With the cities of Baltimore and Washington having become large hubs of residential and commercial activity well before the turn of the 20th century, most of the region’s infrastructure was connected to the nearby cities, including their avenues for transportation.
At that juncture, transportation consisted primarily of rail service and wagons, as the popularity of the automobile was just becoming prevalent in the mainstream. Since the road networks we know today didn’t exist, a visit to either city could represent an all-day excursion.
The migration of the region’s residents to the new suburbs began in the 1950s and continued for about a half-century, resulting in (among other things) suburban sprawl, the construction of shopping malls and schools that were built across hundreds of acres — while a like amount of development in either city might occupy several square blocks in a well-defined area.
The point is that it was, and still is, much more costly to provide the necessary infrastructure in suburbia than it might be in the cities, especially for public transportation, which requires ample ridership within a certain area to be cost-effective.
That brings us to the turn of the 21st century, wherein the suburbia that separated the two cities for many years had become dense enough, in population and workforce, to have grown larger than each city.
Unfortunately, today’s infrastructure needs, with regards to public transportation, are not being met; that’s mostly due to an underfunded system that funds roads before public transit, as well as the daunting size of the area that needs to be served. That’s an issue, because it’s hard enough maintaining the road system we have before planning new arteries.
For instance, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway hosts 70,000 cars a day more than it was designed to accommodate; our train routes between Baltimore and Washington share tracks with Amtrak and CSX; and the actual tracks are basically as they were in the ‘50s — but with literally hundreds of thousands more riders annually and no additional routes possible.
In addition, the accessibility of local bus service has digressed in the past year and services are limited from both cities into West County, which is home to thousands upon thousands of workers.
Hubs of live/work communities have been created and are easily identifiable, and connecting those hubs via bus should be easier than ever.
Public transit isn’t for everyone, given various work schedules and locations, but if better funded and designed (like each city’s urban system), its utilization would increase exponentially; this, in turn, would reduce the number of cars on roads, reduce roadway maintenance, improve air quality and lead to less driver stress. That’s better for production at work, as well as a happier home environment, which is a win-win for all involved.
The Time Is Now
Now is the time to turn the suburban sprawl into “Urbania” (my new, copyrighted term for dense development in a suburban area).
West County is a perfect example of the urbanization of suburbia, as it is home to Arundel Mills, which is surrounded by thousands of apartments, homes and hotel rooms; NSA and The National Business Park, which have provided the impetus to build thousands of new condo, apartment and townhouse units along Route 1; the Fort Meade campus and the U.S. CyberCommand, which, like Arundel Mills, also have inspired hundreds of new units, with thousands more being built and proposed within a mile of the Odenton MARC station.
These are the employment and residential hubs where people are residing, just 10 miles or less from their place of employment. If properly overseen, public transit, specifically buses, should significantly gain in ridership.
It doesn’t take conducting costly taxpayer studies to pinpoint the region’s needs. Just think about the efficient public transit systems in other cities and contemplate what it would be like to have similar luxuries in our own backyard.
So, when given the opportunity to offer public comment, vote or generally spread the word, support public transit. You will benefit, as will our community.
Stuart Title is vice president with A.J. Properties in Odenton. He can be contacted at 410-551-9116 and [email protected].