Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Cap and trade for Maryland transportation?

Transportation Climate Initiative a lie?

It doesn't happen every day that transportation activists from the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance (CMTA) or the Sierra Club get drowned out by shouts from other activists. But that is exactly what happened yesterday at a press conference conducted by a transportation coalition of Maryland transportation advocates when CMTA's Brian O'Malley spoke about the the fledgling  multi-state Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), a compact between 13 northeastern states and jurisdictions formed to combat emissions. Maybe that Maryland's Republican  Governor Hogan had signed on to the initiative was suspicious enough for the activists from the Climate Justice Alliance to shout "TCI is a lie" and consider the groups that had planned the press conference ill informed.
Climate Justice Alliance members taking over the press conference
(photo: Philipsen)

The Climate Justice Alliance had been founded in 2013 and acts on a national level including Puerto Rico. About half a dozen members used the press conference, which had no press present, except a brief visit from WBAL TV, to express their doubts about TCI. Only when Baltimore's Sam Jordan, spokesperson for the Transit Equity Coalition (BTEC) spoke was the reception friendly. Jordan, served up sound bites that CMTA or the Sierra Club wouldn't say: "No neo-Nazi in Charlottesville has eliminated 10,000 jobs. Larry Hogan has". (Jordan).  Finally the Alliance members filed out of the room, chanting “nothing about us without us” and the local coalition members were among themselves.
"Transit access is a strong predictor of job access. Its important to create jobs, but workers must be able to reach those opportunities quickly, efficiently and reliably. More highways are not the answer. Maryland must invest in maintaining and expanding public transit," Delegate Robbyn Lewis, MD District 46. 
The press conference (see press release here) took place before the official "workshop" of the TCI organizers at the University of Maryland. The workshop was intended to get public input about how TCI should be organized. The hostile position of the Climate Justice people highlighted that dealing with climate change isn't easy, considering that drastic measures of turning away from fossil fuels will always also have social implications. But even among those who don't deny the urgency to combat greenhouse gas emissions, opinions differ about the approach. Especially when it comes to market driven models as proposed in TCI.


The TCI approach is market based in that it assumes a "cap and trade system". It is loosely based on the emissions trading scheme called Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative known has RGGI or "Reggie" on power plants, also a regional concept in the Northeast of the country. Since it was implemented in 2008 as the nation's first cap and trade system, RGGI reports that states have seen a 37 percent decrease in emissions from electricity, while simultaneously decreasing consumer costsHowever, critics maintain that the caps were too high to have resulted on emission reductions and that those reductions came for other reasons than the cap & trade system. Too loose a framework was also a problem for the European cap & trade systemUnlike the California cap and trade modelReggie doesn't include transportation, i.e.  the nation's largest emitter of greenhouse gases (see my previous blog here). This makes addressing transportation and thus, TCI, of utmost importance. There is an opportunity to learn from Reggie and not set the cap so high again that hardly anybody is in need of trading in credits.
The idea of Reggie
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 
The Climate Justice activists called TCI  "Reggie on wheels". As in the case of the power generation emissions, the cap and trade plan intends to put limits on emissions and allows trading overruns for credits from those who stayed under the limits. The general market oriented approach is to put a cost on pollution instead of outright banning it. The idea is, that the cost will incentivize less polluting options and improve competition of the initially more costly environmentally friendly options.

The higher cost of energy caused by Reggie (or in the case of transportation: gas, diesel, vehicles etc.) has a high likelihood of eventually hitting consumers with the risk of increasing the wealth divide in the country. Or as a panelist put it, "the divide between the eco haves and the eco have nots". During the press conference Jordan said “We cannot depend on the market to solve the problem.”During the actual workshop event  positions that felt the market could be sufficiently managed prevailed. “There is a way to fight poverty, pollution and climate change at once” or “when we cut carbon we need to inequalities, too.”  TCI has been talked about for the last ten years. With public workshops it has now moved into public awareness and promises to emerge as a viable option.

The Baltimore Workshop 

At the workshop around 300 lawmakers, business leaders, transportation experts, and public figures met to develop low-carbon investment strategies and priorities for TCI, the regional partnership for clean transportation in Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.
Baltimore workshop at the University of MD on Lombard Street
Since the conference fell right into the middle of the un-presidential Twitter storm about Baltimore, speaker after speaker expressed their love for Baltimore. Even Hogan's deputy MDOT Secretary Earl Lewis called the attacks deplorable and racists.

More to the point of climate change: panelists and speakers from all walks of life stressed the urgency for action to combat CO2 emissions but also recognized the need of concurrent actions which ensure that "Fenceline Communities" (Kamita Gray, Brandywine resident) get protected. "If not for cap and trade, we wouldn't have three power plants in Brandywine",  Gray contended, maintaining that cap and trade schemes can accelerate the already prevailing method of piling all polluters into disadvantaged communities.

The Georgetown Climate Center at the University of Georgetown is a convener and resource in the process, but many specifics of how TCI is supposed to be organized  still need to be worked out. Clearly governance of 14 Northeast states and jurisdictions will be much harfer than the single state management in California. In addition, local communities will have a voice in the process, if one can believe those speaking yesterday at the workshop. Plus, there was obvious disagreement on how the California cap and trade system, the only one in the US including transportation, has worked out so far.

The California precedent

California's Global Warming Solutions Act goes back 13 years and was augmented by a cap and trade system in 2013 that initially only covered power generation like RGGI but added in 2015 also distributors of transportation, natural gas, and other fuels.
The carbon free California future in a graphic
The passage of AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, marked a watershed moment in California’s history.  By requiring in law a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, California set the stage for its transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future.  AB 32 was the first program in the country to take a comprehensive, long-term approach to addressing climate change, and does so in a way that aims to improve the environment and natural resources while maintaining a robust economy. 
The Cap-and-Trade Program is a key element of California’s climate plan. It sets a statewide limit on sources responsible for 85 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and establishes a price signal needed to drive long-term investment in cleaner fuels and more efficient use of energy. The program is designed to provide covered entities the flexibility to seek out and implement the lowest-cost options to reduce emissions.
Money collected from the cap & trade program, i.e. the  Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) is appropriated by the California Legislature.  The agencies administer California Climate Investments programs that facilitate greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions and provide economic, environmental, and public health benefits. Four agencies receive a set portion of each quarterly auction through continuous appropriations enacted in Senate Bill (SB) 862. The investments made are reported annually. In 2017 policy changes  increased the focus on disadvantaged communities and directed additional investments toward low-income communities and low-income households leading to a stronger focus on “priority populations”.
Use of cap and trade revenues in California: Priority Communities

The 2019 report about investments made from proceeds in 2018 shows that "Priority Populations" played a significant role in where the money went.


The one day workshop in Baltimore, one of many that came before and are still to come, was certainly not able to settle the dispute whether the market can or cannot produce significant greenhouse gas reductions or sufficient funds to invest in the technologies needed to achieve them.

However, activists, politicians, Democrats, Republicans, Greens and representatives from across the entire Northeast agreed that urgent action is needed to avert catastrophe. The Sierra Club, which, as noted, is currently coordinating the various Maryland based transportation organizations, is cautiously optimistic that TCI could be a useful tool to reduce transportation emissions, create additional funding sources for transit investment and reduce the impacts on under-served communities.  The strong showing of community activists at the workshop will hopefully help to ensure that environmentalists will work closely together with equity activists to reconcile potentially conflicting goals.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

For an explanation how the California cap and trade system works see here
For a Georgetown paper about how TCI could work see here
For a related blog post on Community Architect about transportation pollution here

Cap in trade in the Georgetown paper is explained this way:

Under this kind of program, an implementing state would issue allowances equal to the emissions budget or “cap.” Allowances are compliance instruments that regulated entities are required to hold for a given quantity of pollution that is emitted within the compliance period; for example, one allowance for one ton of carbon dioxide. If at the end of a compliance period a regulated entity does not have sufficient allowances to cover its emissions, it is out of compliance and subject to a penalty or other sanction. Emissions from the regulated sector are therefore “capped” at the quantity of allowances issued by the state. Generally, the cap declines over time, reflecting the policy objective to reduce emissions from covered sources.7
In a cap-and-invest program, most or all of the allowances are distributed through sale at periodic auctions. Regulated entities may purchase the allowances at auction and they can buy, sell, or otherwise transfer allowances directly with other market participants. The price of the allowances is not fixed—rather the quantity of allowable emissions is set by the program, and the market determines the price. Some allowances may also be freely distributed by the state to regulated entities or other parties.
Since the emission budget (i.e., the quantity of allowances) is typically set at a level of emissions below what would otherwise occur under “business as usual,” a cap-and-invest program is expected to promote changes in behavior by regulated entities or consumers to reduce emissions. Some companies producing or supplying transportation fuels will find it cheaper to bring less carbon-intensive fuels to market than to purchase additional allowances. Investments of auction proceeds into emission reducing policies—for example electric vehicle incentives, additional transit service, multi-modal freight infrastructure, ridesharing, and pedestrian and biking infrastructure—will also reduce demand for fossil transportation fuels by promoting less carbon-intensive transportation options, thus mitigating costs for consumers and providing other benefits for residents. A price on emissions can also influence consumer behavior, reducing demand for fossil transportation fuels.
Cap-and-invest programs usually also include mechanisms to provide additional compliance flexibility to regulated entities, mitigate costs, and help ensure a stable and well-functioning allowance market. These can include:
 options to bank allowances for compliance in future years;
 cost-containment mechanisms that introduce additional allowances into the market when allowance prices reach a certain threshold;
 allowance price ceilings or price floors;
 offset credit mechanisms, which allow certified emission reducing projects in other, uncapped sectors to generate credits that can be used for compliance; and
 linking with similar programs in other regions or sectors, thereby allowing the most cost-effective emissions reducing actions to take place first across sectors or regions.
Cap-and-invest programs may also include provisions to address potential competitiveness and equity issues. This can include distributing allowances or investing auction proceeds in targeted ways, or choosing which sources of emissions are covered under the cap.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Has Artscape run its course?

In a time when the Baltimore Symphony is in peril, the Orioles suffer from anemic attendance and the icon of Baltimore's rebirth, HarborPlace, is ailing, any notion to do away with another iconic fixture  such as Artscape is sure to hit a raw nerve. A Facebook posting suggesting such a thing got a lot of reaction, both ways.
Octopus on Charles Street. "But that's not art",
artist Mina Cheon on Facebook
Dennis Visco Artscape is awesome! It's almost impossible to select one thing over another.Great free music on 3 separate stages! Andy BOP Friday night on the Hopkins Stage! Reggae Sunday afternoon on the stage near the Meyerhoff and the Vocalist Saturday afternoon on the Morgan State stage was mind blowing. Wonderful dance ensemble in the air conditioned Lyric theater on Saturday,and I enjoyed the animation films in the air conditioned PARKWAY theater which first opened it's doors in 1915. All this being totally FREE.I'm not even mentioning the man and woman walking around on stilts which was pure fun on a hot summer day.And all of this FREE and timed perfectly with celebration of Man's first walk on the moon. THANK YOU CHARM CITY.
Yet, few would dispute that Artscape  2017, 18 or 19, still billed as the largest arts festival in the country, couldn't quite muster the energy, participation and attendance of the years when nearly half a million people were reported to have roamed the streets and the round in front of the stage at Mount Royal station was so crowded that one couldn't find a spot to watch Aretha Franklin or Ray Charles and when every creative soul in Baltimore felt an obligation to present a sculpture or object somewhere at the festival.
Dan Howard Very disappointing this year.
Ferris Wheel in front of the shuttered Meyerhoff
A lot has changed since 1982 when Artscape was inaugurated as a successor of the once wildly successful City Fair. (1970-1991). On occasion of the 30th birthday in 2011 Baltimore Magazine wrote this:
It's too hot, too crowded, the parking is awful, but still we go every year. Because each time we're tempted to skip Artscape, we remember something special that happened at the last one, and we find ourselves heading down to Mount Royal Avenue once again.
Maybe it was that time we were standing in the middle of the street by the Fox Building, so transfixed by a young rock-and-roll band that we forgot all about leaving early to beat the traffic. Maybe we wandered into the Mount Royal Station Building just to get out of the heat and into the air conditioning, but we were so taken by the paintings that we started attending gallery openings in the fall. Maybe we were so tickled by the Art Car Parade that we went out and bought a glue gun and started attaching toys to that old car we were going to trade in for $100. Maybe we bumped into an old Baltimore friend in the crowd, someone we hadn't seen in years, and, after an exchange of phone numbers, a friendship was rekindled. (Baltimore Magazine)
Most still holds true in 2019, even if  the festival no longer extended north on Mount Royal beyond the light rail tracks, the "Art Cars" have been eliminated, the Meyerhoff is shuttered due to a lock-out and light rail didn't run due to a sinkhole on Howard Street at Pratt Street and typical MICA venues  usually open to the public during Artscape such as the Brown Center, Fox Building, Bunting Building, Main Building and the Fred Lazarus IV Center were closed, in part due to renovations. The "big acts" at the main stage have become deliberately less glamorous. The Baltimore Brew also cited a total loss of classical music, including the loss of the popular Lyric opera performances. (The contribution was allegedly rejected by organizers).
Hand to Hand performance exhibition (photo Dennis Visco)

As always, the weekend in July is one of the hottest  of the year (unless a cold front brings incessant rain as in 2018 when the festival closed early due to lack of attendance) and as always, diligent search would find interesting items, even actual art. But for the most part, food and generic booths that could line any festival hawking all kinds of services and institutions dominate and more and more people wonder, if Artscape is really still the authentic Baltimore even it promises to be, even though many regulars and those who put a lot of work into the festival will immediately jump to its defense.
Conrad Jay Bladey it needs to go entirely-a waste-they have mistreated artists for decades (Bladey used to participate in ArtcCars)
A lot has changed since Artscape was conceived. Baltimore has established four Arts and Entertainment districts, the latest this year, the Pennsylvania Avenue A&E district celebrating African American arts and culture. The Station North, the Highlandtown  and the more recent Bromo A&E districts have their own events and individual identity. Only Station North overlaps in part with the Artscape grounds. The events on the Y-Not-Lot across North Avenue ("Ratscape") are more like an alternative Artscape than an adjunct. The Station North district itself lost its executive director in January of this year and its most iconic venue, the Wind-Up Space closed, but re-opened under a new manager as "Rituals".  Baltimore's Office of Promotion & the Arts (BOPA) created Light City and this year, for the first time, merged it with the Book Festival.  (A full list of BOPA events can be found here). BOPA is under new leadership under Donna Drew Sawyer, who replaced Bill Gilmore as executive director.
Peter Franchot, Comptroller. #DidYouKnow that the nonprofit arts & culture industry generates $961.6 million in annual economic activity in Maryland? AND it leverages $450.2 million in event-related spending? Art (and Artscape!) is at the very heart of our economy.
Charles Street North Stage Saturday night folk music
With Baltimore's population still in decline, suburbanites scared to come to the City thanks to soaring crime rates and transportation and almost ongoing mess thanks to sinkholes, signal failures and a still ailing public transportation system with a upkeep deficit of over $2 billion, even the most ardent Baltimore supporter  should be allowed to ask if the City can sustain the full schedule of events and still do each one in optimal form. Such a question is not a sacrilege and by no means an attempt to discredit the importance of the arts in Baltimore. Quite the opposite. The questions is, as quirky as Baltimore is, don't the arts deserve better? Wouldn't an arts festival which rotates through the  the four arts districts to highlight each in its unique character be more appropriate? Wouldn't it makes sense to focus the creative energy on making Light City really so that it can not only compete but also be different from the light installations of similar light festivals around the globe?

Finally the weather. The reason why Artscape takes place during the hottest days of summer has to do with the availability of venues such as the Lyric or various MICA facilities, the heat is a real detractor which will only become worse with rising average temperatures, no matter how many cold drink stands, cooling tents and air conditioned venues along the route. In code red air quality incessantly idling diesel trucks blocking the access routes against terrorists and the traffic of those who run back and froth in those stinky golf carts don't help either, even when the now available electric scooters were wildly popular as a means to get to the event or (illegally) cruise around in it. Baltimore's summers were always hot and steamy, but fewer and fewer people are willing to head outdoors and brace near 100F temperatures or want to staff the booths and stands.
A new lens for Artscape? (Artscape 2017)
Jessica Damen Why can’t it be the weekend after Labor Day? I didn’t go this year because of the heat. 
Greg Stanley Switch to fall. Too hot for any human being
Maureen Anne Fitzpatrick A friend commented, “If this is the hottest weekend of the year, it must be Artscape!” How do the planners not yet know about climate change? How do the planners not yet know about climate change?
 No doubt, BOPA will once again declare Artscape a success, promotion  being part of its mission and DNA. But cooler heads should consider what needs to be done to stem the slow hemorraghing that seems to have befallen the event.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Digital deserts in Baltimore

The Annual Data Day organized by the University of Baltimore and its Neighborhood Indicators Alliance aptly opened with a keynote address about equity in the information age or about where no data are to be had. Typically the problem is called the "digital divide" and has been a topic of discussion ever since the Internet became an important factor in everyday life.
Broadband adoption by income groups, Baltimore and nation
(Graphic: John Horrigan)

Not surprisingly, the fault lines for those divides fall along the same demarcation lines where poverty begins, housing vacancy is high, food deserts exist and liquor stores are abundant. Also not surprising, digital adoption and literacy in Baltimore is lower than in peer cities. In fact, Baltimore ranks #261 out of 296 cities in number of households with home Internet access.

While nationally nearly two thirds (59.3%) of households earning under $20k have access to broadband Internet, in Baltimore the rate is only a tad more than half (52.5%). Even among households above $75 k annual income Baltimore's adoption rate is only 91.5% versus 95% nationally. Reasons for lack of broadband Internet can range from no available network (Baltimore famously has only one cable provider and no -alternative) to not enough money for a subscription or not being digitally literate. Rarely people who can afford and operate digital access opt out of it as a personal decision.
Whereas the digital divide debate concerns technology scarcity for certain population segments, addressing the costs of digital exclusion is about developing people's capacity to manage today's abundance of digital resource (John Horrigan). 
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2016.
John Horrigan who talked about this at the opening event of Data Day at the Federal Reserve of Richmond on Baltimore's Sharp Street. The Federal reserve is involved because broadband penetration has been recently (2018) made part of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.
Recently the Federal Reserve, which monitors CRA lending at member banks has suggested that improving local broadband would qualify as CRA investment as long as the projects benefit the target parts of the community. This decision will make it easier for banks to make loans to local broadband providers in their community. (source)
The hardship of not having Internet access became vividly clear when panelist Terrell Williams spoke. He is an organizer and co-director of Turnaround-Tuesday, an organization giving ex-offenders a re-entry opportunity into regular life. Terrell set anybody straight who may be harboring the notion that the smartphone is the great equalizer since it has a much wider penetration than computers and can access the Internet outside broadband. But smartphone access to the web has many limitations. "Try to fill out a job application on a cellphone" Terrell suggested, "try to set up a document or write a vita on your smart phone". True, things more complex than checking one's bank account can quickly become very vexing even on a well appointed smart phone with many apps. True, smartphones can be hotspots for computers and thus circumvent lack of broadband access as well. But linking a laptop via hotspot exceeds most people's abilities and quickly drains the data allowances of the more affordable cellphone plans.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those with the lowest incomes are most likely to cite cost as the main barrier to having broadband access at home. A series of studies shows that low-income households tend to recognize the value and relevance of connectivity, and their ability to pay, rather than their willingness to pay, is the main reason for not having home broadband service. Among this population, affordability barriers include not only monthly subscription costs but also devices and hidden fees; access to low-cost computers was often just as important to these households as access to low-cost Internet options. (Source)
Broadband adoption, city comparison, rustbelt and east coast cities
versus tech and sunbelt cities (Graphic: John Horrigan)
In her opening talk at the main Data Day event, BNIA director Seema Iyer spoke about the importance of networks and how they grow exponentially. She put it this way:
“Less is exponentially less”. If we are not connected, there is so much less opportunity. Seema Iyer, BNIA
Iyer put the full value of broadband access and Internet literacy on the networks that such access allows to join. While the well to do are complaining about how the digital devices control their lives and ploy for ways to escape from them, poor people know first hand how deprived they are without easy Internet access. Life has not only become almost impossible without it, from paying bills to job applications and doing school homework, but without the network people have much fewer opportunity to make themselves heard or advance.

Turnaround Tuesday offers laptops and basic training for those who need to do a job or credit application or do any of the many chores that can't be done in person or via snail mail anymore. Libraries offer computers and sometimes training. But what really is lacking is digital training, affordable broadband and easy to use computers. At Data Day it became clear that many resent the Comcast monopoly in Baltimore and wished there would be a municipal broadband or WiFi option. There has been much talk about the children sitting on the sidewalks in front of their school to mooch  a WiFi signal so they can do their homework (the homework gap)
The homework gap
In what has become known as the homework gap, an estimated 17 percent of U.S. students do not have access to computers at home and 18 percent do not have home access to broadband internet, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data.(Denver Post)
 Comcast provides a little known low cost service called Comcast Internet EssentialsKatherine Karmen Trujillo, Deputy Director of  Libraries Without Borders spoke about an initiative to bring digital access to laundromats in the context of a "wash & learn" initiative in Baltimore. Baltimore Housing has recently provided 500 tablets with Internet service to residents. The agency is spending $120,000 to cover the cost of $10 monthly high-speed data plans for two years per tablet. T-Mobile provided the tablets for free. A significant and useful drop in the desert.

In spite of those promising efforts, overall there has been little progress in overcoming promote the Baltimore's data deserts.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The presentations about "Digital Access and Equity in Baltimore" can be accessed here

Friday, July 5, 2019

Can the City Council end Baltimore's transportation woes?

Baltimore “complete streets” maverick and Councilman Ryan Dorsey now chairs the newly created Transportation Committee. He will have his hands full. Here a very small sampling:

Bus operator Corey Lamar Falcon says he has to leave the yard early in order to do the 150 Express bus route towards Columbia in the evening rush hour. "Too much traffic going through downtown to get to Harbor East to begin the service and then more traffic coming out of Harbor East once service has begun". Stuck on President Street the bus lanes on Lombard Street are of no help.
Slowing down the bus on Fayette Street: Parking in the
bus lane

His route 150 bus inches along Paca Street where cars going along Saratoga Street frequently block the intersection. Same at Mulberry Street where the operator has to cross three lanes of stopped traffic to make a left turn at Franklin (US 40). When he arrives at the Edmondson Village, traffic frequently is backed up because a densely packed slew of signals are regularly falling out of sync, wasting a large part of the road capacity. The Blue, the 77 and the 78 are also caught in the mess that began when a previous mayor who lived in Hunting Ridge ordered extra signals. Those roadside problems are part of why the MTA buses are only 68.1% of the time "on time", which is a 9 minute window between 2 minutes early and 7 minutes late. This means a third of the buses are more than 7 minutes late. (See also here).

Streets falling apart
On a spring morning 7 vehicles line the shoulder of the highway to nowhere eastbound, flashers blinking. All of the m have the their front left tire blown out by an oversized sharp edged pothole in the center lane that surprised them just when they were accelerating for the 1 mile dash on this destructive and useless urban freeway that is now in such disrepair that it takes out vehicles on a regular basis.

Baltimore's subway now has a piano in the Charles Center station but still no real time arrival signs on the platforms or above. It wouldn't be a problem to show scheduled times, but this part of Link is more than 20% of the time not on time which means more than 7 minutes late. That is because of speed restrictions due to poor track, one track segments for track repair and failures on the 35 year old equipment. As a consequence the Baltimore subway has lost half of its riders in the last 5 years or so. Of ourse, the bus, subway and light rail woes are technically not the City's problem, since MTA is a State agency, which some see as part of the problem.
Baltimore subway: Deteriorated rails, structures and

New and not so new needs 
The always chirpy mailman Tony ("mail's in") comes to the downtown mail delivery with his specialized postal truck which he moves from block to block, before delivering his mail to the individual buildings. Since he now also delivers packages, he sometimes comes twice a day and his truck is fully loaded. In a rare display of bad mood Tony curses about the new bike lanes on Paca Street that are "a disaster for delivery vehicles" as he puts it. His favorite spot to park is the end of the bus stop pads on Eutaw Street. Not ideal, but he has to put the vehicle somewhere. His colleagues from Fed Ex and UPS park in handicap spaces or conveniently in the second row on the drive lane. What else can they do? The City has yet to respond to the new needs for spaces exclusively for loading. Maybe this will be part of the "Complete Streets" design manual that has been in the works for too long already.

The Uber driver sits in the bikelane in front of the former BGE Gas and Electric headquarters on Liberty Street. His window is down. "I am waiting for my passenger", he says, not really an excuse to block the bikelane. But he, too, has to make it work somehow. Rideshare service accommodation is rare. One of the few designated rideshare pick-up places can be seen at the new Guinness brewery in Baltimore County where parking is no problem anyway. How would staging and loading areas for driver-less shuttles look like? There is a lot of talk about "managing the curb space", but very little in terms of policies and solutions.
Water taxi in April: waiting for Godot
Water Taxi
It is a beautiful Wednesday in April, the promenade at HarborPlace is full of strolling visitors. There seems to be some event nearby, many walk around in the traditional Jewish Orthodox garb. No water taxi is in sight anywhere. People at the landing pylon stare at the schedule, some even line up for the next boat. But it won't come. The company has suspended service until May due to lack of ridership and run away cost. Meanwhile lots of people use the promenade to ride the electric scooters. After a year of testing, the City now has a set of regulations for those new transportation devices which take the world in storm, but, just as on bikes, the population is divided about how to handle the scooters. Some just want to see them banned altogether.

Bike lanes: Into the potatoes and out again
On May first city crews showed up on Roland Avenue and remove the line markings for a protected bike lane on Roland Avenue, a lane that was once unprotected and then had been altered after a bicyclists died while riding in the unprotected lane when a car veered into his path. The removal of the protected lane followed protests of drivers who didn't like to park away from the curb where their cars acted as a barrier for the bikelane and occasionally lost a mirror in the process.
“Mr. Mayor, please halt the deconstruction and bring everyone to the table,” wrote State Delegate Robbyn Lewis to the new MayorYet, only a month after the actions on Roland Avenue the City crews would remove another recently protected bike lane for a block on Madison Avenue. A church had complained about the loss of a dozen public curbside parking spaces across from the their facility. In one direction bikes now have to ride on the sidewalk and have to negotiate light poles. The just opened protected bikelane on Mt Royal Avenue is such a foul compromise that it’s longevity is also in question. As Bikemore and others have pointed out, the back and forth on bike facilities in Baltimore which started at Patomac Street is a waste of money. It also cuts deep into the credibility of City DOT whose man for strategy, Theo Ngongang confirmed in a recent presentation that Baltimore (like Chicago) subscribes to a policy that puts pedestrians, bikes and transit ahead of cars.
Central Avenue at HarborPoint:
Ugliest bridge in all of Baltimore

Missed opportunities
A new four lane bridge is conceived as a vital access to HarborPoint, Baltimore's latest eastward push of downtown. The abutment on the peninsula is a good 10' higher than the one on the Harbor East side making the loveless bridge with the charm of a freeway overpass even uglier. The bridge is part of Baltimore's 5 mile waterfront promenade and should have become an urban icon in the manner of Denver's Millennium Bridge. Central Avenue, an extra wide roadway that covers a forgotten creek, could have been converted into an attractive boulevard signaling the economic development marching north along this spine, one day maybe all the way to Oldtown. But years of construction have yielded nothing more than an unimaginative sea of asphalt, just like the new bridge devoid of any attractive design features.

Higher standards and expectations:
From acute collapse to waffling on active transportation goals, to a total lack of imagination, such are the transportation woes in Baltimore in the first half of the year 2019, a year in which worldwide protests bemoan the lack of progress in the reduction of greenhouse gases and in which cities worldwide take action to rein in the absolute dominance of cars.
City forces removing protected bike lane on
Roland Avenue (Sun photo)

Baltimore’s sister city Rotterdam declared itself "a city of electric transport" as early as 2009. In their 2017
Transportation Plan, "Smart Accessibility for a healthy, economically strong and attractive Rotterdam" the in many respects comparable Dutch city sets even more ambitious goals to a mode split of which we can only dream at this point. At several points the 2017 Rotterdam plan mentions the AV as an opportunity. The current work on the complete streets guidelines has not considered AVs according to DOT staff.

Reverse the mode split and priorities
Many European cities which made promising moves towards traffic calming and less reliance on cars in the early 70s have since forgotten those ambitions.  In spite of what we usually think about Europe, people love their cars there, too. SUVs have become just as big and popular as here, diesel is the preferred fuel (leading to horrendous air pollution),  many cities grow in population and find themselves violating air standards and in a state of traffic infarct. Paris with mayor Hidalgo who is particularly progressive in her transportation vision had to enact the most restrictions to car travel ever during the recent heatwave. Paris bans up to 60% of its cars as heatwave worsens pollution.
Mode split Rotterdam 2016 and 2030 goal

Planners routinely travel to famous model cities to study what can be done. Those are Copenhagen, Vienna, and Zurich, all three places that kept their car reduction course which they began after the first oil crisis and refined it over many decades. In Zurich the mode split is reverse form Baltimore: Only 25% use the car, 75% use transit, bicycles or walk. All three cities managed through variable pricing and reduced supply, reduced space for cars to drive, added bus and bike lanes and improved public transportation.

Cities that don't have those mode splits are scrambling to catch up, in Europe and elsewhere. The city of the future won't be one where access depends on privately owned combustion engine automobiles. Baltimore must do the shift as well.

Ryan Dorsey, the chair of the Transportation Committee likes to quote former New York traffic director Sadik Khan:"An advanced society is not one where the poor drive cars but where the rich ride transit.  He has called DOT's previous director incompetent and tweets daily about drivers, bicycling and complete streets. He will make sure that Baltimore transportation woes will remain in the headlines. Just complete implementation of Dorsey's complete streets bill would be huge progress.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Monday, July 1, 2019

In transit it isn't the technology that matters

The latest example of a transportation need being discussed in terms of technology is the I-270 corridor for which Hogan, always good for more pavement, proposed additional toll lanes until the Board of Public Works suggested to also look at monorail.  Yes, monorail as in the train that runs through Disneyland in Anaheim and that was once considered futuristic in Seattle when the Space Needle opened in 1962.
I-270 Monorail: Back to the future
Advocates said Tuesday that Maryland’s transportation chief has agreed to make a monorail on Interstate 270 part of a traffic relief study examining the potential environmental impacts of adding toll lanes to the highway.
Charlie Maier said Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn told him and other monorail advocates at a meeting Tuesday that their idea of building a 27-mile monorail between Frederick and the Shady Grove Metro station is “worth additional exploration.” Rahn said it “makes sense” to include monorail as an option in an upcoming study of adding toll lanes to I-270 north of Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg, according to Maier. (Washington Post)
Not always are the solutions quite as nostalgic: Hogan is also on the record with his desire to make the Baltimore Washington Parkway wider and a State road instead of a National Parkway and consider Maglev as an adjunct that would either run in the median or below the highway. Magnetically levitated trains are another one of those "futuristic" tech toys, although Maglev is around since 1979 (Transrapid, Hamburg Germany), but since then has been upgraded in Japan to run  faster and more expensive with superconductors.
Seattle Monorail: Futuristic since 1962

Hogan-Rahn are also onboard with Elon Musk's dream of a Hyperloop, an underground projectile running in a vacuum tube. It too is in some stage of review for the B-W Parkway corridor. However, Musk has since dumbed down the sonic speed idea to a simple Tesla on a sled system that would not serve any transportation needs by its own accounting in a preliminary Environmental Assessment.

What all these transit dreams of grown man that act like excited little boys have in common is that they are dreamed by highway fanatics that only have a soft-spot for transit when it has a technological spin that isn't derived by any actual transportation need but solely from a fantasy and what these men consider cool.

People who really understand transit don't start discussing transportation solutions with a technology and a specific mode. Transit projects supported by the federal government require to be based on a "Purpose and Need" study and then investigate in a  neutral, fact based manner alternatives including routes, modes and technologies that could meet the needs in the most effective way. Usually, more than one mode and technology can move the desired amount of people in the necessary time from A to B or places in between.

There is absolutely nothing that speaks for a cart before the horse solution in which one jumps headlong into a specific technology and mode just because there is an individual or company who wants to sell their product. This is especially true for those outside technologies which are only made by very few companies around the world, no matter how desperate those companies may be to finally sell their stuff to some gullible mayor or secretary of transportation. Selling monorail is so trite that it ranks right with snake oil and has its very own Simpsons show.
German Transrapid Maglev: Futuristic since 19979

While proponents of Maglev tout speed and a frictionless technology, monorail has really nothing going for itself that any elevated conventional rail system couldn't do just as well, or better, given that conventional rail is made worldwide, thus the componnets are widely available and more competitive  and compatible with what is already out there.

Monorail shares with its conventional elevated tracks brethren (a la Baltimore subway between Penn North and Old Court) that it can avoid roads and crossings, that it needs lots of concrete structures which eventually becomes expensive to maintain. Elevated trains also need elevated stations that are expensive to build, need support columns, elevators and escalators and essentially take up just as much space as an at grade station.

At grade, elevated or even in a tunnel under a freeway, transit that is nothing but an afterthought of a highway is never a good idea as the isolated Owings Mills metro line and station demonstrates. Yes, running transit in or above a median is convenient, but that is where the advantages end. People are not like cars and waiting on a platform between cars whizzing by at 60 or 70 miles per hour just brings home the message that one is wasting time with transit. (This would be slightly different, if I-270 wouldn't be widened and transit would be the alternative to frequent gridlock). But spending billions on additional lanes and building transit at the same time in the same corridor is a serious case of transportation schizophrenia. Its like a dietitian advising to eat healthy food but at the same time handing out an annual subscription for cheeseburgers.
Hogan/Rahn: Never a highway they don't like

Getting Maryland's transportation right is deciding Maryland's future. It is time that it is done by people who don't fall for charlatans, gimmicks or corporate pressure. As the FTA requires, transportation planning must be evidence and data based, it must be based on needs and it must serve a purpose. Equity and economic development are desirbale and admissible benefits, but some down-payments by greedy private contractors who want to get a foot in the door and will ultimately delegate risk and cost to the public are not. This would apply to the Japanese consortium that makes and sells MagLev and would pay some small part of the construction cost as well as for P3 road developers who loan the state all the money for toll lanes and then want it back plus interest and profit, something that is like buying a car on a credit card. It costs the State dearly in the long run while tolls come straight out of the pockets of users.

Wasted Investments: Paving over Maryland
Autonomous vehicles will add 20-40% capacity without more pavement
This is not to say that a properly vetted transit or road project could not have a private component or partner, but that aspect should never be the driver that defines the project.

If the Secretary is interested in future technology, he should consider this: Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be common faster than even the most avid road construction fan can build new toll lanes. These vehicles, if properly managed, and if they are fleet based instead of privately owned, are estimated to add 20-40% of capacity to existing roadways without building anything. If not properly managed and privately owned, though, the added efficiency would quickly be gobbled up by induced demand and more sprawl. An actual nightmare.

But if properly managed, the AV could provide many benefits, among them: MDOT would finally have time and resources to focus on viable, useful and need based urban and intercity transit, a need that won't go away, no matter how many AVs there will be.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA