Friday, April 29, 2011

20-Minute Neighborhood Workshop Recap

Thanks to everyone who participated in the EnvisionBaltimore "Life in the 20-Minute Neighborhood" Workshop that was held last Thursday at the American Visionary Art Museum in conjunction with Baltimore Greenweek. By all measures, it was a great success. Approximately 60 people participated in the workshop, including a diverse mix of community leaders, transit and cycling advocates, planning and design professionals, and transportation agency staff. Participants expressed great enthusiasm and interest in the topics presented, as well as in sharing ideas on how to better integrate walkable places with transit and cycling in Baltimore.

The ideas and feedback that came out of the workshop are still being synthesized and summarized, but some of the key ideas that were presented and shared include the following:

  • Baltimore has a great deal of walkable neighborhood fabric and interesting destinations that are relatively transit and bicycle accessible, however, it is not perceived as such. Neighborhoods and destinations are balkanized and feel like a disconnected patchwork. Advancing the idea of 20-Minute Neighborhoods provides a good framework for leveraging and building on the assets we already have here. In order to create 20-Minute Neighborhoods, we need to look at what kind of assets and services exist and/or needed within walkable neighborhoods and how transit accessible they are.
  • Big infrastructure projects that are being planned or discussed for Baltimore, such as the Red Line, the Charles Street Trolley, State Center Transit Oriented Development (TOD), and West Baltimore MARC TOD, are still years away or uncertain. However, there is much that can be done in the short term to reposition Baltimore as a transit and bike friendly metro area with modest and incremental improvements.
  • Baltimore has great untapped potential to create a more user-friendly transit system and make better use of the existing assets it already has. This includes creating an identity for its transit system through branding, better marketing, and tighter integration of its modes. Branding of the transit system must include place-making: that is, creating identifiable visible connections to neighborhoods and places. It also includes marketing transit station/stops as "transit-rich" neighborhoods and destinations.
  • An important step towards building a culture of transit and a user-friendly transit system in Baltimore for a broad cross section of residents would be in creating a "Primary Transit Network". This would include an interconnected network of frequent transit service (every 15 minutes or better) - including bus and rail - that runs throughout the day and provides access throughout the metro area. Remarkably, Baltimore now has the beginning of a decent Primary Transit Network, but doesn't even know it. A major recent development for transit in Baltimore has been the implementation of four new MTA bus routes called "QuickBus" and the City-operated Charm City Circulator. These routes mimic streetcar lines in terms of their frequency and stop spacing. MTA has quietly added the QuickBus routes over the last few years, including two within the last 12 months, and the City has been operating the CCC for about a year. When plotted on this map, along with the Metro and Light Rail lines, these frequent services indeed comprise the beginnings of a Primary Transit Network.

However, while these routes provide decent coverage across the metro area, they are not well integrated and do not function together as a system. Moreover, the general public is relatively unaware of these new routes and the potential they hold as an alternative to driving. With some creative refinement, branding, and place-making effort, this could become Baltimore's Primary Transit Network and help redefine how transit is perceived in Baltimore. We will explore this further in future posts, but would like to hear your thoughts and feedback.
  • There are innovative forms of bicycling infrastructure available that, if implemented here in Baltimore, could lead to dramatic increases in the number of people using bicycles as a viable means of transportation. This includes protected bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, and bike/bus only lanes. These kind of facilities are being implemented in other places including New York City, Portland, OR, Chicago, and Vancouver, and substantial increases in bicycle usage is being consistently seen in response. The Baltimore City Department of Transportation has been exploring these tools for some time and has started gradually implementing them in various locations. These facilities can be particularly effective when they connect to walkable town centers and transit stops, and are integrated into their surrounding environments. More details on this in future posts, but again, please share your thoughts and ideas here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Be part of Baltimore's 20-Minute Neighborhood Workshop

Welcome to the EnvisionBaltimore blog! The blog has been launched to coincide with the upcoming workshop scheduled for Thursday, April 21st, 2011 from 9AM to 12PM at theAmerican Visionary Art Museum in Federal Hill.

The workshop, entitled, "Life in the 20-Minute Neighborhood," is being held in conjunction with the 8th Annual Baltimore Greenweek, and will explore how Baltimore can start to become a more transit-, bike-, and pedestrian friendly place in the near term. The term "20-Minute Neighborhood" originated in Portland, Oregon, and is really a simple idea: identify, promote, and connect places where it's convenient to walk (or bike or take transit) to most of life's daily needs within 20 minutes from home.

Despite the simplicity of the concept, achieving that goal may seem daunting, given how things are today: much of our built environment, including homes, commercial centers, offices, schools, etc. were developed in the suburbs after World War II, where they were designed to be accessible primarily by car. Yet, Baltimore has a remarkable amount of "walkable urbanism" - both existing and planned - that can provide the supporting framework for a network of 20-Minute Neighborhoods. Baltimore also has a great deal of transit infrastructure as well as a rapidly expanding bicycling culture that could be leveraged and fine tuned to support walkable places.

We'll delve into these ideas in more depth at the workshop to explore and discuss the possibilities and challenge ourselves to push this new thinking forward and develop the beginnings of a solid action plan for implementing tangible change.

The program for the workshop is as follows:

9 AM: Welcome and Framing the Discussion, Stu Sirota, Principal, TND Planning Group
- Place-making and Transit, Richard Layman, consultant
- Innovative Bicycle Infrastructure, Patrick McMahon, consultant
- Bike-friendly Baltimore Update, Nate Evans, Bicycle & Pedestrian Planner, Baltimore City

9:45 Table Exercise #1: Identifying Places and Possibilities.

10:30 Table Exercise #2: Connecting Places with Transit and Bicycling.

11:15 Group report out and discussion.

11:45 Wrap up and next steps.

The workshop is expected to be only a starting point. The collective ideas and themes gleaned from the workshop will be posted on the blog, along with the ability to provide comment and feedback. This will allow ideas to be discussed, expanded, and refined continuously among the online community.

In order to start thinking about identifying special places in Baltimore that could become part of a network of 20-Minute Neighborhoods, a special interactive Google Map has been set up on which anyone can - and are encouraged to - provide input. Feel free to start now or anytime prior to or after the workshop. The map can be accessed here.

There is still some room available at the workshop, and registration is required. If you would like to register but have not already done so, please send an e-mail to with "EnvisionBaltimore" in the title and your name and organization (if any) in the body.

Hope to see you at the workshop!

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