Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why the demolition of historic buildings remains a bad idea

Awareness of the value of historic preservation for urban design, economic development and the authenticity of cities has dramatically increased since the days when New York City thought nothing of demolishing its beautiful Pennsylvania railroad station.
Architect Philip Johnson and Aline Saarinen  protesting demolition
of Pennsylavia Station in New York, the beginning of the modern
US preservation movement

Baltimore has one of the largest collections of historically designated buildings in the country; for all of the city's problems, there is hardly anybody who wouldn't praise its rich architectural heritage. However, this hasn't stopped the powers to be from taking down many important structures. A few examples of currently endangered buildings and already lost ones are listed below:

The State not following its own rules : The Baltimore Jail

The Baltimore jail, dating back to the Civil War era,  is a difficult case for anyone who cares about historic preservation. The historic complex is partially still in use and is a manifestation of many of the ills of the American correctional system. Deficiencies in the complex are so rampant that the complex is subject of a lawsuit for violation of human rights in 1971, with various settlements and improvements made since then until Governor Hogan announced a shut-down in 2015. The State took the facility over on request of the City in 1991.
Baltimore City Jail, cruel conditions, notable architecture
The City still operates Central Booking there. In 2015 Hogan said he wants it shut and torn down and that there were no plans to rebuild. This year the Maryland prison system initiated a Section 106 review, a step required if historic properties will be demolished using federal funds (Maryland has adopted the same provision for use of State funds). In the words of the correctional system:
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections Services (DPSCS) is proposing demolition at the Baltimore Correctional Complex in Baltimore City in order to construct a new, state-of-the-art, code compliant facility that meets 21st Century Conditions of Confinement for inmates. The project is needed to respond to the ongoing Federal judicial review and 1993 Consent Decree citing the unhealthy environment, inadequate facilities, and privacy issues at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Pursuant to Maryland Historical Trust Act of 1985 Section 5A-325 and 5A-326, commonly referred to as Section 106, DPSCS initiated Section 106 with the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) on January 29, 2018 and submitted Determinations of Eligibilities (DOEs) on the Baltimore City Jail and Maryland Penitentiary on May 18, 2018; both DOEs can be accessed via this link.  MHT concurred with the findings and DPSCS held the First Consulting Party Meeting on July 25, 2018 and presented the determinations from the DOE documentation, identified the project scope, outlined a draft Area of Potential Effect (APE), and identified historic resources within the APE. 
The State maintains that no alternative locations are available. However, no alternative to demolition has been presented to date which would either relocated prison junctions, rehabilitate the existing historic buildings for correctional purposes or would use them with new uses that either co-exist with correctional uses or require relocation of correctional uses. The 106 process requires investigation of those alternatives:
When a proposed project will have an adverse effect on historic properties, the agency must explore alternatives to avoid, minimize, or mitigate those effects. MHT seeks to prevent adverse effects on historic and archeological properties through consultation. Sometimes adverse effects are unavoidable given project need, environmental or design constraints, emergency situations, or other requirements. (MHT website)
 Barring immediate and strong actions of community groups in the vicinity of the prison or by preservation activists the unique granite structures of the historic prison complex will be demolished without a proper vetting of alternatives and without a proper public involvement process, both are requirements before historic resources can be eliminated.

The jail sits at a critical seam in the middle of Baltimore. It contributes to the isolation of eats-side neighborhoods; the large complex  has long been identified as instrumental for the revitalization of the east side of Baltimore. The swift and largely stealth demolition plans (bids for demolition contracts are already being prepared), are not acceptable, not  from a city planning perspective and much less nor from a historic preservation and not from a due process point of view.

City forces demolition: Gomprecht and Benesch Building

A devastating fire born out of neglect
A sad witness of Baltimore's to date unsuccessful attempts of breathing new life into Baltimore's Westside is the Gomprecht and Benesch Building, a stately a six-story brick commercial building on Eutaw Street just a block north of the Lexington Market. The building has stood vacant for 15 years until it caught fire in 2017, resulting in one of the biggest downtown fires in recent memory. (See article). Since the fire fighters left after two days of fighting the massive fire nothing has been done to save the building. Instead it stands on the busy street with a precariously unstable cornice and without a roof. Inside at least one floor collapsed, yet most of the shell appears to be structurally stable. In efforts to get the absent DC based LLC who owns the building to do something, the City entered into a consent decree that requires demolition by November 28 this year. It is ironic that the City would aim in that direction. Nobody is helped with a vacant lot on Eutaw Street, a downtown artery which, so far, has been largely spared those ugly vacant lots. In the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties the building is described this way:
The Gomprecht and Benesch building
Erected in 1901 in the Renaissance Revival style on the west side of North Eutaw Street about 100 feet south of West Mulberry Street in central Baltimore, Maryland. The five-bay facade has large industrial plate glass vertical pivot windows flanked by Ionic and Corinthian columns. The heavy overhanging cornice has dentils, foliated modillions, and lion heads. The Roman brick side piers have medallions and lion heads below the intermediate cornice. The street level storefront is altered and consists of plate glass windows across the entire front flanked by polished granite panels at the sides. The entrance has been relocated to the north elevation. In 1986, the building was occupied by a printing service. The building was later used by The Tunnel nightclub which closed in 2002.
With a rehabilitation of the Lexington Market apparently within grasp, the demolition of one of the stateliest buildings on Eutaw Street would be the worst outcome possible. Clearly, even if the owners feel unable to fully rehabilitate the building, the demolition would cost likely as much as a new roof which would stabilize the cornice and protect the remaining shell from the elements. Once the building is stabilized the City should assist in finding a developer who would be willing to invest in an area with the region's best transit access.

Developer's pie in the sky developments that don't seem to happen: 

How easily demolished buildings can turn into far bigger eyesores than the vacant structures were before demolition, can be seen on two properties on Baltimore Street, both owned by David S. Brown Enterprises. The most aggravating eyesore can be found at Baltimore's 100% corner at Baltimore and
Pie in the sky: 315 West Baltimore Street (BBJ)...
Charles Street, the intersection from where the four downtown quadrants (east, west, north, south) emanate and where now a field of rubble has replaced the former iconic Mechanic Theatre. Two blocks to the west, Brown demolished a couple of historic garment district buildings and a defunct parking garage. Here too, nothing but a chainlink fence and rubble. In both cases the developer had dangled fancy towers with hundreds of apartments and first
.....Nothing but rubble (315 West Baltimore Street 
floor retail  in front of the eyes of City officials in order to get his demo permits.

All of Baltimore's successful conversions and adaptive reuse projects are apparently not enough to convince officials that preservation is a much better path towards economic development, proven from Boston to Detroit. No city demolishes itself to prosperity.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

An incomplete list of lost Baltimore historic landmarks can be found here

Related on this blog:
Bombing Downtown

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Baltimore transportation updates

As frequent as complaints about Baltimore's transportation system are, nobody can say that nothing happens to make it better. Here a few current examples of progress:

Baltimore Circulator, still alive:

After the contract extension with the previous Charm City Circulator Transdev expired, the free Baltimore City bus service hit some bumps. (see here).
This week the service has resumed on all routes with 8 buses which is about half of the optimal fleet. 3 buses operate on the Purple Line, 2 on Orange and Green and 1 bus on the Banner route. The fleet is a mix of two city owned buses in the traditional colors, two are leased and four are owned by the new operator RMA which currently works on a three months "emergency contract" according to BCDOT spokesman German Vigil.
Charm City Circulator livery (Photo: BBJ)

About the service level the City DOT Director Pourciau says "We believe the current service is comparable to what past vendor had at the end". This is maybe a bit rosy, the website still displays all services to have "major delays".

The buses currently run on a schedule and cannot be located via the NextBus app that was used by Transdev in the past.  Pourciau says that the Transit App  currently shows the scheduled runs and that she is hopeful that buses will sometime during the emergency contract period be able to show their actual locations.
Stopgap measures to keep the service running

The City will enter a three year contract with RMA, a very short contract allowing the City to bring service and allocated funds in alignment and make adjustments to the routes. "We will be working closely with MTA, Pourciau says, "to ensure that the service is complimentary to MTA" and not duplicative. The current buses are temporarily serviced and maintained at a facility at BWI airport.

The promise of a new contract and operator is that the Charm City Circulator could regain its original stature as an innovative, clean, reliable and simple to use service and that funding and cost can finally be brought back into alignment.

Scooters are a hit in Baltimore

Matt Warfield, a City DOT planner shared some exciting scooter statistics: Since Bird and Lime were officially launched in the summer of this year 250,554 rides were taken on the scooters for a total of 324,534 miles. The total number of different users is 84,266.  There are between 800 and 1,400 scooters in the streets each day. The city has established a maximum of 1,000 scooters for each vendor plus a 1,000 dock-free Lime bicycles which have not yet been launched.

Scooter operators aim for a minimum of three rides per scooter a day. According to Mr Warfield Baltimore's average is about 8 rides a day. A "heat map" of where the scooters were used showed a concentration downtown with a fairly good spread into the neighborhoods. Several rides on the map showed trips along arterials reaching to the outer edges of the city.
Electric Scooters landed in Baltimore: They are a success (SUN photo)

The city operates under a 6 months pilot with the two dockless operators in which they pay $1 for each deployed scooter per day  on top of a one time $15,00 base fee. Pourciau admitted that those money currently go into the general fund but promises that accounting is set up to delineate this income and eventually steer it into bike facilities.

The City requires that 25% of the fleet is dispatched in  low income census tracts. The operators have to share their use data with the city, an ongoing issue across the USA. Cities are coordinating through the transportation organization NACTO to provide a uniform data request platform across many cities to avoid that individual administrations are getting the run around from Bird and Lime when it comes to data sharing.

Complete Streets legislation on path towards Council adoption

Ryan Dorsey's Complete Street legislation is moving through the legislative process and was passed in the City Council this Monday in the second reader. It will need one more pass in the Council to become law, provided the Mayor signs it. (Baltimore SUN). DOT Director Pourciau who had a fairly rough start with councilman Dorsey stated that she is excited about the Complete Streets policy and is now looking for "complete funds" to pay for it. Somewhat unique to Baltimore, the legislation has a strong equity component. The legislation requires that the City Department must “to the greatest extent possible, promote walking, biking, and public transit" and “ensure equity by actively pursuing the elimination of health, economic, and access disparities.”

MTA plans many improvements

MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn announced a slew of current MTA activities aiming to improve Baltimore's transit. The agency is currently ramping up to be the lead in the preparation of the new Baltimore Regional Transit Plan which was legislated in the last session. The agency introduced a mobile app that allows ticket purchases on all its modes via smart phone. The app has been downloaded 9,000 times since its introduction in late September. There is now also a 90 minute window for a free transfer, a step which used to cost extra.
Quinn reported that MTA is studying priority corridors for improvements on the current Link Bus service. All buses are now equipped with sensor that allows them to communicate with the City's traffic signals. In a phase two the transit signal priority (TSP) will be expanded to additional intersections. MTA received a $5.5 million grant "beyond the bus stop" allowing more real time bus signs, more operator bathrooms and some other improvements. The current 400 bus shelters will be expanded by 50% to a new total of 600 shelters. A new "cool" bus shelter design will be unveiled downtown shortly.
In addition, the MTA is improving the Camden and the BWI MARC stations with new facility buildings and is going to run a BWI area "microtransit" pilot which will alow dispersed businesses around the airport to get access to transit service.

Bike Network finally being constructed
Construcion between now and summer 2019
Even though closing the Baltimore docked bikeshare system was a setback for bicycling in Baltimore, the dockless scooters and the still envisioned dockless bikes fuel demand for safe bike lanes on which to ride.  The good news is that after a long pause agonizing over fire truck width and minimum lanes needed for fire apparatus, the downtown bike network plan is back on track towards realization between now and summer 2019 with important east-west bike facilities on Centre,Madison and Monument Streets.

A new design negotiated betweenBikemore and BCDOT creates a fully-separated, two-way bike lane along Centre and Monument Streets from MLK/Eutaw to Washington Street. West of Guilford Avenue, Madison Street is planned to have a combination of separated lanes and buffered lanes, the latter in response to the fire code. There has also been opposition by the Director of Baltimore School for the Arts. As anybody familiar with the area knows, the zone around the school becomes very congested when school lets out because so many students are being picked up by parents and there is never any good way for them to park or do the pick-up.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Circulator service severely disrupted - totally down on two routes

As predicted in this space, with the old Transdev contract expiring and the new contract neither in place nor the new contractor RMA of Bethesda possibly being able to ramp up new service that quickly, the inevitable happened: Charm City Circulator buses disappeared from City streets and service was entirely discontinued on the Banner and Green routes.
From today's Circulator website

It appears that the City is trying to patch things up by running loaner buses on the Purple and Orange lines. Lyft is also offering two free rides between 2 stops along the discontinued routes for two days. How many loaners are in service and who drives them remains shrouded in mystery.
No new operator will be able to take over the operation when the Veolia contract extension ends in the first half of October. A patch operation with loaner buses from various local tour bus operators without a proper coordinator seems to be the most likely outcome. It is difficult to imagine how the service can recover from such a blow. (Community Architect Sept 12, 2018)
The service disruption appeared to be unavoidable given how long it took the City to review the bids and eventually file suit against the past operator Transdev , the company who also was one of the two bidders for the new contract. Because that writing was on the wall for a month, it was entirely avoidable, though, to confront riders with the news only a few hours before the service was abandoned.
Running incognito: Charm City Circulator replacement
on Thursday on Light Street

With the vague language of a weather forecast the city oracled “there will be no services tomorrow, with possibly no service on Friday as well” (Website). Somehow City officials imagine that next week they or the selected new operator can muster 14 of the 16 necessary buses to provide full service.
Customers of the Orange and Purple route will experience significantly longer waits. DOT is advising CCC customers to expect delays during the next few days. Delays will be significant in the morning and afternoon rush hour and into the evening.
Impact to routes:
  • Orange Route: Customers may experience significantly longer waits.
  • Purple Route: Customers may experience significantly longer waits.
  • Green Route: There will be no services tomorrow, with a chance of no service on Friday.
  • Banner Route: There will be no services tomorrow, with a chance of no service on Friday.
 “We ask customers to be patient and plan alternative travel arrangements. We know this is a major inconvenience to all those who use the Charm City Circulator” (Website). 
The Next Bus arrival system which the Charm City system had pioneered in Baltimore is down, needless to say. Loaner buses are not equipped to provide this information.

Given that a new contract has not been approved and the City has to abide by strict procurement rules, it is unclear how and when this type of full service should come to pass. One would think that the lawsuit should give officials pause with new fly by the seat of your pants arrangements.
Winging it on the Purple Route: "Major delays"

By all appearances, the dispute with Veolia/Transdev about past billing (The City claims to have been overbilled because the operator charged for scheduled and not for actual service) also stems from hasty decisions that had to be made in an emergency. Back then, the issue was that the City had procured innovative electric buses which didn't hold up in hot summer months and needed replacement. Transdev seems to have felt entitled to the more generous billing method due to a quid pro quo in which the operator provided additional buses and  the City agreed to the creative billing. The City obviously sees it differently and sued. However, it appears to be undisputed that the billing of scheduled service went on for eight years and had not been contested until late last year or early this year.

In DOT Director Pourciau's statement she said on the eve of the service disruption “DOT is working diligently to return services to normal and deeply regrets the inconvenience that this disruption of service will cause to customers. We are taking immediate actions to restore full service to all routes as soon as possible.” Given that MDOT has given the City money to support the Circulator funding, the State may show a keen interest in how and when the service will shape up.

"We will see what happens", the President likes to say when he has no plan.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Previous Community Architect articles about this topic:

City sues Transdev. Circulator on course to crash and burn

City sues Transdev. Circulator on course to crash and burn

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Will the Lexington Market finally be saved?

Markets, food halls, brew pubs and coffee shops are celebrated catalysts of urban revitalization. Each has a long-standing tradition of place-making and interaction as basic building blocks of settlements. None of it had to be invented and yet, all these elements had to be rediscovered after a long period of social isolation stemming from suburbanization, air conditioning, television and individualized mobility people. After the private has trumped the public for decades, people in North America seem to be yearning to meet and mingle in places which are at once familiar and comfortable and also new and cool.
The west market shed: Not much to write home about (Photo Philipsen)

It is telling in many ways that while all of these elements are thriving profit centers for private enterprises, the public markets in Baltimore are ailing. All six Baltimore public markets are in some type of transition except one, the Northeast Market. The saviors have to come from the private side. City agencies and government are too resource strapped and demoralized to come up with much that is creative or doable. When the Baltimore public market agency under directive of various mayors created plans and hired consultants to guide the future of the markets, it often created the unintended result of gumming up the works. As a result some of the markets declined to being a mere shadow of their former selves.

So it was with the aging Lexington Market, mostly ailing from the uncertainty too many City plans have created. In her last days in office, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake announced what was, until last week, the most recent and most problematic plan. It suggested to raze all existing market buildings and replace them with one modern two story glass building to be created on the parking lot to the south of today’s east market.
A long stretch of a miserable pedestrian experience: The vast access area
to the east garage with its garbage and delivery areas (Photo Philipsen)

The plan's had so many flaws, its hard to decide whether the lack of public and vendor participation or the lack of funds to realize the costly plan were he biggest flaw or whether it was its unimaginative design which didn't work in the given topography. In short, it was a plan without players which left merchants in limbo in a building that urgently needed upgrades. Once the death-mark had been put on the structures, no real investments were made anymore. As a result the number of vacant stalls increased while sales decreased. A rat in a bakery case earlier this year seemed like the last nail in the coffin.
The large Westside Market complex is crucial for the future of the entire downtown area (Graphic: ArchPlan)

Now comes Seawall’s Thibault Manekin to the rescue with a cheaper and faster plan that can be started as early as next year. This would shorten the uncertainty. However, not much is known about the plan except what payments Seawall would receive for being the entity which designs and builds the market. Vendors and the public still need to be heard and a consensus has to be created about what the desired outcomes are supposed to be and what therefore, the guiding principles should be. Fundamental questions include:
  • For whom is the market, for poor nearby residents, tourists, the thriving new downtown community or all of the above?
  • What should be the balance between selling fresh foods and consuming prepared foods?
  • What buildings should remain a market, what would be the functions of any new structure?
  • What would be the balance between indoor and outdoor activities?
  • What improvements can be made in the surroundings?
Always plenty of people (Photo Philipsen)
Successful markets are surrounded by activities that support the market function, either by providing customers (the convention center in the case of the Reading Terminal Market), by having small retail in the surrounding stores that complements the market (Seattle's Pike's Peak or Cincinnatti's Findley's Market) or they sit within a thriving or revitalizing area which in itself is a destination (Cincinnatti's Over the Rhine). Baltimore's Lexington Market is surrounded by giant parking structures with all the deadening effect they have on pedestrians and street life. Retail in the area is marginal and whatever is there isn't synergistic with the market in the way the coffee shops, bakeries and delis are elsewhere. The approach to the market from the east, the west, the north or the south reeks of private and public neglect, sometimes worse.

Seawall would oversee the design and construction of the market renovation and potentially also participate in vendor selection to fill the existing vacancies. The same company also designed and renovated the Baltimore Design school in a similar way. In that case the school system is leasing the building back from Seawall. In the case of the Lexington Market the City will keep the ownership. Seawall has recently completed the R-House in Remington, a popular food hall. The company is also known for its affordable teacher housing projects in Remington and Hampden.
Neglect: Burnt in Jan 2017 and never touched since then
(Photo Philipsen)

Private public partnerships are also underway for the Broadway Market in Fells Point, the Hollins Market in Poppleton and the Cross Street Market in Federal Hill. Warhorse Development, whose owner Scott Plank also owns the Belvedere Square market is well aware of the need to invest in the market surroundings. His company is currently renovating rowhouses around Hollins Square. In the case of Lexington Market, various private investments are underway, but they are not a sufficient concerted effort of creating a stable environment for the market. A recent blow to the area was the departure of the Rite Aid located on the first floor of the Atrium apartments (the former Hechts building). Just north of the market the stately former Gomprecht and Benesch Building is just a burnt out shell that hasn't been touched since a spectacular fire gutted the interior in January of 2017.

In a time when the national and local social fabric is under great tension, spaces for diverse communities to come together and find common ground are more important than ever. Markets are such spaces. A successful renovation of Lexington Market is key to a renewal of the Westside and key to the future of Baltimore. The Seawall deal may very well be the last chance to rescue the market and bring it in line with similar successes around the country and the world.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Large deadzones at the large parking garages east and west on Paca Street
(Photo Philipsen)

Western parking garage at Paca Street (Photo Philipsen)

Missing bricks, open tree pits without soil, broken curbs, asphalt patches: Public neglect
(Photo Philipsen)

A nice recent renovation  but no efforts of  "merchandising" , i.e. finding a
healthy mix of retail in the area (Photo Philipsen)

Trash and smell to the south (Photo Philipsen)
Trash and neglect  to the north (Photo Philipsen)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The UB library recast: Architecture to get used to

Two times the University of Baltimore conducted a Abell Foundation funded design competition; two times the winner was Stephan Behnisch architects, headquartered in Stuttgart Germany. After the imposing UB Law School, the much smaller 54,400 sq.ft UB library is now also complete. A ribbon cutting too place last.
The back becomes the front: UB Bogomolny Library

For the first competition UB president Robert L. Bogomolny oversaw the proceedings. The UB Library now bears his name; this project was run under current UB President and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

Many Baltimoreans needed some time to get used to the checker board facade of the law school, there wasn't quite a building like that in all of Baltimore. Many still ask how the outer glass facade would ever be cleaned. But the law school wasn't just a facade, it is an all new building with innovations throughout. For example, an atrium that meanders through all 12 stories.

By contrast, the library is only a four story under $30 million building and essentially, it is the old Langsdale library with a new facade. The atrium here is shrunk to a still impressive new glass stair add-on, slanted and angled, a bit like the stairway at the UB student center, just better.

East West Section with Maryland Ave on the left
 (Behnisch  Architects)
This, now is a library of the future, i.e. multi-media.
We're calling it "the library of forever" because it can be modified to deal with the changes that are coming because of technology and the way people learn. (Kurt Schmoke to the BBJ)
There are still book-racks but also many ways to interact with electronic screens: Coil in solitary seclusion into a shell, with a laptop or an i-pad or collaborate with others. In many ways the upper floors represent an exhibit of the many ways how people like to work today. Alone and invisible, at long tables now common in beer pubs and start-ups, at traditional round tables or in a oddly shaped  glass enclosed mock conference room, resembling fish tanks or exhibit cases. A spot survey proved the hide out in plain view shells to be most popular. The stairway with its view of the sky and into the various floors is impressive, its solid light wood steps inviting, but students use the elevator.
No doubt an improvement: The back of the old Langsdale Library

The transformation of the University of Baltimore's Robert L. Bogomolny Library respects the memory and history of the original library design while simultaneously modernizing it to meet contemporary research, scholarship, archival and environmental demands. The original massing concept of the Library is substantially maintained – that of the “floating box” housing all of the library’s treasures. 
Inside, the Glass hall promotes interior circulation, brings daylight and views into the original floor plate, and creates new informal study and meeting perches within its enclosure. Such spaces reappear on the library floors as well, acknowledging a new era of library use that privileges learning and interaction.(Behnisch website)
The big urban design move is the relocation of the architecturally emphasized main entrance to the rear in a somewhat forced attempt to make the back become a front. The 2014 masterplan basically mandated it:
Renovation of the library will provide a new prominent entry on the west side facing what is now a surface parking lot. This reorientation of the face of the library will apply pressure to develop open space on the west side into a plaza/green space on campus.Circulation through the library's ground level will enhance the experience of walking from the Fitzgerald parking garage to the heart of campus, the Yale Gordon Plaza.
From the garage to the campus plaza: Emphasized connection
While it remains to be seen if the route from the garage to the Gordon Plaza justifies the move, the idea of a green-space between the Barnes and Noble bookstore and the new library is intriguing, especially if it were to include Oliver Street itself and the vast expanse of asphalt that forms the entryway to the Fitzgerald garage in some way. So far, the view from the stairway to the west brings mostly drabness into focus: walled parking lots, containers and the post office facility which UB has already under control.

The price for the new emphasis on the west facade is that the presentation towards Maryland Avenue and the Penn Station area remains somewhat mundane. Those irregular windows with the regular white molded facade panels work very well from the inside.
Molded panels evoking the plastic age. (Photo: Philipsen)

From the outside the panels are somewhat reminiscent of Eiermann facades, a 60's contribution of a German architecture professor who was famous in the Stuttgart and Karlsruhe area a bit before Stephan Behnisch's father Guenther became a figure of national fame. Eiermann was known for designing white molded tiles which adorned the German department store chain Horten. One comment on Facebook read:
"Too much, too soon and too often." (Anna Karras)  
That pretty much sums it up. University architecture should at times be daring but it also needs to be timeless in the sense that the dare will withstand the test of time without looking dated. The law school should have no trouble with that, I am not so sure about the library facade.

Klaus Philipsen

UB website

Views in the open stairway  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Hiding in plain view in work nooks  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Glass enclosed meeting spaces  (photo Klaus Philipsen)
There are still book racks (photo Klaus Philipsen)

traditional work area and gigantic ventilation ducts (photo Klaus Philipsen)

varied horizontal windows work well on the inside  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Aerial view of the new library and the law school looking east (Behnisch Architects, Matthiessen)

Architect Stephan Behnisch (left. Photo: Matthiessen)

West elevation rendering (Behnisch Architects)

The way how the glass wall and the molded panels meet is detailed more cleanly than it looks (photo Klaus Philipsen)

View from the little outdoor plaza (photo Klaus Philipsen)
Dressing up the the old Langsdale building outside, exposing it inside (photo Klaus Philipsen)

the fishbowl meeting spaces (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Color and sand in the yard  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Friday, September 28, 2018

How the State gets to spend $1.1 billion on I-95 toll lanes

How is it possible that the Republican Governor can spend billions on road widening in a State with a Democratic majority in both chambers of the State House, chambers which had voted for gas tax increases to fund transit?
Traffic Relief through more lanes: MDOT website

This question has vexed residents of the Baltimore metro area ever since the Governor nixed the $2.9 billion Red Line rail transit line and has since spent money for added transportation capacity only on roads. (Except for the small State portion for the Washington area Purple Line).

While Maryland has a strong Governor in terms of how the balance of power is assigned, federal transportation and state smart growth laws put many hurdles in the way of just one person deciding how transportation should be done. Shouldn't those prevent such lopsided outcomes?

For example ISTEA: Under George Bush senior the federal government enacted the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, in essence an authorization bill for federal transportation money, as there have been many before and after. However, ISTEA as it became known, was a landmark bill in that it recognized that prudent transportation policy has to look at all modes of moving goods and people in an integrated way, across a regional area and with land use, air quality and effectiveness of expenditures in mind. Transportation experts were jubilant, because they had long demanded that these topics come out of their silos and the question no longer be only, how to make cars move faster, but how to move goods and people in the most efficient and most healthy and sustainable way.
BRTB meeting at BMC: Suburban and rural jurisdictions have the majority
(photo: Philipsen)

To investigate the complicated process how money finds its way to actual transportation projects, I attended the recent meeting of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB), when its main agenda item was the $1.1 billion  toll lane expansion north of MD 43, the current endpoint of the already existing toll lanes. More precisely, the BRTB had to decide whether this project should be added to the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a necessary step before a major transportation investment can occur using federal funds.
...federal regulations require that all transportation-related projects must be listed in a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) with accurate funding schedules in order to be eligible for federal funding. Also, the TIP consists of projects included in, and in support of, the region's long-range transportation plan and ongoing short-range planning efforts (From BRTB resolution 19-5)
Most people probably have never heard of the BRTB or of TIP, or any of the other many acronyms floating around in transportation politics like storm-debris on the Chesapeake Bay. Many of those terms go back to ISTEA, It mandated regional transportation planning organizations such as the BRTB and required analysis to precede construction of facilities.
The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) is the designated metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Baltimore region, encompassing the Baltimore Urbanized Area, and includes official representatives of the cities of Annapolis and Baltimore, the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Queen Anne’s, as well as representatives of the Maryland Department of Transportation, the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Department of Planning, the Maryland Transit Administration, and Harford Transit; (from BRTP Res 19-9)
There is a long version to explain all of this and a short one. Here the short answer why, 27 years after ISTEA, a Governor can still return to the stone age transportation policy of just making cars go faster: 

Every entity that was supposed to guarantee that transportation money is spent wisely has learned to jump through all the regulatory hoops and still pursue exactly what had always been done before. Thus, long-term transportation improvement plans, regional coordination, clean air and major investment studies get produced to prove that the proposed road widening  improves the air, is good for the region, for air quality, the environment, safety and the best way to achieve mobility. In other words: We now spend more time and more money to get the exactly same results as 1991 and before.
CAC member Eric Norton reports on CAC opposition
to the I-95 widening 

Governor Hogan's highway agenda was on display in September 2017, when he and his MDOT Secretary announced a $9 billion highway widening bonanza dubbed the Traffic Relief Plan. It addressed the Washington Beltway, the Baltimore Beltway, the BW Parkway. This was followed by a more Baltimore centered traffic relief plan announced in December. It also included exclusively road widening, including $210 million for toll lane extension to Bel Air. In June the Governor added $890 million  for the extra lanes on I-95 to get faster to Harford County, an extraorinary increase.  Former Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann expressed her gratitude this way:
“Maryland and Harford County have a great friend in Governor Larry Hogan. During the governor’s tenure, the county has received vital support from his administration, including an innovative plan to widen highways in Harford County to provide much-needed congestion relief." (Hogan website)
The BRTB session was instructive in showing how the complicated regulatory parcours can be conquered:

  • First with breakneck speed: The time from announcement to the planned completion in 2022 is only five years. (By comparison, the $2.9 billion Red line was planned and designed for 13 years, not including construction).  That the project wasn't  included in the Transporation Improvement Plan (TIP) even though that plan had just been approved in July of 2018 was a flaw that the recent meeting was to rectify with resolution 19-5. It is notable that the TIP totals $3.198 billion for a three year period.ending in 2022.  The amendment adds a about a third to the expenditures of the entire region, a bit less if one allows that the lane project may still draw money in 2023. The one third "amendment" to the TIP had its own public meeting, short public comment period and determination that the plan was in compliance with the Air Quality requirements of the Clean Air Act. references to accidents and congestion as the main drivers for the investment remained unsubstantiated and unchallenged. 
  • Second with a largely uncritical BRTB. Although its citizen advisory committee (CAC) rejected the amendment with a split vote, the members representing the various regional transportation agencies had little to discuss. There was a brief question about how the I-95 improvement projects were selected and a another one about how well the completed portion of the toll lanes perform and a question about how the improvements for Port Covington are funded. That was all the scrutiny the board could muster. The response to the performance of the existing toll road section that "the segment outperforms expectations" and that up to 44,000 vehicles  use the four additional lanes per day satisfied everybody, even though this volume is below capacity by a factor of 2 or 4 (the four lane I-97 has an ADT of 160,000) and no dollar figures regarding revenue or "return on investment" (ROI) were provided.
  • Third, with the State stacking the deck in favor of the single occupant automobile: In response to a BRTB question how the toll lanes were identified as the most appropriate way to solve regional transportation bottlenecks, the response was that the Maryland Toll Authority (MdTA) can only spend its funds on its own toll roads. This eliminates pretty much everything else except the Bay Bridge (which has its own expansion study). The toll revenue in 2017 was a whopping $670,760,000 in 2017, an increase of $26 million over 2016. When asked why high occupancy vehicles and vanpools couldn't drive free on the new lanes like in Virginia, BRTB members were told that Virginia reimburses its private operator for those tolls and that such use of revenues isn't allowed in Maryland. No word, though, that the I-95 toll lanes would be operated privately.
  • Fourth: Circular logic: Maybe the most telling moment came, when the Harford County representative rebutted the CAC critique of the project as solely auto oriented  with the observation that transit was way too limited to divert any significant amount of traffic. The board member compared 450 train passengers with the 44,000 cars on the current toll lanes. He has a point, but with that logic transit will continue to starve and roads will remain to be king.
  • Fifth: Cavalier Methods: Congestion mitigation through increased road capacity is routinely counted as an improvement to air quality, even though it promotes the expanded use of  motor vehicles, one of the largest contributors of air pollution.  This is all the BRTB got to hear about how the I-95 widening improves air quality:
The Interagency Consultation Group (ICG) has determined that implementation of the projects will not worsen the region’s air quality or delay the timely attainment of air quality standards or interfere with implementation of any transportation control measures (TCMs), consistent with the Conformity Rule (40 CFR Parts 51 and 93); (From BRTB resolution 19-5)

Express Toll Lanes (ETL) north of MD 43 (MDOT presentation boards Jan 2018)
The discussion about air quality was, indeed, another instructive element of the BRTB session when it came to its own agenda item and the CMAQ resolution. Again, federal regulations determine what the BRTB has to do in theory. In practice, there is little meaning left of the original intent of  giving residents in the metro area of Baltimore better air. Ever since the metrics of the Clean Air Act were applied, our metro area was classified as a non-attainment area. This is what the BRTB resolution says:
The Baltimore region is classified as marginal non-attainment for the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) and moderate non-attainment for the 2008 Ozone NAAQS, and must work to ensure the region maintains conformity with the state's air quality plan; The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program was created to provide funding for transportation programs and projects that reduce air pollution and mitigate congestion from the transportation system, and this funding is provided to state and local governments to assist them in reaching federal air quality requirements established by the Clean Air Act.
The BRTB didn't need much time to adopt CMAQ Performance Plan 2018, even though confusion about how those improvement targets were calculated was obvious from some of the questions and even from the response. It went something like this:  Congestion reduction is calculated via formulas as emission reduction. Since the multitude of  measures planned in the TIP has not been individually modeled for each case, the sum total of all planned benefits is simply extrapolated from the past calculated improvement. No specific projects to improve air quality such as higher transit mode shares, active modes, or transportation electrification measures were mentioned.

A frequent complaint regarding the Baltimore Metropolitan Council is the dominance of suburban and rural jurisdictions which can out-vote the two municipalities on the BRTB any time. The lone voice against the I-95 widening concept came from the representative of Annapolis, Sally Nash. The representative of Baltimore City is DOT Director Michele Pourciau. This year it is her turn to chair the meetings. According to the parliamentarian rules, the chair doesn't vote except as a tie breaker. The I-95 measure passed the BRTB 12-1. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, September 27, 2018

MTA goes mobile

After the Maryland Transit Administration's collaboration with the mobile app "Transit" MTA's which allows riders to see the location of their bus in real time, MTA has now taken the next step into the 21st century with CharmPass, a mobile transit pass app that makes it faster, and easier for transit riders statewide to purchase fares for all of MTA's services, including MARC, Commuter Bus as well MTA bus, Light Rail and Metro Subway.
MTA announcement of CharmPass today (Photo: Sean Winkler)

The biggest innovation is that with CharmPass riders get a free 90 minute transfer without extra charge.  The app is available for download and can be used starting today.

The MTA announced the innovation Thursday at 11 am in front of Penn Station. “This new mobile ticketing app is another way we’re working to improve our customers’ experience on transit,” said MDOT MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn. “CharmPass is an innovative tool that will eliminate the need for people to fumble with cash, which will help speed the boarding process and improve reliability.” He was flanked by MDOT's Ricky Smith, Tradepoint Atlantic's Aaron Tomarchio and Robin Budish of Transit Choices.
Depending on the city where you live, paying for a ride on public transit can be complicated. A single morning's commute can involve a confounding mishmash of cash, paper tickets and electronic swipe cards. And different parts of a transit system -- buses, subways, commuter trains -- can sometimes be independent from each other, frustrating riders who have to juggle multiple fare cards and different methods of payment. (Governing)
With the help of the new app transit riders can purchase tickets right from their smartphones for one-way, 1-day, 7-day and 31-day passes; Tickets can be paid using a credit or debit card or PayPal. Transit riders can split charges between two credit or debit cards.  The MTA says that reduced fare tickets  for senior and students, for example can be purchased this way. The app streamlines repeat purchases and makes tickets available immediately to the user.

Mobile tickets are activated by the CharmPass app and must be shown to the operator, conductor or at Metro to the station attendant. Tickets that are activated become animated and contain multiple security features including security codes that change daily. Operators may instruct transit riders to tap the screen to verify that the ticket is valid. When tapped, the screen changes color. Expired tickets turn gray. Since tickets are stored on the phone, they can also be activated where the phone is not connected to the Internet.
CharmPass  welcome screen

The introduction of mobile ticketing is the latest round of reducing one of transit's persistent access hurdles, the ticket purchase. This hurdle is especially high for the occasional rider who is not familar with the complicated fare boxes, the fare structure or the types of tickets which are sold and loath to face all these complications while in line to board a bus. Additionally, cash transactions in front of the bus driver slow the bus down for extended periods of time, especially when dollar bills are repeatedly rejected by the fare collection machines.
Passengers on the Metra commuter rail in the Chicago region, which only started accepting credit cards in 2009, can now buy tickets and passes on a mobile app called Ventra. The app, which has been downloaded more than 2 million times, can also be used on Chicago’s subway system and on the suburban bus network. Passengers have bought more than $250 million worth of tickets on it in the two years since it launched. (Governing)
The MTA is one of several transit agencies utilizing smart phones for tickets. However, Washington's WMATA abandoned its plans for mobile ticketing last year, Paul Wiedefeld, a past Administrator of the MTA said, that the market wasn't there yet. At the MTA, for now the option to pay by cash, have paper passes or use the electronic CharmCard remains as well, a panoply of options that is in itself confusing, especially for operators.  Transit experts recommend that agencies would go cash-less as a simple way to accelerate bus service. One day a single mobile app will replace all other fare purchase options.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Star architect Renzo Piano in Baltimore

Hopkins University President Ron Daniels knew perfectly well that the invited architect wouldn't be  the enfant terrible which he was at 34 when he won the Centre Beaubourg in Paris design competition together with Richard Rogers in 1971, but a now internationally celebrated superstar who, at age  81, is  less likely to rock the Hopkins boat. Yet, in a discussion with Renzo Piano, on short notice arranged on the Hopkins Campus on Monday and titled "The Role of Architecture in Civil Society", Daniels, who is 59 but looks like 44, tried several times  to elicit the reverberations of the disruption the industrial looking Beaubourg had provoked in Paris and beyond. The most provocative thing the star architect finally said: "So it looks like a refinery? Yeah, why not?"
Ron Daniels and Renzo Piano at Hopkins on Monday
(Photo: Philipsen)

Renzo Piano is spry, witty and very well mannered, a perfectly fine dinner guest. His native tongue is Italian, he lives in Paris and builds all over the world. He had no trouble producing any number of print-ready English statements about architecture and the role of architects. ("Life is not what you have done but what is still to be done").

Recently Daniels had dinner with Piano in Athens since the Piano designed cultural center there is named for and funded by the same Stavros Niarchos Foundation which will also fund the envisioned Hopkins Agora project. (The Foundation also funded a large portion of the Parkway theater renovation on North Avenue). The Athens Center has already advanced to second most visited attraction in Athens after the Acropolis. Clearly, Hopkins is trying to direct some of the architect's glow to Baltimore by announcing last week that it had tapped the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) as their architect.  Daniels grabbed Piano's  elbow so often and looked at him with such adoration, that in a different constellation, it could have constituted harassment. Having the indefatigable man's fame rub off on the Hopkins institution is clearly the goal, even though the university's small 35,000 square foot interdisciplinary center, dedicated to the idea of strengthening democracy through civic engagement and discourse worldwide is tiny compared to the $800 million, 1.28 million square foot Greek project. In Greece the architect moved a mountain, what can he move in Baltimore?
Back of the Centre Beaubourg: Refinery architecture  shock in 1977

Students and MICA President "Sammy" Hoi got to ask the master some questions. All centered around how Piano can unite a divided Baltimore, or more modestly, how the programmatically themed "agora" building could unite people.

Piano noted that as an architect one has to understand shifts in society "as a builder" and "you need to be  bit a poet". "It’s a constant struggle", he said, "it looks obvious but it isn’t. Listen to the people is at the center."  He also allowed, a bit more to the point, that it is "important to understand the relationship between the city and the university".  He mentioned his Palais de Justice on the northeast edge of Paris, the "banlieue",a giant project that somehow is supposed to provide healing between the healthy core city and its ailing edges.

Under the gray and rainy skies of Monday's Baltimore Pritzker Prize winner Piano who currently is the star of a retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, had walked the Homewood Campus this way and that way to see what it would tell him. Piano and his American born partner Mark Carroll, apparently impressed be the dripping lushness of the Hopkins terrain, came away with the notion that "nature would definitely be part" of what defines the new building. Other than that they demurred and didn't say much about what they may have in mind. This isn't surprising, since the university still has to find a suitable site for the new center.
Stavros-Niarchos-Foundation Cultural Centre, Athens (Photo: Michel Denance)

First rumblings that the best location for a new statement may be the Mattin Center surfaced already in 2015 and caused some consternation  among Hopkins and in the architectural community. The arts center was Hopkins' last attempt of harnessing architectural starpower when they commissioned internationally known New York studio of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien to design it. As the below description taken from the architect's website indicates, many of the very same objectives now on the table for Renzo Piano to crack were also part of the Mattin Center which isn't even 15 years old.
The Mattin Center at Johns Hopkins University is a place to nurture the creative arts in a school where the primary focus has always been science and engineering. Students come here in their free time to take non-accredited classes in dance, theater and the visual arts. In many ways, it functions as an impromptu student union.
The center is composed of three buildings housing visual art and computer rooms, a dance studio, student offices, a black box theater, individual and group music practice rooms, and a café. Art studios open directly onto terraces. Large windows permit views into ground level dance studios. A brilliant green ceiling reflects light from a hidden skylight to a café below. Clerestory windows bring natural light to the student offices. The three structures are containers of life and light, and the triangulated plan sites the buildings close to each other, so people see other people working, creating a visual community.
The buildings are cut into the existing slope of the site and act as retaining walls to create a sunken, sheltered courtyard. This is the heart of the project and serves as a place of passage, gathering, study, and meeting. The roofs of the buildings that form the courtyard are accessible terraces. A series of ramps and stairways connect the plaza and terrace levels as well as the Center to the Hopkins campus beyond.  By cutting the buildings into the ground, the strong presence of the wooded knoll and the character of the existing Neo-Georgian architecture are retained. 
Hopkins campus: Where is the gateway?
The new envisioned SNF Agora Institute is a 2017 initiative based on a $150 million gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. As the BBJ described it "It is intended to be both an academic space and public forum that will bring together experts from diverse fields including political science, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, ethics, sociology and history. It will facilitate scholarly research and experiments on improving civic engagement." The local architect partner for the prestigious project was announced on Monday as well: It is Ayers Saint Gross (ASG) of Baltimore, a firm nationally and internally known for its campus plans and architecture.  According to Adam Gross of ASG, his firm has previously collaborated with RPBW on the Harvard Allston masterplan and on the Whittle School in DC. Added principal Stephen Wright: "the relationship with Renzo Piano is collaborative and isn't one where we are told what to do".
Mattin Center: Are its days numbered?

Asked whether there was room on the Hopkins campus for a new project without tearing significant buildings down, Hopkins President Daniels answered answered with a clear "yes".

Right after the one hour discussion in Baltimore, Mr. Piano headed off to take the train to New York where his firm is together with SOM behind the masterplan for Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus in Harlem, slated for completion by 2030. Star architects are not allowed to get tired. Here, too, diversity, access and overcoming divisions will play a key role and the Italian is supposed to make the miracle happen.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA