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Baltimore County holds first community meeting on Towson Circulator pilot program, seeks more input

The prospect of a free bus circulator in downtown Towson has residents eager, but they’re also questioning its rollout, affordability and whether it will bog down roadways in the downtown core by adding more buses along routes already populated by Maryland Transit Authority and Towson University commuter buses.

Others are already asking Baltimore County to consider extending the circulator routes beyond the boundaries of downtown Towson to further west.

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Before plans for the three-year pilot project are solidified, county officials are looking for public input from residents and prospective riders.

While many details still have to be hashed out — the county has thus far released two proposed routes and signed off on a contract for 12 buses — county transportation staff gave some more detail about plans for the Towson Circulator on Tuesday afternoon during the county’s first community meeting on the pilot project, including proposed bus stops.

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As currently planned, circulator stops will coincide with existing MTA and Towson University stops and will mostly be shared, said D’Andrea Walker, acting director of the county Department of Transportation.

That will mitigate the cost of building new bus shelters and more sidewalks, she said, and will make transferring between buses easier for users.

In the county's first draft Towson Circulator route, the northbound and southbound routes would run to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital on North Charles Street, looping around University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center on York Road to the Towson Town Center and Goucher College. The westbound and eastbound routes in this concept would run from Towson Place on Goucher Boulevard past Towson Town Center, along Fairmount Avenue to Kenilworth Drive past the Trader Joe’s shopping center to the Kenilworth Apartments at Charles.
In the county's first draft Towson Circulator route, the northbound and southbound routes would run to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital on North Charles Street, looping around University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center on York Road to the Towson Town Center and Goucher College. The westbound and eastbound routes in this concept would run from Towson Place on Goucher Boulevard past Towson Town Center, along Fairmount Avenue to Kenilworth Drive past the Trader Joe’s shopping center to the Kenilworth Apartments at Charles. (Courtesy of Baltimore County / Baltimore Sun)

The proposed routes currently run up to Kenilworth Drive — where Walker said there was an expressed need for more transit services — Towson Town Center, Towson Place Shopping Center on Goucher Boulevard and Putty Hill Avenue, and down to St. Joseph Medical Center.

Thirteen stops are included in both draft routes, dubbed Concept A and Concept B.

Along the eastbound route in Concept A, the county proposes new stops at The Shops at Kenilworth on Kenilworth Drive, one at Southerly Road and Towson Gate Drive, and another at 111 West Road.

The westbound route would include new stops at East Pennsylvania and Virginia avenues, 32 West Road, The Shops at Kenilworth and The Exchange at 1122 Kenilworth Drive.

One of two route options for the Towson Circulator offers a northbound and southbound route. The northbound route runs from Sheppard Pratt up Osler Drive and along York Road to Goucher College, taking Fairmount Avenue to West Road and Kenilworth Drive. The southbound route would run from West Joppa Road to Towson Town Center, down York Road back to Sheppard Pratt.
One of two route options for the Towson Circulator offers a northbound and southbound route. The northbound route runs from Sheppard Pratt up Osler Drive and along York Road to Goucher College, taking Fairmount Avenue to West Road and Kenilworth Drive. The southbound route would run from West Joppa Road to Towson Town Center, down York Road back to Sheppard Pratt. (Courtesy of Baltimore County / Baltimore Sun)

For the second proposed route, Concept B, the northbound route would include new stops at The Shops at Kenilworth and The Exchange; one at Southerly Road and Towson Gate Drive; and another at 32 West Road.

The southbound route adds just one new stop at Campus View Drive and Friends Lane.

The final routes are expected to be released in December after community input has been collected, Walker said.

While attendees largely lauded the project, Scott McGovern, president of the Anneslie Community Association, a Towson neighborhood about 2 miles from the downtown core, said many residents toward the south of Towson won’t be able to take advantage of the routes, suggesting one that runs to Drumcastle Government Center in the Anneslie Shopping Center.

“I live in Anneslie and would [definitely] use the circulator to patronize restaurants in Towson or to reach the mall,” McGovern wrote during the virtual meeting to county staff. “Otherwise, I’m still driving and continuing to add to vehicular traffic, which I thought was a goal to reduce.”

The costs of a three-year pilot program, according to a feasibility study from Sabra & Associates Inc., are estimated to be between $9.57 million and $12.66 million for the first concept, and between $6.36 million and $8.19 million for the second.

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Walker said if the pilot is successful, the county would explore extending it to other areas.

The pilot program’s success, however, is predicated on ridership and on-time performance. Walker said between 200,000 and 250,000 riders must use the bus annually by the time the three-year pilot wraps up.

“The ridership is vitally important in order for us to have a measure of the success of the pilot program,” she said.

As far as on-time performance, Walker said the county is aiming to have the buses circulate every 15 to 20 minutes — more frequently than MTA or Towson University buses, Walker said.

“Once the ridership starts, [public] input still matters,” said Jasmine Clemons, senior policy manager in Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s Office of Government Reform and Strategic Initiatives. “We’ll still be listening to the riders and residents about things we can improve.”

Other questions still linger. Michele Yendall, who lives in East Towson, wondered where funding for the project would come from and if the buses will be timed so that they don’t overlap with MTA and Towson University buses at shared stops.

“There are usually MTA buses stacked on Fairmount [Avenue] in front of [Nordstrom’s] — will these buses continually run or will we see them waiting together?” she wrote to county staff, who did not address the question during the meeting.

Olszewski’s fiscal 2021 budget included $100,000 in planning money for a Towson Circulator, and the pilot project was granted $1,651,720 from the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.

A second virtual community meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Comments and questions can also be emailed to the county at TowsonCirculatorPilot@baltimorecountymd.gov.

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