Monday, October 24, 2016

The future of Baltimore's Circulator

“Sometimes we need to shift boundaries and upset the way things have always been done to become more efficient, but these changes can disturb people.” (Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo)
Stephany Rawlings Blake leaves the systemic Circulator deficit for her successor to resolve. (Baltimore SUN). That is good news, since the City-run local bus transit is popular and liked by folks of all walks of life, quite a feat for a bus system! It shouldn't be cut.
Circulator on the new bus only lane on Pratt Street
(photo: Philipsen)

What to do with the six year old bus system in the future should be pretty easy to answer: Go back to its original principles, which were never spelled out in sufficient clarity but which I would summarize this way:

  • keep it free
  • run it frequently (10 minutes)
  • make the online app work that shows real time bus arrivals for each stop
  • don't compete with MTA
  • connect parking peripheral to downtown and the edges of inner neighborhoods with downtown jobs, institutions and shopping
  • have it paid by parking taxes, business support and grants
  • integrate it with other transit and the water taxi (Harbor Connector)
It is the money part where the trouble arises. Especially the Banner Line which was only instituted because of the festivities around the war of 1812 and the difficulty of getting to Fort McHenry is bleeding red after the one time federal grant ran out. Should the line be cancelled? Probably not, because Locust Point is a public transit diaspora even though it is growing rapidly. But there are big beneficiaries like McHenry Row, Under Armour and Bozzutto (currently constructing the Anthem Building), to just name a few, all should chip in for the service.

The same is true for the recently extended Purple Line going north on Charles Street which now doesn't end at Penn Station but goes all the way to Hopkins. Since Midtown is also growing, this makes sense. But again, the businesses and institutions who benefit from the service should pay, especially Hopkins which, instead, is running its own bus shuttle up Charles Street. This duplication makes no sense. Besides, Hopkins which runs the 21st Century Cities Initiative operates the oldest, noisiest jalopy buses it can find. It would be much better off with DOT's modern Charm bus.

Even less sense makes it that the Waterfront Partnership and Beatty Development run their own by reservation-only shuttle bus service from the Horseshoe Casino to HarborPoint. It would be so much more sensible to make this financial commitment to the Circulator and adjust the Circulator service so it can benefit from the abundant Horseshoe and Stadium Parking and at the same time serve Baltimore's interurban bus station just recently completed south of the casino. 

The entire ball of wax how the City can run a complimentary and a complementary bus service that demonstrates best practice and complements the MTA CityLink system is a great case for the new Director of Transportation the new Mayor has to appoint. 
Paris Mayor Hidalgo (photo: Ed Alcock)

With MTA's CityLink, the Charm City Circulator, the new bike-share  system and the new much more robust water taxi soon to be run by Sagamore, Baltimore can truly shine as a city with progressive transportation solutions.

The future Mayor can take a page from Paris' Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a women that has taking on the automobile that is choking Paris. Her mayoral vehicle: An electric Renault, not America's standard edition black tinted glass GM Suburban that passes in an astounding uniformity equally as a gangster, a secret service and a politician vehicle; either way a monstrous gas guzzler, that embodies a lot with what is currently wrong with America. 
Hidalgo is clear that housing and pollution are the twin prongs of her mayoral mandate – and the keys to achieving greater social equality in Paris. Following the success of last September’s first car-free day, this summer a large stretch of highway along the Seine will be closed to vehicles, and eventually transformed into a pedestrian walkway from the Bastille to the Eiffel Tower. The most polluting cars are to be progressively banned from the city [...and making] public transport electric by 2030. (the Guardian 15, April 2016).
There is much more in Hidalgo's agenda that could and should be applied in Baltimore. She tells the Guardian that “After the attacks, there was suddenly a sense of community, of closeness; a need to stand up and be together. I felt that change in people and I can still feel it. It fills me with hope.”

Baltimore after the unrest of 2015 is at a similar juncture in its history. The new Mayor has a unique chance to be equally decisive. Baltimore deserves nothing less. The Charm City Circulator is as good a start as any. make it beneficial to many and be paid by the few who can.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA