Job drain to suburbs increasingly clogs roadways


January 11, 1993

When Michel Lettre looks at the numbers, he sees troubles ahead.

The figures he's been looking at lately show that the number of jobs in Baltimore's suburbs has grown by more than a third over the last 10 years while the number of jobs in the city has shrunk by 11 percent.

As assistant director of the Maryland Office of Planning, it's Mr. Lettre's job to ponder the implications of this trend. One of his concerns is that jobs are being created where there are not enough roads and transit systems, while they are disappearing in an area where such costly infrastructure is already in place but could be lost through neglect.

"We haven't paid all of this bill," says Mr. Lettre. "We may discover in the next 10 or 20 years that this was an expensive trend."

Transportation planners generally agree that the most efficient road systems are grids, with multiple east-west and north-south thoroughfares. That is how cities were generally designed -- like tic-tac-toe boards. But the emphasis in the suburbs has always been privacy, with houses on cul-de-sacs feeding into secondary roads that, in turn, feed into a major road or highway. These feeder systems create bottlenecks, since motorists often have few alternative routes between home and work.

In the Washington-Baltimore corridor, north-south routes such as Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway have tremendous capacity. But east-west roads are scarce and overloaded, so suburban communities depend too greatly on the Baltimore and Capital beltways, which jam up every weekday.

Public transit in the suburbs is also a problem. Most forms of mass transit connect the suburbs with the downtown. Those routes have the necessary population density to support systems like Metro, light rail, or bus lines.

Thus, the continuing trend of developing the suburban "edge" communities and neglecting the central city is fraught with peril, if only from the narrow view of transportation planning. "How attractive will these new edge cities be when the core becomes less attractive?" Mr. Lettre asks.

"We're going to be forced to find a balance between the two."

The 1990 U.S. Census analysis that came out last week did show that Baltimore remains the most popular destination for Baltimore area commuters, with 382,472, followed by Baltimore County with 304,169, and Anne Arundel County, 196,315.

For the first time, more than 1 million people work in the Baltimore area, a region that includes Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Queen Anne's counties as well as the city.

Since 1970, the number of people who work in Anne Arundel County has more than doubled; the number in Howard County has nearly quadrupled. Baltimore County added nearly 80,000 jobs in just the last decade.

For purposes of his analysis, Mr. Lettre described Washington and Baltimore counties as either old and new. Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties are the older, more established jurisdictions in the Baltimore area; Montgomery and Prince George's counties are their counterparts in the D.C. area.

Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne's counties are the "new" counties around Baltimore; Calvert, Charles, and Frederick are the Washington equivalents.

The share of residents from the older suburban jurisdictions commuting to the central cities declined to 29 percent in 1990 after remaining constant at 35 percent to 36 percent in 1970 and 1980, the planning office observes.

"Typical of this changing flow in the Baltimore area has been the share of residents of Baltimore County commuting to Baltimore City, which dropped from 43 percent in 1970 to 34 percent in 1990," the report states.

Twenty years ago, two out of three residents of "new" counties worked in their jurisdiction and one in five residents commuted to the older suburbs. In 1990, one in two worked in their county while one of three commuted to an older suburb.

'Car herders' set Baltimore apart

We wrap things up this week with a letter from Allan Pilger of Perry Hall, a West Coast transplant who came here after living in an Oregon town of 5,500 people and three traffic lights.

He has driven in Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines but has found Maryland drivers to be little more than "car herders" with a wanton disregard for stop signs, signal lights and other drivers.

He is tired of buses that pull into traffic without using a turn signal and would like to see more people take defensive driving courses.

"I thought I had seen everything until I arrived in Baltimore," Mr. Pilger writes.

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