Posts about College Park
Prince George's County recently approved a new town center in Riverdale Park that will have the county's first Whole Foods. This might be a good location for a new Metro station as well.
The Cafritz Property covers 37 acres along Route 1 between East-West Highway and the University of Maryland. Developer Calvert Tract, LLC plans to build nearly 1,000 townhomes and apartments, a 120-room hotel, 22,000 square feet of office space and about 168,000 square feet of retail space, including the Whole Foods. But the project has been controversial due to concerns about traffic.
Concentrating different uses and activities at the Cafritz Property can make the development more walkable and likely to draw customers willing to patronize the location without adding single-occupant vehicles to local roads. But a new Metro station on the property could make it even easier for people to travel there without a car.
I took a visit to the property last year, not to scout out the area where the store would be built, but to take a look at the area where the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail will extend through the site. One of the things you notice while traveling south from College Park's Calvert Hills neighborhood is that WMATA's Green Line emerges from a tunnel just to the east of the property.
Earlier plans from the developer show that WMATA owns the piece of land that separates the Cafritz property from the city of College Park to the north. What if, as part of the negotiations for future phases of the development, Prince George's County worked with the developers to fund an infill station here?
Current site plan for the Cafritz Property with WMATA property highlighted. Image from the developer and edited by Dan Reed.
The station would be close to the midpoint between the College Park and Prince George's Plaza stations, approximately 4/5 of a mile from the College Park station and 1.1 miles from Prince George's Plaza. Direct rail access to the Cafritz Property would be a win for the property developers as well as the neighbors in University Park, the southern neighborhoods of College Park, and Riverdale Park, all of which can be a long walk from existing Metro stations.
It's probably too late in the process for a Metro station to be built as part of the first phase of the Cafritz Property, but there's no reason this couldn't be seriously considered for the future.
Prince George's County has struggled to attract new development, especially around its Metro stations, but it also lacks a defined center. Over 300 residents and constituents gathered for a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland last Saturday to discuss potential locations for the county's future "downtown."
The forum was the latest in a series of outreach efforts by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) as part of Plan Prince George's 2035, an effort to update the county's General Plan, last updated in 2002.
Over the past 6 months, county planners have worked with residents, business owners, developers and state and municipal officials to craft a vision for the county's future. They've concluded that the county's approach to development needs to change: instead of sprawling farther out, it must focus on a few select areas that have the transit and economic strength to draw private investment.
The problem: the county can't simultaneously develop 27 centers
One issue is that the current vision is too broad. The 2002 General Plan designates 27 growth centers. 15 are at each of the county's Metro stations, and another 3 are at the Bowie, Seabrook and Riverdale MARC stations. 9 other centers are far from existing or planned rail transit, in places like National Harbor, Konterra and Westphalia.
This isn't serving the county well, says M-NCPPC planner-coordinator Sonja Ewing. Virtually all of the centers remain undeveloped, and none have reached their housing and employment density targets.
Each center fits into one of 3 vague categories, "Metropolitan," "Regional," and "Community," but those often lead to competing and disjointed planning efforts. This time around, M-NCPPC proposes to adopt a more descriptive system with 8 categories. Each one comes with its own particular desired land use mix, desired types of housing, height limits, maximum floor-area ratios, and density limits.
M-NCPPC will also designate 2 or 3 of the "urban center" locations as "Priority Improvement Districts" (PIDs), where the county would provide marketing, infrastructure investments and financial incentives to encourage private development.
Planners pick 3 "high performers" and 3 "game changers"
After analyzing and scoring all 27 areas, Planners chose 6 potential downtown sites, all of which are at Metro stations. They say 3 of them, Prince George's Plaza, College Park, and New Carrollton, are "high performers" best poised for the PID designation because of the existing level of activity there.
The other 3, which they dubbed "game changers," need an additional push to make them viable downtowns. These sites are Greenbelt, which could be the FBI's future home, Largo Town Center, where the county wants to see a regional medical center, and Branch Avenue, where WMATA has expressed interest in a public-private partnership to build around the station.
The audience favored New Carrollton as the best "high performer," followed by College Park.
The audience appeared to favor College Park as the best "high performer" due to the presence of the University of Maryland. There was also clear consensus that New Carrollton made sense as a downtown since it is already a major regional multimodal transportation hub. Largo Town Center was the most-favored "game changer" location.
I left the town hall meeting with several questions, which I hope can receive some attention as we move through the Plan Prince George's 2035 process. In the next part, I'll look at those questions.
Thanks to video posted on YouTube, we can take a historic ride on the DC Transit 82 streetcar line from 5th & G (near what is now WMATA headquarters) all the way to the Branchville neighborhood of College Park.
Between downtown and the northern end of the line at Branchville, the streetcar passes through Eckington, Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, Riverdale, and College Park.
It's difficult to determine the exact date of this film because it was posted without a source cited. However, the streetcars are all sporting DC Transit livery. Before July 1956, the system was known as Capital Transit. It also has to be before January 1962, because that's when the streetcar system closed in DC.
We can actually narrow the dates a little more because the 80 (North Capitol Street) and 82 (Rhode Island Avenue) lines were discontinued on September 7, 1958.
Here is a map of the route the streetcar takes in this film:
There are a few interesting things along the route visible in the video.
At 0:48, the streetcar takes a "private right-of-way" between New York Avenue and Eckington Place. Today, this is the Wendy's in "Dave Thomas Circle," at New York and Florida Avenues.
A little farther up the route, at 1:58, you see the T Street "plow pit," where the car changed from using underground conduit to overhead wire. The bridge in the background is the T Street bridge over what is now the WMATA Brentwood Yard.
Starting at 10:18, the line begins to cross the Cafritz property in Riverdale Park. This section of the line will be converted into an extension of the College Park Trolley Trail whenever the site is developed.
At 11:20, the streetcar begins running on what is now the College Park Trolley Trail, and it continues on what is now the trail until the end of the film.
At 12:15, the trolley comes to a grade crossing of a spur of the B&O Railroad which was used to deliver coal to the University of Maryland. That right-of-way is now used for Paint Branch Parkway. Just north of that crossing (at 12:25), the streetcar crosses a tributary of Paint Branch Creek on a bridge that is is still used to carry the Trolley Trail.
At 14:18, the trolley arrives at the Branchville Loop, where Greenbelt Road, Rhode Island Avenue, and University Boulevard intersect. The narrator mentions that the line used to run further north along what is now Rhode Island Avenue. As late as 1948, the 82 line was still running as far north as Beltsville. However, the line used to run all the way to Main Street in Laurel, at the far northern end of Prince George's County.
What else do you notice in the film?
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.
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.
Metro riders now have the option to use secure bike parking at the College Park station. At a grand opening today, WMATA officials welcomed riders to the new indoor storage facility.
The new "bike and ride" facility is located in the bottom level of the parking garage at the College Park station. This area was originally set aside for future retail, and has now been configured to accommodate parking for approximately 120 bicycles.
At the opening, Deputy General Manager Carol Kissal announced that by next summer, Metro would be opening new bike and ride facilities at Vienna and King Street stations, and hopes to expand the program further.
For WMATA, increasing secure bike storage is an obvious choice. The facility at College Park currently can handle 120 bicycles, but parking capacity can be doubled with the installation of more double-decker racks. The facility takes up about the same amount of space as 10 car parking spaces, according to officials.
WMATA is trying to encourage more people to bike to their stations, and providing a secure place to park is an important aspect of achieving that goal. By 2020, the agency hopes to triple the number of people cycling to their stations.
Parking costs 5 cents per hour during the day and 2 cents per hour overnight. Riders gain access to the facility and pay for parking with an access card from a company called BikeLink. There are no annual fees, only a one-time $5 fee for customer ID verification.
BikeLink will manage the facility for WMATA, and has the incentive to encourage bicycling to the station, since they take home the revenue generated by the facility. WMATA will win by getting additional rail and bus fare revenue from those who chose to College Park because of the facility.
WMATA chose College Park for the pilot program because it's already one of the top stations for cycling. In the 2011 bike parking census, it came out in third place systemwide. Additionally, the space in the garage was available, and a third of people parking at the station come from three miles away or less, which means many are already within biking distance.
Also demonstrating their commitment to bicycling, Kissal, Assistant General Manager Nat Bottigheimer, and several other WMATA employees biked to College Park from the WMATA headquarters near Judiciary Square.
This facility is a great addition to the Metro network and promises to be the first of many similar secure bicycle parking areas around Metro.
DC United might leave Washington entirely due to lack of a suitable and sustainable stadium. Embedded in the UMD campus plan could be the key: A new stadium which serves both DC United and Maryland soccer.
DC United has been playing at 50-year old RFK stadium since 1996 and the facility is literally crumbling. After numerous agreements with local governments that fell apart at the 11th hour, the trail towards self-funding a new stadium in the region has seemingly gone cold.
When I was a senior at the University of Maryland in 2003, I saw a scale model of the Campus Master Plan. It includes provisions for a soccer stadium (PDF) on top of what is currently a surface parking lot in the back corner of campus. The site is on the south side of the new field hockey/lacrosse stadium and also adjacent to the Comcast Center basketball arena. This could be ideal for DC United.
The site in question would require no new roads or infrastructure to be specially built. That part of campus is tucked away from the academic uses and is currently used for parking and varsity/club athletics. It already has the infrastructure in place for large events. DCU could market using the Green Line, much like the Nats Stadium does, although some fans will want to drive if they're coming from far away.
The site is about a 20 minute walk from the Green Line but will be less than 10 minutes from the future Purple Line stations at East Campus and Campus Center. (The University currently runs free shuttles to and from the Metro all day every day.) It is also right next to the Paint Branch Trail bike path.
There also are some new apartments with ground-floor retail on Route 1 behind the stadium site, which are on the way from the Metro. Those new buildings have restaurants and pubs in them that are certain to enjoy greater patronage from future soccer fans on the way to and from the game.
Attendance for UMD soccer is currently over the capacity of Ludwig Field, its current facility. They now draw up to 8,000 spectators. After multiple expansions to temporary seating structures, Ludwig's capacity is about 7,000. During my time as an undergraduate, I heard about how University of Maryland Athletics was dreaming of having a true soccer facility so they could host games and make revenue from prestigious events such as the ACC championship and the NCAA Final Four. However, those prestigious events require that their host facilities have an enclosed press box and locker rooms. Unfortunately, Ludwig Field has neither.
Currently, University of Maryland Athletics is running a deficit. Therefore, they can't fund new facilities in the Master Plan. University of Maryland Athletics also wants new revenues to fund their operations. Meanwhile, DC United has been offering to fund the construction of a new stadium for over 10 years. They have sought a public-private partnership that involves the local or state government issuing low-interest municipal bonds that the team would be in charge of paying.
The lower municipal interest rate versus the higher private interest rate is the difference between tens or hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the bond. The Maryland Stadium Authority was set up to mange such projects; as result, they bring in revenue to the government and are funded through fees from events at the facility rather than through taxpayer money. (It was also founded in response to Baltimore's heartbreak over losing the Colts in the 1980's because of a situation that was very similar to United's.)
Under such a public-private partnership between DC United and UMD, the University would get a new facility that's on its Campus Master Plan at no cost to their budget. They would get new revenue streams by hosting ACC and NCAA events, along with revenue from DC United events, according to the terms of embracing construction on the University of Maryland campus. Finally, they would have a beautiful new stadium to better attract and accommodate more fans for their own soccer teams than their present facility can hold.
The more events a stadium hosts, the more revenue it brings in for all stakeholders. In addition to more revenue from hosting college sporting events, UMD and DCU would make revenue per the terms of their agreement for 60 additional events a year. As I wrote back in January:
Between its Major League Soccer regular season games, U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF (North American) Championships, and friendlies, DC United holds approximately 30 games during the season. Other events would want to use the facility too, such as the U.S. National Men's and Women's soccer teams, concerts, college sports, other pro sports, etc. 60 events a year is a reasonable estimate. The schedule for the Los Angeles Galaxy's soccer stadium, the Home Depot Center, illustrates the diversity of events held.DC United's competitor, the Los Angeles Galaxy has a similar existing arrangement with Cal State-Dominguez Hills as the Home Depot Center is built on the campus. The Home Depot Center represents how a medium-sized professional sports venue built on a college campus can be beneficial for all stakeholders.
The solution to two separate problems often rests with the two parties working together. DC United has been looking to fund building a 20,000 seat soccer stadium for over a decade. The University of Maryland has wanted a new soccer stadium for almost as long, as expressed in the Campus Master Plan, and they currently lack the funds to build it themselves even though their own soccer team has outgrown its present facility.
DC United is in the eleventh hour of getting out of a bad stadium arrangement that threatens their very existence. The land and infrastructure at UMD is already in place. The Maryland Stadium Authority brings professional stadium project management to the table. Both parties have exactly what the other wants and a 20,000 seat soccer stadium will bring in revenue for all at no taxpayer expense. It's also a smart growth project, located close to existing Metro infrastructure, the future Purple Line (boosting ridership projections and making the project even more competitive for Federal funding), existing parking, and existing road infrastructure that already handle accommodate large sporting events.
Disclosure: I'm a member of the Barra Brava, an iconic independent DC United supporters' group. I am also a University of Maryland alum and a member of the Alumni Association.
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