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Posts about College Park

Transit


Metro locks out an entire College Park neighborhood

Metro's aggressive rebuilding program sometimes means riders must use bus shuttles to travel to and from closed stations. But when Metro closes Greenbelt station, the work blocks access to the shuttles from an entire neighborhood.


Left: Walking path from Hollywood to Greenbelt on normal days. Right: When the station is closed. Maps by the author.

Greenbelt Metro station sits on the boundary between the cities of Greenbelt and College Park. On the Greenbelt side there's a bus loop and a massive parking lot. But few people live within a reasonable walk. On the College Park side is Hollywood, a neighborhood of single-family homes straddling Rhode Island Avenue. A pedestrian tunnel beneath the tracks links the two.

Right now, Metro is building a test track for new railcars between College Park and Greenbelt. This means construction most weekends, and sometimes Metro closes Greenbelt station for the work. So far in 2014, Greenbelt has been closed on 3 weekends. It will likely close again before the year is out.

As usual when Metro closes stations for weekend work, they provide bus shuttles to the nearest Green Line station that's open.

But there's a problem: When Metro closes Greenbelt station due to work, they lock the station gates. The pedestrian tunnel linking Hollywood is behind these gates. So when the station is closed, the tunnel closes too.

This means people who live in Hollywood can't even walk through the station to get to the shuttle buses substituting for trains. They also can't access regular buses going to places like New Carrollton, the University of Maryland, or Wheaton.

When Greenbelt station is closed, what's usually an easy 4 minute walk through the station becomes a daunting and impractical 1 hour 9 minute walk of 3.5 miles.

College Park station is different

College Park station, the next one down the Green Line, has a similar design, except for one crucial difference: the pedestrian tunnel under the tracks at College Park emerges outside the station gates, and so then tunnel can remain open even when the station is closed.

Greenbelt's tunnel isn't so lucky.


Tunnel at College Park. Photo by the author.

Can Greenbelt change?

Is there any way for WMATA to make sure riders who live in Hollywood still have reasonable access to buses, even when the station is closed? Ideally the agency could leave the station gates open at Greenbelt, and just block off the faregates with a barricade.

That might mean Metro has to have one more staff person at the station on work days, but locking out most of the people who live within walking distance of the station isn't a good option.

Bicycling


Is Gaithersburg the next frontier for Capital Bikeshare?

Gaithersburg is considering joining Capital Bikeshare with up to 21 additional stations. But with turbulent bikeshare rollouts in College Park and Rockville, it may not be easy.


Proposed bikeshare stations in Gaithersburg. Map by the author, using Google.

The Gaithersburg City Council is mulling whether or not to join Capital Bikeshare, and how to fund the program if they join. At a meeting on Monday, the council worked out preliminary plans for 8 initial stations, to be followed by around a dozen more later.

Gaithersburg has a growing collection of mixed-use neighborhoods that will someday be connected by the Corridor Cities Transitway. Adding bikesharing to that mix makes sense, and can help Gaithersburg transition to be a less car-dependent community.

But is expansion even possible right now? And if it is, does Gaithersburg have the right plan?

Trouble in College Park and Rockville

Theoretically the next expansion of Capital Bikeshare in suburban Maryland should be underway in College Park right now. But with Capital Bikeshare's parent supplier company in bankruptcy and reorganization, no new bikes or bike stations are rolling off the assembly line. As a result, College Park's expansion is on indefinite hold.

Eventually the assembly line will start rolling again. But how long will it take, and how huge will be the backlog of existing orders? It may be some time before anybody can accept new orders.

Meanwhile, nearby Rockville has its bikeshare stations already, but they're poorly used.

One big problem appears to be that Rockville's stations are spread too far apart. Instead of placing stations every couple of blocks, Rockville only put one or two stations in each neighborhood. Cyclists have to commit to a long ride to use the system.

Based on the map of proposed stations, it looks like Gaithersburg is shaping up to make the same mistake. It might be better for both cities to rethink their stations, and cluster them together in a smaller part of town.

But implementation details aside, it's great news to see more and more communities looking to progressive transportation options.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Politics


College Park's mayor takes Smart Growth to school

Andrew Fellows came to College Park from Silver Spring in 1991 as a grad student at the University of Maryland and never left. Now mayor and newly elected to a third term, Fellows wants to draw staff and faculty back to this college town, all while making it more environmentally sustainable.


Andy Fellows, mayor of College Park. Photo by the author.

It's Thursday morning at the Starbucks in College Park, perhaps the main thoroughfare for college students in this 30,000-person city. Fellows walks in quickly. If you're not looking up at the time, you'll miss him. A hand shoots out.

"Morning, Mayor," says a man from a lounge chair.

"Hey, how are ya doin?" says Fellows.

In November, Fellows was reelected in the city's first contested election in 24 years. Fellows, whose day job is regional director at Clean Water Action, agreed to meet me for one of the first interviews since then.

What are the executive powers of mayors of small municipalities like College Park?

Mayor Fellows: Almost none...the city council sets policy. I have a vote on council matters, but only if it's a tie. Then we have a city manager who is full-time: basically who runs the city, and implements the policy that we settle.

It's not really my authority, but it's my ability to meet with leaders. When I was sworn in, I said that I wanted to improve the relationship with the University of Maryland and also with Prince George's County. So I spend a chunk of time meeting with people and talking with people about ways we could work together and improve relationships. I'm a little bit of an ambassador for College Park.

Could you tell me a little about your work [at Clean Water Action]?

Mayor Fellows: Clean Water Action is a national organization. We have about a million members around the country. I coordinate our program in Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. Our mission is both to make democracy work and get people involved in the decision-making process on environmental issues, and also to implement the Clean Water Act, which is to make the water of the United States more fishable and to make sure there's safe and affordable drinking water. It's partly political because we do endorsements and we do election work, and it's also education and outreach.

It seems College Park is a bit of a hotbed for non-profit environmental work. Did that activity and organizing attract you to the city in the first place?

Mayor Fellows: It's part of being a college town where those types of groups tend to be here. In a sense it did attract me. But then again I didn't really work in environmental work at first. I worked at Citizen Action, which did do environmental work but they worked with other issues as well.

I've attempted to make it a point not to bring my Clean Water agenda to being the mayor at College Park, but it overlaps in the sense that I'm a green mayor. I'm an environmentally-minded mayor. So I want to encourage as much sustainability as possible.

What are some of the challenges that are unique to College Park instead of other nearby municipalities?

Mayor Fellows: I think the unique opportunity we have, and in some ways the challenge, is being home to the flagship campus to the state of Maryland. Because of that we have a lot of count-down issues. Sometimes it's the tension of people who are renting and living short-term and maybe have a different lifestyle than their neighbors: partying and noise. That's a lot of what the Quality of Life Workgroup does, is address some of those issues.

But also with planning, transportation, and economic development issues. The university has a lot of power and the city doesn't have final authority on land use; the county does. So, our focus is on coordinating our efforts with the university and the county to make sure that we're working together.

What are you proud of having accomplished?

Mayor Fellows: Well a lot of the university faculty don't live here in town, and so one of the things that we recognize for the university to be more sustainable is having them living closer to the university so that they can bike or walk to work.

The reason they don't is education. The public schools of Prince George's County don't have a good reputation, so education has always been a top priority of mine. But the city of College Park didn't run education. We do now that we are helping to run a new charter school called College Park Academy, that just opened this fall...It's in a former Catholic school called St. Mark's. We will be creating a full-time location for the College Park Academy, but we're still in the process of doing that.

To me that's a really concrete accomplishment of getting the university, the city, and the county to work together to improve public education opportunities for kids.

Where does affordable housing rank on the list of the city's priorities?

Mayor Fellows: It's pretty high, but affordable housing is one of those issues that's mostly related to students. Of course, that's not true in a lot of parts of Prince George's County. I think for us in College Park, we've got a pretty good amount of diversity of income and affordable housing.

We imposed rent control and rent stabilization to address what we felt were students being ripped off by landlords who were charging really high rates. A lot of the parents of students can afford high rates. So the rents around here in the group houses were going up. So we did two things: one, we put rent stabilization in place, and then we went to war with the landlords, which took a while to get going.

What were some of the provisions of your rent control?

Mayor Fellows: You could only raise the rent a certain percentage of the value of the property.

Are student advocacy groups active on this front?

Mayor Fellows: The Student Government Organization and the Graduate Student Government have somewhat engaged in housing issues. Their big issue is getting more housing. Because, the market says, in theory, that if you have enough housing, the prices will come down because of supply and demand.

Where does smart growth fit into all of this?

Mayor Fellows: Smart growth for me is the more we can build around transit areas, areas with transportation infrastructure, so that people aren't as dependent on cars. And for us it's working. We're actually decreasing the amount of vehicle trips on Route 1 because of the fact that students living so close to campus don't have to drive to campus, which reduces cars on the road.

Okay, let's switch gears. What's the strangest thing a constituent has ever said to you?

Mayor Fellows: Well, the first thing that comes to my mindů I'm not really sure if it's strange, but it's strange to me. We put up speed cameras a few years ago, and sure enough people got caught speeding. But I was amazed that people would call me up, the mayor, and complain about being caught for speeding. Basically, their attitude was, "How dare you put up a speed camera ad how dare you fine me for breaking the law." It was so weird to me.

What are some of your personal challenges that you've faced since becoming mayor?

Mayor Fellows: My personal challenge is probably time. I end up working 60 or 70 hours a week. And it's work I love doing. So it's figuring out, "how do I prioritize and get things done in a way that's effective, but doesn't drive me crazy?"

Also, being patient, which is somewhat of a strength of mine because I'm a pretty patient guy. But some things don't happen overnight or really quickly. The most sustainable things are the ones where people take a lot of community ownership or a lot of people involved in the project to get people going together. It's bottom up and not top down. And that also takes time.

A version of this post appeared on Jimmy's Writing Samples.

Transit


What about an infill Metro station at the Cafritz property?

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.


Map by the author.

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.

Development


Where is downtown Prince George's County?

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."


Photo by dpbirds on Flickr.

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.

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