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Posts about College Park

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.

Transit


On Car-Free Day, residents yearn for the Purple Line

Yesterday was Car-Free Day. For many residents of Montgomery County, it will be a lot easier to make important trips without a car when the Purple Line is built.


Proposed UMD Campus Center stop. Image from Maryland MTA via the Washington Post.

University of Maryland student Sareana Kimia live-tweeted her two-bus commute from Rockville to the College Park campus and compared it to what her commute would be like with the planned light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

That night, she and Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal co-hosted a Twitter chat about the Purple Line with the Action Committee for Transit and Montgomery County Young Democrats. Her commute exemplified many of the challenges that transit riders face.

Like so many commuters, she began her trip desperately hoping to catch her bus—and in need of accurate, live time transit information.

Her bus was 10 minutes late. In contrast, the Purple Line will run every 6 minutes in rush hour.

Sareana takes the RideOn 5 to Silver Spring to pick up the UMD Shuttle. Delegate Al Carr suggested what might be a faster route, and Sareana explained the economics behind her transit choices:

When Sareana arrived in downtown Silver Spring, she related a standard bus riding nightmare:

Although she made her UMD Shuttle, Sareana was still 12 minutes late for her 9 am class, despite having begun her commute 1.5 hours earlier. She would have arrived 39 minutes earlier via the Purple Line—with a smoother ride.

Her afternoon commute once again illustrated the importance of frequency in making transit convenient.

Her afternoon commute also demonstrated how horrible traffic can be in this area, even when the weather is perfect:

At 6 pm, she joined Councilmember George Leventhal on Twitter to discuss the Purple Line. Leventhal shared how the Purple Line would improve his commute from Takoma Park to Rockville.

Marc Korman quizzed Leventhal on the Public Private Partnership process that will build the Purple Line.

Korman also asked about state and county cooperation.

Leventhal discussed a "Purple Line Compact" being developed by the Purple Line Corrider Coalition, that would "ensure residents know what to expect from" the Purple Line. It is based on compacts drawn up in Denver, Minneapolis and Baltimore, among others, before light rail lines are built.

The goal is to release the Purple Line Compact by the end of the year.

The Silver Spring Transit Center Twitter account made a poignant contribution during the chat:

Leventhal noted that the Montgomery County Council would get an update on the Purple Line next Tuesday, September 30. He ended the chat on an upbeat note:

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.

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