Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

A better way for Towson to get around

Downtown Towson is on the cusp of a building boom that will transform this suburban county seat into one of the most dynamic, cosmopolitan communities in Maryland.

All the elements are in place for this transformation. Towson has two institutions of higher education, Towson University and Goucher College, that not only provide world-class learning but also a work force that stabilizes the commercial core. Residential developments like Towson Green will make sure the downtown area does not become a ghost town after sunset and on the weekends. There are strong private organizations like the Towson Chamber of Commerce that sponsor community events. Baltimore County has poured tens of millions of dollars into the schools that serve downtown Towson, and it recently boosted the police precinct that patrols the commercial area.

Unfortunately, one important element is missing: a plan for dealing with the traffic that comes with new development. It is the biggest complaint I hear from residents. They are proud of their community and optimistic about the future but concerned about the gridlock that will come without thoughtful planning.

Downtown Towson simply does not have the capacity to grow its road network. Building more lanes along York Road would displace businesses, and extending roads would destroy sensitive neighborhoods such as historic East Towson. The county needs to embrace some of the tools that have worked in comparable communities, like Rockville, Bethesda and parts of Baltimore City.

These communities make bicycle improvements a requirement for new development. Baltimore County has taken a good first step by securing $100,000 from the Maryland Department of Transportation to develop bike lanes throughout the Towson area. The next step should be to require that any new construction beyond a certain size includes bike racks and parking. Over the next few years, institutions like Towson University will occupy more of a presence in the commercial core, and college students should be encouraged to leave their cars on campus or at their apartments.

The bigger need, however, is for a transit service that exclusively serves downtown Towson. While there is a university shuttle network, there are no plans for a circulator in the downtown area. Much of downtown Towson's residential growth will occur in 2016 and beyond, so now is the time to plan for a shuttle that could operate similar to the system implemented by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

Imagine the possibilities. A senior citizen in Virginia Towers could make an appointment at Greater Baltimore Medical Center without taking a car or hailing a cab. A couple in Burkleigh Square could enjoy a "date night" at the new Towson Square entertainment complex without worrying about parking. Call it the Towson Trolley: a way for residents to enjoy all the benefits of downtown living without clogging our already-congested roads.

Since downtown Towson does not have a business improvement district, such a service would likely have to be operated by government. One possibility would be for Towson University to operate a distinct service, with financial support from other institutions. Another option is through the Maryland Transit Administration's Neighborhood Shuttle program, which operates in Mondawmin and Hampden. There have been attempts to include Towson in this program, but in both 2002 and 2006 implementation was delayed by budget cuts.

The cost for a Towson service was estimated in 2002 to be about $750,000; it is likely higher now due to fuel costs. Some of this cost could be absorbed by fare payers, since the density and level of activity in downtown Towson could likely be much greater than in Mondawmin or Hampden. But Towson also has institutions that could provide help. Earlier plans called for stops at St. Joseph Medical Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Goucher College, Towson University, Towson Commons, the public library and county offices.

One thing is clear: We need to have thoughtful conversations now that lead to real transportation improvements in downtown Towson. The window of opportunity is closing. By partnering with the institutions that already make this community great, our state and county governments can show that Towson is on the move — in more ways than one.

David Marks is county councilman for downtown Towson and was previously chief of staff at the Maryland Department of Transportation. His email is dmarks@baltimorecountymd.gov.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Towson as college town?
      Towson as college town?

      Our view: A proposal for a new apartment building reflects the realization of a long-held vision of a more vital county seat

    • Building local capacity to fight epidemics
      Building local capacity to fight epidemics

      The arduous and painful lessons learned from the ongoing Ebola outbreak and other recent epidemics like SARS, MERS, Chikungunya, influenza and of course HIV/AIDS, demonstrate how vulnerable the global community is to viral infections and how rapidly a virus outbreak in one part of the world can...

    • Bridging the gap between hopelessness and hope
      Bridging the gap between hopelessness and hope

      It was 50 years ago this month that President Lyndon Johnson traveled to a one-room school house in Stonewall, Texas, where he attended classes, to sign the most expansive piece of federal education legislation ever enacted — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA was a key part of the...

    • Taking the early presidential plunge
      Taking the early presidential plunge

      With Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio now in active competition for their parties' 2016 presidential nominations, it's guaranteed that voters will be subjected to one of the longest preludes to the actual election yet recorded.

    • Maryland agencies should bid their projects fairly
      Maryland agencies should bid their projects fairly

      This winter, Gov. Larry Hogan made a critical move toward improving how Maryland selects its contractors. Faced with several questionable contracts up for approval by the Board of Public Works, the governor joined with Comptroller Peter Franchot to reject proposals that seemed too expensive or...

    • Recipe for a good life (Note: It's hard and messy)
      Recipe for a good life (Note: It's hard and messy)

      It is a rare privilege, I think, to be privy to the thinking of people, great or small, while they are wrestling with their conscience.

    Comments
    Loading

    63°