Columbia: still enslaved to the auto

September 01, 1993

For all the enlightened planning that went into the development of Columbia, discouraging the use of the automobile was not one of them. 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 from those in any suburb.

Two examples of this are evident 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 past 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 have installed 14 speed bumps along a 1.5-mile stretch. Similar speed bumps were put on Tamar Drive and Majors' Lane.

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 is teetering on the verge of collapse, and any improved rail links between the city and the other Baltimore or Washington suburbs seem extremely unlikely in the near future.

Columbia has long been touted as a symbol of good planning. Sadly, though, it is still as much a slave to the automobile as any other suburban community.

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