Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of 2016 - What readers clicked the most

Baltimore: The Anatomy of the Rowhouse, an all time favorite article

Tired of all the reviews of 2016_ Diane Rehm on NPR picking her sappiest stories of 35 years or so before retiring from her show, Terry Gross broadcasting all the interviews with people that died this year, the BBJ figuring out that their real estate stories where the most read throughout 2016?

Understandable. But having withdrawn from Baltimore into the woods of Virginia to begin the New Year with some trepidation and also some big ideas, I also revert to that lazy trick of recycling old stories. Below the 5 most read stories on this blog and another 5 from the weekly compendium blog that has a more national and international spread.

It has been quite satisfying to wrap my head around a lot more issues than I would otherwise via writing. Writing also forces one to dig deeper into facts, circumstance and background.

Even more satisfying has it been to meet and speak with people who actually read the articles and like them. The daily and the weekly blog have about 20,000 click a week, the weekly one, due its longer existence, is now nearing the million click mark.

Anybody who writes knows that writing comes with doubts and persisting questions about purpose and quality of what comes out of pen and keyboard. Encouragement is, therefore, always welcome.

Happy New Year, dear readers!

Daily Baltimore Blog, most read stories in 2016:

  1. Governor kills second Baltimore mega project Dec 22, 
  2. The eternal Baltimore sinkholes, August 24
  3. What nearly wiped out Ellicott City, Aug 3
  4. Unsafe because of high speeds, Nov 29
  5. Can Kevin Plank solve Baltimore's affordable housing crisis?, August 24
Weekly Urban Blog, most read stories in 2016:

The all time favorite of all weekly blogs is The Anatomy of the Baltimore Rowhouse from 2012. It has reached 50,000 clicks.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Baltimore's Bike-share and "the White L"

As soon as the current 21 Baltimore bike share stations were installed some started howling about their locations. They supposedly were all in what has become known in Baltimore as the "white L", the zone of more affluent communities stretching north south along the Charles Street corridor and then east along the waterfront to Canton. Only a few stations were placed in the "black butterfly", the large African American communities to the east and west of downtown which in many cases are disinvested and dominated by car-less households who need alternative transportation the most. As it is sometimes the case, the howls didn't come as much from the bypassed communities as from self appointed advocates.
Philadelphia bike share

The executive director of Baltimore's bicycle advocacy group Bikemore is fully aware of the equity implications of bicycling in cities and so are most bicycle advocates and the bike coordinator at the City DOT, Caitlin Doolin. Bikemore's Liz Cornish has been widely quoted in a thoughtful and nationally published interview with the Atlantic Magazine's CityLab titled "Enlisting Bikes In the Fight Against Inequality":
"In these discussions about bike equity, people are often thinking only in terms of the physical infrastructure—where the bike lanes or bike-share stations are located. That's important. But biking also lends itself to having a macro discussion about equity. We've designed our cities in such a way that it can produce terrible air quality. In Baltimore City, the number-one reason why kids miss school is asthma-related illness. And we know that reducing a single car trip can improve air quality. We don't think about that as an equity issue. But I do. In some ways, getting anyone out of their car and reducing traffic congestion is a win for that particular equity issue. Biking is a very cheap solution to that very complex health problem.
Baltimore Bikeshare map: Not quite the "L" 
...You can’t lead with bikes. That’s not the point. The point is safety. The point is health. So I have to be able to sit and listen to neighbors who’ve lived in that neighborhood for longer than I’ve been in Baltimore, and rely on their experience and knowledge of the area, about what works and what doesn’t, and what has been tried and what’s failed. We try to remind people that we know that commute time is one of the most significant indicators of someone's ability to move out of poverty. And we know that some of Baltimore's most vulnerable neighborhoods have some of the longest commute times. They are in the city but they can't get to jobs or amenities like healthcare and schools and groceries without being on the bus for an hour. 
So, what are you asking? Are you saying, “I’m gonna put a bike-share location here—is that a problem?” That’s a terrible way. When I ask people what do they want their neighborhood to feel like, there isn’t a single neighborhood in this city, or a single person I’ve talked to, that hasn’t said things like, well, I wish the cars drove slower. And I wish there was a safe place for my kid to learn to ride a bike and play. And I wish there was something for me to walk to, like a restaurant or a coffee shop or a dry cleaners. These are universal quality-of-life things that every neighborhood desires. After I hear that, that’s an opportunity for me to say, actually, there are solutions to some of these things. And one of many solutions is building a bike lane. It calms traffic. It makes the crossing distance shorter. It provides connectivity to things inside and outside your neighborhood. That’s how you have the conversation. And it hasn’t failed me yet."
World famous complete streets innovator Janette Sadik Khan made a similar argument when she talked recently in Baltimore to transportation leaders with Mayor Catherine Pugh in the front row. Dropping stuff into neighborhoods is never a good idea if it isn't the community requesting it. Proof of concept experiments are especially unwelcome in disadvantaged communities. Baltimore made that experience when DOT dropped one of its first bike lanes onto Monroe Street through the Harlem Park Community. Neighborhood community leader Arlene Fisher made sure the lane markings got blacked out again. "Nobody talked to us", she said. "We are not anti-bike", but we want to be involved in planning and this lane is a bad idea.
Graphic from FHWA brochure

For now the bike stations for Baltimore's brand-new bike share system are mainly clustered in the areas where the bike lanes and major downtown attractions are. The system opened with much delay and at the beginning of the cold season. The idea is to work out the kinks, get a basic system going where demand is almost certain and where bicycle activists participated in bike corridor planning. Then, in the spring, the system will expand and spread. For example, thanks to a federal grant under the title "North Avenue Rising", there will be bike-sharing and facilities along North Avenue.

Clearly, no matter how complex the issues are, concentrating facilities only in already well functioning and well served communities can't be an acceptable outcome in the long run or even midterm. National surveys do show a very uneven distribution of bike facilities among communities if listed by ethnicity.  According to NextCity New York City did well, however a national survey puts the District as number one for equitable use and distribution of its bike-share program.
An equitable system provides equal access to bikes throughout the program area and is big enough to provide meaningful coverage. In New York City, for example, Citi Bike stations are placed with the same high frequency in low-income areas and around NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) campuses as in Midtown Manhattan; the system is doubling in size to cover large parts of three boroughs by 2017 and should be expanded beyond that....In New York, the outreach around station siting and ongoing partnerships with community-based organizations like Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration, are models for active, meaningful engagement. (Next City)
Baltimore Bikeshare station at the Mount Vernon Market
(Photo: Philipsen)
It is thought that Baltimore's innovative contribution to bike-share, the inclusion of electric power assist bikes, will actually help to make those boosted bikes more acceptable outside the community of existing bike enthusiasts which already is by no means a homogeneous group.

Anyone who has ever participated in the Baltimore Bike Parties on the last Friday of each month can see that the participants represent a gender, age and race diverse group. Many of the routes have included disadvantaged communities on the east and west of downtown and the riders have always been welcomed and have been joined by many neighborhood kids on bikes who were too young for any motorized transportation but obvious bike enthusiasts. Perpetuating the narrative of bicycling as something that is only for yuppies or hipsters is counterproductive and a holdover from years back when cities and bicycling in America were in a very different place than today. Which doesn't mean that equity in transportation, or in the so called active modes of transportation, has been achieved, far from it.

In another small step towards making bike-share more widespread and equitable, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore announced a financial aid program yesterday that allows low income riders the purchase of monthly bike-share passes for a steeply discounted price. Additionally, the bikeshare company that manages Baltimore's system, Corps Logistics employs homeless veterans and re-entry participants to maintain the bicycles.

Baltimore's bike share provides open data on its website where one can see the number of total trips and the most active docking stations. With 8,455 trips to date over 11,370 miles the program had a solid response so far. Docking stations are easy to move. Anybody with a strong sense where a bike station should be can participate in making best use of the available resources. The system is also still looking for corporate sponsorships to make its operation sustainable for a long time.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Pursuing Equity in Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning, Federal Highway Administration

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Edmondson Avenue bridge replacement

The cancellation of the Red Line didn't just affect transit, the loss goes deep into any number of projects the City has on the books. One example is the Edmondson Avenue bridge in West Baltimore. The bridge, constructed between 1907-1912 (pictures of the half finished bridge date to 1909) by the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works carries Edmondson Avenue over the Gwynns Falls valley and the CSX railroad (formerly the Western Maryland Railway).
1909 image of the half constructed bridge (Municipal Journal & Engineer 1909)

The Bridge consists of a four-span, closed spandrel structure constructed of reinforced concrete and extending 541 feet in length and is 87.9 feet wide outside to outside. The structural condition of the bridge  was declared Basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action in 2014. The bridge was begun in 1907 as a replacement of an older bridge and was constructed with streetcar tracks  and in two halfs for east and westbound traffic, similar to the approach for its current replacement, leaving the old structure in place to maintain traffic according to the Municipal Journal and Engineer Journal of 1907. The bridhe received a comprehensive overhaul in 1970.
DOT image showing new bridge elevation

The  110 year old
bridge was already slated for replacement when the Red Line was planned to be placed in the median and the design was adjusted accordingly. The modified bridge became one of Baltimore's "in-kind" local contributions to the Red Line project. First bid and awarded in 2015. According to the acting Director of DOT, Frank Murphy, the bridge was put out for bid again this year and awarded for a construction cost of $40 million. According to City DOT the bridge will be fully replaced but look very similar after completion. In 1996 an application was made to place the similar West Baltimore Street bridge (it has open spandrels) on the Federal Register of Historic Places but apparently this bridge  was never designated.

The design of the bridge falls into a period when infrastructure was expected to "conform with the environment" but also use new technologies such as concrete. In a book titled  "Artistic Bridge Design" (1912), bridge engineer Henry G. Tyrrell asserted that bridges are considered beautiful when they

Postcard showing the bridge from the south side from the road that
is today the Gwynns Falls trail (Kildruff)
  • Conform with the environment 
  • Have an economic use of material - "Beauty exists in the structure with the greatest simplicity, fewest members and most pleasing outline."
  • Exhibit  purpose and construction -- "Strength and boldness should predominate."
  • Have pleasing outlines and proportions - "Arches must be perfect curves."
  • Use appropriate but limited ornament -- "Superfluous decoration has a minifying effect.
  • Have an "uneven number of spans is always preferable, for the eye is better satisfied with an opening rather than a pier at the center" 
  • "bridges with several spans should have the longest at the center and adjoining ones should decrease in length towards the end. 
The Edmondson Avenue Bridge complies with this character: reinforced cast concrete construction, uneven number of spans, geometric perfect arches, rectangular pier columns with simple geometric ornamentation, unlike the Baltimore Street bridge, though, it doesn't have open spandrel arches (they were covered with a concrete sidewall), solid parapet construction with minimal recessed detailing and simple cast iron lights a and placement of an urban bridge in a park setting. The concrete surfaces were "bush-hammered with pneumatic this method the glossy surface of the concrete was removed..and the surface is given a compact granite-like appearance". (Municipal Journal).

Bus and car drivers know the bridge at the low point between Rosemont and Edmondson Village in a much more prosaic way: As a place of standing water after each major rain event that each winter turns into a field of horrific potholes. Pedestrians know it as a treacherous place with minimal 5' sidewalks where people are jammed between the curb and the concrete parapet and helplessly exposed to the splatter of the standing water or the slush in winter. One can hope that the new design allows a few more feet of walk space, even though the space for future tracks should certainly be maintained, just in case Baltimore still gets the Red Line one day.

The bridge looking east with the redirected lanes indicating that the south
half will be done first (Photo Philipsen)
Construction preparation for the bridge has finally started. The concrete median has been removed and paved allowing DOT to move two lanes of traffic in each direction essentially on only one half of the bridge while the other half will be replaced. A similar approach had been taken by the State Highway Administration on the same route a few miles further west where US 40 crosses the Patapsco and a similar but higher concrete arch bridge was recently reconstructed.

The Edmondson Avenue bridge is just one example of the crumbling Baltimore infrastructure. If redone correctly, it will last another 110 years. The bridge carries between 35,000 to 50,000 vehicles a day, many of the trucks and buses.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Friday, December 23, 2016

The search is on: Open Cabinet positions under Baltimore Mayor Pugh

From the announcement for Director of Transportation
Baltimore's new Mayor Catherine Pugh has opened a nationwide job search for three cabinet level positions: Housing and Community Development, Parks and Recreation and Transportation.

The Mayor has indicated that the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCDC) will be split and two department heads would be hired. This intent is also expressed in the advertisement but the job description and ideal candidate description is included in the same document under the same set of qualifications even though running the department of housing would probably require a different set of skills than community development.
The ideal candidate will be a confident, collaborative, and decisive leader with good judgment, strong professional presence, and an inspiring demeanor who can develop and sustain a highly functional department. This includes:
• Knowledge of, and commitment to, community development strategies and governmental practices that promote healthy,
economically, equitable neighborhoods of high opportunity;
• Demonstrated commitment to actively supporting the role of community leaders from all communities in shaping policy and
undertaking neighborhood-based community planning activities;
• Extensive knowledge of management in a large, complex urban
• Proven ability to establish and maintain effective working
relationships with public officials, public/private/nonprofit
agencies, and the general public;
• A commitment to diversity, equity, and excellence;
• The ability to empower, develop, mentor, and motivate agency staff;
• Experience in government finance and operations;
• Excellent communication skills;
• Political savvy and sensitivity to the interests of a wide-range
of stakeholder groups, strategic partners, elected officials, and
administrative colleagues.
All positions require a bachelors degree, city residency at the time of the appointment and all positions offer a range from $132,000 to $175,000 as the starting salary. Applications are not directed through the City HR portal but to the e-mail address

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Governor kills second Baltimore mega project

After cancelling the shovel ready $3 billion Baltimore Red Line transit project the Governor now pulled the plug on a $1.5 billion transit oriented development (TOD) project that had been initiated under Republican Governor Ehrlich.
Obsolete offices in a sea of underused land (Photo: Chrism Skyscraper City)

Yesterday the contract between the State Center development team and the State of Maryland was cancelled by the State Board of Public Works. The State now even goes to court to void the contract. The development team sees this as a breach of contract, the Governor sees it as the end of a project of which he says:
"It is obvious to absolutely everyone that the previous proposal makes absolutely no economic or development sense, which is why it has never moved forward and never materialized after all these years" (Governor Hogan)
 The economic argument is the same one that Governor Hogan made about the Red Line without providing any specifics that would support it. State Center was a private public partnership (P3) between the State that owns almost all the land at State Center and a private development team. The deal was that the private side would use the public land in a much better way through a high density urban development with a number of income streams including office that the State would lease back to accommodate the various departments that are now stuck with what is usually described as "functionally obsolete" buildings from the sixties. The P3 approach is what folks that want to see smaller government usually promote for cases where the government doesn't have enough money to build the facilities that are needed. P3 is what the Hogan administration uses to fund the Washington area "Purple" transit line with minimal capital expenditures by the State for initial construction and a long-term lease in which the State essentially pays the money back as operating expense with interest.
Rendering of redeveloped site by Mithun architects

The community is stuck with a failed urban renewal project that plopped the State offices into the middle of a sea of parking without proper connectivity which acts as a big barrier between neighborhoods and Mount Vernon.

The termination of the contract sends a terrible signal all around:

  • to Mayor Pugh after not even two weeks in office: We don't care that you want a strong City-State relationship we will kill a huge long vetted project on which the City and the surrounding communities  have worked for ten years anyway
  • to businesses that want to work with Maryland to invest here: We don't even follow though on our own contracts, we will string you along and then drop you like a hot potato
  • to the State owned MTA and its existing transit assets: We don't care about TOD and better use of the land where the stations sit to achieve a better mode split, not even if we own it ourselves and have full control over it.
  • To the communities that were looking forward to see deserted tracts of land being converted into a pleasant development with walkways, services, green spaces and activity: What the community says isn't important to us. How about an Arena instead?
This last idea, pulled out of the hat by Democratic State Comptroller Peter Franchot, is really the ultimate insult. It lacks even the slightest insight into what the driving elements for the State Center proposal were in the first place. The Arena idea is completely unreasonable, as developer David Cordish immediately realized when, according to the SUN, he commented that the proposed State Center location would be a "disaster." He said it was a poor location with inadequate road access. 

Cordish also called the lease rate for the State offices in the proposed development "insane". However, there are lots of opinions about those rates, especially considering that they are meant to be a subsidy to the project as an economic development tool. The project would replace a very poor current development that produces no revenues with one that would increase the tax base for City and State.
Overall rendering showing the extent of the redevelopment proposal
The State run Department of General Services (DGS) analyzed the project in 2011 and concluded:
The State Center complex is owned by the State and, therefore, currently generates no taxes for the City or the State. By transferring leasehold interest of the property to the private sector, Phase One of the State Center Project will generate tens of millions of dollars in new taxes for the City and for the State during just the next twenty years, and hundreds of millions of dollars from the entire project over the next few decades. In an effort to discredit this immense benefit to the City, some have incorrectly stated that the project plan includes $314 million in tax increment financing (TIF), that such funds would be paid to the developer to subsidize the project, and that the City cannot afford this alleged subsidy. None of this is true. The facts are that Phase One of the project is estimated to generate $50 million in City taxes of all types during the next twenty years with a portion of these taxes going toward repaying a $10-$15 million TIF bond that will be used to pay for City-owned public infrastructure, including improvements to streets, sidewalks and utilities – these funds do not go to the private developer. Therefore, the City will receive significant new net tax revenues and improved infrastructure that are much needed at the site. Although future phases are not yet defined or approved, the same magnitude and principle will be true for each phase of the project. (DGS)
Responsibilities for the demise of another promising project for Baltimore rests on many shoulders. Governor O'Malley did not clear his desk and finalize the deal before he left office but left it to his successor to deal with. Newly elected Governor Hogan then dragged this along for a full two years stringing the development team along, increasing the stranded cost that the team had incurred to date (according to the Ekistics, about $25 million to date). When it was clear that the administration wasn't deciding the matter in a reasonable time, the developer invoked the arbitration clause in the contract. The arbitrator's compromise at the end of that period was rejected by the State according to the SUN. The then following cooling off period of 30 days was not used to improve the contract but to file the cancellation with the State Board. 
The development team vowed to sue the State over breach of contract.

While opinions on the validity of the economics of the project vary, there is no doubt that at this point there is no obvious good way forward. The Governor 's vow that "Our administration is absolutely committed to the redevelopment of the State Center project," rings hollow when it is obvious that the administration did nothing in the past two years to develop a constructive solution or alternative. In that it is just like the Red Line, a huge project gets pulled and the City of Baltimore is left with nothing. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Social Entrepreneur re-invents Remington

In the minefield of the discussion about neighborhood disinvestment on the one side and gentrification on the other there is lots of talk about the Social Entrepreneur, the for profit private investor or developer whose agenda isn't just profit but the social good. Whatever that exactly is.
R House on Friday at lunch time (Photo: Philipsen)

A Baltimore example of a social entrepreneur is Thibault Mannekin. His company Seawall Development has transformed Remington and even critics can find little not to like. For years Remington was a well kept secret and only a few planners and community leaders thought that this could be an area that is ready to "pop" thanks to its proximity to Johns Hopkins. But there were many others who said this area won't go anywhere. Too industrial, too separated from downtown by the languishing North Avenue corridor and from flourishing Hampden by the JFX. For years the highlights of change were vacant house demolitions, community gardens and the one at a time renovations of small row houses, block by block. 

The idea to plop a big Walmart super center onto the old Anderson Auto lots seemed in keeping with Remington's image as the Cinderalla of Baltimore. Just good enough for big boxes so people from other communities can shop. Those who knew better all along fought the Walmart until it was finally defeated. Regardless who deserves the credit for the stunning turnaround of Remington, a feat with many fathers and mothers, there is no one entity that has changed the neighborhood more than Thibault Mannekin and his development company Seawall, social entrepreneurs of a high order. 
R House on Friday at lunch time (Photo: Philipsen)

Beginning with the modest but very innovative concept of affordable housing just for teachers, the company bought and converted what is now known as Miller's Court and cafe Charmington. The project was a good deed on many ends: It took a vacant decrepit structure off the books of abandonment, it provided affordable housing and  enticed teachers to teach in Baltimore taking housing and finding an appropriate community off their shoulders. So that the teaches can engage with the community various common spaces were offered and the cafe established as a popular community hangout. So popular, indeed, that it was President Obama's choice to meet Baltimoreans at a visit some time back. 
Remington fabric: The rowhouse  (Photo: Philipsen)

Teachers pestered Thibault Mannekin to buy townhouses and fix them up so they could marry, have children and graduate from apartment living. Seawall obliged and the rehabbed row houses sold like hotcakes.  An old car repair garage across the street was converted into an innovative restaurant cum butcher cum theater. The combination and each element within are highly experimental. A large lot at 28th Street became the mixed use development Remington Row with market rate apartments and shops and now just a block to the north R House opened, a cutting edge food hall, essentially a re-imagined mall food court without the mall.

But everything in R House is different: The restaurateurs aren't national chain fast food joints but fledgling high end producers of ethnic food. The chefs are start-up entrepreneurs who are supposed to get their sea legs here before opening their own independent restaurants. There is no desire to keep the businesses for a long time. The training wheels of the provided facility are supposed to come off after some time. and the architecture is a re-imagined historic auto warehouse designed by Baltimore's foremost architecture critic and UDARP member Pavilia Ilieva's PI.KL Studio in Baltimore.
Remington Row (ULI)

Each Seawall project is a new concept, each totally different from the other, and each a proof of concept experiment, a testing of the waters with no-up front assurance that it would work. Risk taking, careful analysis of the demand and the opportunities. None of these projects were just something a developer dreamed up and plopped into the world on a whim. Each project has been developed in concert with community master plans, community cooperation and is based on previously unmet needs.

In spite of the sheer mass of stuff coming from one company Remington has not yet become a company town. However, one would think Seawall has maxed it out in this location. There are already howls about gentrification. To its credit, Seawall doesn't just dismiss this as "collateral damage" of its investments but is engaged in helping the community to create a community land trust to offer additional affordable housing that would be protected.

Mayor Pugh who worked with Seawall as the investor and developer of the Design School Pugh helped to create said she wants to see the type of investments that went into Hampden and Remington replicated in disinvested African American communities. She believes that private public partnerships are critical for moving the "Baltimore forward." The social entrepreneur model may be just what she is looking for.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA.

Baltimore Magazine
Remington Row (Rendering Hord Caplan Macht Architects)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Takoma Langley Transit Center finally opens

Located on the boundary between Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties in one of the communities with the highest hispanic populations in Maryland, Langley Park is a community with many transit users. Where the two arteries of University Boulevard and New Hampshire intersect, parking lots and traffic lanes dominate the landscape forcing pedestrians and transit users to dodge fast moving traffic and narrow sidewalks to get to the various bus stops which are scattered all over the area and serve about 12,000 riders a day and are served by as many as 63 buses per hour. Around 2000 the State Highway Administration sought to improve pedestrian safety through signals, fences and signs. It was clear that concentrating all bus stops into a single transit center would be the real solution preventing bus riders from darting into traffic to catch the connecting bus.
Takoma Langley Transit Center ribbon cutting
(photo: Philipsen)

Plans for a transit center began in earnest in 2005. 11 years are a long time for bringing a project alive, even in the world of transit. It was in the summer of 2005 that my firm ArchPlan was brought on board to be the architect for the transit center that is now officially called the Takoma-Langley Crossroad Transit Center.

Thursday 12/22 the buses will officially begin to roll, Tuesday was the ribbon cutting for this bus transfer hub that connects WMATA, Ride-On and UM Shuttles all in one center with 12 bus bays. The daily 12,000 riders makes it the largest non-Metrorail station transfer point in the Washington region. During the design it became apparent that the planned Purple Line light rail service would also stop here and become an integral part of the layout.

The realization of the $34.86 million center as a landmark in the landscape of non-descript single story shopping and vast parking lots became possible thanks to teamwork between SHA, MTA, WMATA, the two counties, the City of Takoma Park and the regional Washington Council of Governments and federal funding through the economy boosting TIGER grants. Remember "shovel ready? WashCOG had a whole package of shovel ready projects, and "Langley was the crown jewel" in the bunch according to WashCOG Executive Chuck Bean. A large chunk of the money had to go to site acquisition and a large chunk of the time went to adjusting the design to appease the shopping center owner from whom the area of the Taco Bell had to be acquired that provides the tight 1.2 acre space for the facility. At one point a high profile team of peer reviewers including HOK had to confirm that the proposed center was, in fact, the optimal approach.
Bus operation will begin 12-22-16 (photo: Philipsen)

As large as the list of team partners was the parade of speakers: MDOT Assistant Secretary Kevin Reigrut and MTA Administrator and CEO Paul Comfort were joined by Federal Transit Administration Regional Administrator Terry Garcia Crews, Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Al Roshdieh, Prince George’s County Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Barry Stanton, WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Executive Director Chuck Bean to emphasize the importance of public transportation to the citizens of Maryland. Terry Garcia Crews emphasized transit as an equity tool. He noted that “the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center will ... provide ladders of opportunity to help residents access employment, health care and other vital services throughout the National Capital region.” Chuck Bean said that "the cooperation for the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center and other bus priority projects are models for the rest of our region,"

Two of the MTA Administrators who worked on the project:
Paul Wiedefeld (now WMATA CEO) and Paul Comfort (right)
The signature element of the architecture is the overlapping curved double shell, canopy roof, which provides protection for transit patrons through pixelated laminated glass panels which glows at night. The arched canopy’s main span, with a steel space frame spanning 120’, rises as much as 42 feet above the ground, providing an iconic fixture for the Crossroads area. A 100’x32’ opening in the 13,600 square foot roof allows heat and exhaust to escape, while allowing rainwater to fall on the central, landscaped, stormwater treatment area. 

Stormwater is collected in an underground cistern and is used for irrigation. The roof opening is lined with forty-four 240-watt photo-voltaic panels which  provide 10.5 kilowatts of sustainable power, much of the power needed for the 1,150 square foot transit services building,

The small transit facility building, smaller than most houses, turned into complicated project thanks to an abundance of program requirements such as public restrooms, transaction counters, operator restrooms, a police office, mechanical and storage space and a staff break-room with mini-kitchen. The transfer of the facility from MTA (owner) to WMATA operator presented its own challenges with IT for the real time bus signs and the surveillance cameras coming from the Washington agency. Eagle eyed WMATA inspectors uncovered some accessibility issues in the final round that brought out perfect and expedient remedial teamwork to allow everything to be ready for a grand opening.
The Transit Center as seen from New Hampshire Avenue
(photo: Wilson T. Ballard)

The functional essence of the transit center is the customized loop/island bus bay design which allows 12 bus bays to fit the 63 buses per hour, including 60’ long articulated models. The center will be served by these routes: Metrobus C2, C4, F8, J4, K6 and K9; Montgomery County’s Ride On 15, 16, 17, 18, and 25; and Prince George’s County TheBus No. 18.

Transit Center engineers conducted extensive computer bus turning simulations and full scale bus testing on layouts simulated with traffic cones to verify that the geometry would not only work in the "Autoturn" CADD model but also in real life. Schedules for the 12 bus routes served by the center were synthesized into a single simulation model to determine optimal bus bay assignments and ensure adequate platform capacities for future conditions. 
The bus stops with an X will be concentrated in the Transit Center
(source: WMATA brochure)

The transit center is one of the few projects in the life of an architect that is lauded for its design by the client, the community and the officials and was not robbed of its central design features by cost- cutting exercises but essentially maintained the design and sustainability aspects of the original approach.  The resilience of the design stems in part from careful vetting during various early community meetings, involvement of all funding partners and a rigorous team effort through all phases of the project. 

The project is listed as one of ten finalists in the American Council of Engineering Companies/Maryland (ACEC/MD) Engineering Excellence Awards (EEA) competition

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Lead engineering firm: Wilson T. Ballard, Mark Lotz
Architect: ArchPlan Inc., Matthew Fitzsimmons, Kari Glassmire, Klaus Philipsen. Sketch-up concept modeling: Jonas Philipsen. MTA Planner, Michael Madden, MTA Engineer: Jim Miller

Washington Post
WMATA brochure

Monday, December 19, 2016

Westside restaurant woes

Baltimore Equitable Insurance 1889
The building lasted 159 years, 114 years of which it was a rock of stability as the home of the Baltimore Equitable Insurance Society which remained in business and unflappably paid out fire insurance through Baltimore's Great Fire and the 1968 riots. 

In 2003 it joined the ranks of vacant structures on the Westside. True to Baltimore's ingenuity in finding new uses for old shells, Irish immigrant John Moore had a vision and a dream. He began turning what was long a sleepy insurance office into a hopping Irish pub with Irish brews Harp and Guinness stout. He put a lot of his own labor into the project to make it as authentic Irish and as authentic to its history as he could. He named the bar after his wife Maggie.

Located at Eutaw and Fayette streets the 200 seats venue operated on two levels, had original wood paneling, a gas fireplace, 20-foot ceilings and a pair of mahogany bank counters reborn as bars as well as a vault turned into a private reception room. An old bank safe was placed on the sidewalk next to the building as a symbol of the buildings steady past. The location was uncharted territory at the time, but sits across from the Hippodrome and was one of the structures in the orbit of Baltimore's new entertainment venue seeking to capitalize on the show audiences and the new vibe in the area.
Current condition: Alewife beer pub

The fate of Maggie More's was not lack of success but a silent partner that liked the success so much that he bought out and forced out John More.

The pub's next incarnation as Lucy's lasted only a year or so. Then it was Alewife's that opened there and now the Baltimore Business Journal reports that Alewife's owner Palombo also considers selling his joint, true to the SUN's assessment of 2010:
Over the past five years, the west side of downtown has been one of the city's most unforgiving neighborhoods for new bars.
They open and close here as quickly as it takes 8.9 percent alcohol to slip into your bloodstream. Alewife, the new beer hall at Eutaw and Fayette streets, is hoping to turn the trend on its head with sheer size and suds selection.
The Equitable building in the early seventies
The addition of the Everyman and a constant flow of investment in the area that brought record numbers of new residents to downtown and the Westside has not yet transformed the area into a safe spot for restaurants. Next to Maggie Moore's/Lucy/Alewife sits what is now the El Forno Italian restaurant, also only the most recent of many attempts to fill the ground floor of the CenterPoint development with lasting businesses. (The most stable tenant there seems to be a Starbucks that has lasted since the opening of CenterPoint).

The rehabilitation of a large part of the 400 block of West Baltimore Street brought some chain restaurants and food places such as Panera Bread which provide useful services to the community and the nearby University of Maryland but did little for establishing the Westside as a restaurant destination.
The bar interior during its run as Lucy's

With so many hot-spots for eating out in Baltimore, it isn't easy to create a new destination, even though the Bromo Arts District would certainly benefit. After the Station North Arts District managed to make even North Avenue a successful place of a cluster of food places (Joe Square Pizza, Liam Flynn's Irish Bar and Red Emma's Cafe) one should think that Eutaw Street could replicate the success.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore Magazine 2010 (Alewife opening)
Maggie Morre's becomes Lucys (SUN 2008)
Baltimore Heritage

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Käthe Wohlfahrt, Santa and Commerce

The Inner Harbor set-up promises the "magic of an authentic German Christmas market right here in Baltimore!" The most authentic about this market may be the German sponsors, chiefly the Käthe Wohlfahrt
Käthe Wohlfahrt website image: "Authentic German Christmas Market"
tree ornament empire that sells hand carved wood craft for prices that would be at home in a high end jewelry store. The Wohlfahrt company, German airline Condor and others sponsor holiday markets in many cities in the US.
Beer and Santa in Baltimore (Photo: Baltimore market website)

The Baltimore corporate market charges on weekends $3 just to get in, like an entry fee to go into a mall. Inside, vendors of all kinds of things that have little or nothing to do with the holidays aggressively hawk their wares to the unsuspecting folks that came for the authentic market magic to get them into the holiday spirit.

As I have written before, the concept of German Weihnachtsmarkt should be quite doable in the US and could be an asset to any wintery town, especially one as steeped into history and German influences as Baltimore.

But for that to work it needs to be done in a less mercantile manner, after all this is supposed to have a relation to Christmas. There isn't a German holiday market that charges a fee to just walk through and there isn't one where Santa is placed right next to a beer-garden in which frivolous music is played so loudly that Santa can't hear the kids wishes.
authentic German Christmas market?
(Photo: Baltimore market website)

That whole Santa thing is what really gets parents of young children: Baltimore had something going when Santa resided in the glass palace at Harbor Place, something that had become a tradition. A non-commercial setting where parents could go and have their kids see Santa without a mall and without having to pay eight bucks and without being accosted by vendors.

Why did the Waterfront Partnership do away with Santa at HarborPlace? Now Santa has to sit in Wohlfahrt tent  promoted by German corporations that could care less about the holiday spirit or Baltimore.
Liebe Baltimore? (Photo: Nina Philipsen)

Let's do a holiday market which is local and authentically Baltimore! That this can be done tastefully and even involve beer was demonstrated last week on a small scale at the crafts fair inside the Peabody Heights Library on 30th Street.

Since we have these grand plans for the Lexington Market with a new park in the space where the historic market currently stands I suggest that this should be the place for Baltimore's very own winter market. And since it may take some time before that space is ready, next year the idea could be tested on the current parking lot just south of the market.
Meanwhile, free Santa from the Wohlfahrt tent and make him accessible again to everybody. The German word Wohlfahrt means welfare in English.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

In light of the terrible mayhem in Berlin the above considerations about Christmas markets are, of course trivial. 
the outdoor booths are the most authentic Christmas market elements (photo: Nina Philipsen)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

MagLev valuable innovation or distraction?

Magnetically levitated trains in the Baltimore Washington corridor are no longer just a glimmer in the eyes of some futurists, they are the subject of an official environmental impact study (EIS) jointly undertaken by MDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a step that was announced in November of this year. Three public "scoping meetings" are held this week to inform the public, the same week in which the region finally decided to market and brand themselves in unison. Given the state of high speed rail in this country this turn of events is surprising. In the announcement of the federal EIS the FRA described the maglev project this way:
Testing SCMagLev: Governor Hogan and Secretary Rahn
in Japan in 2015
FRA and MDOT will complete the environmental and engineering studies for a proposed Baltimore-Washington SCMAGLEV train system between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD, with an intermediate stop at BWI Airport. FRA and MDOT anticipate the study area 4 will be approximately 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. The proposed study area is roughly bounded on the west by Interstate 95 and on the east by the former Washington-Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railroad alignment. It includes portions of the City of Baltimore, Baltimore County, Howard County, Anne Arundel County, and Prince George’s County in Maryland, and Washington, DC. BWRR has indicated it wishes to develop a SCMAGLEV system, potentially extending as far north as Boston, MA and south to Charlotte, NC. Such a project or projects will not be addressed in the EIS FRA and MDOT are preparing, but could be subject to separate NEPA review in the future, as appropriate. BWRR’s proposed SCMAGLEV system would be designed to provide approximately 15- minute service between the new Baltimore and Washington stations, and would run on a new, high-quality guideway with bi-directional service, an automatic train control system, and no at-grade crossings. BWRR anticipates the project would be funded by a mix of federal, international, and private funding, and would include construction of the new SCMAGLEV guideway, stations, and maintenance facilities.
To assess how real this project is one has to go back in history:

The idea that magnets can propel a train and levitate it at the same time, the concept of the linear motor, has been around as an idea since 1909. It garnered various patents and finally slow experimental trains using the technology were constructed in Hamburg, Germany, as early as 1978. The German consortium Transrapid that had built the exhibition train soon followed with a high speed version of the technology that ran on a test track in the countryside.
Japanese SC MagLev: Up to $350mph

Since then generations of tech enthusiasts and politicians drank the Kool Aid after taking a test ride on the Transrapid trains that began racing in circles in 1984. After the Germans failed for decades to sell their trains to anybody (except an airport shuttle) a 2006 accident on their test track did them in and the test track was subsequently demolished.

But the end of the German test track didn't mean the end of Maglev. Japan and Korea also invested in the magnetic train technology and developed their own system that is even faster and via superconducting magnets more advanced.

The Veni, vidi, vici. of MagLev continued, with politicians coming, seeing and the trains winning over their hearts and minds desiring to be innovative and not miss the next big thing. One after the other politicians declared magnetic levitation as the future of transportation, something they just had to have in their city or state.
French second generation high speed rail: Up to 250 mph
(but tested at 350 mph)
In spite of all the enthusiasm going on for at least 32 years, only two MagLev systems ever went into revenue service, both as airport shuttles. Only one long distance system is under construction in Japan. Clearly enthusiasm and reality don't match up. One could speak of parallel universes.

The hope that Maglev would emerge as the technology that would replace steel rails and steel wheels did not materialize at all. All countries with real high speed rail systems remained with steel rails and wheels, even China which built an entire high speed rail system from scratch and appeared to be a perfect case for MagLev.

Maryland politicians drank the Kool Aid as well. This EIS is not the first study ever done here. Other studies had been commissioned and forgotten. Architects designed train stations (in Baltimore an underground MagLev station was once envisioned to open in 2012 in front of Camden Station). As we know, nothing like that happened. Instead the age-old Howard Street tunnel still can't transport the taller double-stack freight cars and passenger trains still rumble at 30mph through the historic B&P tunnel. MagLev also has been envisioned elsewhere in the US and has been considered by transportation planners around the world as the next big thing. But when push came to shove the dreams evaporated and never got realized. The reason?

Non compatibility and cost. Traditional high speed rail can be developed seamlessly from the old rail infrastructure. MagLev needs to be built from the ground up and nothing of the existing rail infrastructure can be used. The high speed of MagLev would make it ideal for long distance connections but as an all-new system becomes super exepensive. Each project that was more closely considered and engineered (such as Maglev Hamburg to Berlin) became way more expensive that high-speed rail on steel rails.

Frustrated by the lack of market, the Japanese consortium is now offering to pay a large part of the cost to get their foot into the US market which makes MagLev look like a good alternative to the always cash strapped Amtrak.  Depending on whom one asks, MagLev wouldn't be an alternative to the multi billion dollar rehabilitation of the northeast corridor (NEC) but an adjunct. Or it would be the alternative to real investment into high speed rail. In the "Purpose and Need" section FRA says this:
The purpose of BWRR’s Proposed Action is to increase capacity, reduce travel time, and improve both reliability and mobility options between Baltimore and Washington. The population in the Baltimore-Washington area makes up one of the largest and densest population centers in the United States. Over the next 30 years the population in the area is projected to increase by approximately 30 percent. Similarly, the demand on the transportation infrastructure between Baltimore and Washington will continue to increase along major roadways and railways including Interstate 95, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295), US 29, US 1, and the Northeast Corridor (NEC) thereby decreasing the level of service, reliability, mobility, and potentially decreasing safety. The Baltimore-Washington area is served by the NEC rail network that runs parallel to Interstate 95 in the area and spans from Washington, DC to Boston, MA. Amtrak, commuter railroads, and freight railroads operate a variety of services on the NEC. In the Baltimore-Washington area, Amtrak runs intercity passenger rail service, Maryland Area Regional Commuter operates commuter rail service, and CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern 5 Railway run freight trains during off-peak times over portions of the NEC between Baltimore and Washington. Each of these services competes for operational times for service on the existing NEC and demand continues to increase. Without additional transportation improvements and capacity within the Baltimore-Washington area, economic development and growth opportunities will be restricted. As congestion increases on the NEC and on the region’s highways, the demand for continued economic development will be impacted, including, for example, tourism
One can see advancing MagLev as distraction that diverts attention and resources away from the desperately needed investments in the existing Boston to Richmond rail corridor. Or one can see it as the future in which the roadways between these centers completely collapse, air traffic too congested as well and significant additional train capacity would be needed to move people in the corridor, beyond even a modernized Amtrak corridor.
Earlier Balto Wash corridor MagLev fantasies: Transrapid

This latter view seems to be the prevailing one for the time being, at least for MDOT and various regional business leaders. No matter that autonomous vehicles (AV) may give the existing interstates another lease on life through a drastic capacity increase of capacity that comes from cars travelling in platoons. No matter that even the first very small leg of MagLev between DC and Baltimore would cost billions, take up valuable real estate and would leave folks stranded at some station in Baltimore that would not be Penn Station. No matter that Maglev would not be able to serve key markets between Baltimore and Washington because it would be too fast to stop. No matter that the private consortium can't point to any successful installation in the world, that could serve as a precedent to the ultimate vision, a MagLev corridor from DC to Boston. Unless one takes the project in Japan as the example: JR Central plans to complete work on the Tokyo–Nagoya section of MagLev by 2027 at a cost of roughly $45-50 billion), all being paid by the private corporation.

Two different universes, indeed. They don't really seem compatible. Which one is the uinverse we live in?

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Camden Station should be a train station again!

Last year, ten years after Sports Legends at Camden Yards opened a pop culture museum in the historic trains station at Camden Yards, the lease ended without great fanfare and the old station stood empty once again as it had decades before the baseball stadium was built and even years after its exterior had been renovated to fit in with the shiny new ballpark.
Station without tracks (Photo: Ed Gunts)

It isn't easy to give an old train station a new use.

Now another use is in discussion: Junior Achievement of Central Maryland has been meeting with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Orioles about leasing space inside the former train station at 301 W. Camden Street.

Ironically, according to according to Ed Gunts writing in the Baltimore Fishbowl in June of this year, the MTA is looking at the same time how to replace the temporary structure that currently shelters MARC and light rail riders at the Camden Yards station and has met in June with the Stadium Authority's Michael Frenz who commented: "For a long time, we didn’t necessarily feel it reflected the aesthetic of our property".
the temporary space frame "station" for MARC and LRT cut-off by
Conway Street extension (Photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

The logical conclusion: Instead of building a new station to replace the current spaceframe and instead of filling the historic station with uses that don't fit, use the old station for what it was designed! Use the money that a new train station would cost to extend the tracks again so they actually reach the station and are more convenient for MARC commuters.

To understand why the tracks end so far from the old station requires going back to the time when the Oriole Park and the original light rail line was built. Before 1990 the tracks actually ended right behind the old station. The masterplan required vehicular access to Howard Street right where it becomes I-395 and it was resolved to align the access with Conway Street and move the tracks south of that point with a second light rail station being built between Camden and Pratt Streets.
Moving the tracks north and extend Lee Street?

Even though this solution is clearly car-centric and declares transit and pedestrian convenience a lower priority, it isn't likely that the Stadium Authority will give up on an access and egress point to I-395. Should the tracks be moved north again they would block the Conway Street alignment and a subsitute would have to be constructed. An underpass could be built south of Conway Street with an on and off ramp running parallel to the tracks along I-395 with another set of ramps near or at the south end of the warehouse where it could align with the internal street between the two stadia. While this may give some engineers a headache, it would be a solution in favor of pedestrian and transit access. And it would make the old station a useful building again.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA