Greater Greater Washington

Posts about College Park

Bicycling


For new bike lanes in College Park, there's good news and bad news

New drawings are out for bike lanes along Route 1 in College Park, between the University of Maryland and Greenbelt Road. The State Highway Administration is now proposing buffered bike lanes on the main street through College Park, but community leaders want a protected bike lane, or at least a bigger buffer.


Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

The new bike lanes that the Maryland SHA is proposing are about one foot wider than the original design, which was too narrow to be next to heavy traffic. But there still aren't any "vertical" safety features to put a physical barrier between cars and bikes, like curbs, flexible posts, and rumble strips.

When members of the College Park City Council asked whether that would change, SHA said it would not. The issue, apparently, wasn't about cost, but rather maintenance and road space.


Bike lane dimensions for Route 1 in College Park. Image from the State Highway Administration

Route 1 is notorious for its safety problems. It has seen several fatalities—of both people on foot and in cars—along the route in recent years, and in just one weekend last October, turning drivers struck pedestrians in crosswalks two times.

The new bike lane width of six feet is certainly more bike-friendly than the prior design, but it remains one foot short of the seven foot total width that the highway administration's own guidelines recommend for curb-protected bike lanes.

If Route 1 were a bit narrower, there'd be an extra foot for bike lanes.

Wider car lanes vs better bike lanes

The new design for Route 1 in College Park widens the road's main driving lanes to 11 feet, which Maryland Department of Transportation secretary Pete Rahn says will make it easier for large vehicles like trucks and buses to turn.

Wider lanes, however, also encourage drivers to speed and carry with them a greater risk for crashes at corners. 10-foot lanes would calm traffic and leave more space for bike lanes and sidewalks.

It may make sense that high-speed roads in rural areas would prioritize higher speeds and looser turning radii. But College Park is a rapidly urbanizing area, and to make things safe, buses, trucks and cars will need to slow down.

Also, making biking and walking safer and more convenient (as well as continuing to improve transit) will help cut traffic volumes and travel times by taking cars off the road.

The decision whether to prioritize turning convenience for bus and truck drivers vs. pedestrian and bike safety is a question not of engineering, but of politics and values.


Route 1 at Paint Branch Parkway with a relaxed turning radius for higher-speed turns. Image from Google maps.

Fortunately, there is a potential compromise. The Route 1 master plan calls for 11-foot outside lanes and 10-foot inside lanes. A wider 11-foot lane on the right side would give more space for turning trucks and buses, and there could still be a narrower, calmer 10-foot passing lane on the left. That extra foot of road space would allow a wider buffer zone between the bike lanes and traffic. It would also leave space for a protected bike lane to go in later.

Given the history of fatalities and injuries all along the route, College Park needs traffic calming features like protected bike lanes and narrow travel lanes, not features intended to encourage drivers to speed through the area or make higher-speed turns. A complete roadway rebuilding project is a once in a generation opportunity, and there's still time to get this design right.

Public Spaces


What other college towns can teach us about College Park's challenges

Our contributors recently discussed why College Park, Maryland doesn't have the same "college town" feel as the places around similar flagship universities in states like Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, or California. But College Park isn't the only place struggling with these issues. What can we learn from other college towns around the nation?


Morgantown, WV. Photo by Bill Walsh on Flickr.

Geoff Hatchard posed the question:

[What] college towns aren't the commonly-cited ones that may be "somewhat great" and are improving that College Park can look to as inspiration? I'm thinking of places that have or are overcoming obstacles. The first that comes to mind is New Haven, CT. Are there other examples anyone can think of?
Ben Ross said, "Boston University might be an example. When I lived in Boston, that stretch of Commonwealth Avenue was dominated by auto dealerships. It's much more urban now."


Photo by Wendy Brolga on Flickr.

Tracey Johnstone has an example from not too far away:

Old Dominion U. in Norfolk had/has the same problems: It's a metropolitan area with better [or worse] places to go and Hampton Blvd. divides it 1/3-2/3rds. And, to be honest, men vastly outnumber women in the Norfolk area (whereas it's the opposite in the immediate DC area) so, the demographic skews younger and more male than most college towns. In other words, college girls aren't limited to dating college boys. As a lot of first-generation college students attend Old Dominion, the income/class jump from dating college students to sailors isn't that big. And the situation is muddied by all the folks attending Old Dominion while still serving and on the GI Bill after getting out.

All that contributed to no "college" ambiance.

Toronto has a few student-oriented places near the university like the Brunswick House, but on one side is the Ontario Parliament Building and on another Toronto's "Rodeo Drive" with Cartier, Louis Vuitton, etc. Not exactly college fare.

Joe Fox fleshed out the list:
Comparisons that come to mind (for me) to UMD—being near an urban area, but not having an urban campus like GWU or ODU, in a large market—are:
  • University of Miami
  • SMU in Dallas
  • University of Richmond
  • Manhattan College
  • Rutgers
  • Seton Hall
  • UC Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • UC-Irvine
  • Arizona State
  • George Mason U
Of the above, only Tempe and Westwood, to me, have that feel. The rest are similar, or less college-like, than College Park.

San José State. Photo by HarshLight on Flickr.

Geoffrey Hatchard said, "Add SJSU in San José to that list."

SJSU is compact, dense, has 30,000 students, but turns its back on all four sides to the city around it. Parking garages are located on a couple of the corners, and the only place where there has been an active move to make the school and the outside city mix is at the northwest corner where the MLK Library, shared by the school and the city's library system (serving as its HQ), sits.
Gray Kimbrough tried to break down the "college town" challenge into some specific factors, which we quoted in the first part as well. He went on to tie them into general trends nationwide:
UMD has a pretty perfect storm of:
  1. A nearby community that is relatively hostile to the university and its students, as others have already mentioned.
  2. A location near, but not really in, a fairly major city.
  3. A campus that is relatively suburban and spread out, in addition to having little interface with the surrounding community.
  4. Its large size, especially relative to its town.
  5. Its lack of a medical center, which can often provide a built-in need for communication between the university and the community (and all the positive results that flow from that).
Universities with prototypical college towns generally lack #2. The closest thing I can think of to an exception would be Princeton, which is NYC-accessible because of NJT, but not really that close. Also Ann Arbor isn't all that far from Detroit, but it's somehow in a different world.

Universities that have condition #2 but nonetheless have good relations with the community tend to lack or have resolved at least one of the other conditions. Northwestern has the advantage that Evanston is quite a bit larger than College Park, but it also has a much denser campus that isn't completely inward facing. Minnesota isn't exactly in downtown Minneapolis, but it has a dense campus that interfaces with a commercial strip on at least one side. And despite original reluctance, UMN's leaders have come around to the idea that transit has a huge role to play in tying the campus to the broader community. Berkeley might be the closest example here, but I haven't spent enough time there to comment on what they're doing right.


Transit mall at the University of Minnesota. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.
Basically think of any large university that has a decent amount of activity near campus. All of these have at least one side of campus that blends relatively seamlessly with a prime commercial strip. UMD has a pretty effective buffer on its side of campus facing US 1, and basically no part of campus faces outward. NCSU is beyond what could be considered a relatively dense core in Raleigh, yet somehow its main campus is denser than UMD's.

Also, where a university lacks a great relationship with the surrounding community, a medical center can serve as an entry point to a discussion to improve that. I see some schools that have turned their backs on their towns, like Yale and Duke, starting to take advantage of this. UMD has a vet school, but I don't think this has the same effect as a really good hospital. Even GW and Georgetown have built-in positive interactions with DC because of their med schools and hospitals.

College Park can't do much about #2, #4, or #5, but they can work to change #3 in particular, and hopefully work on #1 in the process. There needs to be an acknowledgment that the layout of UMD's campus absolutely plays a factor here. As they build out the campus, perhaps they can work to both build more densely and build connections to the surrounding area.

Jonathan Krall brought it back to walkability and the urban form:
In my experience, most universities have adjacent commercial areas, so long as zoning allows it. The ones with college towns have human-scale street grids in or adjacent to the commercial zone. This is true of UC Boulder, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSB, all of which have large cities nearby. It is not true of UM College Park or UC San Diego. I do not know how those street grids came to be, but they make all the difference. What the college-town part of Boulder (just west of the school) has over College Park isn't better shops and restaurants. It's that people like to walk and bicycle in the college-town part of Boulder (and the rest of Boulder as well, but that's another story).

However, these college towns could be considered anemic (Boulder, UCSB) or over-commercialized (Berkeley, UCLA) compared to a small college town such as Ithaca, NY, home to Ithaca College and Cornell University. The big-city effect is real, but it is the walkable street grid that is essential.


Westwood, CA. Photo by Tony Hoffarth on Flickr.

Owen Chaput pointed out that what makes a good "college town" varies depending on whose eyes you are looking through:

When we ask what makes a good college town, whose perspective are we looking at it from? Undergraduates, graduate students, staff, unaffiliated residents, and random visitors all have very different needs and interests, and what suits one group very well might be uninteresting (or a nuisance) for another group. I suspect that a great college town comes in part from having all groups present on or nearby campus, and relatively dependent on the campus business district(s) to meet their needs.

For towns looking to improve, here are a few possible factors: for undergrads, the challenge is getting them off campus and spending money or living in the surrounding community. With grad students, the challenge is enough cheap housing, beer, and culture nearby the university so the grad students don't go live somewhere more interesting and affordable. Staff (professors, admin, support) and unaffiliated community residents need to be able to live close enough to the college business districts to patronize them year-round, but require diversified housing stock and separation from the weekend rowdiness.

Ithaca, NY is the best I've ever spent time in. Hard to find fault with it, except it is far from a major city and frigid for six months of the year. But it's an easier example since it doesn't fit the UM-College Park suburban-urban rubric, and I think it benefited from natural geography keeping things crowded in two directions. Emory is bad. Surrounded by very expensive, low-density suburban housing, but only three miles from Atlanta! Very little commercial zoning. Awful, awful traffic. It has a huge medical facility and the CDC right next door, but lacks any college town feel. The walkable street grid explanation fits for Emory.

What universities around the nation do you think have lessons for UMD and College Park?

Public Spaces


Why isn't College Park a better college town?

Many major state universities have "college town" areas right near them, with walkable neighborhoods that serve the student population. Charlottesville, Virginia; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Berkeley and LA's Westwood, California are a few well-known examples. College Park, by contrast, doesn't have this feel. Why is that?


Photo by Matt Chan on Flickr.

This isn't a new topic of conversation around the region, but after it came up in a recent comment thread, we asked our contributors to weigh in on this.

Jeff Lemieux pointed out the single most significant factor many people point to: the surrounding roads are far too car-oriented.

A sewer runs through it. University Boulevard bounds the campus to the north as a divided highway with no bike or pedestrian access and no development potential. Route 1 is getting better but is still treated more like a suburban strip arterial then a commercial street. College Park should be a paradise for walking and biking. But it has a ways to go.

Route 1 and Calvert Road near UMD. Image from Google Maps.

Dan Reed thinks location and the number of commuters contributes:

[This is] exacerbated by UMD's history as a commuter school. ... Even kids who live on campus but grow up in the area frequently go back home to visit friends or family, to work, etc.

I do think this is changing as 1) Maryland's national reputation means it draws more students from out of state and 2) more students live on campus, which means you have a bigger base to support shops and restaurants in the area, which in turn gives people more of a reason to stick around, which in turn supports more activity. I don't know if that's enough to support the kind of businesses that we associate with a "college town," like the awesome College Perk coffeehouse which closed many years ago, but it's a start.


Route 1 and Knox Rd. in 2010. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Partap Verma also thinks College Park is improving:

College Park has always been divided into two main areas—the downtown area with restaurants and bars that's not too far from the dorms, and the overall Rt. 1 area. In recent years the downtown has seen some new development with new apartments/retails/restaurants and actually looks pretty decent. And then you have the larger Rt. 1 area that is filled with strip malls and car dealerships that are slowly going away and being replaced by much needed apartments and hotels that serve UMD.
Commenter dcer52, on the thread that started this discussion, pointed out how an often-contentious town-gown relationship has also held back the growth of a college town area:
Here is one famous example that sums it up. When the Green Line station in College Park opened in the 1990s, the University planned to run a shuttle bus from campus to the station. However, the extension of Paint Branch Parkway was not built yet so the bus would have to run through surface streets in the City of College Park. The University offered to allow any College Park resident to ride the bus for free (not just students), but the city refused to allow the shuttle buses to ride on city streets to access the Metro station.

When the College Park Metro station opened, about six blocks from the edge of the University of Maryland campus, the University was prohibited from running a shuttle bus to the station (as was Metro and PG County The Bus). So instead students, faculty, and others had to take a shuttle bus to the Greenbelt station.

When I was a student there in the 90's I tried to take an active role in city issues. I changed my voter registration to College Park only to find that for persons living on campus or in student housing neighborhoods, the assigned polling place was not College Park city hall (downtown and walking distance from everything) but some other building that required a drive (or cab ride) from campus. Some colleges actually have polling places for students on campus, College Park put theirs as far away from campus as possible. Message sent.


College Park Metro. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Gray Kimbrough summed up some of the major reasons for the problem:

UMD has a pretty perfect storm of:
  1. A nearby community that is relatively hostile to the university and its students, as others have already mentioned.
  2. A location near, but not really in, a fairly major city.
  3. A campus that is relatively suburban and spread out, in addition to having little interface with the surrounding community.
  4. Its large size, especially relative to its town.
  5. Its lack of a medical center, which can often provide a built-in need for communication between the university and the community (and all the positive results that flow from that).

A road on the UMD campus. Photo by Matt Chan on Flickr.

Payton Chung added some context and a possible quantitative metric, Floor Area Ratio (FAR):

Some universities have successfully built their own college towns—like UIC, a postwar commuter school. That UMD hasn't is probably a semi-conscious decision, both due to a commuter school mentality on behalf of the administration (and students) and a snobbish suburban mentality on behalf of the town (as dcer52 retells).

As Gray points out, the commuter school mentality results in a campus that isn't all that dense, and is isolated from walkable retail. From the middle of McKeldin Mall to the nearest off-campus restaurant is about 0.4 miles away—an eight-minute walk one way, or too far to manage a roundtrip within a 15-minute break between classes. Contrast that to 0.07 miles from the middle of the Court of North Carolina (at NC State) or 0.2 miles from the middle of Polk Place (at UNC).

Local architects Ayers Saint Gross have a cool "comparing campuses" tool with figure-ground plans and statistics on many academic and medical campuses. Overall, FAR isn't the most useful metric for something as big as an entire campus (which might include athletic fields, research farms, etc.), but UMD's campus has an overall FAR of just 0.22. By contrast, "urban" campuses like UCLA and VCU have FARs in the 0.8-0.9 range. All FARs are not created equal, but it's not for nothing that LEED awards points for FARs above 0.5/0.8. In my experience, few truly walkable places have FARs much below 1.0; there's just not enough other destinations within walking distance.


Route 1 and Knox Rd. in 2010. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Dan Reed discussed the pros and cons of the FAR metric and the issue of just where the downtown area is located relative to campus:

I like Payton's discussion about FAR, which makes a good point about the walkability of a campus itself and its ability to contribute to the surrounding area. But I would note that a golf course takes up like half of the 1200+ acres UMD has, and the part of the campus closest to "downtown" College Park (aka South Campus) is fairly dense, walkable, and somewhat oriented to Route 1 and Knox Road where all of the bars are.

That said, South Campus is predominantly upperclassmen dorms and apartments, which is great for the bars, but sucks for anyone trying to grab students going to and from class. Most of the academic buildings are either in the middle of campus (far from Route 1) or on North Campus (very far from Route 1. When I was in architecture school we drove (!!!) to Route 1 for lunch because otherwise it was a 20 minute walk.

UMD's been talking about East Campus for a decade now and their plans to put retail and housing and a hotel on Route 1 are good. But this discussion makes me wonder if they should also put some academic buildings there instead of cloistering them far away from the rest of town.

College Park clearly faces some obstacles to be a better college town (including disagreement among residents about whether it should be at all). It's not the the only place where some or many of these factors apply. Our contributors also discussed other towns which are grappling with these same issues, and other universities that lack a good physical connection to their surroundings. We'll have more of this contributor discussion, moving beyond College Park, Maryland, in an upcoming article.

Roads


Hogan shifted transit money to roads. Here's what he'll build

When Maryland governor Larry Hogan canceled Baltimore's Red Line and cut state funding from the Purple Line, he shifted over a billion dollars from transit to road construction. Here are the road projects he plans to build with that money.


All images from the State of Maryland.

On the map, blue lines and dots illustrate major highway projects. Red lines are smaller road projects, and green dots are bridge projects.

There are three major highway projects in the Washington region, on I-270, the Beltway, and Route 1. Most of the money is going to projects in other parts of the state.

I-270 in Montgomery

Montgomery County will get one big project: $100 million for "innovative congestion reduction" on I-270, between the Beltway and I-370.

That won't be a widening. It will be operational tweaks to squeeze more efficiency out of the pavement that's already there. MDOT will introduce things like ramp meters, bus-on-shoulder, and signals that let motorists drive on the shoulder at peak times.

Officials haven't determined the exact location or mix of projects yet, but all three of those strategies have helped Virginia squeeze more capacity out of I-66.

Two in Prince George's

Prince George's will get two big projects: $185 million to expand the Beltway interchange at Greenbelt Metro station, and $30 million to rebuild US-1 through downtown College Park.


Greenbelt (left) and College Park

The Greenbelt project will add new highway ramps, so drivers coming from northbound I-495 will be able to get to the Metro station, and so drivers leaving Metro will be able to reach southbound I-495. Those movements aren't possible today.

The College Park project will make US-1 a four-lane highway with a raised median, and add better bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. This is the same project this blog has advocated for over the past year, although it's not clear from Hogan's announcement what the final design will look like.

Most of the money goes elsewhere

Those three projects will most directly affect Washington-area drivers. Here are the biggest new projects elsewhere in the state:

Here's the complete list of major road projects statewide. In addition to new projects, the list also includes $645 million in "preserved" funding for projects for which MDOT had already budgeted.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


There's plenty of room for safe bike lanes in College Park

Route 1 in College Park is about to undergo a major reconstruction. As long as Maryland's State Highway Administration doesn't widen the road's travel lanes, the project is a chance to make Route 1 safe for people on bikes.


Route 1 plans. All images from Maryland SHA.

Local residents, the University of Maryland, the City of College Park, and biking advocates all want protected bike lanes on Route 1. SHA engineering guidelines now include design specifications for protected bike lanes.

But SHA is looking into widening Route 1's existing travel lanes at the expense of safe, usable bike lanes.

Advocates from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association recently measured the existing roadway and lane widths on Route 1 between between the entrance to the University of Maryland and Greenbelt Road. Currently, that stretch is nearly 53 feet wide, with ten-foot travel lanes along the entire segment.

Ten-foot lane widths would mean ample room for safer, buffered and protected bike lanes. On the other hand, making travel lanes wider would lead to higher vehicle speeds that'd then make it more difficult to make downtown College Park walking and biking-friendly. Narrow, unprotected bike lanes are unsafe alongside high-speed, high-traffic roads.

Route 1 can be a road everyone can use

SHA's original proposal for Route 1 included 11-foot travel lanes plus five feet for bike facilities (a four-foot lane and a one-foot gutter pan). Five feet for bike lanes that run alongside Route 1's heavy car and bus traffic is not enough space—just look at how rarely people use the unprotected bike lanes on several other busy Prince George's County roads. The bike lanes would be stressful to use at best, and death traps at worst.


Original Route 1 proposal.

SHA is considering expanding the bike lanes to six feet in total width (a five-foot lane plus a gutter). That would be better, but the bike lanes would still not be protected or buffered, and SHA would still be expanding the current lane widths from 10' to 11' for all four travel lanes.

However, if there is room for two 11' travel lanes and a 6' bike lane, then there's also room for a properly buffered and/or protected bike lane. SHA's minimum recommended width for buffered bike lanes is seven feet: four feet of lane, two of buffer, and a one-foot gutter.


If at least one of the travel lanes stays at ten feet wide rather than going to 11, there would be room for a seven-foot protected bike lane.

If both travel lanes stay at ten feet wide, there would be room for an eight-foot wide bike lane with a three-foot buffer and a five-foot lane. This would make College Park and the university more accessible and safer to travel around by bike. That's what the community wants and deserves.

There have been several pedestrian deaths on Route 1 in recent years, and SHA has billed Route 1 reconstruction as a safety and accessibility improvement for people who walk and travel by bike.

Completely rebuilding Route 1 is a tremendous opportunity for Prince George's county to create a walkable, person-friendly corridor in College Park. Buffered or protected bike lanes should be part of that vision. As long as Route 1's travel lanes don't get any wider, there's plenty of room for that.

Transit


Why did the pedestrian bridge collapse affect Metro so far away from Greenbelt?

Yesterday afternoon, a construction accident caused the collapse of the pedestrian bridge over the Green Line and CSX/MARC tracks in Berwyn Heights. The debris blocked the line between College Park and Greenbelt, disrupting many commutes. But why were there ripples as far away as Alexandria?


Image from Google street view.

Since the Green Line between College Park and Branch Avenue was unaffected, it's hard to comprehend how the bridge collapse would affect any commuters other than those going to Greenbelt. But if you consider how Metro uses its trains during peak hours, it's clear why the incident had such far-reaching consequences.

There were two major reasons that the collapse affected trips on the Green and Yellow Lines. The first is that Metro's largest rail yard is at Greenbelt. Since the collapse happened during midday, many of the trains that would have soon been heading downtown to collect commuters were trapped there.

The second issue is related to the first. With fewer trains, and because Metro decided to extend all Yellow Line trains to College Park, there simply weren't enough trains to provide the regular headway.

Trains couldn't leave Greenbelt

During rush hours, Metro runs most of the cars in its fleet. But at the end of rush hour, Metro sends many railcars back into the yard.

For example, during rush hours, Metro has about 17 trains in service on the Green Line. But after rush hour ends, the number of trains drops to about 9.

Yesterday, just before 3:00, the bridge collapsed just as Metro was about to transition from a midday to a rush hour schedule. Any trains that were north of the collapse were stuck there, including 60 railcars in the Greenbelt Yard, according to spokesperson Dan Stessel.

Those 60 railcars could have made up 10 6-car trains, which would've been assigned to both the Green and Yellow Lines. Suddenly, though, they were unavailable.

The Green Line also has a rail yard at the southern end at Branch Avenue. The Yellow and Blue lines share the Alexandria Yard, near King Street. But Metro doesn't keep enough cars in those yards to run full service.

Frequency, run time, and the number of trains are all related

Most people probably never think much about all the details that go into scheduling, but there's a basic equation that balances the frequency, run time, and the number of vehicles needed to run a given service.

As discussed above, the bridge collapse reduced the number of available trains. Obviously that will have an impact on the schedule. But the other thing that had an impact was extending the Yellow Line.

Figuring out how many trains (or buses) it takes to run a service is essentially as simple as dividing the cycle time by the desired headway.

For example, during the midday period, the Yellow Line runs from Huntington to Fort Totten. It takes a train 36 minutes to get from Huntington to Fort Totten, and 36 minutes to get back. If we assume a recovery/layover time of three minutes on either end, that gives us a cycle time of 84 minutes. That's how long it takes one train to run the route and be ready to go again.

Now, during this period, the Yellow Line runs every 12 minutes. That's the headway.

If we divide the cycle time (84 minutes) by the desired headway (12 minutes), we discover that we'd need seven trains.

If we change one of those variables, either of the other two (or both) variables must change as well. For example, if we want to double the frequency so we have a train every six minutes, we'd need 14 trains, double what we needed before.

Metro does this exact thing during peak hours. They double the frequency of the Yellow Line. But they also change a different variable: cycle time.

That's because during peak hours, the Yellow Line (not counting rush plus) only runs from Huntington to Mount Vernon Square. The cycle time is shorter (56 minutes), which means it only requires 10 trains to operate (instead of the 14 needed to run to Fort Totten).

Of course, the primary reason that WMATA doesn't run to Fort Totten during rush hour is because there's no pocket track there, and trains come too frequently (every 3 minutes) to have Yellow trains turn back on the mainline.

So what about yesterday?

What happened yesterday was a combination of changes to all three variables.

Because several trains were trapped north of the bridge, the number of available trains was lower than usual.

To help alleviate delay to customers headed for Greenbelt, and probably to deal with frequency issues north of Mount Vernon Square, Metro extended many or all (that's not entirely clear) Yellow Line trains to College Park. That lengthened the cycle time to about 96 minutes.

If Metro only had seven trains, a longer a cycle time of 96 minutes, would mean the headway on the line would become 13.7 minutes (instead of the usual six).


An example of how Yellow Line runtime and number of trains affects headway. Graphic by the author.

Now, Metro probably had one or two trains in Alexandria that they were able to put into service, which would shorten that headway a bit. I even saw a report on twitter that the #newtrain was switched over to the Yellow Line during the evening rush hour.

Dan Stessel indicated that other than an initial delay while the damage was being assessed, the Green and Yellow Lines ran close to on time. However I did see many tweets bemoaning extra long waits.

In addition to the changes to rail service, Metro put 20 buses into service to run the bus bridge between College Park and Greenbelt.

Hopefully this helps explain a bit about how the length of a train's round trip, along with how many trains (or buses) there are, affect how frequently they run. These examples are specific to what happened yesterday in Berwyn Heights, but the variables apply to the entire system.

For example, bus lanes and transit signal priority are ways planners try to shorten the cycle time, which allows more frequency with the same number of vehicles.

Development


An entire student neighborhood bites the dust in College Park

New investment is pouring into College Park, seeking to turn this town known for undergrads and traffic into an urban hub for all ages. As part of that transformation, the famous Knox Boxes student neighborhood is transforming from the ground up.


College Park's Knox Boxes are just a memory. All photos by the author unless noted.

For decades, the Knox Boxes epitomized the University of Maryland's image as a party school. The cluster of 25 low-rise 1950s-era brick apartment buildings was just south of the campus, behind the seedy bars and pizza joints on Route 1.


The same intersection (Guilford Drive and Hartwick Road) in 2006.

For many undergrads, a Knox Box apartment was their first taste of living on their own, and the small backyards and proximity to other neighbors made for comfortable college living.

But they were also cheaply built and poorly maintained. During my freshman year at Maryland, two students died in separate Knox Box fires.

As Maryland became known more for academics than basketball riots, the university and the City of College Park started looking at ways to redevelop the Knox Boxes.

Getting multiple landlords to sell was difficult, but by 2013, a single owner had purchased most of the Knox Boxes. That year, the city approved a plan from developer Toll Brothers, usually known for suburban McMansions, to replace the Knox Boxes with Knox Village, a luxury student apartment complex for over 1,500 students.


The future Knox Village (as seen from Guilford and Hartwick). Image from WDG Architecture.

Like most of the new student housing going up in College Park, Knox Village's apartments and townhomes will have gourmet kitchens and amenities like a pool, gym, and covered parking garage. The complex will have a series of courtyards with a grand staircase (which Toll Brothers compares to the Spanish Steps in Rome...), and two spaces for shops and restaurants.

Mayor Andy Fellows called the vote a "landmark occasion." Construction began last summer, though a few of the Knox Boxes whose owners didn't sell remain.

Change in College Park goes well beyond the Knox Boxes

Knox Village is just one piece of a bigger plan to recast College Park as more of a college town, hoping to attract post-graduates or even families. The university and the city recently opened a charter school to keep more faculty in the area. In a reversal from 10 years ago, when the administration opposed the Purple Line running through campus, president Wallace Loh has been a strong supporter.

More high-end student apartments are going up on Route 1, and last week Target announced plans to open one of the nation's first Target Express stores inside one of them. The university itself has been buying up properties in downtown College Park, and they're partnering with developer U3 Advisors to buy a former bar and turn it into a branch of Milkboy, a Philadelphia music and art venue. Even Ratsie's Pizza, a longtime favorite of the drunk and hungry, will become a Nando's Peri-Peri.


Even as new development comes to College Park, bits of the old remain.

Not even six years since I graduated from Maryland, much of College Park is unrecognizable. Having lived on Knox Road as an upperclassman, I admit I'm a little nostalgic about losing the Knox Boxes. It's also worrisome that so much of the new student housing is very expensive and might make the already high cost of attending college even higher. On the other hand, thousands of new student apartments are coming in, and as the supply increases, rents are likely to fall.

When I lived there, College Park could be frustrating if you weren't into the party scene. There wasn't even a grocery store within walking distance of campus. It's exciting to see College Park develop into more of a college town. That's not only great for students and faculty, but also for neighbors who aren't even affiliated with the university.

Check out these photos of the Knox Boxes in 2006 and today.

Roads


Let's build a great bike lane for Route 1 in College Park

People who bicycle in College Park were very excited last year when Governor Martin O'Malley announced funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Route 1 in College Park. But the state's new plan for the road just includes basic, painted bicycle lanes. The road needs better bicycle infrastructure to be safe and attractive for cycling.


Rendering of SHA's proposed typical section for Route 1 between College Ave and Greenbelt Road. Drawing by the author.

When the funding was announced last summer, one news report said that the plan called for a "bicycle and pedestrian trail along US 1 from College Avenue to MD-193."

Northern Prince George's county has an excellent bike trail system paralleling Route 1 and Metro's Green Line, but many of the larger roads in the area are hostile to cyclists and pedestrians. Route 1 does not even have continuous sidewalks in many stretches between the University of Maryland and the beltway, and there are no protected bike lanes or cycletracks on any of the larger numbered state roads in the area.

The state's design disappoints

Last week, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) described a plan for section of Route 1 between College Ave. and Greenbelt Road that would create a narrow five-foot painted bike lane (four feet plus a one foot gutter pan) next to the curb.


A diagram from an SHA newsletter describing the proposed Route 1 cross-section.

Given the bus and delivery truck traffic on Route 1, a narrow bike lane could be hazardous, squeezing cyclists between an 8-inch concrete curb and large vehicles in dense traffic. In addition, buses that are stopped or idling by the curb would force cyclists into the roadway and mixed traffic—something neither cyclists nor drivers prefer.

The SHA design is unlikely to be popular with either cyclists or drivers. College Park officials asked SHA hard questions about whether the design could include protected bike lanes, but SHA representatives didn't have good answers beyond, essentially, "this is where we usually put bike lanes."

This design decision will make an enormous difference in the long run for College Park's accessibility and business development. Since SHA will be rebuilding the entire roadway, this is once-in-a-generation opportunity for Prince George's County.

Will the bike lanes be part of an urban street design that is welcoming to pedestrians, bikes, and bus riders? Or will they lanes just be a stripe of paint between the curb and a roadway that is designed more like a suburban strip or rural highway?

Why not a cycletrack?

Fortunately, there are much better designs that cities nationwide have used for decades. Some even would allow for a narrower road, meaning Maryland would have to buy less land and do less of the expensive full-depth road reconstruction.

Protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, physically separate between cyclists and vehicle traffic, offering a more comfortable and safer ride.


A protected lane through the MIT campus on Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA. Photo by straightedge217 on Flickr.

Twenty-four states use these lanes, which many cycle advocates call protected bike lanes and others call cycletracks. The District uses cycletracks extensively, and they have coincided with a boom in population and tax revenues for the city.

A Route 1 with such a lane, keeping the same proposed center median, could look something like this:


Drawing by the author.

Cyclists do not have to compete with faster vehicles that can hit or kill them, nor do they have to compete with slower pedestrians on crowded sidewalks (like they do now). This is a win-win for all road users and dramatically improves everyone's safe travel.

A two-way cycletrack might also be an option, especially on the west (University) side of Route 1.

Alternatively, SHA can also follow the lead of many other states by putting in buffered bike lanes. These separate the bike lanes from vehicle traffic within the road using striped or curbed buffers. While not as good as cycletracks or protected lanes, they are far superior to the simple painted lanes in SHA's design.

Although there has limited space in the right-of-way on Route 1, SHA is working on expanding the right-of-way beyond its existing width. This gives College Park a rare opportunity to create enough space to safely accommodate cyclists and pedestrians.

Protected bike lanes will encourage bike commuting to the university and surrounding businesses and will take car traffic off the road. In order to entice people to bicycle, people need to feel safe. Basic painted bike lanes alone will not achieve that.

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