As downtown Towson grows, its transportation system needs to grow along with it, not just with a proposed circulator bus, but by making the area more bicycle-friendly and walkable, a panel of experts told a group of about 40 people Monday night. Here, cyclists take part in Bike to Work Day in Towson in Mary 2013.
As downtown Towson grows, its transportation system needs to grow along with it, not just with a proposed circulator bus, but by making the area more bicycle-friendly and walkable, a panel of experts told a group of about 40 people Monday night. Here, cyclists take part in Bike to Work Day in Towson in Mary 2013. (File photo)

As downtown Towson grows, its transportation system needs to grow too, not just with a proposed circulator bus, but by making the area more walkable, bicycle-friendly and parking-friendly, a panel of experts told 40 people at a meeting Monday.

The town hall-style meeting was hosted by the Greater Towson Committee, which promotes growth and development in the downtown core.

Advertisement

Towson, like all urban areas, needs "complete streets," said landscape architect Melissa Miklus, an associate at Baltimore-based Alta Planning + Design, which helps cities create biking and walking opportunities. She cited the Complete Streets Coalition, a national movement that calls on transportation agencies to promote equal access and safety for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.

In a car-dominated society, "they're really incomplete streets," Miklus said. She said transportation should re-imagine and reconfigure roads, partly by building in "cycle tracks" that serve as larger bike lanes, and by creating "parklets" (a small segment of a right-of-way that has been converted from a parking space to a public/green space), and sidewalk seating with planters.

But she warned, "Every street can't be everything for everybody."

The other panelists were Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, which promotes development in Baltimore, and Karina Ricks, senior transportation planner for Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Services, an international firm that specializes in everything from parking management to transit planning, according to its website.

The Downtown Partnership co-sponsors the Charm City Circulator, a bus service with four downtown routes that is free to the public and paid for by parking taxes on garages. It serves about four million riders a year, but is running at a deficit of $11.6 million.

The service is in high demand and "doing what we want it to do," said Fowler, who serves on a committee that is looking into starting a circulator in downtown Towson. He said one circulator bus can take 30 to 60 cars off the road.

The circulator buses should continue to be free, because "discretionary" riders won't pay a fee, "no matter how small," Fowler said. When the City Council earlier this year considered charging a fee of $1, opposition was fierce, he said.

Ricks, former director of the Washington Department of Transportation, spoke of the need for better management of on-street parking, including more "smart meters" that accept credit cards, to increase convenience and predictability for motorists — and to increase retail sales at the stores where they shop.

She said there is too much emphasis on making people feed parking meters and on turnover of parking spaces as "a cash cow" for municipalities.

"Let customers stay for ice cream," she said. "Why are you chasing your customers away?"

But Ricks agreed that transportation systems should focus on alternatives to driving. She cited statistics and surveys suggesting that 83 percent of trips of 5 miles or less are made by car, that 15 to 40 percent of traffic on community streets are cars looking for parking, and that 69 percent of motorists say they drive because they feel they have to. Building driving-oriented cities is a factor in high obesity and diabetes rates, she said.

"What kind of world are we building?" she asked.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement