Students Berate UMD Administrators Over Campus Dr. Bus Plan

“We really just want to see what sort of problems would occur so it could inform our thinking in the future,” Millree Williams, University spokesman

Stamp Bus Bay
Students and Purple Line supporters made sure their voices were heard loud and clear at a meeting yesterday afternoon to gather input on the impending test closure of Campus Drive to all vehicles including nearly all public transit this summer. Those in attendance seemed to overwhelmingly share RTCP’s view that the attempt to create a “traffic-free, pedestrian-friendly zone” on Campus Drive would reduce campus accessibility and safety, suppress transit ridership in the long run and directly contradict the Campus Master Plan.

The only positive comments on the administration’s plan amounted to support for closing the road to cars. Both Frank Brewer, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management, and David Allen, Director of the Department of Transportation, fielded tough questions for nearly 1.5 hours.  RTCP was extremely impressed with the thoughtful student comments and their steadfast support for smart and sustainable campus transportation policy. Many in attendance scoffed at administrators and were both unsatisfied with the responses and shocked by how poorly thought out the plan seemed to be. We were taken aback by how ill-prepared these two top University administrators were for the questions and couldn’t help but feel bad that they had been forced to toe an indefensible line for their superiors (Dr. Wylie and Mote).

We’re hoping to get a full video of the meeting, but until then here are some of the major holes in the plan that were pointed out at the forum:

  • Dan Reed from Just Up the Pike made a number of excellent points about the WMATA buses he frequently rides to campus from Montgomery County. His comments led to a Brewer admission that UMD has no transit planners on staff and that no transit planners whatsoever have weighed in on their proposed trial run. Reed forced Allen to reveal that UMD has no idea what the impact of the proposal will be on WMATA buses who will be diverted onto Regents Drive along with cars. Allen claimed that WMATA bus specialist Larry Glick thinks the diversion will improve route speed and reliability. RTCP’s own communication with Glick revealed that he’s much more interested in testing how the removal of cars from Campus Drive will improve WMATA’s existing routes.
  • It was revealed that this plan was thrown together over the last 4 weeks after it was realized that this summer would be the only chance to get a test run complete before a Campus Master Plan update begins in the fall. No student input was sought in the plan until an outcry from student leaders led to this forum.
  • Brewer and Allen repeatedly claimed that the administration was only carrying out the recommendations of Campus Master Plan. A number of students came with copies of the plan in hand and showed how closing Campus Drive to transit was in direct contradiction to implicit guidance and explicit goals of the Campus Master Plan. Jesse Yurow, a junior at UMD, pointed out that the bus closure ignored two key goals of the Campus Master Plan including: “maximize use of alternatives to driving to campus” and “improve the campus’ integration into the regional transit system network.” Brewer’s response was: “OK.”
  • Allen stuck to a strict reading of the master plan, which envisions a internal shuttle loop that would utilize Campus Drive, but one that UMD has not seriously considered implementing. The internal shuttle loop is very roughly approximated by the Campus Connector North and South routes that will stay on Campus Drive in the proposed pilot. Unfortunately, that 10-year-old vision requires the vast majority of commuters who take buses in from off campus to transfer to buses once they get on campus. The proposed pilot has those transfers occurring at Regents Drive Garage… the Campus Connector North and South routes only come every 30 minutes (in the summer and all year round as things currently stand). The Campus Master Plan pre-dates the entire Purple Line planning process (see below) and doesn’t anticipate the tremendous growth in bus ridership from developer-funded Shuttle UM routes to private student housing projects.
  • Brewer repeatedly said that the bus closure had no connection whatsoever to the Purple Line. According to RTCP conversations with Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) Purple Line planning team, UMD has not contacted them about this bus plan. Brewer’s claim and the UMD failure to contact MTA are fairly extraordinary seeing as it is absolutely essential that Shuttle UM buses operate in conjunction with the Purple Line. I posed the question: “Why are we relegating buses to the edge of campus when today they are precisely where they need to be to work in conjunction with the proposed Stamp Student Union Purple Line stop?” I pointed out that Brewer falsely cited the existence of “3 proposed alignments through campus. ” In reality, there is only one achievable alignment and two (fantasy) alignments supported by UMD which the MTA has categorically said are unsafe and too expensive to ever build (see below).
  • A number of people expressed concerns about safety, paratransit services and accessibility for the handicap.
  • There was a lot of discussion about how UMD intends to run a valid test since the transportation picture in the summer is so much different than the fall or spring semesters. Indeed, on a regular school day in the fall or spring, 750 buses and 5,500 cars traverse the roadway. In the summer 1/3 of the buses (half of all Shuttle-UM service) are not in operation and far fewer cars are on campus. So we’re doing testing with fewer buses and cars, but forcing the vast majority of vehicles onto Regents Drive. Brewer and Allen acknowledged that Regents Drive could not take the brunt of bus diversions during the regular semester and there could be “perhaps as many as four” final campus transit hubs if they pursue the long term closure of Campus Drive to transit. They also acknowledged that future alternative trials like this could be run before any full-fledged implementation.

RTCP feels it would make far more sense and be a much more valid test to proceed with just the car closure. Perhaps UMD could make the closure permanent in the fall if transit service improves and those in the  campus community who drive adapt quickly to the changes. The current plan is basically like throwing darts blindfolded. There are no independent variables. The University is just tossing the chips around the table with no real plan or vision for how things will look in the end and no real internal expertise to speak of. The results of this “test” will prove of questionable value because the proposed bus routes bear little resemblance to the routes that will actually be implemented in the end. Furthermore, it’s not sound transportation planning to disperse transit hubs around campus, complicate and repeatedly change routes, and force riders to transfer. Regardless, all of it will have to be moved back to Campus Drive if and when the Purple Line is built.
Purple Line 5
The Washington Post published a story on the bus controversy later in the afternoon, but didn’t report on the forum since they weren’t there. Still there are a number of quotes that are worth pointing out:

“A lot of people view it as relegating transit to the edge of campus,” said David Daddio, editor of the Rethink College Park blog.

Later:

“I think they’ll try to use [a future pedestrian mall] as justification against a Purple Line alignment” there, said senior Joanna Calabrese, director of environmental affairs for the student government.

University spokesman Millree Williams said:

“There is no preemptive strike” against a Campus Drive route. “The Purple Line has not been part of these discussions.”

Michael D. Madden, project manager for the state’s Purple Line study probably sums it up best;

If [the Purple Line] is not on Campus Drive, we don’t know where else on campus it could be,” Madden said. “We’ve emphasized that the Purple Line needs to be fully integrated” into university plans.

When will the University administrators come to the same conclusion countless others already have that the proper location for transit is on campus is Campus Drive? It also happens to be the only place the Purple Line can be built. Taking into account reality and facts are normal principles of academic inquiry. When will the administration accept the realities of the Purple Line planning process, embrace the advice of transit planners and integrate their transportation plans with MTA? When will they stop paying lip service and actually champion the Purple Line?

11 thoughts on “Students Berate UMD Administrators Over Campus Dr. Bus Plan”

  1. Closing off route 1 is a good idea. The area should be redeveloped to include a brick-paved pedestrian town center complete with bistros, boutiques, cafes ,art theaters , ice cream shops, bookstores etc. to rival Ann Arbor. It should befit the university’s image as a destination school with great credentials. the amenities have never kept up ( I attended 30 years agor and it looks the same–awful). the purple line should run along this axis but be underground.
    This solves both probelms. the entire project can be done with the environment in mind.The alternative would be a trolly connecting along this route to the College Park Metro station. Think San Francisco. Come on people, use your imagination!.

  2. David, thank you for keeping me informed on this. I’m a grad student at UMD and I’ve heard ZERO about this from the administration.

    Unlike the undergrads, many of the grad school students take classes year round and many of us live off campus and rely on bus and car transport to get us to campus. This whole situation is very troubling for me and it will impact the summer grad students in a huge way very soon.

    One question: Will the proposed Campus Drive vehicle closure allow for the College Park metro shuttle onto Campus Dr and to makes its way into Campus to the Student Union?

    Thanks again for staying with this.

  3. Jessica, the Shuttle UM bus from Metro will stop at Regents Drive garage. I encourage you to contact Dr. Anne Wylie and Frank Brewer with your concerns.

  4. Do some of these administrators even live in or near College Park? What about the President? I can’t believe how short-sighted some people can be. It always seems that the administration is disconnected from it’s own students and the surrounding community.

  5. John, I’ll relay a story for you.
    I was discussing campus/city development with a person I know who is a long-time mid-level University employee. He knew that I lived in the area and sometimes contribute to RTCP. More than once he said something to the effect of “I’ve got to be careful what I tell you because you are the enemy.”
    And then he went on to tell me all about the great property he lives on that is a hour drive from campus.

    This really got me to thinking. Why am I the enemy?

    Here is a person who has some influence and access probably represents at least part of the thinking from campus administration. He leaves campus every day and drives very far away. So to him what is good for campus ends at the border and the “enemy” are those annoying City residents.

    I have a distinct feeling that many of the admin folks really only see the city as a place they have to “drive through” in order to get to campus and that thinking influences many decisions that are made.

    I am not trying to label all the campus admin into one box but it does make you wonder about how would current policies and goals be different if more lived in the 20740 zip code.

  6. Clay, I agree with you that many admin folks seem to view College Park as a “drive through” opposed to a destination worthy of attention. I was hoping that the $35,000 Work & Live College Park program was going to change this, but that change seems to be happening slowly if at all.

  7. Well said, Clay. The administration is letting their suburban sensibilities getting in the way of sound planning. They also don’t get that the younger generations don’t and won’t ever have those suburban sensibilities. We are showing our preference for walkable town and cities and transit with our dollars. The (car dependent)suburbia-and-car fetish outlook of the boomers and their parents will be an historical curiosity to future historians. It’s something purely from the second half of the 20th century because it was new and shiny and its extreme environmental, fiscal, and social drawbacks hadn’t shown themselves yet.

    My little rant aside, that provides a little perspective for the silly, silly, incompetent and unvisionary things coming out of the administration regarding transportation and planning policy. Keep that in mind when you talk to them and understand where they’re coming from. Be composed and gentle because they won’t get that you don’t want that lifestyle.

  8. Clay and John : this is precisely the mind set that I have ranted about for years. This “us versus them” antagonistic b.s. and its maddening. (see: Atlas Shrugged) Doc Kirwan made a lot of positive progress when he was President of the College Park Campus, progress that seemed to not only grind to a halt but move in the opposite direction once there was a change in leadership. Hopefully whomever is up next will talk to Dr Kirwan and get things moving in the right direction again.

    I hope that Cavan is right in his prediction but that is part of the problem in and around CP. The other part is a very self centered “I only want what I think is best for me” mindset (aka classic NIMBYism) as opposed to people who can see the bigger picture and agree to what is best for all/ for the greater good.

    Its been going on for so long its sad really.

  9. John : President Mote is too good for College Park. He snubbed the President’s residence on Campus and instead lives in Annapolis with all of the UVa types

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