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Does the University of Maryland Care Enough About Transit?
How would transit affect the heart of the University of Maryland's college campus? Photo by forklift.

How would transit affect the heart of the University of Maryland's college campus? Photo by forklift.

There’s been lots of buzz this week in College Park, Md. about accessibility and transit.

First, early this week, there were reports of the controversy surrounding the school’s plans to close Campus Drive to private vehicles and many buses for eight weeks this summer as a test-run for longer-term plans to create a “traffic-free, pedestrian-friendly zone” in the middle of campus.

Sounds like a good idea, but some people think these restrictions would make transit more inconvenient. David Daddio, a contributing blogger for TheCityFix and founding editor of the popular local blog Rethink College Park, told the Washington Post, “A lot of people view it as relegating transit to the edge of campus.”

Meanwhile, the College Park City Council held a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the implications of the road closure and found out that many city officials were against it. One bus operations specialist said it would have”unpredictable consequences that extend for miles away from the university.” And District 4 councilwoman Stephanie Stullich explained the irony of closing the road to buses, when it comes to relieving congestion: “Isn’t having convenient transit the best way to significantly reduce the number of automobiles?” she asked. The bottom line, student Bob Hayes said, is that, “It shows the university is not friendly to transit.”

All of this controversy coincides with recent progress on making a decision for how to integrate the University of Maryland’s campus with the proposed Purple Line light rail system, a 16-mile route that would link Bethesda to New Carrollton. It seems there’s been an agreement on how the line should run through the University of Maryland campus: It will be partially underground.

This ends years of debate between Maryland Transit Administration officials, who said that running trains at street level along the campus’ main thoroughfare — Campus Drive — would be convenient and cost-effective, and school administrators, who feared the at-grade Campus Drive route would split the campus in half, destroy the campus’ scenery, endanger bicyclists and pedestrians, and disturb sensitive research equipment in science buildings. (Check out Rethink College Park for a history of the debate, including a timeline of the “Alignment Controversy”).

Vice President for Administrative Affairs Ann Wylie announced at a University Senate meeting this week that the MTA had suggested a compromise to run the line above ground on Campus Drive until it reached the Art/Sociology building.  This portion of the route would cost about $23 million, Wylie said. (Read this article from the Diamondback Online for the full story.)

Despite the partially underground route, Provost Nariman Farvardin said he was still worried about pedestrian safety. “Cars respect students, slow down and allow them to cross,” he was quoted as saying in the Diamondback. “I worry the Purple Line won’t have that level of patience.”

Others worried about increased crime because of not being able to monitor who comes on and off the train (unlike cars, which are routinely stopped and checked by campus police.)

What’s the deal? Why do some campus officials seem so averse to transit?

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