2018 Transportation Overview of Columbia
This article will be published on the August 2018 Issue of The Village of River Hill Village Association.
There has been a substantial effort to create a transportation network in Columbia to help our residents move around. In this Council Corner, I am outlining some efforts and policies which are shaping the implementation and discussion of our transportation status and outlook.
Stakeholders and Process
The County Executive (CE) takes charge of transportation implementation. Under CE’s leadership, with the help from the County Council, there are two county departments working on transportation matters: 1) Office of Transportation has the lead in planning, oversight, and bicycle, pedestrian, and transportation demand management; 2) Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Engineering handles capital projects and the Bureau of Highways focuses on traffic engineering and highway maintenance.
There are a variety advisory and advocacy groups which help formulate transportation policy and implementation: Bicycle Advisory Group, Transit & Pedestrian Advisory Group and Multimodal Transportation board, RTA Commission and Riders Advisory Council. Stakeholder groups include Bicycle Advocates of Howard County, Association of Community Services, Transportation Advocates of Howard County, as well as resident focused groups such as the village community associations.
PlanHoward 2030 (Council Bill 26-2012)
Transportation policy is guided by PlanHoward 2030. This document (Council Bill 26-2012) was passed in 2012 by the County Council as the general plan for Howard County for land use and land conservation and multiyear development planning for transportation, public facilities, water, sewerage, parkland, housing, human services and environmental protection; and generally relating to planning, zoning and land use. Specifically, the following three policies focus on transportation:
- POLICY 7.3 – Prioritize and pursue cost-effective, long-term capacity improvements to the road and highway network to support future growth in accordance with place type designations.
- POLICY 7.4 – Enhance the accessibility and quality of existing and future transit services.
- POLICY 7.6 – Reduce highway congestion, energy consumption, and greenhouse gases by increasing the number of residents using alternate modes of transportation
These policies provide the guidance for transportation decisions. The county government implements many projects with the help from the advisory groups. The state and federal government are also involved if the road is a state or federal road. I recommend everyone take some time to read PlanHoward 2030. This document will provide insight on why certain projects move forward separately from the changes made by developers.
Columbia Wide Effort
In Columbia, the focus is on four transportation modes: roads, transit, bicycle and pedestrian. There will be two main nodes: downtown Columbia and Gateway.
Howard County’s transportation planning unavoidably should think about the future: aging population, more population, self-parking cars, and autonomous and semi-autonomous cars. One recent exciting development is the concept of self-parking cars. They have already come to Columbia. A local company, STEER, is working with Merriweather District and Howard Hughes Corporation. A driver can exit a car at a destination and the car parks itself in a designated parking lot.
The county has a bus rapid transit plan to connect Route 29 in Howard County (six stops) from Route 40, to Montgomery County (2 stations). Route 29 has seen more traffic over the years and many of our county residents use it for daily commutes. The County government hopes the implementation of bus rapid transit will mitigate the traffic congestion problems on Route 29. In my own opinion a dedicated direct lane on Route 29 during rush hour will help mitigate the traffic problems too.
BikeHoward outlines the County’s vision to become a bicycle-friendly place where residents and visitors can bike as a means of daily transportation and healthy recreation. Right now, there is a 3-year implementation plan and the County is investing $8 million over 3 years and will provide a 48-mile connected network. This investment includes 14 miles of bike lanes, 20 miles of shared use pathway, and 14 miles of shared roadway improvements. There is a bike rental program called Howard County Bikeshare. You can join the program and rent bikes at several designated locations using a smart phone app.
There has been strong commitment from the county government and Columbia Association to provide a connected pedestrian network that safely and conveniently accommodates people of all ages and abilities. Recently Columbia Association established a trail steward program on our pathways in high-traffic areas. The stewards will educate and engage with pedestrians and encourage more people to use our pathways. With more people using the pathways, we hope to create a positive experience so that more people feel safer to use our pathways.
I believe these transportation improvements will create a better quality of life for the county’s residents.
Chao Wu, Ph.D.
River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors
Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.
The above photo is the Bike Share Program in front of the County Government.