In preparation for tonight's big event, I'd like to explain two concepts that will be used throughout our advocacy campaign to "Fix 198 Now": charrettes and consensus.
How is a charrette different from a meeting?
The format of tonight's meeting is a charrette (pronounced SHAR-et). A charrette is an intense planning session where stakeholders (local residents, property owners, businesses, organizations, etc.) collaborate with decision-makers (planners, developers, architects, engineers, government agencies, or elected officials).
A charrette is designed to encourage participation, dialogue, and most importantly, collaboration by all stakeholders. Many times, participants are instructed to form small groups to facilitate dialogue. The advantage of this format is that it encourages ALL attendees to participate in the discussion and reduces the likelihood that individuals with loud voices and strong personalities dominate the meeting.
An effective charrette demands that participants be well-informed of the context and background of the issue at hand. The first half hour of tonight's meeting will consist of a presentation and question-and-answer session to get everyone up to speed on the MD 28/198 Corridor Improvement Study and the County's plans for revitalizing Burtonsville.
Often times, a charrette will have props that can help visualize alternative solutions or designs. These can be especially helpful when space constraints, traffic circulation, and building layouts are a top concern, as is the case with Burtonsville's Segment D of MD 198.
At our meeting tonight, we will provide LEGO blocks so participants can "Build a Better Burtonsville", using the blocks to represent turn lanes, landscaped areas, medians, sidewalks, access roads, and intersections. Hopefully not only will this make the meeting fun and memorable, but also facilitate conversations, enhance understanding of the existing land use, and assist in the development of workable solutions.
Importance of consensus-based decision-making
The second important theme for this campaign is consensus, or more specifically the concept of consensus-based decision-making. Consensus is different from a typical majority-rules form of decision making because it aims to find a solution that is in the best interest of the whole. An important aspect of consensus is participants are encouraged to reach a decision that everyone can support, even if it is not the most-favored solution for each individual.
It's understandable that many long-time residents and businesses have strong opinions of how they want Burtonsville and MD 198 to look like in the future, and the aim of this charrette is to gather the myriad of ideas, concerns, and preferences to develop a solution that takes into account as many of these as possible and serves the whole group.
Consensus is the best way to persuade our county and state government to finally invest in the revitalization of Burtonsville. We need a consistent message to send to SHA and the County to show that the community overwhelmingly wants change. If each individual or group advocated in their self-interest for competing demands, our politicians, government officials, and highway engineers will believe that the situation is too complex and decide to avoid making a decision which could be unpopular with the community.
Community support for a locally-preferred alternative can also be used to persuade our county and state legislators to stop postponing important related projects such as the Burtonsville Access Road, and prioritize it above less-popular projects with fewer benefits in the County's state transportation priorities letter.
So in a nutshell, if our community cannot agree to a solution for what we want MD 198 in Burtonsville to look like in the future, we might get stuck with what we have for another twenty to forty years.
Many long-time Burtonsville residents remember the business impact of SHA's decision to build the US 29/MD 198 overpass, and several members of the East County Citizens Advisory Board raised similar concerns when SHA presented their plans for MD 198 at the ECCAB meeting on October 2016.
The goal of Coalition to Fix MD 198 is not to push for a specific solution for MD 198, but to empower the community to develop a consensus on a locally-preferred solution that accounts for the needs of local businesses, pedestrians, residents, shoppers, and commuters.
While we all agree that MD 198 in Burtonsville is not safe, there are many opinions on how best to fix it. If we collaborate to find a solution that everyone can agree to, then we just might be able to see it happen!