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Marks forms committee to study downtown Towson circulator

Fifth District Baltimore County Councilman David Marks last week formed a committee to consider a circulator transportation system, free to riders, for downtown Towson.

The Greater Towson Committee's transportation and placemaking subcommittee is spearheading the seven-member committee. The committee intends to make recommendations about a Towson circulator by the end of September.

Exactly what the Towson circulator would be, its route and who would fund it are questions that the circulator committee will investigate.

"Circulators are becoming more common, especially in college towns," said Katie Pinheiro, executive director of the Greater Towson Committee, a nonprofit advocate of infrastructure development.

"Towson University has its bus. The collegetown bus is for Goucher, Towson and Loyola students," Pinheiro said. "Both buses have been successful but there is nothing for residents."

Pinheiro pointed to the Charm City Circulator as a success story. The series of free shuttle buses traveling four routes in Baltimore City began operation in 2011. Pinheiro said a Towson circulator would not cover as large an area as Charm City's but the concept is the same.

"Over the next five years, $800 million in private investment has come or is coming to Towson," Pinheiro said, referring to commercial and residential projects underway or in the works. "We want to limit congestion and encourage walkability. A circulator sounds wonderful on paper but it has to be done right."

Conversations about a circulator began last year, as a transportation means to bring residents from the greater Towson community and nearby hospitals to downtown without increasing traffic.

Pinheiro talks about a route in the downtown "core," from Towsontown Boulevard to the traffic circle, along York Road and extending to the Towson bypass.

However, nothing is definite. Marks said he is thinking of the circulator as a series of small buses that would loop around Towson's core.

In 2007, while he was chief of staff for the Maryland Department of Transportation, Marks was involved in the proposal for a Towson shuttle. "The conclusion was that it wasn't the right time for this type of service," Marks said. "But now, more than ever, Towson has become densely populated."

Like Pinheiro, Marks talks about upcoming projects, specifically Towson Row, a $300-million commercial-residential project in downtown Towson that anticipates office and retail space, a 200-bed hotel and 300-unit student housing.

"We've got about two years from a period of intense development for Towson Row. It will be located on Towsontown Boulevard and York Road, and will make things even denser in Towson," Marks said. "This is a good time" to consider a circulator.

The Towson Chamber of Commerce is participating in the circulator committee. John Holman, chamber president, and Jim Pomfret, a board member, both serve on the committee.

Nancy Hafford, chamber executive director, said the business community appears to support a Towson circulator. However, at this point, no polls have been done to determine if the residential community would use it.

"The concept is great but there needs to be a lot more information," said Hafford, adding, though, that "I've very happy that we are in a position in Towson that so much is going on that we're looking for new ways to make it easy to come to our community."

Marks said that once the circulator committee comes up with recommendations, he intends to talk to Baltimore County and state government about funding.

"We're trying to do the planning up front," Marks said. "It would probably be funded through the county or Maryland Transit Administration," part of the Maryland Department of Transportation.

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