Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Workshop Results Round II: Baltimore Place Mapping

Baltimore Google Primary and Secondary Place Map 
It's been two months since the workshop and we've continued to analyze the input we've received from participants. This week, we share the results of the place mapping exercise. One of the basic concepts covered at the workshop was that of creating a network of "primary and secondary" transit and bike routes that connects "primary and secondary" places. This multi-tiered approach that connects different kind of places with a similarly appropriate transit and bike network is common in other parts of the world but represents a departure from the largely one-size-fits-all approach to urban transportation and land use policy that has been in place in the U.S. for decades.

Primary places include those that either have a distinct center or sense of place and have the potential to generate large amounts of pedestrian activity, and/or major destinations or attractions that typically draw people from throughout the metropolitan area or beyond. Examples of primary places include universities, sports complexes, downtowns, regional transportation facilities, entertainment districts, major employment concentrations, and regional shopping centers.

Secondary places are those which also have a distinct center and have potential to generate significant pedestrian activity, but draw from a more local market within part of a metro area or surrounding neighborhoods. Examples of secondary places include neighborhood commercial districts, main streets with local shops, parks, and other types of destinations that do not draw from the entire metro area.

Worskhop participants at each of eight tables were asked to map primary and secondary places in the Baltimore metro area by placing a blue dot over the center of primary places and yellow dots over secondary places. Participants were then asked to identify if places were either "healthy", meaning that they were already relatively pedestrian friendly and walkable, or "have potential" - meaning that they have the potential to become walkable and vibrant if revitalization efforts or other steps are taken to transform them.

Since the workshop, we have been working on conducting an assessment of the place mapping results. As part of the process we have built a geographic information system (GIS) database, or digital map, of the place mapping. We have also built a Google Map of the place map results, which can be seen by clicking here.

The map includes places that were identified by at least 3 or more of the 8 tables. In cases where a place was identified as both primary and secondary by different tables, the dominant category was used. There were a handful of cases where a place was identified equally in both categories. In those cases, we used our judgment and knowledge of the region on how to classify each on the Google map.

The GIS maps shown below illustrate the number of  times that places were selected as either primary or secondary. The larger the circle, the more tables identified them. Places that were identified by fewer than 3 tables do not appear on this series of maps. Clearly, there are places that did not make it onto the maps that should be added. Those did not appear because they were either not identified by enough tables or they were not identified by any table. We would like input on places which should be added in order to gain a high level of confidence that the list is comprehensive.

Secondary Places
Primary Places

Generating a comprehensive list of primary and secondary places is the first step in identifying where 20-minute neighborhoods are located, as well as places which are not 20-minute neighborhoods themselves, but are destinations that can serve 20-minute neighborhoods.

Soon, we will be rolling out the next step in the analysis, which is to look at the Walkscore and Transitscore of select Primary and Secondary places. This will help further identify elements of the 20-minute neighborhood framework and another step in determining how those places could be better connected by transit and bike facilities.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Green Bike Lanes Arriving in Baltimore

There's a welcome new change in downtown Baltimore: Green bike lanes. Not only are these bike lanes "green" from an environmental and sustainability standpoint, but also green in the literal sense. As reported in B'more Bikes, The Baltimore City Department of Transportation (BDOT) has begun painting bike lanes on President Street as part of the final element in the Southeast Bicycle Network. 

New green bike lane looking South on President Street

Painting the bike lanes green helps increase the visibility of the bike lanes and are intended to increase motorists' awareness of the lanes and cyclists that use them.

Looking north on President Street
By creating a bike lane network that is more visible to drivers and cyclists, Baltimore is continuing to create a more bike-friendly city. The solid color bike lane markings are a relatively low-cost but significant step in encouraging more bicycle usage. 

Colored bicycled lanes, whether green, blue, or red have been increasingly popular in other places throughout the U.S. and in Europe (see examples below).

We hope that BDOT will continue converting existing bike lanes to green bike lanes and include the solid green paint scheme on new bike lanes that are subsequently installed. This will help reinforce the idea of visually connecting walkable places with bicycle and transit infrastructure. This ties in perfectly with the 20-Minute Neighborhood concept.

Just imagine being able to bicycle from neighborhood to neighborhood (or to transit stops) throughout Baltimore in 5 - 20 minutes along a network of green bike lanes and bike lanes that are physically separated from traffic, depending on the type of road.

With bold, but attainable steps like BDOT is taking, that vision is within reach. Kudos to BDOT pedestrian and bicycle planner Nate Evans and BDOT for their willingness to move Baltimore towards a sustainable transportation future!

New York City


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Next Generation Speaks About 20-Minute Neighborhoods

On a recent field trip to Washington, DC, two of our interns had an opportunity to experience 20-minute neighborhoods in action. Here they share their thoughts about what they learned and how it can apply to Baltimore.

Innovative Bike Infrastructure in Washington D.C.
Mason Campbell, TND Planning Group Intern

Be it Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories, David Byrne’s book Bicycle Diaries, $4.00/gal gas, or maybe the nationwide consciousness about sustainability, it is plain to see that bicycle culture here in America is on the rise. This increased popularity is a great thing, considering Baltimore is going to need a lot more people choosing cycling if it wants to create a network of 20 minute neighborhoods. However, Baltimore also has the responsibility to accommodate this demand on its network of roads which are currently better suited for the Grand Prix than for a commuting cyclist. To see new forms of infrastructure which allow cars, bikes, and pedestrians to safely co-exist, we need look no further than Washington D.C.

Often referred to as “cycle tracks”, these new protected bike lanes offer various types of physical separation from automobiles. One of the new cycle tracks (first installed on 15th Street, NW  in 2009 as a one way “contra-flow” facility, but recently converted to two-way) physically separates cyclists from traffic by placing the bike lane between the curb and a lane of parked cars. The left vehicle lane is marked LEFT TURN YIELD TO BIKE PEDS at intersections to increase driver awareness of cyclists. This type of cycle track adds an immense amount of physical as well as perceived safety to a bike rider. Recent studies have shown a dramatic decrease in traffic accidents involving cyclists and an overall reduction in vehicle speeds along 15th Street, NW. All this comes to the District at the cost of paint, signage, and plastic bollards.

The second type of cycle track was implemented last year on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is located in the median, where one would expect to see a double yellow line. While there is no lane of parked cars here, plastic flex-post bollards and 2-foot painted buffers separate cyclists from traffic. Being situated in the median provides ease to cyclists turning left because they avoid crossing two directions of traffic.
These types of cycle tracks provide attractive bike infrastructure that is relatively inexpensive to implement and easy to experiment with, in hopes of increasing bike ridership.

In addition to a growing network of innovative bike lanes, D.C. also boasts the Capital Bikeshare Program. For an annual or daily membership fee anyone can rent one of 1100 bikes and return it to one of 110 stations around the District. Not only does this provide accessibility to non-bike owners but it provides a convenient alternative to driving a car without having to plan one’s day around safely storing a bike. 

From cycle tracks to bike-sharing, The District is recognizing its growing two wheeled population. It is continuing to designate space for encouraging cycling while improving safety, equitability, and convenience for riders. With even more stations being built, it appears that D.C.’s bike accommodation has also acted as a promotion, with more people choosing cycling every day. 

Using D.C. as a model, Baltimore can foster it’s cycling community by making similar improvements. Baltimore City has recently started investigating the feasibility of implementing cycle tracks and a bike-sharing program, and it would be great to see those things move forward in the near future, Hopefully this trend will continue and other municipalities in the Baltimore region will begin taking similar steps to putting us on a path toward a sustainable transportation future.

Discovering Livable Communities
by Jesus Cuellar, TND Planning Group Intern

Livable communities don’t just happen. Stakeholders must be vested in their communities to ensure a sustainable environment for generations to come. What is more, special attention must be given to the development of a public realm that provides cohesiveness and creates an environment that is healthy, welcoming, diverse, and accessible. Having recently visited Columbia Heights in Washington, DC, I was able to experience firsthand a community that has undergone a gradual transformation to become a destination with a distinguished sense of place.

Despite the threatening weather, there was a reason to be out and about in Columbia Heights. The availability, proximity and mix of uses afforded an opportunity to become actively engaged. Storefronts located near wide sidewalks distracted pedestrians and created a human scale that was intimate. Furthermore, the absence of expansive parking lots and wide roads encouraged individuals to move about freely without the necessity of a car.

Upon exiting the Columbia Heights Metro Station, I was impressed by the quantity and diversity of people. Not only was there a mix between age groups and ethnicities, but there was also a variety of activities taking place. Most people were walking, while others were jogging, riding bicycles, waiting for the bus and sitting. While not saturated with people, the surroundings provided sufficient stimulus to keep your eyes wandering.

A few steps away from the bustling plaza we encountered the densely packed residential homes that existed prior to the area’s transformation. The seamless connection between the community’s past and the current retail options that surround the main plaza has contributed to its success. Residents develop a sense of ownership to convenient services centered in their community and within waking distance.

Making our way towards the main plaza, we encountered people interacting with each other and the built environment. People shopped. They walked into residential complexes. They read books. They laughed without restraint. They ate food and enjoyed coffee. They converted the concrete sidewalks and brick buildings into a breathing and living space.

As we rented a bicycle near the main plaza to explore other areas of Washington DC, I remained distracted with the liveliness of Columbia Heights, but I was also intrigued with what it could become and what other cities like Baltimore could learn from it. Columbia Heights is a destination for many, but stakeholders cannot stop there. Stakeholders must adapt to future changes to aid in the creation of sustainable communities that support diversity, promote accessibility and foster growth. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

20-Minute Neighborhood Workshop: What have we learned so far?

We've been busy working on summarizing the input received from the 20-Minute Neighborhood Workshop event, held in April, and want to share what we've learned so far.

The workshop began with several presentations that provided context and understanding of some basic concepts for how Baltimore can leverage the 20-minute neighborhood concept by connecting walkable places by transit, biking, and car-sharing. After the presentations, the participants began working in small groups on two exercises.

At the beginning of the first exercise, each group was given a choice of working at one of two scales: One base map included the "urban core", or the area roughly contained within the Baltimore Beltway. The second base map included a larger area that comprises much of the suburban jurisdictions in the Baltimore region.

For reference, both maps included Baltimore's "frequent" transit services, or those services that run at a frequency of 15 minutes or better throughout the day. This includes the Metro Subway, Central Light Rail Line, the four QuickBus routes, and the Charm City Circulator. There were eight tables of participants and they all opted to work with the urban core map rather than the regional map.

In the first exercise, participants were instructed to identify places with color coded dots. Places were either identified as "primary" (major destinations of regional significance) with a large blue dot, or "secondary" (local or sub-regional destinations or neighborhoods) with a large yellow dot. Participants were asked to only identify places that were relatively walkable or had the potential to be walkable or vibrant. After placing the large dots, participants went back and placed either a small green dot over the large dots to signify if the place was currently walkable, and a small red to signify that it had potential to become walkable.

In the second exercise, participants were instructed to add color coded tape that represented primary and secondary transit and bicycle routes that connected the places they identified to each other and to other parts of the city or metro area. The wide tape represented primary transit or bicycle routes and narrow tape represented secondary primary transit or bicycle routes. Each table had different color tape so transit and bikes were distinguished in a legend added after the workshop.

Below are images of each group's map from the workshop.

A synopsis of common ideas and themes that appeared at two or more of the tables at the workshop are as follows:

  • Primary bicycle routes connecting all major parks. (5 tables)
  • A primary transit along Cold Spring Lane that connects radial primary transit routes. (4 tables)
  • Improve transit user-friendliness through better customer info, website, and smartphone applications. (4 tables)
  • A primary transit route connecting Fells Point to Downtown. (4 tables)
  • Develop bicycle infrastructure that follows major transit corridors. (3 tables)
  • A primary bicycle route connecting primary transit routes. (3 tables)
  • A primary transit route along North Avenue to connect primary radial transit routes. (3 tables)
  • A primary transit route on the Harford Road corridor. (3 tables)
  • A primary bicycle route from Towson to the Inner Harbor. (2 tables)
  • A primary transit route on the Charles Street corridor. (2 tables)
  • A primary transit route along Northern Parkway to connect primary radial transit routes. (2 tables)
  • A primary transit route to serve Dundalk. (2 tables)
  • A primary transit route along the Baltimore Beltway to connect primary radial routes. (2 tables)
  •  Secondary bicycle routes to connect secondary places (2 tables)
  • Secondary transit routes to fill gaps between primary transit routes (2 tables)
From here, we'd like to get feedback on what ideas have merit, which don't and why. Plus what ideas are not here that should be added. Also, where is the low hanging fruit?

We're particularly interested in ideas that could be implemented relatively quickly and inexpensively, and could start to make an impact - the most bang for the buck. Also, what ideas are good, but would be difficult to implement and why?

Over the coming weeks, we'll begin to evaluate the ideas as part of the vetting process and start to put together a number of conceptual proposals for comment here.

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