A fence separates a residential neighborhood from a bus stop.  Image by the author.

Prince George's County’s proposed zoning ordinance includes new regulations to encourage connectivity between developments for people walking, bicycling, and driving. The County Council is currently considering overhauling the 50+ year-old zoning code and adopting a new one to guide future development.

The proposed ordinance aims to better reflect the urban, suburban, and rural development patterns in the county. It encourages transit-oriented development, reduces parking requirements where transit is an option, constructs more environmentally-friendly buildings, improves public participation in the development review process, and increases access to food, among other things.

The new zoning code prioritizes connectivity

One element of the proposed ordinance is stronger connectivity requirements for new development projects. Connectivity means direct linkages for people and automobiles between and within neighborhoods, between residential and non-residential projects, and between buildings and nearby transit. This is important because it helps reduce traffic congestion and makes neighborhoods more safe and convenient for people walking, bicycling, and taking transit.

Residential subdivisions without connectivity can make transit less convenient and less likely to be used.

Connectivity is often encouraged under the current ordinance, but it's not required. Since it can be difficult to coordinate with neighboring properties, local agencies, and nearby residents, many developers choose the simpler route and opt against connectivity. This turns the county into islands of neighborhoods and commercial areas that are close together as the crow flies but are very difficult to reach.

Limiting connectivity occurs at all scales. Sometimes large-scale residential developments intentionally limit connections to nearby subdivisions for fear of drivers or pedestrians cutting through. Individual commercial developments may also choose to limit connectivity because it is too difficult to coordinate the timing of construction or the maintenance of a connection between different property owners. Often since there is no mechanism in the current ordinance requiring connectivity, it doesn’t happen.

The proposed ordinance uses several approaches

Vehicle cross-access is required in the proposed ordinace. That means when a commercial development like a store or office or restaurant is built, the developer will be required to build a roadway connection between itself and the neighboring property. This is helpful because people will not be required to drive along the main road to go from one business to a neighboring business. This will also cut down on traffic congestion.

Unconnected businesses require customers to drive back out on to the main road, creating more traffic to travel to the next building over.  

The draft ordinance also proposes using a Connectivity Index for new residential subdivisions, which is new for the county. This index requires developers to consider the number of access points into planned subdivisions, as well as the number of cul-de-sacs. This will make the road layout of neighborhoods more grid-like and accessible.

For people walking and bicycling, the proposed ordinance recommends additional connections between a new development and adjacent transit stations, bus stops, public parks, greenways, schools, community centers, and shopping areas. This will make it easier for people to directly walk or bike from one area to the next.

The proposed regulations also include new walkways for crossing large parking lots. These improvements make it not only more convenient to walk and bike, but also safer.

The proposed zoning ordinance would require pedestrian connections at some cul-de-sacs, making it easier to walk, bike, and take transit.

Lastly, the draft ordinance proposes pedestrian connections at culs-de-sac. This would allow people walking or bicycling easier access to main roads, and eliminate the generally long route from a cul-de-sac to the main road.

Better connectivity helps everyone

While these new requirements will not immediately make Prince George’s better for walking, transit use, bicycling, and driving, it will over time increase the number of connections between and within developments. This will in turn improve the overall transportation experience in the county.

The ordinance may not fully address the concerns that currently exclude connections from being built, but it will give investors, developers, and builders the opportunity to think more multimodally and create their own innovative solutions to improve access and mobility in the county. Better connectivity will not only make it easier to choose to walk, ride a bike, or take transit, but also create more direct routes for all modes, which will reduce the deleterious effects of automobile dependency.

The proposed zoning ordinance was presented to the County Council in at the end of April 2018 and it's available online. The council has not yet voted to adopt the legislation. If you have any questions or comments about the ordinance, please reach out to your councilmember.

Bryan Barnett-Woods is a transportation planner in Prince George’s County with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. In addition to bicycling and rowing, Bryan likes nothing more than a good walk in the city. He lives in Barney Circle with his wife and young son. The opinions expressed in this post represent Bryan’s opinions only and do not represent the opinions of his employer.