Wednesday, July 15, 2015

After the Red Line - can there be a "Plan B"?

After the death of the Baltimore Red Line at the end of a 10 year plus full project development the question "what is plan B?" could be seen as, well, inappropriate.

As inopportune as asking a couple the morning after a miscarriage what their plans for another baby are. Or offering them a cuddly consolation prize in form of a hamster or rabbit.

Or, if this analogy, in which the next baby could be light rail without the pesky tunnel or transit without rails or the cuddly rabbit in form of a spruced up Quickbus, is too tasteless one could talk about process.

Process as in that something that had emerged as a regional consensus could not overnight be replaced, even if one forgoes federal funding and FTA New Starts procedures. That good planning and thorough vetting are still needed to build a new consensus, get buy-in from as many sides as possible, achieve a design that can be built, funded and constructed and performs well.

Typically, even with a "do it now" mentality this is not a matter of 30 days and usually not even of one election cycle.  Just like a couple that wants to build a house. After months of checking neighborhoods and alternative designs they finally buy a piece of land, hire an architect, review and revise designs until they have the perfect fit. They get zoning and permits approved, and a mortgage applied for and approved. The invitations have gone out for the groundbreaking party.

Imagine, that is when the husband decides he'd rather spend the down payment with his buddies who have been feeling quite neglected by all this attention to his marriage and new house. So they go on a series of happy hours, revive the good old days and get really loaded in the process.
Alternative streetcar? New streetcar model (Toronto)

That husband may not be in a good place to ask what plan B is. The husband's buddies all have already popped their champagne corks and are salivating over the down payment. In that situation, can "Plan B" reasonably be another house with a different design, possibly in a different neighborhood when all the money is pretty much taken off the table?

Or, given the urgency to get peace, is it to be a mobile home this time? A houseboat, a tent? The latter two sweetened with the rationale that they can be much easier moved and need no permit? 

Back to the actual situation: The "do it now" quick and cheap original light rail line demonstrated in part that not vetting alternatives in the beginning has its problems, too. 

The Red Line had followed the FTA process, alternatives 1-4 were presented in 2008 under Governor Ehrlich. Included were a no-build option, surface bus, surface rail, tunnel bus and tunnel rail. Each was priced, ridership models were run and performances anticipated. Option 4C was announced in August 2009 by Governor O'Malley as the locally preferred alternative (LPA).

Between not vetting alternatives or vetting them but coming up with the [politically] "wrong" result, its hard to imagine plan B. Still, the new Secretary of MDOT already has asked the MTA for "plan B". The Governor reported his staff is looking at "a dozen options" and expressed disappointment that no jurisdiction has presented their Plan B yet.
“So far we’ve heard a lot of complaints about ‘We didn’t get what we wanted’ . . . but we haven’t heard a single suggestion or an alternative. ." (Hogan)
Sounds like we will enter a high season of many plan Bs. Lots of folks will take this as an invitation to dust off their napkin sketches for transit and transporation. What better occasion to suggest "alternatives"? What can be expected is much less transit planning than political bartering further fueled by upcoming mayoral elections. But as the saying goes, disaster up side down spells opportunity. Just a $2.9 billion cheaper opportunity.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Alternative Rapid Bus or Bus Rapid Transit?

It will be up to the communities of this region if they discuss the tent, or a rabbit or a new baby after all. 

Link to WYPR where BRT and Rapid Bus is explained. (Click the "listen" button)

There are three key phases in the planning and project development process for projects seeking New Starts funding: 1) Alternatives Analysis; 2) Preliminary Engineering; and 3) Final Design. 
These phases are described here.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Appropriations Committee are holding a joint hearing on Tuesday, July 21st at 3:00PM about the Red Line decision. The meeting will take place in the: Joint Hearing Room in the Dept. of Legislative Services, 90 State Circle, Annapolis, MD 21401 

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