"Smart growth" may be the buzzword today, but our region had its own "smart growth" plan back in 1961, when the National Capital Planning Commission published "A Policies Plan for the Year 2000: The Nation's Capital." If we had only followed it, we would not be in the predicament we are today.
That plan envisioned more than 100 miles of subway. It also called for six growth corridors and three beltways: an inner loop in the District, today's Beltway and an outer beltway. In 1965 a seventh corridor and a fourth beltway were added to the plan.
The 2000 plan envisioned the corridors radiating out from the region's central core with protected open-space wedges between them. The corridors would support rapid rail and freeways, and the only interchanges would be where the corridors intersected the beltways. At these points compact development centers would be well served by the radial freeway, rail and the circumferential beltway.
Unfortunately, most of the plan was not implemented. The rapid rail system was first extended beyond the Beltway in 1983. The Capital Beltway opened in 1964 and still stands alone as a facilitator of circumferential traffic. The Fairfax County Parkway is the only remnant of the planned outer beltway.
The 2000 plan did not foresee the diminished role of employment in the District, the explosive increase in suburb-to-suburb commuting. It did not foresee the number of households with two or more vehicles doubling from three in 10 in 1968 to six in 10 in 1994.
A few rough examples exist of how the plan could have been implemented. For example, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington uses Metrorail and I-66 to serve compact mixed-use development. Similarly, the radial corridor in Montgomery County including I-270 and Metrorail acts as the growth area--an overworked one in the absence of a planned limited-access circumferential route such as the intercounty connector.
Although the 2000 plan was not implemented, our population and employment still grew by 85 percent and 170 percent respectively between 1960 and 1990. Development spilled into the open-space wedges because new residents and businesses had no development corridors to follow and no connecting beltways whose intersections would form activity centers. The result is a haphazard array of connecting roads and overloaded neighborhood streets. While we have a world-class Metrorail system, we still have the nation's second-worst traffic congestion.
Solving that congestion is going to take a recognition of both past mistakes and present realities. About 80 percent of our regional population now enjoys a suburban lifestyle.
More than 90 percent of all trips in the region are made by auto, and more than 95 percent of our high-tech employment is in the suburbs.
Further, official forecasts call for 95 percent of our region's population growth to occur outside the urban core by 2020; at the same time, 82 percent of prospective home buyers want a single-family home in the suburbs.
But quality of life means being able to get to work without sitting in traffic for hours, getting home in time to spend time with friends and family, and being able to schedule business meetings or recreational trips without having to worry about being able to make it through traffic in time.
The circumferential suburb-to-suburb transportation corridors envisioned in the 2000 plan should be added back into the region's planning--not as development corridors now--but as limited-access parkways, transit and hiker-biker paths to connect what is already on the ground.
A business coalition led by the Greater Washington Board of Trade recently proposed reintroducing major portions of the transit and circumferential parkways. This proposal deserves support. Smart growth also means smart roads--new limited-access parkways connecting centers of development, the completion of unfinished roadway links, better intersections and synchronized traffic lights.
Adding and delivering these and other improvements is what will make smart growth more than just a slogan.
is a member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.