Making Greenbelt Green Again, Starting with Greenbelt Road
Over the last 50 years, the state of Maryland has widened our suburban local arterial roads to the point where they’re like mini-highways, complete with on-ramps and partial cloverleafs, speed ramps, double (and triple) turn lanes, with limited sidewalks and no bike lanes. This design is ugly, encourages speeding and lane weaving, discourages roadside businesses, and makes the roads dangerous to ride on, disgusting to walk beside, and difficult to just get across. Even in a car! (The old Greenbelt joke about the “new, improved” interchange at Routes 201 and 193 was “Of course traffic will go down, only a fool would want to drive through that mess!”)
Widening roads for the highest possible speeds and “throughput” makes traffic light cycles far too long, which, in turn, makes drivers more impatient and further encourages speeding and whiplash driving: hitting the gas and weaving through traffic to “make” the next light and slamming on the brakes (or not!) when it turns red. The irony is that all the road widening and highway-ization have not only divided our community, discouraged biking, walking and transit, and hurt business, but it’s also more frustrating than ever to drive around in Greenbelt! It’s as if the road builders’ goal was to make everybody as angry, disconnected, and antisocial as possible. Highways are great for driving long distances, but they make terrible neighborhood streets or commercial boulevards. They reduce property values and hurt local business development prospects.
What Can We Do About This?
Let’s ask the state to rebuild Route 193 (Greenbelt Road) between Route 1 in College Park and the BW Parkway as a complete, green street, with nice landscaping, bus lanes and pullouts, pedestrian havens, bike paths, and other traffic calming features.
More than a decade ago, the State Highway Administration developed a Greenbelt Road Boulevard Plan (OK, maybe “boulevard” is an overstatement, but still…). However, these plans were essentially lost from view until October 2013, when an intrepid SHA engineer dug them out of archive at my request. The plans call essentially for minor, but very helpful, landscape and streetscape improvements along 193 from Route 1 to Soil Conservation Service Road. The concept plans are hard to read, but I think they envisioned trees, median features, and bike lanes! The bike lanes appear to be non-protected 6-foot lanes on the sides, which may not be ideal on roads designed for speeds up to 50 mph!
However, the old plans are a starting place, and they could be updated for the latest bike and pedestrian safety standards. There are plenty of places where lane-narrowing or lane diets could be added (the road is vastly overbuilt in most places) to accommodate protected bike lanes instead of painted side lanes.
SHA is said to have this project on their long-term list, although it’s unclear whether funding was ever put in place. Moreover, the City of Greenbelt has essentially sidelined this project in favor of advocating for a new beltway interchange for the Greenbelt Metro potential development (FBI?) site. However, it’s time to dust off the old plans, get them updated for modern standards, and get them on the state’s high priority funding list.
SHA plans from 2003:
PG3282184 – 2003-0127 – MD 193 Greenbelt – RKnK Concept Plans ID 199-8965 di01cn_DGN – 5 of 9 – 11×17
PG3282184 – 2003-0127 – MD 193 Greenbelt – RKnK Concept Plans ID 199-8965 di01cn_DGN – 4 of 9 – 11×17
PG3282184 – 2003-0127 – MD 193 Greenbelt – RKnK Concept Plans ID 199-8965 di01cn_DGN – 3 of 9 – 11×17
PG3282184 – 2003-0127 – MD 193 Greenbelt – RKnK Concept Plans ID 199-8965 di01cn_DGN – 1 of 9 – 11×17
PG3282184 – 2003-0127 – MD 193 Greenbelt – RKnK Concept Plans ID 199-8965 di01cn_DGN – 2 of 9 – 11×17
PG3282184 – 2003-0127 – MD 193 Greenbelt – RKnK Proj Summary On-Hold memorandum – 199-89-6_05
Complete Streets are an Economic Development Strategy
When I’ve approached the city about improving bike paths in and around Greenbelt, I often hear the concern that “we don’t have the money” to make improvements. The city’s Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan (caution, very large PDF file) languished in committee for years mainly because the city couldn’t afford to implement much of it any anyway.
However, building complete streets is more than an improvement for walkers, bikers, and bus riders. Complete streets have sparked billions in new economic development in parts of Washington, DC and Arlington. Streets have been given a complete facelift once they are made nice for people and not just for drive-through car traffic. All of a sudden, it doesn’t make economic sense to have a vast parking lot fronting a nice, complete street – developers begin to fill in empty parking lots with new apartments and shops, which is just what Greenbelt needs in many of our commercial strips. And converting parking lots into shops, restaurants and apartments brings in new tax revenue. (Here’s more about complete streets.)
Besides, if we play our cards right, the state will pay to rebuild Greenbelt Road. SHA funds are being used to fix up Route 1 in College Park and Route 201 in Edmonston. We just need to make our priorities clear!