Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

GGP Proposal and My Thoughts on One Aspect GGP's Presentation

GGP presented their proposal for a Zoning Regulation Amendment and a General Plan Amendment to allow them to redevelop Downtown Columbia. You can watch their presentation here.

Tomorrow at 7pm the County Council will hear economic analysis from the county's Economic Development Authority and the Columbia Association will present its plans for Symphony Woods. The Presentations will be at the Board of Education Building on Route 108 across from Cedar Lane.

Over the next couple weeks we will delve into the details in the proposal, but for know I wanted to reflect one interesting aspect of the presentation:

It was nice to see that GGP has finally recognized the extension of mass transit rail as an important part of the transit solutions. It is something I have been pushing for during the past four years, both in conversations with the county executive before and after he got elected, with GGP officials, and on this blog. GGP several times put up the proposed map of the extensions of the Baltimore Light Rail. They should also take note of the proposals to extend the DC Green Line to Ft. Meade, which is roughly the same distance north as Columbia from Greenbelt. As I repeatedly have pointed out the key to mass transit is ridership density and to maximize ridership density you want to maximize connection of where people are with where they want to go. The proposals that currently are being looked at to extend the Baltimore Light Rail and the DC Metro don't do that, but a system like this would:


The DC Metro took 15 years from the start of construction to the completion of the number of new stops that are in the above extension with roughly the same numbers of above and below ground stations.

If GGP and the County Elected officials want walkable communities, then creating a system like this with a significant portion of eastern Howard County's population within a 10 minute walk of a station is the way to go.

The previous traffic studies on Downtown Columbia show that our biggest traffic problems if they approve the development will be our local roads which will have intersections that are worse than traffic on Rockville Pike. Park and ride mass transit alone will not solve our traffic problems or allow us to manage growth pressures. A walk and ride system with some park and ride stations would relieve pressure on local roads and allow the county to absorb growth in a managed smart growth way.

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23 Comments:

Anonymous Chris Bachmann said...

Very interesting. I would largely agree with the overall plan for a metro system. However, I see a few issues to be considered.

First is the time it takes to get from one city to another. To take me from Greenbelt to Gallery Place takes about 30-40 minutes. With a green line taken all the way up to Vantage Point, where I live, would probably take an hour and a half, which is about the commute that I have now. Granted, that would take me out of my car, but it would still be a significant amount of time. What I would like to see is an express system for rapid movement that can work in parallel or separately from the above system. We can even call it a premium line with additional costs for the added convenience.

It's not merely an issue of timing, but of electricity as well. Coming from the ISP world and running data centers, I know how hard it can be to get even 10 megawatts of power per hour in addition to the current 8MWh feed, even when the building is next door to a substation. So the issue of grid power becomes an obstacle. This is why I envision taking many of these transit projects above ground as much as possible and installing power systems in conjunction with that. While a solar array may not take up the entire load of any system, it will at least offset enough of the power costs to make it feasible and even potentially economically viable over the long term.

The population centers that will inevitably grow up around them could also become a secondary power source for these lines. If we focus on some substantial savings with power consumption as well as generation, excess power could also be fed into this system without relying on power plants to the degree that the current DC metro system does.

We could also look into newer and safer technologies with such a system. Whereas the current DC metro system relies of the 3rd rail to power the system, we could move to a safer linear motion system which could also have the added benefit of powering some independent vehicles in an off peak time when trains would be no longer feasible. See this from wired for at least one idea.

I can also see the express line systems as a springboard to more state-wide systems such as Columbia to Annapolis. DC to Ocean City via Annapolis. Hagerstown to Baltimore via Frederick and Ellicott City. While those systems may not have a substantial ridership and may not be as frequent, the power production on those lines could provide the savings and potential cash flow to make them viable in the long run. While such systems would not be feasible in the near term, it would be prudent to plan accordingly to establish a right of way and maybe even solar out a rough cut of the line to generate some revenue in addition to the power.

Those are my first impressions so I'm going to need to ponder this a little more, but it does seem workable. I do see the inevitable arguments against this such as cost and the theory that it will "ship in criminals" to the area, but I don't think that that's a valid argument. It could have been one at one point, but with the mass experiment with public housing and Section 8 housing that went on in the 90s also suggest that any such argument would be moot as well. Furthermore, the argument against should also compare and contrast any potential impacts on theft to the economic and environmental impact of hundreds of thousands of HoCo residents to commute in automobiles.

I'll give up for tonight, but I would like to pursue this idea further.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

It is important to think of the system and times of transit in the context of what traffic will be by the time the system is built. My experience commuting to DC is that each year the traffic is getting much worse.

The system in this post is designed to maximize ridership density. It serves both local transit as well as commuting transit.

Interesting perspective from the ISP world :) I guess the next question is would energy usage be reduced by people having to drive to above ground station serviced by a solar powered track or walking to a below ground station that can be located closer to where people are? Also the social impact on people's quality of life and the property value of nearby properties also needs to be factored in.

I could see a line more like the express line you propose connecting Shady Grove to an extension of the Glenmont end of the DC Red Line near Olney to River Hill, Elkhorn, Fort Meade, the MARC stations, and on to Annapolis that would be designed to limit growth to already developed areas since it will be going through rural areas to connect developed areas. The big difference between the two lines is the level and design of the development of the areas each passes through.

Glad you agree it is workable and worth being pursued further.

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greenbelt to Gallery Place is about 10 miles. Taking 40 minutes to travel that distance equates to, yawn, 15 mph. I've commuted by bike faster than that.

Evan, would you care to list the price of building and operating a slow (average speed with intermediate stops causing an average paltry 22 mph speed) light rail system such as that?

You know the answer (it's not light rail) to getting people out of their cars and into a cleaner, faster, more convenient alternative. And, so does NASA.

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Blogger J said...

Sorry to see very little activity in more than a year. In case anyone in HoCo is still trolling, it would have been great to cover a topic like the disposition or impending sale of the historic Belmont property and how the County Executive seems to be doing everything he can to derail it.

Basically, HCC has found a buyer for the property after a year-long search and that buyer will put the property on the tax rolls for the first time in its history.

The County Executive has been sitting on his approval for months hoping the buyer will lose interest, worse, the property will cost the College roughly $500,000 a year to keep in mothballs while he prevaricates. $500,000 a year would go a long way to close some of the budget gaps and save jobs.

Best wishes on the blog!

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