Real Route 1 Bus Service – Time to Seize Opportunity

At the city council meeting last Tuesday, council members Marcus Afzali and Patrick Wojahn were able to get Route 1 Bus integration/consolidation on the agenda for the next City-University Partnership meeting. The idea originated from a 2008 City-contracted transportation study of Route 1 in College Park (RTCP discussion/ analysis HERE), which envisioned bus “super stops” around development nodes on Route 1, common branding of service across the three area transit providers, and other transportation demand management strategies designed to reduce congestion and increase accessibility. Unfortunately, thus far, the only tangible thing that came out of that $150,000 consulting report was a reworking of the Prince George’s TheBus Route 17 along Route 1 which provides a miserable 40 minute headways (wait time between buses). City efforts for more systematic coordination of transit service have thus far been thwarted by limited funding, WMATA intransigence, and lackluster participation by UMD. With the impending completion of two more student housing projects on Route 1, however, there may be light at the end of the tunnel… and soon.
Paint Branch Pkwy @ Route 1, Looking at future Hotel site

New Hall Ings Bus Canopy Construction
A super stop under construction in Bradford, England

As currently planned, two new separate Shuttle UM routes serving the Varsity and Starview Plaza student housing developments opening this fall. When you consider the already completed University View and Mazza GrandMarc, that means by August there will be four developer-funded routes servicing each development individually for an annual total payment of about $500,000 to Shuttle-UM for four projects housing about 3,500 student. Alone, each route has (or will have) pretty bad headways (U-View and The Varsity- 10-20 minutes, Mazza 25-30 minute, Starview somewhere in between), especially for nights and weekends. Three or even all four routes could easily be consolidated to provide much more frequent service along most of Route 1 (3-5 minute headways during peak hours, roughly 10 minute headways for nights and weekends). Such a service could form the backbone of north-south transit service along Route 1, which is already available to non-UMD affiliated city residents.

Shuttle-UM_Bus
The idea behind transit coordination and consolidation is simple. People do not care what name is on the outside of the bus. They care how much it costs, where it goes, and how quickly they can get to their destination. Unfortunately, the current haphazard provision of bus service in the city means that people have only a limited notion of the services available. Transfers between service providers are almost unheard of. Students ride Shuttle-UM, area residents/faculty/staff ride WMATA and Shuttle-UM, and pretty much nobody rides (or has even heard of) TheBus. The concept behind bus super stops, is that a few high profile bus shelters along a corridor could raise the profile of transit and help people understand and take advantage of all transit options and transfer opportunities regardless of transit operator.

Real-time bus arrival information
Real time bus display in Singapore.

Up until now, there really has not been the density of passengers needed to justify frequent bus service along Route 1. Indeed, UMD scuttled service from Ikea to downtown Hyattsville two years ago for lack of ridership. However, with the completion of several student housing projects all along the corridor (each paying Shuttle-UM to provide individual service to campus), there are the makings of regular transit service again. Eventually, beefed up bus stops sporting real time displays could further complement already high student trasit ridership from these new dense, transit-ready development popping up all over town. We attribute the high ridership of the University Town Center and University View routes to student finances, the price and difficulty of parking at UMD, and the relatively close proximity of these projects to campus. There is lots of potential. Unfortunately, August is just three months away and this conversation has not even really begun. The council meeting last Tuesday reflected the limited understanding that city elected officials and planning staff have of the opportunities as well as the nascent stage that the conversation is at despite the three years that have passed since the Route 1 Transportation Study.:
Continue reading Real Route 1 Bus Service – Time to Seize Opportunity

At UM Forum, Same Issues as Usual Plague Purple Line’s Progression

Purple Line 5

I wasn’t able to attend last Tuesday’s Purple Line forum, as I was happily riding a crowded Amtrak train. But the university helpfully posted a high-quality video of the event online. You can watch it here. If you don’t have  2 hours to spare, here’s what you missed:

This forum had a lot in common with  similar forums in recent years. There was a large turnout—the Purple Line is something that the community feels strongly about. As usual, MTA’s preferred Campus Drive surface alignment was pitted against the latest version of the university’s preferred anything-but-Campus-Drive alignment. In this case, a new incarnation of the southern Preinkert Drive alignment that includes a tunnel that starts near the Chapel and runs under Morrill Quad. As usual, audience input was overwhelmingly skewed in favor of the Campus Drive alignment. In the discussion period 10 people spoke in favor of Campus Drive, and 3 against (a further 6 raised other issues).

There were also some clear differences. There was a wider range of voices, including former Gov. Parris Glendening, who was Prince George’s County Executive when Metro’s Green Line alignment was being disputed, and Beth Day of the Federal Transit Administration, who offered some sobering truths on what it takes to compete successfully for federal funding. The event was kicked off by new UM president Wallace Loh, who continues to give no indication that he shares Dan Mote’s very strong views on Purple Line routing. It may be no accident that the university did not make the case for the Preinkert alignment as aggressively as it has in the past. There was a presentation from HMM, the authors of the university’s not-so-neutral recent report on the competing alignments, but it was not clear whether they were representing the current university administration, or Dr. Mote’s shadow. Overall, the tone of the meeting seemed less contentious than previous meetings.

Continue reading At UM Forum, Same Issues as Usual Plague Purple Line’s Progression

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.

Purple Line Town Hall Meeting 2-1-11

3 Proposed alignments

From: President Wallace Loh

Dear University of Maryland Community:

Faculty, staff and students are invited to a town hall meeting, hosted by the President’s Office, to discuss the Purple Line light rail system.  As you may know, the proposed transit line would run between Bethesda and New Carrollton, passing through Silver Spring, Takoma Park, the College Park campus, and Riverdale.

The town hall will be held on Tuesday, February 1, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., in the Colony Ballroom, on the second floor of the Stamp Student Union.

A formal program will open the meeting, providing information about the federal competition for light rail funding, factors affecting the decision about the University alignment, and the pros and cons of at least two campus alignments.   A panel of experts will include representatives from the federal government, the Maryland Transit Administration, Hatch Mott MacDonald (engineering consulting firm), and our faculty and staff.  Don Kettl, Dean of the School of Public Policy, will serve as the moderator.  Following the short formal presentations, we will welcome questions, suggestions, and comments from the audience.
Because of limited time, we ask that questions and comments be kept to two minutes.

Proceedings of this Purple Line forum can also be viewed live via web stream (www.umd.edu), and a videotape of the meeting will be posted on the University website.  Those who cannot attend the meeting can also submit their comments to president@umd.edu.

We look forward to your participation in the town hall.

Sincerely,

Wallace D. Loh
President

UMD Releases Purple Line Consulting Study

UMD just released its much anticipated consultant study of Purple Line alternatives through campus. The study, produced by Hatch Mott MacDonald (HMM), a Canadian-based engineering firm, sheds light on UMD’s current feeling on a controversy that has consumed the campus for nearly four years.

We reported a couple weeks back about our cautious optimism that President Loh may be preparing for a workable resolution to the Purple Line debate. We’re still digging into the 169-page document, but its important to note up front that the document was commissioned well before Loh was tapped for his new post. Indeed, President Loh is scheduling an open forum on the alignment issue on Feb. 1. We commend him for this step. He has invited Garth Rockcastle, former dean of the UMD College of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, to speak on the benefits of the Campus Drive alignment, which Rockcastle believes in completely. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will speak as well. We are unsure who else will attend, but aside from MTA, we expect the majority to be campus administrators and staff.

Some of the items in the report are quite technical, but overall the study seems to suggest that UMD continues (at least as far as we can tell) to grasp at straws: Choosing to focus primarily on pedestrian safety and unworkable south campus alignments rather than the realistic and fundable Campus Drive alignment.

MTA’s written response towards the end of the report is quite revealing. The fact that they had a limited role in the production of this document only confirms the report’s single-purpose nature: to poke holes in the Campus Drive alignment while building the case for the report’s pre-determined conclusion. HMM ignores that a Preinkert Drive tunnel is neither prudent nor feasible…and never mentions that such an alignment is fundamentally unattainable from a funding perspective. UMD has succumbed to one of the most pervasive pitfalls in all realms of transportation and land use planning: The lure of fantasy alternatives and “visions” has thus far obscured the path to pragmatic, achievable compromise.

HMM should have at least acknowledged that Campus Drive is the most likely alternative to reach fruition. In ignoring this basic fact, UMD missed a great opportunity to suggest ways to tweak the Campus Drive alignment to make it more compatible with the pedestrian activity on campus. Pedestrian safety is a legitimate concern, but the issue can’t be adequately adressed without a true partnership between UMD and MTA.

Despite a few promising steps towards collaboration along the way, UMD long ago forfeited any real opportunity to take on a leadership role. Astoundingly, UMD’s consultants now underestimate the time and resources MTA has invested in studying various proposed alignments which UMD itself put forward. We hope that President Loh can help reverse the unconscionable course that his predecessor set and forge a new transportation future for the the state of Maryland’s flagship campus.

In Speed Cameras, City Finds a Treasure Trove, But Can Take Only a Fraction to Its Coffer

A cash-strapped city that has been scrambling to recover thousands of dollars of lost revenue will probably get some relief through newly installed speed cameras. A recession-hit economy has cost the city a loss in state funds and a reduction of property taxes due to declining house prices. The city has been using means like a $5 hike in parking permit fees to recover from such loss of revenues.

The city first installed speed cameras in 3 locations: Metzerott Road, Paint Branch Parkway and Rhode Island Avenue. A new camera was recently installed on Route 1. Per state regulations, all these cameras must be installed within half a mile from an educational institution, such as a local school or the University of Maryland.

In last May, the city awarded the speed camera contract to a Lanham-based company called Optotraffic. In March, the city conducted a public hearing on the subject.

Cameras went into operation on November 15. As of close of business on December 7, a total of 8663 citations were issued, which roughly averages 377 per day. Out of the $40 charged per ticket, the city receives $24 and Optotraffic receives $16; this means that the City is getting $9048 per day. If the trend continues, the yearly revenue from the cameras will be around $3,302,520. For this fiscal year, which ends in June 2011, the projected revenue will be around $2 million.

Though the city plans to install more cameras within its boundary, there is a major caveat on how much the city can keep these revenue figures. The city can only take an amount equal to 10% of city’s total operating budget, which equals $12.5 million. This means the city can keep around $1.25 million; the rest must be returned to the state.

“Do I like the aspect of the law where the state should get the excess money? [I’ve] mixed feelings, but I doubt they will be getting much,” said District 4 council member Marcus Afzali on the part of revenues the state will be getting.

Some residents also think the state should not be given a free ride to enjoy 90% of the revenue. “My argument is that we should not be forced to pay money to the State from this program, when they have cut our share of the Highway User Revenue fund by 90%. In my opinion, we should simply stop issuing tickets, which will save the city the cost of reviewing and validating those tickets. In essence, after we hit the 10% number, our efforts are going to the state government, not the city, but the city would still incur all the associated costs related to the operation of the cameras. Hardly fair, in my opinion,” said north College Park resident Mathew Byrd.

But the council members don’t agree on such a strategy. “We’d be in violation of state law if we hold this money back.  I certainly don’t think that’s a wise idea,” said District 1 council member Patrick Wojahn.

District 2 council member Bob Catlin also echoed Wojahn’s concern: “Perhaps people should try to function in the real world rather than an imaginary world.”

Other residents support the cameras, but are skeptical about the revenues because of “hidden” costs. “Who paid for the equipment? Who pays to maintain the equipment? Who installed it? That all costs money and last time I checked there is no such thing as a free ride,” said resident Kennis Termini.

The revenue figure from speed camera will most likely decline over the time in future. “The current rate of citations will most likely go down as people become accustomed to the cameras being there, even if we move them within the areas we’ve set up,” said Wojahn

“Optotraffic reports that Metzerott rate has decreased significantly as expected and desired,” said the city’s public safety director, Bob Ryan. The Metzerott Road location has been proven to be a goldmine, yielding the highest number of revenue figures.

In addition to the 10% budget cap, there are other limitations. There is a small administrative cost of around $3-4 per ticket. Also, the revenues from traffic tickets cannot be spent on anything the city wants; they must be spent on projects related to traffic and pedestrian safety.

A treasure trove.

When it comes to how to spend this extra revenue, most in the council said they haven’t given much thought to the subject, but will figure something together. There are, however, a few exceptions.

District 2 council member Catlin said he prefers the revenues should be spent in line with the strategic plan that the city finalized last summer. “Once we figure out the revenues better, we should look to the city’s strategic plan and the five year Capital Improvement Project plan and see how the funds can best be spent. I am not inclined to amend this year’s budget to add any significant new spending over the next seven months, but would program these new revenues into the budget planning for fiscal year 2012.”

Catlin also thinks a better candidate for the new revenue spending is about repairing city’s ailing streets. “We have lost over $1,000,000 in state aid for street repair in the last two years, with no end to these cuts in sight (2015).  So I would not call these revenues, as significant as they appear to be, a windfall to be used to fund a variety of new or expanded city programs,” he added.

District 1 council member Wojahn also has a wish list, which includes more bike lanes and pedestrian signals. “I would like us to work with the county to install new safety measures on Rhode Island Avenue, along the lines that folks were suggesting at the NCPCA meeting a couple months ago. I’d also like to see if we could use it on additional bike lanes around north College Park, perhaps along Edgewood or Lackawanna Street.  If we get enough, maybe we could do an additional pedestrian signal on US 1 somewhere,” said Wojahn.

Other council members want to take a wait-and-see approach.

“We haven’t had official discussions yet though, but it’s a good idea to start early. I’d want to sit down with other council members and seriously consider all options and see where the need is the greatest,” said Afzali. His counterpart Denise Michelle also thinks the same.

“[It’s a] good question, but Mayor and Council hasn’t discussed, and I think it’s too early to speculate. I’m sure we’ll be discussing it fairly soon,” said mayor Andrew Fellows.

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.

Ehrlich Transportation Plan Unsuitable for College Park

light rail
Light rail transit in Portland, OR (image via the Rethink College Park Flickr Page).

Before casting your vote today, please consider what you would like your commute and that of future College Park residents to look like. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob L. Ehrlich surely has: His transportation platform, as outlined below, does not help actualize the vision of the modern college town that we all would like College Park to be.

More buses? The key to Ehrlich’s transportation platform is halting construction of the Purple Line light rail extension to the Metro system. The Purple Line would transverse Washington suburbs, connecting the Orange Line at New Carrollton to the Red Line at Bethesda. The route would have five stops in College Park—just outside the city limits at UMUC, in front of Stamp Student Union, East Campus, the existing Green Line metro stop, and on River Road at M-Square—quickly carrying local faculty and staff to campus, students to internships in D.C., and all residents to the businesses it would attract along the Route 1 corridor. Instead of investing in this speedy, commercially-viable transit system, Ehrlich would like to create a “rapid bus service” along the route, adding to the deluge of buses and shuttles that already hurdle up and down Campus Drive and get caught in mid-afternoon traffic across the region. Even The Diamondback, which endorsed Ehrlich yesterday morning, noted that when it comes to the Purple Line, Ehrlich’s plan is “less popular, less efficient, and less environmentally friendly.”

Roads over rail? Last week, Ehrlich promised to completely halt construction of the Purple Line if he gains office, claiming, “the dollars aren’t there”. While he cannot find money for light rail, there seems to be ample dollars available for roads. Ehrlich intends to divert the $80 million that O’Malley has dedicated to light-rail engineering to local road projects. Ehrlich has long given preference to roads over transit, beginning construction of the $2.6 billion Intercounty Connector during his term, while spurning the $1.6 billion light rail project. As Ehrlich’s representative on the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority board Robert J. Smith told The Washington Post, Ehrlich’s complaints of funding woes for the Purple Line are an attempt to “delay the project” and direct “all money available” to the Intercounty Connector, a nearly completed freeway marked by its environmental infirmity. In College Park, where nearly 50% of students come to campus by some other means than alone in a car, Ehrlich’s antiquated, autocentric scheme is unsuitable for the needs of the campus community.

Simply, when it comes to transportation, Bob Ehrlich does not have the needs of College Park in mind. While the Purple Line surely faces other obstacles in the reluctant University of Maryland administration, the Prince George’s and Montgomery County Councils have already agreed to the project, proving that the need and the desire for modern transit is here. All we need now is a visionary governor who will bring our ideal of a livable, vibrant college town to fruition.

For a similar viewpoint, read architecture professor emeritus and Purple Line NOW president Ralph Bennet’s guest column, “Fear the purple,” in The Diamondback.