Did you ever notice that just after “they” improve a congested stretch of highway things seem to get congested all over again? Why is this? Some folks say, “if you build it they will come.” In other words, it’s inevitable, congestion is just the natural state of urban living. This is hogwash! What we have here is ignorance in action. I know that is a harsh statement; nonetheless it is accurate. Even worse, some of it is willful ignorance on the part of land use planners and politicians who, in other ways might be well intentioned. We have a continuing problem that is never properly identified and therefore never properly addressed.
Let me introduce a basic concept that is easily represented by a simple mathematical formula: Land + Mobility = Land Use (L+M=LU). What this simple formula states is: “without the ability to get to and from land there is no land use.” L+M=LU is the primary and essential first tool in planning for growth! There are many constraints upon land use, however this most basic concept expressed in this formula has been largely ignored since the second half of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, this phenomenon continues to be alive and well in the Annapolis Region. There are many examples of congestion in the region that could have been avoided if “proper planning for Growth” had been understood: Route 2 from Route 665 south during the PM peak hour; Forest Drive during both the AM and PM peak hour travel periods. There are many other examples throughout Anne Arundel County however, both Forest Drive and Route 2 have recently been “improved” and both are and will be recipients of continuing land use development adding trips that can’t be accommodated and congestion that inhibits mobility and degrades the quality and safety of the land use.
Is this fixable? The answer is yes, but! The buts are many and the time and cost required to return to a sense of balance between mobility and land use will be long and expensive. However, the process must change and that change must begin at the local level. We are seeing local citizens increasingly vocalizing about traffic congestion and the dangerous condition of areawide “grid-lock” caused by the most minor of incidents; their gut-instincts are spot-on! Planning and Zoning Departments at the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County treat mobility as just another component of the broad encompassing catchall of Infrastructure considerations. Infrastructure is important, schools, sewer systems, utilities, and a host of other services are required for modern civil society. Mobility however trumps all other infrastructure elements because there is no need for other infrastructure components if land is inaccessible.
There is no magic in predicting the number of trips that will be generated by land use, just as there is no magic in predicting the carrying capacity of a highway or transit system. Land use planning in the Annapolis Region has, since the 2nd half of the 20th Century, been completely automobile oriented. This approach to development relies upon multiple agencies to secure mobility. The State, the County, and the local government should be coordinating their efforts to insure mobility for existing and proposed development. Unfortunately, there is no real incentive for this coordination to occur. The result is an endless game of catchup trying to fix roadways that should of (and could have) been built with anticipated growth. Another result is a land use model that prevents transit from being a viable mobility component with urban sprawl as the outcome.
The City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County entrust “transportation planning” to a minor review component of the land use planning process along with other infrastructure elements. Neither the City or the County have a Department of Transportation that combines the various components of mobility including traffic engineering, transit operations and planning, and transportation planning for land use. Thus, the transportation planning function, if one exists, is relegated to an underling who reports to the head of Planning and Zoning. The City and the County love development but they often ignore the responsibility of insuring mobility that development demands. Development brings tax revenue and enhances the urban environment. Politicians want this short-term gain, it helps them get elected and planners who are hired by politicians, know where their pay check comes from. There is much more to this story and much needed inter-governmental cooperation will be required but the means to fix the problem starts with the simple formula L+M=LU.