Friday, August 01, 2008

Excess Capacity

I met a colleague for lunch today at Sushi Sono. It was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon with a slight breeze, picture perfect day at the lakefront in Columbia. There was only one thing missing…people.

Now I can understand that this time of year lots of folks are on vacation so traffic might be expected to be light but this was striking. Town Center at noon on a beautiful Friday in the summertime was dead.

As I walked towards the restaurant I ran into Barbara Lawson. She was sitting at an outdoor table at the Tomato Palace waiting for Mary Ellen Duncan to arrive. She had the same observation. Barbara told me that she recently hosted a family from Columbia’s sister city, Tres Cantos, in Spain. One night, one of her guests asked if they could take a walk to the lakefront. Barbara lives in the Bryant Woods neighborhood near the lake so this was theoretically easy to do. Theoretically easy perhaps but in practicality it turned out to be a bit challenging. She described racing across Governor Warfield Parkway before the crossing light turn red while hoping that nobody ran that light. She then described navigating through the mall ring road and parking lots.. The light was out at Sterrett Place and Little Patuxent Parkway so that crossing was a little dicey too. When they finally arrived at the lakefront it was much like this afternoon…dead.

They walked out to pier and were looking back at the pretty but empty lakefront plaza when one of her guests uttered “Such a pity.”


Anonymous said...

Does this surprise you? The lakefront is (almost) always devoid of people.

If we are not counting joggers and people walking their dogs, the CA bike paths are not used a whole lot either.

Young at Heart said...

We meet friends regularly at the Tomato Palace on Friday or Saturday night. Every time we leave the restaurant at about 9, the lakefront is pretty darned deserted.

Often these friends shop at the mall before they meet us. They used to just leave their car parked at the mall, but have decided it is just too dangerous--they worry about either getting hit by a car speeding down LPP or getting mugged because there's nobody around. So now they repark their car closer to the restaurant even though it's just a short walk.

We have other friends who don't want to meet in Columbia at all because it is so hard to find anything. One says that as many times as she's been to the mall, she still doesn't know where the lakefront is. Drive around Columbia with the fresh eyes of an outsider and you'll understand her confusion.

Anonymous said...

I see people seated nicely, filling the nearby tables in the photo.

What do you have against lack of lines, pushing through throngs of people, waiting in the heat for cover in a rain shower or bearing sun.

This is a peaceful and sane pace by design. Why did you three move to Columbia? For the crowds? I really genuinely want to know why you didn't move to Baltimore or Washington.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:42- There is a HUGE difference between throngs of people (think 4th of July at the lakefront) and a vibrant amount of people hanging out on a sunny Friday afternoon. The upper photo shows no people, unless we count the statue of Mr. Rouse and his brother.

Anonymous said...

Let me correct myself, there are two actual people in the upper photo. Woo-hoo.

Anonymous said...

I've walked with friends from Bryant Woods to the lakefront taking a similar route before, both day and night, without difficulty or peril. But are you claiming the proposed increased density's addition of 13,000+ daily car trips to Columbia's existing traffic will make for a more pleasant walk via that route? Apply some logic here, please.

There are also beautiful (for now) CA paths that one can walk or bike from Bryant Woods to the lakefront, too.

I appreciate the lakefront isn't like some crazed-marching-consumers credit card commercial. How long did you have to wait until there was almost no one in those photos? I'll wait for the 360° panoramic video...

Mmmm, Tomato Palace.

wordbones said...

Anon 12:27 PM,

I can assure that the pictures shown are a fair representative of the actual scene yesterday afternoon. I also have pictures of an empty Hug statue park, empty outddor tables at Clyde's and an almost empty walkway in front of Jesse Wongs Hong Kong and Sushi Sono. I simply chose these two because I thought they had the best composition.

The open space pathways connecting Town Center to Wilde lake are fine if you are walking during the day but at night it is a different story. It is pretty dark in those woods.


Anonymous said...

Let's face it. There is absolutely no reason to go to Lakeside unless it's during the summer with scheduled events or you want to go to the restaurants that are there.
The Rouse Company did a superb marketing job for all of its inner city and mall development projects. What we got for downtown Columbia was a hotel, a few restaurants and office buildings and lots of asphalt parking spaces spread all over the lakefront. Isn't the point of developing the downtown area to give people opportunities to go there and shop, eat, meet friends, enjoy cultural affairs. No wonder there's seldomly anyone around the lake. Let's get on with the development and move beyond the gadflies like Broida, provide some housing, some retail space, new eateries, and vibrancy to the downtown.

Anonymous said...

"Isn't the point of developing the downtown area to give people opportunities to go there and shop, eat, meet friends, enjoy cultural affairs"?

We do shop, eat, meet friends, and enjoy cultural affairs within Town Center, all right there at the Mall.

Or, start at the Mall, shop there, walk the pedestrian bridge to the lakefront to eat, and then take in free lakeside summer music or movies.

Or, as many do, start at the Mall, shop there, and walk over to Merriweather for a concert.

When the movie theater left lakefront and another popped up on the west side of the Mall, of course that particular retail traffic shifted to the Mall.

And, many people, young and less young, like the lakefront for non-retail activity, it being a great place to meet friends, talk without traffic noise interrupting, enjoy the natural view, and take in pleasant breezes off the lake.

Vibrancy? How long is the wait at the Cheesecake Factory?

And there's far more to do at the lakefront than your limited list and season. If you were correct, Clyde's and the rest would shut down for the other nine months of the year and my bike's tires and running shoes' soles would be less worn.

Anonymous said...

Clyde's became so busy that I stopped going there a few years ago. Can't get a table or a seat predictably.

There's your vibrancy.

And the reason more people don't use the ped bridge is because they can't see through all the trees around town center, and now want to make Columbia like Baltimore or Washington.

Again, why did these people move to Columbia?

wordbones said...

I keep hearing the question "Why did you move to Columbia?" from folks who are opposed to increasing the density of Town Center. It is as if moving to Columbia meant leaving behind any notion of growth or forward progress in the planned community.

I can happily answer the question, for myself anyway. I grew up in Columbia. My family moved here during the first birthday celebration of the new town. Columbia was a place full of promise and experimentation. Since graduating college I have moved in and out of Columbia four times. Though I currently live in Ellicott City, my office is in Columbia. In all this time I still regard Columbia as my hometown.

Over the past decade or so Columbia has lost some of that original energy that made it stand out from other communities. The plans being proposed by GGP offer a new opportunity to recapture that energy. I find that exciting and rejuvenating.

I moved to Columbia the first time because my famly moved here, I had no choice. I moved to Columbia the second,third and fourth times because I wanted to be an active participant in making it a great town that was originally envisioned by its planners.


Anonymous said...

I moved to Columbia as part of the witness protection program.

Anonymous said...

By Anon 7:18's reasoning, African Americans should have just left the South if they didn't like the back of the bus.

Way to be a catalyst for change!

Young at Heart said...

I like Columbia. A lot. I think that Columbia, like America or me or you, always has room for improvement.

When I moved here many moons ago, I knew that Columbia would continue to grow and change. New villages were built, more people moved in, roads were widened and development continued. I looked forward to the plans for a vibrant city-like town center that Jim Rouse had envisioned. Haven't seen it yet.

It seems to me that some people think that the development of Columbia should have ended as soon as they moved in. You know, the old Howard Countians (pre-Columbia) were not exactly happy to have us here either.

Anonymous said...

I moved to Columbia in 1972 because it was equidistant to the jobs my wife and I had at the time. I didn't know who Jim Rouse was nor cared. I knew that the town was in its infant stage and there would be a lot of development before it ended. Route 32 was a 2 lane windy road, there was 1 traffic light on Rt 29 and an officer made me explain why I ran it one night, and Columbia slowly grew over the years to become Money magazines 8th best city to live in. It's a great spot to raise a family and make some friends. I just can't figure out why anyone thinks the job's finished when I look at the asphalt jungle (parking area) between the lakefront and the mall. The GGP plan is the only one which I have seen that makes any sense to complete the job that Jim Rouse began. We raised our children and participated in the growth of Columbia. Now it's time to enable and allow our children and their families to participate in the renaissance to come to downtown Columbia.