March 24 2014

Can Towson Reduce Congestion with New Bike, Ped, and Circulator Options?

Baltimore City’s northern neighbor Towson, Maryland is lacking in the area of alternative transportation for the thousands of commuters and residents who must pass through the town every day. Residents can, however, rejoice in the number of plans currently being pushed forward to improve transportation for the area, including more sustainable projects such as a:

These upcoming projects may be a great improvement for residents, but what about visitors trying to patronize Towson businesses, visit friends and family, or attend a local festival? One Baltimore City resident told me that when she moved in she was told that the nearest shopping mall was Towson Town Center. After living in the area for a while, she realized that while the mall in Towson was closer in terms of miles, the drive from the city to the outlets in Anne Arundel proved faster and easier. This anecdotal evidence and commuter data show that much of the automobile traffic on Towson’s roads comes from residents and visitors lacking alternative modes for getting into town. Thus, congestion ensues for anyone willing to make the journey to Towson.

Hunt Valley-BWI light rail train - Baltimore Region

A staggering 95% of people working in Towson are commuting from other places, and roughly 86% of Towson residents commute to jobs outside of Towson. The resulting traffic is compounded by the number of people just passing through Towson as a bridge between homes and offices in other areas. With so much commuting taking place without effective public transit or ridesharing programs, the minority of Towson residents living and working in town put up with a lot of traffic for a relatively short commute, at least in terms of distance. Towson has effectively become a bottleneck between the city and the county’s northern suburbs.

The Hunt Valley–BWI line replaced former railroad tracks in the early 90s and provides access to sporting events, conventions, arts and cultural attractions, and niche retail and dining areas. According to an old Baltimore Sun article, two stations were once proposed in Towson’s Ruxton and Riderwood neighborhoods, only to be immediately opposed over concerns of noise, crime, and other potential disturbances. The only other time light rail has been mentioned again in Towson was when the idea of a light rail spur along the York Road corridor was proposed. If you are unfamiliar with York Road or Downtown Towson, I can tell you that there is little to no room for a light rail track. If you’re unfamiliar with West Towson, it’s not a walkable, commercial corridor like the other areas hosting light rail stations (see map below).

Light Rail in Baltimore, MD Region

Paul Hartman of The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations provided insight on the matter, stating a downtown spur would be costly – “not just planning, design, and construction, but purchasing the right-of-way.” Prohibitive costs have stopped a number of transportation projects everywhere, and it seems Towson is promoting bike-friendly infrastructure and walkability improvements as a more cost effective and green planning alternative.

Considering the rapid development of the area, will these cost effective projects prove effective in reducing congestion in this busy college town?

Credits: Images and maps by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.

Jade Clayton

Jade Clayton recently received her B.S. in economics and business administration from Towson University in Towson, Maryland. She is currently pursuing a post-baccalaureate certificate in internet application design, and hopes to receive a Master’s in urban planning. Her interest in planning began with a high school internship for the downtown partnership in her hometown of Frederick, Maryland. This interest has grown since attending college near the City of Baltimore, where the potential for innovative and sustainable urban growth is abundant, as are the challenges. Since receiving her undergraduate degree, Jade has been working full-time as a research assistant at Towson University, providing analysis and research on the local and regional economy in Maryland. Since graduating, Jade has spent her newfound free time becoming reacquainted with her love for the outdoors, backpacking through five European cities, and getting to know Baltimore a little better every day.

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 24th, 2014 at 9:18 am and is filed under Blogging Team, Community/Economic Development, Infrastructure, Jade Clayton, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


4 Responses to “Can Towson Reduce Congestion with New Bike, Ped, and Circulator Options?”

  1. Mike Parr Says:

    The transportation problem in Towson is real but the solution is not connecting the inner city to Towson. The solution is to run a modern rail system from Perry Hall through Towson and on to Reisterstown. Their is no way to traverse East to West that does not involve traffic jams on the overcrowded beltway or the failed intersections along Joppa Road or Burke Avenue.

  2. Jade Clayton Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Mike. Are you saying that the Hunt Valley line is fine as-is, or that we need both better north-south and the addition of east-west rail lines? Personally, I’d love to have more access in and out of Towson through rail, to the city and elsewhere, but if the County could only afford one maybe east to west is more feasible? Again, thanks for your input!

  3. Mike Parr Says:

    East West is needed. I live in Parkville and once worked in Hunt Valley and now in Towson. If I could go from a park and ride on Joppa over to Towson I’m onboard. Further if I could get a connector to the light I’m in Hunt Valley. Similar for my sister Whitehall to a park and ride in Hunt Valley light rail to a connector and she is at work in Towson. Similar My Brother commutes from Towson to Perry Hall. I suspect a study would find most commuters would benefit from a East West Connector.

  4. Jade Clayton Says:

    That is an awful lot of east-west travel. I think I might reach out to some of the people working on these projects and see if they are considering improvement for east-west connections, especially with the circulator. I am pretty sure at least one circulator stop is supposed to connect to light rail. Also, I think a study on what direction people are commuting is very easy to do, I took a look at some census data last night and it does seem to support your argument, but there’s still a ton of north-south traffic as well.

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