Greater Greater Washington

UMD needs late-night Purple Line service

The University of Maryland's slogan is "Unstoppable Starts Here," empha­sizing the school's rise as a major research university. If admini­strators have their way, "Unstoppable" will also refer to the Purple Line, which wouldn't serve the campus late at night.


One of 3 proposed Purple Line stops at Maryland. Image from the MTA.

The College Park Patch reports that university officials worry the Purple Line will bring crime, so they would prefer that trains not stop after 10 pm at the 3 proposed stations on campus. If the Purple Line does serve the campus during late night hours, the university would like to set up checkpoints at each of the stops.

Marc Limansky, a spokesperson for the University of Maryland Police Department says they would ensure that transit riders "have business on campus." Though drivers entering the campus after 11 pm currently have to pass through one of three checkpoints, they don't apply to pedestrians, bicyclists, or anyone taking the Metrobus or UM Shuttle.

"The campus has porous borders," Carlo Colella, Vice President for Facilities Management, was quoted as saying. "If someone intended to gain access with the Purple Line, we now have that risk."

The real risk, however, is suffocating university life. The University of Maryland's reputation is improving in no small part because of evening activities, and they should be making it as easy as possible for the university community and visitors alike to take part in them.

Ending Purple Line service at 10 pm prevents students, faculty, staff and visitors from participating in everything the school has to offer. It would also serve as an informal curfew on resident students who want to leave the campus. Most importantly, it would make the entire Purple Line less useful.

Most of Maryland's 35,000 undergraduate and graduate students live off campus, but they're often at school late at night. There are classes that end after 10 pm. If they're not in night classes, students might be working late in a science lab, in an art or architecture studio, or at one of the university's 8 libraries, all of which are open until 10 o'clock most nights.

Students might be attending an extracurricular activity held by one of the university's hundreds of student groups. When I was an undergrad, I was in an a cappella group that held rehearsals until 10 pm or later twice a week, and we had several members who commuted.

Some students living on campus could take the Purple Line to hang out in Silver Spring or Bethesda, or even head to DC via the Metro. (I'll admit that most of my friends at Maryland rarely ever left College Park, but I like to think it's because there wasn't a Purple Line yet.) Others may use it to commute to late-night jobs off-campus. When I worked at a store in Rockville during college, I regularly got off work after 10 pm.

The university's 11,000 faculty and staff are not strangers to working long hours either, whether it's conducting world-renowned research or keeping the university safe, clean and orderly.

Those not affiliated with the university also have reasons to be on campus at night. Most of this season's performances at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center start at 7:30 or 8 pm, meaning they'll probably let out close to or after 10 pm. There are also evening athletic events, like football and basketball games, that end after 10.

The Purple Line will support all of these activities at Maryland, if the administration doesn't get in the way. It will also help connect the university community to internship and job opportunities, to other universities, and to everything else that Greater Washington offers, making the University of Maryland stronger and more competitive.

Crime will be an issue at any school in a large metropolitan area, but it shouldn't be the tail wagging the dog. University officials must fully embrace the surrounding community and recognize that the school's students, faculty and staff, and visitors need to be able to easily enter and leave campus.

Besides, College Park is already served by the Metro, which closes at 12 am during the week and 3 am on weekends. Twelve bus routes also serve the campus, some of which run after 10 pm. Shutting Purple Line stations early or requiring checkpoints would just be an inconvenience, not a crime deterrent.

Four decades ago, then-president Wilson Homer Elkins worried the College Park Metro station would bring "undesirable elements" to campus, resulting in its location a mile from the university. Until recently, the administration also tried to keep the Purple Line from running through campus as well. We can't make that mistake again.

If the University of Maryland wants to be taken seriously as a research institution, it should rely on facts, not fear. The administration should consider the needs of students, faculty, staff and visitors who come to campus at night, and put aside their unfounded concerns about the Purple Line bringing criminals to College Park.

A planner and architect by training, Dan Reed also writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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This is to some degree a non-problem. Once the line is built and running people will ride the train until 10pm. At the point, people will complain and the trains will being stopping after 10pm.

by Cullen on Jun 1, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

The only people who oppose late-night service and long nighttime headways are robbers foiled by waiting for their escape-train.

by Bossi on Jun 1, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

This is stupid, of course. The CTA stop serving U of Illinois Chicago doesn't stop service later in the evening. Nor does the Portland streetcar stop rolling through the PSU campus.

- http://www.number1expertonly.com/DcImages2/3112/streetcar%20PSU.jpg

- http://portlandstreetcar.org/node/3

by Richard Layman on Jun 1, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

As the article mentions, there are already several Metro Buses that serve campus anyways. So any "unwanteds" that UMD is trying mitigate by closing stations are already able to get in without any check.

Also the "checks" referred to at the guard houses simply ask where you are going and that you have a valid drivers license. You don't need a UMD ID.

Furthermore, of the 3 stations on campus, 2 stations are on the periphery of campus - Adelphi Road and Route 1/Baltimore Avenue. I don't see how UMD could restrict access if an entrance is not entirely on their property (UMD & City of College Park have a contentious enough relationship as is).

by AJS on Jun 1, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

UMD's officials have been resistant to the Purple line from the very start. I don't understand this at all... Why would they oppose a state-built transit line directly through their campus that will bring more people onto campus and allow them to stop using those godawful shuttles that putter around College Park?

Students are also far more dependent on transit than most other groups... Where's the logic there?

by John Marzabadi on Jun 1, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

"If the University of Maryland wants to be taken seriously as a research institution..."

You've got to be kidding me. The absurdity of some of the articles on here amazes me. It seems that some people go insane with this drive to make their little world a perfect one (in their eyes), and will do or say anything until their impossible dream is fulfilled.

by Why??? on Jun 1, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

Historically, the UMD administration has tried to keep the university as car-centric and non-urban as possible. The decisions they made are now proving to be a major handicap for the university. And unfortunately, some current administrators still have that mindset.

The good news is that Wallace Loh, the new UMD president, recognizes the importance of making the campus more transit-oriented and more connected to the rest of the DC area. He has come out strongly in favor of the Purple Line, for example. But it'll probably take a while for his views to fully permeate the rest of the university administration.

by Rob on Jun 1, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

If the University of Maryland wants to be taken seriously as a research institution

UMD is taken seriously as a research institution, and has been for decades. What it's not taken seriously as is a campus friendly to undergraduates or a place with a decent "college town."

UMD's transit access and urban design is pretty much in keeping with other local research institutions such as NASA, NIST, and Fort Meade.

by JustMe on Jun 1, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

Very well-argued.

by Gavin on Jun 1, 2012 1:05 pm • linkreport

Historically, the UMD administration has tried to keep the university as car-centric and non-urban as possible.

Why is this? It seems so incongruous that a major flagship state university lacks any sort of local downtown or "college town" atmosphere. How did this happen?

The decisions they made are now proving to be a major handicap for the university.

Should I end up raising children in the DC metro area, I'm pretty sure I would move to Virginia, in part because the public universities there provide a better environment than the ones in MD.

by JustMe on Jun 1, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

@John Marzabadi

I don't understand this at all... Why would they oppose a state-built transit line directly through their campus that will bring more people onto campus and allow them to stop using those godawful shuttles that putter around College Park?

Students are also far more dependent on transit than most other groups... Where's the logic there?

I think I can help you out with that. Despite being located in a near suburb (it's just under 3.4 miles from the President's Office to the DC border, as the crow flies), the administration of the University has long been more comfortable - both personally and philosophically - with a large, land-grant flagship state university model. Schools of this type have great freedom to operate, as their surrounding environs are typically entirely dependent on the school and have their identities subsumed to that of the institution (think State College, PA or College Station, TX - why not College Park, MD?) They develop powerful brands that command mass support from state residents, even those who have little to no affiliation to the school.

Many of the decisions taken by UMCP's leaders can be understood through that prism. Keeping Metro and the Purple Line out of the front yard is part and parcel of that.

To address your more specific question regarding student mobility - big land grant schools would really prefer that students spend most of their time on or around campus, spending their disposable incomes and "activating the campus." Making it too easy for students to come and go risks turning the campus into a commuter school, especially if the offerings on campus would face stiff competition from nearby surroundings. That may not be too big of a threat in Ames or Stillwater, where the campus is really the epicenter of culture, but that's not the case with UMCP.

by Dizzy on Jun 1, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

Making it too easy for students to come and go risks turning the campus into a commuter school, especially if the offerings on campus would face stiff competition from nearby surroundings.

UC Berkeley manages to strike this balance without too much trouble, as do most private universities located in major cities.

by JustMe on Jun 1, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

I think the fear of becoming a commuter school is misplaced. That has more to do with the University's other projects, not transit access.

There are plenty of other large, public universities located within large Metro areas that don't have that same problem. JustMe mentions Cal - others include UCLA, Washington, Arizona State, Utah, Minnesota, Georgia Tech, Pitt, and probably a ton of others I'm just missing.

The far more important aspect of becoming a commuter school is likely the school's own policies and their willingness to admit commuter students, part time students, their desire to foster a desirable campus area (not just on campus, but the surrounding campus commercial areas), etc.

by Alex B. on Jun 1, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

"Making it too easy for students to come and go risks turning the campus into a commuter school, especially if the offerings on campus would face stiff competition from nearby surroundings."

Qua? I already think of UMD as a commuter school because its such a junky college town and not overly accessible to the great DC region. Most friends I know moved off-campus/out of CP as soon as they were upperclassmen because of this. Trying to trap students in a junky town doesn't work.

by jag on Jun 1, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

Seriously!?! I don't know the stats but I can imagine that a person coming to College Park to perform a crime will most likely drive than wait for light rail. Might as well dig a moat and raise up the draw bridge....

by 8thQ on Jun 1, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

@JustMe

I'm not saying I agree with this logic, just laying it out.

Private universities in major cities usually highlight their urban location as a big part of their draw, and also as a justification for their hefty tuition, room & board, etc. Their campuses are also much smaller. So it's a different dynamic.

Berkeley strikes the balance in a couple of different ways. It certainly doesn't hurt that its endowment is more than 4x that of UMCP and its campus is more 5x the size, despite having roughly the same number and proportion of students - there's just way more to Berkeley than to Maryland. Also the whole "highest ranked public university" thing - it's far more prestigious to be there, and that does have an effect on people's attitude toward the place and their investment in it.

In my view, though, the biggest difference is that the City of Berkeley is a city of over 100,000 that has its own unique and well-defined culture. The University couldn't completely dominate the city even if it wanted to. Moreover, there's enough to do in Berkeley itself that students are not motivated to spend all their time going into SF. College Park is no Berkeley, that's for sure.

Arizona State might be a better comparison, although - again - College Park is no Tempe. Hard to think of a good comparison, honestly, at least off the top of my head.

by Dizzy on Jun 1, 2012 2:19 pm • linkreport

I already think of UMD as a commuter school because its such a junky college town and not overly accessible to the great DC region.

Right on. If you don't want to be a commuter school, you need to offer a superior experience on and adjacent to campus. That means improving the town part of College Park. Trying to squelch connections to the greater region isn't going to work, nor will it improve the University's standing.

by Alex B. on Jun 1, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

I'm not saying I agree with this logic, just laying it out.

Interesting. I have to wonder why they're going for that model. Quite honestly, the flagship state universities that are located in small cities which are functional entities separate than the university (eg, Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Madison, Athens (Georgia)) have a better academic reputation than the ones where the university is the city (Texas A&M, Penn State). You'd think UMD would want to emulate the former model, rather than the latter.

Wasn't it the case where when the Starbucks opened in College Park that this was the first coffee place available in town?

And alternative to the Purple Line might simply be to move UCMP to Hagerstown.

by JustMe on Jun 1, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

@Dizzy:

I fully understand why they would want to keep undergrads on-campus, given its commuter reputation, but it's just a nonsensical way to do that. Looking at maps of the campus and its surroundings, UMD doesn't have that much room to put in new parking. They would basically have to encroach on the UMD Golf Course or athletic grounds to put in future parking AND academic facilities. Nearly 47,000 people work or attend school at UMD and that number is bound to grow in coming years. For example, one of UMD's competing schools (at least as far as large, public universities in a non-urban setting), the University of Michigan has nearly 20,000 acres at its disposal with 7,000 fewer students and staff.

Moreover, most DC schools are trying to ramp up their graduate programs, so making commutes easier should be a no-brainer. Demanding that transit service be cut-off late at night does not make commuting appealing for grad students, given their later class schedules.

by John Marzabadi on Jun 1, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

John,

That 20,000 acre figure for Michigan is a tad misleading, as that includes the arboretum, the golf course, lots of other outlying research properties, etc. The true Ann Arbor portion of campus (with the majority of students, faculty, and staff) is more around 3,000 acres.

by Alex B. on Jun 1, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

@John

The why is less obvious. My guess is that a lot of it just has to do with top administrator's backgrounds - many of them came from rural places or attended large, rural, land grant institutions themselves. The aforementioned Wilson Homer Elkins got his bachelor's and master's at Texas, but this was not the UT-Austin we know today, as his time there preceded the college's (and the city's) massive growth, when UT built 19 new buildings between 1950 and 1965.

I'm also betting that there's a belief that the bulk of growth in graduate students, which you mentioned, will be in UMUC and thus generate little in terms of new commuter student traffic to the College Park campus. That may even be an intentional plan.

Just to make it clear, if it's not already, I agree with what you, Alex B. and JustMe are saying. While I despise the Twerps and UMD athletics, I want the University to do well, and I want it to serve as the model for sustainability, walkable development, and innovation that colleges should be.

by Dizzy on Jun 1, 2012 7:17 pm • linkreport

Two nit-picky side notes:
Maryland actually does completely shut off its campus at 10pm. Metrobuses have to go around campus on University Blvd., and only people with school IDs can pass through the gates.

Also, they don't use "Unstoppable Starts Here" anymore, because alumni complained. It's back to "Fear the Turtle."

Talking about the culture, though, if you look at the campus master plan, it's rather progressive. I know they're planning on eliminating a huge amount of parking in the next few years for academic/green space, and they're getting more active in encouraging bikes, etc.

I think a big part of Maryland's problem is that the University is on bad terms with the community, so a lot of what happens in College Park is motivated by residents who will do what is in their power to NOT have a college-focused town. Also, it's on Route 1, possibly America's ugliest, most car-centered road, so it's hard to hide that.

by architecturemajor on Jun 1, 2012 9:11 pm • linkreport

Somehow GW has survived being on top of a Metro stop. Catholic and AU have no trouble with being near Metro. UMD is, compared with UVA, somewhat underrated and always has had strong faculties in a number of areas. They've lacked consistent state support to take the school into a higher tier of institution and the campus remains pretty unappealing in layout and appearence.

Someone else mentioned Chicago---not only is UIC on the "L" but so are Loyola and DePaul which are away from downtown. Loyola, in particular, is not far from areas with a lot of crime. The areas around DePaul have changed rapidly in the past couple decades. Northwestern is close to the L, as is IIT. U of Chicago is far enough from the L that it's rarely used by students (express bus service provides an alternative). Somehow, these schools manage despite vastly different and often changing environs or whatever "problem areas" might be accessible by "L". Chicago is probably the only city where colleges really have had an impact on the vitality of downtown, mostly because of DePaul's investment in the southern part of the Loop.

by Rich on Jun 1, 2012 11:40 pm • linkreport

The "crime concerns" are a canard. No one gets on transit to ride across town to commit a crime and then wait around for a ride home.

And crimes actually committed on the train or in that station is rare. That might not have been the case on the New York subway in the 1970's-1980's, but it certainly is now.

by ceefer66 on Jun 2, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

It still is astounding that the three quarter billion dollar Green Line extension (during Parris Glendening's reign of error) put the "College Park" metro station far away from the University.

Public transit can be well designed and it can be designed poorly. The Green Line was a great way to spend lots of money while minimizing effective design. Of the four stations, three were designed as poorly as possible. Greenbelt is probably the most asymmetric subway station anywhere (enormous parking lot on one side, no connection to the neighborhood on the other). College Park doesn't serve the university. The first station was predicated on a new mega development that supposedly was going to be built but never was. I guess adding Metro doesn't automatically guarantee gentrification, the old term for "smart growth."

by Mark Robinowitz on Jun 6, 2012 2:10 am • linkreport

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