HYATTSVILLE — During At-Large County Councilmember Mel Franklin’s final Advisory Neighborhood Community (ANC) meeting, residents of the Northern Gateway communities discussed the county’s Transit Vision Plan for improving public transit and received a public safety update from Police Chief Hank Stawinski on July 31.
The meeting, which encompassed the communities of Adelphi, Chillum, Langley Park, Greater Hyattsville, Port Towns, Mt. Rainier, Brentwood and North Brentwood, was the 11th ANC meeting of the summer.
“The great part about this area is that you have so many municipalities, so many municipal leaders, but you also have some unincorporated areas,” Franklin said.
“You deal with some of the opportunities and challenges that created and that interfaces with the county in making sure that the county is working with our municipal leaders as partners.”
Before the main topics of the meeting kicked off, Councilmember Deni Taveras, who represents District 2 and the Northern Gateway communities, gave an update on upcoming developments within the area.
These include the reconstruction of two new libraries such as the Hyattsville Branch which is already underway, eight new schools in the pipeline and renovations to the Green Meadows shopping mall and Main Street at Mt. Rainier.
“The market is already moving, and there is approximately $1 billion worth of investment that is interested in investing in both the Northern Gateway and in the Gateway Arts District. So there are a lot of things in motion right now.”
She also mentioned how District 2 must be extra vigilant during the upcoming census as these communities qualify for seven of the nine criteria for hardest-to-county communities. According to Taveras, 40% of the population was undercounted in the last census count.
Stawinski then gave an update on what the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) is doing to combat crime.
According to the police chief, there have been 1,627 fewer crimes than in 2018. That is a 17.5% reduction in crime, making this the ninth year in a row that crime has been reduced. The county sees around 36 crimes per day, down from 100 per day in previous years. Additionally, there has been a reduction in fatal car collisions.
When starting down the road of crime reduction in 2011, the county was seeing at least 50,000 crimes per year with over 150 homicides.
“What it comes down to is that we have always been defined as a nation by being able to do the impossible and we just did that again,” Stawinski said.
He detailed how the PGPD was instrumental in stopping a planned attack on the National Harbor a few months ago. Despite the county’s proximity to Washington, D.C. making major centers like the National Harbor an appealing target, there are no direct threats to public safety at this time.
However, there has been an increase in the number of cars being broken into this year, and although it has started to trend down, Stawkinski advised people not to leave valuable items in their cars.
He also detailed initiatives the police department has taken on such as their Shortstop Initiative which aims to slow traffic that reduce fatalities, their gang squad which targets gang violence including MS-13 and their Ghost Squad, established this year, which strives to reduce property crime.
Although last week’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio took place after the ANC meeting, Stawinski did talk about how the PGPD is preparing for mass shootings, particularly in schools.
The PGPD started coming up with strategies to prepare for mass shootings a few years ago, Stawinski said.
Since then, they have provided additional training to school resource officers and security and are working on teaching students and faculty a run, fight and hide process. They are also bringing the Fire/EMS Department into the mix, preparing them to respond.
“The first several years of the Prince George’s County experience talking about it, it was about capacity, about making sure we had used all of our resources to the fullest extent,” Stawinski said. They have since transitioned into sophistication, which includes strategies such as training school resource officers.
Finally, Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T) Director of Transit Anthony Foster detailed the county’s Transit Vision Plan.
Currently, the DPW&T operates three programs: The Bus, which operates 28 routes and serves 11,000 passengers per day; Call-A-Bus which assists 380 passengers per day with services such as transporting seniors, delivering meals and taking residents to appointments; and Call-A-Cab where people receive vouchers for discounted trips.
The Transit Vision Plan was created after taking feedback from not only 2,000 bus passengers, but also from bus operators, residents at pop-up meeting events, the county council and county agencies such as the health department and Economic Development Corporation.
Common service needs taken from the feedback include more frequent service, weekend service, later weekday and evening service, access to employment and medical centers, and transit service outside the beltway.
Some of the more immediate plans include adding six new buses, refreshing bus stop signs to include the destination and ID number of the stop, the addition of electric buses and a few extended routes in North County.
This also includes evaluating the performance of the current buses on ridership and timeliness. The hope is to start phasing in Saturday service in January and looking at a pilot program for microtransit.
Those at the meeting gave suggestions such as partnering with small businesses and contractors, partnering with the University of Maryland’s bus system and creating more options for people who ride bikes.
According to Foster, the lack of extended service that residents want all comes down to resources.
“We structured the recommendations to fit the needs of the community, and we recognize that we don’t have infinite resources,” Foster said.
Shaw, president of the Chillum Ray Citizens Association, said that part of the problem comes with not utilizing density.
“You’ve got to work with your planning department, you’ve got to work with you politicians, because no one, it seems to me is…you have demand and need to go into those areas.”
Franklin told the group that there is not enough advocacy around bus service during budget time.