State considers bill to make campuses more pedestrian-friendly

Diamondback Online

In an effort to promote sustainability, state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require colleges and state facilities to build bike paths and pedestrian walkways on their campuses.

Just weeks after university officials completed the final draft of the Facilities Master Plan — a 162-page guide to future developments and landscaping for the university — state Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) and Del. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore) introduced House and Senate versions of legislation that would require institutions to incorporate biker- and walker-friendly features into their facility master plans by 2014.

“College Park is behind a lot of other campuses around the world in bicycle access,” Rosapepe said. “The big picture here is the university ought to be setting goals for the percentage of students, faculty and staff who can commute to campus by bicycle.”

But university officials said they are already one step ahead, as the campus has already worked toward accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists.

“It’s not really new. The first Facilities Master Plan — that’s 20 years ago — still talked about making the campus more and more pedestrian friendly and reducing more cars,” Department of Transportation Services Director David Allen said. “I think that just now the timing, where we are right now in U.S. history, has opened lots of doors,” he said, adding that rising fuel costs have made people more willing to invest in alternative forms of transportation.

The university’s master plan, which has received praise from the Board of Regents — a 17-member governing body that oversees the University System of Maryland — is well aligned with the legislation, as it aims to create pathways that separate the flow of pedestrians and bikers.

“One of the things that is challenging right now is shared walkways,” Facilities Management Director Carlo Colella said.

Additionally, the university earmarks $100,000 annually for efforts to promote biking on the campus, Allen said.

Working toward a more walker- and biker-friendly campus will help the university not only promote its sustainability goals, Colella said, but also its future development projects. Since officials need parking lot spaces for future construction projects — the university is 1.7 million square feet of land short for the master plan’s proposed projects and buildings — creating a culture that encourages students to get out of their cars will free up parking lots.

“We’re very committed to reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles,” Colella said. “It reduces the amount of parking we need to accommodate as we develop new building projects. Frequently, surface parking lots are prime candidates for being used as new building sites.”

Some students said if the university followed the legislation’s guidelines by creating more efficient pathways for bikers and walkers, it would be a welcome change. Whitney Beck, a senior environmental science and policy major, said although she usually bikes to class, she sometimes opts to walk because of the lack of bike accessibility on some parts of the campus.

“There are certain buildings and areas not accessible by the roads so you’re forced go on the sidewalks,” she said. “I just end up hopping off my bike and walking to class.”

The initiative is a good way to promote health and well-being as well as address environmental concerns tied to vehicle use, Cardin said, noting he hopes it helps pave the way for future legislation that would expand bicycle accessibility statewide.

“It’s a lot more feasible to start there — it caters to bicycle and pedestrian access,” he said.