Thursday, June 10, 2010


One of the central arguments used by those who oppose the approved plans for Columbia Town Center’s redevelopment is that the area can’t handle any increase in traffic. This argument assumes that lowering the allowed residential density from 5,500 to something closer to 2,000 will make the traffic situation more manageable.

This argument is flawed. Even if no additional homes were built in Town Center, traffic will continue to worsen because the greatest percentage of the traffic on HoCo highways is pass-through traffic. The physical location of HoCo between two major metropolitan areas with three major connecting highways running through it means that the bulk of our traffic congestion is beyond local control.

In this well thought out post about growth and development in HoCo, Frank Hecker puts our traffic conundrum in another light.

“Because of the nature of my job I travel all over the DC metro area, and it’s astonishing how travel times have lengthened, especially for return trips in the afternoon and evening; from where I live in Ellicott City I’m now over an hour away from Bethesda and the close-in Maryland suburbs, over an hour and a half away from downtown DC, and (at least for the return trip) over two hours away from Reston, Herndon, and other northern Virginia locations.

In my opinion that makes it all the more important to foster employment growth and commercial development within Columbia and Howard County, so that there’s a critical mass of opportunities to live, work, and spend leisure time nearby. Some people are concerned that the planned Columbia Town Center development and other initiatives will increase traffic congestion by both increasing the local population and attracting commuters from elsewhere. That may be true, but I think the alternative is worse: I’d rather deal with some localized congestion commuting to a job within Howard County than have to drive a ways out of the county and then have to deal with equivalent or worse local congestion at my destination.”


Trevor said...

This is a really specific traffic complaint to bring up, but what the heck. I drive on route 32 from Columbia to Odenton every morning to work, and then back again every evening. I'm sure many Columbians take that same route to work (either getting off at 95, 295, NSA or Fort Meade). Can someone explain to me why one of the exit ramp to 95 is on the left side in each direction?

It makes such a traffic mess. Some days 32 is backed up all the way to River Hill in one direction and 295 in the other direction. With BRAC coming, you'd think our elected officials would do everything they could to alleviate this bottleneck, and make Howard County a more desirable place to live.

Sarah said...


Trevor-- I don't drive into work too often, but when I do, I take 32 to 95 and while the exit to 95N is on the left, I notice that most folks aren't actually taking it-- the traffic is staying on 32. That being said, I hate left exits. That exit from 32 merges onto 95 on the left, too, which is even worse. Ugh.

There's only so much you can do to help 32 during rush hour, and there's no point in widening a road that otherwise is able to carry the traffic. Elected officials could be advocating for working from home, flexible schedules, and heck, even a 4-day workweek by starting with government offices. I used to work for a nonprofit and we had a flexible work schedule, so I used to have a 7:30 - 4:00 workday and that was fantastic. Then I got a another job and I'm locked into 8:30 - 4:30. At least I love the job otherwise but traffic sucks more at those times.

lemon_sorbet said...

And to piggy-back off of what Sarah said, get some decent public transportation! I try to take the bus to my job in Baltimore County once a week, but it makes my 20-25 minute commute an hour longer! That's pretty ridiculous! And with BRAC coming, I'm sure there are plenty of people in HoCo that would benefit from a bus line that would travel to Fort Meade in a decent time.

what2010xyz said...

Public transit? People didn't move to Howard County to get on busses with greasy seats, bugs, rodent droppings, old food, human bodily oozings and to be seated beside an odorous ancient man with hairly legs who is rubbing them on me (you, us).

Sarah said...

I take the 310 commuter bus to work every day and love it. So yes, some of us did actually come to Columbia to use public transit.

But I agree-- more transit options to attract especially "choice" transit riders would be great... I wish they'd spend more money on that than roads.

Trevor said...

Speaking of alternative methods of transportation, I hope in the future our County looks more at good ol' fashioned bicycle transportation. We already have a framework of a great path system in Columbia. Unfortunately, though, there are no major connections between Clarksville, Ellicott City, Laurel, the Western half of the county and Columbia. There are ways to get between these places that are popular with bikers, such as route 108, but many of these roads are extremely dangerous to ride on.

A little known fact; there are ZERO bike lanes in Howard County. We are looking at pushing for one to be set up in River Hill along Great Star Drive. I will actively push for this to happen, and hopefully it will serve as an test to see if bike lanes will work in the rest of the County.

If I was running for a higher office (county council, county executive, etc.) I would definitely be pushing hard for a Howard County-wide bike system. It would reduce traffic, increase safety, improve public health, help the environment and be another feature that would put Howard County higher in the charts as a "Best" place to live.

Jen said...

I take the Dillon Bus to DC every day. I make my money there and spend it in Howard County, so yes whakjdkjfsadkj whatever your name is, people do move to the suburbs and expect to be able to commute via public transportation.

Bob O said...

I hate to ask, but do most of these commentors smoke crack?

As one of you said, people don't move to HoCo to take public transporatation. They move to HoCo so that they can get a two or three bay garage to park their Hummer, Corvette, and Prius in, out of the weather.

Okay, they might have a Suburban instead of a Hummer.

And the author quoted in the original post is just insane. Columbia is just a transit point, and so more people will make the traffic better? That's so incredibly stupid that I can't imagine why he'd be published in the first place or quoted by someone else.

Bicycles? Great, if you work in the book shop around the corner. Buses? Yea, I'll triple my commute time and then walk a half mile from the nearest stop to my office.

Get real.

I'll drive my BMW or my Explorer right up to my office, thank you very much. If you want to reduce traffic, but a VAT on gasoline.

PZGURU said...

WOW! What a bunch of distortions and lies. First, I'll refute Frank Hecker's "alleged" driving times.
I live in Carroll County, about 20 minutes northwest of Ellicott City. I can make it to Bethesda in 45 minutes, even during morning traffic. So, there's no way in hell in takes him 1 hour to drive from EC to Bethesda. NO WAY!!!!
I can also get from my house to Herndon in 1 hour 30 minutes. I just made this exact trip last week. So, again, there's no way that it takes him 2 hours from EC. NO WAY!!!

As for the distortions proferred by you, WB, most of the "pass through" traffic in Howard County occurs on I-95, I-70, Route 29, and Route 100. Very little if any of that pass through traffic heads over to LPP or Gov. Warfield Pkwy. VERY LITTLE!!! So please, stop with the misinformation and distortions.

The fact is, that changing to a grid pattern, with 40-50 intersection points, PLUS 5,500 new households (equaling about 10,000 extra ADT's per day), that's a recipe for gridlock. At least the current road system has something like 6 or 7 intersection points all the way around the mall (LPP and GWP; not the internal ring road) which allows for quicker movement from one side of town center to the other.

You're either going to have to become a much better liar/distorter WB or you're going to have to start speaking the truth. Your choice.

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