Universities miss the train when it comes to transit

I would think that a fairly obvious aspect of transportation planning is that as convenience increases, so does use. Unfortunately, this lesson is one that apparently needs to be added to the syllabus. As I said last week, the University of Maryland has been fighting the Purple Line for a while. Other universities are making similar arguments against rail plans in their areas.

The Overhead Wire reported late last week that Norfolk State University in Virginia has been successful in getting the NSU station on Norfolk’s light rail system, which is currently under construction, moved away from campus. According to the Hampton Roads Pilot Online, university officials were worried that a stop so close to campus would be a security issue.

Moving the station will add $1.45 million to the cost of the project and will locate the station on the opposite side of Brambleton Avenue. Light rail patrons traveling to the Norfolk State Campus will now have to cross a 5-lane arterial. Of course, this is likely to reduce both the number of criminals and students using the train. The crucial question is which group will be more determined to get across the highway.

While the administration of UMD has decided to partake in a civil discussion regarding the Purple Line, history shows that they haven’t always been so accomodating. Not only did they try and get the Purple Line stop moved away from the center of campus, they were instrumental in the 1970s in getting the Green Line station located far from campus, on the far side of College Park. One WMATA proposal put the Green Line stop under Route 1 at its intersection with College Avenue. This stop would have been adjacent to campus, but the University feared that it would increase crime. As a result, students, faculty, staff, and visitors have to endure a long walk or bus ride to campus.

UM’s arguments against the Purple Line tended to be more along the lines of objections due to safety rather than crime. Of course, if the University is so concerned that light rail vehicles will be a danger to pedestrians, I challenge them to remove all cars from Campus Drive regardless of the fate of the Purple Line, after all, cars are far more dangerous to pedestrians. Rethink College Park further challenged the UM’s arguments by asking, among other things, why all the campus buses didn’t serve the the University’s proposed station location on Stadium Drive. Hopefully, the university’s fears won’t result in another inconvenient station location.

Another university that fought light rail is the University of Minnesota. They objected to the Central Corridor which would connect Minneapolis and Saint Paul on similar grounds as the University of Maryland. Fearing, vibration, traffic disruption, and pedestrian safety, they insisted on a subway route through campus. When that proved too expensive, they insisted on a lenghty detour around the northern side of campus. That route would have drawn too few riders, however. Finally, not wanting to be the last obstacle to the line, they wisely backed down.

These Universities, although they would benefit greatly from the increased mobility, have fought projects which would reduce their need to provide parking, increase their environmental friendliness, and make their institutions a more integrated part of the urban fabric. At long last, some are beginning to wise up. Still, these objections are likely to continue to crop up as transit officials continue to try to expand transit into new areas. Hopefully, in these debates, mobility will be the victor.