Pondering the Purpose of Rethink College Park

I just posted to the urban planning portal Planetizen a short article explaining some of the philosophy behind Rethink College Park. The article is based on a presentation I gave last semester to a student group. After describing some of the challenges to implementing Smart Growth in College Park, I attempt to evaluate our success, concluding “new tools and an engaged approach could supplement conventional modes of professional practice.” I invite readers to contribute their comments.

> Smart Growth at the Grassroots: Rethinking College Park

9 thoughts on “Pondering the Purpose of Rethink College Park”

  1. Hi Rob —

    I read your article and I think the problem is that no one in my opinion really seems to care about the problems of the region as a whole, despite all the high powered brain power at UMD, and the desire to avoid taxes by the rest of us, and the desire of all the developers to make money.

    The one issue that I think everyone is really avoiding and ducking their eyes when asked about is that of traffic and really good LOCAL public transportation.

    I am not talking about the Purple Line or the Inter-County Connector…that to me at the moment seem like big boondoggles that I really can’t see helping anyone in terms of traffic….I may be proved wrong….

    What will happen to this area when all the student housing and other building is completed on Route 1 and Greenbelt and Cafritz and the Arts District in Hyattsville to the South brings all the traffic during the week and on weekends, because there is not a really good North-South reliable and frequent bus service, nor are there good reliable local feeder bus routes East-West within the communities along Route 1.

    If all the parties, U Of MD, all the cities and jurisdictions, all the developers, WMATA, and PG County could focus on good LOCAL public transportation (for everyone, not just the University, the students, faculty and employees there of) perhaps we could have the coming together that is lacking….but until that happens I am afraid that we will just see more of the same, and all that should have held such great promise, will just be a larger mess, with no real Smart Growth and deadlocked highways that are “acceptable” at a service Level of E.

    Everyone involved should be looking at Arlington County as a possible model for good local public transportation for many, but just the few.

    Developers or their tenants should be demanding this type of plan. I am surprised they are not. I want to use all the new amenities that are planned for the area, and I’d rather use public transportation to get to them, but I can’t because there isn’t any and I’m currently not a student or faculty member of the University of Maryland that has it’s own transportation system. I guess they found it easier to build their own then try to get all other parties interested. I wish they had not and had used their voice and the clout of their alumni to really push for a modern transportation system for the region and the common good, or as they used to call it the commonweal.

    I hope this will change, perhaps we can explore this issue in more detail on this site in the future.

  2. In 2006 the City of College Park authorized about $100,000 for a consultant’s study of transportation issues in the Route 1 corridor. Working through the County (Park & Planning) ICF, Nelson/Nygaard and Reid Ewing were hired to do a comprehensive survey of the transportation issues and to make recommendations. Route 1 was looked at from Hyattsville to the Beltway,though some of the discussion was south to the Rhode Island Ave metro station in the District. A study was published in August 2007 and was the subject of a lengthy public meeting.

    The study looked at a TDM (transportation demand management) district,buses and shuttles, parking policy, bicycle policy, pedestrian policy, access management, Purple Line and the state’s recommeded design for rebuilding Route 1.

    The City is keenly aware that if more people are going to live in the Route 1 corridor we must pursue a strategy to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

    The City is always talking to developers and the University on ways to achieve that goal.

  3. Rob.

    You guys are doing a terrific job at RTCP and a tremendous service for our community. Here’s my long and complicated for suggestion for how to change things: please don’t.

    In my view, the breadth and level of detail of informartion that you provide (including linked documents and other resources) is perfect for supporting a broad-based, informed, and productive discussion on all of the developmental questions facing our area. And I greatly appreciate the values you guys manifest in every sentence of your posts — which I interpret as smart-growth above everything except one thing: respectful open-mindedness and discussion.

    Exactly how much are we paying you for all this, by the way?…. 🙂

    In the survey that you conducted about the site a few months ago, I think several questions alluded to the possibility of expanding RTCP’s features and content. I can easily think of ways that you could do so, such as by hosting guest columnists (V.P. Duncan leaps to mind) or maybe doing some fancier technological things, but in my responses to your survey I argued against such changes in general because I think the site works fine just the way it is when it comes to stimulating and supporting discussion, and I worry that trying to do “more” could actually take away from that fundamental mission.

    As your article makes clear, RTCP isn’t simply a “site” anymore than it is simply a bunch of files sitting on a web server somewhere. The thing that makes it unique and useful is that it is a vibrant ongoing respectful conversation (that just happens to be hosted currently on a web site on a server somewhere). Thanks for the conversation, and please keep it up.

  4. Can someone please answer the following questions?

    (a) Why aren’t we building vertically? All along rte. 1 are these diminutive stores and short buildings. Why aren’t there stores with housing ABOVE them?

    (b) Is this a zoning issue? We’re not part of DC proper. It shouldn’t be, but if it is, why isn’t it being addressed? The only thing tall buildings would obscure are the fabulous views of wires, traffic lights, the stupid beer trailer (aka, Lasick’s), and scrubby weeds.

    (c) Why isn’t the University building student housing OVER pre-existing parking lots? (You know apartment building on top, parking lot on the bottom, or maybe even EXPANDING the lots and making an underground parking garage. Wow, there’s an idea…)

    (d) Why aren’t there bus-only lanes? This would make public transportation (along 495 AND rte 1) far, far more attractive than driving because it would be infinitely faster. The vast majority of people aren’t going to take public transportation because it’s slower than going by car. Plus, pub. trans. is neither regular nor are its hours good.

    (e) How about making it so that UMD isn’t the #1 campus in the US in violent crimes? The only way that’s going to happen is by upping the number of cops around.

    Oh yes, I almost forgot. This is for everyone who enjoys expounding upon the alleged UMD campus “aesthetic appeal:”


    Sorry, kiddies. This place is ugly. Everyone knows.

  5. Answers to M’s questions above:

    a & b. Building post 2002 will generally be done vertically. In the vicinity of campus above the Northgate look for future buildings to generally be 9 to 12 stories. Near Greenbelt Road and north future construction will likely be 4 to 5 stories, with some greater heighth possible at the large site east of Route 1 between Greenbelt Road and University Blvd.

    It was largely a zoning issue (could not mix retail with housing) which the City sought to change as of 1995. The County approved the change in 2002.

    c. The University’s surface parking lots are generally slated for buildings (classrooms and research)over time. The University has a few sites identified for housing, which I believe are not being used for parking. Generally the University is expecting student housing to be provided off campus by the private sector, so the University will not incur the debt. Parking under apartments is generally not as efficient as parking garages because the apartment footprint and the weight bearing columns do make for a good, efficient parking layout. The University also has sufficient surface parking now, so why incur an expense of $20,000 to $25,000 for such a parking space. Underground parking is even more expensive, $30,000 a space. In addition, many areas (on and off campus) are in a floodplain which means no underground parking.

    d No place on Route 1 to establish bus only lanes. A recent study (about 2002)looked at constructing a busway from the Beltway at the I95 interchange directly to campus. It ws not found to be feasible. A new study is proceeding with the view of building a private road ($100 million)onto campus from that location. Opposed by almost everyone and everthing not associated with the campus.

    e. The University police force numbers about 75, with an authorized strength of about 100. Look for some significant increase in its size in the future.

    The City’s direct spending on police was about $0 in 2003, it is now about $550,000, and will likely increase to $1 million by 2009.

  6. I COULD NOT AGREE MORE WITH PAUL – In fact, i think i answered that one question of the survey with dont change a thing, about the only possible “enhancement” would be to have a blog functionality where we the visitors could start a topic / conversation thread, ask questions that dont fit into the “Leave a Reply” / relate to a story. Trouble with that is it will increase the work because you will need a moderator. and this functionality would be a “nice to have” as opposed to a “must have”

    As for “M” (and like Paul mentions, I too appreciate and respect the civil nature of this site, so Ill do my best here – please know that this reply is largely meant to be humorous):

    a) Going vertical: have you seen “The View” lately (no, not the show, but the building)?

    b) Have you reviewed the Campus Master plan lately? Its easy to find on umd.edu and on this site – next Dorm to replace parking will be along the north face of the Mowatt Garage (near the B-school)

    e) Crime: A more vibrant redeveloped College Park with higher density and more 24/7 uses will create more eyes and ears and will help, but all agree, this is an issue and redevelopment / revitalization will help but will also create demand for increased service levels. Think about the fire department if wwe have a canyon of highrises along Rte 1

    and as for that piece of garbage site “campus squeeze” – very few take that on line rag seriously – its just another tech savy fool venting his/her frustrations on line. probably got rejected by U of Md. and now a-days opinion blogs are like a certain part of the anatomy. everybody has one and usually………..

  7. Bob,

    I’m looking forward to seeing progress stemming from that study. I thought it was a great effort to change some of the SHA plans for Route 1 for the better. Particularly, I think the city can work with the University on those “superstops” along the corridor, which emphasize the presence of bus service (through branding) rather than the particular organization which runs the bus. Shuttle-UM’s recent creating of a Route 1 route and the city’s ongoing efforts to get residents on UM buses make this as good a time as any to start making bus service on Route 1 highly visible and reliable.

  8. I graduated from college park in 1994, and it sounds like not much has changed. For two years, I bicycled from downtown DC, where i was living, to College Park for my classes, and was routinely harrassed by my fellow students while riding the last stretch along Route 1. Having come from a quintessential college town (Madison), where everybody biked and walked and the streets were lined with cafes and bookstores, I always thought it was a shame that the UMCP campus was little more than a stop on the highway. Even the campus itself was filled with cars (haven’t been back since I graduated, so not sure if it was made more ped friendly or not). Good luck in your efforts in creating a “real” college town, I know its not for lack of trying!

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