Howard County Blog

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Focus Group Meeting

The Focus Group meeting on the Traffic Study was interesting today. The bottom line on the Traffic Study was that the proposed road system could not support the proposed development under the current standards. The surface level response the traffic consultant gave was that if the proposed plan exceeds the current standards then we should change the standards so that the plan is meets the new standards. It is a brilliant approach that I wish my sixth grade teachers would have bought had I gotten a low score on a test and suggested that by new standards that low score should earn me a passing grade. I doubt my teacher would have bought that argument then and I am greatly entertained to hear it proposed now. But that was not the most interesting part of the consultants take on the results of traffic study. Wait for it…wait for it… You will love this. The underlying argument of the traffic consultant was that changing the standards to accept more congested traffic was actually a good thing because the congestion would 1) make people less likely to drive and 2) create public pressure for mass transit.

I hope our elected officials and candidates are paying close attention to this second point. I am sure they are all smart enough to realize that if the plan is approved as is they are creating political conditions where voters day to day lives are frustrated enough that they are expected to create public pressure on their elected officials. As I have thought for a while any politician who doesn’t get out in front and try to fix the current plan before it is approved will be in for a world of hurt from frustrated voters who will hold whoever approves it responsible. I may be Cassandra on this one, but I really hope for our elected official’s sakes they are paying attention.

In the next post down you will see one of my potential solutions to the traffic situation. It would allow the community and politicians to get out in front of the issue by putting into the plan the release valve that would allow people to drive less and be happy about it because they can live their lives without the planned congestion. I think the developers will like the idea because it is the only solution that will enable them to do the scale of development they want, but it will also mean they will need to dedicate some of their profits to covering the added cost they will be creating for the community.

8 Comments:

Anonymous mary smith said...

The pending population growth is scary for many reasons.

An English friend sent me an electronic Christmas card last holiday. It was a snowy scene where a pub was located in the distance, through a foreground of animal fencing and hilly fields. People were walking through the snow toward the pub. I do not understand, and am searching for reasons, why why why we allow people to go to bars and get into cars. I do not understand why we plant houses so far away from grocery and hardware stores so that people seem to spend hours in the car and waiting in line. Am I the only person who doesn't like spending my life in the car and waiting in lines? Everyone else seems to accept it so willingly...

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Mary, the reason, like the reason for many other things, for why we let people travel in cars to and from bars, boils down to money, convenience, and apathy. Many countries do have safer laws for this, however. Sweden, for example, has its DUI BAC limit at .02 vs. about .08 here. And if one fails the test there, the penalties are far stiffer, including instant license revocation, big fines, and jail.

Having walked (out of choice, not necessity) occasionally to/from such establishments here in both beautiful and inclement weather, I can attest to the benefit of living where there are local establishments.

In well planned communities, spending hours in cars and/or lines shouldn't happen. Worse yet, as happens here all too often, is waiting in lines of cars waiting to park to go into a big box to wait in a line. No, you're not the only person who'd rather not accept it.

-------
Back to the topic -

"I think the developers will like the idea (your Metro concept)because it is the only solution that will enable them to do the scale of development they want..."

It's not the only solution. I think you can guess what solution my yet-to-be posted reply your other post today will be.

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's important to understand where traffic engineer Kulash is coming from.
His remarks are based on the premise that he is willing to accept very high
traffic densities, those that are graded as F (failing) or borderline
failing by the Highway Capacity Manual. These densities would require that drivers wait through 2 or more red lights at each intersection during rush hour. These densities are as high or higher than in the most congested areas of Montgomery County).

Kulash's underlying premise, as he stated in his Focus Group presentation, is that congested traffic conditions will have the desirable effect of forcing people to seek alternate routes and alternate modes of transportation, to live close to where they work, and to demand mass transit, thus creating a walkable Town Center. One of the
many papers describing Kulash's philosophy can be found at
http://www.civicdesigncenter.org/policy-Kulash.html .

Kulash has put his finger on a very serious problem in our country, our
dependence on cars. When we plan our communities, it is urgent that we give
consideration to helping people do without their vehicles.

But I have serious concerns about Kulash's proposed solution:

I'd like to see the evidence that his strategy works. I think history shows
that if traffic builds to a really awful level, a few people find other ways
of getting around - but most of the traffic congestion remains and never
again falls to less-than-awful levels. There are parts of Montgomery County
that are pretty consistently close to gridlock, and there's no huge
public outcry demanding Metro. People just keep resignedly getting in their cars.

Kulash is a well-respected traffic engineer, but his strategy is controversial among his own colleagues. It is a risky strategy
for us to implement without solid evidence that it is truly going to create
a walkable Downtown with mass transit. If we redevelop Downtown in
accordance with Kulash's strategy but it doesn't work, then boy will we be
left with a mess.

----

Another part of Kulash's strategy that troubles me is that he asserted, in
answer to a question of mine, that all this new traffic congestion would not
impair air quality. As we all know, our area is already highly challenged
with respect to air quality. Kulash said it is a "fallacy" that the kind of
congestion he is recommending would worsen air quality, that he has research
showing otherwise, and that his firm testifies to that 'fact' in court
during development litigation.

Kulash's assertion contradicts every piece of research I've read on the
subject of traffic and air quality. It contradicts what I've read additionally since hearing
Kulash, including a summary of several research studies on adverse health
impacts of dense development
(http://www.psrc.org/projects/vision/pubs/adversehealth.pdf). I would very
much like to see Kulash's references on this issue, and have in fact written
him to ask for them.


Evan, in your original post you said:

"I am sure [politicians] are smart enough to realize that if the plan is
approved as is, they are creating political conditions where voters' day to
day lives are frustrated enough that they are expected to create public
pressure on their elected officials."

To inject some humor here, if we use Kulash's reasoning, we could say that
politicians SHOULD deliberately create voter frustration, because it causes
people to get involved. So in actuality, those politicians who are
missing in action on this issue actually have our best interests at heart?

Rebecca J.

9:51 AM  
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