Friday, August 7, 2015

A Regional Consensus on Transit: We Got That!

In light of a much announced meeting between 40 lawmakers and the new Secretary of Transportation, Pete Rahn on Monday August 10, there are some that ask for a new regional way of thinking about transit.

This is not a brand-new idea. Those with amnesia should be reminded that 13 years ago a regional group of thought leaders and stakeholders came up with what was then called the Regional Rail System Plan.

This plan became the basis not only for stakeholders but the basis of local and regional transportation plans of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, the entire region, the Long Range Transportation Plan, the Consolidated Transportation Plan and all types of other plans that make up the planning arsenal of the region under BMC, MDOT and the local governments.

The basis of the plan were these insights contained in the report:

The bodies that voted these plans into being the official regional plans for transit investment and transportation are all representations of local government or of the voters directly. Just to point it out: That is how representative government works.

Once such a consensus is reached, funding and implementation decisions are made and then one or several elements that are considered the highest priority are moving forward with design and engineering. To stand there today and say the region needs such a plan ignores a decade of consensus building in the region and pretty much tells all those who signed on to the agreed strategy that their position is worth nothing and that the representative system of arriving at decisions is worth nothing either..

This is not to say that the world hasn't changed since 2002 and that an update may not be in order. The plan is singly focused on rail and probably should be more intermodal. Certainly there have always been some who thought that the plan was no good and others that thought that over time the pursuit of the plan lost some if its original focus.

For anybody seriously considering an update, the recent report of the Opportunities Collaborative would be a great start because it looked at transportation, housing and workforce in an integrated way, something that is sorely necessary to respond to the needs of the 21st century.

Also, no doubt, while embarking on the ambitious 2002 Rail Plan, initially with three projects at once (Red Line, Green Line and MARC), a lot of other smaller transit improvements may not have had enough attention or resources, at least some of necessary improvements were not implemented even though they should probably have been done regardless of the large projects. But not for lack of trying: Both a Republican and a Democratic DOT Secretary tried their hand on a MTA bus system reform and two Governors, Ehrlich and O'Malley identified MTA reform as a high priority. Baltimore City introduced the Circulator bus system, a great success.

Life is short, folks, not only for an individual, Even a region doesn't have the luxury to simply go back 13 years and start over. Regions around the world are in a fierce competition with each other. Standing still is going backwards. Regions like Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake and others have not slept in the last 13 years but in some cases not only designed but constructed entire transit systems.

Form the regional long range transportation plan PlanIt 2035

The new MTA Administrator Paul Comfort has publicly exhibited little patience with the slow pace of the MTA and government in general. The Governor himself wants to be a "do it now" governor as his recent prison closure announcement has shown. Such impatience is laudable and is precisely what has allowed other leaders to have their regions surpass ours.

However, impatience with lack of progress is not very credible when it forces the region 13 years back only because the new decision makers where not around when the original decisions were made.

In fact, the into the potatoes out of the potatoes style of election-cycle based politics is precisely what holds many regions back. Enlightened decision makers stand on the shoulders of those that came before them, refine, improve and move forward. They rely on professional advice. They usually do not try to start all over as if every resident, representative, professional or voter had just been born yesterday and is if they, the decision makers themselves, had all the time in the world to achieve their vision.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

From the Regional Rail System Plan Technical Report 2002. Can this menu be bested?

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