Better communities. Less traffic. More Choices. They said it over and over again.

Drawn by that mantra Thursday night, about 50 people gathered in a classroom at the University of Maryland, in College Park, to talk about ways to make Prince George's County's existing communities more livable and how best to plan the future growth and development in the county.

There was a lot of discussion but little dissent: Speakers said the county and the entire region need a comprehensive plan that addresses growth, traffic and community needs. More specifically, they said, it needs transit-oriented development--pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use communities that focus around centrally located bus or rail lines.

Three speakers reinforced that theme, as did several short, impromptu lectures from audience members, who included Prince George's County Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) and Mount Rainier Mayor Fred Sissine.

Indeed, the speakers were preaching to the choir, and here was the sermon:

"More than anything else, transportation determines land-use patterns," said Kristen Forsyth, program manager for 1,000 Friends of Maryland, a Baltimore-based group founded in 1996 to try to encourage growth that does not depend on the automobile.

"We cannot provide protection for existing communities if we continue to send our resources to new areas," she said.

Added Harry Sanders, who represented the Silver Spring-based Action Committee for Transit, "We need to redirect growth away from the outer regions and into the older communities."

The forum was sponsored by the 1,000 Friends of Maryland and the Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities.

Although most participants in the three-hour forum were clearly already believers, they came together with the hope of starting "a larger and more diverse dialogue about what growth in the suburbs means for existing communities," Forsyth said.

Another forum is scheduled for July 7 in the Oxon Hill area.

"I'm really encouraged because there are people here I've never seen before," said Forsyth, who was one of the meeting's primary organizers. "We hope to start a larger and more diverse dialogue about what growth in the suburbs means for existing communities."

Sanders spoke about proposed rail alternatives north and south of the Capital Beltway that would essentially follow its curve and ease traffic congestion. The southern route, he said, would be of particular interest to Prince George's, connecting (at least in the beginning) New Carrollton and College Park to Silver Spring, Bethesda and beyond.

He cited rail success stories: the Orange Line in Arlington and the Red Line in Dupont Circle. If Prince George's could attract more development around the Metro stops, Sanders said, it could be a ticket to success.

"The inner line has density, more people, more jobs," Sanders said. "It really works in D.C. and Arlington County. There's no reason why some of those things can't be done here."