I consulted the Maryland State Highway Administration's traffic volume maps, which are available online here (years 1980-2012) and here (2013). I compared years 2003 and 2013, and I chose this time frame since most of the contemporary residential growth in Silver Spring has occurred during this decade (and it continues today). Between 2003 and the present, thousands of new residential units have been constructed in downtown Silver Spring, so I expected traffic volumes to rise accordingly. I was surprised to find they did not. I fact; traffic in and around Silver Spring actually decreased on the whole during the last 10 years.
|Annual Average Daily Traffic counts in downtown Silver Spring in 2003, when Silver Spring had far fewer housing units than it does today. Image from SHA.|
|Annual Average Daily Traffic for downtown Silver Spring in 2013, after adding thousands of new housing units and jobs. When compared to 2003, almost every traffic count is lower (even on the Beltway). Image from SHA.|
-Initial capital investment creates a vibrant urban environment full of shops, dining, and entertainment.
-People are drawn to this new vibrant environment because of its close proximity to employment, retail, and entertainment options, therefore driving demand for new housing.
-Businesses and high paying employers are drawn to the area as they look to take advantage of the growing concentration of customers and potential employees who want to live close to work and retail.
-Even more residents are drawn to the area due its expanding employment, retail, and entertainment options, and the cycle continues to repeat itself.
|Downtown Silver Spring is a major regional destination, and it has attracted new residents because of it. Photo by Dan Reed.|
|LifeSci Village is a proposed "live, work, play" style community adjacent to the FDA campus. Kinda looks like Ellsworth Drive doesn't it? Image from Percontee.|
So what does all of this have to do with Four Corners and White Oak?
The White Oak Science Gateway plan envisions dense mixed use development in White Oak served by new road and transit connections. The plan calls for 8,500 new homes and 40,000 new jobs, capitalizing on the presence of the Food and Drug Administration. The idea of this development is to build a community that is largely self sufficient out of one that currently relies on other areas for daily necessities (such as jobs and entertainment). While the number of government jobs in White Oak has grown because of the FDA, private sector jobs in the area have been continually declining (since well before the recession). Private sector jobs in White Oak are important for a multitude of reasons, especially tax revenue, since the county can't tax the FDA.
Because of the reasons stated above, I have found that traffic concerns surrounding the White Oak plan have been largely overstated. The White Oak plan calls for "good development" which reduces auto dependency by creating mixed use communities. This is not the same as the "bad development" of the 1980's in the Briggs Cheney area, which did dump more traffic on Route 29 because it was solely focused on housing, instead of a mix of uses. The lack of adequate jobs and entertainment in that growing area meant that its residents had to drive south on Route 29 through Four Corners to get to work or just to enjoy a night out.
I strongly suspect that most people in my neighborhood oppose the White Oak plan is because they think it will be more of the same "bad development" which has burdened our community with traffic over the years. This is probably the only reason local residents have for opposing development, since most of my neighbors are truly progressive and open minded people who want everyone to have the same chance to live and thrive in Montgomery County that they themselves had.
It is in Four Corners' best interests to support the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, since it is an alternative to the decades of bad development which have only caused more traffic in Four Corners (I say this as a lifelong Woodmoor resident). If our community does not support this plan for good development in White Oak, we can expect more of the same bad development for decades to come.