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city of Arlington has put together a fascinating report about its program, showing that 55% of CaBi trips would have been replaced by non-active transportation modes without bike sharing.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

Coming Soon – Trolley Trail From Paint Branch to Calvert Rd.

Trolley TrailThe City is moving forward with Phase IV of the Trolley Trail which will complete a missing link from Paint Branch Parkway to Calvert Road. Prospective bidders have until April 12 to submit final proposals for completing this half million dollar project. Once complete residents in the Calvert Hills will be able to pedal uninterrupted to their closest grocery store– MOM’s 3 miles away in Hollywood. That is until Whole Foods comes to town.



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.

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

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.

City Scrambles to Spend Speed Camera Money

The College Park City Council seemed to be taken off guard Tuesday by $350-600,000 in city speed camera funds that must be committed to “public safety” projects (including pedestrian infrastructure). The money must be committed in the next two months or it will be returned to the state. The relatively large sum (equivalent to 10% of the city’s total budget) was perfectly foreseeable when the cameras were authorized last November, but for whatever reason no project prioritization conversation has occurred until this week.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Unfortunately, various neighborhood factions (see video above) will inevitably descend upon City Hall attempting to eke out their “fair” (read: small) share of the money in the coming weeks. The city as a whole would be much better served by a small number high-value, cost-effective investments that will save lives. A pedestrian activated HAWK signal where the Trolley Trail crosses Paint Branch Parkway or a full traffic light at Route 1 and Hartwick Road come to mind. The latter project would also expand accessibility to floundering businesses on the east side of Route 1 in Downtown. Each project would cost about $80-100,000. City staff should immediately begin conversations with the state to assess the feasibility of planning such projects on non-city roads in the expedited timeline (Funds must be committed by June 30th). The City Manager has done a tremendous disservice to the community by not already having these conversations.

On a similar note, we continue to be dismayed but the relative lack of attention being paid to the impending State Highway Administration (SHA) Route 1 crosswalk reconstruction project from Albion Road to Paint Branch Parkway. That initiative is going to be a major missed opportunity if SHA is left to run with whatever their highway engineers feel like doing. Traffic camera money could easily be used to supplement or complement those propsoed state investments and perhaps even extend them north of Paint Branch Parkway towards the emerging mixed-use district there.

Third Time’s the Charm? For Bikesharing Efforts in College Park, Maybe.

Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare has been wildly successful. College Park is attempting to tie into the same system (photo via Flickr user DDOTDC).

After at least two failed attempts to roll out bikes on city streets, the city of College Park is trying once again to secure funds for bikesharing—this time, on a much smaller scale. The city is planning to apply for the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grant program, which is due on March 4, 2011.

City staff have proposed requesting matching grant funds totaling $66,000 to initiate a pilot bikesharing program that would build on the existing Capital Bikeshare program in Virginia and the District of Columbia. Proposed locations for bikeshare stations are downtown, at the College Park Metro, and in the Hollywood Commercial District.

Funds would be matched with $66,000 from developer contributions ($10,000 from the Varsity project and $31,000 from the Domain project) and the City’s FY 11 Operating Budget ($25,000), according to city officials.

Early last year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) failed to win $10 million for expansion of its then-fledgling bikeshare program. The City of College Park and the University of Maryland had jointly applied for the grant through the federal stimulus program TIGER.

The original TIGER application asked for 2,250 bikes at 225 stations in D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, Hyattsville, and National Harbor, in addition to the 1,000 the District had already funded. A second similar application also failed to secure funding from the USDOT last fall.

The university is also looking at bikesharing opportunities, as part of the update to its Facilities Master Plan.

Despite College Park’s lack of an “official” bikesharing program, weBike, an independent project, rolled out its own version of bike sharing between the Mazza apartments and the university’s campus last year.

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.