Urban planner calls county transit 'pitiful'

Published October 17, 2007
The Capital

An urban planner deemed the county's public transit system "pitiful" while speaking to the Severn River Association last night, but he did offer some glimmers of hope. "It's sort of pitiful Anne Arundel County doesn't have a lot of transit, no countywide," said Klaus Philipsen, president of ArchPlan Inc. in Baltimore. "That shouldn't be so."

Rapid transit bus networks have alleviated some congestion in major urban centers such as Los Angeles and Baltimore, but they also can link smaller communities such as Annapolis with larger city hubs, Mr. Philipsen said. The key is interlocking modes of transportation, he said.

But other changes, such as equipping buses with technology to ensure they get green lights at intersections or building dedicated bus lanes also can make public transportation a more attractive alternative to cars, he said.

City Transportation Director Danielle Matland said Annapolis has considered several new transit initiatives, including light-priority technology for buses or creating on-call bus routes, but has run into money problems.

The city's transportation network costs $4 million to operate and Annapolis already has been forced to jettison bus routes to Kent Island and south county after federal subsidies were slashed. The county eventually picked up the south county run.

Alderman Sam Shropshire, D-Ward 7, who recently attended a streetcar conference in Denver, said he envisions not only street cars travelling downtown, but also a rail network connecting Westfield Annapolis mall to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"There is a desire in the City Council to do something different," he said. "Do something permanent."

And the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's 30-year plan for regional transportation met with lackluster response recently, almost unanimously criticized by politicians and residents for its emphasis on roads rather than expanded transit options.

Mr. Shropshire said the plan focused on "a heck of a lot more lanes, which we don't need."

Commuter buses already ferry about 1,200 workers to Baltimore and Washington daily, said Heather McColl, Annapolis Regional Transportation Management Association executive director.

ARTMA also is "courting" flex-car providers to the city. As part of a flex-car service, members could rent a car when they need one, paying only $7 to $9 an hour for the service.

"If you're paying by the hour, you're probably going to use that car differently than when you've got that fixed expense sitting in your garage," Mrs. McColl said.

While Annapolis' relatively small population is unlikely to support a rapid-transit system downtown, smaller jurisdictions have been breeding grounds for innovative transit developments, Mr. Philipsen said.

"The small cities like Annapolis are usually the leaders," he said.

(Revised Oct 2007)