How Cars Harm Olney’s Transportation and Business

by Connor Pugh ‘24

Olney has long been a popular spot for students attending Sherwood to relax and hang out with friends. The town is officially considered a satellite community, which means it is a smaller town adjacent to the core of the metropolitan area, namely Washington. However, satellite communities often have their own distinct cultural and historical identities that set them apart from other towns.

In the Master Plan for Olney by the Montgomery County Planning Commission, a main goal stressed is to “reinforce the concept of Olney as a satellite community in the residential and agricultural wedge area.” Additionally, Olney is one of the only choices at a convenient distance from those living nearby due to the extensive coverage of suburbia in the surrounding areas, making it vital to the local community. With these combined factors, it is supremely important that Olney should be made friendly to walking and casual strolling for the benefit of local shoppers, as well as protect businesses and establishments that preserve the unique identity of the town. Unfortunately, the town of Olney in its current state does none of these things, making it extremely hostile to transportation that isn’t by car and creating an environment that prevents local businesses from surviving amidst corporate chains and supermarkets.

The main problem with Olney’s urban planning is the takeover of space by roads congested with automobiles, making a simple walk unpleasant or occasionally even dangerous. The main example would be the intersection between Route 108 and Georgia Avenue right in the center of town, where to get from one side of the street to the other, a person would need to cross anywhere from five to lanes of traffic. Additionally someone may have to cross a yield lane that isn’t regulated by traffic lights, making it even more unsafe for pedestrians crossing. The modern design of Olney was made for automobiles, which includes large roads, larger parking lots, and little room for those seeking other means of transportation.

Not only does the automobile-centered design of Olney disturb pedestrian traffic, it also affects businesses in town. People are encouraged to make quick stops and then leave, rather than go to town to simply browse, hang out, and enjoy themselves. Generally a person would go into town for one or two specific reasons, and leave when they are done. This means businesses that prioritize quick and simple service such as fast-food chains have a higher chance of surviving, while more local, niche businesses are at a disadvantage.

While a complete uprooting of the entire structure of Olney may be too extreme, smaller changes can be made. A main solution would be to make the town accommodating to transport that isn’t by automobile, like expanding sidewalks and designing separate space for transportation like bikes so there isn’t competition over a small sidewalk. By making the town friendly to other methods of transportation, people will have less of a need to use cars and therefore less space needs to be made to accommodate them. Instead, this space can be used for recreational purposes to encourage people to just stay and enjoy themselves, making Olney more favorable to businesses that create a unique identity. Additional changes can also include creating more greenery and space for nature so the town doesn’t consist of blocks of concrete and asphalt. These changes would be a positive step towards making Olney a desirable place to hang out in, as well as preserve its unique identity and prevent it from being just a stop on the highway.