Towson, Maryland is an urban-adjacent town just north of Baltimore City, with a mix of young families, retirees, and young professionals and a growing population of college students. As of 2014, Towson University’s undergraduate population totaled over 18,000 students, with on-campus housing available for fewer than 5,000 students. This means that up to 13,000 students are contributing to the traffic on Towson’s roads during the school year. As of 2012, Census data estimates that nearly 60% of Towson’s household population is college-enrolled, compared to 33% in other Baltimore suburbs. This presents challenges for maintaining a steady flow of traffic, but Towson’s students have free access to multiple bus and shuttle routes connecting apartment complexes, other colleges, and popular spots in the city.
From my own observation, it appears that most students opt to drive to class regardless of these services. Similar transportation alternatives are not available to the rest of Towson’s residents and full-time commuters who may truly benefit from them. North-to-south travel is possible, somewhat slowly, via the local Route 11 bus or light rail, but few options take you in other directions or routes in and around Towson. Paul Hartman of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations points out that Towson is frequently designated a top ten place for young professionals and for retirees. Young professionals tend to move from the city to take advantage of the county’s school system. Councilman David Marks noted Towson’s senior population is concentrated in the downtown area, but that mobility between their high-rise residencies and Towson’s health care, entertainment, dining, and other urban amenities is limited.
In March, I asked the question “why is there no light rail stop in Towson?” Many would-be Towson residents wonder the same thing when considering where to live, especially those who need access to the major job centers along the Hunt Valley–BWI light rail line. Other transportation projects, including a bike beltway, streetscape plan, and circulator bus, have been proposed and then neglected or delayed in Towson.
Towson’s bike beltway officially opened in early September, two years after the first grant award and three months after its scheduled opening. Extensions to the existing beltway are planned throughout the year, though I have witnessed cyclists continuing to ride on the sidewalk despite the new bike lanes. As Hartman points out, both drivers and cyclists will face a bit of a learning curve adjusting to new striping and signage on the roads.
Towson appears to be prioritizing walkability and cohesive design as it eagerly awaits several planned developments. Unfortunately, the circulator bus does not yet exist, so getting to and enjoying a walkable downtown will become increasingly difficult as major developments are completed. Councilman Marks formed a transportation committee in July, hoping to make a Towson circulator bus a reality before new developments worsen local traffic woes. When asked how development will impact roads, the county’s planning director Andrea Van Arsdale stated “we’ll manage what we have better.” So far, this has meant increased police presence, better lighting, and improved streetscape design.
My new question for Towson is, will the appropriate transportation projects be completed in time to better serve all residents and visitors? How have demographic trends impacted transportation choices in your community?
Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.