Columbia: Enslaved to the Auto HOWARD COUNTY

September 01, 1993

For all the enlightened planning that went into the development of Columbia, discouraging the use of the automobile was not part of it. Today, urban planners look for ways to attract people to public transportation. But 26 years ago, when Columbia was started, the car was king. The city's lone concession to pedestrians was in putting many residences on cul-de-sacs to limit through traffic.

But the need for major access roads has been great, particularly as Columbia has grown. And the problems and solutions associated with such roads are no different than in any suburb. Two examples of this are evident in the situations along Martin Road and Shaker Drive.

At the intersection of Martin and Owen Brown roads, Howard County engineers have decided to place flashing signals in an effort to avoid the types of accidents that have occurred there in recent months.

Martin Road became a major artery linking Route 29 and Broken Land Parkway about 10 months ago. But the intersection with Owen Brown proved hazardous. While stop signs were installed on Owen Brown Road, traffic on Martin Road was allowed to pass through freely. Motorists unaware of the traffic changes apparently ran the stop signs, causing at least three accidents within the last two months.

Meanwhile, motorists have used Shaker Drive as a shortcut between U.S. 29 and Route 32, often exceeding the speed limit. Residents of Shaker Drive have complained bitterly, and county officials responded with a plan to install 14 speed bumps along a 1.5-mile stretch. Tamar Drive and Majors' Lane were deemed to warrant similar treatment.

They are, however, Band-aid approaches. They cover the wounds of our love-hate relationship with the automobile. While county officials create campaigns to lure people out of their cars and onto commuter buses, they simultaneously push huge projects such as the work on U.S. 29 to facilitate travel on that road. Meanwhile, Columbia's meager bus system seems to be teetering toward collapse, and any improved rail links between the city and the other Baltimore or Washington suburbs seem extremely unlikely. The city is touted as a symbol of good planning, but it is still slave to the automobile like any other suburban community.

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