the purple martins, bluebird boxes and
netting for deer that is part of a study on
Lyme disease. The most common species
found on its 5-1/2 miles of unpaved hiking
trails is homo sapiens and their canines,
leashed and unleashed.
Much as Rouse tried “to respect the
land,” the water that flowed through it, and
the trees and bushes that grew on it, there
were limitations to that respect and what
builders were willing to do. According to
Howard County Planning Director Tom
Harris in a 1974 paper, stormwater management was “designed to speed water as
rapidly as possible into the streams,” not
to keep much of it out of the streams as
we would today.
Again, look no further than my backyard. My house is built near the top of a
small slope, and six other lots send the rain
that doesn’t soak into the ground through
slight gullies and then through my yard
into a drain at the far back corner.
When that rain comes in torrents, the
flow is like a river that can’t be stopped.
With the push to reduce polluted stormwater
runoff that contains fertilizer, soil, oil and
other unwanted chemicals, the county and
CA have new programs to manage the runoff. For my yard, only a massive rain garden
with rocks would do, unless my “upstream”
neighbors put in their own rain gardens to
prevent a problem they never see.
Cars and Transit
An influx of 100,000 people, even
with the most enlightened environmental
The early planners had every hope
of getting people out of their cars and off
the streets, not just walking and biking the
paths (running for exercise was barely in
its infancy), but to use transit services.
Many staff-years went into designing ded-
icated bus routes, and even contemplating
small people movers. State and federal
transportation officials were lobbied and
See Columbia at 50, page 20
Columbia at 50
from page 18
transit in Columbia has hobbled along
from the start, much as it does today.
Ridership declines, fare box revenues
go down, and schedules are reduced in
a vicious cycle. Only people who can’t
afford a car are desperate enough to take
one of the half-empty buses and get to their
destination a few miles away two hours
Columbia Association operated the
bus system for 29 years, struggling with
limited resources. In 1996, it finally persuaded Howard County government to
take over the bus routes.
“It takes density to do transit,” said
Marsha McLaughlin, former director of
planning and zoning for 13 years. “But
Howard County is very lucky from a road
and transportation point of view. … We
have a phenomenal state road network.”
Roads and Highways
As much as Rouse officials worked
on transit solutions for the new town, they
paid even more attention to improving
highway access. Old-timers like myself
can recall the original traffic lights on
Route 29 to get across town from Oakland
Mills Road, Owen Brown Road and Route
Rouse executives worked for years
with state highway officials to expand
lanes, build interchanges, improve signage
and move traffic in and out of Columbia.
Highway planning and construction often
Jim Rouse, a major player in civic and
business organizations, would contact high
state officials directly. In one interesting
exchange in December 1966, Gov.-Elect
Spiro T. Agnew thanked Rouse for his
management, creates massive amounts of
impervious surfaces where people live,
work, shop, play and park their cars. The
automobile made Columbia possible, but
it is one of its principal environmental
Cars and trucks need impervious
asphalt and concrete to drive and park
on, and the county probably required
wider streets than were necessary. Oil on
the roads eventually flows into the storm
sewers and into the streams; carbon and
heat spew into the air, expanding the heat
island that Columbia has become.
The noise from traffic intrudes on the
most bucolic of scenes, like the path along
the meandering Little Patuxent River and
its wide flood plain southwest of Lake
Elkhorn. The roar of Route 32 can be heard
at great distance, though not as loud as the
roar of I-95 high above on concrete stilts
further downstream. About the only birds
to be heard in mid-winter from the Middle
Patuxent Valley are soaring jets making
their ascent from BWI.
In 1964, there was talk of “tiny buses
every five or ten minutes,” no more than
a three-minute walk from every residence.
There was even an outlandish estimate of
a daily ridership of 29,000.
The reality was much more modest
when Columbia residents arrived. In 1969,
Robert Bartolo, the Rouse Co.’s transpor-
tation planner, reported that “nearly every
resident in Columbia had experienced or
heard a ‘horror story’ concerning Colum-
There were tales of stranded pas-
sengers, lost drivers and missing buses.
Call-a-ride was more successful, but mass
The initial planning included ambitious plans for transit to keep people out of their
cars, such as this illustration of futuristic people movers. Drawing: Columbia Archives
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