Baltimore County released two proposed routes and operating hours for the Towson Circulator pilot program, a free bus that will offer travel in and out of downtown Towson.
The county also submitted an order for a fleet of 12 buses that are accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are expected to be delivered in 2021, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said during a Wednesday news conference. The buses will hold up to 25 people with space for wheelchairs and bikes, and the county expects to start the three-year pilot program next fall.
The free bus system will help Towson residents “get to jobs, to campus and to the retail and restaurant offerings” downtown, Olszewski said.
The maps may be subject to slight changes, though, according to the county, depending on public comment during two online input meetings on the proposed routes on Nov. 10 and 12.
The two maps give bus loop options, which complement existing Maryland Transit Authority services, and are meant to better connect residents with major hubs, including the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and other area hospitals, Goucher College, Towson University and retail destinations.
In the first concept, the northbound and southbound routes would run to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital on North Charles Street, looping around the 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.
The second map shows just 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.
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.
Those numbers include both operating and initial capital costs. Annual operating costs for the first option could be between $2.7 million $3.65 million. For the second, the county could be paying between $1.8 million and $2.3 million.
County Council member David Marks, who began advocating for a Towson Circulator to connect hubs in the county seat like nearby universities and the Towson Town Center during his first campaign to represent Towson in 2010, thanked Olszewski for moving the project forward with funds allocated in his fiscal 2020 budget.
“We don’t have room for more highways in downtown Towson,” Marks said during the news conference. “Transit, along with more biking and pedestrian improvements, have to be part of the solution.”
Katie Pinheiro of the Greater Towson Committee, which released the initial study on the viability of a Towson Circulator in 2015, endorsed the first option with north and southbound and west and eastbound routes.
That approach “will benefit almost all the residents of Towson” with a wider reach, she said.
The bus system would help families — particularly people who are older or disabled — get to downtown Towson without paying for parking, Marks said.
Nancy Hafford, director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, hears “from many senior [citizens] that do not drive" or have a means of transportation who “would love to go to the mall or to the core or Towson to shop and dine,” she said.
She envisions “community members riding up together for a nice night on the town. In the spring, summer and fall, it will bring families to enjoy our Friday night concert.”
Hafford did not give support for either route option, but said she looks forward to hearing the community’s preferences during the public input meetings.
Olszewski’s fiscal 2020 budget included $100,000 in planning money for a Towson Circulator, and the project was granted $1,651,720 from a competitive U.S. Department of Transportation grant process in November of last year, supported by U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes.
The federal money helped pay for the purchase of buses and other costs related to the Circulator, along with county funding that also paid for a contract with Columbia-based engineering firm Sabra & Associates to determine the feasibility of the bus system.
Buses could operate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays, and between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturdays, with no Sunday service. Those hours may be adjusted after public input and the ongoing planning process.
The Towson Circulator is modeled after the Charm City Circulator in Baltimore. Sabra & Associates updated the 2015 study by the Greater Towson Committee, and its final report was announced Wednesday.
Ridership is currently estimated to be between 200,000 and 300,000 people annually, according to the updated study.
Although the Circulator concept has been floated since around 2007, Pinheiro said launching the pilot project now was “perfect timing,” coinciding with the end of lengthy construction projects like the Circle East development.
“Towson, we’ve been talking about its transformation for quite some time,” Pinheiro said. “I think this is really just the final piece of that.”
Calling the Towson Circulator “a first step,” Olszewski added the pilot program will be a model intended to be replicated elsewhere in the county.
The Nov. 10 public input meeting will be hosted via WebEx at 1 p.m. and at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12.