The unkindest curb cuts 'Smart growth': Granting too much direct access to highways exacerbates commercial sprawl.

July 28, 1998

GOV. PARRIS N. Glendening's "smart growth" initiative calls for more than development in the right places. It encourages the right kind of development, including commercial growth that is attractively and safely integrated into downtown areas. This cannot be done without changing laws and policies that have for decades encouraged sprawling, ugly, unsafe corridors.

Unfortunately, state laws governing the right of property owners to access state roads are at odds with "smart growth." While the governor puts millions into anti-sprawl programs such as neighborhood revitalization, the State Highway Administration contradicts this goal by granting property owners direct access onto state roads.

As anyone can attest who has driven Route 140 in Baltimore and Carroll counties, or Ritchie Highway in Anne Arundel County, or U.S. 40 stretching west and east of the city, a proliferation of curb cuts creates an aesthetic nightmare, worsens congestion, creates a hazard for motorists, and makes pedestrian use nearly impossible. Until state and local officials stop accepting the status quo regarding access to state roads, sprawl-type development will continue.

In Reisterstown, where Main Street is Route 140, a $1.7 million streetscape project has been compromised by Shell Oil's insistence on direct access, though customers could use another access a few feet away. Baltimore County planners didn't like Shell's plan, but approved it anyway. It's easy for localities to pass blame to the SHA, and, so far, suburban elected officials have shown no interest in pushing for a change in state law.

Baltimore County Del. Robert L. Frank has. He is considering legislation that would ensure landowners access to state roads, but not necessarily direct access.

In commercial areas, officials must be able to consider safety and the integrity of the community. Otherwise, some of the most worthy goals of "smart growth" will never be more than words on paper.

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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