Calvert Hills Access to Cafritz

The opinions expressed in this piece represent the views of the author and not Rethink College Park or its other contributors.

In conversations about the Cafritz property, I have often wound up conversations about how the property will relate to the community around it. Two basic models can be followed – the urban street grid or the suburban pod. Street grids have a lot going for them, most notably on walkability. You can get a lot further in a one kilometer walk on a grid than in pod.

Street Grid Walkability
How far you get walking 1km in either a suburban (left) or urban (right) street layout.

Grids also have an impact on traffic. When there are only a handful of roads to travel on, a problem on any one of them creates tremendous impact. Grids create alternative routes and spread out the traffic more, relieving pressure. In short, there’s a reason humans have built cities on this pattern for millenia.

Although College Park itself, particularly Old Town and Calvert Hills, leans towards the grid, it exists amid a series of pods. Calvert Hills is itself a pod, with Riverdale Park another pod, University Park a third, Hyattsville and Berwyn and University Town Center all pods further away.

Many in the communities surrounding Cafritz have rightly pushed for both a connection southward into Riverdale Park, and a bridge Eastward across the CSX tracks. Both of these links would increase site access in general and help provide connection alternatives to Route 1 and East-West Highway. With these connections already under consideration, County planning staff have also suggested studying a connection Northward into Calvert Hills.

Area in the red box suggested for study as a combined vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle link

I live in Calvert Hills and like the idea of having a way to leave the neighborhood that does not involve Route 1. A connection between Calvert Hills and Cafritz would provide direct access South into Riverdale Park and East across the planned CSX Bridge. I do not know what all the potential impacts would be but I believe it is worth studying because more informed choices tend to be better chocies.

Sadly, others in my neighborhood disagree. Councilmember Stullich, encouraged by certain hysterical Calvert Hills residents, fired off an e-mail Saturday decrying County staff for even daring to suggest studying the matter. Posters on the local listserve conjured visions of a giant “through way[sic]” which would “destroy” Calvert Hills, slammed County staff “who do not live here” as liars, and dismissed the idea of study even while acknowledging the general principle that connectivity provides benefits. The sheer ferocity of the opinions gave me pause and I realized that I was not reading a rational discussion – it was about faith.

Planning decisions have an emotional component. We all make value judgments that are not strictly rational. I dislike brutalist architecture and I will not for a minute pretend that this based in fact. It is taste, which is emotional. We ask for trouble, however, when we let emotion become everything. One can claim that a link between Calvert Hills and Cafritz would create a huge new highway, destroy the neighborhood, increase crime or unleash a plague of frogs, but merely asserting it does not make it so. That is the entire point of study – to gather the best facts and best forecasts possible so that we know what the impacts of our decisions are.

I have no idea if a connection between Calvert Hills and Cafritz makes sense. I do not have any facts to make an informed decision. If, like me, you prefer to make your decisions based on evidence and not supposition, I encourage to contact Councilmember Stullich, the City Council and the Planning Board and encourage them to support rational decision making.

Councilmember Stullich’s original e-mail is available below the jump.

From: Stephanie Stullich

Date: Sat, Dec 3 2011 at 3:49pm

Nearly every Calvert Hills and Old Town resident who has spoken with me about the Cafritz proposal has emphasized the importance of protecting these neighborhoods from cut-through traffic from the Cafritz development via Rhode Island Avenue.  I and other College Park elected officials have been very firm with the developer that we see this as a non-negotiable condition for this re-zoning to be approved.  The developer has responded by stating, repeatedly, that they have no intention of designing this project around vehicular access to Calvert Hills.  Their draft site plan, although non-binding at this point, shows Rhode Island Avenue within the Cafritz development as a hiker-biker path, not a vehicular road, which I think is good for creating a good experience for walkers and bicyclists as well as preventing future efforts to connect up the road.  Most Calvert Hills residents that I have talked with have supported the concept of extending the RI Ave hiker-biker trail through to Cafritz.

My motion at the last City Council meeting included two proposed conditions related to this:

  • Preclude vehicular access to the Calvert Hills residential neighborhood to the north.
  • Continue the hiker/biker trail to the north to connect at Albion Road and provide a bike facility along Van Buren Street.

However, the county planner for this project, Susan Lareuse, has included in her staff report a recommendation that appears to encourage vehicular access along RI Ave into Calvert Hills:

“Consideration should be given to requiring the combining of the trolley trail and vehicular roadway along the entire length of the subject site’s portion of the former Rhode Island Avenue Trolley right-of-way and extending across the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) property, connecting to the terminus of the existing trail at Albion Street and south to Tuckerman Avenue.”

In general, professional planners like the idea of through-roads through neighborhoods as a way to relieve congestion on arterial roads such as Route 1.  They will point out the convenience for neighborhood residents who would be able to get to the new retail without having to get on Route 1.  However, it would also result in significant new traffic through the neighborhood, as other visitors to the new development would use Rhode Island to avoid traffic on Route 1.

I am confident that the City Council will continue to support the neighborhood’s desire to be protected from cut-through traffic via RI Avenue.  However, I am not confident about what position the Planning Board will take on this issue or other issues related to traffic impacts, density, etc.  The Planning Board will hear public comments on this re-zoning request at its Dec 15 meeting, and I strongly encourage residents who want their views to be taken into consideration by the Planning Board to attend that meeting.

The Planning Board meeting is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. on Dec 15th and will be in Upper Marlboro in the County Administration Building.

3 thoughts on “Calvert Hills Access to Cafritz”

  1. Great post. I understand the neighborhood’s concerns, however the reactions I have read have been based on preconceived notions and not fact. It seems that some are picturing a wide road with cars racing through at 50 MPH. However, not all roads have to be designed the same way. In fact, there are many innovative design solutions to keep cars travelling at a very safe neighborhood speed, say 15 MPH. It is in the neighborhood’s best interest to consider all options in a rational, fact-driven manner. Dismissing an idea at its mere mention destroys they opportunity for innovation and leaves us all worse off.

  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if residents in really want to “protect” themselves from traffic, they’ll connect local streets so they can travel around their neighborhoods without going on Route 1. Less traffic on Route 1 means they can turn it into a boulevard, not a highway. Cars are going slower, walkers and bikers feel safer, and neighborhoods are connected.

  3. I live in Calvert Hills and think a connection to the north is necessary for me to be able to walk to this development (and I would much prefer to walk to the new Whole Foods rather than drive down Route 1 and E/W to the Giant).

    At a minimum, there should at least be a pedestrian connection. However, I worry that a simple walking path through the woods would be viewed as unsafe to walk at night. A local, low speed two lane road (the same as all roads throughout Calvert Hills) would offer better visibility and sense of safety. This is also the right step for avoiding extra congestion on Route 1, but this will be achieved much more by serving as access for local Calvert Hills residents rather than for outsider cut-through traffic. Simply design it for low volume and speed and it will not have the cut through effect that some people fear.

    Mixed-use developments thrive much better with multiple local connections, so let’s be smart about this.

    Is there a public meeting coming up that residents can express their support for this?

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