Category Archives: Transportation

Statement on R-33-14 Vehicular Access to and Internal Roadways within Certain Property adjacent to Aris T. Allen Boulevard

A very interesting Planning Commission meeting last night (4/15/2015). The agenda item of interest to me was  R-33-14, allowing access to a new development via the “highway” portion of Aris T. Allen Boulevard. This is a multifaceted issue dealing with prior annexation agreements from over ten years ago, transportation, development patterns and the wishes of existing residents.

My focus on this issue is not so much the effect on Aris T. Allen from a strict transportation point of view, rather that it is an unsatisfying solution to a much larger development pattern problem outside the core of downtown and existing older neighborhoods. The underlying issue is that new development is done as auto centric “islands” that are unconnected by design. This development model has the underlying assumption that people drive everywhere. While that may be unfortunately true to a certain extent, it results in a bad experience for anyone outside a car. It is also bad for drivers because that model promotes excessive driving and auto congestion, which everyone rails about, and as a result, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. One aspect to the proposed resolution is that if it is passed, access to the existing neighborhood would explicitly not be allowed. The only way in and out would be via Aris T. Allen. To their credit, the Oxford Landing association has said there would be pedestrian and bicycle access.

As you will see in my written testimony below, this lack of connectivity is endemic throughout the City. With few exceptions, developments over that last 10-20 years and planned developments (where I have had access to site plans) also show this development pattern. For example, the Hayes property now called “Annapolis Townes at Neal Farm” (location map, site plans), Crystal Springs, Reserve at Quiet Waters, and upcoming Enclave at Spa (map location) all demonstrate this issue. This unconnected development pattern is incompatible with a city and is not sustainable on any level.

Thankfully, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the City Council not pass this resolution. Most of the members felt as I do that this is just not the right solution to the problem at hand brought forth by the residents of the existing Oxford Landing neighborhood. Ultimately, this will go to the City Council for a vote. Stay tuned…

I submitted the following written testimony in addition to making a few comments in person:

As proposed, allowing additional ingress/egress to the section of Aris T. Allen Boulevard between the MD 2 interchange and Chinquapin Round Road will be extremely dangerous. Vehicles travel 50-60, even 70 mph down this section as it is a limited access highway. Allowing vehicular access from the proposed development will result in slow speed turning movements mixed with highway speed through traffic. High differentials in speed are the cause of many auto collisions and with speed differentials of 50 mph, they will likely be severe resulting in serious injury.

 Additionally, slow speed turning and merging vehicles will degrade the motorist experience because it will very much interrupt the flow of traffic. The fundamental purpose of Aris T. Allen Boulevard is to move vehicles quickly from US 50 to Forest Drive. Allowing a turning traffic with high speed differentials will reduce its effectiveness for the majority of people who use this corridor for the sake of a few in a small development. Furthermore, closing off access to the existing Oxford Landing development and requiring all ingress/egress via Aris T. Allen Boulevard is even more egregious because it will be impractical at best or unsafe at worst to get in and out of the new development unless you are in a car. Forcing pedestrians and cyclists onto Aris T. Allen Boulevard will be extremely unsafe and unpleasant.

 For sure, I am sympathetic to the concerns of the Oxford Landing residents about having the new development ingress/egress via Yawl Road. It is a heavily settled area and a fairly narrow street. That said, while this issue appears at first view to be just a “transportation” issue, it is important to view it in a broader land use, development and transportation context because they are intimately linked. In this particular case, it is not just an issue of access to a new subdivision, i.e. where do you route the streets, it is an issue of how the development(s) is designed and built including the mix (or lack thereof) of uses, the types of housing units and the local transportation network which have to be viewed holistically. We have made development choices in the City of Annapolis that have had very negative livability consequences over the last 30 years because of our tendency to silo these issues and address them independently.

 The newer development on the fringe of the City, specifically along the Aris T. Allen/Forest corridor has been done in a distinctly suburban pattern. By this I mean unconnected subdivisions with a hierarchical auto-centric road network. Cul de Sacs are most emblematic of this development pattern. I have written an extensive article on this development pattern (“Traditional Street Grids are the Answer For Future Growth In Annapolis”), which is attached to this testimony. To summarize it, we have allowed – and continue to allow – this auto-centric development pattern that has become de rigueur for developers since suburban boom of the 60s. It is this development pattern that is significantly contributing to auto congestion, unsafe streets and inconvenient routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

 This suburban development pattern is highly inappropriate for a city. People who live in a city want to walk and bike places because with the density of a city, driving everywhere is inefficient and impractical. In fact if you flip this around, the City needs people to be able to easily and safely walk and bike to function effectively in a vibrant way. The last thing we need is more auto dependence, as this is not sustainable emotionally, physically or fiscally. This means having neighborhoods with traditional connected street grids that provide direct access for people walking and riding bikes as well as driving cars. Our older traditional neighborhoods in the City – Eastport, West Annapolis, Homewood – were all built this way and all transportation modes coexist more or less. We did it this way for a hundreds of years prior to the suburban building boom of the 60s. There is a reason we did it this way: it works.

What is proposed in R-33-14 is essentially short-term solution to the larger problems created by this suburban development pattern. I realize there is a lot of water under this bridge since there is existing development there, but we have to start addressing this issue now before it gets worse. The more band aids added on top of the fundamental problem, the worse the problem will get. Practically, there may be some things that can be done by a developer to provide additional access beyond Yawl Road that do not include Aris T. Allen Boulevard. These are things the Planning Commission and the Office of Planning and Zoning can address during the review of this project. It may be more than a developer wants to do but if there is truly market demand then these accommodations can be made. The City should not let bad development happen in order to chase tax revenue from new development when it contributes to a long-term underlying problem.

In summary, R-33-14 should be voted down and alternative solutions should be sought for access to the planned development.

Traditional Street Grids are the Answer For Future Growth In Annapolis

One of the most acknowledged problems in the Annapolis area is our congested “corridors” because they provide the only way in and out of various areas in the City and surrounding parts of the County. If there is a closure, mayhem ensues. In addition, these roads – really STROADS now – are terrible for everyone: drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and businesses because they do nothing well. If you are not familiar with this term, I highly recommend you watch this video to understand why they are so unproductive. They don’t move cars fast, they are dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists and are typically ugly, unloved places people do not want to spend any time other than driving in and out, which hurts businesses.

Pretty much everyone accepts this status quo and does not fundamentally question why it is this way and what can be done differently to work better for everyone. All we hear is either “no more development” or “add more lanes”.  Keeping things exactly as they are now with a development moratorium and/or adding capacity are just short term band aid solutions that are either unrealistic or too expensive; as unpopular as this opinion may be, development is going to happen, that is the way it works in the free market in this country. However, development is not the problem; the development pattern is the problem. Transportation and land use must be considered holistically to address the fundamental issue: how we design neighborhoods and neighborhood streets. We have gone away from a development pattern utilizing grids of neighborhood streets that has worked well for hundreds of years to one that emphasizes single point of failure roads that prioritize automobile traffic over all else. In the newer parts of Annapolis, we have allowed – and continue to allow – this auto-centric development pattern that has become de rigueur for developers since suburban boom of the 60s.

I want to explore the development patterns in Annapolis’ context and illustrate how the conventional development wisdom of the last 50 years – the only thing many people know – keeps luring us in the wrong direction. Despite the forward-looking guidelines in our planning documents, there are many examples of developments in various stages along this corridor that are incongruous with the ideas put forth in those planning documents. At this point, there is no simple fix; that said, we have to work towards a different paradigm that I discuss below if we expect it to ever improve the situation.

Development Pattern of Annexed Land

Over the years, the City of Annapolis has been slowly annexing land from Anne Arundel County on the southwest side of the city along the Forest Drive corridor as this is the only adjacent land available for new (not infill development).  City Planning and Zoning preduced a map of annexations over the last 200+ years (from the report of the Annexation Working Group from 2005):

Annexation of land over the history of Annapolis. Note how the street layout changes with time.

There are many motivations for annexation and they are often controversial but if it is done in a productive way, i.e. the land use pattern generates more in tax revenues than it costs the city in services over the full lifecycle, it’s not a bad thing. But I digress, that is a topic for another time.

The development done between 1980 and 2000 to the south and west of Aris T. Allen/Forest Drive has been a very typical suburban template indicated by curvy streets, cul de sacs and a hierarchical road network (where smaller streets feed into a collector road that feeds into an arterial). There are a lot of reasons why this evolution happened: perceived safety, wide spread use of the automobile and federal housing policy among them, but this pattern has become the standard template for the last 50 years in all but the most established cities. Compare the oldest areas of Annapolis, Downtown, West Annapolis and Eastport, with the newer development to the west and south and you can see this exact evolution of street layout in our area:

Evolution of street layouts over the 20th century.

A lot has been written about this evolution in recent years, but a nice summary is from an article by Emily Badger, who now writes for the Washington Post, entitled Debunking the Cul-de-Sac:

Through their research, Garrick and colleague Wesley Marshall are now making the argument that we got it all wrong: We’ve really been designing communities that make us drive more, make us less safe, keep us disconnected from one another, and that may even make us less healthy.

Street grids provide intrinsic benefits. First, they allow the most direct access between two places. This efficiency is especially important when walking or riding a bike, but also for drivers. Second, a grid provides multiple paths to get from place to place which has the effect of distributing cars throughout the grid and minimizing congestion. And, if one route is blocked, there will be equal alternatives. As long as the street design is done correctly to maintain slower traffic appropriate for a residential street, there will not be issues with speeding. Third, with a grid of slow speed city streets, there is no need for additional infrastructure for other transportation modes such as bicycles because these streets are inherently “complete streets“.

We certainly see the effects of the lack of a grid along Forest Drive. There are no through streets which funnels all cars, pedestrians and cyclists onto Forest Drive.  That is the intention in this development pattern where it is assumed that all trips are by car. From a practical standpoint, it is unpleasant at best and unsafe at worst to make trips on foot or by bike so no one does, which promotes even more auto dependence. To make matters worse, the commercial development essentially makes Forest Drive into a local street with driveways/access to business while simultaneously trying to move high volumes of cars quickly. Frankly, it does neither well, the classic definition of a STROAD.

This was recognized in the annexation report of 2005 and notes that this has been an issue all the way back to the late 1980s:

“A word on Forest Drive: Currently Forest Drive has a high number of signalized and un-signalized intersections and points of access. It does not operate as an arterial highway and instead is similar in function to that urged by community residents during the City’s 1989 Forest Drive Sector Study: a “city street” in character and function. The land use plan should clearly confirm and re-articulate the role and function for Forest Drive to help establish reasonable expectations about viable levels of service, congestion, and delay.”

The report goes on to say there should be a “parallel road” to help alleviate future congestion:

“The construction and development of the proposed parallel road should likewise be guided by design standard that is agreed upon. Certainly, the plan should identify the Forest Drive parallel road as a future corridor and designate future development nodes along that road, if appropriate. “

Furthermore the 2009 Comprehensive Plan continues this thought in the Land Use and Transportation chapters for the Forest Drive Opportunity Area by indicating the need to have more intense, mixed use, urban center low development with an upgraded “transportation network”, but unfortunately does not explicitly state the form of the street network.

Without a significant push for a street grid network along this corridor, nothing will change. While we have continued to add capacity with successive Forest Drive widening projects, the congestion problems are not any better. We can not continue development in this way and apply the conventional congestion mitigation solutions of more lanes and wider roads if we want improvement. The old adage will continue to apply: “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

Current and Planned Development Projects

There are several development projects proposed on annexed land that have preliminary site plans, The Reserve at Quiet Waters and Crystal Springs. These two are very controversial for many reasons, and I am not making a statement for or against here, but suffice it to say both follow the development patterns of the cul-de-sac generation, rather than knitting those developments into a traditional city street grid along the southwest side of Forest Drive. This is clear from their site plans here and here. For sure a different pattern would not solve the myriad of issues around those developments (schools, environment etc.), but would go a long way to supporting the additional density if there were a traditional street grid. The City should insist street grids be incorporated into these developments so that eventually as subsequent development occurs, the entire area will all knit together as a comprehensive city, rather than let these projects exist as development islands requiring auto transport in and out as we typically see in subdivisions in rural/greenfield areas.

Unfortunately, this “island mentality” seems to be winning out. This is what we have to change. Instead of thinking about how we can do things differently, the future looks like doubling down on the existing pattern as indicated by legislation recently introduced at the City Council (Resolution R-33-14) . This legislation would allow vehicular access to a planned neighborhood off Aris T. Allen (MD 665) along the “highway” portion between the MD 2 interchange and the Aris T. Allen/Forest Drive/Chinquapin Round Road intersection. While this appears to be a “transportation” issue (disclosure, I sit on the City Transportation Board), it is a mistake to characterize this resolution this way; it is really a holistic land use and transportation issue.

A suburban style (i.e. non-grid layout) neighborhood exists in that area called Oxford Landing built in the late 1980s which is centered around Yawl Road:

Just to the west of Oxford Landing is a parcel that a developer wants to put in additional residential units, but the only access would be through Yawl Road, which is understandably untenable for the existing residents. This legislation would allow access to this new development from Aris T. Allen. Not only that, it would forbid access through Oxford Landing. This is what the area looks like:

Satellite View of the proposed area. The proposed access to Aris T. Allen is a the top of the image.
Street View south on Aris T. Allen. The proposed access has an existing curb cut on the right.

Adding access to Aris T. Allen will be extremely dangerous. This is a limited access highway and people travel 50-60 even 70 mph down that section. If you add turning vehicles in and out at 10 mph there will be serious crashes and deaths because of high differential speeds. To add insult to injury it will be worse for drivers because it will interrupt the flow of traffic, the primary function of this road. Why take a road that is meant to move cars efficiently (and nothing else) by design and intentionally degrade its effectiveness? Furthermore, closing off access through the existing development and forcing all access via Aris T. Allen is even more egregious because it will be impossible to get in and out of that neighborhood unless you are in a car. What are pedestrians and cyclists supposed to do? Aris T. Allen is meant for cars and nothing else.

This area needs to focus on adding a street grid, rather than continuing with the current pattern and band aid solutions such as the proposed Aris T. Allen access. That is the only way that additional development can occur without making an existing problem worse. What is proposed is incredibly counter to the ideas for a strong and resilient city put forth in the Comprehensive Plan. In the ideal world it would look like this:

A traditional street grid imposed over the existing area including the Crystal Springs land.

I show this not so much because I think it could practically be done at this point, but as an illustration of a pattern that has worked very well in the older sections of the city such as West Annapolis and Eastport. That said, any new development should be required to add additional streets that provide through access to create as much of a grid as possible. If this can not be accomplished, perhaps the development should not be allowed on the grounds that it does not conform is not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

Finally, there is additional property along Forest Drive proper  (the “Samaras property”) that is in early stages of annexation. This is part of the Forest Drive Opportunity Area as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan. This area represents the best opportunity to implement a traditional street grid because there is a significant amount of undeveloped or redevelopable land and it is expressly called out in the Comprehensive Plan for such development. Given there is already a mix of commercial and residential development, this could easily turn into the next neighborhood like West Annapolis, where people can, and do walk to near by services without needing to drive, as long as it is done with an appropriate pattern.

Forest Drive Opportunity Area and Reserve at Quiet Waters with a traditional street grid.

Summary

While there is some justification for a non-traditional pattern in low density rural areas where it is assumed you only travel by car and will remain that way, this is not what Annapolis is about. We are a city; we should act like a city. People who live in a city want, and in many cases need, to walk and bike places. Annapolis can support more density, will have more density in the future, and in fact needs more density if it is to have a workable transit system. However, the last thing we need in Annapolis is more auto dependent density. This means having neighborhoods with traditional street grids that provide efficient and pleasant access for people walking and riding bikes as well as driving cars. Eastport, West Annapolis and Homewood were all built this way and all transportation modes coexist more or less. This is what makes these areas so desirable. We did it this way for hundreds of years prior to the suburban building boom and there is a reason we did it this way: it works. The litmus test: can you take an easy, pleasant walk to the grocery store? I wrote about this recently.

Implementation of street grids in new development and redevelopment should be a critical focus for the City planning organizations. Sure it may be more expensive, require compromise by residents and developers and may require more than a developer wants to do, but if development is done in a way that makes the City stronger, the return on investment will be there for the residents, the City and developers. We should not let bad development happen because we want to chase a tax base while it kicking a mess we see coming down the road, only to address it with no good choices at City/tax payer expense. I am not anti development, I am just anti bad development. We have an excellent Comprehensive Plan that outlines this, we just have to follow it, otherwise our choices just get worse as time goes on.

Guest Column: Thoughts on outer West Street development

Appearing in The Capital, July 28, 2014

While the Chinquapin Round Road, West Street, Admiral Drive intersection needs to be reconfigured for sure, what I am worried about is the drive-through restaurant development discussed in a recent article.

This kind of auto-centric development will continue to reinforce the “highway” nature of outer West Street. This is exactly the wrong direction for the livability of the Homewood/Germantown area.

An auto-centric drive-through restaurant with its suburban strip mall setback, parking lot and access requirements is bad for the area from fiscal, transportation, planning and environmental standpoints. Auto-centric development is terrible for pedestrians and bicyclists, a significant issue for outer West Street because it is the only direct corridor between downtown and Parole.

The “street” nature of inner West Street is clearly popular with consumers and fiscally successful for the businesses and the city. As a result, the city needs to promote that “street” character westward as far as possible.

As the car dealerships wane in the area and other large parcels of land such as the old Whiskey location become available for redevelopment, the city must carefully consider the kind of development it should encourage. Case studies show reducing auto-centric development of roads and buildings benefits residents, municipalities and businesses. For example, an analysis by the nonprofit Strong Towns in Minnesota showed the fiscal productivity (tax revenue to the city) of the traditional main street development pattern versus a strip mall type drive-through restaurant was 30 percent higher (http://bit.ly/1tJGYeP).

Additionally, it shows this traditional pattern is significantly more resilient to economic changes because there are multiple tenants rather than relying on the success of a single business for the same amount of land. New York City published the results of changes to streets that included upgraded pedestrian and bicycle facilities and reduced auto speeds (http://on.nyc.gov/1pRKn8P). These changes resulted in significantly lower injuries to all street users, increases in retail sales and decreases in speeding, outcomes that benefit everyone.

There are a few encouraging signs of the type of redevelopment that should be emulated on this part of the West Street: 1901 West has been successful because it has incorporated “smart growth” ideas of mixed use residential and retail and simultaneously the additional density has not created “carmageddon” as was initially feared. The new commercial development at 1738 West St. also incorporates similar ideas such as the building fronting the street with parking in the back.

The traditional development pattern in these examples creates places that are oriented toward people, not cars, and is what makes places such as inner West Street so wonderful. In fact, these ideas are entirely consistent with the objectives for the Outer West Street Opportunity Area as specified in the Annapolis Comprehensive Plan, while a drive-through restaurant is decidedly not.

Outer West Street is at a crossroads: We can either have an area where people will enjoy living and working like inner West Street or we can slavishly follow auto-centric dogma that is so prevalent in other parts of the county and creates fiscally unproductive and unsafe environments for everyone.

We need to encourage more people-friendly development and convince the State Highway Administration (who owns this part of West Street) that we want a pedestrian/bicycle friendly “street,” not a “highway” as they consider changes due to any development along this corridor. The city should not let the desire to reconfigure the intersection at a developer’s expense result in a step backward for the area.

And, to be explicit, these comments have nothing to do with the purveyor of the food in the proposed development. As long as the development configuration is done in a positive way for the area, throw in a Burger Barn and a Doughnut Dive too.

Guest Column: Annapolis should join the Regional Transportation Agency

Appearing in The Capital, March 21, 2014

By BILL NEVEL AND ALEX PLINE

Both Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are at a crossroads for improving transit in their respective areas with the proposed Regional Transportation Agency.

A regional transit system would put this area on comparable footing with scores of major urban areas in the U.S. We understand County Executive Laura Neuman is very close to signing the agreement, but that Mayor Mike Pantelides has some concerns. We believe these concerns can be overcome and urge both to sign the agreement and join the RTA.

While there are shared reasons for joining the RTA for both the city and county, there are distinct advantages for each. Building on the city’s existing transit system, Annapolis and its transit employees have the opportunity to create the core of a regional system that could provide access to employment centers, schools, libraries, hospitals and other facilities throughout the county and surrounding jurisdictions. For the county, the RTA will provide an entity that has the ability and expertise to tailor public transportation services to support underserved and unserved areas in low density and high density areas.

One of the key service areas is BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport with an Amtrak station and surrounding businesses. Wouldn’t a fare of, for example, $3, be a much better option for employees that work at the airport or Fort George G. Meade/NSA, and for some travelers, than the current $60 plus cab fare from Annapolis? Only a regionally based system will be able to provide this type of service.

Additionally, the 21-member Anne Arundel County Transportation Commission, in its soon to be released report, indicates the county must find alternatives to its auto centric two- and three-car homes and resulting increased congestion on our highways. Quality alternatives need to be offered to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles, especially during peak commuting periods. The RTA is part of that solution.

Yes, there are concerns about dealing with other jurisdictions in creating this agency. Howard County’s interest is obviously Howard County and service to its residents. However, Howard County’s rider destinations, just as for riders from Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, don’t end at jurisdictional boundaries. The RTA will require these entities to work together to provide improved and much more attractive transit services that cross these boundaries. We believe this can be accomplished.

The Anne Arundel County Transportation Commission recommends jurisdictions create in advance many of the key terms of the RTA in the Memorandum of Understanding in order to minimize contentious issues for the appointed RTA Commission. The Memorandum of Understanding should establish sufficient safeguards to protect everyone’s interests when creating and operating the RTA. These include equitable appointment of commissioners from each jurisdiction, voting powers, powers to amend the bylaws, and selection and oversight of the contract manager. These safeguards should be spelled out and automatically rolled into the RTA’s bylaws, which can and should be adjusted as the RTA gains experience.

We believe these concerns can be resolved, ultimately resulting in an upgraded, equitable regional transit system with reasonable fares to places people need to go. This is the future of transit in the central Maryland region. If city residents are to have a transit system that connects Annapolis with other employment centers throughout the region to provide mobility and access to jobs, then Annapolis must sign the agreement and begin to work with the transit employees, the union, the transit operator and the other jurisdictions to establish the RTA.

Bill Nevel and Alex Pline were co-chairs of the 2013-2014 Anne Arundel County Transportation Commission.

Thoughts on the AA County Public Meeting for the Draft Pedestrain/Bike Master Plan Update

It had a flavor typical of these public meetings. George Cardwell from the County Planning and Zoning did a good job at setting the context for the plan.  I really do think he “gets it” about the need for a more balanced set of transportation options in the county.

For the most part, people who were there came either to listen and gather information or to air a particular issue in their local area. Since this meeting was at Broadneck, a number of people talked about issues with the (under construction) Broadneck Trail, College Parkway, access to AACC and crossing Ritchie Highway (MD 2) to get to the B&A Trail. Councilman Dick Ladd was also there advocating the County prioritize a ped/bike bridge over Ritchie Highway at College Parkway – something that has been discussed for many years.

These are all valid concerns for that area and to a certain extent are being addressed as projects in the plan, although not to the degree (in scope and timeframe) that locals would want. The projects in the plan really don’t contain much detail and are in there nominally to indicate that a particular area needs improvement (indicated with a few keywords like “sidewalk” or “multiuse trail” etc). It is always the case that people who know the local area intimately have *very* detailed ideas of *how* the projects should be implemented. I know that is true in my case with the Parole area that I know very well.

One thing to consider is that projects identified in this plan (or the Annapolis Bicycle Master Plan) still have to undergo the standard implementation process if/when there is a decision to move forward and a funding source is available. This process always includes some kind of public input during the design and permitting phase. In my opinion, *this* is the time that members of the local area should work very hard to input their solution ideas to the county during the public review process since this is where the rubber meets the road and the understanding of the local context will have the most impact.

One of the things I have learned about advocacy with local government through my wife’s involvement with Bates Middle School, Annapolis High School, Annapolis Education Commission and the county Board of Education, is that it is a long term proposition. As frustrated as it is as a *user* – we want things to be better NOW – the reality is the wheels of government turn slowly and deliberately in this country; I don’t think bike issues are going to trigger a coup d’etat…  For those of us who are, uh, more mature in our years, we are really effecting change for the next generation.

With that, one long term part of the plan that I think any land use, developer, planner or architecture professionals (or psuedo professionals) in the crowd can comment on is the proposed changes to the county documents that guide development (section IV):  Anne Arundel County Design Manual,  Anne Arundel County Code (Subdivision and Development Regulations,  Zoning) and the Anne Arundel County Landscape Manual. These documents will determine the long term viability of the transportation (and recreation) biking in the County. If we keep doing what we have been doing for the last 50 years, we are going to end up with the same result. Remember, the first thing to do when you are in a hole is to stop digging. So if you have this expertise, please review this section and provide comments.

It also occurred to me that one advocacy piece that is missing is input from the upcoming generation(s) that research is showing are driving less according to a recent report (http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/new-direction). We need to engage these folks to demand that non-auto transportation modes are viable and this should be a focus. The county needs to hear that upcoming generations are willing to trade auto-based for bike/ped (or transit) infrastructure. Until the county officials understand this is the direction the (at least urbanized) population wants to go, change will be slow.

George Cardwell said he is keeping the public comment period open for another week so everyone still has time to get the plan, review it and provide comments via e-mail to George at PZCARD44@aacounty.org

Again for reference, here is the link to the plan: http://www.aacounty.org/PlanZone/Resources/DRAFT_2013PedBic_MasterPlan.pdf

Capital Article about AA County Transportation Cycling

Allison Bourg wrote a good article about the county’s update to the Pedestrian and Master Plan. The purpose of the article was to publicize the public meeting on June 11, 2013, but it did feature yours truly because I met Allison over at Parole Towne Center for her to snap a few pictures for the article. Read the article on the Capital website: http://www.capitalgazette.com/cg2-arc-d8851555-052d-5942-a28b-b81587d6b1f4-20130610-story.html

Or view the PDF (page 1 and page 2) which is a slightly different version with a picture.

Parole and Mobility

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 Centere at Parole, one of the recently built “Smart Growth” (infill) projects around the Annapolis area in addition to 1901 West Street, and the old downtown hospital site). The Parole development is a huge improvement from the decaying Parole Mall that it replaced, and 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 Centere is nothing more than a suburban mall with the storefronts on the outside and vertical parking.

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.