If You Hate Traffic Congestion, You Should Care about Small Area Plans
Prince William County planning staff are creating nine Small Area Plans. Developers in those areas have asked for revisions to allow more-dense development and increase the value of the property proposed for additional houses or commercial uses.
That approach would make sense if the nine areas were locations where the county has opportunities to create mixed use communities with transit.
A smart growth approach starts with selecting the areas where existing roads and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) capacity could move more people. Co-locating houses near jobs, schools, and shopping makes it possible to go places and do things without getting in the car just to drive a mile or two. Bike paths, sidewalks, and trails are an alternative to the car for short distances.
Concentrating new houses in a few locations also makes taking the bus a feasible alternative to driving the car. Bus service can be scheduled so it is reliable and regular, where there are concentrated pockets of potential riders. If Small Area Plans were developed at a series of places along Route 1, including North Woodbridge and Triangle/Dumfries (in partnership with the town), the opportunity to upgrade bus service and VRE would be clear.
However, if Prince William continues to scatter housing and perpetuate sprawl, bus service would be inefficient and expensive. Adults would choose to drive solo rather than take tiresome trips comparable to those required to move students between homes and schools.
By scattering Small Area Plans in an uncoordinated pattern across the county, staff is accommodating the desires of land speculators rather than planning to reduce traffic congestion. Prince William can accommodate the projected population growth while minimizing future traffic jams, or Prince William can plan for new development that will create more traffic congestion.
What can we do? Ask elected supervisors to redirect staff efforts to complete Small Area Plans only where there is high potential to provide transit services.
Upcoming changes to Route 1 offer a great opportunity to redevelop that area. Land use planning could be synchronized with planning by VRE and Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) to upgrade transit services.
The result could be a plan for public services that would attract developers willing to invest in mixed use, transit-friendly communities. This would benefit the residents of Prince William County, not just a few landowners.