Traffic: Is it worth the worry?

On Thursday night, I listened to a few of the comments in front of the Prince George’s County Planning Commission regarding the proposed development of the Cafritz site. Not surprisingly, many of those opposed to the current version of the project cited increased traffic as their central argument. While listening, I couldn’t help but wonder why some of us are so terrified of traffic that we are willing to let a great opportunity pass us by.

One opponent, a resident of University Park, explained how her trip to pick up her children at a school in the Berwyn neighborhood in College Park has taken up to 30 minutes (a distance of about 2 miles) when University of Maryland is in session. Because of her concern about additional traffic, she is willing to forgo the opportunity of having a highly regarded grocery store and new development within walking distance of her home.

While I agree that 30 minutes is a long time to travel two miles in a car, I suspect that this is not an everyday occurrence. However, let’s assume the development is built as planned and she must endure the burden of additional time to pick up her children. Is she worse off? I argue no.
cafritz property 2011
To start, on nice days, she has the opportunity of hopping on a bicycle and riding to school with her children . . . or letting them go alone if they are old enough. While Route 1 is big and wide, crossing at a signalized intersection is simple enough and the College Park Trolley Trail leads directly to the school. It’s a perfect opportunity to get some exercise and enjoy the day.

Now, let’s think of the benefits of having a quality, mixed-use development within walking distance of your home. Here’s a scenario as an example. Mom finds out she is out of milk while making dinner. She doesn’t want to leave hot items on the stove so she sends her children out to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery. The children can walk to the store and return within 15 minutes. The children have the opportunity to gain a little independence and self-confidence while Mom can continue with dinner preparation.

Here’s another example. It’s Saturday morning and in a few hours you are heading to a friend’s house for an afternoon cook-out. You have several errands to complete before joining your friends in a few hours. You hop on your bike and ride to the new town center at the Cafritz property. You arrive within 10 minutes and park your bike out front of the coffee shop. You sit down, relax, read the newspaper or chat with a neighbor, then walk to the grocery to pick up some tasty dip for the cook-out. You also pick up that tape measure you’ve needed at the adjacent hardware store. You hop back on your bike and head home. You were gone for an hour and you still have time to get some things down around the house.
Palo Alto bicycle commuter
I’m sure everyone can think of another example that may be relevant to their life. To me, the benefits are clear. You don’t have to spend 20 minutes driving over to Silver Spring, searching for a place to park, then driving all the way home again. Instead, you get some exercise, finish your errands quicker, and have a much more enjoyable morning.

Some of you may still be thinking, “But, what about the traffic?” Here is my response. Whether it be in a car, on a bus, or on the platform waiting for the train, traffic (congestion) is a part of life when you live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, and it will continue to be so as the region grows and College Park and Route 1 redevelop. For those of us living adjacent to a variety of goods and services, we will have the benefit of a variety of transportation options to reach our destinations (walk, bicycle, transit, car).

If we don’t want traffic to dominate our lives, we have to start thinking about transportation and land use differently. Driving should take a back seat to walking and cycling for shorter trips. Public transportation can take care of longer trips within the metropolitan area. With this mentality, we can create more vibrant communities and worry less about the traffic on our roads.
Which is Most Efficient?
In the case of the Cafritz development, rather than fret about traffic, think of the benefits of having more amenities closer to home. Rather than fight to deny opportunities for new development, fight for better public transportation and sidewalks. When you have better access to goods and services closer to your house, you will have to drive less. You can spend more time doing the things you want to do, rather than sitting in traffic.

Calvert Hills Access to Cafritz

The opinions expressed in this piece represent the views of the author and not Rethink College Park or its other contributors.

In conversations about the Cafritz property, I have often wound up conversations about how the property will relate to the community around it. Two basic models can be followed – the urban street grid or the suburban pod. Street grids have a lot going for them, most notably on walkability. You can get a lot further in a one kilometer walk on a grid than in pod.

Street Grid Walkability
How far you get walking 1km in either a suburban (left) or urban (right) street layout.

Grids also have an impact on traffic. When there are only a handful of roads to travel on, a problem on any one of them creates tremendous impact. Grids create alternative routes and spread out the traffic more, relieving pressure. In short, there’s a reason humans have built cities on this pattern for millenia.

Although College Park itself, particularly Old Town and Calvert Hills, leans towards the grid, it exists amid a series of pods. Calvert Hills is itself a pod, with Riverdale Park another pod, University Park a third, Hyattsville and Berwyn and University Town Center all pods further away.

Many in the communities surrounding Cafritz have rightly pushed for both a connection southward into Riverdale Park, and a bridge Eastward across the CSX tracks. Both of these links would increase site access in general and help provide connection alternatives to Route 1 and East-West Highway. With these connections already under consideration, County planning staff have also suggested studying a connection Northward into Calvert Hills.

Area in the red box suggested for study as a combined vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle link

I live in Calvert Hills and like the idea of having a way to leave the neighborhood that does not involve Route 1. A connection between Calvert Hills and Cafritz would provide direct access South into Riverdale Park and East across the planned CSX Bridge. I do not know what all the potential impacts would be but I believe it is worth studying because more informed choices tend to be better chocies.

Sadly, others in my neighborhood disagree. Councilmember Stullich, encouraged by certain hysterical Calvert Hills residents, fired off an e-mail Saturday decrying County staff for even daring to suggest studying the matter. Posters on the local listserve conjured visions of a giant “through way[sic]” which would “destroy” Calvert Hills, slammed County staff “who do not live here” as liars, and dismissed the idea of study even while acknowledging the general principle that connectivity provides benefits. The sheer ferocity of the opinions gave me pause and I realized that I was not reading a rational discussion – it was about faith.

Planning decisions have an emotional component. We all make value judgments that are not strictly rational. I dislike brutalist architecture and I will not for a minute pretend that this based in fact. It is taste, which is emotional. We ask for trouble, however, when we let emotion become everything. One can claim that a link between Calvert Hills and Cafritz would create a huge new highway, destroy the neighborhood, increase crime or unleash a plague of frogs, but merely asserting it does not make it so. That is the entire point of study – to gather the best facts and best forecasts possible so that we know what the impacts of our decisions are.

I have no idea if a connection between Calvert Hills and Cafritz makes sense. I do not have any facts to make an informed decision. If, like me, you prefer to make your decisions based on evidence and not supposition, I encourage to contact Councilmember Stullich, the City Council and the Planning Board and encourage them to support rational decision making.

Councilmember Stullich’s original e-mail is available below the jump.

Continue reading Calvert Hills Access to Cafritz

Cafritz development informational meeting – Tuesday Nov 1

An informational meeting on the proposed development at the 36-acre Cafritz property will take place Tuesday, November 1 at the College Park City Hall (4500 Knox Road). As most readers are aware, the Cafritz property is located adjacent to Route 1, immediately south of College Park and east of University Park. The meeting will include a presentation on the latest development plans from the Cafritz developers and provide an opportunity for a public Q&A.

wholefoods

The updated site plan (above), including a commitment from Whole Foods, has sparked discussion and debate throughout the region and in surrounding areas including the Calvert Hills neighborhood of College Park as well as the cities of University Park and Riverdale Park. While the prospect of a Whole Foods has garnered lots of positive attention, the most recent site plan resembles something similar to a 1970s suburban strip mall and leaves lots of questions about what “Future Development” will look like. This meeting will provide an excellent opportunity for residents to hear directly from the development team and weigh in on the conversation. Hope to see you there!