Route 1: A Main Street by Default

Route 1

A recent article in The Diamondback commended the rise of mixed-use development on our university’s main street, as it should. After years of housing shortages and blight, College Park is finally being rejuvenated. But in current discussions of College Park’s redevelopment, there is a huge elephant in the room: Route 1 itself.

Dangerous and traffic-clogged, our principal road hardly functions as a hub of campus life. A typical main street is lined with independent businesses for meeting friends, street furniture for sitting and chatting and wide sidewalks for leisurely strolls. Route 1, however, is a different story. As evidenced by the constant rotation of restaurants in Terrapin Station, this street has managed to extinguish business in our downtown corridor. Lacking infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, this unsafe road seems set on exterminating our human population, as well.

Two major factors contribute to an establishment’s success. The first is population density, a store’s customer base. The second is foot traffic, the stream of pedestrians from which stores can fish out these customers. Clearly, College Park has the population density to support a bevy of businesses, yet we are lacking the foot traffic. Why? Because traversing Route 1 on foot is a death-defying feat. Anyone who has tried to cross Route 1 at Hartwick Road knows I’m not being hyperbolic.

Sadly, the ills of Route 1 are not unique to College Park. In Hyattsville, where Route 1 also serves as the default main street, the city has been trying to bring life back to a strip that was, until recently, dominated by vacant lots and used car dealerships. While the development project is anchored by a Busboys and Poets and features intriguing locally owned businesses, the speed and noise of Route 1’s traffic prevents Arts District Hyattsville from becoming a comfortable environment for spending an afternoon.

Particularly telling is a bench located outside of Busboys. Instead of facing outward toward the expansive view of the surrounding neighborhoods, as benches typically do, it faces inward toward an unsightly brick wall. Hyattsville’s developers are trying to build public space that fosters a thriving community and economy, yet these four lanes of traffic make that impossible to do.

Route 1 is in desperate need of traffic taming — steps that would retain the street’s automobile capacity, yet make the road more comfortable for pedestrians. By narrowing lanes of traffic as currently planned, we could finally widen sidewalks, install bike lanes/cycle tracks and add street furniture and greenery. These measures would attract College Park residents from their homes to the street, helping to repopulate our downtown corridor and ensure the success of our new businesses.

Roads are the building blocks of our communities, and it is simply impossible to build community around six lanes of traffic. We cannot continue to herald new businesses when they come to town, yet neglect to create an environment where they can thrive. The establishments in the new mixed-use high rises require a Route 1 that accommodates both cars and people.

There is nothing “new” about Route 1. It remains a main street by default, not by definition.

The Arts needed for East Campus to shine?

The following is an edited contribution by John W. Euill, III. John is a 34 year-old resident of the Cool Spring neighborhood in Adelphi. He takes classes at UMUC and frequents Rt. 1 everyday. Thanks, John.

The Birchmere, Alexandria, VAI’m excited to hear about developments such as East Campus coming to the area. I feel they are long overdue. I think the area’s college town feel will be enhanced while also making it a destination for the region. I do have one concern, that there will be no consideration for the live arts. What gives many urban destinations their appeal and draw are their ability to support the live arts. For example, Georgetown, U Street, Silver Spring (future site of Birchmere), and Alexandria.

We have an arts district within walking distance, a high school with an arts component (Northwestern), and a college campus where a good portion of its population appreciates the arts. I feel it would be a big misfortune to have an arts district a mile down the road and not have any venues where local and international artists can perform. What good is it to have an arts district nearby if all of the artists residing in it have to leave town to perform?

We have a good start with the Clarice Smith Clarice Smith Performing Arts CenterPerforming Arts Center on the UMD campus. But is there consideration for a jazz club or a small music hall somewhere off campus? Perhaps even a comedy club would break up the residential/retail mix. Most people have shops to go to in their own neighborhoods – mostly all of the national retail chains. What most people don’t have are places to go to hear a good local band or a national headliner, or to see their favorite comedian live. Who says that stuff needs to be in downtown DC only?

Having a Cheesecake Factory here may be great. But people can go to other areas for that. It won’t draw them here. On the other hand, if they see in the paper that their favorite jazz artist or comedian is performing in College Park, guess what? That brings them here. Then they eat and shop here before or after the performance. They bring their friends here the next time. Then they shop and eat here. East Campus becomes a draw for people outside of the area and it gets recognized in the media. People will come if there’s enough incentive.

Georgetown has its Blues Alley. U Street has its many venuesBlues Alley, Georgetown for live music and even a theater house. Alexandria (and soon Silver Spring) has The Birchmere. What will we have? Just places to shop and eat? I’m sure studies have shown that you attract a certain demographic if there are live arts in the area. Could there be a study provided that shows statistics on how live arts venues affects an area? Many great universities have a nice assortment of live arts nearby: UC Berkley, U of Chicago, NYU, Georgetown, Howard, etc. We have the opportunity to be named among them not only for academics, but an exciting place to live and visit. Let’s not waste that chance.

Trolley Trail Extension Widely Supported

Extended Trolley trail ProposalLast month we reported on the extensive interconnected trail system within College Park, in the region, and even nationally. We mentioned the College Park Trolley Trail and its potential extension southward to Riverdale Park and Hyattsville, but we didn’t fully realize the momentum behind the project. Apparently local politicians and dozens of citizens turned out early last month to discuss the project and both cities have taken steps to investigate acquiring the properties along the old Trolley right-of-way.

The DC Transit #82 trolley line originally ran from Washington, D.C. to Laurel via College Park and the City of College Park has gone to great lengths in recent years to acquire their portion of the right-of-way and make it a convenient, paved trail/bike lane. The southern extension (displayed to the left) would provide an offroad route from Hyattsville to Beltsville with relatively few at-grade street crossings. EYA has agreed to pave its portion of the Trolley Trail in the Hyattsville Arts District’s East Village (picture below).EYA Trolley Trail

College Park’s final portion of the trail between Paint Branch Parkway and Calvert Road is set for eventual completion and passes directly next to the East Campus development. The Trolley Trail is just one of hundreds nationwide rails-to-trails (non-profit not involved in this particular project) projects which takes advantage of old rail right-of-ways.

View this great video produced by Hyattsville “H4X” Hacks which documents the February community meeting and has several video segments of the old trolley line:

—> VIDEO!

Could Nearby “Arts District” Benefit CP?

EYA Hyattsville Arts District Project
About five miles south of College Park on Route 1, construction of an “Arts District” in Hyattsville is well under way. Guided by years of planning by county officials to develop a Gateway Arts District in the area, a large development by the EYA company is now under construction.

EYA Arts District Hyattsville ProjectThis new development includes 350 rowhomes, at least 100 condominiums. The project includes 13 “live-work” units, which are expected to be habited by mostly local artists who will run businesses on the ground floor with their dwelling units above. In addition to the residential community, new restaurants and retail are expected to find a place as well. Currently on the drafting board for the town is a new Art Gallery bordering Route 1, bike trails, swimming facilities, and fitness center. The Arts District is designed to take advantage of vacant land and closed auto dealerships, long the target of local leaders unhappy with their existence on Route 1. The expectation is that the project will improve conditions along Route 1 in Hyattsville. The Washington Post reported on development in the Arts District in December.

Do not some of these same conditions exist along the Route 1 sector next to campus in College Park? An empty furniture store lies across from Plato’s Diner; an old administration building behind Kinko’s is abandoned. Further North, the condition of Route 1 worsens. However, what exists in Hyattsville that will hopefully be contagious to its neighboring towns along Route 1 is the cooperative excitement of residents and businesses. College Park has potential to integrate its downtown with its community of permanent residents and university students. Hopefully the Arts District to our south will spark positive development in College Park.