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.

13 thoughts on “Traffic: Is it worth the worry?”

  1. Holy Redeemer school lets out at about 2:50 pm. I live about 200 feet from the school and frequently drive up or down Route 1 about this time. The line of traffic coming from the school to Route 1 southbound can be significant, but the worst part of the trip is almost always the time you wait to enter Route 1 from the traffic light at Berwyn Road. While most of the waiting cars can make the light, some cars make have to wait for the next green light. Route 1 southbound at that time is an easy trip to make.

  2. 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.

    Does she mean 30 minutes each way, or round trip? Because I could see it taking 15 minutes to go from University Park to Berwyn Road. In fact, in four years of living in College Park, I experienced that many times, and I never thought to myself that it shouldn’t take that long. After all, this is an inside-the-Beltway suburb with a large state university, surrounded by other towns, and fed by major highways. There will always be traffic, and I’m glad that Mark makes that point.

    It always surprises me that people see a new development or amenity as “something that will bring other people and thus more traffic,” when to me, it’s “something that I can get in my neighborhood that I may otherwise have to go farther away for.” When I lived in College Park, I wished for a grocery store I could walk to, and the Cafritz Property could’ve made that a reality for me. (Not that I could afford Whole Foods as an undergrad, but still.) I hope that the residents of College Park and surrounding towns can see this development for what it is – a chance for you to not drive, or not drive as much – and not just a generator of congestion and misery.

  3. I agree with this article so much that I could’ve written it myself. This is exactly my argument as well. In addition, look at all of the “desirable” places to live in and near the beltway. Bethesda, Rockville, Alexandria, Downtown Silver Spring, Georgetown, I-270 Corridor. All have just as much or more traffic than College Park and yet people would choose those areas to live in over College Park. Why? Well, apparently traffic is not the main reason. I would guess that it is because they have more amenities, better services, and of course a higher quality of living. So, if people in those areas can endure traffic for a better quality of life, why can’t College Park? What’s more, College Park has the benefit of being closer to I-95/495, near two metro stations in College Park and Prince Georges Plaza in addition to the future Purple Line, and tons of parks and bike trails. To me, College Park has the advantage over the other more popular areas for quality of living.

    RT.1 will experience more traffic whether development comes or not. The traffic will com from people passing through to reach those other desirable places to live rather than calling College Park home.

  4. It’s amazing that the same NIMBYs who oppose most development (unless it’s “transit oriented” aka not enough parking is provided) will bend over backwards to say certain new development is worth the extra cars on the road, provided that the developer promises a Whole Foods. There’s a Wegmans 20 minutes away – why do we need an overpriced grocery store that will take at least that long to get to once the traffic from the development is factored in?

  5. I also agree with the sentiments in the above article. Traffic is coming as the development above us in Konterra and Laurel etc, continues. Any development will be bringing traffic, East Campus plus all the other places north of Paint Branch are also going to bring traffic as well. If any of the current places change their line of business that may bring additional traffic….

    I also want to have more desired amenities closer to where I live, where I can stop on the way home if I want instead of having to travel 20-30 minutes around the beltway. And for the estimated time on the beltway that is only if there are no accidents on a Sunday afternoon or when the Redskins are not playing.

    Folks who live there in the second phase will be like the rest of us and use “back roads” to get around. They will most likely use the CSX overpass or one that goes into Queensbury Road. Development is coming…

  6. I have to drive my boys back and forth to DeMatha from University Park every school day- it usually take 25 minutes because the intersection at Rt1 and 410 is GRILDLOCKED- that intersection is failing, Rt 1 is a failing road (SHA standards) If you build it, they may not come since they may not be able to even get there- it is not “transit” friendly since it is over one mile to walk to CP Metro- how many people are going to really do that??? M square is transit friendly- put the fabulous grocery store in that location where the students can actually access it on foot- no student from UMD is going to walk to Whole Foods on the Cafritz property- I won’t walk either because I have a family and it takes a trunk full of groceries to feed us- since when is Rt 1 “big and wide?” It’s a disaster and not safe at all for pedestrians- not sure what your stake is in this project and not sure why Rethink College Park is commenting on a development in Riverdale Park- I have always supported your views specific to College Park- and this is not Amsterdam- children are not going to bike along Rt 1 to access a trail to get to their school- I’m don’t even feel safe walking on the sidewalk along Rt 1 since I’m 12 inches from speeding traffic-almost 1000 housing units (backed up against a railroad track)- whistle, whistle all day and night- doesn’t sound high end to me- sounds like a gas station, a nail salon, and a liquor store- and where are these kids going to attend school? There is not one option that is not already over crowded- PG needs to be more like NOVA and REQUIRE the developer to build a school if there is no room- the discussion about this development should not be “Whole Foods” specific- there are no guarantees that mirage will materialize- look at the rezoning for what we know can actually materialize- undesirable, smack up next to a railroad track housing, a gas station, a liquor store, and a nail salon- hey maybe even a Sheets! Wow- can’t wait

  7. It’s not about traffic, it’s about poor planning and budgeting, and not using what is already available.

    This area can’t support what is currently setup — look at the ever-closing locations on Route 1.

    Why is it necessary to develop and clear new ground when there’s room at the new space near PG Plaza or the Greenbelt ‘Road to Nowhere’ space or the pending East Campus?

    The PG Plaza new development (not so new now) suffers and it won’t be surprising to see many of the new restaurants close down from lack of attendance. There’s plenty of space there to accommodate large stores such as Whole Foods.

    There’s space on Route 1 at all the empty buildings.

    The Greenbelt ‘Road to Nowhere’ stands empty and yet there’s plans to raze another location because why?

    Stop the new developments and instead improve and repurpose what stands empty.

  8. Why not put the new property at the struggling University Town Center, or the Greenbelt Jack Johnson ‘Road to Nowhere’, or at any of the empty Route 1 spots, or in the Hyattsville Art District, or the pending East Campus?

    The county says there’s a budget deficit and yet this development would mean needing a new school for the new housing, new roadways to accommodate the doubled traffic shown in the traffic studies, and more.

    a. Why is the County exempting the Cafritz development from paying property taxes when the County needs money?

    b. When will the County address the needs in areas that already have been cleared, such as near the Greenbelt Metro / Route 1 / Hyattsville Arts district?

    Cafritz could clear the land, sell the property, and end up with the neighborhood incurring many costs for roads, schools, police, etc.

    a. What prevents this from being a poorly designed site that yields quick profits to Cafritz or a subsequent developer, and results in blot on the neighborhood?

    b. How can you support this plan for emptying more land when the county has no money and there’s empty buildings up and down Route 1 and development spaces still standing empty for years?

  9. @Free CP

    a. Because it will generate revenue from more jobs and sales from services while also improving the quality of life for the surrounding neighborhoods. Not a bad trade off.

    b. When the owners of those properties secures the approvals and financing for whatever they plan to use their properties for. Unfortunately, Cafritz doesn’t own those other properties.

    a. Input from residents who care prevents the development from being poorly designed.

    b. Again, contact the owners of those “empty” properties and ask them why they haven’t done anything with them in the past 10 years. Cafritz and the county is not responsible for land owners who sit on their properties. Just like the liquor store in front of University View. If it is yours, you can do what you want with it.

  10. “Why not put the new property at the struggling University Town Center, or the Greenbelt Jack Johnson ‘Road to Nowhere’, or at any of the empty Route 1 spots, or in the Hyattsville Art District, or the pending East Campus?”

    Whole Foods apparently (and perhaps not surprisingly) does not want to open at the recently foreclosed UTC; UTC claimed to have been in talks with WF, yet WF signed its lease with Cafritz instead. The plan for Hyattsville Arts District does not include a 35k-sq-ft supermarket, and regardless, as you should know, EYA has already signed executed a lease with a grocery store. Greenbelt Station has been stalled for years and does not seem to be actively soliciting retail leases from any company.

    But my general point is that just because you live nearby, are opinionated, and have Internet access does not mean that you get to tell a private corporation where to operate. It is not your right to tell a retailer where to “put” itself, to borrow your verb of choice. WF chose Cafritz over all its other options, one of which was not signing a local lease at all.

    If a developer goes through the proper channels (which include distinct opportunities for public input, and there have been MANY on the cafritz proposal) and gets the proper approvals, that developer has earned the right to execute its approved plans. If you don’t like it, take your business elsewhere, and if you really don’t like it, move to some other location in which Whole Foods wouldn’t dream of opening. (Or better yet, in true local fashion, complain about the retailer repeatedly until it decides it would rather go out of business than invest in and serve the community. See: Safeway, Hamilton St., 2012.)

  11. @shellebean:

    I do not know what time of day you are driving your sons to DeMatha, but we drive our child daily between Calvert Hills and St. Jerome’s, which is a little farther south on Route 1 from DeMatha. We pass through the intersection of Route 1 and Hwy 410, and our average trip time is only 7-8 minutes.

    Also, not all of us with families want to buy a whole trunk-load of groceries at one time. I would prefer to buy fresh food for just a couple of dinners at a time, and I could certainly accomplish this by walking or biking to a Whole Foods on the Cafritz property. As it is now, it is too difficult to get to a decent grocery store in our area every couple of days, so if I want fresh food for dinner, I have to visit the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s near my office and bring the food home with me on the Metro. It would be much more convenient to visit a store closer to home.

    The Hyattsville EYA project is built next to the railroad tracks as well, and I would classify it as high end, not the “gas station, a nail salon, and a liquor store” that you think must exist next to railroad tracks.

  12. Is the primary reason for supporting this property to have access to a healthy grocery store? Does Yes Market in the Hyattsville Art District not support this?

    Perhaps the point of the messages are being missed — it’s not what goes IN the property, the point is WHY at this particular location.

    Is there really a reason to clear more land which takes money and resources? Look at the other properties that have already been cleared or sit empty. Why? Perhaps because they fear they will end up bankrupt like so many others?

    Find ways to use what is already available and tie into the already approved development. East Campus is pending. http://www.eastcampus.umd.edu/

    94th Aerosquadron sits empty for years. It’s near a metro, a university, a trail, and the oldest operating airport in the world and a museum, and has parking. It can be leased. http://rethinkcollegepark.net/blog/2009/849/

    Why not make it a one-stop space to get healthy (Whole Foods etc.), learn about our history (the airport etc.), and provide access to many?

    Traffic could be manageable since there is existing public transportation, walking and biking trails, and the East Campus development will be across the street.

    Public transportation and bike lanes would need to be improved for North and South College Park residents.

    This might not be the ideal solution, but the point is, there are spaces available that don’t require clearing more land, forcing wildlife to relocate, etc.

  13. You hear a lot of defeatism about this. Do we have to be held hostage by fears & conspiracy theories ?

    “Not sure why Rethink College Park is commenting on a development in Riverdale Park … ”

    Because the development is right over the southern border of College Park & the new M-Square offices and will impact our citizens nearly as much as Riverdale Park & University Park. That’s why the Cafritz team tried to get the CP City Council to approve the rezoning. Also, RTCP has been commenting on the Cafritz property going all the way back to 2007, when few were paying attention.

    ” … look at the rezoning for what we know can actually materialize, undesirable, smack up next to a railroad track … ”

    Why does being located next to a railroad make it a magnet for undesirable elements ? Lake Artemesia is a few miles north, right next to the same railroad tracks, and that doesn’t stop people from flocking to it all the time. Also, have you been over to Silver Spring and noticed all the apartments & condos along 410 that are right next to railroads ? Have you seen the new luxury apartments that went up right next to Ft. Totten station in DC ? Plenty of people view that as an asset in the DC area. Even with all the new apartments that have gone into downtown Silver Spring the last several years, you don’t see rents going down, since so many people are moving in there.

    So if they can pull off that sort of development over in Montgomery County, why not us right here, right now ?

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