James Rouse - The Visionary Founder of Columbia
Rouse envisioned at least four vital areas of improvement in his new town of Columbia: closeness to nature, a color-blind social policy, the best in electronic communications, and a form of local transportation that minimized dependence on cars. Columbia succeeded in the first three: Its ample open spaces have brought people closer to nature. Its acceptance of all races was well ahead of the curve. And local TV broadcast of classrooms and community meetings were just some of its advanced communications. However, virtually nothing remains of Rouse’s transit plans. Today Columbia is about as car-centric as it can be. Probably the most dramatic plan that didn’t happen is the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). Around 1969, Columbia tried to win a federal grant for a PRT, spending months if not years on an elaborate system that would put them in league with Disneyland and only a handful of other places with advanced transit in operation. Columbia's PRT would have operated with driverless cars that proceeded nonstop along elevated guideways, with riders selecting a destination from a keypad. It was a devastating blow to Columbia not to receive this grant, since Columbia was perhaps America's preeminent experimental community at the time.
FOBC Wants to Follow Through on Rouse's Vision
Columbia's original transportation plan included a 17-mile-long, 50-foot wide exclusive transit right-of-way. This right-of-way (which still exists!) connects or passes through the hospital, the community college, seven village centers, and approximately 60% of the multi-family housing units in Columbia. It also links dozens of Columbia’s core destinations, including shopping, dining, entertainment, employment, and other amenities. This right-of-way is still in place, either unused or used as pedestrian pathways. If properly developed for the use of small buses or trolleys, and supplemented with surface roads where required, it would provide a viable, efficient, and environmentally sustainable way for transit riders to get across town and a much-needed alternative to driving. Creating a cross-Columbia Transitway, essentially a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), will allow Columbia's residents, especially its younger and older populations, to move freely and quickly through Columbia without encountering or adding to the expected traffic congestion and parking problems. Our goal is to raise awareness of the great resource that is available in the existing transit right-of-way and to encourage the actual development of the Transitway, including construction of a transit bridge over US 29.