Rockville’s City Council voted Tuesday to ask the Maryland Transit Administration to move the Corridor Cities Transitway out of King Farm, a new urban community that was designed around the proposed line, after residents complained about its potential impact on their homes.
Both Montgomery County and the City of Rockville planned a dense, mixed-use community at the King Farm site for decades before the community finally opened in 1997. Today, the 430-acre development has been recognized by both the Congress for New Urbanism and the EPA as a good example of walkable, transit-oriented design.
The neighborhood has 3,400 homes, a “village center” with apartments over shops, and a substantial office district where the Department of Health and Human Services is considering relocating. King Farm Boulevard, the neighborhood’s main street, connects all of these uses; from the beginning, it was designed to carry cars in addition to transit vehicles. Two stops on the CCT are planned within King Farm.
The Corridor Cities Transitway’s winding route has long been criticized by urbanists for being too circuitous, though plans to bring the line through existing and emerging activity centers like Crown Farm and “Science City” will make the line more effective and useful to riders. Unlike past adjustments, routing the CCT around King Farm would hurt the project, avoiding thousands of people who would otherwise live within walking distance of the line.
Some activists may be hoping that if they can stymie the CCT, they might stop Science City, officially called the Great Seneca Science Corridor (formerly Gaithersburg West). When that controversial master plan for the area was approved, it included staging requirements that Montgomery County build the CCT before most development can proceed. The possibility of having many workers use transit was one of the arguments in favor.
However, there’s enough momentum and muscle behind Science City at this point that if the CCT doesn’t happen, the Council is more likely to simply waive the staging requirements. That will just mean even more traffic on the area’s roads.
Joan Hannan founded the Coalition for the Preservation of King Farm after realizing that transit vehicles could run in front of her condominium on King Farm Boulevard. She claims that the builder never told her about the CCT and fear that it could force the closure of through-streets in the neighborhood.
Nonetheless, four out of five City Council members were swayed by opponents’ arguments. Rockville Central reports that Councilmember Piotr Gajewski, a King Farm resident, said the Corridor Cities Transitway would give “no benefits” to the neighborhood while being “incredibly disruptive.”
Another Councilmember, Mark Pierzchala, made a motion to suggest moving the line to the middle of I-370, which would bypass King Farm entirely. Only Councilmember John Britton, who noted that the Corridor Cities Transitway will serve King Farm residents going to the future Science City and other destinations in the upcounty, voted against the route change.
Meanwhile, residents in the New Urban community of Kentlands in Gaithersburg, to which King Farm is often compared, not only support light-rail for the CCT but have also gotten the MTA to consider rerouting the line into their neighborhood.
Rockville officials should look beyond the immediate, knee-jerk anti-transit views of a few King Farm officials. The whole city will be far better off with the CCT giving people a real alternative to driving right through Rockville, whether from communities like King Farm to jobs downcounty and in DC, or from points south and east to the new jobs in Science City and elsewhere.