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Walkable Towson

Baltimore County agencies, including the Department of Planning - Office of Community Conservation, the Department of Public Works and the Department of Economic Development, have worked in partnership with several Greater Towson organizations since January of 2006 to facilitate a new era of planning for the county seat.

Urban Design Principles Implementation Report

Tomorrow's Towson created an Urban Design Committee to investigate and implement methods to ensure that the Urban Design Principles of the Towson Charrette and UDAT would effectively guide the redevelopment of Towson. During this period, the committee recommended, and Tomorrow's Towson and the Baltimore County Planning Board adopted, the Urban Design Principles (PDF) for Downtown Towson.

The committee has been diligently meeting and working on developing a new zone or overlay district since the Spring of 2008. Issues ranging from delineating a study area, building heights, building setbacks, building functions and uses were discussed. This work resulted in the creation of three distinct street typologies with requisite design and setback elements.

UDAT, 2006

A significant step forward in this effort unfolded in June 2006 when the recently formed Tomorrow’s Towson, Inc., took the lead in hosting an Urban Design Assistance Team (UDAT) visit for Towson. The UDAT visit took place from June 7 to June 13 and resulted in a report, Creating Tomorrow’s Towson. This document has been circulated to more than 1,000 interested readers.

The Towson UDAT’s recommendations placed a high priority on making downtown Towson more “walkable,” or inviting to pedestrians. Given the UDAT’s emphasis on walkability and community consensus in favor of the concept, the county hired a consultant team to facilitate a Charrette focused on how Towson can achieve walkability.

Walkable Towson Charrette, 2007

The Charrette was held from June 4 through June 9, 2007. Please use the links below to access the Walkable Towson Plan, the results of this highly interactive, community-based planning process.

Walkable Towson Implementation News

Fall 2008 Newsletter
This newsletter details implementation progress associated with the Walkable Towson Plan and highlights other news items.    

Tomorrow's Towson praises changes to Roundabout, York Road, June 2008 (PDF)
This press release explains the benefits of the first two projects implemented as part of the Walkable Towson Plan.

Signage and Wayfinding Map (Draft), September 2008
This Map shows garages and surface lots that are strong candidates to be included in phase one of the Signage and Wayfinding project, which focuses on establishing signs to help motorists park in Towson.

Signage and Wayfinding Visual Survey (Draft), September 2008
This document illustrates with photographs a path including York Road and Towsontown Boulevard that leads to the parking garage next to the library. Preliminary sign placements and designs are shown to advance discussion and decision-making.  

The Walkable Towson Plan

Volume I
Introductory Material
Cover, Statement of Authorship & Table of Contents (PDF)
Executive Summary & Introduction (PDF)
Walkable District and Walkability Index (PDF)

Short-Term Recommendations
Part I (PDF) – Redesign of York Road, The Circle, Chesapeake & Pennsylvania Avenues, York Road Streetscape.
Part II (PDF) – Signage and Wayfinding, Gateways, Washington & Pennsylvania in Proximity to the Old Courthouse, Plaza Between Court Buildings, Bicycle Plan

Full Transformation
The introduction to this section includes a map depicting eight "focus areas" in which proposals for redevelopment and other interventions to advance walkability are recommended. The sections following Introduction detail the proposed interventions. 
Introduction (PDF)
Focus Areas Part I (PDF): (1) York Road "Main Street" area; (2) Roundabout area; (3) Mall area
Focus Areas Part II (PDF): (4) West of York; (5) East of York; (6)Triangle area
Focus Areas Part III (PDF): (7) Bosley Avenue Corridor; (8) Fairmount/Dulaney Valley/ Goucher area  
Policy -- to be posted shortly

Implementing Traffic and Roadway Changes

In support of Short-Term Recommendations dealing with York Road, The Circle and Chesapeake and Pennsylvania Avenues, the county Department of Public Works has crafted a concise implementation plan reflecting their near-term priorities. 

Volume II - TBA

Contacts -- If you have questions about the plan, please contact:
Jay Doyle, 410-887-2483, community revitalization specialist, Office of Community Conservation
Mary Harvey, 410-887-3317, director, Office of Community Conservation 
Pat Keller, 410-887-3211, director, Office of Planning 

About the Walkable Towson Charrette

A Charrette is an intense, multi-day event during which a team of professionals works closely with local residents, businesses, property owners and institutions.  Several interactive sessions are held, gathering ideas and feedback from people who are likely to be affected by proposed changes in their community.

The welcome sign announces the Walkable Towson Charrette.

Last summer's planning effort in Towson led by the Urban Design Assistance Team was an important first step that established a set of goals and initial recommendations for making downtown Towson a more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly place. 

The Walkable Towson Charrette represents the next step in this process. Baltimore County, with funding support from the US Congress, has hired a powerful design team to develop comprehensive recommendations for enhancing walkability in Towson. 

Monday, June 4
The design team arrived and started working early Monday morning. The group took a walking tour of Towson to get familiar with the area. The afternoon was spent preparing for the opening presentation later that evening. The turn-out of residents, property and business owners, representatives of major institutions, students, and other stakeholders for the opening presentation was phenomenal and exceeded all expectations. The participants took a positive first step in what promises to be a productive and creative effort.

Morning walking tour with design team co-leader Rick Hall and County staff.Design team member and form-based codes expert, Geoff Ferrell, talks about building form.County Executive Jim Smith welcomes participants to the Opening Presentation.The turn-out for the Opening Presentation exceeded all expectations. Every seat was taken.Participants study Towson maps, writing down their suggestions for improving walkablity in the area.

Tuesday, June 5, 7 p.m.
Concepts were presented and discussed at the Tuesday Pinup Session, as described below.  At the Monday night meeting, one of the major themes was connectivity:  How to improve pedestrian and vehicle connections into and within the core, between neighborhoods and the core, and between the universities and the core. 

Design Team develops preliminary concepts in temporary studio at Trinity Episcopal Church.Approximately 140 attended evening pinup session at Calvary Baptist Church.

Concept 1: Convert the traffic pattern on Chesapeake and Pennsylvania Avenues from one-way to 2-way.  Benefits include:  slows traffic, provides visual exposure to businesses on all corners adding value to real estate (in Chattanooga, projected commercial rents went up 3-5 percent, vacancies went down 15-25 percent two years after conversion), and provides more choices for drivers.  Questions were raised about perceived conflicts with commercial loading at street front, and pedestrian safety crossing at intersections.  This issue will be discussed in greater detail at Wednesday evening pinup.               

Concept 2:  Reduce travel lanes to two along York Road between Towsontown Blvd. and the traffic circle, and convert the remaining two lanes to on-street parking.  Benefits:  Slows traffic, buffers pedestrians, enhances commercial activity (the annual economic value of a single, on-street parking place to business is $200,000.) 

Concept 3:  Convert Bosley Avenue to a “multi-way boulevard.”  Bosely is difficult for pedestrians to cross, and acts as a barrier between core and the offices and residential neighborhoods to the west.  The Design Team suggests the addition of a northbound street on the east side and a southbound street on the west side, each extending for 2-4 blocks and each buffered from the other travel lanes by a median.  These new street segments would have on-street parking, and could facilitate positive redevelopment (restaurants, coffee houses, etc.) along the western frontage.

Concept 4: Redirect through traffic from York Road to a new eastern bypass.  Approximately 45 percent of vehicle trips into the core on York Road are through trips. As an alternative to an eastern bypass, the Design Team proposes that traffic be allowed to disperse through a fine-grained street network, rather than funnel onto a few streets. By-passes grow wider and faster as traffic increases becoming significant barriers to pedestrians.  A fine-grained street network allow for a balance between the needs of vehicles and pedestrians.

Wednesday, June 6, 7 p.m.
Wednesday's pinup session provided an opportunity for feedback on evolving concepts and proposals.

Thursday, June 7
On Thursday, the Design Team entered production mode. The team members spent the day working to refine their concepts. One team member spent the morning biking around the Towson core to better understand the pros and cons of the existing bicycle network.  Other team members spent the day hard at work in the studio refining their drawings and concept designs. There were many visitors to the studio throughout the day and informal meetings were held to further explore the team’s ideas.

The team stayed hard at work throughout the day.Geoff Farrell works on refinements to the design for the core of Towson.John Moynahan working on renderings.Some of the conceptual renderings.Team members discussing refinements to pedestrian connection concepts.

Saturday, June 9, 2 p.m.
The Design Team worked late Friday night and put the finishing touches on their presentation just before the start of the 2 p.m. presentation. 

John puts final touches on drawings.Mark and Geoff finalize the plan.Rick and Wade check their figures.

About 100 people assembled at Trinity Episcopal Church for the culmination of the week-long Charrette. The audience was broadly representative of the estimated 300 people who participated in the Charrette at some time during the week: neighborhood residents, business owners, property owners and developers, students, local professionals, members of religious congregations, and representatives of the area's major institutions. Attending were a representative of Senator Barbara Mikulski's office, State Delegates Bill Frank and Steve Lafferty, Planning Board Chairman Frank Heintz, and Dr. Rhoda Dorsey, Chair of Tomorrow's Towson.

Citizens arrive and sign in for the final presentation.The audience assembles.The presentation begins.The audience views a proposed change to York Road in the Towson core.The audience views proposed changes to the roundabout.

Design Team leaders, Stuart Sirota and Rick Hall, presented the team's recommended plan for making Towson more walkable, and received enthusiastic applause. The full plan, with greater detail, will be completed during the summer.

You may request a CD of highlights from Saturday's PowerPoint presentation by contacting Barbara Weaver, Department of Planning, at or 410-887-3495. Some selected images from the CD are shown below.

Existing view of Dulaney Valley Road.Proposed view of Dulaney Valley Road.    Existing view of Bosley Avenue.Proposed view of Bosley Avenue.

Existing view of Baltimore County LibraryProposed view of Baltimore County Library.    Existing view of Towsontown Boulevard.Proposed view of Towsontown Boulevard.

Revised December 12, 2011