Towson blueprint release due

Consultant sought to help make county seat `seductively walkable'

February 01, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

When they created a plan for Towson's future, experts and community leaders didn't just recommend making the Baltimore County seat's sidewalks and crosswalks safer and more inviting to pedestrians.

Towson should become "seductively walkable," they said. As county officials release the final version of the blueprint for Towson's future tonight, they are seeking a consultant to help them try to do just that.

The consultant would recommend changes designed to encourage shoppers to patronize local businesses and restaurants, to bring Towson University and Goucher college students into town and to entice workers to linger along scenic, tree-lined walkways. The pedestrian improvements are seen as key to the overall revamping of the area.

"If we have people on the street shopping and dining, it makes for the basis for a live-work-and-play environment, which, in the long term, is what we're going for in Towson," said Cynthia W. Bledsoe, executive director of the Greater Towson Committee, a business organization.

The $95,000 expense of hiring the pedestrian consultant is to be considered by the County Council during its Feb. 13 work session, with a vote expected Feb. 20.

As part of the recommendations - created with assistance from a group of out-of-town architects and engineers called an urban design assistance team - a traffic engineering firm has been studying commuter routes and possible changes to roads in Towson's core.

The proposed improvements for pedestrians would be incorporated into the overall traffic study, said Mary L. Harvey, head of the county's Office of Community Conservation.

The consultant would also help create a "charrette" - a way to incorporate public opinion - to help decide what recommendations should be followed.

"We want a unified vision," Harvey said.

She said it was a good idea to address traffic and pedestrian issues first, as a way of getting Towson's plan rolling.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. invited the team of architects and engineers to help draw a new plan for Towson, using ideas from residents and business leaders. Out-of-town teams have helped create plans for Randallstown, Dundalk and Essex-Middle River.

The plan for Towson was created during a series of meetings in June, with the experts working alongside county officials, residents and merchants in a "studio" inside Towson Commons.

Among the suggestions: York Road in the heart of Towson would be narrowed to a single lane in each direction with on-street parking. Traffic lights would be replaced by four-way stop signs. A cable car, or maybe a trolley, would loop through the district.

The parking lot near Trader Joe's below Joppa Road might be used on weekends as a "canyon" for festivals. And in addition to the networks of sidewalks and crosswalks, beautified alleys and new bike lanes, the team recommended forming a zoning district that would set standards for building heights and facades.

Not every idea will become a priority, or even become a reality, officials said.

Having the plan in book form is an important step, said Bledsoe. "It makes it visual and real - something people can reference," she said.

The release of "Tomorrow's Towson," the 44-page plan created by the planning team, is scheduled for 6 p.m. today. The booklet is free.

The event, open to the public, will be held at the former Borders bookstore in Towson Commons, 415 York Road in Towson. If winter weather develops, residents may call 410-887-2483 to make sure the event is still being held.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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