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Prince George's County: Sprawl, Not Metro Access, Is Biggest Problem
Construction at Prince Georges Plaza. Photo by iwantamonkey.

Construction at Prince Georges Plaza. Photo by iwantamonkey.

Over at Greater Greater Washington, David Alpert is arguing that Prince George’s County isn’t building enough transit-oriented development around its Metro stations. In his words, “Prince George’s County is completely failing to take advantage of its existing Metro infrastructure.” The evidence that sparked this claim is this image, from Metro’s bicycle and pedestrian study:

Quite simply, that picture doesn’t show what Alpert thinks it shows. Alpert notes that the Metro stations aren’t surrounded by the orange and red polygons that show significant growth directly around the Metro stations along the Red Line. That’s true. But the relevant criteria for assessing transit-oriented development cannot simply be how many housing units and jobs move near transit over the next twenty years. Those numbers only make sense in relation to broader economic and demographic trends.

Unlike all of Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, the baseline color on that chart is dark green in Prince George’s County. That means that overall, they are expected a decline in both housing and employment density. That is, without a doubt, partly because of sprawling developments beyond the map. It is also because of the core economic trajectory of the county, however. While the Maryland Department of Planning does expect an increase in Prince George’s County’s population, that increase is entirely projected among senior citizens. MDP expects the employment rate for the county to decrease by 2030. Montgomery County, by contrast, will also see major increases in the size of its working population. Median per capita income is also predicted to rise much more rapidly in Montgomery County than in Prince George’s County. In other words, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. The Metro-accessible areas of each county are operating in very different economies.

Returning to WMATA’s image, I think that it very clearly shows that the areas along Metro lines will be almost the only ones growing in inner Prince George’s County. Imagine if the standard color for Prince George’s County were light green, for some growth, rather than dark green, for decline. Adjusting everything upwards, how different would the two Maryland counties look, after all? Would Prince George’s County still look worse than Fairfax County?

The problem isn’t that Prince George’s County doesn’t appreciate its Metro infrastructure. According to that reading of the image, it appreciates its non-Metro accessible areas far less than those along rail. The real problem is the County is shifting growth beyond the borders of this map entirely. The inner areas of Prince George’s County are being built around Metro; it’s just that the whole area is being sacrificed for building far outside the Beltway. It’s not about Metro stations and transit-oriented development; it’s about sprawl. That’s a different and much worse problem, but it calls for a very different course of action than attempting to create a Montgomery County-style string of pearls along Metro.

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