Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bus Rapid Transit in Baltimore?

For many putting rapid and bus into the same phrase is an oxymoron, an impossible combination. What buses are known for is being slow, right?
Amalgamated Transit Union Baltimore

The Baltimore branch of the transit union ATU thinks otherwise and since they are the ones who make transit run, one is inclined to listen to them as experts, even though the union lingo with Local and Amalgamated etc. my stand as a barrier between them and "the people" in general (for whom they say they speak) plus, of course, the problem with associating rapid and bus.
Join ATU Local 1300 and our allies as we unite to fight for transit justice in Baltimore. In the face of the Red Line cut and rushed BaltimoreLink proposal, Local 1300 is offering a set of new ideas – a people’s plan for Baltimore transit – that can be implemented today. We’re proposing a true bus rapid transit system connecting East and West Baltimore, building on corridors where ridership is high and the buses are slow. (ATU Facebook page)
slow boarding at the narrow front door takes often a long time
(Eutaw Street, ATU image)
The union makes an, on first glance, sensible proposal: It leaves the MTA proposed Link bus routes largely alone and suggests to speed buses up along the most traveled corridors by making them faster through a set of measures that industry experts consider the must-have items before a bus can be called rapid

Elements of BRT to make the bus faster
Chief among the "accelerators" are off-board ticket purchase (ideally combined with all-door bus boarding), level boarding, dedicated bus lanes and signal priority at intersections. In short, the bus would sit less long at stops (dwell time) and it would move faster between stops because it would be on its own lane instead of stuck between the other cars. At traffic signals, a bus would get a green signal earlier, keep it longer and be allowed to jump to the front of the queue if it has to turn.

ATU proposed BRT routes
In strategic locations two of these measures are part of the MTA proposal as well:  Bus lanes and signal priority. The ATU bus rapid bus transit "people's plan", however, considers more of those measures with extensive changes on the streets and on the buses that would cost at least twice as much money as MDOT Secretary Rahn has given the MTA for its Link system.

Some of the ATU proposals would certainly raise many people's concerns such as modifications or elimination of the medians of Edmondson Avenue, Broadway or Eutaw Place or a two way busway on Baltimore Street.
Proposed BRT routes as shown on the map
Running buses in the median on Edmondson mimics what the Red Line had proposed as well. Doing that brings up stormwater management and "reforestation" issues, a reconstruction of the road and would unleash a number of the same studies the Red Line had successfully completed but which would have to be done all over for a different project.

ATU should know, that such changes to roadways can't be "implemented tomorrow" as they say on their website but require public participation, environmental impact studies and intense collaboration with the City.  The Red Line planned to compensate the elimination of the median at Edmondson Avenue with a green track and various offsite landscape mitigation projects.
Broadway, before and after (ATU)

The medians of Broadway have just been re-done with City investments in revitalizing Broadway. The Eutaw Place median is part of a careful historic set-up which is really "a sacred cow" in that it is a key characteristic of one of the most beautiful streets in Baltimore, located in a historic district.
To be fair, ATU doesn't propose to eliminate the medians there but simply to encroach on them at stops. The diagrammatic images ATU prepared are not inspiring much hope that even such a small thing could be approved. Some sections still show high platforms, even though the bus fleet is almost entirely low floor now with a boarding level as low as 7"-8" above pavement achievable through "kneeling buses".

Baltimore Street busway: Orginally part of MTA's Link concept but
rejected by the City. (ATU graphic)
Aside from those quibbles, the MTA would probably do well in considering some of ATU's suggestions, especially a transition to cashless service via prepaid chip cards and all door boarding. (The MTA wants to more heavily promote the Charm Card but has no plans for eliminating the cash fare box).

Only if buses can be sped up over their current crawl can the efficiencies be achieved that are needed to run a more frequent and more reliable service with essentially the same fleet and operator pool as before.

Selectively choosing some ATU suggestions, especially making the highest ridership routes some type premier service is valuable, even if one should probably not call this rapid bus (BRT). The proposed Gold Line on North Avenue should be the gold standard pilot for what CityLink can do.

Baltimore is still waiting for a visible and meaningful gesture in response to the uprising of last year. Nothing would be a better response than a reliable, frequent and faster bus service from Milton to Hilton as part of the North Avenue Rising project already underway as a result of a MTA/City grant application that is funded.
ATU graphic for Edmondson Avenue 

The prospect for bringing the union into the tent of those who support the Link reform appears to be dim, though. Political tensions have arisen on a number of other issues in which the current administration and the local chapter of the union don't see eye to eye. ATU in its bus paper calls the Link system a "charade".

Bus Rapid Transit, ironically, has been the preferred mode under Governor Ehrlich when it was studied extensively as an alternative to the Rail Line as a rail line. It just wasn't cost effective at all. 

BRT has been tried in many cities as a presumably cheaper alternative to subway and light rail. In urban centers Seattle and Boston put it even underground to avoid congestion. Alas, in the US BRT is mostly known as a much watered down version of what Bogota, Curitiba and Istanbul implemented. There, in response to unimaginable pollution and congestion the bus was indeed, reformed to work nearly as well as a train but with the fraction of the cost.  There are just three or so succesful BRT lines in the US, mostly single BRT lines, not networks. To do it the right way takes political will and power that no US city has shown yet.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

A People's Plan for Baltimore Transit , ATU

Los Angeles Orange Line BRT, a single line.

Bus speeds in Baltimore per ATU map 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Baltimore, not so fragile after all?

Once in a while Baltimore can surely use some good news. Unfortunately, the good news sometimes unfold in obscure places, such as CityLab, the daily news bulletin for urbanists which the Atlantic Magazine puts together. That bulletin is actually there to bring to light stuff that usually lingers in far more remote corners of our knowledge industry and help planners and folks who care about cities find to use that information.
Map screenshot for Baltimore. The interactive map is linked below the article.
This actually defines the metro area.

Such as the story about the world fragility map put together by the Igarape Institute, a think tank and independent research institute headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That institute explains its map:
The metrics for Baltimore/Towson
The world’s most fragile cities are crisscrossed with no-go areas and gripped by extreme volatility. As the cases of Karachi, Kinshasa, and Port-au-Prince demonstrate, hybrid and parallel forms of governance typically emerge.
Militia groups and gangs substitute for the state, including when it comes to delivering basic services to specific neighbourhoods. In cities ranging from Manchester to Mogadishu, local criminal mafias may have more legitimacy than state providers.
In order to understand the dimensions of city fragility, the Igarapé Institute, United Nations University,World Economic Forum and 100 Resilient Cities developed a data visualisation platform. The consortium focused on 2,100 cities with populations of 250,000 or more. Cities were graded across 11 variables, including population growth rates, unemployment, income inequality, access to basic services (electricity), pollution levels, homicide rates, terrorism-related deaths, conflict events, and natural hazards (including the extent of exposure to cyclones, droughts and floods).
Reading this, which Marylander wouldn't think of Baltimore? But here is the good news: Baltimore has a very respectable fragility score of 1.9 (the least fragile is 1.0 and the most fragile is 4.0). San Francisco and Washington DC have a score of 1.5 by comparison, San Jose has the same as Baltimore. Because of terrorism New York and London are above 2.0 .A unremarkable place like Syracuse ranks a high 1.1.

I don't want to rain into the parade, but some factors, like Baltimore's newest murder rates or its poor PARCC school test scores may not have registered all that well when the Brazilians put the map together, probably because the huge inequity inside the region averaged things out. As they should if we had a functional region in which all partners equally share the burdens. As far as the fragility of the country (the last two score items): the fall elections will have to prove it.

Though the map doesn't show how divided the Baltimore region is, it shows that fragility divides the world. The brunt of war, unrest and climate change is very unevenly distributed, Mogadishu an extreme case, also Kabul, Afghanistan. Oslo, Norway and Canberra, Australia are listed as not fragile at all. No wonder, the global migrations.

So let's just soak in that we don't look so bad on this map and pretend its meaningful!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Where the Fragile Cities are (CityLab)
Global Fragile Cities Map Igarape Institute

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

News from My Public Radio

Ever since Johns Hopkins' radio station was renamed WYPR  (Your Public Radio)from WJHU, I feel like being part of it. Especially since I donate every month as a sustaining member (The station receives $71,000 per month from members that pay monthly). So I care when the host of the noon talk-show show is changed again. Or when Wes Moore gets to do a new show.

This is how I see it: Originating from Germany which like Great Britain and other European countries has a tradition of public radio, I see a commercial free station as a valuable local asset and an important source of information that is not beholden to the private profit principle .
Lisa Simeone, multi talent once

I remember when in the late 80s and early 90s the local public station was WJHU and there was mostly jazz and classical music and an occasional syndicated show like Morning Edition, All Things Considered and the Diane Rehm Show. Local news discussion was limited to a one slot weekly talk hosted by Lisa Simeone that addressed Baltimore area issues. Lisa did other shows on the station, too. But the people that were interested in what was going on in Baltimore listened to her call-in show and I was very proud to have been on it once. (I was even prouder when I ran into Lisa the other day and she actually remembered me).

Then, in 2001, public radio had to be saved because JHU jettisoned it's campus station.  I don't recall details except Marc Steiner emerged among some others as one of the heroes that made the transformation to YOUR public radio happen. Since then the station called itself "your local news station." That transformation, however, cost $5 million and only $1million was raised in cash at the time. (Sun, 1/31/2002). There are still payments to be made to pay back the loan. That whole big sale is odd, given how much money Johns Hopkins University has and how much public radio should be part of the public education mission that at the university's heart.
Marc Steiner and WYPR's Steiner Show

At the time Steiner had already expanded the talk format to daily shows and had a loyal local following for his talk show. It allowed him to successfully collect drum up support for the purchase of the station. His shows were a full menu from the philosophical to the polemical and went from utility to architecture.

One day in 2008, in what seemed to everybody like a "night and fog" operation, Steiner was gone. Tony Brandon, the station manager fired him and maintains that he had good reasons. A lot of people were quite upset at the time. As co-owners of  "My Public Radio" the public wasn't asked nor did I get an actual explanation from Brandon when I asked him directly. Brandon, along with Andy Bienstock, is one of the saviors who helped to create WYPR.

Steiner went on to revive a very similar format at the smaller Morgan State's public radio station and Dan Rodricks became WYPR's new talk show host at noon, a show now called Midday. ("Thank you for making Midday part of your day"). Rodricks turned out to be a worthy successor who kept asking critical questions of anybody that came before his microphone and increased the audience for the show as well.
Dan Rodricks and WYPR's Midday

One day last year, Rodricks was gone, too, and once again it wasn't entirely clear what had transpired, although I gathered that this time it was the talk-show host himself who had jumped ship. He began podacsting for the Sun, where is also a print columnist. They built him a studio so that he can catch the wave of podcasts.

At WYPR, this time, there was no new host for the Midday show and the station just moved the chairs around among those that did the other station newscasts, Maryland Morning's Sheilah Kast took over as the host of Midday which was cut from two hours to one. Tom Hall who was the station's cultural contributor took on Maryland Morning. The station filled the second Midday hour with the syndicated "Here and Now" show.

Last week, the musical chairs rotated again. This time, Tom Hall came in for Sheilah Kast and she went back to Maryland Morning which was renamed On the Record, a broadcast that the station website describes this way:
Catch On the Record, hosted by Sheilah Kast, weekdays from 9:30 to 10:00 am, following NPR’s Morning Edition. We’ll discuss the issues that affect your life and bring you thoughtful and lively conversations with the people who shape those issues -- business people, public officials, scholars, artists, authors, and journalists who can take us inside the story. 
Once again, there was little explanation except what vice president Andy Bienstock told the SUN.
“It’s been about 10 months or so since we had the current lineup, and we just decided that Tom is better at hosting the call-in show, and Sheilah does a great job with long-form interviews, so we decided to switch them.[...] The two formats are the right matches for each host … and this puts them in the best position to shine.”
Sheilah Kast at WYPR's Midday
Jonathan Roger, Senior Vice President of Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and chairman of the Board of Directors at WYPR since 2014 resigned from his position in May, apparently over a dispute about the course of the station. 

Much weight rests on the shoulders of public radio thanks to the ever diminishing circulation of the print press. The fate of a talk show which is mostly devoted to local and state politics is extremely important for the quality of the local political discourse. One has to wonder if WYPR has enough resources to do the necessary background investigative work and staff the shows that make it truly a news station. The station's creative ways of airing local content and getting money for it is not what I mean.

Wes Moore: WYPR's new Future City show
Last year the City Paper described in a piece of investigative journalism the curious manner how WYPR stretches news content through paid contributions by sponsors like the National Aquarium. The City paper summed up the conflation of the various ways how news content was chained throughout the day this way:
The station’s management makes no distinction between programming that is written and produced in house by its professional, paid staff or syndicated through National Public Radio, and that which is, directly or not, underwritten by the corporate host.
In this way, programming produced by a Johns Hopkins public-relations professional, the CEO of the National Aquarium, a pair of local restaurateurs, and a prominent local economist—all of whose corporate employers underwrite programming on the station—blend in with work by radio journalists and talk-show hosts with no other allegiance or means of support.
The addition of Wes Moore to the station line-up with a monthly show called Future Baltimore is a promising addition. Wes Moore, a Baltimore native and author will investigate how best practices from other cities can be applied to Baltimore. One show about Community Schools aired so far. (Podcast) A Tom Hall podcast with Wes Moore about his latest book can be heard here.
In each episode, Wes looks at bright ideas that are working in other cities.  And he asks the question: Can those ideas work for Baltimore? (Station website).  
“At a time like now, when Baltimore is working to resolve chronic problems, and is making progress on many, Future City will gather urban leaders from around the country to share what’s working in other cities, We’ll also have Wes Moore’s input as a progressive and thoughtful Baltimore leader.” ” Tony Brandon, president and general manager of WYPR speaking with the Baltimore Times
 I am honored that from Simeone to Steiner and from Rodricks to Kast local hosts saw me fit to join their shows as an invited guest to discuss architecture, urban design, cities and "design thinking". This made me think even more, that this was also "my station". I hope that I can contribute to Future City as well. Meanwhile, I wished, as a member I would be better informed about the policies that govern WYPR's decisions and how, exactly, budget, funding and news content are balanced and weighted.

This week is WYPR's fall pledge drive. Give freely but ask questions. All this on-air talk about why this station needs money should be used to explain what is in store. True independent news radio is important in Baltimore, now more than ever!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Monday, September 26, 2016

Another bus shuttle comes to downtown

On any given day on Baltimore's Charles Street one can see MTA buses, Charm City Circulators, Hopkins buses, UB buses and UM buses thundering up the street. While having a lot of transit options, one really has to wonder if this multitude really makes sense or merely adds congestion and fumes. Starting today there will be another shuttle, this for Exelon workers and run by the Waterfront Partnership. It, too will overlap with public buses.
The route of the new Horseshoe  Casino to Exelon bus shuttle
(Waterfront Partnership)
 Starting September 26, the new Point East Shuttle will take employees from Horseshoe Casino to Harbor East and Harbor Point with stops at Camden Station and Pratt Street at President Street. See below for the shuttle route and timing. Once the shuttle is operating, you will be able to track when the next shuttle will arrive at your stop both on this site and through a downloaded app called Trans Loc Riders. Information regarding this service will be emailed out to registered users for their convenience. Employees can choose to ride from the following options:
  • Option 1: Park and Ride from Horseshoe Casino
  • Cost: $50/month includes parking
  • Ideal For: I-95S commuters and those coming from Southwest of the City
  • Registration Requred
  • Option 2: Ride from Camden Station
  • Cost: Free with proof of purchase of a current and valid MTA transit pass
  • Ideal For: MARC and Light Rail riders
  • Please use this registration form if you plan to use a valid MTA pass to ride the Point East Shuttle from Camden Station.
  • Option 3: Ride from Pratt Street
  • Cost: $20/month excludes parking
  • Ideal For: Exelon employees wishing to retain their current parking along Pratt Street
  • Registration Required. Please use this registration form if you plan to use a valid MTA pass to ride the Point East Shuttle from Pratt Street.
Circulator bus on the newly painted bus lane on
Pratt Street (Photo ArchPlan Inc.)
Given HarborPoint's precarious access situation and the fact that there won't be a Red Line, a quickly cobbled together transit operation may make sense. But on second thought, HarborPoint has been long enough in the making that more integrated transit solutions could have been considered: Certainly a robust water taxi service starting at Canton Crossing where opportunities for commuter parking exist. COPT is actually looking for interim users of the their large parking facilities.

Without rail serving Harbor East and HarborPoint, additional bus service should be a given. One doesn't get the sense that Beatty development is seriously engaged in the Link Bus routing discussion with the goal to bring excellent service to Harbor East and HarborPoint. That leaves the Circulator which is currently serving Harbor East and HarborPoint. It is hard to understand why the Waterfront Partnership decided to run another show, in parts on the same route. as the Circulator.
UB shuttle on the same corridor as the Circulator and the MTA
(photo: ArchPlan In.c)

A bus can hold 40 people, that's way better than 40 cars with one person in each, but that isn't the alternative here. Because these shuttles are not demand based but run on a fixed schedule, whether anybody wants to use them or not, they often run empty or nearly so, which makes for a much less positive balance on the emissions chart.

The proliferation of shuttles is not only a Baltimore problem. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Commission commissioned an entire shuttle census to understand what is on the road. However, the focus of that study was the urban-exurban shuttle, less the downtown circulator variety which is less known in San Francisco thanks to excellent transit services there with streetcars, light rail, cable car and subway. The findings of the commission regarding the commuter shuttles sound rather positive:
The Bay Area’s shuttle fleet contributes to reducing congestion on the region’s roads and to reduced CO2 emissions by reducing total vehicle miles traveled. In addition, many shuttles complement regional transit services by providing critical “last mile” connections to destinations from transit hubs. MTC hopes to more precisely quantify CO2 emission impacts in the next Shuttle Census
The Baltimore situation cannot be judged that kindly. It simply doesn't make sense to have so many private and exclusive shuttles running on the same routes as public MTA buses and the Circulator. In other words, wouldn't it be much better if all these institutions would fund and enhance the public municipal system which is bleeding red ink?

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Waterfront Partnership Shuttle announcement

Waterfront Partnership shuttle plans (Baltimore SUN, 2015)

Bay Area shuttle census, a Report of the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Commission 9/2/16

Friday, September 23, 2016

Baltimore Bus Reform Under Fire

When Governor Hogan announced a comprehensive overhaul of the Baltimore bus system some took issue with the underlying notion that this reform is a substitute for the dramatic cancellation of the Red Line into which an entire region had invested 12 years of planning and design.  Transit advocates still don't think that Baltimore should simply be a "bus town" or that it shouldn't have any additional rail service. This tension still carries over into any debate about MTA.
From MTA community presentation

But nobody questioned the need for a bus reform and when Secretary Rahn assessed what was wrong with current service it resonated with the experience of many riders. In Paul Comfort the MTA had  a new administrator who showed a much higher public profile than his predecessors. He began the reform of MTA's service with urgency, enthusiasm and optimism. The entire overhaul is scheduled to be done by June 2017, a project that his predecessor had given an up to 18 year time-frame. Comfort acknowledged the bus analysis work that had been done before under the acronym BNIP, but he added new reform goals such as a "high frequency network" and took Houston's radical overhaul as a model. Baltimore will go to bed with the old bus system one night and would wake up with a system in place by the next morning in which hardly any bus route would be like it was before.

The boldness of the approach, the successful Houston model, and the fact that additional buses, drivers and investments in bus lanes and signal priority were part of the plan ($135 in six years) convinced many transit advocates to participate in the process and engage in a constructive manner in the reform project called BaltimoreLink, no matter what ill feelings they had in regards to the missed rail transit opportunity.
Transfers and trip times remain about the same as today. (MTA)

But as it is, honeymoons are followed by rougher stretches. Or, when theory meets practice, adjustments have to be made. Transit riders studying the reform plan version 1.0  tried to imagine their daily trips under the new system and expressed many concerns about eliminated lines, service that was too far away, or required multiple buses and transfers for trips that can currently be taken with "one seat". As a result of 1,280 comments from communities made in 67 outreach meetings (MTA numbers) version 2.0 of the bus plan was unveiled this July. It reinstated many routes and looked more similar to the old system than the first incarnation.

One could say that the initial version was a robust but limited high frequency network which was augmented by local buses and transfers at hubs. In version 2.0 the plan morphed into a much more hybrid model in which the distinction between high frequency and local bus was blurred and coverage was increased at the cost of frequency. Riders look at frequency in terms of all buses in the corridor, transit planners define it per route.
MTA numbers based on their own modelling

Reduction of redundancy of multiple bus lines piling on top of each other on the same route (typical today especially in the core area) is a stated goal of the reform. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke's bus working group soon found out that many corridors in their northwest quadrant had actually less frequent overall service than before, comparing the sum of all parallel lines with the one line that was left in version 2.0. In a meeting with the advocacy group Transit Choices with the councilwoman and the MTA, the MTA representative countered the criticism with the statement that one line that would show up reliably and on schedule would still be an improvement over multiple lines that all run unreliably.
This is a chart from the transit union ATA based on the obsolete version 1.0
of the Link Plan. The chart is still on the ATU website 

Transit experts began to analyze the proposed plan by numbers: The transit union ATU calls the Link bus proposal "a charade" and posted a detailed article on their website under the title "Why Baltimore Link is not Enough". The criticism focuses on transfer points resulting from shortened routes (another stated goal of the reform) and provided a chart of some reduced corridor frequencies. The analysis seems outdated and based on version 1.0. ATU wants a BRT system for Baltimore.

The transit advocacy group CMTA hired Transportation for America to conduct an independent analysis of the version 2.0 of the Link project using a modeling approach similar to MTA's own approach. The report was released this week and found that the radical reform yielded only tepid improvements. The report provoked a harsh response from the Governor's office:
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer called the report "complete nonsense." He said the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance "is extremely biased at best." (Baltimore SUN)
Considering that CMTA's findings differ only marginally from MTA's own analysis the words "complete nonsense" seem to express more political anger than an actual argument. Both models show modest improvements overall with increases in frequency in some areas and some decreases in others. One difference comes from the way CMTA breaks down job access.
The CMTA analysis by Transportation for America has a host of
charts measuring the trip times and the access of low income
neighborhoods to jobs and grocery stores

Ultimately, the biggest difference comes from a part that can't be measured yet. MTA puts a lot of stock into the benefit of having a reliable system where buses show up on time and get riders where they want on time. According to MTA this new reliability is the result of shorter routes and a more efficient spread of the bus fleet over the service area. Whether this effect will actually happen can only be verified after the new system is in place.

Currently test buses are dispatched on the proposed routes to measure actual run-times, but the new stops are not yet finalized and results also don't include the anticipated signal prioritization for buses at certain intersections or additional dedicated bus lanes other than the existing ones on Pratt and Lombard.

CMTA's analysis takes MTA's own schedule assumptions and even assumes 100% schedule adherence in its model. It finds that the increase in jobs that can be accessed in 45 minutes is too small to be relevant although the results for specific communities vary hugely. But trip time comparisons suffer from the fact that current actual trip times are guesswork since most current schedules are pure theory and the real trips times vary excessively, in part because MTA's system is too stressed, in part because Baltimore's traffic conditions are unpredictable, in often because of ongoing utility construction popping up everywhere.

CMTA also takes issue with Sunday service. More frequent service 24/7 is a stated BaltimoreLink goal. Extended service times late in the evening and on the weekend are costly but important to many low income earners who are shift workers or otherwise have odd work hours. The early Sunday light rail service in MTA's original proposal still needs to be reconciled with the necessary down-times in which tracks are maintained. As for late night or weekend buses: CMTA is probably right, that for this to happen sustainably, additional operations money may be needed. MTA is also still working on solutions that involve on demand Micro Transit service such as vans or Uber to solve last mile issues.

Personally, I envision a transit future in which bus coverage is reduced in favor of frequency and where the last mile distance between the bus stop and the place where the rider starts or ends the trip is covered with smaller automated electric fleet vehicles. But that future is a bit further off than June 2017.

Meanwhile, MTA's idea is to begin with a conservative schedule that can be reliably adhered to and adjust it after the system opens in June 2017. The MTA accepts comments on the current version of the plan until September 30th.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
ArchPlan is an ancillary consultant on the MTA Link project advising on some urban design issues related to transit hubs

Assessing the Benefits of the Baltimore Link Plan. CMTA Report

MTA link to presentations made at community meetings

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Touring Baltimore stormwater BMP facilities

Sometimes it takes a tour bus and organized presentations to see what is otherwise hidden in plain view. Case in point, the Stormwater 2016 Tour sponsored and organized my the MD chapter of landscape architects and the MD Society of Civil Engineers.

A whole bus full of planners, engineers and landscape architects wanted to see what Baltimore had to offer in terms of bio-retention and stormwater management (best management practices, BMP) in the small scale in the urban setting.
Practitioners have used the term BMP to describe both structural or engineered control devices and systems (e.g. retention ponds) to treat polluted stormwater, as well as operational or or procedural practices.
The objective of those multiple small interventions is not the control of massive storms like the one that ravaged Ellicott City but the control and improvement of the first inch of precipitation. The water washing off roofs and pavement is often the most polluted especially after longer periods of dry weather. It is important to prevent this dirty and frequently heated water from running straight into storm drains leading directly into streams and waterways such as the Inner Harbor. The treatment of subsequent inches of rainfall delivers much less incremental benefit but requires much larger holding areas. Thus most of the facilities on display on the tour were designed for that critical first inch.

It was clear from the facilities and the stories behind them that stormwater management 2.0, the small incremental first inch treatment areas, is still in its infancy. The installations are more demonstration projects than actual solutions. Proof of concept, as disruptive start-ups call that phase.

The examples presented at the tour are shown in the below pictures with a description, explanations and sometimes a critique in the captions.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The stormwater swale at 400 West Pratt Street treats the first inch of the water flowing off the adjacent sidewalk. It doesn't contribute to groundwater recharge thanks to a liner under the soil and sandfilter, apparently required by the city. The project received funds from the Downtown Partnership. Design: JMT, presenter Jon Conner,

breaks in the curb let the sidewalk water flow into the bio retention area. Those pointed flows caused some scoring on the backside. Trees in the planting area are red maple. They are offset to avoid a major stormdrain under this facility

regular curb drains are installed on the backside to take on overflow water in storms that are larger than the facility can handle
Pierces Park  at the Columbus Center is a retrofit of the original Chesapeake grasses installation and is an elaborate kids entertainment and learning area that cost $2.5 million to install in 2011, money that came from a donation. This bio retention area and several smaller ones on the same grounds use no liner but have irrigation to keep the green and lush. The designer was Mahan Rykiel, the presenter Eric Souza of the Waterfront Partnership that helps with the upkeep and maintenance. According to Souza the use by young people "is off the charts".  

The largest bio-retention at the Columbus Center
A smaller bio retention area at the Columbus Center

The Columbus center BMP is fenced off due to heavy usage by kids. Still, soil compaction is an ongoing issue

The 2013 Blue Alley project in Butchers Hill  is a demonstration of making Baltimore's alleys pervious. Nick Lindow of CityScape Engineering presented the project that was executed with support by Bluewater Baltimore. The pavers with large pervious joints are basically the inlet to a sandfilter with underdrain explained DPW representative Rosanna LaPlante who reviews all bioretention submittals in Baltimore City. The project received funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Fund. The complicated set-up in which the job was bid and constructed by DOT led to various problems due to the fact that DOT and its contractor had no experience with stormwater management. In spite of being a demonstration project, there was no monitoring to date, so Lindow said: "Who knows how much it's infiltrating". Monitoring  isjust now beginning for flow rate and volume. A difficulty is that in alleys the private properties go to the center of the alley. To avoid water infiltrating towards houses, there are liners on the sides of the paver area. There was a $900,000 budget including the bump-outs shown below, but the project hasn't been fully accounted so real expense is unknown.

large scale depiction of the paver joints that are supposed to take the water

The "bump-outs" at Butchers Hill are supposed to be traffic calming devices doubling up as BMPs. Ashley Trout of Bluewater Baltimore explained how difficult it is to get agreements with the neighborhood associations regarding maintenance and upkeep and stewardship. 

Keeping pet waste out of bio areas apparently requires Spanish signs

The Butcher Hill bump outs sank too much and need to be replanted and refurbished

One of the sidewals was poured over top of the retention soil instead of a CR 6 stone base, the water finds a shortcut directly to the overflow inlet making water improvement a fantasy that exists only on paper 

The nearby school helps with a special green group of students who love to work on these areas. The plants also attract butterflies and other small animals usually not found in the streetscape

The last stop on the tour was the Library Square at the Patterson Branch of the Pratt Library on Fayette and Linwood Streets, a historic park with 60 mature linden trees.

The park was retrofitted with retention areas. Many of the small plantings did not survive the summer and need replacement under the contractor warranty. Design  BioHabitats for Bluewater Baltimore, design-build Angler Environmental, presenter
Bryan Arvai, Biohabitats. The facilities treat approximately one half acre area. They will do little to mitigate the flooding common for the area when the underground channels of the Harris Creek overflow. because they are not designed for large volumes but the first inch again. The budget is $350,000, a grant from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). many community groups including the Friends of Library Square were part of the design process.

Traditional brick pavers laid with open joints to absorb rain water.

The Audobon garden across the street from Library Square is not part of a stormwater project but drew a lot of attention from tour participants

The western portion of Library Square which is bifurcated by the underground Harris Creek

The Friends of Library Square meet in the library

Panelists Michael Peny (Angler), Ashely Trout (Bluewater), Steve Allison (Floura Teeter) and Rosanna LaPlante (DPW) discuss the design, implementation and maintenance issue of small urban stormwater facilities at the end of the tour.

Steve Allison stated as his special interest and expertise: "How does the plant take the pollution out of the water?" He also got into the question of the bigger storms which appear to be a result of global warming and dump heavy rains in very short periods. He said: "We talk a lot about the regulation rains but need also talk about big storms. Guidelines must be rewritten to adjust for weather. Burst storm wash everything out", referring to how the fragile first inch of rain facilities are not resilient enough to withstand those storms. He demanded that "In biomass and metabolic horizons we need to create systems that keep themselves in check". Joanne Trach Tongson of Mahan Rykiel who had organized a lot of the event and moderated the panel added: "We need to define soils not only by chemistry and structure but also their biology. "
Aside form such esoteric issues , the opportunity of a green workforce development was also discussed. Today there is a shortage of people that understand how to take care of these facilities and maintain them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Open Works: Making things behind open doors

Tuesday one of the nations 10 largest "Maker Spaces" opened in Baltimore on Greenmount Avenue, its name: Open Works. Baltimore's movers and shakers were assembled to sing the praises of a new age of making in Baltimore.
Open Works (Photo: ArchPlan. Inc.)

Open Works is a 34,000 SF non-profit that provides "access to tools and technology and knowledge" said Will Holman, General Manager in a presentation about the project the evening before the ribbon cutting. Open Works is a project of The Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation (BARCO), a non-profit real estate development corporation focused on neighborhood revitalization and economic development in Baltimore City. BARCO Executive Director Mac MacLure, noted that Holman managed to write a book and get this project completed all since he was hired. "There is no end to where he is going to go I just hope he does it here", MacLure said. He dedicated the building to the founder of the Robert Deutsch Foundation which contributed heavily to the project and is active all across Station North.
Ribbon cutting with Mayor Rawlings Blake (left) and
School CEO Santelises

Open Works sits at the intersection of the Greenmount Avenue revitalization project long spearheaded by Baltimore Housing and Commissioner Graziano and the eastern edge of the Station North Arts District as an example that development and investment is not limited to downtown and the waterfront. Congressman Cummings who spoke briefly at the opening put his hopes this way:
[this project was helped] "bya leadership whose souls are fed by making a difference in others peoples' live" [....]So often people of the community are expect to remain on the outside looking in. This is different. [...] Our diversity is not our problem it is our promise"
Anybody in the community can use meetings spaces and the future Greenmount Coffee Lab, an offspring of the Red Emma co-op known for its bookstore cafe on North Avenue. To use the machines and tools, it takes a membership which is neatly tiered by floor or it can be obtained as an all inclusive package. Monthly member fees are $90 for the use of the downstairs facilities, $70 for the upstairs facilities and $125 for the full package. Day passes are available for $25. As a unique feature Open Works will also offer 140 micro studios "as a place to land" or set up shop for a while.
Holman shows the work spaces to a group
of attendees of the BMC talk series
what's on tap (Photo: ArchPlan. Inc.)

The facility is located in the old railroad parcel building with two heavy duty levels, the upper is the "clean floor" (no dirty hands), the lower floor has real manufacturing and production with old fashioned and with modern machinery. The area at Greenmount is near Jubilee's City Arts project, a corner that Charlie Duff of Jubilee once had called "the corner of life an death", a double entendre on the adjacent Greenmount cemetery and how run-down and dangerous the area was before the new projects which also include the Lillian Jones affordable housing project south of Open Works.

Beautifully rehabilitated by architects Cho Benn Holback Open Works has its ribbon cutting at a time when one can talk about a manufacturing renaissance that is beginning to take shape in Baltimore and across the continent. Baltimore with its rich industrial history is a great place to bring back crowd sourced manufacturing, 3-D printing and the workforce training on machines whose older versions have been common in the very same area with the Crown Cork and Seal company and the clothing manufacturer Lebow. 
Open Works Funding Sources

How manufacturing can be re-imagined and reinvented was illustrated during a talk organized by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council that took place at Open Works on Monday and provided a sneak preview of the facility and a talk by David Woessner about Local Motors

David describes himself on LinkedIn this way: Business leader and entrepreneur. Automotive industry influencer and disruptor. Trusted advisor and servant to public and private executives and leaders. Resident and advocate for the City of Detroit. Child of Germany and great supporter of all things German Soccer.

David was full of start-up and tech lingo combined with a good dose of energy and optimism. "A better world through hardware". Local Motors is not a Baltimore company which may be a good thing, because two companies with such an over-sized ego may not have enough room here.
"We are innovators and manufacturers" and "we will be to open source hardware what Linux was to open source software" he stated, production somewhere at the "sweet-spot between mass production and prototype".
Local Cars General Manager David Woessner
at Open Works

"Car making is one of the most complex systems", David explained with somewhere around 25,000 components per vehicle. "If we can disrupt that we can disrupt everything." Local Motors created the first 3-D printed car, it had a mere 50 components. "Co-creation", David called the process in which ideas are collected via crow-sourcing. The company has a presence with a demonstration space at National Harbor, a 50,000 sf plant in Knoxville, another plant in Berlin, Gremany and headquarters in Phoenix, AZ.

The company's goal is 'rapid integration of technology". Instead of the typical 5 years from concept to vehicle Local Motors wants to reduce it to six months. "No dealers, factory direct."

He says in the new model one wouldn't necessarily buy a car but subscribe to it like in the I-phone model with a service provider, updates and no long-term ownership.
The company has produced a number of vehicles including a military exploration vehicle, a road safe race car and an autonomous mini bus named Olli. A pizza delivery vehicle is already in circulation: Production: 100 cars.

Holman is very cautious about the hoopla around makerspaces across the US (There are 300 such spaces nationwide by Holman's count) and the possibility that 3-D printing could be a manufacturing revolution in the making. His focus is on community access and training. At the ribbon cutting a $75,000 check was presented by T Rowe Price, PNC and Telesis, a developer instrumental in turning around the communities along the Greenmount Avenue corridor. Holman has talked with Damian Costa of Sagamore, the other big (for-profit) makerspace in Port Covington. He is cautiously hopeful about the possibility that his space could be supported through the new workforce training funds that are part of the TIF deal or that OpenWerks could become a pipeline to the jobs offered by Under Armour and others in advanced manufacturing. 
Olli, the Local Cars mini-bus prototype

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The BARCO speaker was originally identified as Neil Didrikson. Didrikson was home sick, the speaker was Mac MacLure, Executive Director of BARCO. The Red Emma coffee shop in the facility will be called Greenmount Coffee Lab, not Red Coffee. The parcel building was a function of the railroad, not the post office.
Mayor Rawlings Blake, BDC CEO Bill Cole and Congressman Cunmmings at Open Works

Ex MICA  President Fred Lazarus and new President Samuel Hoi

Elijah Cummings: Our diversity is not our problem it is our promise"

BARCO  Executive Director MacLure

Rendering of the project designed by Cho Benn, Holback Architects