BY ELLEN TREIMEL — Hyattsville adopted the slogan “A World Within Walking Distance” in October 2006, and with a total area of 2.7 square miles in the city, it seems like this could easily be the case. As Hyattsville has undergone economic redevelopment in the last several years, walkable pockets between residential and commercial areas have sprung up. Unfortunately, they do not all link together, and residents end up driving to parts of the city that have limited parking options.
Councilmember Edouard Haba (Ward 4) has submitted a proposal to the city council to investigate creating a circulator-connector shuttle in Hyattsville. Mike Bello and Brian Wilson, residents of the Arts District, initiated the proposal after observing Route 1 traffic from the neighboring balconies of their homes. According to his LinkedIn profile, Bello was previously the senior project manager at the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission, acting, in his words, as a “planner coordinator.” Bello and Wilson said that they see this proposal as part of their commitment to public service within their community.
Bello and Wilson said that a circulator-connector shuttle would provide five benefits:
- Improve mobility and circulation of city residents and visitors to and from the city’s focal areas of West Hyattsville, Prince George’s Plaza Transit District and the Route 1 Arts District
- Foster redevelopment of urban spaces that were identified in Hyattsville’s 2003 and 2010 Community Legacy Revitalization Plans
- Improve availability of parking throughout the Route 1 Corridor to entice more economic development in this area of the city
- Reduce environmental impacts from reliance on automobiles throughout the entire city
- Provide affordable and reliable alternative transportation, especially in anticipation of proposed reductions in Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) routes in Prince George’s County.
Public transportation options currently exist between West Hyattsville, the Prince George’s Plaza Transit District and Route 1 Corridor areas. However, using these options requires a clear understanding of the multiple bus routes operated by both WMATA and Prince George’s County, and wait times vary considerably. TheBus, operated by Prince George’s County, only operates Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Theoretically, a circulator-connector shuttle would be more efficient than multiple bus lines and would decrease wait time for users. It also would run regularly on weekends, when users are most likely to make multiple stops throughout town.
Bell said, “There are two things we’re trying to propose. One, something that’s more reliable for our area that doesn’t end up where you would have to take the F4 to go into town and take the F8 to get out of town. They don’t circle around here; they boomerang opposite each other. And the headway [the wait time between shuttles] would be shortened significantly to 10 to 12 minutes max. So the goal is really to improve headway and reliability.”
The initial proposed route would run along Route 1 from Hamilton Street up to Queensbury Road, across Queensbury Road to Prince George’s Plaza Metro station, between Prince George’s Plaza Metro station and the West Hyattsville Metro station via Queens Chapel Road, and then loop back to Route 1 along Hamilton Street. Ideally, shuttles would run in both directions. Proposed pickup and drop-off points would be separated by an estimated 5-minute walking distance in order to accommodate users that might have limited walking mobility or were carrying packages. In many places, the shuttles would be able to utilize existing bus stop infrastructure, which would minimize upfront costs for the city. If the initial route is successful, the vision would be to extend hours of operation, expand the original route and add additional routes. The proposed loop is intended to function as a “proof of concept” for this type of shuttle.
When asked about costs, Wilson and Bello stated that their goal is to have a free or low-fare shuttle. Funding could come from public-private partnerships that include developers whose investing would increase access to their projects. Wilson said, “You have the key stakeholders that are within the city. If there was a way to increase the foot traffic and make it more easy for visitors to get throughout the city of Hyattsville … there’s a good reason for them to want to do that.”
He continued, “As we all know, parking is atrocious along the Route 1 Corridor. The hope would be that the private key stakeholders would see that this has worked in Bethesda, this has worked in the Rock Spring Park Express, it has worked with VanGO, and they would invest some of the money.”
With this proposal in its nascent stages, Wilson and Bello said that there are likely other opportunities for funding, such as federal grants, that have yet to be explored. Advertising space on the shuttles could also provide funding.
As noted earlier, the 2003 and 2010 City of Hyattsville Community Legacy Revitalization Plans cite growth and redevelopment as goals. By exploring the feasibility of creating a circulator-connector shuttle now and making an effort to bring it to fruition, Wilson and Bello said that they see an opportunity for Hyattsville to have additional local transportation to support and drive growth. Bello said, “Here, we believe that we’re not only going to improve, we’re going to support economic development through this project.”
Wilson and Bello said that they see other potential benefits to the city beyond the five listed in their proposal. An increase in economic development could contribute to increased home values. An increase in home values could potentially help lower taxes, since the overall tax base would expand.
Most importantly, both men said they see this as a significant legacy project for the city. Wilson, who has lived in Hyattsville since 2011 said, “The bottom line for me is when I move someday, I want to know that I had a part in making the city better than what I moved into. It might sound corny, but it’s where I’m coming from.”
More information on the proposed project, and the opportunity to weigh in on a survey created by Bello and Wilson, can be found by searching “Hyattsville Circulator” at www.change.org.