02 November 2007

My Remarks to the CA Board of Directors – 01NOV07

Last night the CA Board of Directors provided a venue for residents to comment on development in Downtown Columbia. Below are my prepared remarks. Keep in mind that at the podium, I did not strictly adhere to the prepared text, but I think I got my point across.

Good evening, my name if Bill Santos, a resident of Wilde Lake and a 30-year resident of Columbia and Howard County. I am here to say that I support the Howard County framework document, the traffic study, and the proposed county process.

One particular item I wish to address tonight is the issue of traffic. In the last two weeks, CA Board member Evan Coren has twice stated that the reduction of level of service for our downtown road system from level D to E will adversely impact the quality of life of Columbians and others that visit the downtown area. During the Saturday, October 20, 2007 meeting between the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning and the combined CA Board and Village Boards, Mr. Coren went as far to state that increased waits at traffic lights in downtown Columbia is counter to James Rouse’s vision. I stand here tonight in opposition to this line of thinking.

I believe downtown Columbia should not be primarily viewed through a windshield. Downtown, the lakefront, the mall, and Symphony woods should be experienced on two feet. Currently, downtown Columbia is configured for automobile dominance. As development occurs in downtown, I want to see the role of the automobile diminished and the downtown area become a walkable, pedestrian friendly environment. If this means that car travel in downtown becomes slower and less convenient, so be it.

As a group, Howard Countains are addicted to cars. Data from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council of Governments show that although Howard County is 1/3 the population of Baltimore City, we drive more miles per year than Baltimore. Moreover, Howard County has the highest annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per registered vehicle in the entire Baltimore region.

In a self deprecating analogy (I am a little bit north of 250 lbs), future traffic problems in Howard County is a bit like me going to the movies and asking for wider seat. I would imagine the manager would tell me that he would rather see me “push away from the table a little bit sooner” and “take a lap” before he would redesign the theatre. In the same way, our driving habits are horrible, and we need to change our behavior; not just change the roads.

It is my hope that in the future, downtown Columbia will be safe for pedestrians. When my 4-year old son is grown and has kids of his own, I want him to be able to take his kids downtown, and allow them to walk through downtown without fear of being run over in a mall parking lot.


Freemarket said...

Well put.

Reiki Red said...

You've just given me a completely different view, and I love it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with CA and with your readers. Yay!

Hineway said...

Nicely put Bill. Hopefully they will take your views to heart.

Hineway said...

Nicely put Bill. Hopefully they will take your views to heart.

wordbones said...

That was excellent testimony!
I particularly like the theatre manager analogy.
Well done sir.

John G. Boyle said...


No offense is meant, but your arguments didn't really do it for me.

The fact that we drive more than our neighbors isn't surprising: a big chunk of HoCo's population drives to another metro area each day. That means that we get the dubious "we're number one!" disctinction that you mentioned. But I think that using that info to fuel (anyone?) your assertion that we're addicted to cars is kind of a stretch. You want car-addiction? Think of Steve Martin's "L.A. Story." Unlike our neighbors in BaCo and MoCo, we don't have much in the way of alternatives.

As for the downtown issues, I love the idea of hiking up the priorities and profile of pedestrians, but I worry about how far folks are willing to discount the needs of drivers.

My non-expert opinion is that if you have an area with a lot of services that's a pain to get into, it'll have a chilling effect on the folks who'd otherwise want to come in. Personally, I don't want folks to look at going to downtown Columbia the same way that they view going to Tyson's.

As for the movie-theatre analogy, I'd like to flip it for a moment. Say you have this beautiful multiplex (which also shows art-house films!) but there's only one cashier issuing tickets. You're going to get a massive bottle-neck at all but the most off-peak times. Folks are going to get frustrated, and some will opt to go elsewhere after one or two bad experiences. Those that do tough it out will continue to go there, but they'll dread it each and every time.

Although I can buy your seat issue at some level, I think that the "point of entry" argument carries more weight in my head.

My two-cents...


P.S. For the record, I'd LOVE a much more pedestrian-friendly downtown. I just want to be able to GET there so I can then walk and enjoy it :)

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful commonsense way of writing about the future Towncenter.
I hope our grandchildren's grandchildren find a safe and beautiful environment so that they will love the place we are all working to create for them.