Monday, September 9, 2019

MTA to businesses: You need change how you do land use!

The "Transit Summits" of the Greater Baltimore Committee have become routine and so have GBC executive Don Fry's admonitions that transit is important to economic development.
Transit Oriented Development at Denver Union Station

GBC couldn't get MDOT Secretary Rahn to explain his transit cutting transportation budget, let alone Trump's transportation secretary Elaine Chao to explain why the Trump administration is so averse to rail.  Instead former Clinton DOT Secretary Rodney Slater talked about how many ants can move a large piece of bread, making vague allusions to Baltimore's Red Line and the possibility of moving this mountain if there would just be enough "ants".

Absent major highlights the most newsworthy item became MTA Administrator Quinn's appeal to the business community to think about transit when they do developments. "I can't serve your business when your parking lot doesn't even allow a bus to turn" or "if it sits way off an existing transit line, forcing all riders to do a lengthy sidetrip", Quinn scolded. "Its 50/50" he said, and meant land use and transportation and by extension the division of responsibilities for job access through transit and those who put the stuff where transit is impossible. He noted that half of the regionally projected additional 440,000 jobs would not be accessible to transit under the "business as usual" scenario that is expected.
Michael Kelly addressing the GBC summit 2019

The half and half assumptions is probably an understatement. Land use is the key driver for successful transportation. The last time developers thought about this connections was when they built streetcars so they could develop suburbs such as Catonsville, the so streetcar villages that came before the automobile became the mode of choice. Then the densities were tailored just right for rail transit. Ever since the development patterns have made effective transit more and more impossible, allowing auto-centric politicians to poo-poo how poorly transit works and at the same time complain about congested roadways.

Michael Kelly of the Baltimore Metro Council illuminated the point inadvertently when he spoke after Quinn. He showed graphs that showed population growth of 330,000 people for the region in the next 25 years. The jurisdiction with the greatest growth rate: Queen Anne's County! Exactly where growth shouldn't go (no transit to speak of) and where certainly no public dollars should be spent to encourage growth. (For example through another Bay Bridge).

Kelly topped his statistics off with another inadvertent headline. "We will probably never become an attainment area under the Clean Air Act" he said in passing, a statement that caught the attention of a WYPR producer who just had reported about Baltimore's transit woes. Kelly pointed to Pennsylvania and Ohio as the culprits for the bad air, but didn't say that Maryland's transportation is the largest greenhouse gas emitter and largely responsible for the many smog days Baltimore registers.
Impossible to serve with transit: The usual sprawl

Quinn also spoke about the large investment gap in keeping transit in a state of good repair, totaling over $2 billion in the next 10 years. Much of the massive needs for investment in transportation have to do with sprawl, in other words with land use.

Quinn's reminder that land use is at least half of the transit equation can't be urgent enough. Its high time to put development where transit is on the ground, along the existing metro, MARC and light rail lines, all having stations that are large holes in a development doughnut with parked cars frequently closest to the stations. If Hogan is against further expansion of the transportation network then he must also be against further enlarging the development footprint and must be for Smart Growth (which he isn't).

Instead of new highway lines we need dense development around all rail stations, capturing the bulk of the expected growth in a sustainable manner. State Center is a case in point. Instead of scuttling the development the Governor should promote it as the only logical consequence of his killing the Red Line. (The "logic" being to make best use of existing assets before building new ones). But it isn't reason that governs his transportation thinking. Nor is reason governing land use. And that is why Quinn is facing the impossible task of chasing ever more sprawl with transit and a ever shrinking transit budget.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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