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.

City’s First Bike Sharing Program Shows Success, Promise

Though a lack of funding recently prevented our city from riding on a local bike sharing program, there is a good news to celebrate elsewhere.

Last month, a team of recent UMD graduates presented their class project in a manner that would likely earn them an A: they launched their first revenue-generating service of weBike, a community bike program that operates the country’s first station-less model of bike sharing.

weBike was created three years ago while teammates Allie Armitage, Brad Eisenberg, Yasha Portnoy and Vlad Tchompalov were taking a course at the University of Maryland with Professor of the Practice Dr. Gerald Suarez. The class, “Systems Thinking for Managerial Decision Making,” became a platform for the team to craft their class project into an ideal version of bike transportation in a college community. When class was over, the students felt their idea had enough value to pursue weBike’s implementation on campus. Upon receiving encouragement from Dr. Suarez, they launched a prototype in College Park and now operate weBike as an incorporated company.

weBike’s model of bike sharing is based on an SMS text message platform, which enables riders to rent and return bikes through their cell phones. Riders can check out a bike out by sending weBike a text to receive a code to unlock it; the weBike fleet is uniform and easy-to-recognize. They can then ride wherever they need to go within a given period, and when they’re finished, return the bike and text weBike to complete the transaction. Through this simple platform, users have access to a bike to get from A to B without the worry of theft, maintenance or the hassle of where to store a bike in a small apartment. Users also save time waiting for public transportation and avoid the hefty fees to park a car on campus.

The first official system of weBike is currently being operated at the Mazza GrandMarc Apartments, a complex located on Route 1 just 1.5 miles north of the UMD campus. Residents at the building have quickly picked up on the value of this flexible form of transportation. “Usually I use weBike three or four times a week,” says MGM resident Nicolas Patrick. “It feels so rewarding cycling to get a couple groceries or to pick up a take-out.” Riders also use the bikes to travel on Paint Branch Trail directly to the University of Maryland campus. “I use bikes almost every day of the week,” comments international student Francesco Scorcelletti. “weBikes have been my only vehicle for [my stay in] the US. I prefer by far to ride around the trail whenever I need rather than wait for the bus.”

Because the cost to offer the system is paid for by the Mazza GrandMarc management, usage of weBike is free for all residents. The system launched in early September, and since then around 85 users have registered for the program, over 300 rides have been logged, and the system has sent and received over 2,500 text messages. “The feedback we get from people using the system is very positive,” says co-founder and marketing director Allie Armitage. “It’s exciting to see how quickly weBike being adopted. Knowing that something we created is valuable to others is incredibly rewarding.”

weBike’s business model is “less expensive” compared to other public bike sharing programs, claims Armitage. weBike systems are composed of equipment (bikes, locks, accessories), technology (text message server, online applications, back-end database management system) and a maintenance platform (monitoring bikes and keeping the fleet in shape). “Because there are no stations in our system, the total cost to operate weBike is significantly less than many others that currently exist, like Captial Bike Share, where each station runs ~$35k. Our systems are usually paid for by the municipality, and they can choose how to fund the system. Ideally, funding is completely covered so it’s offered for free to users (as it is at Mazza). However it depends on the financial status and vision of the municipality.”

The team is excited to grow to new locations in the future and is actively pursuing opportunities to expand. Armitage said the team would love to expand the system in College Park–particularly to the metro station. “There are so many residents who would benefit from bike sharing, and it would be a huge step towards sustainability for the community. Last year we met with the City Council in College Park and received some positive feedback on weBike, but found no real leads towards implementing a service,” she said.

They’ve come a long way from the classroom, weBike’s founders still have high goals to reach in making bike transportation as reliable and convenient as, say, the metro. Most importantly, they believe in what they’re doing; as their slogan says, they’re out to “make shift happen.” It just goes to show that when passion is the driver behind the wheel(s), the results will be powerful.

Making College Park A Bicycle Friendly Community

Commons Bikes

The League of American Bicyclists, the nation’s premier cycling advocacy organization, recently released its list of Bicycle Friendly Communities, recognizing municipalities and states that have shown an across-the-board commitment to making their communities bikeable. In the Washington Metropolitan Area, many communities are dedicated to making cycling a viable form of transportation—the state of Maryland was ranked 11 out of 50 in terms of Bicycle Friendly States and Baltimore has achieved the bronze designation for its efforts. Other college towns like Bellingham, Washington, Boulder, Colorado, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina are rated. However, College Park seems to be getting left behind; it’s unclear whether or not the city has even submitted an application. Using the League’s criteria, let’s consider College Park’s prospects of becoming a bicycle friendly community.

Engineering. In terms of bicycle friendly infrastructure, the university falls short. The campus is nearly impenetrable by bicycle, relegating cyclists to sidewalks and paths better suited for pedestrian usage. There is a dearth of bicycle parking near campus buildings. Bikes are instead haphazardly locked to trees and fence posts, while the inconveniently located cycle parking in Regents Drive and Mowatt Lane garages goes unused. The university is making attempts to rectify this situation, allowing bike commuters to request new bike racks and incorporating biking into the update of the Facilities Master Plan, yet as Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Frank Brewer readily admits, “Biking hasn’t really been a part of the culture at Maryland because we don’t have enough paths, racks or storage areas.” It will take a great deal of work to change this culture.

Education. University officials are making big strides in education. First, the Department of Transportation Services is in the process of redesigning its website with a hearty cycling section, including information on convenient routes, safety regulations, and local bike shops. They have also launched bikeUMD, an initiative that uses social media and on-campus events to connect with and educate students. While bicyclists are becoming more knowledge about their resources and rights, drivers have been left out of this educational process. It takes two to share the road; without motorists being well-versed in cyclists’ rights, cyclists cannot safely transverse the city.

Encouragement. Through bikeUMD’s presence at on-campus events, including its first Bike Week last spring, the university administration has been working to encourage more students to ride their bikes. However, as The Diamondback reports, there is a gender gap in the on-campus cycling population; only 20% of riders are female. The university has yet to address this issue. Without advocacy efforts to engage half of the campus community, it is hard to imagine cycling on campus increasing.

Evaluation and Planning. The university has worked to make bicycling a priority of future development by hiring a new bike coordinator, working bicycling into the Facilities Master Plan, and funding the Campus Bicycle Study. Yet, there are still a few roadblocks to comprehensive bicycle planning in the city. The City of College Park’s strategic plan initiated much need collaboration between the university and the city government on smart growth initiatives. With plans for a “city-wide bike route,” it seems local officials are moving in the right direction, yet the strategic plan has been deemed “weak” and “vague” by some city officials. Without clear steps for implementation, the strategic plan will remain a “dream book.” Further, the university is known for taking one step forward and two steps back on cycling. While the administration originally planned to spend $1 million on biking over the next three years, it has only budgeted $100,000. As we’ve previously reported, despite the economic climate, the university must present a sustained commitment to making College Park more bicycle friendly.

Enforcement. While College Park has followed a few of the League’s enforcement regulations, such as increasing its use of bicycle patrol officers, its attempts to maintain the rights and responsibilities of all road users has come with mixed results. Cyclists are frequently targeted with harsh fines for unlawful behavior, yet much of this behavior spawns from poor cycling infrastructure that makes following laws unsafe. For instance, one student recalls receiving a ticket for running a red light to escape fast-paced Route 1 traffic. Instead of educating both drivers and cyclists on how to best share the road, local police have resorted to the easy solution of “threatening” cyclists. It seems that College Park has faltered in “[treating] bicyclists equitably.”

In terms of on-campus cycling, the university has made education and encouragement a clear priority. Their commitment is commendable, but if cyclists have nowhere to ride, increased advocacy becomes pointless. A commitment to advocacy must be matched with a commitment to infrastructure. Planning must be met with implementation. Until then, College Park will remain unfriendly for bicyclists, falling behind its local peers.

Rectifying Route 1, A Pedestrian Perspective: College Avenue and Route 1

Few people will deny that Route 1 is well overdue for major improvements. Motorists are fed up with traffic, bicyclists despise its lack of bike lanes and high speed traffic, and pedestrians loath the poor condition of sidewalks. Traffic speeds, up to seven travel lanes (none safe for bicyclists), and long light cycles make this road equally as miserable to cross. Most everyone will also agree that vast stretches of Route 1 are not aesthetically pleasing and that restaurant and retail options are lacking. The Route 1 Sector Plan was established to address many of these issues, but it appears funding will continue to be a major hurdle to implementing that plan.

This is the first installment of what I hope to be a series on analyzing specific intersections along the Route 1 corridor. This series will focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety, and to a lesser degree, aesthetics and economic development. The goal is to analyze current conditions and facilitate conversation on ways to improve each intersection. It is my hope that increased public conversation on this topic will highlight the necessity for long overdue improvements and make Route 1 a funding priority.

The intersection at Route 1 and College Avenue is one of the most critical in College Park and deserves immediate attention. It links the southeast entrance to the University, the city’s retail corridor, and the Old Town neighborhood. Because of this, one could assume it handles the highest level of pedestrian crossings of any in College Park.

Continue reading Rectifying Route 1, A Pedestrian Perspective: College Avenue and Route 1

DC Shares Bikes With Arlington, How About College Park?

D.C. commuters have been sharing bikes in their streets for some time, but starting yesterday that program is expanding to include Arlington.

Funded by the U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) the program, called Capital Bikeshare , is the largest such program in the country.

According to officials, 49 stations are operational and about five are being activated each day, allowing users to pick up a bike in one location and return it at any station. The system will feature about 1,100 bicycles at 114 stations in the District and Arlington. Out of that, there are 100 stations in D.C. and 14 in Arlington, where riders can pick up and leave bicycles.

The program is currently offering a $25 discount off the $75 annual membership fee. Monthly memberships are available for $25, and daily memberships will be available at the bike stations for $5.

Though Arlington gets connected with this bike share program today, it looks like other neighboring cities like College Park will have to wait a long time to ride on this network. Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments(MWCOG) failed to win a $10 million for bikeshare expansion that it had applied through a federal stimulus program called TIGER. The City of College Park and UMd jointly applied for that grant application. The original TIGER application asked for 2,250 bikes at 225 stations in DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, Hyattsville, and National Harbor, in addition to the 1,000 the District is already funding. A second similar application is currently under review of USDOT, but it’s unlikely to be funded.

[Source: The Wahington Post, FoxDC, RTCP, GGW]

UMD/CP Jump on the Bikesharing Bandwagon (again)

Bike Sharing Attributes

Back in June, we speculated that UMD and the City of College Park would reapply with Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER competitive grant program. Back in February, we noted that the MWCOG did not win the $10 million for bikeshare expansion that it had applied for through a federal stimulus program called TIGER. Apparently, both the university and city did jump on board for the TIGER II grant round that was due to the feds last Friday, August 20th. The new proposal requests more than $12 million to add 2,500 bikes (and 331 stations) regionwide to the nascent 1,100 bike (110 station) Capital Bikeshare program that DC and Arlington are unveiling next month. The new proposal includes a request for $306,000 for 56 bikes in College Park, 6 stations on campus, and 5 in the city including at least one at the College Park Metro (read the full proposal).

If the proposal is successful, you could start seeing implementation in College Park as early as March. Unfortunately, just like the first round of TIGER grants, the second round will be just as competitive and it’s extremely unlike any money will be awarded. No official numbers are out now that the final deadline has passed, but the July 16th pre-application brought in $26 billion worth of requests for $600 million in available funds. Still, we commend UMD and CP for joining this application and we hope they’ll continue to pursue the idea when the grant application ultimately fails.

Mazza Grandmarc NOW OPEN

The long awaited opening of the Mazza Grandmarc took place today as the first graduate students were allowed to move in.  The primary move in date for non graduate students will be August 22nd.  I spoke with the on site manager who told me the Mazza is now around 45% full (it was under 10% full when rethink college park visited there a few months back).  A little over 60 people will be moving in today which is a around 10% of the total capacity for the apartment complex (around 630 beds).   Two aspects about the Mazza that excite me the most are that it is connected to the Paint Branch Bike Trail system which leads to the University of Maryland campus and that it has its own UMD DOTS bus route.  Hopefully students will take advantage of these ecological friendly options when deciding how to get to campus which would help minimize the traffic impact that the Mazza will create.

I won’t write too much about the Mazza Grandmarc as there is already a long history of articles on it on this site, but the Mazza property owners are still trying to buy the properties directly on Route One in front of the apartment complex so they can build decent retail establishments there.  Hopefully the opening of the Mazza today is just the start of a redevelopment process that will both beautify a section of Route One and lead to more high quality dining and shopping options in College Park.  Despite the fact that the Mazza is finally opening today this project is still a work in progress in terms of its full potential.

DC to Expand Bike Share Program, Will UMD/CP Get on Board?

A few weeks back, the DC Department of Transportation and Arlington County announced plans to replace DC’s SmartBike bikesharing program that it instituted in 2008. They announced that they’ll expand the program this fall from 100 bikes at 10 stations to 1,100 bikes at 114 stations. 14 of new stations will be in Arlington. They christened the more ambitious program two days ago as “Capital Bikeshare” after a public vote. According to DDOT:

The new system will be similar to the one the Public Bike System Company (PBSC), based in Montreal, produced, commonly known as BIXI. The BIXI system has been running in Montreal since 2009 and will be arriving soon in Minneapolis, London, and Melbourne, Australia. BIXI bike sharing stations are solar powered and use wireless technology to allow for easy installation and adjustments. It may look different, but the BIXI bicycle has many of the same features as the Smartbike: 3-speed, internal hub gears, fenders, chain guard, lights, and a front rack. Annual, monthly, and daily memberships will be available for area residents and visitors.

A grant may expand the program even further. We noted back in February, that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments(MWCOG) did not win the $10 million for bikeshare expansion that it had applied for through a federal stimulus program called TIGER. UMD and the City of College Park were a party to that grant application, but unfortunately that money was highly competitive and grant requests outstripped available funding by 38 times. MWCOG will submit another application for a second round of TIGER funding. They’re proposing to add an additional 2,250 bikes to the 1,100 already in the works. It looks like CP will be a party to the grant application again and so will UMD presumably. Unfortunately, things will be just as competitive this time around and 20% in local matching dollars are now required. That match may be tough to come by in this economy… especially since the system isn’t expected to break even for some time.

Interestingly, Prince George’s County as a whole has not and is not considering jumping on this opportunity. Since all the bikes in Capital Bikeshare would be interoperable with different racks across the region, the College Park bikes would in theory exist in their own bubble… it’s hard to imagine that they will ever leave the city. Membership would cost $80 a year and the first 30 minutes the bike is out would be free. The nearest non-CP rack would be miles away, but we think if there are a critical mass of bikes such a program could be quite popular intra-city.

Here is a cool video of the old SmartBike system:

SmartBike DC“, a video by EMBARQ

HAWK Signal for Paint Branch Pkwy?

RTCP reader “Froggie” posted a comment that the Paint branch crossing would be ideal for a HAWK signal.

This does seem like the perfect fit for the Paint Branch crossing. When I visit Santa this weekend this is what I am going to ask for.

HAWK stands for High-intensity Activated crossWalk.

  • When a pedestrian wishes to cross the street, they push a button and the signal begins with a flashing yellow light that warns drivers approaching the crosswalk to slow down.
  • The flashing yellow light is followed by a solid yellow light, telling drivers to prepare to stop.
  • The signal then changes to a solid red for the drivers to stop at the stop bar, and the pedestrian gets a walk signal.
  • The solid red signal converts to a flashing red after a few seconds, allowing drivers to proceed when safe to do so.
  • The HAWK is normally in an “off” position until it is activated by someone wanting to cross a busy street.

related post… End of Paint Branch Pkwy Saga?

End of Paint Branch Pkwy Saga?

paint branch crossing
We’ve done a number of posts outlining the safety situation where the College Park Trolley Trail crosses Paint Branch Parkway. Since the City and County spearheaded initial “improvements” to the crossing, there have been three serious accidents. The City Council stepped in this October demanding that further improvements be made and Councilmember Stephanie Stullich in particular has been fighting for changes. At an October Council meeting:

Continue reading End of Paint Branch Pkwy Saga?