Showing What Accessible Transportation for All Could Look Like

Landscape Architecture Students Partner with PG County for Bowie Complete Streets Project

PG County's Trail Development Program Manager, Robert Patten, reviews plans with Landscape architecture student Mara Wolfe. Landscape architecture student Mara Wolfe.

Image Credit: Catherine Madsen

April 26, 2023 Kimbra Cutlip

With spring fully underway, sidewalks, trails and bike lanes are beginning to team with life again, and in most U.S. cities and suburbs, that invites direct conflict between users of different modes of transportation. Cyclists and scooters weave between leisurely walkers and people pushing strollers. Roller skaters and pedestrians with canes navigate intersections alongside impatient car drivers.

Right-of-way in America has mostly been designed around cars, and sometimes walkers, with little regard for the idea that there are multiple ways to get around. But with help from a landscape architecture class at the University of Maryland, one city now has a plan to grow with outdoor access for everyone in mind.

Working with the official Bowie Trails Plan that was published in 2019, the students examined existing and planned streets, sidewalks and paths in the heavily suburbanized city of Bowie, Maryland, about 12 miles east of campus. Currently, parks and trails in Bowie are disconnected, meaning the only way to get from one side of the city to another, or from many residential areas to shops and recreational spaces is by car, and future plans did not take advantage all the opportunities to provide greater access for non-motorized transportation. So the students produced a detailed plan for new trails and pathways that would improve connectivity and accessibility for people on all modes of transportation.

Called the Bowie Complete Streets project, it was designed by students in UMD Professor Christopher Ellis’s landscape architecture studio class, LARC 341 Regional Design, in collaboration with the Prince George’s County division of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

“Initially, PG county was looking for us to help design a bike trail running north to south,” said Dr. Ellis. “But we thought, OK, it’s not just people on wheels who need to get around, but people with walkers and canes, or little kids on tricycles, you know. So, how can we make it complete and not just for one mode or another?”

The concept of “complete streets” is a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated and maintained to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. The philosophy has been gaining ground across the country.

“This project introduced me to planning and designing on a larger scale and really opened my eyes to what landscape architecture could be,” said Javiera Diaz-Ortiz, a senior landscape architecture student who helped edit the final plans that were presented to the county. “I had thought of landscape architecture as smaller scale, designing a park or landscape around a hospital campus or something like that. But having a park in a community doesn’t solve issues of environmental justice if people can’t get to it."

The students explored different types of roadways in Bowie and weighed the benefits of adding dedicated sidewalks and bike lanes versus shared use paths that are wide enough for safe use by both bicycles and pedestrians. They had to consider how people move in different spaces. For instance, around an outdoor mall, where walkers meander randomly between shops, it’s safer for bikers to have their own lane, but on pathways that lead from one point to another, a shared use path is possible.

The students worked to retrofit existing infrastructure and incorporate regulations associated with crosswalks and traffic circulation into their plans. The final result was a 95-page professional report that city and county officials can use as a guide for future development projects and an advocacy tool for influencing state and county owned road projects in the city.

“It felt like we were contributing to a future Bowie that is more connected and sustainable and provides environmental opportunities for residents,” Diaz-Ortiz said.

“Working with the students was great,” said Robert Patten, Trail Development Program Manager for Prince George’s County, who presented the project idea to Dr. Ellis and helped guide the students on the project. “Bowie is a city that’s trying very hard to become more bikeable and walkable, and it’s very useful to have this plan already thought out and ready to go as different projects come up.”


The Bowie Complete Streets Project was a partnership between UMD and Prince George’s county that was established through Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability, which creates real-world learning opportunities for students by pairing them with local government projects that can benefit from UMD expertise and enthusiasm.