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Community fighting for better access


Elizabeth Brooks moved to the Park View at Snowden River apartments, a housing community for seniors, two years ago after selling her house. She kept active and drove her car wherever she needed.

It wasn't until the 68-year-old resident suffered a stroke, paralyzing one side of her body, that she discovered that access to the closest shopping area was limited. Brooks and some of the other residents in the 99-unit building of Snowden River Parkway are upset that there is no easy way to get to the Columbia Crossing shopping center a few hundred feet from their development.

"I could ride over if they just had a sidewalk," said Brooks, whose motorized wheelchair cannot safely maneuver a beaten path used by some residents to go to the large shopping center.

Still, trudging through the uneven terrain, littered with weeds, rocks and other debris, can be dangerous for anyone.

"This is a 15-minute walk to the shopping center, but it would be about 10 if we just had a sidewalk over here," said Priscilla Vereneau, 76. "You have to look down the entire time because you could walk on a rock and break your ankle."

County transportation planner Carl Balser said a sidewalk design for the area is in the county's pedestrian master plan, a countywide concept for improving and building pedestrian byways. The plan is in its design phase and will include community input, tentatively scheduled in September, before final approval by the county.

About six months ago, residents requested that Howard Transit route its Red Line bus service to the four-story apartment building, which is surrounded by an office park and a line of townhouses. The county agreed to pick up residents at 10:30 a.m. - ending at The Mall in Columbia - and return them at 2:30 p.m. But those stops are not enough, residents say

"We're old, and we don't want to sit around for four hours to catch a bus back to the building," said Barbara Zang, 80.

Some residents use other county transportation services such as Neighbor Ride to get around, but they feel the county can do more. Local officials say they understand the situation and are trying to make improvements, but cautioned that a response could take time.

Balser said the Red Line bus stops at Park View only two times a day because they have proved to be the periods when traffic is light in the area.

"When the request came from the residents at Park View, most of the folks wanted to go shopping, so what we were able to do is pick them up in the morning and bring them back in the midday when traffic is lighter and we have some flexibility in our time," he said. "That was the best we could do with our existing budget and our existing bus routes."

Balser added that another stop at Park View would be difficult because the bus has to deviate from its normal route to stop there. Adding more stops would increase the chances that the bus could not be able to meet up with transfer lines at the mall.

"We have to stick to a schedule for our bus system because all our buses converge at the mall," Balser said. "It's a system that brings all the routes together at the mall at the same time, and if one bus is late, then people could miss their connection."

Balser said that next month the bus system will go through a nine-month review conducted by a consultant to see where improvements can be made.

He added that there are requests throughout the county for pedestrian access, including from the county's increasing senior population.

"The county senior population is growing, and because there is so much demand for these senior centers to be built, it's once they are built that they are coming to us and asking for bus service and sidewalks and we have to be reactive after the fact," Balser said.

Jeannie Rhodes, regional manager for The Shelter Group, owners of the senior apartment complex, said they can't put in a sidewalk leading to the shopping center because the property is not owned by them. But, during an impromptu meeting with residents, she promised to help them in their pursuit by contacting local officials and county planners.

In the meantime, Brooks said she has to depend on others to get items from the shopping center.

"I would like to see a sidewalk because everything I need and I depend on has to come from somebody else," Brooks said. "I have a friend that gets things for me, but I want to feel independent and not depend on others."

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