Friday, December 1, 2017

The biggest threat to the Eastern Shore isn't water

Before rising sea-levels  can become life threatening to the Eastern Shore asphalt may be the biggest threat fueled by a Governor who hasn't seen a road project he doesn't like, including widening of far afield roadways like MD 404  or MD 219 becoming narrow country roads in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Hogan says: "the war on rural Maryland is over ... you have a voice in Annapolis." (in Cumberland on 10/14/17) It isn't surprising that his Department of Transportation has embarked on an environmental impact study (EIS) for another Bay crossing. The study got its own website and kicked on November 15 off with a rather dull online presentation of what such a study entails. Even a small sample will put you to sleep:
Governor Hogan at the Bay Bridge (SUN photo)
A Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is part of a two-tiered process, will be prepared by MDTA and led by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The two-tiered process provides a systematic approach for advancing potential transportation improvements. The regional analyses undertaken during Tier 1 will involve evaluation of approximately one-mile wide corridors using a broad-scale level of detail for engineering and environmental information. The Tier 1 EIS will result in selection of a corridor alternative that best meets the study purpose and need. Following the Tier 1 study, a Tier 2 study will identify specific alignment alternatives within the corridor alternative that is identified in Tier 1.
 Contrary to the dull text, the matter of the Bay crossing is existential for the DelMarVa peninsula. At stake is nothing less than the future of the Eastern Shore. Governor Hogan describes the future this way:
"Marylanders all across the state depend on being able to cross the Chesapeake Bay, but the reality is that there is simply too much traffic, and that it will continue to get worse." (Governor Hogan on August 30, 2016)
Secretary Pete Rahn also sees a bleak future:
"The Bay Bridge can be maintained safely through 2065 with preservation and maintenance work; however, studies show that by 2040, motorists could experience up to 14-mile delays," Secretary Pete K. Rahn. 
Unfortunately extraploating the future form the past or applying linear zero sum game thinking is highly inaccurate in transportation. The equation more roads =less congestion has been proven wrong ever since the first roads have been built. The dynamic between road capacity and travel demand is far from static because added supply also changes the demand. People decide trips based on their duration. If added lanes will shorten a 20 mile journey from 30 minutes to 20 minutes the range of people who consider 30 minute commutes as the acceptable limit has geographically expanded potential users from 20 miles to an area of 30 miles.
US 50 congestion near Bay Bridge

Furthermore, transportation has long been redefined from moving vehicles (over a given distance) to creating mobility for people and goods. In the mobility system there are many more variables in play than a given supply and demand. Variables include land-use (which influences the need for trips and their length in the first place) as well as mode. Proper land use can shorten trips or avoid them altogether. Mode choice may mean short distances can be walked or biked or longer ones be undertaken by bus or train.

Mobility planners also employ demand management strategies that reduce demand not only through land use or mode choice but by making transportation cost respond to demand just as in Uber or airline pricing . Cost can be influenced through incentives (making transit tickets tax deductible or employer paid etc.) or through "sticks" such as making driving or parking more expensive during peak times.  As in any management system, planners seek to find optimal usage patterns that utilize an investment without being too spiky. A spiky pattern is one where during certain periods all potential users want the system at once while it sits largely fallow for the rest of the time.

The Bay Bridges are a case of very spiky demand, with peaks concentrated on a few hours during weekends in the beach season. From the above it is obvious, that high congestion during those peak hours does not necessarily mean that the solution has to be added capacity. The demand problem could, at least theoretically, be also solved by spreading the demand through dynamic pricing, or reducing it by offering mode choice (rapid beach buses) and different land use patterns.
Where to cross the Bay?

And all these variables do not even account for the imminent transportation revolution: The appearance of self driving (autonomous) vehicles (AV) which will change everything, long before the last automobile will be converted to run itself. How? Roadway capacity modeling shows that human drivers use roadways very inefficiently: For example by being inattentive, aggressive or incompetent drivers cause friction that in turn causes surrounding vehicles to take evasive action, break or anything else that causes friction and ripples through the system which often amplify over distance until far away vehicles come to a complete stand-still. AVs, by contrast can travel in densely packed platoons in almost ideal flow conditions. Transportation models show that even with only 50% AV saturation, road capacity increases. With 100% saturation road capacity is estimated to almost double.  In other words, the AV, almost certainly a widespread reality by the time a new bridge span would open, will have made the new bridge obsolete before it even opens.

Hogan's mantra that only additional pavement can solve the problem is certainly wrong, especially for a Bay crossing where demand is very intermittent and spiky.

The simplicity of traditional auto-orientated transportation planning becomes even more evident if one puts transportation into the context of economic development, the environment, equity and sustainability. The single minded focus of "reach the beach" by car and as fast as possible has already drastically changed the Eastern Shore, and not for the better as most residents on both sides of the Bay would agree.

Reversible lanes, toll collection on only one side, and EZ passes are classic management strategies which allowed the bridges to absorb the added capacity that all the additional pavement on both sides of the Bay Bridge along with the replacement of the draw-bridge at the Kent Narrows have brought. As an unintended consequence large parts of Kent Island and beyond have become part of the Baltimore-Washington commuter-shed, converting stretches of US-50 into commercial strips more reminiscent of Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie than the scenic, calm and peaceful rural roads which used to characterize these parts of Maryland.
Unsustainable waterfront development 

The question of how Maryland should look in the future lies at the doorstep of the State's Department of Planning. The now aborted effort of Plan Maryland tried to address some type of larger picture that would avoid the complete homogenization of the State from the mountains to the sea which results from unregulated and unfettered business as usual. Current land use planning, which Hogan sees solely in the hand of local government, is often at odds between different jurisdictions, is frequently myopic and certainly doesn't provide the bigger picture statewide perspective which is needed for smarter planning. Governor Hogan does not believe in State planning; but he nevertheless started an effort to comply with Maryland's law that requires some type of State Plan. He calls it Better Maryland.

To truly plan for a better Maryland the ongoing unprecedented paving-over of farms, forests and open spaces has to be curbed. The question of a Better Maryland and an additional Bay Crossing are inextricably intertwined. Transportation and land use cannot be resolved in isolation from each other.  No longer can one believe the transportation planner myth that their systems simply follow land use. Instead, transportation shapes land use and always has.

Anybody who cares about Maryland's rural spaces needs to understand that the true "war on rural Maryland" occurs when shopping centers, gas stations, roads and soul-less subdivisions are allowed  to gobble up centuries of culture and geography. The idea of an additional Bay Crossing is nothing but a declaration of war on the Eastern Shore as most Marylanders  know and love it. As such, the Environmental Impact Study now underway is not just a dull process for geeks, but an opportunity to put a stop to the madness of designing each road for the short moments of maximum demand.

To make this point I submitted the following official comment regarding the Bay Crossing on the MDOT website.
There are many ways from land use to transportation management and dynamic pricing to manage peak demand on the existing bay crossings that would not require added capacity to mitigate congestion.
Bay Bridge Run
Furthermore, it is almost certain that autonomous vehicles will have a wide penetration by the time an added crossing would be in place. Almost all experts AV prognosticate that the AV will add anywhere between 50 to a 100% of capacity on existing available pavement areas, in part through efficient platooning and speed with no or much less friction from human behavior in part through narrower travel lanes for guided vehicles.
On the other hand, the impact of added vehicles flooding to the Eastern Shore is significant for the culture and the ecosystem of the peninsula which most Marylanders cherish.  This has already become evident from past efforts to make "reach the beach" easier. Only a few would consider the transformation of the landscapes along US 50 and MD 404 which now in parts resemble Ritchie Highway or York Road a positive. Homogenizing the rural landscapes through sprawl is the true "war on rural Maryland" , not the alleged restrictions stemming from carefully planning Maryland which strive to maintain the historic landscapes and cultures in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.
As a Maryland resident, a a friend of the Eastern Shore, as a planner and transportation expert I am opposed to any additional vehicular bridge crossings and strongly suggest to solve existing very "spiky" capacity problems (capacity issues exist only at relatively short peak times, probably less than 5% of total time) through transportation management, mode choice, dynamic pricing and preparation for AVs. Those no-build scenarios must be fully analyzed and included in the alternatives for the EIS.
In 2015 I ended an article about the Bay Bridge with these words: Therefore, considerations about the future mobility in the larger region should begin with acceptable outcomes and work out how those outcomes can be achieved instead of open ended extrapolations of current utterly unsustainable trends. 
I think in 2017 this still holds true.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

See also my 2015 article:
Why a new or wider Bay Bridge would be the wrong answer 

No comments:

Post a Comment