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New medical center belongs at a Prince George's Metro stop

Rumors are flying about potential locations for a new $600 million regional medical center in Prince George's County. Some point to a huge, low-density, car-oriented medical campus. A transit-oriented site at one of the County's underused Metro stations would be a much better choice for patients, visitors, and the county in general.

Photo by UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay on Flickr.

It's hard to tell which way county officials lean. They mention that Metro station sites are under consider­ation. At the same time, they've talked about needing 100 to 120 acres of land for a regional medical center.

100 acres means a suburban, automobile-oriented layout, not a Metro station site. But why need it be 100 acres, or any specific number? Farm fields are measured in acres. Medical facilities should be measured in number of hospital beds and square feet.

Major hospital complexes can use far less space, and do so efficiently, if they are designed to be transit-oriented. A more compact site design will allow room for the facility to grow and will better connect to a nearby mix of housing, retail, and other uses that would thrive on a large workforce and steady stream of visitors. A design with great pocket parks and plazas would create health benefits by encouraging walking and offering cleaner air through transit. It would also ensure access to new jobs for those without cars.

Housing a leading regional medical center at one of Prince George's several underused Metro stations is a tremendous opportunity for the county. The regional medical center will be a major investment to address health care needs for the county, Southern Maryland and the region. It also brings to Prince George's one of the most important economic development opportunities in many years.

UCSF shows the way

Prince George's County should look to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)'s Medical Center at Mission Bay for an example of a transit-oriented medical center. The Mission Bay complex will anchor a medical and biotech research cluster that is attracting young professionals to live, work, and play in an emerging neighborhood built on old industrial land and rail yards.

UCSF is adding 3 hospitals to its current 43-acre satellite research campus for a total of 878,000 square feet, but it will only take up 15 acres. This expansion will add 289 beds and give the new complex a 58-acre footprint.

Mission Bay has great public transportation access, including two stops of the new Third Street light rail line and the local bus system. Transportation assessments of current users show most get to the UCSF Mission Bay facility by a mode other than single-passenger cars: 25% ride with others, 23% take light rail or other transit, 9% walk or bike, and 43% drive alone.

Making the proposed center a truly regional destination requires connecting it to the region while offering a distinctive experience once you arrive. Metrorail access and walkable design can create that connectivity and sense of place. A sprawling hospital campus that requires patients and visitors to drive from one parking lot to the next will not. Navigating a campus like that is frustrating, stressful, and can put patients and workers at risk, particularly those with mobility challenges.

Beyond smart growth advocates, industry leaders also see transit-oriented development as the future. Eric Fischer, Managing Director of Trammell Crow Healthcare Services, a major real estate development company commented, "A hospital on Metro is a good thing. It provides easy and affordable accessibility for workers, patients, and vendors. It would be an unfortunate opportunity for Prince George's not to deeply consider the use of one of its Metro stations for such a facility. We have found that public transportation is a key component to the long-term viability for these kinds of institutions."

Landover Mall and Bowie State are not adequate substitutes

Rumors suggest that the Landover Mall site, more than a mile from the nearest Metro, is a leading contender. It's a long, unpleasant walk from Metro at a time when the county has sufficient vacant land at Metro stations like Largo Town Center, Morgan Boulevard, and Branch Avenue.

The Bowie State University MARC station may also be in the running. While MARC commuter rail offers a certain level of transit access, it provides a fraction of what Metrorail service provides: dozens versus hundreds of trains during the week, with no MARC service on weekends.

Running a hospital requires 3 rush hours and a 24 hour, 7 days per week schedule. MARC simply doesn't have the frequency or operating hours to meet more than a small portion of the access needs. Also, the outside-the-beltway Bowie site is far from where most county residents live, forcing long trips for many, whether staff or patients.

Locating the new medical center at a Metro station is a key part of a strategy that will attract and retain workers. With a great walkable design, it can also draw in the large share of Prince George's residents who currently leave the county for their healthcare. Prince George's and the state of Maryland should seize this opportunity and build a truly transit-oriented medical center.

Cheryl Cort is Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. She works with community activists, non-profit groups and government agencies to promote transit-oriented development, housing choices, economic development and pedestrian safety, especially in less affluent communities. 
Marion Phillips is the Communications and Organizational Development Intern for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. She came to the Coalition in February to gain valuable experience in the smart growth world before heading to get her Masters of City and Regional Planning from Georgia Institute of Technology in August. 


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PG County metro stations do need some help. Nothing much around New Carrollton, Suitland, Cheverly, West Hyattsville, College Park, Greenbelt, etc. except (massive) parking lots. Pg Plaza is the only station with anything, as I see it, worthwhile of a destination. And to many people that's not a destination,

by John M on Jun 14, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

This is such a good idea and such an obvious opportunity that it will never happen.

My guess is that they will try desperately to imitate Howard County Medical Center

by JustMe on Jun 14, 2012 1:06 pm • linkreport

some way some how PG CO will manage to screw this up

by Jerome on Jun 14, 2012 1:12 pm • linkreport

New Carrollton should be an obvious choice. Gov. O'Malley has selected NC as a place to focus development resources, the first step of which is migrating the MD Housing Dept there. There are also a couple of other major TOD project going up at NC and there is already a large base of professional jobs at or near the metro station. NC is also served by MARC and Amtrak (and the future Purple Line), making it truly a regional destination. NC is also close to three major highways, making it easy to get there by car as well.

by Falls Church on Jun 14, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised Bradley Heard's post from August 2011 wasn't cited here. It took me a few minutes to remember why this felt like something I had read here before.

by selxic on Jun 14, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

@selxic: It was cited, linked in the first sentence.

by Gray on Jun 14, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

@John M
New Carrollton, College Park, and Greenbelt all have (or had in Greenbelt's case) high-density development plans in the works. Suitland and Cheverly are crime-plagued, not to mention very undesirable (especially the latter) compared to most other Metro Area neighborhoods.

@Falls Church
I disagree with New Carrollton being a good choice. Doctor's hospital is just down the road and that is easily the most premium piece of land in Prince George's County thanks to the four separate rail systems serving the station, the Council just doesn't know it yet.

by King Terrapin on Jun 14, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

I don't know how I missed that, Gray. I thought I had all of the links open before doing a search for that article. Slightly surprisingly, this is the first time the tag "hospitals" has been used.

by selxic on Jun 14, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

King Terrapin makes a very good point. Just because you can locate something at a Metro station doesn't necessarily make it the highest and best use for the space. It would be interesting to do a study of hospital centers nationwide to see how many are transit accessible and how many transit trips are generated. For emergency and triage services, I just can't see patients using transit. Workers more so. Even so that doesn't make a hospital center the best use.

Frankly, a hospital center should be built proximate to the UMD campus or in striking range and they could begin developing a medical research campus in the county. Greenbelt makes more sense to me on that basis.

Anyway, given King Terrapin's point, for a few years I've suggested that PG County relocate its govt. center from Upper Marlboro to a Metro Station, probably NC would be best, as a clear demonstration of the importance and centrality of transit to PG County's future and as evidence of a new planning and development paradigm. (Of course, right now such a move is probably unaffordable.)

Similarly, the MNCPPC headquarters should be moved to a Metro Station. I'd probably say West Hyattsville, and a real town center (not the ersatz one at PG Plaza) could begin to be constructed there, and leverage proximity to DC and the redevelopment at Fort Totten.


by Richard Layman on Jun 14, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

Yep. I think we can all count on PG to make the wrong decision here...

by andrew on Jun 14, 2012 3:25 pm • linkreport

A hospital might work at a Metro if it was part of more comprehensive plan. The new hospital won't exactly be Walter reed sized and may have limited impact outside of rush hour. The L stops near Chicago's massive hospital area have rather little traffic outside of rush hour (was there a couple years ago). It's not clear to me that GW is a huge traffic driver.

A plan would need to include medical buildings, labs, and other support operations on a scale that could support restaurants, and a few shops. Housing should be part of the mix.

by Rich on Jun 14, 2012 8:53 pm • linkreport

King Terrapin, Cheverly is far from crime-plagued and undesirable.

by Roman on Jun 15, 2012 9:16 am • linkreport

New Carrollton seems like the perfect fit. Its planned for development by Prince George's County and Maryland and is a hub for transit which includes Metro, Marc, Amtrak, Greyhound and bus converging from all over the county. Additionally, it sits right next to Rt 50, 410, 450 and the beltway; also 295 is very close by. New Carrollton already has the IRS and other office buildings nearby in addition to residential. A hospital should be easily accessible for everyone including the poor who many times do not own a car.

by MG on Jun 15, 2012 10:01 am • linkreport

Locating a hospital complex near a major transit hub makes imminent sense. Look at the numbers of people coming and going --- Holy Cross Hospital in SS has 455 beds, but employs 3200 people. Of course the patients themselves aren't going to be arriving by transit, but add up the employees, visitors, and maybe even folks coming for outpatient services and that is a huge pool of potential riders IF it a hospital is located near transit. If it is accessible mainly by auto, that is a huge pool of parking spaces that would be needed.

BTW, used Holy Cross as an example, because I could find the stats quickly.

by Tina S on Jun 15, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] A single incorrect comment like the one above about Cheverly can affect hundreds of people.

Last year Cheverly had the fifth lowest crime rate for all Prince George's County Municipalities. Since that time the crime rate has continued to improve.

by Mike in Cheverly on Jun 15, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

The Cheverly Metro site might not be the best in terms of land availability, but "especially" undesirable is not something most people (including the current county executive) would associate with Cheverly.

by Patrick on Jun 15, 2012 12:14 pm • linkreport

It also takes a hell of a lot less time to rush a patient down a dedicated elevator to an ER/OR (as in a "high-rise"-style, urban hospital) than to wheel them across a sprawling maze of interconnected buildings (as is the case with most "campus"-like hospitals)...

by LF on Jun 15, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

@Mike and Patrick

When I said Cheverly I was thinking more of neighboring Landover. Still, in a relative sense Cheverly is not as desirable as many other Metro Washington areas. The same goes for Suitland. While it's not uniformly a horrible place to live, and there are some relatively new and promising developments there (particularly around the Metro station), some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the county are in its periphery.

by King Terrapin on Jun 15, 2012 10:19 pm • linkreport

Why is Metrobus not mentioned in this but Metrorail is ? All transit options should be mentioned MARC, PG County Bus, WMATA's rail and bus services.

First problems with talking about transit is that not all of PG County is connected by transit. The parts that are connected by transit are not connected to each other. There is no way of getting between the Green, Blue, Orange and Green lines except for traveling through DC or by taking about 5 or 6 bus routes and many dont run on Saturdays and Sundays.

Second, what about those in far eastern and southern parts of PG County being near a WMATA, MARC or any other station does not matter the slightest to them because they dont have MARC or WMATA service to begin with.

Third, If the Hospital is located at Largo, Morgan Blvd, Branch Avenue, New Carrolton, Landover, Cheverly etc you might as well build it at the Landover Mall Site as none are easy to get to from other parts of the county and the transit options would be very limited unless the Hospital is built at a station the Purple Line will stop at if built and bus service is extended many times over.

Fourth, building a hospital or anything open 24/7 near a station of any type does not get rid of the need for parking unless transit runs 24/7

@King Terrapin

The issue should have anything to do with crime. The issue should be to have it located where it is needed the most by looking at the placement of other hospitals and plotting areas that are not close to hospitals crime should not be a factor. An area can be secured even in a war zone if there is a will.

by kk on Jun 16, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

So does anyone think we can get the resources of the Casino crowd focussed on this health and healing center idea? It is frustrating that PG has so much debate and "study" work going into Vegas-izing the Potomac shore while county residents grow more obese, more physically disabled!

Richard Layman, nice to see the idea of the County government locating at a metro station! I agree that would be the way to clearly show the depth of committment to being greener and even to making government more accessible!

by Linda on Jun 17, 2012 9:02 pm • linkreport

Prince George's Plaza already has a massive mixed use development (Belcrest) planned that will level the low-income housing there, and has gone through part of the building processes. There are also 34 acres, Bryn Mawr, that is owned by Park and Planning, and, according to politicians, who bought it in the 90s in response to public pressure, "it can never be developed / it is open space." Of course that zoning definition is, as usual in Maryland, not exactly true.

We need a major health center, but PG Plaza is not the place.

by AnneR on Jun 18, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

@King Terrapin

"not uniformly a horrible place to live". I moved to Cheverly from Arlington in 1986 and found Cheverly uniformly wonderful. Great Community! Great location! Very Affordable!

I invite everyone to come visit any Saturday Morning when our Community Market is open ( to find out why our residents chose to live here.

by MikeinCheverly on Jun 19, 2012 12:32 am • linkreport

With an eye to accessibility, economic opportunity and community, Cheverly can't be beat. Route 50, 295, Kenilworth Ave., 704, Metro, several bus lines, an involved and invested community where those who work at the hospital center would look to live and walk or bike to their place of work. If not appropriate for the proposed new hospital center, this location is ripe for development if the investment in infrastructure (Route 50 interchange and Columbia Park Bridge) can gain priority.

by Think Cheverly! on Jun 19, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

One of the other arguments about metro stations is that they are already bus hubs. Locating a medical park within walking access to a metro station likely also makes it metro and PG bus accessible.

by Kate Myers on Jun 21, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

@Kate Myers: A bus hub should be part of the plan. Of the central Prince George's Metro stations, Largo currently is a real bus hub now.

by Cheryl Cort on Jun 21, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

The hospital may be a good way to boost the local economy wherever it is placed, but I personally don't want it anywhere near my metro station (PG Plaza). Hospitals and biological research centers are gross. They breed MRSA and dump blood and other nasty stuff down the drain. They also have frozen dead people and are often visited by obnoxious helicopters.

by JustSayin on Jun 21, 2012 4:34 pm • linkreport

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