Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


U-Md. Baltimore County embraces bikeshare

Since it opened in the 1960s, the University of Maryland Baltimore County in Catonsville has been known as a commuter school. But university officials are giving students alternatives to driving to campus, starting with a new bikeshare program.


Photo by AOK Library & Gallery, UMBC on Flickr.

Sitting at the intersection of interstate highways 695, 195, and 95, UMBC's campus just outside Baltimore was designed for drivers. A loop of heavy vehicular traffic encircles the campus, and most students live elsewhere. As a UMBC student, I frequently became frustrated by the amount of traffic, poor planning, and lack of parking on campus.

Recently, the university has made significant strides in becoming more sustainable. Its shuttle system now reaches nearby MARC and light rail stations, and officials have added carpool-designated parking, Zipcar services, and charging stations for electric cars. In late October, UMBC launched its first-ever on campus bikeshare program.

The bikeshare program is a partnership between UMBC's assistant athletic director, Mike D'Archangelo, and Scott Westcoat of C'Ville Bikes and The Hub in Catonsville. Any UMBC student can rent a bike free of charge with their student identification card. Students will be able to take out a bike for anywhere from a couple of hours to a week or more. This program is a little different from traditional bikesharing programs like Capital Bikeshare, which are intended for very short-term rentals.

Other area universities have expressed interest in giving their students alternatives to driving, citing the expense and harm to the environment. Towson University launched its first bikeshare program last spring, and runs shuttles to a nearby light rail station.

UMBC's future campus planning calls for additional bicycle and pedestrian paths to neighboring communities and nearby attractions, making it easier for students to travel to and from campus and explore the wider region. In 2012, Baltimore County announced plans to construct two new bike routes from UMBC to the Halethorpe MARC Station and Frederick Road in Catonsville's business district.

The UMBC bikeshare program will greatly enhance the transit opportunities available to students. The program will not only offer a free method of transport, but will also greatly improve connections to Catonsville and Arbutus. This interconnection will support the local economy in a sustainable way, and will encourage the thought process for advanced alternative modes of transportation for UMBC and southwestern Baltimore County in the long term.

Mitchell Ford studies geography and geographic information science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His interests include urban planning, urban design, smart growth, architecture, landscape design, and transportation planning. Mitchell currently lives in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. 

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Is it still the case the UMBC is mostly commuters? They have been on a building binge for most of the past two decades, and it seems that at least some of that is dorms and apartments.

by TomA on Nov 20, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

Good post. I grew up near UMBC back when it was created. In that era (late 1960s), the idea of people walking and biking was INCONCEIVABLE! Good to hear that UMBC and Baltimore County are trying to address the need for alternatives to driving everywhere.

by Joe M. on Nov 20, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

Cool, but sounds more like a bike library where you can check out bikes and return them to the same location, as opposed to a bike sharing program, where you can take a bike from a station in one location and return it to a different location.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_library

Both are useful, but they serve different purposes.

by TransitSnob on Nov 20, 2013 12:07 pm • linkreport

Sure - but only a relatively small university campus, that makes sense. Presumably they aren't going to put up stations around Arbutus/Catonsville.

by TomA on Nov 20, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

I work at UMBC. There are few people commuting by bike on the campus. I'm one of them. Not all of the surrounding neighborhoods are safe for cycling. Arbutus, to the southeast of the campus, is all right. But the campus is also bordered by Wilkens avenue, a high speed, high volume road to the north.

In addition, the UMBC transit shuttle schedule is a joke. The BWI Marc line makes only three trips, one at 7am, one at 4:40pm and one at 7pm. This is hard to make work for a commuter. The Catonsville line has marginally better timing but also only a few trips. The light rail line runs on the weekend and it makes only 6 trips throughout the day. These token efforts are significant strides only because previous coverage was zero.

UMBC is a crummy suburban campus and I hate working here. It used to be a quiet suburb. But now I have to drive 40 minutes to get here, and if I get in after 9am I have to park in a lot all the way on the other side of campus from where I work. So, they put us in the suburbs, and then there's not enough parking. Working in DC, I knew I had to walk to and from the Metro, and I knew that parking absolutely sucked, so I planned for that. Here, parking really isn't all that great and there's no public transport to speak of. I would rather live and work in DC, thanks.

by Weiwen on Nov 20, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

This is great. When I did the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan in 2010, I was struck by, at that time, the difference between Towson U and UMBC with regard to sustainable transportation issues.

Both were updating campus master plans at the time. TU reached out to me, UMBC "had already finished the plan" and wasn't very interested in engaging.

State campus plan requirements aren't very robust with regard to transportation demand management. And I realized that it all depends on the scope and vision of the client. TU, because of their commitment to sustainability planning, was very engaged on this. UMBC was not.

So it's good to see the change.

Note that in the plan I made a recommendation that the state change its requirements for college master planning, but that recommendation was excised from the draft.

See #3 in this list:

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2010/08/proposals-for-bicycle-improvements-at.html

Also on college sustainable transportation planning more generally, this

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/07/campus-transportation-planning.html

by Richard Layman on Nov 20, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

This is great news. I took a few courses at UMBC as a visiting student and something that shocked me was that charges for parking were included in tuition! Needless to say, UMBC has some serious issues with parking availability. When I suggested that UMBC should charge a separate fee for parking people thought I was crazy.

Hopefully, UMBC will continue to encourage alternatives to the car when it comes to getting around.

by Greg on Nov 20, 2013 6:16 pm • linkreport

Currently, about 72% of UMBC's freshman class live on campus. The 2009 campus master plan includes dormitory expansion, as well as new residential buildings. Right now, they are renovating campus apartments, and are about to begin their campus gateway (UMBC Boulevard) project in January 2014. You can see the full plan by following this link:

http://www.umbc.edu/masterplan/BuildOutPlan/documents/11x17CampusBuild-outPlan2.23.10_001.pdf

If you ask anyone who works or goes to school at UMBC (including myself) they will say parking is the #1 issue. The university plans on building a new parking lot early next year to help alleviate the current parking limitations, and add additional pathways to remote parking lots.

Hopefully, some of these efforts will solve some of these 1960s-era planning problems. In the long-term future, I would like to see a light rail spur from Baltimore's Red Line go to UMBC and Halethorpe Station. That way the school could be accessed more efficiently for people all over the Baltimore-Washington region.

Schools like Towson University pride themselves in being deemed a "metropolitan university". As a former TU student who didn't have a car, I appreciated the alternatives they provided for getting around, especially light rail access so I could get home on the weekends. Although, TU is fortunate in that it's situated in a great urban location, which is something that UMBC is lacking in.

UMBC Facts:
https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-university-search/university-of-maryland-baltimore-county

by Mitchell Ford on Nov 20, 2013 8:38 pm • linkreport

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