UMD Plans to Ban All Cars and Buses From Campus Drive

Purple Line 7
Concept sketch of Purple Line in front of the student union. Image by MTA.

Written by Cavan Wilk. Cross-posted from Greater Greater Washington. (Assistance from RTCP)

The University of Maryland plans to close the central Campus Drive to nearly all traffic this summer, including Metrobus and almost all student shuttle bus routes. (The proposed but not announced summer closure will be temporary, but if successful would be made permanent in 2011). This will diminish student access to transit and seems designed to strengthen the UMD administration’s efforts against a Purple Line through the center of campus.

The closure follows the 2001-2020 Facilities Master Plan, last updated in 2007, which calls for creating a more pedestrian-focused central campus core. That plan only allows a single internal circulating shuttle on Campus Drive.

All other shuttles and transit vehicles would be relegated to the edges of campus along with private cars, and forcing many students to transfer to reach the Metro or other destinations outside campus.

According to the MTA, 750 transit vehicles use Campus Drive between 6 am and 7 pm on a typical school day, compared to 5,500 private cars, mostly containing only a single passenger. The University could still make Campus Drive a mostly pedestrian-centered area without banning transit vehicles. Meanwhile, Shuttle UM ridership has soared as the University builds more off-campus student housing connected to the campus by shuttles.

One transit route that is planned to run on Campus Drive is the Purple Line, connecting UMD to the Metro, New Carrollton, Silver Spring and Bethesda, and finally connecting the campus to surrounding areas in ways that were missed when UMD and College Park pushed for a Metro alignment along the railroad tracks instead of along US-1.

Proposed new campus shuttle (blue) would be the only transit in the center of campus.
Routes to other destinations would stop at the edges.

Student Government Association (SGA) Director of Environmental Affairs Joanna Calabrese wrote,

I strongly believe that students will react negatively to this current plan. The Stamp [Student Union] is a central transit hub and a primary destination of students and visitors. Denying transit access to the such a central place would make it difficult for visitors, staff, students, and faculty to reach a prime campus destination and would unnecessarily complicate area transit routes.

Including transit vehicles in the Campus Drive access restriction plan runs counter to goals established in the Master Plan (and Climate Action Plan) to encourage alternative transportation use. Students are supportive of restricting private vehicle access from Campus Drive. However, the idea of eliminating transit vehicle access to campus drive poses unnecessary inconvenience, decreases transit access, and would appear to many students as nonsensical.

The administration has been fighting this for years, citing concerns that the trains would harm sensitive experiments in the basements of the bio-sciences, physics, and engineering buildings that are on Campus Drive. This does not hold up to even the most basic logic test. Cars and buses have been running on Campus Drive for decades. Meanwhile, the University of Maryland has become a world-class research institution during that time.

As a UMD alum (B.S. Physics, 2003) I implore the University of Maryland to listen to the Student Government Association and to also come clean about why they oppose the Campus Drive alignment. The administration is not doing the University any favors in the present or the future by their actions.

The SGA recently once again explicitly endorsed the Campus Drive alignment of the Purple Line, debunking some of the arguments against Campus Drive:

8. WHEREAS, the University of Maryland does not currently support the campus drive alignment because of concerns of electromagnetic interference which could potentially affect delicate research equipment in buildings close to Campus Drive; and,

9. WHEREAS, concerns of electromagnetic disturbance to delicate research equipment has been debunked by researchers and experts; and,

10. WHEREAS, the University of Maryland has proposed an alternative route alignment which adds an eighty million dollar tunnel to run underneath of Preinkert Field House; and,

11. WHEREAS, the Maryland Transportation Authority has stated the University proposed alternative alignment as unserviceable; …

13. WHEREAS, the success of the Purple Line rests on federal funding; and,

14. WHEREAS, the allocation of federal funding is threatened by the University of Maryland’s stance against the Campus Drive alignment for the Purple Line;

When I was a freshman, I lived in the dorms on North Campus. The College Park Metro Station is a 25-30 minute walk from my old dorm. I learned that if I could get to the Metro, I would be able to explore the region. (I didn’t grow up in the area and didn’t even know what a subway system was when I first moved in.)

I found out that one of the buses that stops in front of the Stamp Student Union on Campus Drive is a shuttle that goes to the Metro. I walked over to the Student Union, caught the bus to the Metro, and later that day walked around a major city unsupervised for the first time in my life.

I was hardly the only one to use those buses. The bus stops in front of the Student Union are the main transit hub on campus. Multiple bus services including ShuttleUM, WMATA, and TheBus stop there. It’s how transit-oriented students and staff arrive on campus.

However, the UMD administration now intends to close Campus Drive to all motorized vehicles, including personal cars, buses, and a future Purple Line. Such an action will immediately create a tremendous inconvenience to the large portion of students, faculty and staff who ride buses to campus. It would require rerouting buses to streets that are not well-equipped to handle them. It would require transit-oriented students, faculty, and staff to walk much farther to reach classroom buildings, most of which are clustered near the Stamp Student Union.

The administration doesn’t like anything that looks or feels urban. They view the campus as suburban or even rural. They largely live a car-dependent lifestyle and have never lived a student life on the campus. They don’t understand what it’s like to have so many amenities just out of reach due to poor connectivity with the regional transit network.

They don’t get what it’s like to take the Metro to a campus whose Metro station is a 25 minute walk from most classrooms. They don’t get how much more accessible the University of Maryland is because its main bus stops are located in the heart of campus, convenient to most classrooms. They also don’t get that the Purple Line is a fantastic chance to rectify the huge mistake made in the original Green Line routing; they probably don’t even think that original routing was a mistake.

The UMD Climate Action Plan identifies the Purple Line as a key strategy for attaining carbon neutrality by 2050. Sadly, when it comes to the Purple Line, sustainability and student satisfaction don’t trump suburban sensibility.

8 thoughts on “UMD Plans to Ban All Cars and Buses From Campus Drive”

  1. While I see merit in banning personal vehicles from Campus Drive (hopefully only during peak hours/M-F), I can’t seem to understand why UMD would want to restrict public transit vehicles from traversing the center of campus. Hopefully more elaboration is forthcoming.

  2. Hi David. Are you going off the Facilities Master Plan or did you speak to Ann Wylie? I’m curious because I feel if they still planned on closing Campus Drive they would have made an announcement to the campus by now. Thanks,


  3. This is a plan that the administration is trying to spring on the campus just before students leave for the summer. It’s a trial run that they hope to make permanent in 2011.

  4. It seems that forcing the amount of traffic on roads designed for that specific traffic onto roads NOT designed for that traffic would open up a can of worms. Also, what about the physically disabled who take the affected transportation to the center of campus? Can Mowatt Lane and Stadium Dr. handle the added traffic? Let’s also not forget that the alternatives are route jam up against residential structures like dorms and off campus housing. Has a study been done that says closing Campus Drive to all but a few buses is the most efficient and safest alternative? What happens if the Purple Line is built and they get their wishes to have it run on Mowatt or Stadium Dr.? Will they reopen Campus Dr.?

    It sounds like this will be a complete mess.

  5. David,
    You said:

    The administration has been fighting this for years, citing concerns that the trains would harm sensitive experiments in the basements of the bio-sciences, physics, and engineering buildings that are on Campus Drive. This does not hold up to even the most basic logic test. Cars and buses have been running on Campus Drive for decades. Meanwhile, the University of Maryland has become a world-class research institution during that time.

    As a physics grad you should know that the concern has nothing to do with vibrations, but with electromagnetic noise from the large currents used to run the train. They’re testing the baseline EM noise in buildings on campus, so maybe it’s already large and the Purple line won’t add anything significant. We can hope.

    Obviously, the administration has to do it’s due diligence to understand the complete impact of the alignment. UMd doesn’t want to make large numbers of labs on campus uninhabitable for magnetically-sensitive experiments if they can avoid it.

  6. Michael. I didn’t write the post. Please direct comments to the GGW post linked at the top. There has been a lot of research done on EM impacts and my understanding was that that study was complete.

  7. Michael S,

    I was well aware that the stated concerns of the administration was about elecromagnetic fields. I am also aware that the SGA’s resolution said that those concerns have been studied and dismissed.

    On top of all that, I forgot to mention in the post because there was just so much say that the Department of Physics has long planned on building a new building where the IPST building (still) stands back behind the parking garage. They intend to build the new building for research labs while continuing to use the current Physics Building for offices, classrooms, and certain experiements. The new building will be a quarter of a mile away from the Purple Line. A short walk, but far enough to not worry about the overhead wires.

    Even still, if you look at the setback of the buildings from where the overhead wires will be, and understand that electromagnetic fields fall off proportional to 1/r^2, the argument looks increasingly specious.

    I didn’t include that because you have to remember that the audience at GGW is very broad. I included the SGA resolution in there as enough of an argument because I think that a physics discussion would have detracted from the point of the post.

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