From The Gazette, a DC-area local newspaper at Web Link
Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008
What planners don't tell us about Metro-centered development
Sam Raker | Commentary
County planners are proposing vast new developments along the Red Line at the Metro stations, particularly at Twinbrook, White Flint and Shady Grove. The new "town centers," based on the popular concept called "Transit Oriented Development," will bring thousands of new residential units, millions of square feet of offices, and hundreds of new shops and restaurants, at each of these locations. Even buildings as high as 500 feet.
Heavy emphasis at these new centers is focused on sidewalks, bike paths, and bus or rail stations. The concept and the success of this new way of living here is that the future residents and employees will be able to walk, bike and ride bus or train for all of their daily activities.
This concept to redirect the future of the development of the county will be debated by the County Council before long.
What the public needs to know and what the council must consider seriously is what the planners are not telling us. In their studies and presentations, they are NOT telling us about the significant loss of mobility and accessibility that would seriously impact everyone in the county as these plans are pursued.
You only have to read the report called "TPR-2," a study done by a task force in 2000-02, which was staffed by the very same planning department, with some of the very same people working on today's concept. One of the very significant efforts of that study was to look at mobility and accessibility to jobs based on where people live, and mobility and accessibility to places to live based on where people work.
This study of accessibility to jobs and homes looked in great detail at how many jobs could be reached in a certain commuting travel time, and compared this access by someone driving alone compared to using public transportation. A corresponding comparison was made to determine the number of places to live that could be reached in the same fixed commuting travel time if the worker drove alone compared to traveling home by public transportation.
This study was done for the current year (2000) and future years (2025 and 2050) for several assumed scenarios.
One scenario considered more emphasis on continuing the then-current development pattern of building suburban single-family homes, some mixed-use development, some roads and highways, and some new transit systems, including the currently planned Corridors City Transitway and Purple Line.
A second scenario considered planning very much like the current thinking at the Planning Department: essentially no new single-family homes, no new major roads, and heavy emphasis on public transportation.
Here are significant findings of that 2002 study that are totally missing in today's discussions and offerings from our planners:
ï On average, a person driving alone in 2000 had access to roughly five times the number of jobs if he drove for 45 minutes compared to walking-riding public transportation.
ï On average, a person driving alone in 2000 had access to roughly five times the number of places to live if he drove for 45 minutes compared to walking and/or taking public transportation.
ï In the future years of the study (2025 and 2050), these ratios changed very slightly. Yes, with emphasis on public transit and on crowding more people into jobs and residences near public transit, there were slight enhancements, but the access to homes and jobs was still overwhelmingly in the favor of those who drove alone over those who had to depend only on public transportation.
ï Moreover, the provisions for walking-biking-riding public transportation satisfied the needs of well less than 50 percent of new persons in these communities, and the lack of transportation infrastructure for the majority of new residents and employees in these communities would result in much greater congestion in their vicinity, for any scenario.
ï The majority of the 2000 task force members rejected the scenario that placed all its emphasis on transit-oriented development to the exclusion of balanced development and which relied solely on walking-biking-riding public transportation. The loss of mobility in the more crowded environment and the loss of access to jobs and places to live were too unbalanced.
ï The 2002 Planning Board, in its independent study, supported the conclusion of the majority of the task force members.
The public today has reason to be skeptical of the vision of the future promoted by today's planning department and the Planning Board. They are telling you only part of what the future will look like, and ignoring conclusions of recent studies. Keep in mind that this is the same planning department that has designed for us today's high level of congestion, about the very worst in the entire country.
Sam Raker of Bethesda was co-chair of the Transportation Policy Report Task Force (TPR-2) in Montgomery County (2000-02) and was a special assistant to the Maryland transportation secretary (2003-07).