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.