Greater Greater Washington

Prince George's moves toward complete and walkable streets

Can Prince George's County make its streets, safe to walk and bicycle? At a recent forum, county officials agreed that they face many challenges to do so, but this must be a top priority today.


Photo by Editor B on Flickr.

Prince George's CountyStat Manager Adam Ortiz said, "Streets are not just places for cars to get from point A to point B, they are public spaces, and as public spaces, should belong to us, not just cars."

Greg Slater, Director of Planning and Preliminary Engineering for the Maryland State Highway Administration, agreed. "The road cannot be the centerpiece of what we are doing. Community truly needs to be the centerpiece of what we are doing," he said. "This is a community; the roadway is a piece of the community."

The forum, on April 11, was sponsored by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Envision Prince George's Community Action Team for Transit-Oriented Development, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

The county's decisions about its streets affect the financial and physical health of its residents. A large portion of Prince George's residents outside the Beltway pay over 45% of their income for housing and transportation costs. These communities also have a Walk Score less than 50%, said Yolanda Takesian from Kittelson and Associates.


Blue areas show where housing plus transportation expenses exceed 45% of income. Image from Center for Neighborhood Technology. Click for interactive version.

RJ Eldridge, a planner with Toole design and councilmember in the Town of Cheverly, pointed out that about 67% of county adults are obese or overweight, as are 33% of children ages 2-11.

Ortiz said that County Executive Rushern L. Baker has committed $17 million to a "Green Streets" fund. This will pay for sustainable streets that accommodate all uses, including walking and biking.

The county is no stranger to environmentally sustainable streets. Ortiz said that the county's Department of Environmental Resources pioneered bioretention, where streets include planted areas to absorb stormwater, around 1990. Their bioretention on Route 202 was the first in the nation. Bioretention has now become an accepted practice in stormwater management.

Incorporating walking and bicycling with green streets is a natural next step. Andre Issayans, Deputy Director of the Prince George's Department of Public Works and Transportation, listed several projects that will be the next "complete and green streets," including Oxon Hill Road, Harriet Truman Drive, and Ager Road. Construction will start on Oxon Hill Road in late summer or early fall.

Council Member Eric Olson discussed a bill he and Councilmember Mel Franklin have proposed that would allow the Planning Board to require developers to construct adequate pedestrian and bicycle facilities on new development. The Board would have to determine the infrastructure necessary to access destinations within ½ mile such as a public school, parks, shopping center or transit.

Developing a network for walking and biking goes beyond just transportation planning, but must include land use decisions as well, Eldridge elaborated. He said that that development codes must complement capital improvements from transportation. Infrastructure investment should serve many purposes beyond just moving cars.

The Countywide Master Plan of Transportation already outlines a Complete Streets policy. Eldridge recommends the next step is for the county to develop a design manual that brings Complete Streets principles to actual projects.

While the County representatives agree with complete and green streets, the forum ended on a note of reality. Many of the county's best intentions depend on funding. Planned projects may stay on the list far longer than anyone would like.

Residents also called attention to the fact that a walkable community is not only about infrastructure but about personal safety as well. Coalition for Smarter Growth Policy Director Cheryl Cort questioned the need for a new 4-lane highway to Branch Avenue Metro station when the county should be focusing on building a walkable community.

Slater said the project will include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, but that doesn't satisfy many residents concerned that the county still overbuilds auto infrastructure. It's great to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists on roadways, but a high-speed highway with token sidewalks and bike lanes still doesn't create a livable place.

Prince George's has taken some significant steps, but county officials and supporters of better communities alike should continue to work together to address the challenges they face as a community.

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Christine Green is the policy manager for the Greater Washington region Safe Routes to School network. She has a master's degree in city and regional planning from Ohio State University and has worked on neighborhood and transportation issues since 2003. She walks and bikes from her home and office on Capitol Hill. Views and opinions are her own.  

Comments

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It seems tome like much of the new infrastructure popping up in Prince George's County is just what was described in the second-to-last paragraph. Adding sidewalks and bike lanes does not make an area walkable, unless that area is already inherently dense... like the Route 1 corridor.

But are there bike lanes in Beltsville or Laurel in the denser areas? Nope. Despite the fact that it runs parallel to TWO freeways, Route 1 is strip malls, curb cuts, and suicide lanes from the Beltway to Howard County.

Same story for Indian Head Highway in Forest Heights, Central Avenue in Capitol Heights, the entire city of Bladensburg, East-West Highway through Hyattsville, Kenilworth Avenue through Riverdale, and the disaster around Suitland Metro.

Fix the broken areas. Don't build greenfield highways and slap bike lanes on them so you can say "Well, no one uses the bike lanes."

by Dave Murphy on Apr 16, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

Small typo: SHA's Director of OPPE is Greg Slater; as opposed to Greg Slate.

by Bossi on Apr 16, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

The image that accompanies this post is actually of Carrollton, Louisiana , not New Carrollton, Maryland.

by Thomas on Apr 16, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

Good catch, Thomas. I was wondering about those palm trees.

by selxic on Apr 16, 2012 7:54 pm • linkreport

Hopefullly, this is a start. In addtion, Prince Georges County's Metro stations are a wasted opportunity.

by ceefer66 on Apr 17, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

@Dave Murphy. One must distinguish state highwayts from the county (or city) roads.

City of Laurel created a decent bike route in Laurel a block or two west of US-1 with slower speeds and a combination of bike lanes and R4-11 signs. Forestville has not made it a priority but the access road up the hill works OK. South of the Beltway, the main bike route will be Oxon Hill Road, which will be widened with a bike lane as far as Fort Foote, beyond which it has a shoulder.

The reality is: It is alot easier to build complete streets on a blank slate, than it is to reverse the legacy from the 1980s when many shoulders became travel lanes inside the beltway. The County has asked MD-450 and MD-704 to get a road diet but SHA has not gone along with that. In fact, SHA District 3 almost converted the shoulder on MD-193 near NASA to a third travel lane, but in the end the new SHA bike-ped coordinator pushed hard enough for a bike lane that they ended up restriping the shoulder we always had. The redevelopment offers the only significant opportunity to change things--and while SHA is willing to widen footprints for bike lanes and sidewalks, reducing speeds simply breaks their heart.

From my vantage point, a large part of the county will gradually become bikable. But only the old towns along the DC line plus the TOD's will become walkable, if and when they finally started. The school system, for example, is generally doing what it can to make neighborhoods less walkable through security measurements that often eliminate longstanding pedestrian thoroughfares.

by Jim T on Apr 17, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

I meant Forest Heights, not Forestville

by Jim T on Apr 17, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

@Jim T-If the old towns along the DC line revitalize, it will be in no thanks to the SHA, district 3 especially, which continues to be tone-deaf to resident's issues. They are interested only in moving as many cars as quickly as possible and either don't understand or don't care that "stroads" like Rt. 1 are neither efficient, in terms of quickly moving vehicles or able to capture/enhance the value of surrounding property. To my understanding, our city has made repeated attempts (over at least 10 years) to get SHA to change the geometry of the road to better accommodate various user modes. With 4 13ft travel lanes and two 11 ft parking lanes, the "stroad" is pure highway design running through a dense, vibrant small town. It provides exactly zero context that people on foot or bicycle should be expected/respected/yielded to. There is not a single parent from the south side of town that allows their children to walk the short distance to the elementary school b/c getting across RIA is perceived as being dangerous. I say "perceived", b/c apparently the only people who feel this way are the people who actually live here and have to deal with it every day. The people in charge who have the power to change it seem to think nothing is wrong.

by thump on Apr 17, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

@thump: I agree that District 3 seems to put greater weight on moving cars through the area than balancing residential and driver concerns. I can not tell whether that truly reflects the pro-car bias, or their "maintenance mentality," which leads them to generally say that they are just preserving the system as is, and significant changes require direction (and funding) from headquarters.

Are you in Mt. Ranier? I thought they had 11 ft lanes there. Certainly whenever you have a configuration in one direction of 13-13-11, we have the opportunity to instead have 11-11-4-3-8, where the 4-3 is 7-ft bike lane with 3 ft marked as the door zone.

Please send me (off line) whatever else you have. Not sure I can do anything immediately just about that case but my examples tend to always be Bowie-Lanham centric.

by Jim T on Apr 18, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

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