natural History, north of the Smithsonian Castle.
Metro: Smithsonian

Doug Duncan on East Campus

Terp Weekly Edition, a radio program on WMUC, aired a 3.5 minute interview (3.1 MB, mp3) with Doug Duncan last week discussing his goals for East Campus.
In the interview, Duncan held Silver Spring as a model for redevelopment in College Park. The downtown Silver Spring development, which he helped orchestrate when he was Montgomery County Executive, transformed the downtown from a mere “pass through” to a real destination. Duncan implied that the main goal of the East Campus development project is to give the city a strong town center, since, as he aptly put it, “College Park does not have that.”

Duncan is optimistic on the town’s potential for attracting business, since the “market is already in place.” When confronted with criticisms that downtown Silver Spring is bland and dominated by national chains, Duncan acknowledged the need to build a town with “unique character” and a “healthy mix of local and national” businesses.

Whether or not this mix comes to fruition is hard to tell, but when glancing at the project’s list of retail tenants, there are quite a few familiar faces.

Gas and MARC-Up

A departing Green Line train and the parallel Camden Line on a snowy night.At the behest of Gov. O’Malley, the Maryland Transit Administration has drawn up plans to increase MARC train service throughout the state. The plan, announced in the Post and the Baltimore Sun, would increase passenger capacity on MARC’s three lines. Here in town, the Camden Line (right) is slated for only a few upgrades, including longer trains, more trains, weekend service, and extensions to Northern Virginia and Bayview (near Johns Hopkins in Baltimore). The MTA has even bigger plans for the parallel Penn Line, which is the more-popular and electrified line connecting Union Station and Baltimore via New Carrollton, BWI, Odenton. The state envisions that line becoming more “transit-like” with more trains, longer trains, late evening service, express trains, and better connectivity with the Baltimore Subway.

Though the cost of these enhancements is estimated to run into the billions, there is no word yet on how the state intends to finance the expansion. Add these expenses on top of the state’s expected $1.7 billion budget gap and the $40 million in unfunded transportation projects and the task looks even more challenging.

Last week we noted the conspicuous absence of a gas tax increase in Gov. O’Malley’s latest tax plan. However, today the Sun is reporting that O’Malley is proposing a separate plan to index the gas tax to the inflation in the cost of highway construction materials such as concrete and steel. At the current rate of inflation, that would amount to an annual increase of about $0.008 per gallon.

Maryland’s GOP caucus in Annapolis opposes the increase on the grounds that gas taxes should only fund road projects and not transit. The Sun explains:

Half of the transportation trust fund goes toward mass transit, which is of little benefit in the rural communities that most Republicans represent, [Senate minority leader] Brinkley said. Creating a dedicated funding source for mass transit, paid for by the communities that use it, would free up enough money at the current gas tax rate to maintain and expand the road system, Brinkley said.

Though Mr. Brinkley’s concerns of transfer payments are valid, one should note that expanded transit service reduces the burden on the roads and is thus similar in effect to an increase in highway lane miles. Furthermore, to peg the gas tax as a wealth-transfer scheme from rural to suburban and urban areas is absurd: the wealthier, traffic-clogged suburban counties (Montgomery, P.G., Howard, Baltimore) are the communities providing the tax subsidy to fund projects that rural Maryland counties cannot afford by themselves.

Of Photos, Protests, Partnerships, and Public Places

Public-private partnerships have become increasingly popular methods of financing infrastructure and redevelopment projects. The structure of such partnerships is simple: the government supplies the land and a private company builds and maintains a highway or development that benefits the public. Not too far from College Park, the Commonwealth of Virginia has struck deals with private companies to build and maintain highways in exchange for toll revenue (e.g. the Greenway, I-81). Montgomery County has partnered with private developers to create large projects to revitalize downtown Silver Spring (Ellsworth Drive) and downtown Rockville (Rockville Town Square). Here in College Park, the East Campus redevelopment project is a public-private partnership between the University and the Foulger-Pratt development company.

Town Center RulesPublic-private partnerships are good vehicles for providing public goods with little or no expense to the taxpayer. These hybrid partnerships become controversial, however, when private interests conflict with public interests. One such controversy erupted in downtown Silver Spring this summer. The project, developed as a public-private partnership between Montgomery County and the Peterson Companies, is centered on Ellsworth Drive, a street that now serves as a pedestrian mall in downtown Silver Spring. Guards of the developer allegedly stopped a resident from taking photographs on the street. The developer’s assertion that it had the right to limit photography on the street provoked the ire of local photographers, who asserted that Ellsworth Drive is a public place where photography cannot be prohibited outright. This is an especially relevant contention since Foulger-Pratt, the developer chosen for East Campus, is part of the development team that tried to limit photography on Ellsworth Drive.

With symbolic timing, dozens of photographers gathered on Ellsworth on July 4th to assert their right to photograph in a public place. Cleverly, the developer moved quickly to diffuse the situation by holding a photo contest the same day. The Montgomery County Attorney eventually determined that the provisions of the public-private partnership classified the streets and plazas as “Public Use Space,” (Sec. 59-A-2.1, Zoning Ord.) rendering the controversy moot. In a public place, photography, leafleting and demonstrations are a public right (even if permitting procedures are required). The controversy ended quickly as the terms of the partnership clearly stated the public’s continuing claim to the space.
Continue reading Of Photos, Protests, Partnerships, and Public Places

A Dance with Death: Pedestrian Safety on Route 1

Route 1 in CPIn preparation for tonight’s Route 1 Corridor Transportation Study special meeting (7 pm, College Park City Hall), we will share with you the design tips we gleaned from a lecture we attended last night on pedestrian safety through good street design.

Last night’s lecture Designing Complete Streets: How to create safe and efficient streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers hosted by the National Capital Planning Commission featured a presentation by Michael King, a principal at Nelson\Nygaard planning consultancy. King is widely considered the nation’s preeminent pedestrian crossing expert and has worked on projects for various cities worldwide.

King provided some good insights on designing streets to enhance pedestrian safety, a concern particularly relevant to Route 1 in College Park. Since issues of pedestrian safety usually involve walking along streets or crossing streets, King’s design advice applied mostly to crosswalks and sidewalks. As more development projects emerge in College Park, citizens, planners, and developers should keep in mind these recommendations for sidewalk design:

  • Sidewalks should provide at least three feet of passing room at all times (even the occasional utility pole reduces the width of the passing room).
  • Sidewalks should be intuitive and straight (whimsically serpentine walkways may amuse newcomers, but become a nuisance to regular users).
  • Parked cars, planters, trees, or a strip of grass should buffer all sidewalks from travel lanes.
  • Bus shelters should never be placed so as to obstruct or divert the flow of pedestrian traffic.

As for crosswalks, King made several good points:

  • Each crosswalk should connect on opposite sides of the street to ramps at least as wide as the crosswalk itself. “Why should we need to trip?” King asked, referring to the unnecessary curbs.
  • Wide medians actually slow drivers (as a psychological reaction) and provide adequate crossing refuges for slower pedestrians such as young children and the elderly. (Fortunately, the state’s plan for reconstructing Route 1, as we have reported, includes tree-studded medians.)
  • Though one car may stop for a pedestrian at a non-signalized crosswalk (as is the law), other drivers will often dart around the stopped car, nearly running down the crossing pedestrian who has the right-of-way. Thus, even mid-block crosswalks require traffic signals.
  • Crosswalks should line-up with existing sidewalks and pedestrians paths; pedestrians rarely detour from the most direct path to cross at inconveniently placed crosswalks.
  • Unnecessary delays annoy pedestrians just as much as drivers; crosswalk signals should be designed to eliminate any unnecessary wait-time for pedestrians. A long wait-time for a short cross signal should earn an intersection a failing “level of service” grade with government transportation authorities.

This last point is especially useful for College Park, where light cycles are unnaturally long for both pedestrians and drivers and where the need to press a button to elicit a crossing signal further frustrates the hundreds of pedestrians who cross Route 1 downtown each day. The lights on Route 1 are timed clearly to prioritize traffic passing through College Park to the detriment of the pedestrians (and drivers) within College Park. Facilitating cross traffic and accounting for pedestrian behavior are necessary steps in transforming Route 1 from the its current role as “traffic-sewer” into a pleasant pedestrian-friendly boulevard that all residents desire.

King, like many other architecture lecturers, sprinkled his presentation with photo examples from all over the world, including such places as China, Brazil, Mexico, the UK, Cape Town, Seattle, New York, DC, and— drumroll— College Park! Unsurprisingly, both College Park examples featured bad pedestrian designs, including a picture of an overly wide driveway entrance on Route 1 as well as the ramp between eastbound University Boulevard and southbound Route 1. King used car-pedestrian crash studies to show how the ramp design enables car travel at speeds that would surely kill a pedestrian in a collision at the poorly placed crosswalk (below, green arrow) on the ramp. Thus, even New York-based architectural consultants are well-aware of the sorry state of Route 1! Hopefully, tonight’s Route 1 Corridor Transportation Study special meeting at City Hall at 7 pm will help bring these desperately needed improvements closer to fruition.

Developer’s East Campus Vision Emerges

Potential StreetscapeFoulger-Pratt and Argo Investment Company, the University’s selected development partner, presented their vision for East Campus last night. The presentation included conceptual drawings from their winning proposal, details on the number of housing units and amounts of retail space as well as answers to audience questions. Though they stressed that their plans are only preliminary conceptual drawings, the crowd was nonetheless impressed.

The developers were optimistic about the site’s development potential, commenting that the University’s own market research underestimated the possible retail opportunities in such a project. They added that College Park has “a strong underlying market of students,” thus better insulating the town from the fluctuating demands of business cycles. On that note, they explained that non-student housing (that is, all housing except the planned graduate housing) was necessary on the site to ensure a year-round demand for a strong retail sector.

To allay concerns that East Campus will replicate the flaws of the developer’s Silver Spring project, the development team asserted that the special circumstances of college towns and of the current investment climate are far more amenable to mixed-use development. They explained that when the Silver Spring project was planned, mixed-use suburban development was considered too risky; fortunately, attitudes have since changed. “We’re not looking to redo Silver Spring here again,” they said, possibly referring to the previous project’s lack of housing. Bryant Foulger added that they are careful not to make East Campus look like an ersatz Disneyland, as many critics have described their work in Silver Spring.

Fortunately, the team also said it was conscious of the community’s desire to retain and recruit local businesses to the development as it had done for its Silver Spring project. Their drawings, though purely conceptual, show the proposed Purple Line running through the site.

For our readers who demand numbers, we can tell you that the Foulger-Pratt vision includes:

  • 2000 housing units (not to be confused with beds)
  • 400,000 sq. ft. of retail space (For comparison, the McKeldin Library’s seven floors and basement add up to about 200,000 sq. ft. total)
  • 350 new beds on North Campus to compensate for the loss of Leonardtown.

So when is the groundbreaking? Though today’s freshmen probably won’t get to stroll through an East Campus plaza until their graduate years, the time line depends heavily on the approval process, which involves future public input sessions, City input, County approval, and University approval. Only once the developer clears these hurdles can they start to build the college town the University of Maryland deserves and desperately needs.

Check out these conceptual images! (N.B. These are conceptual drawings, not the final plans).

Proposed East Capus Plaza behind existing power plant

First East Campus Presentation This Wednesday

Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and Rethink College Park are hosting the first information session on East Campus since the selection of Foulger-Pratt as the University’s development partner. In attendance at tomorrow’s information session will be V.P. of Administrative Affairs Doug Duncan, and both Richard Perlmutter and Bryant Foulger of Foulger-Pratt.

This event will be the first in the series of public input forums the University will hold to discuss East Campus.
Though this event is aimed at the Greek community, all are welcome to attend.

Wednesday, April 18 at 7:00 pm
Sigma Phi Epsilon
8 Fraternity Row

We hope to see you there.

Keeping Tabs on Shuttle-UM

Shuttle-UM announced Friday that its shuttle tracking system is now fully operational. Called Shuttle Trac, the system allows for real-time bus arrival information accessible via telephone, the web, a plasma screen in the Union, and bus-shaped monitors located at many bus stops.

Though the system’s inaugural run back in November suffered from serious glitches, the system’s manufacturer has since refined and fixed the technology.

Our own non-scientific observation by the Leonardtown Community Center has shown the system to be fairly accurate with its predictions.