Thursday, October 15, 2015

Transportation listening session: An earful for the MTA

The #13 bus on North Avenue hasn't been a lucky number for most riders for years, even though (or maybe because?) it is the second most used bus line that the MTA operates with 10,000 passengers a day.
Valery Lacour explains transportation improvements at the
Pennsylvania Avenue Library (photo ArchPlan)

The Penn North subway station likewise is one of the most used stations in the system but it, too performs subpar. It is filthy, the escalators frequently don't work and sometimes the elevators either residents say. To top it off, "police has stopped enforcement" according to nearby residents and a bail bondsman who runs a business there. Cars parking at a meter all day, people selling drugs in the store and directly from cars and there is no police to be seen.
"The kids couldn't even finish the mural because of all the drug dealing" someone said.

"Cars are speeding down the streets, sometimes with 65 miles per hour", observed another. "We need traffic calming". "We need bike lanes", "we need something different than chicken boxes, we need anchor stores, a Starbucks".

Such was the steady flow of complaints at the MTA and BC-DOT transportation listening session Wednesday night at the meeting room of the Pennsylvania Avenue branch of the Pratt Library, a beacon of cleanliness and joy at the southeast corner of this intersection that is now known the world over. 

The meeting was guided by area planner planner Heather Martin with support from BC-DOT's Transportation Chief Valery LeCours and Sameer Sidh, Chief of Special Projects and Business Improvement who was just appointed as new CitiStat Director as well as BDC's West Team Director Michael Snidal and MTA Planning Director Kevin Quinn.

Few realized what a revolutionary fact it was to have the Planning Department, the Transportation Department, the Baltimore Development Corporation and the MTA all in one room and in a collaborative spirit. Maybe even more unusual was how contrite, aware of problems and equipped with money for fixes the delegation appeared to be, including $5 million set aside in the CIP for improving the intersection itself with planning and design to begin at the end of 2016. Not everything is far off, DOT is already fixing broken transportation infrastructure including lights, curbs and missing signs.

MTA's  Kevin Quinn got a few laughs when he described the bus services as problematic. "Do you think so?" somebody called. "I do", Quinn responded and conceded systemic unreliability of buses that come late, bunch together, and are often overcrowded. He mentioned a new fixation on improvement emanating from new Administrator Paul Comfort who, for example, already implemented assessment of on-time performance not on a monthly basis but "daily and in some cases even hourly", with the goal to pinpoint the root causes of the delays to then eliminate them. 

The area will get a lot of additional attention in the next few days, months and years. Several projects and events are in the making:

Next week Monday and Tuesday a ULI TAP (Technical Assitance Panel) will investigate the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor as part of the Mayor's LINCs process. This will be followed by the already noted DOT intersection project, MTA improvements on bus service and the realization of the Neighborhood Design Center guided West North Avenue streetscape project. The area has been the subject of numerous studies and plans before. "The community is tired of visioning, the need implementation" said Roscoe Johnson, Executive Director of the nearby Druid Heights Community Development Corporation.  Panel leader Brad Rogers agrees, "the area has been studied to death", his goal is "to shake lose productive action".

If Friday's listening session is any indication, there is a good chance for this to happen.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I will be a panelist on the Pennsylvania Avenue TAP and will provide updates and news as they become available. ArchPlan is the architect for the planned Sphinx Club rehabilitation and new construction. 

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