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UMD needs late-night Purple Line service

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.


One of 3 proposed Purple Line stops at Maryland. Image from the MTA.

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.

Bicycling


Metro tests secure parking with new "bike and ride"

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.


All photos by the author.

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.


The entrance kiosk at the new Bike and Ride.

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.


Parking at the bike and ride.

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.

Development


DC United and the University of Maryland: a perfect match

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.

Bonus: there'd be no argument over the stadium color scheme.

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.

Development


Improved access to Cafritz development is a step forward

The Cafritz development along Route 1 in Riverdale Park is slated to bring the first Whole Foods to Prince George's County. While one neighboring community is trying to cut off access, another sees opportunity in increasing connectivity.


Photo by *Brujita* on Flickr.

The Riverdale Town council, at first inclined to restrict access to the project only from Route 1, may now see access to the development from the south, along Maryland Avenue, as a chance to open its own town center to additional traffic. This commercial area adjacent to the MARC station, and home to a popular farmers market, has struggled to find tenants. It could become a successful complement to the Cafritz project.

By contrast, University Park wants any new traffic signal on Baltimore Avenue at Van Buren Street to prevent traffic from crossing into its residential streets. Yet access works both ways.

Without such a light, town residents will have to use some part of Route 1 to shop at Whole Foods. And that feeling of being trapped by traffic, which residents have commented on at council meetings, would only grow worse.

Good news on access was heard at Cafritz's presentation last Thursday to the Riverdale Park council. The cost of building a bridge or ramp over the CSX line at the rear of the property is possibly much lower than the $15 million first expected. This would provide access to River Road on the the other side of the tracks, with its significant office developments.

Vehicular access into College Park to the north, along Rhode Island Avenue, may remain a dream. This means that College Park residents from adjoining neighborhoods will have to make a left onto Baltimore Avenue, and another left into the site, to get to the development.

Yes, they can use buses and shuttles, which should be integrated into the design from the outset. Or perhaps they can walk or bike along the trail that the Cafritz development will now complete. But many people who go grocery shopping choose to take their cars. Forcing them all onto arteries won't repeal this preference, but it may make traveling on those arteries more difficult for everyone.

Development


With risks, rewards, Cafritz development must be done right

Discussion of a massive residential and retail development that will house Prince George's County's first Whole Foods Market is bringing forth the usual anxieties around growth. It represents a series of dangers and difficulties, but if done right, it could bring positive change to a county in need of an economic boost.


Photo by Gino Carteciano on Flickr.

The Cafritz property, located on East-West Highway between Baltimore Avenue (US Route 1) and the CSX railroad tracks in University Park, is about a mile south of the College Park Metro/MARC station (and just a few blocks west of the Riverdale MARC station).

Current plans call for several high-end retail spaces in addition to the Whole Foods, along with town homes and condos. Yet the current design would greatly alter the shape of the surrounding neighborhood and would serve to reinforce auto dependence, though it would be just up Baltimore Avenue from the burgeoning (and quite walkable) Hyattsville Arts District.

At Monday night's University Park town council meeting, concerns were aired that the development would generate excessive storm water run-off, poor access for public services, and much, much more traffic. At the same time, the enterprise's economic prospects were questioned: some characterized the design as "another strip mall" where no one could live , shop, or navigate the traffic even if they wished.

Current designs would worsen the traffic problem by only allowing cars to flow on and off of the two arterials, blocking access to neighborhood streets.

The developers, who put up a glossy website using Whole Foods' cachet to promote the project, are nevertheless deliberately vague about their plans while they seek initial rezoning of the property. There is still some doubt as to the soundness of Cafritz' business prospects, and about the company's ability to produce a successful design that would draw customers and residents.

There have certainly been false starts around large scale projects in the area: Wells Fargo recently repossessed the nearby University Town Center, to name one example. But as census data suggests, the DC Metro area is growing relentlessly, and the Route 1 corridor from Mt. Rainier through Hyattsville, Riverdale Park and College Park, will be an important axis of future growth. This will become an increasingly urban area.

Smart growth demands that property around the principal arteries be rezoned from single family to mixed use, especially in areas well-served by mass transit. The 80s Metrobuses provide frequent service along Route 1, Metro's Green Line is nearby, and proposed service expansions would make MARC's Camden Line a more potent transit corridor. As the council members recognized, change is coming, and the real challenge before them is to shape that change in a way that enhances the quality of life rather than worsening congestion.

The town wants the county and state to help fund a $15 million bridge over the railroad for rear access to the property from Lafayette Avenue. It will be challenging to get that kind of commitment in this fiscal climate, but it would be one of the best uses of Council members' political capital.

The Council's discussion accentuated every possible risk, leading a casual observer to think that the project faces a significant political hurdle. Nevertheless, the majority of the Council is confident that the development will succeed, voting to provide $5,000 for a market analysis of its impact, which, as Mayor John Tabori noted, would only measure the "negative externalities" and not the positive ones that could come from a less car-oriented design.

Strangely, there was no mention of jobs, which is a top concern of many voters, particularly in Prince George's. Also lacking was discussion of the value to consumers of new retail opportunities, or of increased property values, or of new sales tax revenues for a town and county overly dependent on property taxes to make up its $2.5 billion annual budget (although it should be noted that Maryland's sales tax exempts unprepared food sales).

Councilmember Jacqueline Bradley Chacon (Ward 7) took a larger view in a letter to her colleagues, noting that encouraging and meeting the needs of consumers with educated tastes would allow for more diversity and more retail outlets, and attract more like-minded residents. Prince George's County is obviously not overflowing with these kinds of choices. Retail sales and sales taxes leak out of the county, and with those retail sales go badly needed jobs.

It is important to understand and work to mitigate the risks of such a major development, but one must also step back and take in a larger view that balances those risks with a sense of the rewards. Unfortunately, the beneficiaries of those rewards tend not to go to council meetings.

Public Safety


Mobile app creates handheld safety for UMD students

The University of Maryland, College Park will launch a new smartphone application next week that places campus safety in students' hands.

With the tap of a button, students using an Android smartphone will be able to connect with University of Maryland Police while on campus.

The new application, known as M-Urgency, uses the phone's camera to stream live video and audio of an incident to police dispatch and the laptop of an officer's squad car.


The student taps the red "help" box and the phone instantly begins streaming video and audio to University Police dispatch. Photo from the MIND Lab.

Officers can respond to the incident using the phone's GPS system, which pinpoints the caller on a Google map within 10-feet of their actual location.

"I tell students and parents that it's smarter to carry a smart phone than it is to carry a gun," said Ashok Agrawala, director of the University of Maryland's MIND Lab.

This is the first smartphone application of its kind to be used at a university for student safety, said Agrawala. And developers say they are working to expand the program to iPhone users and off-campus locations.


The view from police dispatch. The software pinpoints the emergency on a Google map, and the video and audio stream live. Photo from the MIND Lab.

Earlier this month, University Police presented the technology to College Park's City Council in hopes of securing an additional $100,000 in funding for the program, but the council and College Park's mayor informally turned down that plan during an Aug. 9 work session due to program costs.

"We heard an initial cost estimate, and there may be more dialogue between what the university would be providing," said College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows. "If it is $100,000, I think it's safe to say, 'no' we can't do that, but if there's some other discussion it might be possible."

In addition to expanding the program off-campus, Agrawala said there is interest from several other colleges and universities. And, there are plans to make the application available to all thirteen colleges and universities within the University of Maryland system.

The MIND lab partners with private businesses and government agencies to build information technology systems and is currently working with an Annapolis-based company, TeleCommunication Systems, Inc., to develop text message and video emergency messaging as part of a national Next Generation 911 system.

"The University of Maryland in this case will serve as a national model," said Agrawala. "Others will likely take notice."

The lab worked with the University's Department of Public Safety to ensure that police officers are prepared to use the new technology.

A student with special needs can also add information to their phone's application, which will tell officers if it's a person with high risk needs or a specific medical condition.

"I think it's a good idea, but sometimes a cell phone video or photo can exaggerate what actually happened," said Jose Arevalo, an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland.

Arevalo said he thinks many students on-campus will use the application, but also worried about some of the application's privacy issues.

"If it's used the right way, then it can help, but if the videos get saved, people may try to YouTube them," he said.

Privacy concerns have been a primary issue Agrawala said. But, he thinks that students will first-and-foremost see the advantages of safety.

"The effect that this application will have will make criminals think twice before coming to campus," he said. "We are giving so many more eyes and ears to the police department."

Students will be able to download the application from the University of Maryland's website beginning September 13th.

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