College Park has the fortune of having a unique system of trails and open spaces running through and around the city. However, there are some instances where this system of open spaces serves to divide the community rather than bring it together.
One such instance is the large, wooded open space directly north of Paint Branch Parkway and east of Baltimore Avenue. This land sits at the geographic heart of College Park and has the opportunity to serve as a gathering place for local residents and the University community. Unfortunately, this land is vastly underutilized due to difficult and unattractive pedestrian and bicycle access and a lack of visibility.
During my frequent runs and bicycle rides around Lake Artemesia, I am amazed by the lack of University students taking advantage of this amenity. I have come to the conclusion that the few number of students who utilize Lake Artemesia’s pathway and surrounding trail system is driven both by a lack of perceived safety and simply being unaware that such an amenity exists.
With so much beautiful open space directly adjacent to the University and many of College Park’s neighborhoods, it is unfortunate how cut off this land is from campus and surrounding neighborhoods, especially Old Town. Unfortunately, physical barriers, such as dangerous Route 1 and a sound wall along Paint Branch Road, along with psychological barriers, such as a perceived lack of safety, are currently discouraging more recreational use of this area. Additionally, though the university sits less than a mile away from Lake Artemesia, the distance seems much further due to the convoluted path system and a lack of sight lines between the two destinations.
A little planning and creativity could go a long way in creating a world-class arboretum right here in College Park. The solution to increasing usage lies in creating a highly pedestrian-oriented system that emphasizes safety and the natural beauty of the Paint Branch stream. The first step is creating a safe pedestrian crossing across Route 1 near Campus Drive. This includes curb bumpouts and pedestrian islands to reduce the distance and time necessary to cross this extremely busy road. Second, a pedestrian countdown signal and shorter light signals will emphasize an intersection that is geared toward people, and not only cars. Third, a wide, relatively straight, and well-let pathway that follows the Paint Branch Stream will shorten the distance between the university and Lake Artemesia, provide sight lines, and go a long way in increasing the perceived and real safety of this area. Finally, a high-class pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks will avoid the unsettling concrete tunnel that currently traverses below. This bridge will enhance visual interest, improve safety, and provide a new perspective on the lake and surrounding open space. In the long run, more amenities such as an outdoor amphitheatre, exercise equipment, a flower garden, and nature center could further enhance the attractiveness and desirability of the arboretum.
It is imperative that the university and city join forces in creating unique and desirable assets throughout College Park. We can hope than new University of Maryland President Loh will play an integral role in building this strong relationship. An enhanced and improved public space between the university and Lake Artemesia could create a much-needed amenity, serving both permanent residents and students. An arboretum could go a long way in making College Park more than just “a livable community”; it could propel it to be a top-notch college town and a regional attraction.
With the coming of the Purple Line and East Campus, College Park has the opportunity to capitalize on improved accessibility and attractive new development and provide another highly desirable amenity and reason for people to visit and move to College Park. It’s time for College Park to step out of the shadows, build upon its natural assets, and create a highly pedestrian-oriented public space that will serve as a community gathering place and transform College Park into the college town that it should be.