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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stupid Growth: Office Parks my Metro in Prince George's

Maryland's Housing and Community Development headquarters will be the first Maryland state agency to move into Prince George's County. In accordance with Governor O'Malley's transit-oriented development initiative, the offices will be relocated from practically-rural Crownsville in Anne Arundel County to a site adjacent to one of the Metro or MARC stations identified for O'Malley's plan.

The four stations in Prince George's County identified by O'Malley's plan are Laurel MARC, New Carrollton, Naylor Road, and Branch Avenue. This can be an excellent opportunity to implement a plan that could become a turning point for the County's future growth. My fear, however, is that it won't be.

Prince George's County has a long history of squandering valuable property along transit stations. College Park Station is the best example of that. Surrounding the transit hub, which has Metro, MARC, and several bus connections is an office park fit for suburban Atlanta. Its poor pedestrian approaches and wasteful spread-out design offer maximum parking without any continuity of place among the buildings. Despite being very convenient to transit, the design and layout of the area scream "drive here!"

Even worse in my opinion is Suitland. Suitland is a destitute area with high crime and a weak economy. When the Suitland Federal Center was built adjacent to the Metro, it came out as a sprawling officeplex with absolutely no orientation to the surrounding area. But don't worry, there is ample parking. Worse yet, the fenced monstrosity acts as a barrier between the town and the Metro station.

I hope this agency goes to Naylor Road station, where O'Malley made the announcement. And I sincerely hope they get it right. But if we get more Suitland and College Park, thanks but no thanks. Keep your office buildings in rural Anne Arundel County where they won't do any more damage to Prince George's County's transit access. Putting office buildings next to a Metro station is not all it takes to make good transit-oriented development.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A MARC solution for Fort Meade

I worked on Fort Meade for the better part of a decade. It made me hate commuting more than any Beltway traffic ever did. It is virtually impossible to get there without a car, and the parking is years of expansion beyond critical mass. The disastrous runoff and increasing traffic are wreaking havoc on the Patuxent River estuaries, and it is only going to get worse as Fort Meade receives almost 6,000 new BRAC jobs.

I have in the past called for Metro service to the base to service the 50,000 military, DoD, and contractors that work on the base and the adjacent facilities. And though that sure would be a nice connection, I am finally coming around to the reality that it would be more infrastructure investment that it would ever worth. The fact remains, however, that the base and surrounding facilities are not served by the MARC lines that run by either side of it. What more an obvious solution than to put a connection between the two of them?

View MARC Meade Line in a larger map

The idea would be to have trains leave Union Station and follow the Camden Line to Savage, where half of the trains would continue along the current Camden Line, and half of them would continue along a spur going eastward along MD 32.  The spur would connect to the Penn Line at Odenton and continue to Baltimore and beyond. Stops along the way could include National Business Park, NSA, and the Fort Meade main gate. New tracks would be about six and a half miles long. Portions could easily be constructed along defunct railroad rights-of-way.

The Camden Line, which runs along Route 1 all the way from DC to Baltimore, has several sites such as : Laurel, Muirkirk, and Riverdale Park are struggling to implement transit oriented development by their respective MARC stations. The Camden Line, however, has by far the lowest level of service on the system, and that will still be the case when MARC's 2035 plan is complete. a Meade connection could be used to add more service to the southern half of the Camden Line, which could help encourage those TOD projects.

Best of all, this connection would bring a viable transit alternative to a growing facility with worsening traffic and catastrophic parking problems. It would bring regular, high capacity transit at a minimal infrastructure investment.

Against the Generistocracy

Fifteen years ago, I was a nonconformist in high school. Like my older brother before me, I sported wild hair and listened to the latest parent-unfriendly rock music. And I loved visiting Phantasmagoria, a (literally) underground record store on Grandview Avenue in Wheaton.
It was an easy walk from my high school, a since-demolished private Catholic school that has, in its relocation, implied that they want to keep lower middle class students like me from ever attending there again. But in 1995, that school was a quarter mile from the Wheaton Metro station where I caught the C2 or C4 home, and occasionally I would stop in at Phantasmagoria or one of the other quirky little off-the-beaten-path shops in Wheaton along the way.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Links and Open Thread

I have been very busy with work and selling my house lately, and there haven't been many posts in recent months. I have a couple posts in the works that will be posted soon. In the mean time, consider this an open thread to talk about somewhere in DC that needs a little re-imagining. Off the top of my head, here's a few:

Walter Reed Army Medical Center
RFK/East End
Southern Avenue Metro
Downtown Bowie
Bailey's Crossroads
Glover Park
Fort Davis

Buffalo faces mounting issues as suburbs spread out and city spreads thin.
Rethink College Park talks about a Streetsblog video on autocentricity
Yonah Freemark looks at what DC Transit will be in just a few short years.
And check out a couple of new transit ideas that were posted on GGW.