Saturday, July 28, 2018

The scariest bridge in Baltimore

The scariest bridge in Baltimore may well not be the Hanover Street Bridge, well known for its deteriorated state with exposed rebar and chunks of concrete falling out of the decking but the Edmondson Avenue Bridge over the Gwynns Falls in West Baltimore. And the reason wouldn't be its 110 years of age or a poor state of maintenance but the bridge replacement work itself underway right now. What happened?
Remaining eastbound span with demolished span area
in foreground (Photo: Philipsen)
In modern bridge repair or replacement, it has become common practice to do the work while maintaining traffic by repairing or demolishing one half at a time, with the traffic on the other half. In the case of the stately Edmondson Avenue bridge dating back to 1907, this was facilitated by the fact that the bridge had been built in two halves and that they were meant to be structurally independent of each other. So when the westbound (northern) half was demolished starting in 2016, the state of 1909 was recreated, when the eastbound span had been completed but there was no westbound span yet.

During current construction beginning in December of 2016 the three lanes of traffic on each half had been channeled into two lanes in each direction compressed into the eastbound span. This may sound simple enough, but rebuilding such a big bridge is not an easy operation.

How complex it is can be guessed by looking at the work from the Gwynns Falls trail that traverses underneath the bridge and is sometimes open to the public even though it threads through the construction and staging zones which spread on the northside of the bridge along both sides of the Gwynns Falls River. From below one can see that  where the westbound span and its eastern abutment wall once stood, there is now a gigantic temporary shoring wall holding back the earth. And that is were the trouble arose with the copious rains of spring and summer. In May, after heavy rainfall, the right westbound lane sank enough to create a small ski jump right at the abutment that left many scrape marks in the asphalt and required real slow-down. The significant dip was twice filled with asphalt. But the lane seem to sink further.
Gwynns Falls Bridge

A couple of weeks ago, the remaining four lanes were reduced to just one lane in each direction with  the center closed of by barrels without any work being performed in the closed lanes. This, along with the resulting major traffic back-ups that ensue when a six lane arterial carrying upwards of 50,000 vehicles a day gets reduced to wagon bridge with just a single lane each way, made me suspicious. I sent an inquiry to DOT Director Pourciau and her communications office, asking whether the closure had to do with settlement and a possible attempt of mitigation through load reduction. An attempt to find out whom to contact at Stantec was without success. DOT's response to my detailed questions confirmed the hypothesis:
The massive amount of rain we have received this year has managed to infiltrate the previously unexposed portions of the bridge. This infiltration has caused some settlement. We are currently working on a repair plan to mitigate this issue. The lanes were closed to reduce the loading.(Vigil German, DOT)
Not a good feeling to sit stuck in traffic on the 540' span in a fully loaded 40,000 pound bus some 60' above the river. One has to wonder, is this bridge really safe? Obviously, with rain abound again, contractor Tutor Perini, bridge architects Stantec and DOT decided that it wasn't, at  least not with the full traffic. Does one lane of traffic each way make the deciding difference? Is that eastern abutment really stable?
Hanover Street bridge (Photo: Philipsen)
Once everything dries out, we will re-evaluate the bridge and re-open the closed lanes if it is safe to do so. (Vigil German, DOT)
That everything dries out isn't assured if current weather patterns continue. The eastern abutment sits at a low point of Edmondson Avenue, sloping towards the bridge along the Rosemont neighborhood to the north. The heavy stormwater would have been able to flow into the now exposed soils of the demolished westbound span right behind the temporary retaining wall, behind the steel piles and the wood lagging that replace the old concrete abutment. Naturally, the water would also penetrate sideways under the area of the active traffic lanes and the still standing abutment of the eastbound span, potentially softening and allowing settlement in the approach path. This could also destabilize that wall and the entire remaining structure which, having lost the second span also lost lateral stability, even though the two structures were designed to stand on their own. Deck and arches had been connected and where sawed off when the second span came down. During the 110 years of use and wear the two spans may have well have "leaned" slightly into each other providing lateral bracing.
1909 photo of construction progress

One has to trust that the engineers overseeing the complicated repair and replacement operation don't want to lose their sleep at night and properly assess the risks. One has to hope that the massive traffic on US 40 and the fact that there is no readily available detour, is not a factor for taking risks one wouldn't consider taking if a full closure would be less disruptive. Ironically, a detour suitable for drivers who know their commute alternatives, Franklintown Road through Leaking Park, had to be recently closed for wash-outs and fallen trees.

The bridge consists of a four-span, closed spandrel structure constructed of reinforced concrete and extending 541 feet in length and is 87.9 feet wide outside to outside. The structural condition of the bridge was declared basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action in 2014. The historic bridge was started in 1907 as a replacement of an older bridge and was constructed with streetcar tracks and in two halfs for east and westbound traffic, similar to the approach for its current replacement. Designs and specifications for utility replacement and abutments were prepared by Sabra Wang in 2012.
Bridge deck before demolition after median was removed
The road surface was continuous across the full width
photo: Philipsen)
The rain events are not only blamed for the settlement but also for delays and the destruction of a concrete sewage pipe running along the Gwynns Falls.. DOT provided this information regarding schedule to Community Architect:
The numerous flooding events have delayed the contractor. We are working with the contractor to formulate a recovery plan to try and get back on schedule. We will provide updates to all commuters and provide alternative routes.The current completion date is in the Spring of 2021.(DOT)
Proposed bridge rendering from 2016
The new bridge, once completed, will respect and rebuild the historic arch structure of the early concrete bridge which can be found in similar execution across the Gwynns Falls as a railroad bridge on Frederick Avenue and remotely similar also for the Hanover Street bridge. 
washed out bridge on River Road
(Photo: Philipsen)
One of the requirements imposed on the Department of Transportation by the Maryland Historical Trust was to maintain the historical arch nature of the bridge. Like its sister bridge downstream (Frederick Avenue over the Gwynns Falls and CSX) the bridge will feature an arch façade where the bridge will appear to be an arch bridge if viewed from upstream or downstream. However the main supporting members will be precast concrete girders. (DOT)
The heavy rains which devastated Ellicott city earlier this year have brought down an entire concrete road bridge along the Patapsco River on River Road near Ellicott City. They have washed out soil behind abutments of many other much smaller and simpler bridges. The fact that new movement and settlement is acknowledged on an assembly that has stood for 110 years without fail is alarming, no matter how much one believes that engineers can calculate the risk correctly.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
The view from the west shows the back of the western abutment with the pile and lag temporary retaining wall
in the foreground and the forms for the concrete wall to be poured further in. The space between those tow would be filled
and become the support for the approach slab which will be"hinged" on the abutment

The same view as above showing all arches of the remaining span which will be demolished in phase 2

View from the east where the soils behind the temporary retaining wall where washed out 

The remaining westbound lane has a "bump" on the approach area indicating that some of the supporting soil softened
or was washed out

Concrete swales were created to catch run-off at the eastern temporary retaining wall but washouts occurred behind
the lags.

View of the eastern pile and lag temporary retaining wall and how it turns to support the soil under
the approach slab of the remaining span where some washout appears to have occurred.

Updated for sewage spill and additional photos 7/31/18. All photos copyright Klaus Philipsen.

Related article on this blog about the bridge construction work:

Edmondson Avenue Bridge replacement (12/2016)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Does it make sense for Baltimore to sue Big Oil?

Baltimore surely has a lot to worry about. Is it a good use of its resources to go after "big oil"? The city not always known for bold action did just that this month: A suit was filed by the Mayor and City Council versus Exxon, Shell, Chevron, BP, Citgo and 21 other oil companies.

Even though this wasn't the first city suit against oil companies, it still caught the attention of national media and immediately provoked all kinds of snide responses.
Oil in Curtis Bay, Baltimore: Environmental burden and rising waters
Sadly, Mayor Pugh is doing the same thing previous Baltimore Mayors have done. Ignore the need for real reform in the city.And instead, just try gimmicks to raise money ("petefrombaltimore" on CityLab)
But those cheap shots look even cheaper if one considers the history of similar lawsuits, whether one thinks of tobacco, lead paint or asbestos. Especially the asbestos suits are strongly tied to Baltimore and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, whose firm still has 17,000 individual asbestos suits pending in Baltimore's courts. Tobacco, lead and asbestos were almost as common as petrol, but they have clearly lost whatever luster they had by now. Lawsuits played a big role in that.
"For 50 years, these companies have known their products would cause rising seas and the other climate change-related problems facing Baltimore today," They could have warned us. They could have taken steps to minimize or avoid the damage. In fact, they had a responsibility to do both, but they didn't, and that's why we are taking them to court...We are asserting our claims in state laws, and we will be making vigorous claims, meritorious claims, in state court,” he said. “We intend to prosecute this case through to the end.”  Andre Davis, Baltimore solicitor
People old enough to remember will recall that in each of these cases lawsuits were initially ridiculed with the same arguments which are used for ridiculing suing Big Oil over climate change. Especially the tabacco suits were met with denial of damages and later with the argument that smokers should have known that they took a health risk. Commentators on the Baltimore Big Oil suit are eagerly pointing out that the City still fuels its trucks and boats with Diesel and that the Mayor has a gas powered car. But this misses the point in a similar way it did with big tabacco.
Oil has many connections to modern life
"The people of Baltimore deserve their day in court," Richard Wiles, Executive Director Center for Climate Change, DC
The point is that those large corporations, which for decades made gigantic profits off their damaging product, did everything in their power to make people addicted to their product. In the case of tobacco the corporations went to great length making nicotine addiction stick far beyond the point where one can talk any longer about the consumers' responsibility for their own body. Ultimately, the courts found tobacco guilty. (United States v. Philip Morris). A parallel discovery is currently emerging about the role of pharmaceutical companies in declaring opioids harmless.

In the case of oil, discovery is not yet as far advanced, but there is already evidence that oil companies launched targeted disinformation campaigns about climate change at a time when they themselves knew better.
For decades their own scientists quietly published peer-reviewed research concluding that humans are causing global warming. That was the face we saw from Chevron’s lawyer. But at the same time, oil companies were funding contrarian scientists and think tanks to spread denial and doubt about that same science. (Guardian, 3/23/2018) 
In a court case between Chevron and the two coastal cities San Francisco and Oakland Chevron's lawyer accepted climate change:
"From Chevron’s perspective, there is no debate about the science of climate change, [...] Chevron accepts what this scientific body—scientists and others—what the IPCC has reached consensus on." Theodore Boutrous, Chevron lawyer.
Illustration JohnCook ScepticalScience
San Francisco and Oakland's case against big Oil was dismissed on June 26. US District Court because Judge  William Alsup got cold feet, my decidedly non-legal term for this.
San Francisco and Oakland’s lawsuit is effectively asking the court to “conduct and control energy policy on foreign soil.” If any branch of government is going to do something as big as shutting down global oil production, Alsup reasons, it needs to be done by elected representatives, not one judge and jury making a decision for the entire world. (
Baltimore's suit was filed in the State Circuit Court in Baltimore City. After lengthy elaborations about climate science, the economy and geography of Baltimore including a crudely colored map showing areas of flooding through sea-level rise the 137 page claim alleges that defendants created a "nuisance", "interfered with public rights", "failed to warn", provided a "defective" product ("negligent design defect"), "trespasses" and violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. As such the Mayor and City Council are seeking "compensatory damages", "equitable relief", "abatement", "civil penalties", "attorney fees", "punitive damages", "and other relief as the court sees fit". The City solicitor requests are jury trial. In spite of some customization for Maryland and Baltimore, the suit is largely a carbon copy of similar suits filed by 13 other cities.
Rising sea-level projection

When federal judge Keenan ruled in New York's case against oil companies in favor of the defendant, he wrote:
"Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants. But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government," ..."“The immense and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms. To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. Government. Accordingly, the court will exercise appropriate caution and decline to recognize such a cause of action.” (John Keenan)
 Naturally, the New York decision elicited different responses on both sides of the issue. For the Union of concerned scientists their president Ken Kimmel commented:
 “The fossil fuel company defendants claimed in court—and the judge apparently agreed—that it is entirely up to Congress and the president to address climate change, but these same defendants and their trade groups have fought successfully against even modest laws and regulations to cut the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels that causes global warming. My grandmother would have called this ‘chutzpah.’” (Ken Kimmel)
Map in the complaint
Forbes contributor David Blackmon took a dim view of Baltimore's action one day after New York's case was tossed. would have thought that the City of Baltimore might have chosen to take a step back and possibly try a new angle after the setbacks dealt to their fellow cities.  Instead, they chose to plow ahead and deploy essentially the same strategy while expecting a different result. We all know what that is the definition of. (Forbes)
It remains to be seen whether the narrower focus of the claim on Maryland state laws will make a difference. When asked to comment on the Baltimore case, State Senator Bill Ferguson cautioned from his vacation spot that he doesn't know much about the case. He ventured to say that it could "come down to a fight about proximate cause". His "gut sense" is that "the real fight will be whether the City can establish just enough proximate cause to an identifiable City harm as to get past an initial motion to dismiss. If the City can get into discovery, then it's an interesting ballgame," Ferguson states. He added that he thinks that City solicitor wouldn't have entered such a high profile case " unless he thought there was a real opportunity here".
Sea-level rise has consequences: This could be the new normal

Tobacco is an example where "regulation by litigation" was successful. Similar suits against the gun industry have failed when Congress gave the industry blanket immunity and didn't go anywhere.

One can expect that cities will try a little while longer to seek compensation in the courts until they find a judge who is willing to take the case. Cities, indeed, bear a large portion of the cost of new the weather patterns with their high winds, extreme rainfalls and rising sea-levels.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Mayor Pugh's Press Release

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Planning Director to leave after 31 years of city service

Whether this is still part of the phase in which Mayor Pugh installs her own cabinet (Tom Stosur is a holdover from Mayors Stephanie Rawlings Blaker and Sheila Dixon), whether 31 years of working in various city agencies (mostly Planning) were really enough for one person or whether there was some other reason is not easy to determine. Fact is, instead through a press release, originally planned for last Friday, Mayor Pugh announced this morning in a cabinet meeting that Planning Director Tom Stosur had submitted his resignation from his post effective October 1. Asked to explain, Stosur provided this statement this to me:
Tom Stosur (BBJ)
“I will be retiring from City Government service as of October 1st, after 30+ years—essentially my entire professional career.  Nearly a decade of that time has been spent serving as Director of this great Department, and as Executive Secretary of the Planning Commission.  It’s really been an honor and a privilege to serve in these roles, to work with such dedicated and talented staff and colleagues, and to play a role in Baltimore’s ongoing evolution and progress.  I’ll be forever grateful for this opportunity.” (Tom Stosur)
Stosur, who holds a Masters Degree in regional planning from Cornell, started in Baltimore City Planning in 1987 at a time when the late legendary Larry Reich still held the reigns. Reich had been the chief planner under five Baltimore Mayors; Stosur made it through three. But he beats Reich in terms of his total tenure at the City by 6 years.
Stosur in 2010 (

Even if it was only for three years, Reich would have been a great teacher for the young planner Stosur beginning his first job. Unfortunately cities, city planning and the strength of the Baltimore Planning Department were on a waning cycle at the time, certainly compared to 1965 when Reich took his job, and it continued even beyond 2009 when Stosur was appointed by Mayor Dixon right around the time she was indicted. But Stosur served long enough to benefit from the then following period of urban renaissance that allowed him regain some ground and lead with some large initiatives such as a new zoning code, the Baltimore Green Building Code, the integration of the historic commission CHAP into the Planning Department, and the creation of robust offices inside the department which deal with sustainability, resilience  and urban farming. Recently the department created the position of Assistant Director for Equity, Engagement and Communications, and found out how unbalanced resource distribution had been in recent years.
"Tom Stosur deserves credit for having navigated the department through five years of Transform Baltimore and cerdit for getting the code itself into a more flexible and modern era. For example by including Transit Oriented Developmet and relaxing parking requirements." (Alfred Barry, former Deputy Planning Director)
According to the City charter, the planning department is instrumental in creating the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which gives it special standing among the many departments in need of capital funds.  By definition, the Department of Planning is  supposed to plan, and other departments are supposed to implement. However, this simple set-up requires that the various agencies coordinate and work well together. In the initial years after Larry Reich retired in 1990 the department shriveled in its importance, in part for lack of leadership, and other city departments such as Housing and BDC jumped into the breach. Some of Baltimore's most formative developments, such as the redevelopment of all the large public housing highrises under HOPE VI and the BDC planning of the Westside (Superblock!), fall into that period. When Stosur took the post he slowly but surely regained some of the lost turf. Mayor Pugh who had her eyes set on restructuring Housing and BDC seemed to help Planning in holding its own.

Then this year the Mayor directly intervened in Planning's affairs when, with some influence from her special adviser Jim Smith, she restructured the design review process, initially called Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel (UDARP) and now relabeled as the Urban Design and Architectural Advisory  Panel (UDAAP). Two vocal panel members were abruptly retired. While the renaming seems to be mostly semantic, it was motivated by developer complaints about the process as not development friendly enough and discouraging investments. UDARP was only advisory in nature all along, but the intervention certainly signaled how the Mayor's office wanted to see Planning's oversight of development.

Stosur worked in Planning from 1987 to 2005, when he changed departments to become a senior facilities planner for Baltimore City Public Schools. In 2007 Mayor Dixon hired him as Assistant Deputy Mayor for Neighborhood and Economic Development before making him Planning Director in 2009. Asked about his future plans he offered:
“The immediate plan is to have no immediate plan. We will be taking a few months to decompress, travel a bit, recharge, and consider the options for our next chapter. It’s been a great run!”
In Baltimore's current turbulent conditions, a strong Planning Director would be more useful than ever.
"I think that a new Planning Director needs to understand what economic development can bring towards solving the city's problems, even though [such development] is seen in many areas as suspicious". (Alfred Barry)
Strategic decisions galore: How to balance demolition and rehabilitation of vacant rowhouses, whether to plan for new jobs or new residences, how to find the right course between equity based planning versus "building from strength" and between planning for existing residents versus for new ones, and how to distribute resources effectively but also fairly and equitably.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Monday, July 23, 2018

How safe are Baltimore's Harbor vessels?

The horrible drowning of 17 Duck Boat passengers in Missouri brings to mind a time when those Duck Boats plied the Inner Harbor and Baltimore's Streets, the riders happily blowing their duck whistles while listening to the tour guide explaining the city's attractions. Duck, which operated here for seven years with up to eight boats, left Baltimore in 2009, in spite of the ideal water/city combination. In that they were like the other national or international tour chains, such a Big Bus which found our tourism not lucrative enough.
Baltimore Duck Boat before 2009 in the Harbor

Baltimore Duck Boat on Pratt Street
So  Baltimore is left with water taxis and a few local fairly large and sturdy vessels, not much to worry about one would think.

But the capsized Duck in the stormy lake in Missouri also brings to mind a deadly water taxi accident in the winter of 2004  which occurred under very similar conditions. Five passengers died in the Harbor near Fort McHenry.  It was a Seaport pontoon boat which had capsized in a sudden storm when a wind gust took hold of its large canvas side and made it roll over and float upside down with its passengers trapped underneath. Then just like in the Duck boat incident now, passengers did not wear life vests and were held down by the canvas enclosure. Still, 20 passengers were rescued. Could anything like that happen again in Baltimore?
We will never forget the lessons learned from the “Lady D” accident. (Michael McDaniel, President & CEO, Baltimore Water Taxi in a statement for this article).
All of Baltimore's remaining vessels are very different from the amphibious WWII type Duck vehicles, which operate in the not so well regulated space between land based buses and water based vessels. The amphibious vehicles were originally designed for military use in landing operations on beaches. Safety experts have said for some time that those crossover vehicles are neither properly designed for land nor for water safe and, therefore, not safe in either. They are high up on the road, lack bumpers and impact zones and they are too narrow and shallow in water to be stable. By contrast, the Coast Guard had approved the ill fated  water taxi for the route that it took back then because, as the NTSB report would declare in 2006, it had erroneously granted sister status based on a boat of a different size.
Baltimore Seaport water taxi pontoon boat prior to 2004

Baltimore's Harbor passenger vessels are regulated by the Coast Guard which issues various certificates based on categories of seaworthiness and risk. Operators need to hold Merchant Mariner Credentials. Water taxis fall into the category Small Passenger Vessels with more than 6 passengers under 100 gross tons. Public passenger boats also have to comply with accessibility requirements as defined by the US Access Board.
The area of operation for each vessel and any necessary operational limits are determined by the cognizant OCMI, and recorded on the vessel's Certificate of Inspection. Each area of operation, referred to as a route, is described on the Certificate of Inspection under the major headings “Oceans,” “Coastwise,” “Limited Coastwise,” “Great Lakes,” “Lakes, Bays, and Sounds,” or “Rivers,” as applicable. Further limitations imposed or extensions granted are described by reference to bodies of waters, geographical points, distance from geographical points, distances from land, depths of channel, seasonal limitations, and similar factors. (46 CFR part 176)
The pontoon boat that sank in front of Fort McHenry was at the edge of the area it was allowed to ply, i.e. up to Fort Mc Henry from where on the water opens up and a different set of rules applies regarding speed and seaworthiness. Seaport, then operated by the Living Classrooms Foundation as a competitor to Ed Kane's Water Taxi operation, ceased to operate water taxis after the accident. Kane's water taxi remained in operation but has since been partnered with Plank Industries. Kevin Plank's involvement led to the development of a customized boat manufactured in Baltimore's Brooklyn based Maritime Applied Physics Corporation, MAPC.

Today, most of the water taxi service is provided by five new 55' vessels, the Key’s Anthem, Cal’s Streak, Thurgood’s Justice, Billie’s Voice and Edgar’s Muse, a fleet that is still growing. The boats are ADA-compliant and bike-friendly, with WiFi, USB charging stations, heating, and drop-down windows. The boat is modeled as a modernized version of the classic Chesapeake Bay deadrise workboat and is licensed to carry 49 passengers and 2 crew members. Two pontoon boats remain in service. They are owned by Baltimore City and used to provide the free Harbor Connector service during morning and evening rush hour with the short jumps across the Harbor.
MAPC water taxi currently in service. Old pontoon boat in background

Baltimore Water Taxi also still holds on to the seven older catamarans, four of which are certified to operate past Fort McHenry. 

The new MAPC vessels with their high bow are more stable and powerful than the pontoon boats and catamarans  and are allowed to operate beyond Fort McHenry as it is necessary to service Port Covington. Baltimore Water Taxi has strengthened its rules when to stop service based on severe weather warnings. Service is stopped for all boats based on the needs of the least stable boats, the pontoons. The standards could potentially change after the entire fleet has been converted to the new boats in 2019, according to McDaniel.
The Baltimore Water Taxi continually monitors weather conditions that could adversely impact operations and follows the Small Passenger Vessel Safe Operating Conditions recommendations of the USCG.  If a hazardous weather condition is forecasted and/or detected within three nautical miles of our operating area, we immediately halt the service until those conditions improve and/or the situation is deemed safe.  The Baltimore Water Taxi uses a network of public and private weather monitoring stations to assist with this task (i.e., AccuWeather, The Weather Channel, Weather Underground, MyRadar, RadarUS+, WeatherBug, etc.).
We prioritize safety. (Michael McDaniel)
The Duck boats in Missouri had been on the lake well after such warnings had been issued. Once caught in high winds and waves, they did not have the power to steer into the wind and make headway against the waves making them essentially helplessly floating objects, even though one of the two boats managed to cut through anyway.

New Baltimore water taxi. Seaworthy through Low center of gravity, high bow
The Baltimore water taxi and Connector fleet is well underway towards becoming a viable water transportation mode that can serve tourists, commuters and those who just want to get quickly to the other side of the harbor year round. The services have not yet unfolded their full potential.  Water transit is only useful if its is reliable and not just a fair weather operation.

Baltimore Water Taxi operates under a Baltimore City license which includes the free and the paid service. The contract has just recently been renewed. (see here). Some questions about better landing facilities, more interconnected dependable service, additional direct routes which could relieve the congested Boston Street/Fleet Street corridor with a higher commuter  volume remain to be worked out.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related articles on my  blogs:

Water Taxi - Urban Transportation between Uber and the Bus

How to achieve real Baltimore "Passenger Ferry Services"

Friday, July 20, 2018

BIRD mania hits Baltimore - is it viable transportation?

Bikes are so yesterday, today its BIRDS, those little electric scooters one can find all over town. Talk about disruption! While many interested in clean, "alternative" ways of getting around in downtown Baltimore, still worry about the fate of Baltimore's troubled Bikeshare (see here), Bird, a company founded by former Lyft COO and Uber VP Travis VanderZanden raised $100 million in venture capital two months ago, began raising another $150 million in June and is now engaging in raising another $200 million according to Fortune Magazine.  The company is already valued at $2 billion. That is fast, even by start-up measures, given that the LA based company started operations only in September 2017. Maybe even more surprising, Baltimore is part of the 22 cities in which Bird is operating as of July 9, 2018. The secret for being part of the avantgarde: The City wasn't involved at all. The scooters just showed up. 
Suffragette Florence Norman on her motorized
scooter  in London 1916 (Mashable)

On the heels of Bird is the competitor Lime which first flooded cities with dockless bikes until Lime  became unwelcome in many places for all the clutter they created.

The scooter, known to most as a kid's  mobility tool between the tricycle and the bicycle, has popped up out of nowhere. As it is now common among startups, nobody knows how serious the innovation is. Adults riding around on scooters, is this really the next big thing that will undo bikeshare? Uber and Lyft, the car share disrupters, just this year decided to invest in bikeshare, are they already betting on  the wrong horse?

If Baltimore is any indication, the same folks which were called the Millennials,  until the term became an insult of sorts, and which were all excited about Baltimore's late entry into docked bike-share, are now gaga over the scooters. The hipness of a workplace, apartment building or event can now be measured by the number of scooters lined up in front. I am glad to report that my own office building, tucked away in the not soi hip westside has scooters out front at times (not because of me), Data Day at the University of Baltimore, of course, had them. even the venerable law firm of Ballard Spahr attracted two scooter riders to their breakfast meeting. Little Havana, just as many other locals around the Harbor are regular Bird ports. Transportation keynote speaker Robert Puentes (not a Millennial anymore) claimed to have used a Bird to get from Penn Station to his talk at the Federal Reserve.
Actresse and model Charlotte McKinney
on a Bird Scooter 2017

So what's the deal with those things? Are they really useful? Should they be regulated or banned like in Denver and San Francisco? Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, an avid promoter of alternative transportation allowed the scooters in her city as long as they don't ride on sidewalks. As common for disruptive technology, there isn't really any applicable regulation unless city councils pass them in a hurry.

As an avid former child  kick-scooter user (not electric, of course, but with nice big inflated tires and two brakes) I had to try it out. My first instinct is to use the Bird on the sidewalk, especially in Baltimore where most sidewalks are deserted while the roadways are clogged. But a label on the stepping board says, "no riding on sidewalks". Going into traffic with the thing seems ballsy, even with the required helmet (I haven't seen scooter users wearing a helmet), except where protected bike lanes are in place. The Bird is peppy and lots of fun!

The scooter gets located with the Bird app on the smart phone (it has GPS), than activated via OCR code on the handlebar. Pay via Apple Pay (or credit-card, Paypal etc.) and then "unlock" the scooter. (If not unlocked the Bird moves but makes unhappy tweet noises and doesn't activate the electric motor). Once unlocked a couple of foot pushes ("kicks") are needed and then the handlebar switch can be used to accelerate with battery power. The ride tops out at 15mph which can be fast on our not so smooth streets and walks. There is nothing to riding this vehicle, anybody who can stand straight and hold on to a bar can do it. A left mounted hand-break stops the scooter quick and without toppling the rider over the handlebar as some bikes are prone to do. Of course, before stopping one foot has to come off the board to not fall over. (The Internet is full of horrible pictures showing the scooters mangled under cars).
German kids with kick-scooters in Bonn, 1955

The first minute costs $1.00, additional minutes $0.15. A short 3-5 minute ride will cover a few city blocks and sets you back about $1.75 or so, with taxes. This is much cheaper than bikeshare which in most cities requires a membership or a daypass that costs as much as $15 in New York.  Lime has already introduced the $1 ride on its dockless bikes as well. Much cheaper than Uber or Lyft and probably faster.

Of course, just as in the case of the bicycle, its not the vehicle itself that causes the disruption but the method of deployment. Scooters have been around for about 100 years, predominantly as kids toys but there were early attempts of motorizing them or using them for mail delivery. Kids scooters are still common in Europe and even though, Razor has recently changed the popular design towards those tiny wheels adopted from skateboards.  Electric Razor scooters can be bought for just north of 100 bucks online. Affordability and mechanical simplicity are certainly attractive to Bird and Lime and explain the ease with which these companies penetrated entire cities with a fleet of  scooters.
Segways on a nature tour

Time will tell if the suit and tie crowd or people running out for an errand will really take to scooters beyond the craze that comes with anything new. Segway, the inventor of the self-balancing two wheel electric stand-up vehicle certainly erred in thinking their innovation would become the mode of choice. At  $5k or more, price  was the prime obstacle along with the counter-intuitive balancing act.

But Segway also makes an electric scooter. It looks just like  the Bird and goes 15 miles on a single charge of its Lithium Ion battery. It cost $500. The Bird scooter is made by the Chines company Xiaomi which also owns Segway.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Bird scooter map and cost summary after checking out a ride
(Photo: Philipsen)

detail of wheel (Photo: Philipsen)

Bell left, accelerator to the right, OCR code in the middle
(Photo: Philipsen)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What's this "Big Jump" all about?

Space for people on a highway bridge: Big Jump (Photo: Bikemore)
On the surface the Baltimore Big Jump is a "pop-up installation" of a temporary walk and bike facility across the JFX on one of the most car-friendly freeway-style connections we have in Baltimore.

The bridge on 28th Street which, in tandem with 29th Street brings cars from the east and west to the I-83 Interstate and connects Remington and Old Goucher with Reservoir Hill is part of a necklace of traffic chokers strangling Druid Hill Park. Until now 28th Street was not a connection that was useful for walkers or bicyclists and severely limited access to Druid Park from the east.
the dotted lines show improvements associated with the "big jump"

The most remarkable aspects of  the "Big Jump" are not so much the additional pieces of "active transportation" infrastructure but that 
  • it is funded by a national organization as a transformative element.
  • it is fully supported by Baltimore's DOT
  • it is an example "tactical urbanism" which is quicker and cheaper than permanent construction requiring a full engineering and environmental study.
  • the project will have hands on artist engagement
The idea of taking a lane away from Druid Lake Park Drive and 28th Street in favor of a protected and comfortable two-way walk/bike connection was realized due to persistent advocacy from Bikemore, the leadership of Councilman Leon Pinkett, and the commitment from BCDOT Director Michelle Pourciau, dedicated and creative staff like Graham Young, and the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission. The master is getting national attention

Unlike any of the previous bicycle accommodations, this one addresses head-on one of the roadways designed to move suburban commuters in and out of the City, a policy which resulted in maiming many city neighborhoods. 

In the case of Reservoir Hill and Auchentoroly Terrace, the added divided multi-lane roadways (Swann Drive and Druid Lake Park Drive) separated fine neighborhoods from the park they were designed to front.
The street Auchentoroly Terrace consists of nine rows of housing, two mansion houses and two duplexes that all face the west side of Druid Hill Park. Built between 1876 (when the Orem and West mansions were built) and the mid 1920s, Auchentoroly Terrace represents an unusually impressive collection of architecture. Built at the height of Victorian sensibility, these rows exemplify grand rowhouse design and a lively, diverse array of architectural details. Framing the western boundary of Druid Hill Park, the buildings eloquently contrast with the park’s open space, a synergistic composition of neighborhood and park. (CHAP Ordinance).
Councilman Pinkett in an editorial that appeared in the Afro and in similar form als in the SUN expressed his strong support for the Big Jump not so much as a bicycle facility but as a space given back to local residents.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, over the protests of the local NAACP and neighborhood associations, City-led, car-oriented planning robbed local residents of Druid Hill Park’s public health benefits. Literally paving the way for White flight, highway projects cut off the predominantly working class Jewish and African American neighborhoods from the park in exchange for faster commute times for mostly White suburban county residents. Construction of the 1948 Druid Hill Expressway and 1963 Jones Falls Expressway resulted in the widening of Auchentoroly Terrace and Druid Park Lake Drive from two lane, park-front residential streets into a roaring five-to-nine-lane-wide highways equipped with only a handful of routinely ignored crosswalks...Giving back space to people, and creating a balance to how much of our space we give up to traffic is transformative. All of Baltimore’s neighborhoods deserve this consideration, and I hope that over the course of this project we will receive your consideration and support.

The history of the Druid Hill Expressway was brought to light again last year in an article by Daniel Hindman in the SUN under the title "Right a past wrong by opening access to Druid Hill Park". Hindman explains how the Druid Hill Expressway was built in 1947/8 without input from the Jewish and African American communities. writes:
As a community member and physician, I find the historical narrative of Baltimore City’s decisions pertaining to the communities surrounding Druid Hill Park deeply disappointing. While many know of the racism of the park’s past — the segregated swimming pools, tennis courts and playgrounds — many do not know the politics and history behind the construction of the Druid Hill Expressway. The story of the expressway’s construction is a narrative of racism and corruption, that, like an arrow shot from the past, inflicts damage on our most vulnerable populations today. ...The impact of this history is evidenced today in the 2017 Neighborhood Health Profiles, which demonstrate that Reservoir Hill and Penn North, communities that border one of the largest urban parks in the country, have some of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in the city.
Before Hindman architect Davin Hong had looked at Druid Hill Park, possibly in the context of his work on the Green Network Plan. Hong, also in the SUN wrote:
Facilitating travel away from the city center reduced urban populations and promoted suburban sprawl. The results are barren border territories that are unfriendly to people and draining to neighborhoods. The damage done from that era of city planning was so severe that American cities like Baltimore have yet to fully recover.
Former Baltimore traffic planner Gerry Neily wrote about in the Brew and Jeff LaNoue in GGW in 2014. Pinkett, Hindman and Hong all refer to the large scale construction currently underway in Druid Lake as the opportunity to finally rectify past sins. The good news is that the City's new DOT Director Pourciau is on board, at least with the pop-up installation which one has to describe as the camels nose in the tent. 

A big community celebration of the Big Jump is planned for 8/26/2018. An artistic treatment of the white water filled Jersey barriers and an array of ideas for place-making and community activities will be developed in the weeks until then.

Baltimore's 2.6 star (out of 5) for being bicycle friendly is not a place to rest on. Worse, its ranking in how segregated the city is. If the Big Jump can create connectivity between segregated neighborhoods as well, it would be a great success.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Convention Center: is bigger really better?

As regular as the noise of  locust in the summer is the clamor of Baltimore's  power elite for a bigger convention center, a new arena and more convention hotels, regardless of whatever else might ail this city.
Dull on every side: Baltimore Convention Center with Sheraton Hotel in
background (Photo: Philipsen)

Just as predictable are the doubters who ask whether a convention center is really sound economic development, whether dollars on expansion are just more good money wasted, and just another example of misguided priorities. The answers those questions are supposed to come from studies commissioned by the promoters of expansion. In that 2018 is just like 2012 or 2008 (when the city owned Hilton opened) or 1997 (when the original center dating to 1979 was expanded the first time).

The late Willard Hackerman, owner the Sheraton next to the convention center and the construction company Whiting Turner had suggested to combine an expansion of all three components, convention center, hotel and arena with his hotel as the lynchpin. This proposal was studied in 2012 in a feasibility study which assumed a $325 million new arena, a $175 million hotel and a $400 million convention center expansion of about 300,000 additional square feet. Hackerman lured with a private public partnership with the arena and the hotel privately financed. In spite of offering a chunk of his fortune, not enough takers lifted the project off the ground, even though then Governor O'Malley was on board and requesting $2.5 million state funds as design money. Mayor Rawlings Blake gushed at the time:
Dreaming big: Hackerman hybrid with hotel and arena. (ASG)
"building a new, world-class convention center in the heart of Baltimore's Inner Harbor will strengthen our tourism industry and spark new growth throughout the city."
Back then the use of the descriptor "world class" didn't yet raise a red flag.  The idea died with Hackermann in 2014. Surprisingly, though, already in 2016 Governor Hogan brought the topic back up, with support from the city convention bureau. The convention center expansion seems to be the only project which Governor Hogan inherited from O'Malley and which he didn't set out to kill. He even commissioned the very same consultants who had done the feasibility analysis for Hackermann's idea.  The charge was to look "at the earlier proposal for the hybrid project and test it against market conditions today" (MSA senior vice president Gary McGuigan). The stadium authority approved a plan to spend $1 million for the first phase of a “program design and engineering study” that could eventually cost the same $2.5 million which O'Malley had already requested in 2012.  Towards the first $1 million, the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore gave $60,000 the State paid $626,667 and the city $313,333. (Ed Gunts, 8/2/2016).
Pittsburgh tensile convention center, designed by Rafael Vinoly: a monument
on the Allegheny River
Studies repeat the same positive findings verbatim from one city to another and fail to account for contradictory data. These market and feasibility studies thus offer no real basis for public investment and serve to bias public decision making and choice.” Convention Myths and Markets: A Critical Review of Convention Center Feasibility Studies” Economic Development Quarterly, 2002
This month the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) released the updated report in three parts: design, construction and market analysis. The study was to look at alternative scenarios for expansion and recommend whether the expansion should include a new arena and hotel or not. It should not include an arena, the consultant team says now, with Hackerman no longer able to object. The study considers a 565,000-square-foot arena with at least 13,000 seats. Since the 1962 Royal Farms Arena seats 12,000 to 14,000 people today, the hybrid convention/arena model would not offer a bigger event space. The hotel under consideration replaces the 337-room Sheraton with a 500-room hotel that would be connected to the convention center. The 2008 completed city-owned Hilton convention center hotel has 756 rooms.
Full build-out massing model of the east wing with hotel and arena
(Clark Construction report)

The State's MSA has long since expanded its arm into Baltimore from stadium projects not only to the convention center but also to school construction and the future of Pimlico. 
Established by the State General Assembly in 1986, the Maryland Stadium Authority’s (MSA) mission is to plan, finance, build and manage sports and entertainment facilities in Maryland; provide enjoyment, enrichment, education, and business opportunities for citizens; and develop partnerships with local governments, universities, private enterprise and the community. The Baltimore Convention Center (BCC) is owned and operated by the City of Baltimore (City) and is one of the projects with which MSA is involved. (Introduction, Crossroads Consulting)
The expansion ideas are usually embedded into a chorus of voices pointing to shiny new convention centers in neighboring cities and lamenting the conventions Baltimore lost or couldn't get because of its size or age. A popular exhibit especially Otakon, an offbeat anime convention which started in 1994 in Charm City and which Baltimore lost to DC because Baltimore's Center is presumably too small for the ever growing assembly. There is some irony in the stiff Baltimore business phalanx led by GBC CEO Donald Fry and his chair Tiburzi as Otakon protagonists.
Inflated "fiscal impacts" based on conventioneers' spending: Otakon

The always questionable calculations of secondary economic benefits appear especially doubtful when it comes to conventions like the anime festival in which the colorful participants who are practically themselves the attraction hardly match the standard profile of conventioneers.

That large conventions don't fit entirely into one center isn't unusual. A case in point was the National architect convention of AIA last month which took place in New York's Javits Convention Center, also dating to 1979. The center has been expanded several times with the most recent round just completed. It has now 1.8 million square feet gross area and was still too small to accommodate all events for the 28,000 architects convening in New York. As a result the participants shuttled in tour buses to the New School on 5th Avenue for some classes and seminars and to Radio City Hall for plenary sessions with simulcasts in the largest Javits event hall. (Baltimore's Center has 1.2 million square feet). One could argue that spreading conventioneers for very large events across several facilities is actually a good thing, both for the city and for the conventioneers who get to get out of the same space sometimes.

But Baltimore's Mayor sounded just like her predecessor and all those on the bandwagon of a bigger convention center. 
“Achieving the much-needed upgrades to Pimlico and the Convention Center remain among my top priorities and I’m committed to ensuring that these important city venues are fully able to accommodate the increased demand for high quality sporting, leisure and business experiences. Baltimore needs to stay competitive and investing in these anchor facilities will undoubtedly prove an investment in our future. We’ll continue to work with the Maryland Stadium Authority and other key stakeholders as we determine the best approach to accomplish these objectives.” (Mayor Pugh statement according to the BBJ)
Ayers Saint Gross (Design) and Crossroads consulting (economics) who got to study the project already for a second time once again compare Baltimore's Convention Center with its peers on  metrics (ballrooms, function spaces) in which it doesn't compare favorably with the select group of comps.
Consistently low ranking among peers: Graphic Crossroads Consulting
But the selection of the peers is interesting in itself. Including the convention centers of Philadelphia, Washington and Boston, three cities were selected which are hardly comparable to Baltimore, no matter what metric, even if we wished it weren't so.

Consistently low ranking among peers: Graphic Crossroads Consulting
But then there is also the Gaylord Resort Convention Center on the list which recently opened as part of National Harbor, waterfront development including offices, shops, restaurants, apartments and a gigantic casino  in Prince George's County on the banks of the Potomac across from Alexandra, Va. That center is much smaller than Baltimore's but was never conceived to compete with the DC Convention Center across the river. This modern facility is proof that there is a healthy market for secondary facilities which compete on a different level than the flagship centers. It isn't clear why Baltimore's Center sitting near the Inner Harbor and the casino could easily be a very attractive location for smaller conventions instead of trying to compete with first tier cities with which we won't be able to compete for some time for any number of reasons.

The economic report doesn't compare the attendance rates or economic performance of the peer centers but jumps straight into a fiscal impact analysis, measuring in several ways how much an expansion would increase direct, indirect and "induced" spending. A proprietary software named  IMPLAN adds it all up to the "total economic impact". The result is neither entirely voodoo nor entirely scientific just as most modeling software that works with a big set of data but also a great number of assumptions.
Size comparison: Crossroads Consulting

The consultant introduces its economic analysis with an admission that many convention centers operate with deficits. The 2012 study showed the three year average deficit for the Baltimore Convention Center as $8.1 million, $2.72 million paid by the City and $5.44 million by the state, a loss that was then projected to grow through expansion to around $10 million. The annual operating deficit in the new report is given as $7.2 million for the five year average. (57% of the expenses covered by income). The "fiscal impact" of the current center just for the City is estimated to be $17.4 million, less than what the City expects to take in from its traffic cameras alone in FY '19.
With respect to financial performance, many similar convention centers realize an operating deficit. However, one of the primary reasons for developing these types of facilities is the economic activity that they can generate in terms of spending, employment, earnings, as well as tax revenues to local and state governments. These facilities typically attract events that draw patrons from outside the immediate market area who spend money on hotels, restaurants and other related services. In many instances, the economic activity can outweigh the operating costs. Consequently, when evaluating the merits of these types of projects, it is important to consider all aspects of the costs and benefits including operating requirements, debt service and economic/fiscal impacts.(Crossroads Consulting pg. 45)
Pretty but dull: Walking alongside the new wing of the Convention Center
on Conway Street (Photo Philipsen)
The updated study does not contain a new projection of the operating deficit of an expanded center, instead, the fiscal impact analysis are repeated for the Arena. It is interesting to see that the much smaller Arena has a three year average attendance of 526,000 which is higher than the three year attendance of 494,973 for all public events in the Convention Center. The existing exhibit space was only 60% of the time occupied in 2016, the ballroom space only 51%. Hardly convincing numbers for an expansion of space. But the consultant sees this differently pointing to "lost business":
the most frequent reason an event was not booked at the facility was availability which encompasses lack of date availability at the BCC, inadequate space at the BCC, and hotel availability (e.g., preferred hotel package, number of hotel rooms, preferred dates, etc.). In aggregate, the lack of availability accounted for approximately 1.9 million lost hotel room nights for the profiled five-year period, approximately 1.5 million (or 79%) of which were attributable to lack of date availability or  inadequate space at the BCC.
Too bad, the consultant doesn't isolate the space argument from the calendar reason, the latter would persist, no matter how big the center would be, unless it would be large enough to house two concurrent events.
San Francsico: Expanding across the Street

Lastly, there is urban design. The Baltimore Center had from its first day on a deadening effect on all the streets it faces, namely Convay, Pratt, Charles and Howard Streets. It, along with the treatment of Conway Street as the end of a freeway, cut off the redeveloped Otterbein from downtown. The connections via Charles, Sharp and Howard Street are just too awful to walk. In fact, the block between the backs of the Harbor facing hotels and the bunker like convention center is the dullest stretch of Charles Street in the entire City. Pratt Street  fares better, not for the center's architecture but because of the wide sidewalks and planting areas, which are not exactly interesting but show at least some respect for the pedestrian. Of course, Pratt Street is also where both the east and the west centers have their entrances, putting some life on the street during events. The architects assume that the original largely submerged east portion of the convention center would be demolished and entirely rebuilt on a larger footprint which would include the Sheraton Hotel.
Washington Convention Center in DC 

In some cities convention centers, in spite of their challange to look attractive, manage to be architectural attractions in their own right. An example is  Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center designed by star architect Rafael Viñoly. The center doesn't block downtown from the waterfront but opened up new ways to experience it for local residents and conventioneers alike.

In Philadelphia the Convention Center partly hides behind the re-purposed historic Reading station building and otherwise continues the somewhat unfortunate pattern of bridging streets that several shopping complexes had already started. In Boston the convention center is the landmark of the innovation district emerging in a large scale industrial setting. Some centers like San Francisco's Moscone Center sit near downtown and battle similar issues as Baltimore's center, but Moscone, with its green courtyard and a stand alone expansion building across the street, creates nevertheless a pretty pedestrian friendly and convincing composition.

Moscone Center, San Francisco

Ayers Saint Gross Architects (ASG) have studied the harbor, Pratt Street, the Arena and the Convention Center enough to be fully aware of the effect that the center along with the Federal Building and other not so successful urban renewal efforts have on continuity and connectivity in Baltimore. In working on the latest report for MSA they did not really submit architecture but programming alternatives and layouts.

Yet, none of the before described approaches of the noted other cities become apparent in any of the scenarios. Obviously not a successful integration with history (such as Phialdelphia or Camden Yards), simply for lack of history.The small historic Otterbein church is already dwarfed by the existing center and clearly not suitable for integration. Also no concept promises to be a landmark solitaire which would be an attraction for its architecture alone in the way the suspension tent of the David L Lawrence Center in Pittsburgh is an attraction. Nor does any scenario entail a spatial composition around an open space as in the case of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. An expansion outside the already occupied blocks is not considered. It also becomes evident, that the much maligned Hilton Hotel on the west end of the Convention Center blocks now any expansion in that direction. The best remaining "across the street" expansion option would be the northeast corner of Pratt and Eutaw Streets.
Convention Center and Sheraton, current conditions (Clark Construction)

The best hope for the two re-imagining Baltimore convention center blocks, would be an architectural design as for the built from scratch Walter E. Washington Center, completed in 2003, which attempts to look like surrounding modern offices buildings in spite of its location on Mount Vernon Place and in the Shaw historic District and in spite of the gigantic expanse of the complex. But even that award winning facility with public streets running right through its footprint is already up for a redesign, aiming to make it through retail kiosks and art more attractive on the pedestrian level.

ASG developed a full array of program scenarios (with and without hotel and arena) with many suboptions, but none of them reveal the bones of a really inspiring design approach. Any big idea would need to be so fundamentally anchored in the DNA of a concept that it would show even on the most abstract level. Given that ASG counts on taking space along Charles and Pratt (which the firm considers currently underutilized) to achieve the basic expansion of the center, there is once again no room for wrapping the usually dull exhibit halls with restaurants, retail or anything else that would break the relentless scale of a convention center. As a result ASG give the best street-life grades to the most mixed programs, i.e. the scenarios with an arena and a hotel, simply because these scenarios have the highest probability of sending people into the streets during events. Outside events, all scenarios can be expected to have a street life that is as dull as today.
Charles between Conway and Pratt: Worst stretch
in Baltimore (Google Streetview)

It is probably the constructability analysis of Clark Construction which ultimately let the team recommend to drop the arena from the program to simply phasing and impacts during construction. Leaving the arena out eliminates the potentially innovative synergies that could evolve between a convention center and an arena. It also eliminates the hope that the place would be lively during the many days without active conventions.

No other realistic alternative arena locations have emerged, yet First Mariner makes money year after year. It is living proof that an old facility often described as obsolete,  can still achieve profits and solid bookings, precisely because it is not the biggest and shiniest, but because it is affordable and competes on a different level. This would suggest that a technical and architectural upgrade of the convention center without a huge expansion should be an option that should be considered as seriously as all the others. A much costly option would also be much more palatable in a City scratching for dollars to pay its police, its rec centers and the various funds aiming for more equity in a deeply segregated city.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN about the report

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Does Baltimore Need a bigger Convention Center?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

GBC's new chair Tiburzi: Expand the Convention Center and rebuild Pimlico