weBike Plans to Expand, Develop Electronic Bike Lock

At the end of the month, the folks at the weBike are planning to expand to a new university campus, and currently they are hosting a crowdfunding campaign to develop the prototype of an electronic bike lock that lets you rent and return a bike anywhere in a community.

Here’s a short 90 second video that explains what they are trying to do and a link to our campaign page. In addition, please check this recently published article in Huffington Post about the need for cost-effective bike sharing.

Also, please check out weBike’s campaign page and share the news during their 45-day effort to make shift happen: http://www.launcht.org/campaign/detail/126.

[Fazlul Kabir is a Council member of City of College Park (District 1). You can read his daily blog at KabirCares.org]

A New Era for Biking in College Park

bikeshareIf you happen to be a College Park resident and a fan of biking, then the developments in the past few weeks have been cause for celebration.  First, we had the announcement from Prince George’s county about their ground breaking legislation for improved pedestrian and cyclist connections in new developments.  Then, to kick off Bike Month on May 1st, Governor O’Malley announced that College Park and the University of Maryland were awarded a state grant to establish a bike sharing program.

Efforts to bring bike sharing to College Park have long been in the works, and there have already been several failed attempts in the past few years, including a few associated with the federal stimulus (TIGER & TIGER II), and another one with the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grant program.  So this victory has been hard fought and now that the state grant has been won, the city can move on and focus its efforts on designing and building a bike share program.

Important details about the proposed bike share program can be found in this Patch article.  The proposed College Park/UMD bike sharing program will be part of the Capital Bikeshare network.  Originally started in DC & Arlington less than two years ago (Sept. 2010), Capital Bikeshare has experienced explosive growth , with over 18,000 members and one million rides in its first year of operation. Later this year, Capital Bikeshare will expand into Alexandria and Rockville.  The city of Arlington has put together a fascinating report about its program, showing that 55% of CaBi trips would have been replaced by non-active transportation modes without bike sharing.

Continue reading A New Era for Biking in College Park

County Passes Groundbreaking Bill for Cyclist and Pedestrian Access

Time to count one for the bike/ped community. In a 9-0 vote, the County Council passed a bill that will require the Planning Board to take into account the surrounding areas access to pedestrian and bikeway facilities when evaluating new development. In planning terms, the bill is an adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) for sidewalks and bikeways.
Route 1 in CP


For years bike/ped access was barely an afterthought when a new development submits its plans to the county as the focus has always been on traffic impacts and automobile access. For instance, a development projected to increase car trips at a nearby intersection may be required to add turn lanes and reconfigure the traffic signal, but would only be required to build sidewalks immediately next to the development.

This ordinance will give the Planning Board the tools they need to require developers to make off-site pedestrian and bike improvements when a development proposal is projected to increase such trips. For these improvements, developers must now build bike and pedestrian facilities in the nearby public right-of-way approaching the site to the “maximum extent possible” (up to a specified maximum cost depending on the size of the project).

County Council Vice Chairman Eric Olson (D-College Park) and council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) sponsored the bill which is expected to be signed by  County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).

“When new development occurs, developers can now be required to invest in off-site improvements for walking and biking, rather than just cars.  As we seek to create healthier, more walkable mixed-use communities, this is an important step forward.” – Eric Olson

Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association called the county’s approach “a very simple solution.”

“If you can only get to a development by car, the development loses out,” he said.

In Prince George’s, most of the affected developers would be in what is known as the developed tier, inside the Beltway and relatively close to the county’s Metro stations. – The Washington Post

Bill sponsors believe the scope of the bill is unprecedented nationally. It may become a model for improving non-motorized transportation. Read the bill HERE. The press release is below the break.

Continue reading County Passes Groundbreaking Bill for Cyclist and Pedestrian Access

College Park Metro Walk Score Ranks Among the Worst

Greater Greater Washington recently did a story on the Walk Scores of Metro stations and predictably found Prince George’s County bringing up the rear with an average score of 49.8 out of 100… which is considered Car Dependent. Using an address on the west side of the Metro station gives a score of 49 while the east side give a horrendous score of 37.

walkscoreThis probably isn’t news to anyone who works near M-Square or uses the College Park Metro station with any regularity. There is a complete lack of any viable options for those wishing to move towards a car-free lifestyle and using the current M-Square master plan as a guide, not much will chance in the future.

As Matt Johnson from GGW points out, Prince George’s County in particular is having challenges taking advantage of its Metro stations.

Prince George’s has 15 stations, which is more than any other jurisdiction aside from the District. The county is at a disadvantage because of the placement of many stations. Even so, Prince George’s has not committed to transit-oriented development around its stations. The county has a history of allowing development on the fringes of the county to short-circuit demand for offices and retail near Metro.

In the past, there have been grand plans for development near the Metro that have gone nowhere for one reason or another; however, M-Square is moving forward with three “suburban style” office buildings that would  do very little to bring up that Walk Score. It’s time to take M-Square and the area surrounding the Metro seriously.

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.

Greenbelt Sector Plan: Existing Transportation

Prince George’s County’s planning department is in the early stages of creating a new sector plan for the city of Greenbelt, called the Greenbelt Metro Area and MD 193 Corridor Sector Plan. The goal of the sector plan is to guide transit-oriented development around the Greenbelt Metro Station and commercial revitalization and pedestrian-oriented improvements along the MD 193 (Greenbelt Road) corridor. The last sector plan for Greenbelt was completed back in 2001, before Prince George’s County released a few key publications concerning growth and development: the General Plan (2002), the Countywide Green Infrastructure Plan (2005), and the Countywide Master Plan of Transportation (2009). The county is looking to incorporate these more recent publications into a new sector plan for Greenbelt. It hopes to have a preliminary plan ready by this fall.

Greenbelt Sector Plan Area

This plan is important to College Park because it will guide development in an adjacent city that attracts many of College Park’s residents. Yesterday, a presentation of existing transportation conditions was led by project manager Chad Williams at Greenbelt Middle School. Transportation in Greenbelt is certainly a relevant issue; the city is also strongly connected to the Beltway and has a metro station that a significant portion of College Park residents use regularly.

The presentation focused mainly on existing car traffic conditions, describing current levels of congestion on key roads within the sector plan area. These roads include the Beltway, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Kenilworth Avenue, Greenbelt Road, Cherrywood Lane, and Hanover Parkway. Levels of service (LOS) ranging from A to F for peak hours were discussed, and it was explained that a LOS D is really not much “worse” than a LOS A, because traffic can move freely for the A, B,C, and D levels. The Beltway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway had the lowest level of service (E), although I was surprised it wasn’t even lower.

The presentation also discussed who uses the Greenbelt Metro Station, with the data coming from the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA). It was found that about 69% of users drive to the station, with a large majority coming from origins 5 to 20 miles away, typically north and west of the station. A low but significant percentage come from 30 miles away or farther. This data was based on the home address of users’ Smart Trip Cards, and a couple of audience members noted that this source may not correspond well to where the users actually came from. Nonetheless, given that a lot of traffic entering the Greenbelt station can typically be seen coming from I-95 north of the Beltway, this data seems at least reasonably accurate.

Bus routes were discussed briefly with a map that showed all the bus routes (including 2 UM shuttle routes) in the sector plan area. Audience members noted that the map failed to indicate the quality of service that these routes provide. A lot of members were not satisfied with the weekend bus service and hope that it can be expanded.

Audience members requested that a study of pedestrian and bicycle LOS be attempted for several intersections, and the presenter responded that some data has been collected for this during peak periods. I hope that data can be presented at some point; it could be valuable in helping to expand Greenbelt’s bike and pedestrian traffic while taking some cars off the road. Greenbelt is considering a bike sharing program, which could potentially fit well next to College Park’s planned program.

A PowerPoint presentation of this event should be available next week on the sector plan website.

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!

University Drops Campus Drive Alignment Opposition

The Washington Post is reporting that University has officially dropped its long opposition to the Campus Drive alignment to the Purple Line.  The debate has raged on since 2007 but in the end University officials have agreed with the steps MTA plan on taking to address their concerns.

Frank Brewer, the university’s vice president for administrative affairs, said Wednesday that the MTA had addressed those concerns.

“We wanted to make sure the university is not in MTA’s way in any way, shape or form to make the Purple Line happen,” Brewer said. “We’ve always wanted the Purple Line to come across campus. It was just a question of where.”

After meetings with university officials over the past year, the state agreed to bury part of a light rail system’s overhead electrical wiring on campus and to install equipment that would reduce electromagnetic interference in particularly sensitive nearby labs.




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

Friday, May 20, 2011
CONTACT: Karen Campbell


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.