Greater Greater Washington

"Transit-oriented" development plans are meaningless without transit

In Clarksburg's Master Plan, the Montgomery County town is a transit-oriented community. But in reality, Clarksburg is a transit-lacking community, because the county government has not supported transit.


Photo of Clarksburg by Dan Reed! on Flickr.

Construction has begun in Cabin Branch, Clarksburg's first development west of I-270. Cabin Branch is 535 acres approved for 1,886 houses, 500 senior units, and 2.4 million square feet of commercial space. And Cabin Branch is transit-oriented development.

Or, rather, "transit-oriented" development.

The transit that Cabin Branch is oriented around is the terminal station of the Corridor Cities Transitway at Comsat in Clarksburg, a planning consultant told the Boyds Civic Association last week. The station is located a mile or two east of Cabin Branch, on the other side of I-270. Residents will travel to this station via Newcut Road Extended, a 4-lane divided arterial highway with a separate bike path and an interchange with I-270.

However, the new residents of Cabin Branch may find it hard to actually use this transit, because there is no Corridor Cities Transitway station at Comsat. In fact, there is no Corridor Cities Transitway at all. And the Newcut Road crossing of I-270 does not exist either.

Nonetheless, despite the absence of transit, it is legitimate to refer to Cabin Branch as transit-oriented development. Why? Because the Clarksburg Master Plan says so.

Some background on Clarksburg: Clarksburg is the last corridor city along I-270 in Montgomery County's 1964 land use plan, called On Wedges and Corridors. Roughly 6 miles north of Germantown and 12 miles northwest of the Shady Grove Metro station, Clarksburg is both a historic small town and, since 2000, a neo-traditional new suburb. The 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan governs the town's development.

This Master Plan refers to the transit-orientedness of Clarksburg development at least 24 times. For example, "...the most critical function of this Plan is to establish a strong public commitment to the vision of Clarksburg as a transit- and pedestrian-oriented community...," the plan says on page 1. "Transit is an essential feature of this plan; without it, the Plan's vision cannot be realized," the plan says on page 22.

The plan envisions a transit system consisting of 3 parts:

  1. A "regional transitway," extending from Shady Grove to the City of Frederick, with a stop in Clarksburg Town Center;
  2. An additional "through-transit" system in the form of the existing MARC station at Boyds, 2 miles south of Cabin Branch; and
  3. A "comprehensive" network of local buses linking neighborhoods with the regional transitway and the Boyds MARC station.
For Cabin Branch specifically, the Plan says that "the opportunity to provide a transit-oriented residential neighborhood" is one of the "most important public policy objectives" (p. 64). Also, it says that the "Plan endorses a transit-oriented development pattern…which will place all residents within convenient walking distance (one-quarter mile) of a bus stop," with the "neighborhood core to be located so that bus service will link the area to the transitway to the east, and the MARC station to the southwest" (p. 68).

Fine words.

But the Master Plan does not link these words to deeds. There is nothing in the Master Plan's staging requirements about the transit that, according to the plan, is "essential" for turning the vision of Clarksburg into reality. The staging requirements relate only to water quality reviews; provision of water and sewer service; amount of retail development; number of building permits; and the financing of public facilities. Note that, according to the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, public facilities include roads, but they do not include transit.

As a result, the transit-oriented development in Clarksburg has proceeded without transit.

In 1994, the Master Plan stated that "[a]t present, transit service consists of a limited number of buses on existing roadways and the commuter rail station in Boyds."

18 years and more than 12,000 new Clarksburg residents later, transit service still consists only of a limited number of buses (2) on roadways and the commuter rail station at Boyds.

Of the 2 buses, 1 runs every half hour on weekdays between the county jail in Clarksburg and the Germantown Transit Center. The other runs every half hour during weekday peak hours between Clarksburg and the Shady Grove Metro station, a 45-minute trip by the schedule.

Meanwhile, the Boyds MARC station has limited service, an 18-space parking lot that is already often full, and no bus connections. In fact, there is not even a bike rack.

So when people start moving next year into the "transit-oriented" Cabin Branch development in "transit-oriented" Clarksburg, they will have little choice but to drive. Montgomery County says all the right things about transit. But what Montgomery County actually acts on is cars.

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve. She serves on the MARC Riders' Advisory Council and is a member of the Action Committee for Transit

Comments

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In an ideal world (or the US at the turn of the 20th century), the transit would come first, then the development. That's how Chevy Chase was built, for instance.

But even without transit, it would be nice if Clarksburg had any retail that residents could walk to. Most of the new subdivisions are New Urbanist in style and are pretty dense and walkable (considering where it is), but the only places to shop in town are like a Subway and a bank. You have to go to Damascus or Germantown for groceries. Meanwhile, Clarksburg's much-heralded mixed-use town center looks like this. The CCT may be a long way off for a lot of reasons, but a walkable retail center could've been built yesterday.

by dan reed! on Jul 24, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

So how much of this is sincere development with an eye towards attracting future transit; and how much is marketing to the kind of people who want to feel good about their progressive community but are not committed to transit.

I see that the blame here is put on Montgomery County, but were there ever plans to bring transit to Clarksburg? If not it looks like a community marketing decision.

by Alger on Jul 24, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

FWIW, this is the basis of Belmont's (_Cities in Full_) criticism of polycentric development generally and the polycentric nature of the WMATA system specifically.

But this is the proverbial dead horse argument. It's a waste to even think about Clarksburg in terms of "transit" oriented development. Value of transit oriented development is in inner rings of the metropolitan area, and more value comes from developing this area more intensively, not from further extending high quality transit outward. Not that outward extensions aren't good, just from an ROI standpoint, they are more about extending sprawl than promoting intensive land use.

by Richard Layman on Jul 24, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

Once again, this isn't a utopia where transit systems are built first and then the development around (especially not in the suburbs).

Look at Reston for instance. It's been one of the area's prime candidates for transit (faaar better than on-the-periphery Clarksburg), yet to this day it lacks any form of transit and the Silver Line station being built is built in a highway median a good ways from the actual Town Center. Part of this is Virginia being so averse to decent, sensible transit (outside of Arlington), but another part of it is that we don't live in a perfect world and suburbs 30 miles from the city won't all have light rail stations. At least Clarksburg has had the Boyds MARC station.

I think the CCT is very important (far more so than stupidly widening I-270), not to mention it would benefit me directly, but the Purple Line/Red Line and MARC Expansion Plan should be the top transit priorities for the state.

Right now, what Clarksburg needs most is a supermarket (as Dan pointed out). The only reason it doesn't is because Giant/Safeway tried to blackmail the county into not approving the Germantown Wegmans (currently under construction).

by King Terrapin on Jul 24, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

Up-county development should be focused on the land that lies on the northeast side of the Germantown MARC station, between the station and the current town center, with the idea of taking of advantage of and encouraging better MARC service. Right now, this land is doing nothing very useful. The MARC station should be the focal point of transit-oriented development, not a parking lot by the Interstate.

Buses from Clarksburg could connect to the MARC station. The neighborhood on the southwest side of the station--the original Germantown--could be preserved as it is.

Or maybe we should just keep doing what we're doing and just install antique-looking streetlights and signs with happy faces that say "transit-oriented development!" That is more like Montgomery County.

by Steve on Jul 24, 2012 6:05 pm • linkreport

This is very simular to the new Watkins Mill development which is under construction as we speed in Germantown / Gaithersburg. It too speeks of the Marc down the street, a 270 crossing in which the connector roads are ready to go, it just needs a bridge, and the CCT as well.

Regardless of the status for the CCT this is the right move by the county. Their is a demand for these types of mixed use development, and I believe the only way the CCT would ever be built is if the transit orienteddevelopments come first.

by Matt R on Jul 25, 2012 8:32 am • linkreport

One need only look to the US 29 corridor for a long spoke of TOD without the T.

@Alger-
Yes, the Corridor Cities Transitway (bus rapid transit) as well as another bus rapid transit line are along MD 355 are both proposed for Clarksburg. Of course, neither is particularly close to realisation & I'm personally a bit of a CCT skeptic once its alignment passes out of the new Seneca Science area.

by Bossi on Jul 25, 2012 9:21 am • linkreport

The other end of the CCT is in Rockville, which yet again has dropped the ball on committing to realistic transit plans. Rockville's King Farm development was predicated on adequate public transit, yet ten years after buildout there is nothing but an extra-wide median strip down King Farm boulevard, and a little shuttle but to the Shady Grove Metro that was in danger of being cut for lack of funding last year.

Transit priorities should be:
Extending the Red Line to Frederick
Purple Line
Fully committing to funding Metro (including buses) and Ride On
MARC

No more "pie in the sky" projects until what is already on the table is done.

by chrisMD on Jul 25, 2012 5:02 pm • linkreport

@Bossi

I agree about the CCT. I think the portion between Kentlands and Shady Grove could be pretty well-used. You've already got three sort-of dense, mixed-use areas (King Farm, Kentlands, and Washingtonian Center) that are oriented to walking, biking and transit use. Then add the redevelopment around Shady Grove (the first portions of which are going before the Planning Board tomorrow) and if the Great Seneca Science Corridor is built out as planned, you've got a nice little string of urban-ish nodes.

Beyond that isn't encouraging, however. Since the CCT has to wrap around the NIST campus, everyone north of Kentlands will get an extra-long and extra-circuitous ride. Would someone living in Germantown or Clarksburg really suffer through all the stops and squiggly routing of the CCT to get to Shady Grove? And what if they worked further down the Red Line? Those riders would probably be better served by express buses along I-270, or even shuttles to MARC.

by dan reed! on Jul 25, 2012 6:16 pm • linkreport

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