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Towson Row plan fuels argument for circulator bus

With last week's announcement of Towson Row, a $300 million project that will include apartments, student housing, retail and office space in downtown Towson, area elected officials have ramped up efforts to introduce a circulator bus to stem an increase in traffic they say will accompany the development boom.

"What Towson Row has done is it has provided an incredible sense of momentum because now there is a clock ticking," said Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson. "We've got to deal with these transportation issues before Towson Row is finished."

Construction on Towson Row will start in 2015, developers said.

In the past two years, the planned developments for the Towson area have fulfilled a vision for a revitalized downtown area. Construction has begun on the $85 million Towson Square development, which will feature restaurants and a 15-screen Cinemark movie theater. Towson City Center, a 13-story office building in the renovated old Investment Building, is fully leased.

Also, 101 York, a $60 million residential-commercial development proposed in early May for the corner of York Road and Towsontown Boulevard, also will feature retail space and parking.

With those developments, Towson leaders fear traffic in downtown Towson could reach a critical mass.

As a result, Marks is teaming with Towson's legislative delegation, including Del. Steve Lafferty and state Sen. Jim Brochin, to revive the idea of a circulator bus in Towson.

Last month, the elected officials asked the Maryland Transportation Administration for a feasibility study on a system of circulator buses for downtown Towson.

"The feasibility study will look at a number of options," Marks said. "If we can't get a full circulator system done, we should at least try to look at one or two lines on certain days of the week. The two areas I think you'd probably want to focus on is connecting the southern neighborhoods to the roundabout, and the high-rises in the east to Towson Row and the hospitals."

When Marks was chief of staff for the Maryland Department of Transportation in 2005-06, he worked on the most recent study of a shuttle route in Towson.

According to a report prepared for the MTA in 2007 by the consulting firm Edwards and Kelcey, an MTA shuttle operated in Towson only on weekdays from 1985 to 1990 and was canceled and reinstated multiple times before ultimately ending.

That shuttle circled downtown Towson and made stops near Towsontown Center, Bykota Senior Center and Dulaney Plaza, according to the report. By the time the shuttle was discontinued in 1990, it carried just 14 passengers per day.

An unrealized regional six-year MTA plan produced in 2000 included a Towson circulator that ran from the corner of Charles Street and Kenilworth Avenue, circled downtown Towson and ended at St. Joseph Hospital, the report said.

More recently, the Department of Transportation collaborated with Baltimore County and Towson-area delegates in 2005. Del. Bill Frank spearheaded that effort.

"We were talking six or seven years ago about (connecting with a circulator) the hospitals, the two colleges, the senior high-rises," Frank said of the proposed route, which looped west to Charles Street and Greater Baltimore Medical Center to St. Joseph Hospital and up York Road to Towson Town Center, Towson Place and Goucher College.

"We had a nice little proposed route that made a lot of sense, that was dominated with right turns and wouldn't go against the traffic," Frank said. "It didn't take off because of lack of funding."

Marks said Frank and fellow delegate Susan Aumann both were supportive of the renewed effort, and Frank said that funding again would likely be the main issue.

"I think it is a little different time and dynamic than in the past," Lafferty said. "The question is can we find the right financing combination and routing to make it more appealing to people?"

At the press conference on June 19 announcing the Towson Row development, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz downplayed any traffic issues the development could create.

"It's really easy to get in and out of downtown Towson because it was designed to handle traffic flow," Kamenetz said. "We're ringed by major roads like Towsontown Boulevard, Joppa Road, Dulaney Valley Road and Charles Street."

Kamenetz touted the 3,500 Baltimore County Revenue Authority parking spaces, plus the 860 spaces that will be built at Towson Square and the 1,000 that will be included in Towson Row.

"The bottom line is with more people living and working in downtown Towson, the growing popularity of the concept, 'Live where you work,' really adds foot and bicycle traffic and not vehicle traffic," Kamenetz said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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