Friends of Bridge Columbia Priority Letter
January 25, 2019
Dear County Executive Ball:
Friends of Bridge Columbia (FOBC) urges raising the priority for construction of the Downtown Columbia Transitway in the Howard County FY 2020-2025 Priority Letter, as described in the county’s adopted Central MD Transit Development Plan (CMTDP) (1). The CMTDP states “This TDP recommends a complementary transit concept for a high-frequency east-west bus priority transit corridor within Howard County, linking the Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College, Downtown Columbia, and Snowden Square and the Gateway employment area… It is the corridor entirely within the county most likely to support high-frequency transit.” The corridor also parallels the east-west segments of the “Green T” adopted in Bike Howard, the county’s Bicycle Master Plan. The corridor can and should be developed in a complementary fashion to support pedestrian and bicycle transportation as well as bus priority.
We have long supported connecting east and west Columbia by means of a pedestrian, bicycle, and transitway bridge across US 29 between Downtown Columbia and the Village of Oakland Mills as a linchpin of an extended pedestrian, bicycle and transit corridor. We applaud the improvements that have been made to the existing pathway and the attractive upgrades to the bridge. (To bolster the favorable momentum these improvements have created, we suggest a sign on the existing bridge visible from US29 identifying it as “Bridge Columbia” to boost recognition of the bridge as a viable alternative to driving.)
Recent events indicate that the time has come for a plan to implement the transit portion of this project. FOBC are committed to the proposal in the CMTDP and the Bridge Columbia-Transitway Feasibility Study published by KFH Group in March 2018, which assesses the benefits and costs of a transit route that would connect Howard County Hospital to the Gateway area using a bus-priority transitway. Progress has been hindered by the perception that projections for future ridership and other factors do not justify this project for the foreseeable future. However, several developments during the past year strongly suggest that traffic problems have exceeded projected levels.
In July 2018, the Office of Transportation rolled out the Downtown Transportation Demand Management Plan (2), a database monitoring the success of a plan to reduce automobile traffic by 15% each year for 3 years to avoid "congestion that would exceed the congestion standard established in the Plan and/or road improvements, some of which will be very costly, (and) may be needed sooner than envisioned".
Press reports (3) that “The county ... is losing three companies to Baltimore City. DataTribe, AllegisCYber and Evergreen Advisors” and further “HCEDA last year unsuccessfully tried to court Amazon to place its second headquarters in downtown Columbia. In both cases, one reason cited for these events is that Columbia does not have a subway system.
FOBC suggest that a highly visible, efficient and attractive bus-priority transitway connecting east and west Columbia would be an excellent and practical alternative to a subway system, easing congestion within Columbia and improving access to points within and beyond the Transitway. The CMTDP envisions, and FOBC supports, a bus priority transit corridor right through the heart of Columbia, connecting key activity centers between Columbia Gateway and Howard County General Hospital, including Downtown Columbia, Howard Community College, Blandair Park, and several village centers. This proposed transit corridor could take advantage of rights-of-way planned by Columbia’s developers a half century ago for such a transit system. This existing infrastructure could form the basis for a truly unique and cost-effective opportunity for development of an effective and efficient transitway through the heart of Columbia. It could even be extended via existing roads eastward to the MARC line. And, as noted above, the corridor could be developed in a complementary fashion to support pedestrian and bicycle transportation as well as bus priority.
We believe the proposed transitway should be assessed for more than just its economic benefits. American tastes are changing. Millennials, Baby Boomers and others want communities that are less car-dependent and offer mixed-use, compact, amenity-rich, and transit-accessible neighborhoods and walkable places. Accordingly, the feasibility of the new transitway cannot be evaluated based solely on guesses about future transit ridership. Policy makers must also consider how it would promote livability and connectedness, taking into account economic, transportation, public safety, environmental, community development, and other benefits that promote and enhance the quality of life in Columbia.
Recognizing the extensive and largely unanticipated expenses incurred by the recent flooding in Ellicott City, we hope that the county will still be able to lay groundwork for the Transitway before traffic becomes a more serious problem which will discourage economic growth, boost highway costs, and reduce the quality of life for Columbia residents. Howard County has stated that creating a more transit-friendly community is a priority. The time has come to bring that stated priority closer to becoming a reality! While the construction of the transitway may still be some years off, the time is now to request planning money from the MD DOT to begin the process of bringing it to fruition.
Friends of Bridge Columbia
http://www.kfhgroup.com/centralmd/Chapter%207%20-%20Future%20Transit%20Development.pdf Chapter 7 pp 7-6 to 7-8