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Archive for January, 2012

Visualize, if you can, a bus system that operates like a subway in a smaller city such as Boston or Washington. Baltimore does not currently have the resources to construct such a subway but innovative cities make the best of what they have.

Baltimore should think outside the box of conventional mass transit much the way that Bogota, Colombia did. In Bogota, on several of the city’s larger avenues, medians have been converted into rapid transit bus lanes with stations and platforms much like those on a subway allowing people to prepay rather than wait in line and pay individually. The system, known as the TransMilenio, not only removes buses from the traffic pattern but also moves people around the city quickly and efficiently, as buses run on their own right of way. The advantages of such a system include many of the efficiencies of a mass transit line without much of the expensive infrastructure.

Commuters entering and exiting TransMilenio buses - More photos including the one shown here can be found in the New York Times' Slide Show: Bogota's New Transit System

There are, of course, criticisms of Rapid Bus Transit; for example, without linking a new line to a larger, more cohesive system, it may not make sense for Baltimore’s commuters to leave their cars at home. In fact, Baltimore’s population may not even be dense enough to support such a system. Of course the paradox is that, in order to make such density a possibility, infrastructure must be built to support it.

A map of Bogota's TransMilenio System. The TransMilenio's many connecting and far-reaching lines resemble those of a subway system and increase the system's overall effectiveness.

If Baltimore intends to increase its population and make increased density a part of that plan, perhaps rapid bus lines are the cheapest way to go about that. The City could plan routes in order to target certain areas for redevelopment and strengthen the efforts of some struggling neighborhoods to stay competitive with the rest of the City. Of course, the longer term advantages are that if the routes are successful, the rights of way used for bus transit can be converted into light rail or streetcar routes or the buses can be electrified in order to remove emissions from the equation.

The question becomes, if this is something Baltimore should consider where should these routes go? Baltimore is an old city with narrow streets few of which can accommodate the traffic they currently carry let alone a bus only lane. However, one possibility is a route that parallels the future Red Line. This option would allow Baltimore and the State of Maryland to get a sense of daily ridership potential and work out some of the kinks prior to initiating a large-scale construction project. And, if funding falls through for the Red Line, at least Baltimore would be left with an east-west transit option. If all goes well, maybe we could see more rapid bus lines put in place along other important corridors.

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An article in this Sunday’s Baltimore Sun titled Baltimore’s port marks record year for vehicles in 2011 discussed the inherent advantages of the Port of Baltimore’s geographic location: Baltimore’s cozy harbor on the Patapsco River is farther inland than any other port in the Northeast. Historically, this made Baltimore’s harbor safe from storms but more recently it has given Baltimore’s port an indisputable advantage when it comes to shipping cargo to and receiving Cargo from the Midwest. But as a Rex Sherman, a research director for the American Association of Port Authorities, points out in the article: “‘Those terminals weren’t built overnight.’”

Indeed, there has been significant investment in Baltimore’s port infrastructure: cranes, dredging and expanded storage and processing facilities. This investment has paid off; the automotive import and export industry alone provides over 1,000 jobs. And, according to the State of Maryland, that’s only a small part of the over 50,000 total jobs and more than $3 Billion of annual revenue created by the Port.

For once, however, the jobs and the money are not the only focus of the article. In fact, it has undertones of an “if you build it, the will come” approach to investment. Baltimore needs a bit more of this attitude to build its infrastructure and, eventually, create the jobs that will keep the City growing.

The Port has shown private investors, the Federal Government and the State of Maryland that investment in Baltimore can be rewarded. In fact, a public private partnership is responsible for the construction of new berths and for millions of dollars in tax revenue. Perhaps the Port of Baltimore is one of the only infrastructure projects in which some are willing to invest in what many see as a lost and troubled Baltimore City. If that is the case, then let the money continue to roll in and create several thousand more jobs. However, repairing and adding capacity to one piece of infrastructure alone can’t fix Baltimore. The City needs to rebuild and, in some cases, rethink its infrastructural priorities in order to reverse decades of population decline; and it needs some help from investors to do it.

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Bmore Urban

At its heart, Bmore Urban strives to serve as a blog for those Baltimoreans new and old who “Believe” that Baltimore City is great but could be greater. I believe in a few core principles for turning the City around. Many of these differ from convention but convention hasn’t gotten Baltimore very far; the City is still losing population and still ranks among the most violent cities in the United States. These two things need to change before Baltimore can. There are, however, things the City and its people can be doing to expedite and foster this change.

1.)  Invest in infrastructure, specifically transit

2.)  Clean up the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay

3.)  Increase the City’s tree canopy

4.)  Connect existing public parks and establish new public spaces

5.)  Make the City Bike-able

6.)  Rewrite the zoning code

7.)  Make Greater Baltimore’s colleges and universities more accessible to Downtown

8.)  Encourage communities to participate in governance

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Previous Publications

For a little taste of my previous work, check out my Article on Maryland’s Toll Policies and my article on the proposed alterations to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

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