A series of public workshops being held through April are intended to inform the public about the input phase of Walk Howard, the Howard County Pedestrian Master Plan Update.
At the kickoff workshop session held on March 16 at Slayton House in the Wilde Lake Village Center, residents were asked to view information and maps on display and to provide recommendations for pedestrian improvements or pedestrian links that might be missing.
“This is an important issue because everybody is a pedestrian, and every trip has some [pedestrian] element involved,” said Chris Eatough, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Howard County Office of Transportation. “A lot of estimates also indicate that about a quarter of the trips we make overall are one mile or less, so there’s a lot of opportunities for walking [in the county].”
In the case of the busiest, pedestrian-unfriendly roads, the master plan is intended to ensure that alternative pedestrian routes exist or are created.
“It’s also important … because we know that [a walkable community] contributes to overall public health, public vitality and overall quality of life,” Eatough said.
Walk Howard is the latest in a series of other planning efforts already completed or still in process.
According to Eatough, they all tie into Plan Howard 2030, the overall long-range plan that oversees development and roads in the county for approximately 20 years. (The county’s last Pedestrian Master Plan Update occurred in 2007.)
These plans include Connecting Columbia, which looks specifically at Columbia pathways, in terms of pedestrian and bicycle accessibility; and Bike Howard, a sister program of Walk Howard that will culminate in the county’s Bicycle Master Plan.
“We need [Walk Howard] to relate to the other plans … so everyone’s on the same page and so one plan doesn’t contradict another,” Eatough said. “There is quite a lot of overlap with bicycling and walking in Howard County, but there are some differences as well.”
Included in the specific considerations of Walk Howard are pedestrian facilities, sidewalks, crosswalks, pathways, trails and curb ramps, as well as pedestrian mobility and pedestrian access.
While a lot of preliminary survey work has already been done relating to Walk Howard, “It doesn’t really bring in the human element,” Eatough said, which is what the workshops are designed to do.
Carol Kachadoorian, a senior planner with Toole Design Group of Silver Spring, which has been conducting field assessments and gathering data for Walk Howard, said her company’s work began in early 2014 and is about 92% complete.
The field assessments involved studies of nearly 300 miles of sidewalk, nearly 800 intersections and nearly 500 bus stops in Phase 1. Phase 2 added another 175 miles of sidewalks and 375 intersections.
The company also looked at the recommendations made in the 2007 Pedestrian Master Plan that have not been implemented to determine whether conditions there may have changed. Areas of high pedestrian activity were also included in the assessments, to include multi-family housing, retail establishments, libraries, Howard Community College, major employment centers and parks.
“Beyond the field assessment, we want to know what we missed,” Kachadoorian said.
County residents who are unable to attend a public workshop on the plan may still make comments or recommendations until April 30 via www.walkhoward.org. Tutorials have been provided to walk people unfamiliar with Wikimap or Google Docs through the process, Kachadoorian said.
“So far we have more than 300 comments on the Wikimap and 197 people have registered,” she said. “We’ve also had about 65 comments on Google Docs.”
The second Walk Howard open house event was held at the North Laurel Community Center on March 28.
“We’re looking to add another one in the Elkridge/Ellicott City area in April, but we haven’t confirmed the date yet,” Eatough said.
Following the public comment period, a technical advisory committee will help draft a plan that also will be made available for public comment.
“Once we finalize that plan, we’ll move toward adoption through the Howard County Council and Howard County executive,” Eatough said, with adoption expected sometime around the end of the calendar year.