Baltimore City’s northern neighbor Towson, Maryland is lacking in the area of alternative transportation for the thousands of commuters and residents who must pass through the town every day. Residents can, however, rejoice in the number of plans currently being pushed forward to improve transportation for the area, including more sustainable projects such as a:
- Bike beltway and added bike racks around Towson,
- Walkability improvements and a Complete Streets project, and
- A local circulator bus.
These upcoming projects may be a great improvement for residents, but what about visitors trying to patronize Towson businesses, visit friends and family, or attend a local festival? One Baltimore City resident told me that when she moved in she was told that the nearest shopping mall was Towson Town Center. After living in the area for a while, she realized that while the mall in Towson was closer in terms of miles, the drive from the city to the outlets in Anne Arundel proved faster and easier. This anecdotal evidence and commuter data show that much of the automobile traffic on Towson’s roads comes from residents and visitors lacking alternative modes for getting into town. Thus, congestion ensues for anyone willing to make the journey to Towson.
A staggering 95% of people working in Towson are commuting from other places, and roughly 86% of Towson residents commute to jobs outside of Towson. The resulting traffic is compounded by the number of people just passing through Towson as a bridge between homes and offices in other areas. With so much commuting taking place without effective public transit or ridesharing programs, the minority of Towson residents living and working in town put up with a lot of traffic for a relatively short commute, at least in terms of distance. Towson has effectively become a bottleneck between the city and the county’s northern suburbs.
The Hunt Valley–BWI line replaced former railroad tracks in the early 90s and provides access to sporting events, conventions, arts and cultural attractions, and niche retail and dining areas. According to an old Baltimore Sun article, two stations were once proposed in Towson’s Ruxton and Riderwood neighborhoods, only to be immediately opposed over concerns of noise, crime, and other potential disturbances. The only other time light rail has been mentioned again in Towson was when the idea of a light rail spur along the York Road corridor was proposed. If you are unfamiliar with York Road or Downtown Towson, I can tell you that there is little to no room for a light rail track. If you’re unfamiliar with West Towson, it’s not a walkable, commercial corridor like the other areas hosting light rail stations (see map below).
Paul Hartman of The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations provided insight on the matter, stating a downtown spur would be costly - “not just planning, design, and construction, but purchasing the right-of-way.” Prohibitive costs have stopped a number of transportation projects everywhere, and it seems Towson is promoting bike-friendly infrastructure and walkability improvements as a more cost effective and green planning alternative.
Considering the rapid development of the area, will these cost effective projects prove effective in reducing congestion in this busy college town?
Credits: Images and maps by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.