Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Time to reverse the traffic slaughter

About a dozen pedestrians are killed each year on Baltimore’s streets with another 900 or so being seriously injured, data of the city’s Department of Transportation reveal. Transportation fatalities are never displayed as prominently as crime numbers while reducing them should be much easier. To some a 12 pedestrian fatalities may not sound much. But Baltimore doesn't compare well with other cities. Allstate Insurance ranked it recently dead last out of 200 cities based on accident claims. Compare the local fatality number to the global fatalities of commercial air traffic all over the world in 2017 (59 people died in air crashes)! While last year was the safest year on record for air travel, it was another year in a trend of rising traffic fatalities in Baltimore and pretty much everywhere in the US.
An entire small town dies each year in traffic

557 people died in traffic accidents in all of Maryland, but to pick up on a comparison of the Houston Gazette, if three almost full Southwest airplanes would crash each year at BWI, killing everyone on board, the airport would have long been closed down.

There were an estimated 40,100 motor vehicle deaths last year according to the National Safety Council. (By the way, that is more than twice the US murder rate). If  US air traffic would kill 40,000 people annually (that would be 291 fully loaded Southwest Boeing 737s, the entire air traffic system would have been shut down long ago).  So why are those traffic deaths accepted as part of doing business and all efforts of doing something about them (speed limits, drunk driving checkpoints, radar controls, safe and better modes of getting around?) are seen as cumbersome intrusions into the freedom of drivers? It isn't that other countries have made much more progress.
Traffic fatalities 2012: The US on the high end between Lithuania and Korea

While air travel has become safer,  US road traffic lately has turned into the wrong direction. More and faster driving in bigger and faster vehicles. Time to reverse the deadly trends.
traffic safety in the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction. Overall traffic fatalities are on the rise, pedestrian deaths are up about 25 percent over the last four years, and increasingly, drivers are striking people and leaving them for dead, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation. The 2,049 hit-and-run deaths nationwide in 2016 were the most since record-keeping began. And nearly two-thirds of the victims were walking or biking.(Streetsblog)
A new bill by councilmen Ryan Dorsey co-sponsored by 9 other council members (out of 16 total) wants to limit speed limits on Baltimore's streets to generally 25mph and in narrow residential side streets to 20mph. The two council members have previously gone on record for a new age in Baltimore's mobility by supporting "complete streets", "protected" bike lanes and better monitoring of dedicated transit lanes. All these are efforts that would make Baltimore safer.
Whereas, a 2014 report by the Maryland Highway Safety Office shows that Baltimore City’s crash rate is 370% the rate of the rest of Maryland;
Whereas, a 2018 Allstate Insurance report on driver behavior established that Baltimore ranks 200 out of 200 for Worst Drivers in the U.S., dropping in ranking from 199 in 2017; 
[...] the Director must post maximum speed limit signs as follows:
 (1)                     for a street meeting the criteria for an Arterial road or a Major Collector, as defined by the Federal Highway Administration, 25 miles per hour;
 (2)                     for a street meeting the criteria for a Minor Collector or a Local road, as defined by the Federal Highway Administration, 20 miles per hour;
 (3)                     for an alley, 15 miles per hour.  
(From Council Bill 18-286)
Speed kills: This is especially true inside cities and towns .
But enforcement happens on Interstates

This isn't a "war on cars" but a war on the frequently fatal abuse of cars on our streets. To make Baltimore a safer and more attractive place before autonomous vehicles will likely reduce crashes should be everybody's goal even if a diffuse SUN editorial casts some doubt..

The risk of dying in a crash with a car grows exponentially with the speed of the car and its mass which in combination provide the deadly kinetic energy which gets unleashed on somebody who either also sits in a car, or is walking or biking in or near where a fast heavy vehicle is getting out of control, for whatever reasons. The vehicles in which people move around to do their daily commuting or errands have become faster, heavier and more powerful year after year after the last fuel price spike and energy crisis which had temporarily put a dent into that trend. Driving a car has become deadlier for everybody, even for the drivers of those heavy, fast monster machines, especially if they collide with an even faster or heavier one. Those who drive a tank in the assumption it adds safety for themselves, forget that once a heavier vehicles slides, slips or gets off the road, the much larger kinetic energy also works against the occupant. It is harder to control and on impact the reactive forces are larger.
SUVs kill pedestrians more often (Detroit Free Press)

The cost of the car-centric transportation model is astronomic, not only in terms of lives and maimed bodies but also economically. There is lots of agony about why Baltimore has been in population and fiscal decline, why we have food and transit deserts and why so many are cut off from opportunity. Many of the causes are complicated and complex. But one single area sticks out as being responsible for many of those deficiencies: Transportation. With a drastic and courageous reversal of our failed transportation policies we can become quickly a model for livability and reduce cost in the process. Just think off that ill conceived $15 million dollar 4-lane bridge off HarborPoint which traffic engineers foisted on the City budget for no good reason.

The Transportation Director likes to talk about finding a balance between the various users of streets. Things are so far out of balance in favor of cars, that to get balance a dramatic shift is needed. It can't come soon enough. A good test case would be the citywide new design speed not to exceed 25 mph which is proposed in the City Council. Or "North Avenue Rising" the current reconfiguration design of the 5 mile corridor from Hilton to Milton funded by a federal grant and MDOT money. The typical waffling and "congestion" arguments jeopardize even the most modest expectations. Not yet too late, to make the $27 million expenditure useful. (Public meetings will be held 9/26 and 9/27).

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Bill would set new max speed limits (Baltimore Fishbowl)
Council member seeks to slash Baltimore speed limits to save pedestrians

Monday, September 17, 2018

A black culture district on Pennsylvania Avenue?

Slowly the recognition emerges that a city with a nearly 64% black population cannot be turned around by the not even 30% white minority, nor should it be. White "saviors" coming in, often with the best of intentions, to revitalize the large neighborhoods in the vast disinvested neighborhoods that make up the so called black butterfly are no longer received with open arms. Artists often used to turn ailing communities around as progressive "urban pioneers"  are no exception.
Lady Brion at the Baltimore Women's March Jan 2018 (Elvert Barnes)

It seems like a natural thing that Baltimore would have an arts and entertainment district that is devoted to black culture,  especially considering that there are three such districts designated in the city. But none of those are focused on African American art and culture. According to Brion Gilla poet and African American art activist known as Lady Brion, Baltimore would truly be a leader if it did rectify this situation: According to her, there is not a single state-designated black A&E district in the entire country. Not all arts districts are state designated as in Maryland, but a quick search did not yield any specifically African American or black culture district, not even in New Orleans; truly astounding, if true. Maybe this issues takes some crowd sourcing.
Historically, Pennsylvania Avenue was a hub for premiere Black arts and entertainment. The great Royal Theatre (originally the Douglass Theatre) welcomed legends like Ethal Waters, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Etta James. Black owned enterprise thrived on Pennsylvania Avenue like the first Black-owed movie house, Metropolitan Theatre, and the oldest continuously running Black male-social club, Arch Social cub. 
The riots of 1968 after the death of MLK Jr. and the riots of 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray along with a history of disinvestment have negatively impacted Pennsylvania Avenue. Its rich history is unknown to most people today. But Cultural Curator Lady Brion and other local artists and organizers are working to revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue and establish a state recognized arts and entertainment district.(From the Petition)
Pnnsylvania Avenue: American Main Street (Photo: Philipsen)
Black art is making headway in mainstream museums and Grammy awards lately as a Baltimore Magazine tally shows in an article this month. Brion Gill has found her quest for an African American Arts district on Pennsylvania Avenue echoed in Baltimore Magazine, the Afro and the Real News network. Her online petition has garnered over 1,100 supporters but a formal application has not yet been submitted to the Maryland State Arts Council. Gill is working with the for profit group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle  (LBS) to lay the groundwork for such an application which is planned to be submitted early in 2019.
LBS’ work is predicated on the fundamental belief that Black people are the solution to our own problems. So often we have been framed as a problem to be fixed by others, usually white people, which serve to further expand the idea of white supremacy. (website)
In a kick off event titled The Art of Activism: Building the Penn Avenue Black Arts District at Jubilee Art on the Avenue participants could listen to a panel discussion, live could and hip-hop performances or take part in workshops.
An intentional Black arts district could rebuild the social fabric torn apart by gentrification and develop an arts/cultural rites of passage for upcoming artists and business owners. The district could be a central point for work that is already happening in the city and further community engagement. A Black arts district could aggregate financial resources to provide affordable housing and offer support to the community organizations and local businesses.
However, even with the Black experience, Black people’s social, economic and political needs must be the core motivation. Otherwise, economic interests will immediately outweigh social progression if we are not accountable to community. It is not enough to be owned and led by Black people. The black arts district needs to be unapologetically for Black people.
(Nakia Brown, the Afro)
Remnants of the Royal Theater: Baker Hamlin
Lady Brion served on Baltimore City Mayor Pugh’s Safe Arts Task Force in 2017-2018 formed to  increase access to safe art spaces and activities in the Greater Baltimore area. Of the many recommendations submitted to the City of Baltimore, Lady Brion recommended that a Black Arts and Entertainment District designation be established along the Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gill emphasizes a broad approach which takes art and links it firmly with economic development and with existing organizations which are active in the corridor such as the Upton Planning Council, the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, the Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street organization and Baltimore Public Markets. The partnership also include the University of Baltimore, Fight Blight Baltimore, The Arch Social Club, Jubilee Arts, the Avenue Bakery and its owner's initiative to revive The Royal Theatre and the recently renovated Shake and Bake. The area of the district would  include the northern portion Fulton Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue with approximately a block east and west respectively.

Programming events would be a large part of creating appeal, says Lady Brion in a conversation for this article. She mentions as an example the Cadillac Parade, part of a cherished tradition of having parades on the Avenue. The Cadillac parades dates back to the 1950s and was carried forth for about 20 years with attempts of revival in 1997, 2007, 2010 and 2011. (There may have been others).
“Some of the most important work being made right now—abstract and figurative—is by black Americans,” (Christopher Bedford, Director BMA)
Gill is careful to define art and entertainment broadly enough to include sports such as boxing in the Upton Boxing facility. The group promoting the formation of an African American A&E district enlisted also the help of the Neighborhood Design Center which organized  "Design Conversation" 92 about tactical urbanism employed for a better streetscape design on the Avenue.
Arch Social Club at Penn & North (Philipsen)

The presence of strong cultural forces and the observation that equity would demand a black A&E district alone won't make the creation of one a success. A quick comparison on how the other three districts "tick" makes unique challenges visible:

  • The Highlandtown A&E district thrived on the presence of the Cultural Alliance as an organized artistic anchor and has been buoyed by the influx of immigrants reducing vacant structures and adding economic heft. 
  • The Station North A&E district is organizationally propped up by the Central Baltimore Partnership with its strong anchor institutions working in tandem with well coordinated neighborhood associations. MICA, Hopkins, and the Deutsch Foundation stand out as having pushed this area forward.  
  • The Bromo district hasn't quite proven yet that it will work, but it has strong traditional art institutions such as the Hippdrome and the Everyman, has the support of the Downtown Partnership and is supported by an ongoing influx of downtown residents. 
The creation of the Bromo District was not beyond dispute and the idea of an African American District was around before the Bromo was created as this text from a student's analysis shows:
The concept of a third arts district, however, is not universally supported. Critics argue that two districts are sufficient and that this effort would dilute an already struggling arts market and distract much needed attention and resources from the existing arts districts. Dissenters also argue that, rather than designate the West Side as an arts district, there is a need to recognize the African-American arts scene in Baltimore. Pennsylvania Avenue, once home to a range of black arts and entertainment institutions, might be a better beneficiary of such a designation. (Examining the Establishment of an Arts District on Baltimore’s West Side)

The Martin Luther King Parade could go down Pennsylvania Avenue
(Photo: Philipsen)
A Pennsylvania Avenue corridor district would need to create stronger coordination of the various community CDCs and organizations working from a larger framework plan than their own individual neighborhood plans. The Upton area sees the most development interest, and has the most developed masterplan, but Upton is rather peripheral to the suggested A&E district or where it would likely have its center of gravity, probably somewhere between Triangle Park (Jubilee Arts) and Penn/North (Arch Social Club).

Well know institutions of  African American culture such as the Lewis Museum, the Eubie Blake Museum, and Blacks in Wax should ideally locate in the district where they could give each other support and synergy. Morgan University should have a branch teaching facility here, maybe in collaboration with Coppin University.
More than anything else, Lady Brion's aspirations indicate that she envisions the arts as an economic engine and a tool of social empowerment. In many ways, this is quite different from the original world famous SoHo (NYC) approach in which artists were pioneering bridge heads for some type of "colonization". Station North with its Deutsch funded Open Works makerspace and its two artist live-work units developed by Jubilee give a hint what a economically oriented approach could look like. The vision of the West Baltimore Innovation Village points into a similar direction, a possible partnership that has not yet been formed.

Baltimore's divisions and its segregation could be mitigated better if black culture would be better known and understood, especially by other cultures but also by African Americans themselves. The A&E district could be a great start for such a cultural exchange.

The Avenue Market on Pennsylvania Avenue (Photo: Philipsen)

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related articles elsewhere:

The Real News 7/3/0/18: What Would A Black Arts and Entertainment District Mean for Baltimore?

Afro 10/5/2016: We need an arts and entertainment district centered on the socioeconomic growth of Black people instead of solely utilizing their talents for entertainment.

Pennsylvania A&E District Petition 

The Color Line, Baltimore Magazine 9/18

Design Conversation #92; Pennsylvania Ave. Main Street:
Tactical urbanism to pave the way for Baltimore’s new Black Arts and Entertainment District

See also the latest article on my sister blog:

With so many vacant houses, why is there still a housing crisis?

Friday, September 14, 2018

High-flyers, Icarus and why rich men won't save cities

Hollywood, politics and capitalism all were run by rich white men for too long. While the former two have added some diversity, big business is still firmly in the same hands. The high-flying icons of America's tech economy are all white men. Their names are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg and more locally, Kevin Plank.
Jeff Bezos in DC: 1500 pairs of ears waiting for wisdom (Wong/Getty image)

In a time when  government abdicates more and more of its responsibilities and emasculates itself not through gender equity but through de-funding itself via popular tax cuts, the role of those industry icons moves into focus. As "impact investors" or "social entrepreneurs" they become even more powerful by playing outside the traditional lanes.

In the age of cities with more than half of the global population living in metro areas with mayors seen as the ones who can save the world from national leaders running amok, cities have become also the arena for the very rich to try their social skills. How much of that is happening in Baltimore?

The spectacle of Amazon's Jeff Bezos playing cities with his HQ2 game is an obscene example for traditional industry power play. But Bezos' offering up $2 billion to address homelessness is much harder to gauge. How much he attracts public attention was on display when King Amazon came to Washington this week. Almost as big a deal as a visit from the Pope. 1,400 business leaders packed ballrooms at the Washington Hilton to hear what the richest man on earth would have to say. The BBJ writes "There were enough ambassadors to hash out a global trade deal with dignitaries from Australia, the United Kingdom, Greece, South Africa, Panama, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Singapore and many more" and that "there were enough developers and real estate captains to fund and build a second nation's capital alongside the first one".  DC's Mayor Bowser said "We are eager for any announcements he might have.” Well, he didn't have an encyclica, nor any announcements regarding HQ2.

Bloomberg in Baltimore with Goldman Sachs graduates (Photo: BBJ)
A smaller affair was Michael Bloomberg's visit to Baltimore earlier this summer. The wealthy man has shown the world how to run a city as mayor, but he also has a lot of resources. No doubt, Baltimore could be glad if the city would be run nearly as smoothly as New York. With 12 times as many residents, New York City has a lower number of murders than charm city. Bloomberg is strongly tied to Baltimore through his alma mater, Johns Hopkins and has selected Baltimore as one of his Bloomberg cities. Baltimore is  receiving technical and monetary assistance through the Bloomberg Philanthropies. In September Bloomberg announced the recipients of a $43 million Arts, Innovation and Management program. 49 arts organizations received money, the bulk in Denver, the others here. Baltimore is the recipient of a $5 million Bloomberg Innovation Grant. The philanthropy has also sent Innovation Teams here to assist with running a more efficient government and a better police department. The team tried to help with the selection of a leader for the then vacant position of DOT Director, however, Mayor Pugh eventually selected her own find.

In August Bloomberg toured a bit of the City and had breakfast with graduates of a Goldman Sachs business program at the SoBo Cafe in Federal Hill. He told the BBJ nice things about our Mayor: "she is doing everything she can to improve [Baltimore]" he reportedly said and that Pugh "got guts".
With the police department in disarray and without a permanent Commissioner and now the highly successful health department  also with out a leader, the question of picking the right appointments is again before the Mayor, this time with even bigger urgency.
Bloomberg and Mayor Pugh (SUN photo)

Baltimore knows already that Bezos won't kiss the frog with selecting it for his $5 billion HQ2, and has to make do with the crums falling off Amazon's huge distribution centers in City and County. Baltimore is also a recipient of significant funds from George Soros through the Open Society Institute. The City still also puts big hopes into one of its own business leaders, Kevin Plank, and his envisioned new HQ as part of an entire new-town planned for the Port Covington former coal transfer railyard.

Like Tesla's Elon Musk, or Uber's first CEO, Plank seemed to be on a trajectory of never ending success. But as with Musk, or the former Uber CEO, public darlings can easily encounter strong public headwinds.  Icarus comes to mind, the mythical Greek high flyer who got too close to the sun and crashed when his melting wax-tied feather wings didn't carry him any longer. While Musk's  hyperloop tunnels are praised as the next big thing by Maryland Secretary Rahn as the latest transportation innovation, Plank has stopped to say much about Port Covington where Hyperloop would likely end. Plank is busy placating his shareholders who are upset about sinking ticker prices.
"Chapter 1" rendering (source: Weller Development)

Sagamore Development is now Weller Development (although the delineation isn't entirely clear if one studies those two websites) and it isn't clear either, whether Plank is still personally vested in either of those endeavors, or whether today money just comes from Goldman Sachs.

Nothing is known about when work on the planned Under Armour Headquarter would begin, originally scheduled to begin in 2017. There has been no further mention of the planned light rail extension into the property. Funding for it had been rejected by the federal government last year and one would have expected another run this year.

Weller must have felt that the guessing game became a liability, so he gathered the media this week to announce "Chapter 1" of Port Covington, a sizable 3 million square feet of development (Larger than the full build-out of HarborPoint) to get underway in 2019 with opening dates planned for 2020 or 2021. Chapter 1 sounds similar to Chapter 11, even if the message is the opposite. However,the announcement didn't provide names of any developers or tenants. Adjusting for the fact that the Baltimore SUN facility in the middle of Port Covington seems to not go anywhere anytime soon, Chapter 1 does not replace the SUN printing facility with the tallest skyscrapers as in the original plan but works with the SUN in place.

When the Port Covington project was initially proposed, Sagamore had stressed that they would not develop the new town themselves but look for developers to buy development-ready parcels. The Chapter 1 concepts went to the City's design review this week, more specifically, the infrastructure portion and streetscape design was reviewed. Weller Development will tap into the large tax increment financing (TIF) package to pay for infrastructure in Chapter 1, but the specifics for that are also still being negotiated with BDC.  The price for the TIF is a historically large community benefits agreement. Those funds will flow to the "SB 7" community only at the rate as the TIF will be used.
Chapter 1 area (Weller Development)

Whether rich Seattle, San Francisco or poor Baltimore, cities should not rely on the big money guys as their saviors. Too fast, too risky is the world of big business, too volatile public opinion.  While it is laudable, necessary and welcome that rich men consider social impact, invest in legacy cities, especially if they are their home community, Mayors should not roll over or defer their responsibility to the corporate giants and philanthropists. Instead they need hedge against changing trade winds, against dangerous dependencies and against the believe that there can be the one savior who can turn things around.

History has already amply proven the risks of economic mono-cultures (ever heard of Bethlehem, the steel town or of Mo-town?), but present time represents even higher risks thanks to hyper accelerated business cycles.

True recovery of the deeply wounded legacy cities, still reeling from decades of de-industrialization and a history of institutional racism, can only come from being positioned in a truly diverse and inclusive manner. A solution cannot be imposed by whatever rich guy savior may be out there, the impetus for change, growth and innovation must come from within. This insight doesn't make corporate investment unwelcome, it doesn't condemn private-public partnerships, it doesn't turn social entrepreneurs into the bad guys, it just recognizes the reality, that a resilient, sustainable and just urban future requires the social foundations of a community to be made up by a sound social infrastructure. In that sense, not having HQ2 and a maybe slower development of Port Covington provides an opportunity and not a curse.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

See also the latest article on my sister blog:

With so many vacant houses, why is there still a housing crisis?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

City sues Transdev. Circulator on course to crash and burn

The days when Baltimore's very own Charm City Circulator bus system could easily upstage the MTA and demonstrate how cool transit could look are long over. From being one of Baltimore's jewels it slid into the position of unloved stepchild in the eight years of its existence.
Baltimore bus transit woes. Circulator in trouble.

Now ultimate trouble is in sight. The operation contract held by the multi-national Transdev Corporation (formerly known as Veolia) expired in January and an extension will expire in October. But a real bombshell exploded today.

The City has been stewing over the two bids it reportedly got in response to its request for proposals (RFP) since April. As noted in an earlier article on this blog, the RFP  did not ask bidders to identify the best services they could offer based on a defined sustainable budget (the current operation runs a loss, at least if bus payments and renewal are included in the budget) but was prescriptive in telling bidders what service they had to provide and even prescribed a certain number of buses to do so. The RFP was mum on the bus garage and maintenance facility that is needed to run a fleet of buses. Current operator Veolia has a lease on such a facility, any competitor would have to find one starting with the moment it would begin operation. Not an easy proposition given that bus garages are rarely sitting around for the picking.

The process of vetting the bids came to a sudden end with a press release coming out at 5pm today containing explosive news. The City is suing Transdev/Veolia for breach of contract and overcharging $20 millon for the operation of the Circulator. The dispute seems to center around te question whether Transdev rightly charged for scheduled services or whether the City's position is correct that they can only charge for actual services. This sounds clear cut (how can you charge for a service you should, but didn't provide?) except that there may be external reasons not to run a service that Transdev couldn't control, situations where the operator still occurred cost even if a bus run didn't happen and the like, all something that the courts will now look at. The number is so large because the City disputes all eight years during which time it had accepted the schedule based billing.
Today's agenda of the City's Board of Estimates includes among other details about the Circulator bid this:
On March 28, 2018, the Board received two proposals for B50005328, Baltimore City Shuttle/Transit. Vendors were solicited by postings on CitiBuy, eMaryland Marketplace, and in local newspapers. The above noted proposal met the City’s minimum technical score requirements for price opening, and was determined to be the sole responsive and responsible proposer.

 The legal matter certainly eliminated Transdev from being the favored bidder. The City is now negotiating with the second bidder, RMA Worldwide, a Montgomery County based VIP Limousine service which also runs the Bethesda free Circulator. It doesn't take much to imagine the train wrecks that are possible once the Veolia extension expires on October 11.
  • A new company gets the contract without funding for the required Banner Route (where already old Diesel fumes spewing bus are run to save cost), low ridership on the Orange Route,  a route that defies any transit planning logic, and the flagship Purple Route bleeding money since it has been extended to Hopkins University). A company that would have to procure buses and grab a maintenance facility in mere weeks 
  • Additionally, further State support for the Circulator on which the City came to rely, could be in jeopardy if no viable operation of the City system is in sight, especially since the State already saw their support of bikeshare evaporate into nothing.
Anyone who cares about Baltimore's precarious transit conditions must be concerned about a situation where a good outcome is hard to imagine. The option to negotiate yet another extension to the current operations contract, nix the current RFP, and rebid the project on an outcome and performance base instead of a prescriptive basis is out the door with the law suit. No new operator will be able to take over the operation when the Veolia contract extension ends in the first half of October. A patch operation with loaner buses from various local tour bus operators without a proper coordinator seems to be the most likely outcome. It is difficult to imagine how the service can recover from such a blow.
Downtown Bethesda Circulator, in operation since 1998, operated by
RMA Worldwide.

The citizens of Baltimore don't care about who can provide the cheapest service for the existing routes  skimping on head-ways and rolling stock. Instead, the system must perform top notch, have environmentally friendly, clean and comfortable buses and be economically viable. This means it must fulfill the original mission of the Circulator, to allow commuters, nearby residents and visitors to get around downtown and  point at the edge of the surrounding neighborhoods without draining the General Fund. The original funding pool were parking taxes. Should those not pay for the desired service, other entities which benefit from the service (such as Hopkins University or the developers in Locust Point) must step up and help with funding the operation.  According to the Baltimore SUN DOT Director Pourciau promised smmoth sailing:
“The Charm City Circulator strives to provide the residents, businesses and visitors of Baltimore with fast, friendly and free services. DOT is committed to providing seamless, uninterrupted service as we transition to a new vendor.”
Circulator riders better hold on to your seats. Your ride may or may not show up come October 12. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

updated for link to Baltimore SUN article and Board of Estimates quote.
updated to correct statements about RMA Worldwide. It does operate a bus service, the previous statement was incorrect. A somewhat outdated report about the service from 2008  can be found here.

DOT press release:
City of Baltimore Brings Suit Against Charm City Circulator Operator
Law Department Seek Damages to Make Taxpayers Whole

Baltimore City has filed suit against Transdev North America, Inc., and Transdev Services, Inc. (“Transdev”) for breach of contract.  The lawsuit alleges that Transdev overcharged the City more than 20 million dollars for the operation of the Charm City Circulator, the free shuttle service available to City residents, downtown employees, students, tourists, and anyone who wants to ride. This lawsuit reflects the Mayor’s priority to increase transparency and accountability in government dealings.
The City determined that instead of invoicing the City for the hours it actually operated the Circulator, as the agreement for the operation of the Circulator required, Transdev invoiced the City for thousands of hours more for passenger transport. Transdev’s overbilling practice resulted in the City overpaying Transdev over $16 million since 2010. The City’s lawsuit seeks compensation for the overpayment.
In October of 2017, City Solicitor Andre M. Davis created a subdivision of the Law Department devoted to affirmative litigation for precisely this type of suit. “When companies violate their contracts with the City and either overbill or underpay, the Law Department will seek damages to make taxpayers whole,” said Solicitor Davis. “Mayor Pugh has been clear that we have many pressing funding needs for essential programs for our youth, to provide job training and job creation, to remedy vacant properties, and to upgrade basic services for City residents. This lawsuit is wholly consistent with our duty to serve as responsible stewards of tax payer funds and hold accountable companies doing business with the City who fail to live up to their contractual obligations.”
The lawsuit was filed this morning in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The City has asked that its claim for breach of contract be decided by a jury. Transdev is expected to be served with the lawsuit this week.
The Baltimore City Department of Transportation is in the procurement process to select a vendor to provide the Charm City Circulator bus service. The new contract duration will be for 3 years. Following today’s Board of Estimates actions, the negotiations between the city’s Bureau of Procurement and the selected vendor will begin immediately. If the subsequent negotiations are concluded successfully, it is anticipated that  the new contract will be awarded by October 10, 2018.
DOT is committed to the continuity of service and is taking immediate actions to provide bus bridge services while negotiations are completed and service begins with the new vendor. The Department of Transportation will be utilizing local companies to provide the bus bridge service until a permanent vendor is ready to begin full operations. During this time, citizens will not see changes in existing service locations, schedules or hours of operation.  However, citizens should be aware that some of the buses in operation after October 11, 2018 may differ slightly in size and/or design from the original Charm City Circulator fleet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9-11 and how fear messed things up in Baltimore and the nation

The endless annual 9-11 reminders mark the point when the media are trying to recover from the summer lull of real news, grasping for anything to fill their pages. The further this event dwindles into the background of the rear-view mirror, the more it gets distorted into whatever meaning we want to read into it today. Nobody is above that risk, but the longer view also offers perspective and it is time we realize how much 9-11 really messed the country up.
New York is my grandson's oyster in 2010 (Photo Philipsen)

Everyone has their own story on how they learned what was happening on that sunny September morning in 2001; how they reacted and what it meant to them at the time; the individual memories warp and shrink just as much as the collective ones.

I learned about the news in my downtown bank at the corner of Light and Baltimore Streets. TV monitors showed the CNN live stream just when the second plane hit the World Trade Center, evaporating any doubt if the first tower had been hit intentionally.   I was mulling this over in my head when I walked back to my office, noticing how Baltimore mobilized in its own kind of me-too moment, as if it could be the next target. The general emergency dispatch make me afraid, more feeling sorry that this city would really consider itself a potential target. And pride that our own Johns Hopkins Hospital prepared for the many injured that were expected to be brought here but never came.

The daylong barrage of images one would have considered just a few hours earlier as absolutely impossible, slowly changed the perspective.  As a member of the baby-boom generation I had a good idea about the horrors of WW II, but had only seen a progression towards prosperity, more knowledge and more comfort in my lifetime. I took it for granted. The many wars after WWII were distant for those who hadn't been drafted. With the demise of the Soviet Union even the Cold War seemed to be over. The 21st century looked to to my generation as the promise and culmination of the age of enlightenment: full of progress, discovery and opportunity. As the century to finally overcome war, hunger and maybe even develop a lifestyle that would be more sustainable. Many countries had begun taking down their military expenses in what was dubbed the peace dividend. Treaties kept everyone in check. This idyllic view exploded within the 12 hours it took world for the world to see the two symbols of America's might collapse into gigantic clouds of toxic dust, filmed from every imaginable angle.

These were the promises and the USA was the country where they had found their apex. I had selected it as my new home. On 9-11-2001 global coordinates shifted, that much was clear. Some type of war seemed likely or, judging from those horrible images, was already unfolding. A war literally coming out of the blue, something not only baby-boomers hadn't seen before.

I recall talking to my kids that day, some already adults and away from home. Trying to provide the orientation a parent is supposed to give. What would happen next? What did it mean? Were they safe? My usual instinct is to take events a notch down by providing perspective, staying calm, avoiding panic and especially fear. But there was too much foreboding in this day; plus a president in the White House, whom I and many others, didn't consider trustworthy, or worthy the presidency at all, having come into office thanks to hanging chads, judges and incompetence. I recall concluding a phone call to one of my daughters with predicting that "starting today, nothing will ever be like it was before". Of that I had been certain.

With a president of whom I and all my friends think even less heading to Shanksville, PA, it is predictable that this man will try to harness the horror of 9/11 for his own agenda of fear and confusion. Since 2001 the US has had good and bad times, but there is no doubt that the status of the country in the world is now greatly diminished. Bush's Iraq war, the Wall Street financial crash and now this president each have taken the country down from its lofty heights of power and its position as a beacon of the world. Until recently, all that had been left of our might seemed to be Hollywood, fashion, social media, Apple and Tesla. As well exemplary environmental and civil rights laws. Each of these accomplishments are now also slowly disintegrating in sexual scandals, data abuse scandals and ugly images of insults and denigration. Idols are falling to the earth like Ikarus when he got too close to the sun. Civil rights are being stepped on every day.

Those who always held the cynical view that in truth money, sex and power were all that was making the world go round seem vindicated. A president boasting that North Korean dictator Kim "has said some terrific things about me" describes the new low. Or maybe the new low is the forceful government ordered separation of children from their parents and the incompetence to unite them again when the courts demand it. Or the dismantlement of our contributions in the fight against global warming. Or neo-nazis shouting against Jews. The new lows have many faces.
Manhattan  2018 as seen from Freshkills  Landfill, now a Park, where the 9/11
rubble  was deposited (Photo Philipsen)

Does this new state of affairs hail back to 9-11? Or is to suggest so just another warped view shaped more by 2018 than by what really happened then?

Historic materialism holds that history is shaped by the forces of production, not by the ideas of men, as idealism would have it. Attributing a global shift to human emotion and the terms of psychoanalysis is probably not getting to the root causes of the tectonic global shifts we are witnessing. Still, it is how I would describe what happened: 9-11 has replaced hope with fear.

The attack has made fear the modus operandi of the United States down to the way we enter public buildings, airplanes and now even schools. The short period when a president held up hope as the guide-post could hardly undo it, by then it was too late. All kinds of bad characters had discovered the true vulnerabilities of an open society, the world over, using civilians as victims to instill fear. Obama's attempts of bringing marginalized groups into the big tent of an open society has only increased the fears of those who used to "own" the country or at least the illusion that they would.

Fear now guide Baltimore and America alike. Except that in this city the marginalized are the majority. Feared by many of those in the suburbs around them, many citizens of Baltimore are themselves consumed by fear because conditions in many neighborhoods have become unbearable. Fear of the police and fear of an impotent police hold an unholy balance.

A 17 year retrospective and its somewhat bigger arc may not be enough not to succumb to gloom or enough to identify the true causes of calamity. Yet, it should be clear: The real enemy is rarely the other, it is fear itself and as such it is in us where we have to look for it.  Religions of all stripes have always known to speak up against fear, but they keep things on the individual level. But it takes many to take fate in their own hands to break free of fear and oppressive conditions. It also takes voting for leaders who thrive on ideas and opportunities, not for those who use fear for their own power. There is still so much untapped opportunity, in ourselves, in Baltimore and in the country.  The 21st century is still way too young to give already up on it.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN editorial about 9-11

Sunday, September 9, 2018

What Ellicott City choices teach about adaptation, resilience and values

Ellicott City is everywhere

Ellicott City floods and the response to them, the land planning, adaptation, stormwater management, the emergency response, how to deal with historic preservation and the various types of extreme weather, are all illustrative for any town near water located in a climate zone like ours. That is why the University of Maryland at Baltimore County devoted an entire afternoon seminar to the town under the topic "Meteorology, Hydrology, Emergency Response, and Future Directions" and why the Howard County Council faces difficult decisions.
Buildings on the death list (5 Year Plan presentation to HoCo Council Sept 4, 2018
The academic side, the human side and the failure to be prepared

The academics showed that Ellicott City with its dreadful history of dozens of devastating floods (1868 14 houses were washed away and about 40 people killed) is not a unique case of either bad luck or bad planning. Geography and environmental systems professor Jeffrey Halverston, PhD of UMBC, an expert of severe weather dissected the storms of 2016 and 2018 which devastated the historic mill town for its natural, anthroprogenic and meteorological components.

He and his colleagues have bad news:  Showing national and state maps of Maryland, the experts noted that extreme rainfall and flooding events are on the rise, not only in one unlucky town but especially in the northeast  where some see a 51% increase of extreme precipitation. Halverston illustrated a more moderate upward trend with measurements of flood gages in the Dead Run in Baltimore County.

Rising annual flood peaks of Dead Run tributaries (Prof. Helverston, UMBC)
A look at a Maryland map for this year seems to bear this out. Hadn't Frederick, MD taken extensive flood management measures over the last 30 years, it would have been devastated on may 15 this year, just two weeks ahead of its brethren on the Patapsco and Tiber. Just last week extreme precipitation killed two people in Harford County. Dr Halverston spoke about the increase of tropospheric water vapor, dynamic uplifts, stalled fronts and moisture regenerating echo training. He pointed out that atmospheric responses to small changes are non linear and stayed away from linking his findings directly to global warming.

He as well as his academic colleagues didn't want to be "political" and refrained from any comments about what County Executive Kittleson recently presented in a open air press conference as a 5 year plan to address flash flooding in Ellicott City. The plan and two associated bills are now under consideration by the Howard County Council and the public. (A public hearing will take place on Sept. 17, at 6pm). The procession of academic scientific presentations at UMBC came to an end when Howard County's Director of Emergency Management, Ryan Miller, took the podium and showed storm video footage over the sound of an endless string of 911 calls, evidently in an attempt to add the human dimension.

An unintended effect of his presentation, however, was the demonstration how little emergency management had applied lessons from the 2016 flood in leading up to the second 1000 year rain event and immediately thereafter. How else was it possible that a wedding party with dozens of people could take place in the lower level of La Palapa, one of the structures spanning the Hudson channel at a one of the areas clearly identified as a pinch-point in the 2016 flood,even though a flash flood warning had been issued? (Parts of LaPalapa are proposed to be removed as part of Hudson Bend improvements proposed in the new plan). How else was it possible that the 911 personnel was initially entirely clueless about what was truly going on along Main Street and kept haranguing desperate callers for a precise address when they named a business as their location? How else was it possible that shopkeepers could be trapped on a first floor store without any access to the upper levels of the building they were in? How else was it possible that Main Street hadn't been blocked off for vehicles even after the flooding had already begun once again sweeping cars down Main Street, off parking lots and into the already constricted stream channels? (Over 160 wrecks had to thus be retrieved after the 2018 flood).
Hard to model: Vehicles and debris clogging already restricted channels
The Kittleman/Weinstein 
5 year plan

In the same week as UMBC had their academic extreme weather seminar, Executive Kittleman and Councilman Weinstein  presented their proposal to demolish ten buildings at the foot of Ellicott City's historic Main Street to the County Council. They, too enlisted science (James Lee from the National Weather Service) and engineering (Chris Brooks, Director of Water Resources at McCormick Taylor engineering) and dramatic videos and testimonials.  In the September 4  session they posited stark alternatives: "saving lives or saving buildings" they asked the four council members sitting on the podium. Weinstein's chair was empty since he had taken a seat next to Kittleman in the "witness stand".  The two proffered their 5 year plan as the solution which will allow the town to not only survive its 250 anniversary coming up in four years but also celebrate its 500 birthday in the words of the Executive. Talk about a long range perspective! The 5 year plan is a revised version of the priority list that had been developed in response to the 2016 storm and remains embedded in an overall watershed masterplan which had been scheduled to be complete by now and which will be reopened in light of the second flood.
Hudson Bend improvements include changes to Ellicott Brewing Company and
Las Palapas (Source: 2018 watershed masterplan)

To Kittleman's credit, running for another term as County Executive didn't lead him to punt on the future of the town until after the election, but to demand the kind of urgency which seemed to be somewhat lacking after the first devastating flood of 2016 even though progress was certainly made.  Now he and Weinstein talk a lot about "mother nature" and how in the past the town forced the river to adjust and how the town now needs to adjust to the river.

The plan, as proposed, doesn't really adjust the town to the river, but it sacrifices a good historic chunk which after the 2016 flood was hastily rebuilt. No plan could truly do the tributaries justice, for that Ellicott City is too man-made, the setting along the banks of three steep and narrow streams converging right in its downtown too precarious. In the two recent storms each stream was transporting more water than would fit into the roughly 10' x 20' boxes that form the stream channel underneath buildings at lower Main Street where all three streams are combined, especially when those "underpasses" get clogged with debris, trees and floating cars.  How torrential rain swells the streams and rapidly washes over top their banks is well documented for the flood of May 27 this year, thanks to cameras installed by local citizen Ron Peters who had begun operating the camera network just weeks before the flood event. (Peters is a member of the flood working group).
Dramatic peak flow calculation for the tributaries (UMBC seminar)

Everyone who has studied flooding in Ellicott City knows about the former Caplan's Department store building of 1924. In the floods pushing up from a swelling Patapsco after hurrican Agnes it had been the high watermark. In the flood of 2016 it's first floor was completely devastated. It was then reconstructed with reportedly more than $1 million dollars, including steel beams, concrete floors and steel reinforced walls, indestructible as the owner is apparently claimed and used by Miss Fit as a women's fitness studio. In this year's flood the building was even more destroyed than in the one before. Looking from Main Street one would attribute the damage to its delicate storefront and the fact that it sits in the curve where water rushing down Main Street would shoot cars and flotsam like projectiles into the building. But unbeknownst to tourists walking along the front,  the true threat to Caplan's comes from behind where the New Cut tributary comes down a steep hill being forced to do a 90 degree right turn by the back wall of Caplan's or, in normal conditions by the streamwall on top of which the building sits. When the New Cut was carrying anywhere from 3300 to 6100 cubic feet of water per second in those two recent floods, it pounded on the back of the old department store until the wall gave in, reinforced or not, allowing the torrent to flow through the building, trees and all, releasing a masses of water into Main Street and crushing two floors of the building, leaving only a shell standing.
The elements of the 5 year plan (From presentation to the County Council)

Is this a serious plan?

It takes a lot of studying and investigation to understand what happened in the two recent floods which arose from almost identical meteorological conditions and created very comparable damage in the town. Only at one pinch point there was a striking difference: Where Ellicott Mills Drive meets the center section of Main Street a puny metal pipe culvert was way too small for what came down the Hudson and quickly jumped the stream bed. But in 2016 the water, possibly redirected by the flow coming down on top of Ellicott Mills Drive, aimed for the Methodist AME church, washing away the embankment until the corner of the church hung in the air. In 2018 the Hudson simply took Ellicott Mills Drive out over a stretch of 40' or so, allowing the water to follow gravity, washing the historic court house away in the process then coming to a halt at the 90 degree turn needed to pass under Main Street ("The Hudson Bend").
Sources for the $16.76 million needed

It also takes a lot of studying to review the analysis and models that the flood working group has studied since 2014. Almost any idea and suggestion anybody ever proposed as a solution was investigated by a slew of experts and stakeholders. Still, until the second flash flood hit, the bigger context was a watershed masterplan and a set of flood mitigation concepts developed by the engineering consultant McCormick Taylor which didn't look like true emergency responses with the kind of urgency and radical proposals that the new 5 year plan conveys. This surprised many who expected another round of rebuild when Kittleman presented it on Main Street during a August 23 press conference (see my previous article).

The detailed presentation to the County Council shows that the new plan is not a careless political shot from the hip to demonstrate decisive action but is based on evaluation of alternatives with modeling and calculations performed once again by McCormick Taylor using their two-dimensional hydraulic model based on the 2016 data. The plan combines a variety of upstream measures with various ways to increase downstream conveyance. While this plan was conceived after the second flood and adds new actions to those previously proposed, it is based on professional analysis. With several property owners and flood working group members supporting it and a full public and council consideration coming up, it doesn't appear to be a heavy handed top-down plan. Kittleson indicated that he is not thinking of using eminent domain. The following is an attempt of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the plan now before the council in the same manner as a councilperson would weigh the pros and cons.
Testimonials from the presentation to the Council

Here a few major take-aways regarding the 5-year plan:
  1. While it is theoretically wiser to address flooding issues with upstream solutions and foolish to attempt "end of pipe solutions" at the bottom of a watershed, Ellicott City is special in that the tributaries converge very far downstream, creating by far the biggest devastation in the last few hundred feet of the watershed where all the assets are. 
  2. While managing stormwater at the source and avoiding run-off is a prudent practice, no current stormwater management regulation or practice can manage precipitations in the range of  3" per half hour or 6" in two hours. Storms of those intensity require a combination of large scale stream retention and increased conveyance.
  3. The 5 year plan presentation included several upstream retention facilities at the Hudson ("Hudson 7"), Quaker Mill retention at Rogers Avenue and potentially also at the Tiber (T1) and the New Cut (NC 3) with water retention capacities of around a half million cubic feet of water each (10-13 acre foot, i.e. 10-13 acres of one foot of water storage). Not all seemed to be included in the funding plan, though.
  4. The plan's demolition of a good number of structures  correctly aims to reduce water depth and velocity outside the safe channels to manageable levels. The focus of attention is on 10 buildings forming the south side of lower Main Street from Caplan's all the way to the train station. The alternatives analysis claims that leaving any parts of the structures which are proposed for demo standing (as Preservation Maryland proposes) would result in less water expansion opportunity due to clogging from debris. 
  5. The demolition plan on lower Main Street also prevents those structures from being damaged by "reverse" floods rising from the Patapsco up. 
  6. The total cost of the 5 year plan is given with $16.76 million not including retention facilities T1 and NC3. 
  7. In the presentation the council was told that work would be phased to begin from the bottom of the river going up.
Precedent: Hebden Bridge, England 2015 flood
The proposed "all of the above" strategy which includes stormwater reduction (development moratorium), upstream water retention, mid and downstream increase of conveyance capacity and floodproofing of structures makes sense. It also makes sense not to open up mid-stream pinch-points without solving downstream conveyance. It probably makes less sense to not fund any of the upstream retention basins, even if such a basin could only hold the extreme flow of the New Cut tributary for less than two minutes (assuming the 2018 reported flow rate of 5,000-6,000 cubic feet per second).

Before deciding on the plan

A full evaluation of the plan is difficult without additional data and clarifications which the Council . will presumably obtain for their upcoming work session. For example, no actual numbers are provided for the current conveyance of the channel where all streams are combined. Nor is there a number given for the maximal capacity which could be reached by lowering the channel or increasing the freeboard by elevating or removing low structures crossing the stream. Nor is any quantitative information given to what extent clogging and debris reduced the theoretical conveyance capacity.

The only gateway to the Patapsco, plus 2 new underground
culverts (Photo: Philipsen)
Most problematic are two questions:

  1. How would a removed Caplan building prevent the New Cut from shooting right into Main Street any more than the Caplan building itself was able to do? 
  2. Perhaps even more troubling is that the proposed building demolition or removal does not truly widen and open the combined stream at its mouth right at the Patapsco. Instead the flow remains impeded by the historic train station and the railroad dam which both present a remaining last pinch-point preventing the water from flowing out. 
The demolition or relocation of the 10 buildings allows water to expand into a kind of small lake behind a dam with limited outflow. This only provides relief if the suggested new double culvert shortcut to the river together with the existing stream channel under the railroad tracks really convey all of the inflow.  This is quite hypothetical and has not yet been demonstrated. Clearly those suggested culvert inlets could clog very quickly. If the combined inflow does not equal the outflow the water would once again use Main Street as its bed trying to reach the Patapsco. If inflow and outflow were, indeed in balance, it wouldn't be necessary to have this water expansion area created through the building removal in the first place. In the presentation the small town of Hebden Bridge in England was shown as a precedent for such a water expansion area. The town looks, indeed, quite similar to Ellicott City and was ravaged by a flood in 2015. Their mitigation plan does not list demolition of historic buildings, though.
184 years in this place: "Tea on the Tiber" building: Proposed for relocation
This building doesn't span the river and sustained no structural damage. What
advantage would its removal bring?

Lastly, given the dramatic eyewitness and victim accounts in the Council presentation, the plan includes no details about building and town evacuation plans, quick response in the case of an impending flash flood, and the avoidance of the massive amounts of debris clogging the already constricted stream channels (Likely all the cars in the channels obstructed the water more than any buildings). Before clobbering preservationists with the false alternative of "lives or buildings", emergency management, emergency communication and code requirements for buildings in the flood zone would have to be effectively addressed. Codes must require safe exits to upper levels of each building and safe routes to higher ground from potentially flooded public areas. It seems to this observer that proof that the removal of 10 buildings is the decisive factor in saving lives through lower flood water levels and reduced flood water velocity in flooding outside the channels, is not fully evident, in spite of the model results that have been provided. 

So far, around the country cities and towns have maybe heightened the defenses, but have generally rebuilt from the New York World Trade Center to Houston and New Orleans. If the HoCo Council will decide for demolishing a part of the town to save it, it will reverberate around the country as a different path towards adaptation, preservation, resilience and lives.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Residents' Letter to the Baltimore SUN in favor of the plan
HoCo flood webpage

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Car-centric thinking is deeply embedded in the transportation bibles

When Baltimore Councilman Ryan Dorsey had to sponsor a bill to revoke a section of the fire code to ensure the implementation of the Baltimore bicycle masterplan, it proved how deeply entrenched rules and regulations became over the last 100 years cementing the rule of vehicles over everything else when it comes to public streets.

Just as surely as sugar is included in a baker's cake and cookies so is the automobiles ingrained in all the recipes that traffic engineers use designing and managing the road network. The bibles for transportation engineers are the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, (MUTCD) and the "Green Book". They control everything you see as US roadways coast to coast.
MUTC, one of the bibles of traffic engineers regulates signs
and signals

Ever wondered how it is possible that traffic signs and road markings look much the same, whatever state you are in, even though the United States is a federation of states giving states authority over liquor, guns and education? California even created its own auto emission standards. But their road signs look the same as ours thanks to the MUTC. This is generally good news.

By contrast, in the European Union, defying all efforts to the contrary, each country has its own set of traffic signs which is quite confusing, given that there entire countries are often smaller than US States. The Brits even drive on the other side of the road. Freeway signs, green in the US, are also green in Italy and Greece, but blue in Germany, France, Spain and England.  There are also blue in Poland where the directional signs for local roads are green. In Germany federal, state and county road directional signs are yellow, in Italy blue. One can easily see, what the MUTCD is good for. All across the US our Interstate signs are green and ll other directional road signs are white, except for parkways which are brown.
On November 7, 2015, the U.S. celebrated 80th birthday of the MUTCD. Whenever you see an easy-to-read sign, a bright edgeline marking on a foggy night, the countdown timer at a crosswalk, or a well-placed bike lane, take a moment to reflect on the more than eighty years of progress and innovation that the MUTCD embodies. This progress has resulted in safer, more efficient travel on our Nation's roads. (Federal Highway Administration website)
MUTDC's eighty year history tracks the history of the automobile and its ascension to dominant force worldwide.  As we increasingly question the car's dominion, seemingly innocent regulations such as the MUTCD need to be scrubbed as well. Although the website carefully mentions crosswalks and bikelanes, and transit, the rulebooks are actually rigged against those facilities.
The other bible regulates highway and street geometry

Sometimes differences among states break open, most often in how to protect pedestrian and bicyclists. That's when states break ranks and allow "experimental" signs. Travelers may have seen flashing pedestrian crossing control signals ("hybrid beacons") they haven't encountered in Maryland. The reason: they were prohibited here until 2017.
A pedestrian hybrid beacon is a special type of hybrid beacon used to warn and control traffic at an unsignalized location to assist pedestrians in crossing a street or highway at a marked crosswalk. (MUTCD Chapter 4F)
Yes, the pedestrians. They are mentioned in the MUTCD, for sure, but in the traditional way of looking at traffic, they are almost always seen as sand in the gearbox of smoothly flowing traffic. That's why there is a definition for "J-walking" as crossing a road outside marked crosswalks and that's why Maryland was initially troubled with those beacons as well.

In support of the "active modes" of walking and biking and in support of "complete streets" (streets that have a larger purpose than to accommodate cars) some traffic engineers split from the all powerful American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials  (AASHTO) to form the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). The purpose is to show alternatives to the design bibles such as the MUTCD or the AASHTO's "green book" (officially titled the Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets) where curb radii and lane widths are set. NACTO published the Urban Bikeway Design Guide, "the first national design standard for protected bike lanes" (The Atlantic) and then the Urban Street Design Guide, another kind of green book.
The alternative green book: Streets for real cities

Yes, the pedestrians and bicyclists! Even though MUTCD and AASHTO go to great length to ensure that they encompass all modes of transportation, the car-centric focus remains deeply ingrained.

Example: Signal and crosswalk "warrants". This is the widely used tools to decide when and where what "control device" can be installed. The supposedly neutral question is: Is the device "warranted" by sufficient need? Need as in: Are there sufficiently many cars, pedestrians, bike present to warrant installing a signal, a crosswalk or a speed hump etc.?

One can easily see the catch 22 in that approach. Does seeing no peds really mean there is no need to accommodate them? An engineer going out counting how many pedestrians cross a street to determine whether a crosswalk or a pedestrian signal is "warranted" is following a deeply ironic logic, considering places where pedestrians take their life in their hands, such as walking across those treacherous suburban arterials which are 100% designed around the needs of cars and their drivers. A litmus test which is counting how many pedestrians risk their lives in the most adverse conditions is as flawed, as the determination of the need for a bridge by counting how many people swim across a river. Imagine determining the need for an airport or a restroom on an Interstate based on this model and you get the idea.

MUTC helpfully stipulates that while meeting the "warrant" test for a control device doesn't  necessarily ensure its installation, not passing the warrant test makes its installation practically  impossible. A pedestrian signal across a 7 lane State highway to get to a bus stop? Nope, not if there isn't an army of defiant that can be counted crossing those lanes during "peak hour", no matter that there is no crosswalk and the signal controlling the cars puts all of the traffic flows on a collision course with the crossing pedestrian. No matter that the bus stop may be the only way to get to town for those who don't drive. (This is a real example based on an actual conversation with a SHA engineer).
Contraflow bike-lane in Bad Cannstatt (Ger),  temporary installment  in the 70s,
still there.

The rising number of pedestrian fatalities in Baltimore City and County and across the US makes the adherence to outmoded transportation bibles untenable. But change won't come easy. Engineers like the predictability and a set of rules which"passed the test of time" as Lee Billingsley put it, who is the chair of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the group that manages changes to the MUTCD.

Progress in the glacial pace of the MUTCD means that it now deems contraflow bikelanes acceptable, on an interim basis, as part of an experiment. When I was something like a Ryan Dorsey in my Stuttgart Borough in the 1970's, we had bike-lanes against the direction of a one way street installed as part of traffic calming. Some 43 years ago, it was indeed, an experiment. So were "gatekeeper" signals with the purpose of throttling traffic volumes in residential streets in order to keep cut through traffic out. Imagine that, a signal not to enhance flow, but one to impede it! This is still impossible in the US under MUTCD's signal warrant rules. (I suggested this once for the Carroll County town of Hampstead which was drowning in traffic. The idea was to queue traffic at the edge of town based on the capacity of a midtown intersection instead of having back-ups all across town. The traffic engineers called me crazy, stating that signal warrants would never allow that. They built a bypass instead. The traffic now backs up through Hanover, the next town up, where there is no bypass.
This innocent looking left turn signal is not "warranted"
but installed as a "gatekeeper" with very short green-times to
keep cut-through commuter traffic out of a small residential
street. First installed in the 70s, still there. Not allowed under MUTCD

It will take many Ryan Dorseys to systematically adjust how our public streets are managed.  City transportation director Michelle Pouciau seems to warm up to the idea of "complete streets". At least it has become her favorite thing to say that she is for a "better balance" on the streets.

In Baltimore County, the Democratic candidate for County Executive has promised to create a County department for transportation. Currently transport is handled by the Department of Public Works (DPW) using a deeply car centered culture against which the City DOT looks outright progressive.

The new alternative guides have opened up a new world. Ryan Dorsey's fire code modification was built on best practices of other cities collected by NACTO. Maybe one day other cities will copy best practices for equitable and complete streets from Baltimore. It wouldn't be the first time, even though Baltimore's time of being a transportation pioneer go back further than even the MUTCD.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA