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GGP's proposal for Columbia Town Center

In my email today, I got a letter from GGP saying that the general outline plan for Town Center is now released. Being that it's my day off, I figured that I would give it a good read and post some initial thoughts. Many of the references that I make to my previous writing can still be found at my personal site where I did a mental dump of some thoughts concerning TC.

Most of my mental activity of late has been focused around two items. Environment and parking. So let me take on the parking and transportation aspects today.

There was a particular paragraph which was concerning to me. Maybe it's just my own druthers, but I think it says a lot about where GGP's focus remains.

“Complete streets” will be designed for motorists,
transit passengers, bicyclists and pedestrians within
the Town Center grid. These streets will be safe,
comfortable and attractive to all users, including
those in wheelchairs. Existing travel speeds will be
reduced to those more compatible with the speeds
traveled by pedestrians and bicyclists.

I found it interesting that motorists came first in the list. Given my particular druthers, motorists would be the last in the list. If we are really trying to make a livable, urban-like community, why should we encourage cars on these streets? I do recognize the need to fit current patterns, but we do need to plan ahead for a world to come as best we can.

That being said, the proposed intersection changes hold promise for being able to handle the expected influx of cars, but I'm also certain that without significant mass transportation improvements that we will be facing significant traffic jams in the years to come.

The pedestrian access to TC would be a significant improvement to potentially improving the traffic situation, but here I do see some more dreamy idealism rather than a practical assessment of human behavior. For those of us who already live in TC and even in Wilde Lake, driving to the Mall and other locations is just too convenient. While I usually make an effort to walk to the Mall, it's just as easy to hop in the car and go. I would propose that we as a society are so used to "just getting in the car and go" that it would take some artificial stimulus to change that behavior patterns. With the transportation proposals that are currently in place, people will still drive to where they want to go, but this time, bitch about how hard it is to drive in the congestion, continue to drive through stop signs, not wait for pedestrians and the like. But they will continue to do it anyway because no one is encouraging them to get out of their cars and walk some. This is why I will continue to propose a pedestrian only area within LPP and GWP or at least driving within that area limited to actual residents.

With that being said, I do applaud GGP's proposal to make some sense out of the walkways. Over the past few months, I've been walking though TC and it does take some mental gymnastics to navigate through the current setup. Walking from Wilde Lake to the Lakefront is not intuitive treacherous in places. Especially with the aforementioned habit of people in the county to not stop at red lights and stop signs. Also, having grown up here and experienced first hand how the Mall security treats young people, I am hesitant to walk through the area unless I need to hit the BoA ATM. Even now that I'm much older and "part of the establishment", as my friend Stan told me, I still have that ingrained memory. Somehow, a lone person walking through the parking lot seems strange and I don't want to be hassled by the "Rent-A-Pigs" as we used to call them. For this, I salute Columbia 2.0's stunt a few months ago. The Mall area is not walkable.

The mass transit plan is also applause worthy. This particular statement stuck out to me.

In this regard, Columbia is not presently a strong
market for potential rapid transit extensions due
to its low density and dispersed, single-land uses.
However, the development recommended by this
Amendment and the anticipated private investment
in Town Center would provide a strong incentive to
the State and County to improve existing regional
bus transit service and to implement new services
due to the following:
■ Mixed uses (providing strong passenger demand
throughout the day in both directions)
■ Higher density (providing many more people –
jobs and residents - within walking distance)
■ Integrated local transit (Howard
Transit and Town Center Shuttle)
■ A relocated and enhanced transit hub

Bravo! Just what a few of us in the bloggoshpere have been talking about over the past week or so, but I am disappointed that this is given scant attention to detail that the new roadways were given. This leads me to assume that it's more of an afterthought rather than a serious proposal. When will we see a more serious proposal come to light? What planning will need to go in place today to make future improvements easier? When can we expect a better answer before we give the plan our support?

The parking proposals are also interesting, but we are looking at more traditional above ground approaches to parking. I still have not heard about why we can not go downwards and utilize that real estate. It makes sense to me in that we can also utilize the underground space for other, more industrial type uses as well as a space to house geothermal heat pumps and, possibly, geothermal generators. I also do not see any proposals on where parking would be located "to foster a 'park once' approach" as the GGP proposal states. Once again, that would be necessary for this proposal to gain my support.

Overall, the proposal has made significant gains, but I still find it lacking in many key aspects. I certainly look forward to the next version that addresses these concerns of mine.

More next time,
Chris Bachmann