Trolley Cars and Sandbags

The following was written by Dr. Ralph Bennett, Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and will appear in the March 2010 edition of the Faculty Voice. Dr. Bennett has been a tireless advocate of sane campus development for well over a decade and continues to serve the campus community in several capacities… including his recent appointment to Dr. Gerlald Miller’s ad hoc Senate committee on campus land use decisions.

The University of Maryland will be widely recognized as a national model for a Green University. In ten years time the University will have made substantial progress towards addressing energy issues. It will have slashed energy use, expanded green spaces, dramatically reduced its carbon footprint, and built and retrofitted buildings to strict environmental standards.” The University will complement these concrete actions with its teaching, research, and development efforts in energy science and policy, smart growth, environmental mapping, sustainable agriculture, and other fields.
~University of Maryland Climate Action Plan, 2008

Two years ago, I wrote on these pages about the University’s apparent delaying tactics in supporting and planning for the Purple Line (“Red Herrings and the Purple Line”, 2008). Since that time, the State has shown remarkable leadership in re-starting the project after years of delay. Light rail on a route which brings it through the campus has been designated as the Locally Preferred Alternative by Gov. O’Malley and endorsed by the Council of Governments and Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties – all milestones necessary to make the project eligible for Federal planning and construction money. And detailed design is well underway.

Sadly, similar progress cannot be reported for that part of the line which passes through our campus. The MD Transit Administration prefers and common sense supports an alignment which passes in front of Cole, the Stamp Union and crosses Route 1 north of the Dairy. Citing concerns about vibration and electromagnetic interference on the adjacent science campus (before, it was safety), the University is insisting on a winding southern route around Architecture, Preinkert, LeFrak and the Chapel and down to Rossborough.

But this route has not yet been fully studied. A recent determination to preserve Preinkert has added a reported $80 million tunnel to the route. How the 750 daily bus movements will be moved from their present location at the Union to a required new transit facility at Preinkert and Campus Drives is not clear. And it is also possible that the circuitous route fails to meet threshold requirements for transit performance.

The MD Transit Administration maintains their belief that the Campus Drive/Stamp Union alignment is the best. Simple understanding of passengers and their destinations affirms this. Remedies for the science campus are available including local isolation and shielding, low-interference propulsion systems, and sub-track location of the power wires.

The University’s public positions on sustainability, resource conservation and carbon emissions sound great, but its continuing delay of the Purple Line poses a real threat, not only to the University’s stated high intentions, but to this important regional facility as well, since delay jeopardizes the entire Purple Line and its place in the funding process.

A Committee of the University Senate has been asked to evaluate the Campus’s environmental decision-making process after the Wooded Hillock debacle. Locating the Purple Line deserves the same attention. Please contact your Campus Senator and your elected officials and encourage them to ask that the University live up to its obligations to the University community, the region and its own commitments to sustainable development.

7 thoughts on “Trolley Cars and Sandbags”

  1. This is a great piece. Not only does it capture the importance of sustainability, it also brings about the importance of the time aspect and how this needs to be done sooner rather than later. I think an important point of what the administration isn’t getting is that these vehicles can stop on their own and are controlled by drivers. Students aren’t going to get hit by light rail vehicles because they cross the road in front of one. Not only that, a light rail line would probably cut down on a lot of traffic going from east to west and vice versa. That’s another way it helps out.

    I really wish the President of this University would wake up and the corrupt SGA would listen to its students every once in a while.

  2. I’m actually really concerned about students being hit by a train running through campus. When I was an on-campus student, I knew that I didn’t have to look when I crossed the street, and I could cross wherever I liked because students always had right of way.

    Now that I’m a commuter, I frequently drive and bike on campus. I always have to go very slow (less than 10 mph) because students walk out into traffic all the time without looking. Many do it without giving any hints or clues as to which direction they’re going (ie, stopping at the curb, looking both ways, walking purposefully in the direction they’re heading, etc). I’ve seen more than a few near misses, and I’ve seen a few people actually hit by a vehicle.

    Now, let’s consider the physics of the situation. A bike, car, or bus is much lighter than a train. So, trains need more stopping distance. Hmm, that’s not good for students who step out without looking.

    Also, Campus Drive is a major throughfare for the university in general. Many UMD, Metro, and PG County’s The Bus buses use it, as well as many drivers. Why? It’s the only north-south road on campus.

    A path along 193 or Knox Rd would make a lot more sense than going through the university. And as a soon to be young professional, I’d be more likely to use a stop along these roads because they don’t require venturing onto campus.

  3. Now, let’s consider the physics of the situation. A bike, car, or bus is much lighter than a train. So, trains need more stopping distance. Hmm, that’s not good for students who step out without looking.

  4. People will have to start looking before they cross. Saying the purple line can’t be on campus drive is tantamount to destroying the entire project.

  5. How does rerouting the purple line destroy the entire project? The state already owns the land in the middle of 193 (duh), and the 193 route will end up at the same spot on the north side of campus as planned. There just needs to be a few changes to the route south of campus.

    Never mind that MTA doesn’t seem to consider that there won’t be any sort of parking available to those who would want to get on the purple line at campus. Parking on campus is becoming increasingly scarce, with no solution in sight (plans for any additional future parking garages have been nixed due to funding, DOTS’s current solution is to make the parking spaces tighter- oh joy, now they’re barely wide enough for my compact car. But that’s a separate rant.).

    The purple line is also planned to go through a lot of pedestrian areas. Think about about fast light rail travels in downtown Baltimore, along Howard St. It’s pretty slow, probably about 10 mph, if that. The purple line is going to have travel at that speed or slower for much of the proposed route. That’s not going to save anyone any time from commuting, even when you consider the horrific traffic along the beltway.

    Another route I would consider is along the ICC. There’s still a considerable amount of right away available, why not use it?

  6. I’ll leave the transit planning to the transit planners. These projects have to meet strict cost-effectiveness standards for federal money. Putting the line further away from where people need to be lowers ridership and increases track length… which increases costs.

    You don’t need parking at every stop along the route. In fact, it’s preferable to not have parking most of the time and instead rely on multi-modal transportation hubs that link bus stops, light rail, and in some instances highways and parking garages where it makes sense. A resoundingly pedestrian place like a college campus is not one of those places. People will park in bethesda, new carrolton, or silver spring and ride the purple line on to campus.

  7. There must be protective measure that can be put in place to keep the students safe. Just one student getting run over would be too many, with that being said, traffic up there now is pretty thick. Students don’t just walk across the street without looking any more.

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