The possible fate of Governor Warfield Parkway came up as an issue last spring when I ran for the Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative position. Although the issue never came up at the candidates forum, and I was never asked
by any residents I talked to during the campaign season, fliers were circulated throughout Wilde Lake stating “If Phil Kirsch [my opponent] is not elected to the Columbia Council, there goes Governor Warfield Parkway.” In addition, I was confronted by two former Howard County Council members (that own property in Wilde Lake) about the issue. I do not believe the fate of Governor Warfield Parkway was the deciding issue in the election, but I wanted you, the reader, to have full awareness of my involvement in the issue. It is my intent that the majority of this post is fact based and will provide greater understanding. However, as this is a blog, the concluding paragraphs will delve into opinion.
As the discussion of downtown Columbia development has evolved, the fate of the Governor Warfield Parkway median strip has been a persistent concern. Some have voiced concern that as development progresses, the median strip will be paved over to accommodate increased traffic.
The first concern that I heard about the Governor Warfield Parkway median strip was in January 2006. A Wilde Lake community activist attended a meeting regarding downtown development and asked if there were any plans to widen Governor Warfield Parkway. When told that there were no plans to widen the parkway, she came to the conclusion that the median strip was endangered because if the road was not widened, additional lanes must be placed in the median strip.
The issue of Governor Warfield Parkway came up again as part of the Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative Elections, as stated above.
In June 2006, the Glatting-Jackson (PDF file) traffic study was made public. Contained in the report was some interesting data with respect to Governor Warfield Parkway. The piece of data which caused the most stir was the assertion that the Governor Warfield Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection has no additional capacity for future development. What was not widely reported is on page 4 of the traffic study. It states that if the entire Charrette Master Plan were constructed, traffic flow at all the other intersections on Governor Warfield Parkway would be in compliance with the current Howard County traffic standards. That is not to say traffic at these intersections would remain constant, it would certainly increase; but the traffic levels experienced would not exceed the Howard County threshold of “level of service” (LOS) ‘D.’
A second piece of Governor Warfield Parkway data from the report is a bit more subtle. The Glatting-Jackson report is based on a traffic survey and report commissioned by General Growth Properties (GGP), and is located on their downtown Columbia website. This report, prepared by Wells & Associates (August 12, 2005), provides this interesting piece of information regarding Governor Warfield Parkway:
Little Patuxent Parkway and Governor Warfield Parkway in the Town Center are classified by Howard County as a constrained road facility due to their “unique urban setting”, in accordance with Howard County Council Resolution 21, dated January 6, 1992, adopted February 3, 1992. Capacity-enhancing improvements should be provided only to the extent that they will not negatively affect the physical or right-of-way characteristics, pedestrian movements, and other considerations not related to traffic movement that have caused these roadways to be designated as constrained facilities. No roadway improvements would, therefore, be appropriate at the intersections of Little Patuxent Parkway with Governor Warfield Parkway North and Broken Land Parkway.
The constraint placed on Governor Warfield Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway is mentioned no fewer than five times in the Wells & Associates report, and the above citation is listed as a conclusion to the report (page 25).
During the Kahler Hall County Executive/District 4 Candidates Forum, a question asked by the Harper’s Choice Village Board stated “Would you support designating Governor Warfield Parkway as a scenic road?” All candidates at the forum supported the idea.
Good Intentions, Bad Idea
So, does it make good sense to make Governor Warfield Parkway a scenic road? Regrettably, the answer is no. The intention is honorable, but the execution is problematic and the result could lead to the exact opposite of what is intended. Let’s jump into specifics.
The process for designating a scenic road can be found in the Howard County Code. (Title 16, Subtitle 14)
Governor Warfield Parkway does not meet the definition of a scenic road. Section 16.1402(a) of the Howard County Code lists the following criteria as the definition of a scenic road:
Sec. 16.1402. Characteristics of scenic roads.
(a) Definition. Scenic roads are public roads in the county which have one or more of the following characteristics:
- Pass through an area of outstanding natural environmental features providing views of scenic elements such as forests, steep topography, and stream or river valleys;
- Provide outstanding views of rural, agricultural landscapes including scenic elements such as panoramic or distant views, cropland, pastures, fields, streams, ponds, hedgerows, stone or wooden fences, farm buildings and farmsteads;
- Follow historic road alignments and provide views of historic resources; or
- A large proportion of the road provides frontage for properties that are in a historic district or subject to perpetual or long-term agricultural, environmental or historic easements.
Unless the median strip on Governor Warfield Parkway can meet the legal definition of ‘forest,’ the criteria cannot be applied. For reference, Merriam-Webster defines a forest as follows:
- a dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract [of land]
The median strip on Governor Warfield Parkway is certainly not dense, even with leaves on the trees and bushes, it is quite easy to see through the trees to the other side. Moreover, the area of land is (by my estimation) less than an acre in area.
The scenic road criteria are important because Howard County Code, Section 16.1403(b) states that in order for a road to be designated as a scenic road, it must meet one of the four criteria of the definition in Section 16.1402(a).
Sec. 16.1403. Scenic roads inventory.
(b) Road Must Meet Definition. The county council may include a road or road segment in the scenic roads inventory if it finds that the road has one or more of the characteristics listed in section 16.1402(a) above.
A scenic road designation is intended to protect the view from the road, not the road itself. As stated in Section 16.1404(c), “Scenic roads are subject to the requirements of the adequate public facilities ordinance (title 16, subtitle 11),” and “To limit alterations to an intersection involving a scenic road under the provisions of the adequate public facilities ordinance, such an intersection may be designated a “constrained road facility” [emphasis mine] by the county council in accordance with sections 16.1101(f)(4) and 16.1110(e) of this Code”
Therefore, to protect a road (as opposed to the scenic view) from further development, the Howard County Code states that the road should be designated a constrained road facility. In the case of Governor Warfield Parkway, it was designated “constrained” almost 15 years ago. Therefore, this 1992 resolution should be publicized and enforced.
I chose to highlight the Governor Warfield Parkway situation for one reason: Concerned residents that perform leaps in logic without the necessary research of the facts can cause a situation to get out of hand. We are now at a point where the Howard County Council may consider introducing legislation to designate a road “scenic” even though the road does not meet the definition of scenic. Moreover, had anyone (including myself) done the research, we would have all come to the conclusion that as a constrained road, Governor Warfield Parkway was not in danger. Instead, we have wasted time, energy, passion, and other resources fanning the flames of fiction, when we could have better applied these resources to doing good.