Elaine Smith, a Bowie resident for 24 years, says every city has a "visual signature."
On Monday night, she and 14 allies won their first battle to protect what they consider Bowie's signature, a tree-lined 1.3-mile stretch of Rte. 197 in the center of the city. The City Council voted unanimously to oppose a state and county plan that would eliminate most of the several hundred trees and relocate a bike path from that road.
The 15-member Committee to Upgrade Roads Rationally in Bowie (CURRB) was formed last month to protest the proposal to widen Rte. 197 (Collington Road) to become a four-lane divided highway with a 16-foot-wide median strip between Rte. 450 and Kenhill Drive. City planners had proposed that the median be reduced to four feet, but in Monday's meeting the council voted to oppose even that.
CURRB members proposed instead that the road be widened to a four-lane highway without the median so that most of the trees, many of which are about 20 years old, and the bike path could be preserved. CURRB Chairman Richard Nacewicz said the group has gathered the signatures of 1,500 Bowie residents in support of their plan and sent copies to the City Council members, the state legislators representing Bowie, County Council member Richard Castaldi, who represents the area, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
About 15 persons testified at the City Council meeting, many of them agreeing that heavy traffic in the area mandates a wider road. But they spoke out against the proposal to include the median.
"If either plan is adopted, the very heart and soul of what makes the bike path so desirable to the people of Bowie will be destroyed," said John Haughey.
Some of the residents said they preferred an alternate plan affecting roads west of Bowie that would widen Rte. 193 (Enterprise Road) between Rtes. 50 and 450.
James Willett, of the Long Ridge section in western Bowie, said the Enterprise Road plan would allow better traffic flow out of the city.
"This would result in a more equitable distribution of the traffic load, reduce travel time and even benefit those living along the Enterprise Road corridor," he said.
Del. Joan Pitkin (D-Prince George's), a 26-year resident of Bowie, testified in favor of the CURRB plan. Afterward, she said that with the median strip, she worried that the road could be targeted to become part of a major highway designed to connect Prince George's and Montgomery counties "and increase the potential for six lanes."
But Edward Jankiewicz, a project coordinator for the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation, said the median is a necessary safety measure.
"There is a significant safety difference between a four-lane undivided highway and a four-lane divided highway," he said. "With each additional foot of median, there is increased safety. The median strip serves to reduce glare from headlights, reduce the potential for head-on collisions and provide for pedestrian safety."
County and state officials will make the final decision on the widening of the road. Jankiewicz said construction could start as early as May.