Thursday, March 20, 2014

Biking to Melford

The author, on his way to work
There is an article in the Gazette today entitled, "Residents voice opposition to new Bowie housing development." I'm one of the residents quoted in the article. Although I'm quoted accurately, I wanted a place to lay out my detailed thoughts on the matter, and well, this is my blog, so here goes.

The Melford Village proposal is a complex and multifacted beast. I am impressed with the attention to detail by both St. John Properties and City staff in analyzing the many aspects of the proposed development. I, however, chose to focus on just one thing -- bike and pedestrian access. I did this for two reasons. One, as someone who sometimes bikes to work at Melford, I know how much bike access needs to be improved. Two, since St. John is touting Melford Village as an environmentally-friendly development, better non-motorized access seems like a good test of their commitment.

I went to the Advisory Planning Board meeting with an open, if confused, mind. I had read through as many of the documents as I could. Some of the documents seemed to show a trail along the Melford entrance, but I could find no commitment to specific connections. In particular, not only was there no assurance that there was improved access to Belair Drive, there was no reference to the proposed trails along 301 in the City of Bowie Trails Master Plan. Those proposed trails would really make Melford Village a lot more attractive to the type of active, environmentally-conscious residents St. John wants to attract.

Once at the meeting, I discovered various items of interest in a handout (that is also available on-line, I just hadn't noticed it). First, at a January stakeholders meeting I was unable to attend, Martha Ainsworth raised a number of concerns, including, "There is no walking or biking connectivity with the rest of Bowie," and
"How can the development be made more conducive to biking, except down Belair Drive, given the two highways that border it? Are biking bridges that cross route 50 or route 3 forseen? One can't bike to any of the stores near the community, to Sport Fit (a mile away), or to Whitemarsh Park without riding on Route 3/301."

St. John's response concerned me. They said,
"The proposed design includes 9.5 miles of sidewalks, 3.4 miles of trails and 1.6 miles of bike lanes within the community. Residents of Melford Village will be able to live a healthy lifestyle without needing to interact with the highways bordering the Village."
It sounded like they had no interest in connectivity with the rest of Bowie.

Fortunately, City staff saw the need for this connectivity, albeit in a form that I saw as insufficient. They proposed 28 conditions for approval. Condition 25 is,
"A pedestrian connection...shall be constructed between the Melford Boulevard/Science Drive roundabout and Kendale Lane in the Kenilworth section, prior to the issuance of the 300th building permit."

I have three problems with this condition.
  1. It should be a bike/pedestrian connection. Given the distances between Melford and the rest of Bowie, bike travel is more realistic than walking for running errands, etc.
  2. It doesn't address connectivity to Route 301, which would give more direct access to commercial features than the Belair Drive connection.
  3. I don't see why it should wait for the issuance of the 300th permit.
I wasn't sure whether I was in the camp of objecting to the development based on the inadequate bike/pedestrian facilities, or saying I'd support it if they were made adequate. Then a representative from St. John objected to Condition 25 on the basis that it wasn't safe for people to walk in and out of Melford. Well, yes, I know that! (Having done so.) The lack of any interest in making it safe pushed me over into the camp of those opposed.

I spoke off the cuff, so I don't remember exactly what I said, but here are the main points I tried to make.
  1. I would like to see Melford succeed with an environmentally-friendly development that is part of Bowie.
  2. In order to be environmentally-friendly and part of Bowie, you need bike and pedestrian connectivity with the rest of Bowie.
  3. It is unrealistic to expect that nobody will want to walk or bike out of Bowie. The developer proposes restaurants as part of Melford Village; I don't expect every dishwasher at every restaurant to be a resident there.
  4. This is not a theoretical concern. In 2011, a Bowie resident biking home from a job in Crofton was killed on Route 301 not far from Melford
This will come up before the City Council soon, and I expect to be engaged. I pushed a year ago for adequate connections to the rest of Bowie being a condition for development, and I'm going to keep pushing for it.
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