You can't build your way out of traffic congestion

Comment

January 26, 1997|By Brian Sullam

TRAFFIC CONGESTION is becoming the bane of the suburbs.

Virtually any development proposed in Anne Arundel County generates complaints that it will aggravate traffic.

Whether it is the Riverdale Baptist Church, with its planned 1,500-seat sanctuary, in Davidsonville or an athletic complex in Lake Shore, with two ice-skating rinks and an indoor soccer arena, the prospect of more automobile traffic elicits immediate and loud protests.

Suburbs and automobiles are inextricably linked. Except for a few communities that developed around old rail lines, most suburbs today have only one transportation option: cars.

Traveling anywhere -- work, school, errands, shopping, recreation and church -- requires driving a car.

Changing patterns

When suburbs were primarily bedroom communities, there was a predictable pattern to the traffic. In the morning as residents left for work and school, the roads got congested. The same happened each evening.

But as Anne Arundel followed the course of other suburbs and evolved into more than bedroom communities, patterns

changed.

Employment centers around Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the National Security Agency and the county's 40 business parks have become magnets for out-of-county commuters as well as local residents.

As many as 130,000 people a day -- the majority of whom drive -- may come into the county from elsewhere to work. Add in large regional malls such as Annapolis Mall in Parole and Marley Station in Glen Burnie that draw shoppers from as far away as the Eastern Shore and Baltimore City.

Then add the truck traffic delivering goods to businesses, stores and institutions that have arisen to serve the growing residential base, and the trucks hauling products from local industries, warehouses and distribution centers.

The sum of all this activity is traffic volumes that rival those found in more densely populated sections of Baltimore. Bumper-to-bumper traffic, an accepted feature of city living, is inexorably becoming a fact of life in the suburbs.

The problem is that suburbanites have yet to accept this new reality.

Building more roads or adding more lanes to existing ones offers temporary relief, at best. Much as matter rushes to fill a vacuum, cars fill newly built roads.

2,500 cars an hour

There are physical limits to moving cars on roads. Traffic engineers estimate that a single lane of limited access road can accommodate about 2,500 cars an hour. When huge numbers of people simultaneously travel to the same destination, congestion will result.

Witness what has happened now that Route 100 connects to Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Every evening, cars traveling eastbound on Route 100 east of I-97 gather to become a slow-wriggling snake of red lights.

Mountain Road's limitations

The proposed $7 million widening of Mountain Road in Pasadena is likely to yield similar results. The 27,000 vehicles that use the road each day is projected to increase to 35,000 in 20 years. With all its intersections and driveways, Mountain Road is unlikely to have a free-flowing movement of cars during peak periods, regardless of improvements.

Suburbanites have to accept the reality that as the communities they call home come to resemble cities in terms of population density and offer the same economic, commercial and recreational activities, automobile congestion will be inescapable.

No one living in the heart of Baltimore expects to zip from place to place without running into some traffic. Perhaps no should expect to fly down Ritchie Highway from Severna Park to Annapolis Mall at 55 mph, either. Nor should any one expect to drive from Brooklyn Park to Fort Meade during the high of rush hour without running into traffic jams.

Lack of alternatives

The city, of course, has some alternatives to the automobile. The subway, light rail and extensive bus routes can move people from place to place. All those options don't exist for suburbanites.

That's why it is important for light rail to extend to population and employment hubs such as Glen Burnie. At the same time, suburbanites can't hope to have amenities such as such as ice rinks or assisted living centers for the elderly if their fears about traffic congestion take precedence. These types of activities attract people and cars regardless of their location.

Rather than reject these projects outright, as some opponents suggest, the county needs to ensure they are located in places where they will cause the least disruption.

As the suburbs have evolved into agglomerations of retail, residential, recreational and religious buildings, traffic will have to become tolerated as a price of modern suburban living.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 1/26/97

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