Traffic: Is it worth the worry?

On Thursday night, I listened to a few of the comments in front of the Prince George’s County Planning Commission regarding the proposed development of the Cafritz site. Not surprisingly, many of those opposed to the current version of the project cited increased traffic as their central argument. While listening, I couldn’t help but wonder why some of us are so terrified of traffic that we are willing to let a great opportunity pass us by.

One opponent, a resident of University Park, explained how her trip to pick up her children at a school in the Berwyn neighborhood in College Park has taken up to 30 minutes (a distance of about 2 miles) when University of Maryland is in session. Because of her concern about additional traffic, she is willing to forgo the opportunity of having a highly regarded grocery store and new development within walking distance of her home.

While I agree that 30 minutes is a long time to travel two miles in a car, I suspect that this is not an everyday occurrence. However, let’s assume the development is built as planned and she must endure the burden of additional time to pick up her children. Is she worse off? I argue no.
cafritz property 2011
To start, on nice days, she has the opportunity of hopping on a bicycle and riding to school with her children . . . or letting them go alone if they are old enough. While Route 1 is big and wide, crossing at a signalized intersection is simple enough and the College Park Trolley Trail leads directly to the school. It’s a perfect opportunity to get some exercise and enjoy the day.

Now, let’s think of the benefits of having a quality, mixed-use development within walking distance of your home. Here’s a scenario as an example. Mom finds out she is out of milk while making dinner. She doesn’t want to leave hot items on the stove so she sends her children out to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery. The children can walk to the store and return within 15 minutes. The children have the opportunity to gain a little independence and self-confidence while Mom can continue with dinner preparation.

Here’s another example. It’s Saturday morning and in a few hours you are heading to a friend’s house for an afternoon cook-out. You have several errands to complete before joining your friends in a few hours. You hop on your bike and ride to the new town center at the Cafritz property. You arrive within 10 minutes and park your bike out front of the coffee shop. You sit down, relax, read the newspaper or chat with a neighbor, then walk to the grocery to pick up some tasty dip for the cook-out. You also pick up that tape measure you’ve needed at the adjacent hardware store. You hop back on your bike and head home. You were gone for an hour and you still have time to get some things down around the house.
Palo Alto bicycle commuter
I’m sure everyone can think of another example that may be relevant to their life. To me, the benefits are clear. You don’t have to spend 20 minutes driving over to Silver Spring, searching for a place to park, then driving all the way home again. Instead, you get some exercise, finish your errands quicker, and have a much more enjoyable morning.

Some of you may still be thinking, “But, what about the traffic?” Here is my response. Whether it be in a car, on a bus, or on the platform waiting for the train, traffic (congestion) is a part of life when you live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, and it will continue to be so as the region grows and College Park and Route 1 redevelop. For those of us living adjacent to a variety of goods and services, we will have the benefit of a variety of transportation options to reach our destinations (walk, bicycle, transit, car).

If we don’t want traffic to dominate our lives, we have to start thinking about transportation and land use differently. Driving should take a back seat to walking and cycling for shorter trips. Public transportation can take care of longer trips within the metropolitan area. With this mentality, we can create more vibrant communities and worry less about the traffic on our roads.
Which is Most Efficient?
In the case of the Cafritz development, rather than fret about traffic, think of the benefits of having more amenities closer to home. Rather than fight to deny opportunities for new development, fight for better public transportation and sidewalks. When you have better access to goods and services closer to your house, you will have to drive less. You can spend more time doing the things you want to do, rather than sitting in traffic.

Cafritz development informational meeting – Tuesday Nov 1

An informational meeting on the proposed development at the 36-acre Cafritz property will take place Tuesday, November 1 at the College Park City Hall (4500 Knox Road). As most readers are aware, the Cafritz property is located adjacent to Route 1, immediately south of College Park and east of University Park. The meeting will include a presentation on the latest development plans from the Cafritz developers and provide an opportunity for a public Q&A.

wholefoods

The updated site plan (above), including a commitment from Whole Foods, has sparked discussion and debate throughout the region and in surrounding areas including the Calvert Hills neighborhood of College Park as well as the cities of University Park and Riverdale Park. While the prospect of a Whole Foods has garnered lots of positive attention, the most recent site plan resembles something similar to a 1970s suburban strip mall and leaves lots of questions about what “Future Development” will look like. This meeting will provide an excellent opportunity for residents to hear directly from the development team and weigh in on the conversation. Hope to see you there!

Information session on Cafritz property Wednesday, September 7 for local residents!

There are lots of meetings and events this week. Please be sure to read other recent posts. The message below was passed along from the Calvert Hills – Old Town neighborhood listserv. A great opportunity to weigh in on the Cafritz property along Route 1:
wholefoods

The Informational Session with the Cafritz Development team is scheduled for Wednesday, September 7th @ 7PM – College Park City Hall.

College Park City Planner, Terry Schum will provide an overview on the M-NCPPC development review process followed by a presentation in which Cafritz will address your questions, comments and concerns submitted previously. They have been advised to come with qualitative & quantitative data to support their studies (traffic, enviromental, etc.) and research.

Following the presentation there will be a group-setting Q&A. For those who are more comfortable in a non-group setting and/or wishing for a more conversation-style format to learn more about this proposed development, there will also be opportunity to speak one-on-one with the architects, envirnmental specialists, traffic analysts and others from the Cafritz team regarding the potential impact it will have on our community.

Members from City Council & the Mayor will be present as the City of College Park will eventually be submitting a stance on this issue with the County so please, plan to attend. Now is an excellent time to let your issues, questions, concerns and opinions be heard by our representatives.

Event: Neighborhood Work Group on Purple Line this Thursday

Purple Line 5
You are invited to a Neighborhood Work Group meeting for the Purple Line at College Park City Hall on Thursday September 8 @ 7p.m. These meetings cover very specific and targeted areas and this meeting will focus on the proposed station at the current College Park Metro Station. Work groups provide an opportunity for community members to participate in targeted discussions on issues such as station location and access, specific design, and engineering issues. For an overview of the evening’s topics, check out this powerpoint. We hope to see you Thursday evening!

Free Workshop on Purchasing Clean Energy this Saturday

College Park’s Committee for a Better Environment is sponsoring a workshop on purchasing clean energy this Saturday, September 10. See more details below.

What: Free Workshop on “Purchasing Clean Energy” sponsored by College Park’s Committee for a Better Environment (CBE)

Date: Saturday, September 10, 10 am to Noon

Place: College Park City Hall Council Chambers

In this second of CBE’s energy-efficiency workshops, Dr. Ross Salawitch, a professor from the University of MD, and Michael Heintz, a planning manager for the Energy Assurance division of the Maryland Energy Administration, will answer questions like the following:

· What is “clean” (or renewable) energy, who sells it, and how much does it cost?

· How can we get clean energy into our homes?

· Is it dependable?

Several renewable energy vendors also will be present.

Free but registration is required. To register, please email evitale@collegeparkmd.gov.

Where should we put Capital Bikeshare in College Park?

In all honesty, I was originally hesitant to support Capital Bikeshare in College Park. I thought that if riders were unable to connect to the core of the system in DC, stations in College Park would see very little use. However, after hearing presentations about the future of Capital Bikeshare from DDOT’s Jim Sebastian, Alta Planning and Design’s Charlie Denny, and DC Councilmember, Tommy Wells, I am convinced that College Park can support a successful “satellite” system without having riders connecting to stations in DC. They sold me on the ability for a cluster of stations to support the transportation needs of a given area, even if not linked to the larger network.

Capital Bikeshare cycles

Plans are already underway to establish a satellite system surrounding Shady Grove and Rockville in Montgomery County under the Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) program from the Federal Transit Administration. This system will include approximately 20 docking stations and 200 bikes.

Certainly, a similar system could be supported in College Park. In many ways, the city is an ideal location for Capital Bikeshare. First, the metro station is inconveniently located away from key destinations such as downtown and the University. However, the distance is easily covered within minutes on a bicycle. Second, Capital Bikeshare is an ideal way to move faculty, staff, and students across the University’s campus. Walking between destinations on campus can take 30 minutes or more, and becuase of this, many choose to drive, leading to additional congestion on campus and Route 1. Capital Bikeshare could reduce travel times for pedestrians while providing a safe, efficient, and healthy alternative to driving across campus. Finally, Capital Bikeshare could encourage more people to explore the regional trail network in and around the city.

Unfortunately, past attempts to receive funding for Capital Bikeshare in College Park have failed, but the overwhelming popularity of the system should guarantee that the program will continue to expand in the near future.

I now hope that College Park will receive dedicated funding for Bikeshare expansion sooner, rather than later. In that spirit, what are the ideal locations for Capital Bikeshare in College Park? Where can we maximize use and provide the most opportunities for bicycle transportation. For me, the obvious answers are the Metro station, the College Park Shopping Center, and the Stamp Student Union. But precisely where should these be located to maximize visibility and use? Where else should stations be located? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments section below.

Olson Delivers HAWK Signal at Trolley Trail Crossing

After several years of struggling with intransigent county highway engineers, District 3 County Councilman Eric Olson has secured approval for a critical safety improvement to the College Park “Trolley Trail” crossing at Paint Branch Parkway. A pedestrian-activated red light (or HAWK Signal) is expected to be installed by the County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation within the next several months. This is a huge step forward in making College Park’s pathway system much safer for cyclists and pedestrians. For several years, safety concerns went unaddressed as the city and county bickered about how to improve the crossing. The curent yellow flashing arrangement causes confusion for motorists and has led to multiple serious accidents.

Fortunately, a change in federal guidelines reframed the debate in late 2009 and the unwavering support of political leaders made the installation possible. Thanks to Eric Olson for his work in addressing this important issue! Below is the official press release:

Trolley Trail Crossing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, May 20, 2011
CONTACT: Karen Campbell
301.952.5182
CouncilMedia@co.pg.md.us

COUNTY EXECUTIVE RUSHERN BAKER AND DISTRICT 3 COUNCIL MEMBER ERIC OLSON ANNOUNCE TRAIL CROSSING IMPROVEMENT ON BIKE TO WORK DAY

Busy Paint Branch Parkway Crossing Safer with Pedestrian-Activated Red Light

Today is Bike to Work Day and Prince George’s County Council Member Eric Olson (D) – District 3 and County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III (D) marked the occasion with an announcement that the College Park Trolley Trail Crossing at Paint Branch Parkway will become a safer place for pedestrians and bicyclists in 2011.

Council Member Olson secured funding for placing a pedestrian-activated red light at this location in the Fiscal Year 2011 County Budget. In collaboration with County Executive Baker and the Department of Public Works and Transportation, this improvement is slated for installation in late spring or early summer.

The College Park Trolley Trail, a popular path for commuters (including University of Maryland students and staff), making their way to the nearby College Park Metro station and University of Maryland shuttle bus stop, has been the site of several recent collisions between cars, and pedestrians and bicyclists, prompting many calls from the community to upgrade safety. Recreational users, especially those heading to Lake Artemesia, are also frequent users of the crossing.

Council Member Olson says the new light responds to resident concerns for safety. “We are creating a more sustainable and healthy community by making the pedestrian experience much safer. We have a great and expanding trail system, and every improvement creates more opportunities for walking and bicycling to Metro, employment, and parks among other destinations.”

County Executive Baker agreed. “Improving pedestrian safety in Prince George’s County is a priority. We have had too many auto accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists in the County and we must create better, safer conditions – particularly around our 14 Metro stations, critical to our economic development future.”

The City of College Park is now completing the final phase of the Trolley Trail through the Old Town and Lakeland neighborhoods. The Trolley Trail runs on a former streetcar right-of-way, which at one time ran trolleys into the District of Columbia from the Maryland suburbs before discontinuing service in the early 1960s. The trail runs north and south through College Park, travels through Park and Planning property, runs along Rhode Island Avenue, and includes an off-road city property. Plans call for the trail to continue through Riverdale Park and Hyattsville and connect to the Northwest Branch Trail and the rest of the Anacostia Tributary Trails System.

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.

Artemesia
Early morning at Lake Artemesia
Dallas-Arboretum
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.

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.

Ongoing Plans to Complete Trolley Trail, but Barriers Stand in the Way

Progress on the incomplete sections of the Trolley Trail are slowly moving forward, but some major roadblocks could significantly delay the day that we see a complete trail extending from the Berwyn neighborhood to the Northwest Branch Trail near Route 1 in Hyattsville. Because the trail runs through portions of College Park, Riverdale Park, and Hyattsville, there are a number of entities fumbling through the funding, design, and construction process. Following is an update on each of the incomplete sections. The Google Map below can also be found at Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail.

Rhode Island Ave Trolley Trail

First, the bad news. It seems unlikely we will see a paved trail through the Cafritz property anytime soon. The problem stems from the inability for the property owners, county officials, and NIMBYs to agree on what type of development is appropriate for the site. If you are unfamiliar with the stalled Cafritz development, get caught up here and here. Until the stalemate is broken and some agreement is reached, it appears the Cafritzes are unwilling to allow the trail to cut through their property. They are likely using the trail as leverage to negotiate for a higher-density development.


cafritz hobo path


EYA Trolley Trail

The Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation is working on the final design and construction documents for the section from Tuckerman Street (just north of Riverdale Park’s town center) south to Madison Street. Unfortunately, no one kept track of the official boundary of the right-of-way from the old streetcar line; this poor record-keeping has now led to disputes with surrounding landowners about the exact route of the path. Construction could begin as early as next summer, but is dependent on how fast disputes with landowners are resolved.

EYA, the developer of the Hyattsville Arts District, is responsible for the section south of approximately Madison Street to the Franklin’s Parking Lot. They are under contract to begin construction after acquiring an unknown number of building permits. There are plans to eventually extend the Trolley Trail from Franklin’s to the Northwest Branch Trail near Route 1, but there is currently no funding for this section.

In other trail news, plans are also under way to extend Paint Branch Trail northward along Cherry Hill Road to north of Sellman Road and connect with the Little Paint Branch Trail, completing an off-road paved trail from Laurel to Bladensburg. Also, Maryland has nearly completed its portion of the vital missing link between Bladensburg Park and the National Arboretum. When finished, this will allow direct bicycle access from College Park all the way to Anacostia Park and Navy Yard.  Imagine riding your bike to an afternoon baseball game! However, there are reports that the District of Columbia is dragging their feet and still attempting to acquire money for the design stage. It seems that, unfortunately, the full connection is still more than a year away.

Stay tuned for an update on the final section of the Trolley Trail in College Park through the Old Town neighborhood and a revisit of the safety issues at the Paint Branch Road crossing.