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.
This intersection has obvious flaws that render it unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians. Extremely long light cycles allow auto traffic to travel unabated at high speeds and encourage pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Route 1 to take dangerous risks. Pedestrians are forced to wait up to two minutes for a walk signal that gives people a mere 5 seconds to cross the street! In my experience, pressing the button to activate the pedestrian signal has no effect on decreasing the amount of time I have to wait before receiving the walk signal.
Crosswalks and stop lines, especially those parallel to Route 1, are badly faded. This leads vehicles to ignore them and pull into crosswalks, thus forcing pedestrians to maneuver around them. Narrow pedestrian islands in the middle of the road offer inadequate safety for pedestrians crossing halfway. Additionally, the island on the north side of the intersection offers no curb cuts, making crossings for the visually impaired or those in wheelchairs extremely hazardous.
For bicyclists who ride in the street on College Avenue, there are no arrows to give an indication of which lane is meant to proceed straight across Route 1. This leads to confusion and unanticipated movements by both bicyclists and motorists. Riding along Route 1 is an extremely risky endeavor leading most riders to blaze a path along the sidewalk, creating additional hazards for all.
What needs to be done?
Reduce the speed of traffic. The retail corridor will greatly benefit from slower speeds that provide safer and more enjoyable conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists. How can this be accomplished? First, a strictly enforced speed limit of 25 MPH should be instituted. A vehicle traveling at 40 MPH has an 85% chance of killing a pedestrian; at 30 MPH the probability drops to 45%; at 20 MPH, it drops to just 5%. However, a speed limit will not serve to slow traffic on its own. Specific engineering solutions and design features must be used to slow traffic. To start, shorten the green-light cycle for cars traveling along Route 1. Shorter, more frequent light cycles will prevent long periods of Route 1 traffic from flowing unabated for long periods of time, decreasing speeds, and discouraging pedestrians from crossing against the light.
Make improvements to better accommodate pedestrians. First, a wider, tree-lined median (with handicap accommodation) of at least six feet and narrowed traffic lanes will serve to naturally slow traffic. Meanwhile, it will provide a larger, safer respite that will allow pedestrians to cross the street in two separate movements and focus on one flow of traffic at a time. Second, countdown pedestrian signals would allow pedestrians to know exactly how long they have to wait to cross the street. Third, buttons at all four corners that work to lessen the time one must wait for the pedestrian signal will encourage pedestrians to cross in a safe manner. Finally, a tighter curb radii associated with curb extensions (bump-outs) will prevent right-turning vehicles from impeding into crosswalks and shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians.
Remove the parking lot in front of Bagel Place and build a public plaza. The parking lot in front of Bagel Place leads to awkward traffic flow and broken pathways for pedestrians. With the new underutilized parking garage just one block away on Knox Road, this is a perfect opportunity to reallocate this space for pedestrians and create an attractive plaza and gathering place for students, permanent residents, and visitors.
All images courtesy of Mark Noll.