Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has announced a new mixed-use development near the largely underutilized (from a land-use-planning standpoint) New Carrollton Metro station for the new headquarters for the State Department of Housing and Community Development.   See the Washington Post Story today for details. 

This is good news for Prince George’s County.  It is also a good example of sound, transit-oriented development to bring more jobs to parts of the region that need more employment opportunities, already have a large supply of workforce housing nearby, and that are near current or planned transit centers.  The proposed new development will include a mix of retail, housing and commercial office space, all of which will help to minimize the need to drive everywhere.  

Adding density where it is needed most — near our Metro stations — is one of the long-term strategies that the entire region is pursuing to varying degrees.  While this is no panacea for the region’s traffic problems, and in the real world will only make a small dent in the future growth of travel demand, it is a small step in the right direction and worthy of support.  

Congratulations to Prince George’s County and the Governor for getting this one right.

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In the Metro section in Sunday’s Washington Post, transportation reporter Robert Thompson invited the two groups to “define the problem, propose solutions and tell us how we would know if their ideas worked.”  While there were commonalities in the solutions proposed, only SMTA had a realistic answer to addressing all modes of transportation and measurably reducing congestion, which continues to be the top threat to our economy and quality of life.  Here’s a brief summary:
  
SMTA Lays Out Balanced List of Transportation Priorities:  Citing the need for comprehensive solutions to our traffic problems in the Washington area, SMTA President Richard Parsons defines our top transportation problem as “too much traffic congestion.”  He cites years of traffic studies which show the primary cause is the lack of suburb-to-suburb transit and road capacity connecting our major activity centers in the region.  For solutions, most transportation experts recommend a combination of:  Investing in Metro reliability, new transit lines (Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, regional bus-rapid-transit network), new highway and bridge capacity (including a regional network of high-occupancy-toll lanes on the Beltway and other key corridors), and more sustainable “transit-oriented-development” to concentrate future jobs and housing and reduce the need for future auto trips.  Studies show using all the tools in our toolbox would significantly reduce congestion, make travel times both shorter and more predictable for commuters, and keep our region more liveable, sustainable and economically vibrant.  One of the key problems, Parsons notes, is that “we’ve clouded the debate, allowing popular myths and wishful thinking to supersede sound research and expert analysis.” View the entire article here.     
 
Smart Growth Coalition Offers Familiar “Wishful Thinking” Approach that Won’t Reduce Congestion:  Coalition for Smarter Growth President Stewart Schwartz blames congestion on “bad land-use planning and poor location decisions by major employers.”  For solutions, he lays out a familiar list of land-use changes, most of which are good ideas, but are either already being done in Maryland (e.g. concentrating new development near metro stations), or too vague and unrealistic, like shifting employment from the 270 corridor to the east.  He offers no specifics on how these might impact future congestion levels.  Recent data from the Transportation Planning Board indicate that smart-growth land-use changes alone, without new transportation capacity, actually makes traffic congestion slightly worse.  Schwartz does cite the need for new transit capacity, which is a good thing.  However, transit only works for those relatively few commuters who can use it, and does nothing to address all the other non-commuting trips for which we also need to plan (interstate traffic, shipping and freight deliveries, errands, business-to-business travel, etc.), and which make up most of our daily trips.  By ignoring the mode of travel that accounts for roughly 90% of all daily trips in our State and region — our heavily congested roads — such prescriptions are simply not realistic and will have no impact on congestion in our lifetimes.   

Last month, the Rockville City Council abruptly reversed itself on the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), asking the State of Maryland to re-route the CCT alignment away from King Farm, one of the major communities it was designed to serve.  The State is now in the final stages of identifying it’s “Preferred Local Alternative” for the long-awaited transit line extending from Shady Grove Metro Station north to Clarksburg.  Supporters of the CCT are asking the State to continue with current plans and retain the alignment through King Farm, which was designed around the CCT as a “transit-oriented development” (or TOD) from its inception, with the full support of the City.  Without the CCT on the alignment that was envisioned in County master plans, the fear is that traffic conditions on surrounding roads, access to jobs and housing for King Farm residents and neighbors, and King Farm property values would all be negatively impacted.

The CCT will add tremendous value to King Farm by providing convenient transit access to destinations up and down the heavily traveled I-270 corridor, and it was a big part of the reason King Farm is there at all.  This is what transit-oriented suburban development was supposed to be all about.  Rockville would be better served by retaining the current alignment and the more sustainable development patterns that can be achieved through transit-oriented development, in King Farm and elsewhere.