BREAKING NEWS: In an email sent to members of the University Senate today, UMD Vice President of Administrative Affairs Anne Wylie announced a compromise plan that will keep transit on Campus Drive for most of the summer. The plan cuts in half the length of the UMD administration’s original plan for a summer trial closure of the road to transit (from 8 weeks to 4). Cars will still be banned from the campus’ main street for the full 8 weeks beginning June 19th and running till August 13th. Most transit vehicles (Shuttle UM and WMATA) will be diverted to Regents Drive during the second half of that period starting July 17th (Read a Q & A from the University about the closure).
This represents a mild victory for advocates of sound transportation policy in College Park and across the region and is a clear response to the widespread criticism the administration received for their original plan. It remains to be seen whether the consultant that UMD will hire to analyze the effects of this closure will properly weigh the implications of this experiment on long-term ridership and the viability and convenience of transit in/thru College Park. RTCP believes the consultant should be hired on jointly by UMD and WMATA.
A firestorm erupted over UMD’s original plan that began at a May 4th SGA forum and culminated a week later with a letter written to USM Chancellor Brit Kirwan by a diverse coalition of concerned stakeholders. Not only does this new plan maintain transit access on Campus Drive for longer this summer, but it will more appropriately inform the Campus Master Plan Update process than the originally proposed eight-week transit closure. That update will be presented to the Board of Regents in September 2011 and is the whole impetus for this trial closure. Long term implementation of some form of a Campus Drive closure could begin as soon as 2011.
This outcome would not have been possible without SGA Director of Environmental Affair Joanna Calabrese (and the SGA Legislature), the Graduate Student Government, the Residence Halls Association, County Councilmember Eric Olson, the College Park City Council, Purple Line NOW. All worked in close partnership with Rethink College Park, which provided coordination and technical assistance.
In the Q & A sent out by Dr. Wylie, she presents two distinct “visions” for Campus Drive; one of which she believes will emerge after the conclusion of the summer trial and during the Facilities Master Plan Update process. The first “Vision” is her and outgoing UMD President CD Mote’s myopic long-term vision of Campus Drive as a “pedestrian walking mall”…. one that “does away with streets and sidewalks.” The second is the Vision held by every transit expert, smart growth advocate and stakeholder group that has weighed in on this issue. Wylie casts it in a rather unappealing light. Note how Vision 1 is 160% longer than Vision 2…. also take note of how Dr. Wylie now frames the Purple Line alignment in Vision 2:
This plan would restrict access to Campus Drive between the M Circle and Cole Field House in order to create a beautiful, nearly traffic-free pedestrian mall in the center of campus where pedestrians and cyclists are safe from vehicular traffic and can travel and relax unencumbered by cars and buses. The University of Maryland has envisioned an automobile-free central plaza or mall along what is now Campus Drive for decades in order to create something that really doesn’t exist now: a true “campus center.” Creating such a space focuses on a pedestrian-friendly design that does away with streets and sidewalks.
This vision calls for nothing less than a change in the environment of what will become the true central heart of campus. Imagine being able to walk, meet, sit, surf the net, enjoy entertainment and much more in a space that is virtually traffic-free and environmentally friendly.
Of course, there would still be traffic on campus — it would simply be diverted around this core mall area. As proposed, this pedestrian-friendly mall would flow into a plaza from Cole Field House, across to the Health Center and Stamp Student Union, down to Hornbake Plaza, across to the new teaching center, and then end at the M Circle.
This plan would dedicate Campus Drive as a centralized mass transit corridor, facilitating the movement of the Shuttle-UM buses and other forms of public transportation through the campus by limiting access for private vehicles. This second vision — that of a transportation corridor — reflects the reality that Campus Drive is the central road for campus commuters and a traffic cut-through for the larger community traveling to and from Route 1 and Adelphi Road. It is the path taken by Metro buses, and has been suggested as one possible alignment for the Purple Line. In giving access only to public transportation and the university’s shuttle buses, the “campus center” would have more of the flavor of an urban street. Restricting private vehicles may encourage the use of public transportation.