Tuesday, July 5, 2016

BaltimoreLink 2.0: Improved Bus Access

The second incarnation ("version 2.0) of the radical Baltimore bus overhaul (Re-imagining our bus network") was revealed early this morning and those who had digested the initial Link Plan have to study it all over again because according to Kevin Quinn of the MTA 86" of the previous plan have been revised yet again.
Kevin Quinn, MTA Planning Director explains
the Baltimore Link System version 2.0

The first chance to discuss the new plan with MTA was offered this morning at State Center at a public meeting in which Planning Director and leader of the bus overhaul Quinn presented the new plan to the two dozen or so members of the public that had found they way to State Center on a Tuesday morning, among them transit and bus advocates that know the MTA operations sometimes better than the MTA themselves.

Quinn had a slide show that will be up on the web shortly: Quinn repeated why the bus overhaul was needed, chiefly because some existing routes were "too long to manage" and "some routes downtown are too congested, especially  on Lombard and Fayette Streets with up to 800 buses a day".

Three types of services will replace the current system, the new service types are:
City Link, Local Link and Express Link. The latter began operations already on June 20th with three new lines and one modified line. 
Improved access

Quinn stressed that the MTA had listened: In the first round of outreach 76 events yielded the comments that led to the new system map. Comments can still be made on the My Sidewalk feature of the website. 

Main changes based on complaints include that Greenmount Avenue will keep service and is now serviced by City-Link Red. Eastern Avenue and Highlandtown will get their #10 back as a color coded Link Bus line as well. 

Quinn reported about a number of metrics against which the new 2.0 version was tested using mostly the regional travel model maintained by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and additional data from the Department of Planning. Based on this analysis, the new system will

  • keep transfers at the same level as today (there is a 1.7% increase)
  • 53% of all trips would not need any not transfer at all. 
  • Travel times would remain the same
  • there would be better access for more households and better access to more destinations
A before and after analysis comparing the current system with the proposed one is now available for specific areas in the network ("better new route sheets") giving riders the ability to compare their travel options now with those for the Link system. There is also an interactive Google map for the same purpose as well as a trip planner.

For State center the comparison looks like this: 
Current service: #19/119, 21,27, 31 and 91. 
The 19/119 are back as local links. 21 will be replaced with city Link Lime, MTA 27 comes back as LL 94, the 91 replaced with CL Yellow from Mondawmin to Halethorpe. 

The unveiling of the new plan will be followed by three months of public outreach. 
Better new route sheets. (Book).
The proposed new bus stop signs (draft)

Questions revolved around a new real time bus app (It will probably be rolled out after the new service is up and running, Bus USA is already being procured, about the destination displays on the buses ("Get rid of "Happy holidays" and "Go Orioles" and focus on relevant legible information"), whether there will be additional shelters (Yes, 200) and whether there will be fewer stops.  The interesting response here is, that the exact number of current stops seems to be somewhat unclear. About 6,900 are proposed, but the last word on locations and the metrics and standards under which they will be placed has not been spoken. "We will optimize, not delete stops", said the operations manager of MTA.

The question when the existing light rail will see expanded Sunday service hours was also left somewhat open ("Probably 2018"), pending how off service track maintenance can be organized. 

Someone asked "What are the waiting times for transfers? Will the new system target reduction of transfers? Is there analysis of travel time within system?" The answer was soft. "Insofar as there will be more frequent service, transfer times should decrease". Specific transfer times will depend on schedule coordination between lines, a step that hasn't been taken yet.

There is no plan to increase capacity through more articulated buses. When asked by transit advocate Ed Cohen (who also sits on MTA's Citizen Advisory Committee) if certain service reductions from less redundancy in certain corridors wouldn't raise the question of capacity, Quinn admitted that this was "an excellent question", apparently leaving the option open that those lines could run more frequently than every ten minutes.
Consultant Josh Diamond stands in front of
the proposed systems map 2.0

The so called "school tripper service" analysis isn't complete yet either, except that there is a commitment to provide service to all schools. 

Other than the bus service itself, there was talk about making the Charm Card better and more common to reduce the delays stemming from cash being counted into the fare-box upon boarding.  Only 3% of riders use the chip cards today which one can recharge at ticket machines but not buy on them.

Transit activist Jackie Brown said "issues go beyond the technical issues and have to do with adequately funding the system". Quinn repeated that the system received $135 million additional capital and operating funds.

Joe Nathanson of Bolton Hill wanted to know how a year from now how MTA will prepare people for the change when one day they arrive at their stop and a different or no bus will show up. 
The bagged sign approach. Quinne elaborated on the bag strategy for stop signs in which plastic sheets will be placed over the new bus stop signs. The bags contain the old (current) bus stop info. The bags will "be popped" overnight and the new signs be revealed. To soften the shock for riders, there will be also foam-core signs placed on the poles preparing folks to the specifics of line changes at a particular route.

When the presentation and discussion wound down after an hour or so, the last question was a concern about the elimination of the current #3 route. The issue remained open.
Better access

Consultant Josh Diamond who helped with configuring the new system feels that the revisions largely address the complaints he had heard.
The precedent for MTA's endeavor is Houston. Quinn and his boss, MTA Administrator Paul Comfort visited Houston a while ago and came back encouraged: The entire bus system had been revamped last summer. Since then ridership and service efficiency has gone up.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The writer serves  to MTA regarding the Link project in a small capacity as a consultant regarding hub and sign design.

See additional workshops below:
Wednesday, July 6, 20166:00pm- 8:00pm
Arbutus Library
855 Sulphur Spring Road 
Arbutus, Maryland 21227
Local Bus Nos. 35, 77
Express Bus 107
Tuesday, July 12, 2016

6:00pm- 8:00pm
White Marsh Library
8133 Sandpiper Circle 
Baltimore, MD 21236
Local Bus Nos. 35, 58
Express Buses 102, 120
Thursday, July 14, 2016
6:00pm- 8:00pm
Medstar Harbor Hospital
3001 S Hanover St 
Baltimore, MD 21225
Local Bus Nos. 27, 29, 51, 64
Express Bus 164

Monday, July 18, 2016

5:00pm- 7:00pm
Waverly Library
400 East 33rd Street 
Baltimore, MD 21218
Local Bus Nos. 3, 8, 12, 22
Quick Bus 48
Wednesday, July 20, 2016

11:00am- 3:00pm
War Memorial
Memorial Hall
101 North Gay Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Local Bus Nos. 5, 7, 8, 10, 15, 19,
20, 23, 26, 31, 35, 36, 91
Quick Buses 40, 46, 47, 48
Express Buses 105, 115, 119, 120, 150, 160
Thursday, July 21, 2016

6:00pm- 8:00pm
Pimlico Race Course
Triple Crown Room
5201 Park Heights Avenue
Baltimore, MD  21215
Local Bus Nos. 27, 44, 54, 91
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

6:00pm- 8:00pm
Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC)
1500 Whetstone Way, #300
Baltimore, MD  21230
Bus No. 1
Thursday, July 28, 2016
6:00pm- 8:00pm
Coppin University
Talon Center
Room 218 A
2500 W North Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21216
Local Bus Nos. 1, 5, 7, 13, 16, 21, 22, 51, 52, 53, 54, 91, 97 (Mondawmin Shuttle Bug)
Metro Subway