Annapolis as portrayed on the city web site, is for the most part, a very walkable city:
“Take time to walk in our city and peer over the garden gates. Visit our many shops or relax on a water taxi in our harbor.”
However, once you leave the historic downtown core and head out the major arteries out of the city which connect to the greater Anne Arundel County area, things begin to change. In this series of posts I am going to concentrate on the West Street corridor because of the stark difference between what can be and what could be. I am going to discuss each segment of this corridor all the way out into the County because it does connect with the important retail in Parole. In this blog post, I will describe the bits and pieces to set the stage and follow up with additional posts and videos that describe the experience in this corridor. Not that anyone who drives down here doesn’t knows it gets horrible the farther out you go, but the experience for the perspective outside the car needs to be shown for people to understand really how bad it is. And finally, offer some options that I think the city, county and state should look into.
West Street can be broken up into three distinct sections: Inner (between Church Circle and Westgate Circle), Mid (Westgate Circle and Chiquapin Round Rd) and Outer (Chinquapin Round Rd and Solomons Island Rd).
Inner West Street is fabulous, don’t really need to say anything about that. The city has rightfully spent considerable effort to promote this area to great effect. There has been revitalization of businesses, mixed use, slow traffic and even a new residential complex near Westgate Circle (while not mixed use, has appropriate zoning for it in the future). That’s all good.
Mid West Street has a variety of uses, both commercial and residential and while it could use some “spiffing up” in places it is not too bad. My only real complaint is that the road is narrow (one travel lane in each direction with a center turn lane) and does not leave much room for bicycles. However, there are alternatives such as the Poplar mixed use trail so, I can’t really complain.
Where things really go down hill FAST is in the quarter mile before you get to Chinquapin Round Road, not so much because of the surrounding businesses or the homes, but because the road widens to four lanes (two travel lanes in each direction). It’s “full throttle” when leaving and a bottleneck when entering. The street view shows the transition from a 25 mph street to a 40+ mph “stroad”, making pedestrian crossing and cycling very risky. Once you get to the Chinquapin intersection, we get to “full on” AASHTO compliance with multiple turn lanes, signals etc. and beyond that all the way to Solomon’s Island Road (MD 2), it is four fast travel lanes, with lots of businesses, turning vehicles, and cub cuts, in other words, the classic “stroad” (street/road hybrid). Go watch the Ted Talk describing stroads, it’s enlightening; they are the futon of transportation, they do nothing very well. It’s dangerous for autos, pedestrians and bicyclists and it doesn’t move traffic very fast. There are some interesting features near and down outer West Street that provide hope, but it will take some political will and cooperation between the city, county and state to make it happen. I will concentrate on this area and the next segment to Parole.
Once you get to Solomons Island Road, you come to Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole, one of the four recently built “Smart Growth” projects around the Annapolis area (in addition to 1901 West Street, Park Place and Acton’s Landing, the old downtown hospital site). The Parole development is somewhat of an improvement over the decaying Parole Mall that it replaced. However it is essentially just an inside out mall with some residential tacked on. That said it is a walkable “neighborhood” with first floor retail, apartments and big box stores, however, it has one very significant flaw – mobility in and around the area is extremely limited. In essence it is an island of walkability. While located in a highly urbanized area containing many kinds land uses from single family, suburban type strip shopping centers and some apartments, walking and biking in the area is unpleasant at best and ultimately very dangerous at worse. Until that fatal flaw is corrected, Towne Centre is nothing more than a suburban mall with the storefronts on the outside and vertical parking. In fact it is virtually impossible to walk between the major retail complexes of Towne Centre, The Westfield Mall, and Annapolis Harbor Center.
Until this corridor is more amenable to cycling and walking, people will drive to Towne Centre if they can or take their lives in their hands to walk as there have been several deaths in the area over the last year. It is my hope that pointing out the details of the problems with this area will help spur action by the city, state and county begin discussions about near term actions they can take. Cooperation will be imperative because of the multi-jurisdictional nature of the area. Each has a piece of the pie to fix. As of 2021 there is an ongoing Parole Mobility Study that has a bunch of good recommendations, but sadly they are all a pipe dream.