Wednesday, December 20, 2017

My report on Maryland transportation performance measures is out

I’m pleased to say that my report on Maryland transportation performance measures is now available here.
This is work that I have done for 1,000 Friends of Maryland and the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, two excellent nonprofit advocacy groups that have been leading the struggle to defend and improve good transportation decision-making in the state.
The back story (very condensed) is that as a result of the last gubernatorial election, Maryland transportation and land use decision-making took one of its periodic steps backward (elections have consequences!).  The Legislature, with outside leadership supplied by 1,000 Friends and CMTA, enacted a law requiring a quantitative, transparent project selection process for transportation capacity increase projects as a way of preventing too much slippage.  The law specified a set of goals and performance measures and directed the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to adopt implementing regulations.  MDOT said – rather incredibly – that these performance measures were too difficult to implement.  As part of the ensuing hullabaloo (you don’t want to know all the details), I was brought on board to demonstrate that implementing these performance measures is, in fact, very doable.  Hence, the current report, which is an expanded version of legislative testimony submitted previously by 1,000 Friends and CMTA.
The report reviews each of the statutory performance measures and identifies best practices which MDOT can bring in to implement the law.  (Interestingly, MDOT is now circulating a draft report that aims at getting back in the game.)

This controversy is not over, but I think the takeway is that advocacy groups, if they stay focused and bring in expert help, can hold agencies to a higher standard.  DOTs do better when they have energetic, well-informed, and well-equipped groups engaging with them.

Monday, December 11, 2017

York PA takes the prize!

One of the many good things the advocacy group “10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania” does is to hand out annual “Commonwealth Awards” recognizing the state’s best Smart Growth developments (full disclosure: 10,000 Friends is a client of mine).
This year’s awards celebrated the great stuff happening in York PA.
York is a mid-size city (~40,000 city, ~100,000 metro) with an industrial past, urban texture, lots of empty rustbelt-type buildings, AND several dynamic and successful redevelopment schemes.  The awards ceremony testified to the vitality of public-sector, developer, and nonprofit initiatives.
The full list of awardees will be posted on the 10,000Friends website, but here are some of my personal favorites:
·      York College has restored and renovated a classic townhouse (the former Lafayette Club) in the center of the city to serve as the college’s “downtown foothold,” housing its community engagement center and various town/gown programs.
·      Warehaus” – an “interdisciplinary design firm with deep industrial roots” – has renovated an old plumbing supply warehouse into a modern, LEED-platinum, industrial-style headquarters, complete with ground-level commercial development.
·      Another old industrial site – the Keystone ColorWorks – is being transformed into a residential site, with 29 high-end, loft-style units, complete with a fitness center and a green rooftop deck overlooking the Codorus Creek.
·      The “Think Loud” development – in another industrial setting – includes a world-class recording studio (home to the York rock band LIVE) and space for startups.
·      The big award winner was the “Royal SquareDistrict,” a four-block area transformed by RSDC developers into a mixed-use neighborhood with art galleries, restaurants (including a space for popup restaurants), shops, a brewpub, and a wedding and event venue.

Congrats to York for its many successful redevelopment schemes – and to 10,000 Friends for spotlighting them!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Thanks Dru!

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland for 19 years, has decided to move on.  A big loss for them, but hopefully a big gain for someone else in the Smart Growth and Transportation Reform world!  (Full disclosure: 1,000 Friends is a client of mine)
Dru’s many accomplishments are summarized in a good story from the Bay Journal (here).  For me, Dru’s work demonstrates that smart, thorough, persistent work can make a big difference.  As the article indicates, she has been a fixture at the Maryland legislature, continually educating and working for better outcomes.  Obviously she couldn’t single-handedly prevent all the nuttiness that happens in a legislative setting, but she made a huge difference.  Her work also reminds us that the state legislatures are more than even the front lines in the struggle for smarter growth, smarter planning, and smarter transportation.  And her example should reinvigorate all of us that work at the state level.

Thanks Dru!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tesla rolls out its electric truck

Elon Musk has rolled out the Tesla electric semi-truck and – no surprise – it’s supercool.
This baby is streamlined, loaded with safety and automation features, able to travel 500 miles fully-loaded on a single charge, and capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 20 seconds (also fully-loaded).
Will the Tesla truck actually reach production and be competitive with diesel rigs?  Predictions differ.  What is important, in my view, is that serious manufacturers are vigorously pursuing electric power (Daimler, VW, and Cummins are also in the fray).  Decarbonizing the freight sector is a challenge, and frankly one that many of my “freighty” friends don’t yet take seriously.  Yet it has to happen, and the sooner the better.  (Next stop, hydrogen fuel cell locomotives?)

Thanks to Elon Musk for showcasing this critical new technology!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Still crashing after all these years (the Can Opener Bridge)

Call it schadenfreude or voyeurism or something else, but it’s hard to resist watching the videos of truck after truck crashing into the low railroad overpass in Durham, North Carolina, captured for posterity on the amazing website
For those who haven’t watched, the website has two fixed cameras that record the occurrence of trucks failing to obey the flashing lights and clearly posted height limit and slicing off the top of their truck and/or getting stuck by running straight into the bridge.  This happens on average about once a month.  A lot of the trucks seem to be rentals, so I guess that unfamiliarity with the vehicle is some sort of excuse (although when I’m in a rented vehicle I tend to be super-cautious and observant).

I don’t know what lessons can be drawn from this crazy place, but it sure reminds us that the human element is always unpredictable.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Extreme fast chargers for electric vehicles – New report on how to get there

Following on the heels of the Department of Energy report on how to implement a network of Fast Chargers for electric vehicles in this country (see my posting here), the agency has published a new study detailing the research and development needed to get to the next generation of chargers: Extreme Fast Chargers (Enabling Fast Charging: A Technology Gap Assessment, available here).
The authors define Extreme Fast Charging as technology that would charge an EV in less than 10 minutes with enough “juice” to go 200 miles.  This rate of charging (roughly 20 miles of range for every minute of charging) is far better than the current best technology (Tesla Superchargers can give you up to 5.6 miles per minute).  At this rate, long-distance EV travel would no longer impose a time penalty, compared to internal combustion vehicles.  And we Americans do obsess about our time!
As you might expect, there are lots of engineering problems involved in designing and deploying an Extreme Fast Charging system.  The report lays out all the problems in detail (be prepared to go deep into the scratchy weeds) with a focus on batteries, vehicles, and infrastructure. 
With regard to infrastructure – my usual space – the report says that “there is a distinct need to understand how fast charging up to 400 kW will impact the electrical grid, the design of EVSE [chargers], impacts brought by demand charges, and XFC-related infrastructure costs.”  In other words, plenty of R&D work to be done.
Is it worth it?  The authors note that the deployment of DC Fast Chargers (no one has convincingly explained to me why we can’t call these Level 3 chargers) has already had effects on EV travel: “With the emergence of DCFC (up to 50-kW) capability for Nissan Leafs, it has been observed that longer range trips using BEVs have occurred in the northwestern portion of the United States. The ability to use DCFC for longer trips, combined with automotive manufacturers producing a greater number of BEVs with range above 100 miles, closes the ‘range anxiety’ gap that exists between ICEVs and BEVs.”

Lots of room for TRB papers!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Yes, you can kill bad highway projects: I-94 widening in Milwaukee bites the dust

Sometimes a highway project is so bad you wonder why it keeps going.  Institutional inertia?  Sunk cost fallacy?  Inability to think of solutions outside the covers of the AASHTO Green Book?  (In my old agency, the saying was that no project is dead until it’s built!)
I am happy to report, as a member of the supporting cast in the drama, that the proposed widening of I-94 in the East-West Corridor of Milwaukee has been stopped (story here).  The proximate cause is no funding.  The deeper cause is that it was a project that would have caused far more damage – at a huge cost – than any benefit it might have brought, and consequently stirred up a vigorous opposition.  Really, folks, crashing a freeway widening through the middle of a city is no longer considered a responsible way to promote mobility and accessibility.
Now, I-94 has plenty of physical condition and geometric problems and Milwaukee’s East-West Corridor is definitely congested.  And in fact the team opposing the widening, led by WISPIRG, proposed a very responsible alternative, based on a paper I did entitled “The Rehab/Transit Option: A Better Solution for Milwaukee’s East-West Corridor” (available here).  As the name implies, the recommendation is to fix the physical condition problems and isolated safety problems on I-94, while beginning to invest heavily in transit in the corridor.  Milwaukee is one of the largest cities in the U. S. with no rapid transit.  Time to reboot!
FYI, my other reports on the subject addressed the problems on I-94 (“WisDOT’s East-West Corridor Project:  20th century solutions to 21st century problems”) and the economic development potential that first-rate transit can unlock at major activity centers in the corridor (“Milwaukee’s Corridor to the Future:  Creating a new paradigm for transportation and development in the 21st century”).

Congrats to WISPIRG and all the coalition members for stopping a bad project.  Lots more work to do to get the right solution going!

Monday, October 23, 2017

All transit lines (?) lead to Rome

If you were to make a big Venn diagram with fans of transit maps in one big bubble and followers of ancient history in another big bubble, I’m not sure how big the intersecting space would be.  But I’m in it!  And gathering from the response to Sasha Trubetskoy’s transit-style map of the main roads of the Roman Empire, there are quite a few of us!
You can see Sasha’s original posting here, with review in CityLab here and Cameron Booth’s Transit Maps site (he gives it four stars – not an easy achievement!) here.  It’s proven so popular that he’s added a more detailed “transit map” of Roman Road in Britain (here).
Sasha notes that he had to “take some liberties” to make this work, but partially that’s a matter of combining a diagrammatic layout with a geographic one.
My only nerdy quibble: the sea connection between Brundisium and Dyrrachium,  a key link between east and west and between Italy and the Via Egnatia, should be shorter.

And yes, you can order a copy.

New study: EV Fast Charging Corridors within reach

A major new study from the US Department of Energy finds that installing Fast Chargers for Electric Vehicles at frequent intervals on the Interstate Highway System is eminently feasible and could have a great impact in accelerating EV adoption (National Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Analysis, available here).
The authors say – and I agree – that long-distance travel has been a critical barrier to EV adoption, because people who travel long distances often, or even occasionally, are worried about running out of juice.  The obvious answer, although not universally agreed, is “providing access to an extensive and convenient network of DCFC [Fast Charger] stations along corridors that enable reliable long-distance intercity travel.”
The good news is that “wiring” the Interstate is not that much of a stretch: “Results suggest that relatively few corridor DCFC stations could enable long-distance BEV [battery-only electric vehicle] travel between U. S. cities, where vehicles are concentrated.  Under most scenarios, the number of required stations is similar to the number of DCFC stations already established by Tesla or the number planned by Electrify America within the next two years.”

Electrifying the Interstate with Fast Chargers can make a big difference, and according to this new study is readily attainable.  Folks, we need to make this happen.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

UK: Accelerating the Shift to Low Carbon Transport

Not long after I commented on plans in England (here) and Scotland (here) to advance the electrification of the transportation system, the central (UK) government has put out a report covering much of the same ground.  The report (news story here, link to text here) is actually much broader in scope, detailing a laundry list of initiatives to advance “clean growth” and meet statutory targets for controlling greenhouse gas emissions.
The transportation section – “Accelerating the Shift to Low Carbon Transport” – doesn’t offer much that is new.  But it is useful in reminding us of the commitment of the UK government – a Conservative government – to major GHG reductions.
Some highlights of the transportation policies and proposals list:
·      Reiterates the commitment to ending the sale of conventional gasoline and diesel cars by 2040,
·      Allocates funding to support the Highways England goal of installing EV rapid chargers at 20-mile intervals on 95% of the strategic highway network,
·      Advocates legislation to require new charging stations to be “smart enabled” to encourage off-peak charging,
·      Funds development and implementation of Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans,
·      Establishes subsidies for alternative fuel taxis, and
·      Supports research and development of alternative fuel propulsion for heavy trucks, trains, and airplanes.

Oh, and did I mention this is the policy of a Conservative government?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

New England Villages: Guilford CT

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Guilford CT is a town of some 22,000 people, about 15 miles east of New Haven, on I-95 and Shore Line East.  It isn’t really a village, but it does have one asset that many people in Connecticut view as the epitome of a New England village – a magnificent green.

Now as people who have studied New England village greens will tell you (especially see the definitive book on the subject: The New England Village (Creating the North American Landscape) by Joseph Wood, available here) they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  The Guilford green is notable for being big (nearly 12 acres) and rectangular.  It is mainly open space (used as an outdoor concert venue), with only a few monuments – the main one a handsome Civil War monument dedicated to the men of Guilford who died in the war.  The streets bounding the green are home to churches, the town hall, private homes, and a nice business district of small shops.  The look and function of the town green have changed over the nearly four centuries it has been in use (see an interesting history here), but it has continued to be the iconic center of town and by serving as a sort of archetype of the town green it has shared its symbolic value with other New Englanders.

New England Villages: Chester CT

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Chester CT is a town of about 3700 (1500 in the center), some 12 miles north of Old Saybrook, in the Connecticut River Valley.  The village center is notable mainly for its collection of art galleries, craft shops, and boutiques along Main Street in the valley of the Pattaconk Brook.  It’s about a 20-minute drive to the Old Saybrook train station on the growing Shore Line East commuter rail line (there is also a bus, which takes twice as long, with two-hour headways).

Chester may not have much to teach us about village form, but it definitely shows that the right, picturesque setting can attract a vibrant arts community and the tourists that that brings.  What economists call the “agglomeration” effect can be seen in villages as well as cities.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

New England Villages: Storrs Center CT

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.

I have written about the Storrs Center “new town” project in Mansfield CT a number of times, most recently when the town was officially built out (here).  The very short version is that a new, village-like, mixed-use development has been built across the street from the University of Connecticut campus in rural eastern Connecticut.  Now having had a chance to revisit Storrs, I have to say that using my eyeballs and legs confirmed what I had seen online.  It is a first-rate piece of urban design, with human-scale architecture, a great mix of activities (including the only state puppet museum in the US!), and a welcoming vibe.  Storrs is a great working model that I – and I’m sure others – will continue to follow closely in the years to come.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

New England Villages: Storrowton Village Museum

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Storrowton Village is a recreated village, located on the grounds of the “Big E” exposition in West Springfield MA.  It was created in the 1920s by philanthropist Helen Storrow, who organized and funded the purchase of nine historic New England buildings, dated from the late 18th and early 19th century, and their relocation to the fairgrounds, where they stand today as a living history museum.  Her intent, as stated in the museum’s current literature, was to recreate “a village such as our forefathers built on hills, crossroads and along rivers. Although Storrowton’s buildings come from different states and are of different periods of construction, together they form a typical New England Village and include a Meeting House, Schoolhouse, General Store, Blacksmith Shop, Tavern, Law Office and historic homes all surrounding a traditional village green.”
The museum is at its most active during the Big E fair (in 2017 from September 15 – October 1), but also hosts educational programs for children and a year-round restaurant (Storrowton Tavern).  (See the museum’s website here.
So what does Storrowton Village teach us about the possibility of a 21st Century “New” New England Village?  It displays, in three dimensions, the archetypes of ideal village buildings and, to a lesser extent, the archetype of a village layout (around a very geometric “green”).  These archetypes resonate over time and are powerful still.

If you like fairs (especially if you have younger kids), the Big E (website here) is terrific.  The Storrowton Village Museum is worth a visit any time you are in western Massachusetts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New England Villages: Collinsville CT

As noted in a recent post, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Collinsville CT is a classic New England mill village, located in the town of Canton, in the lovely Farmington River Valley, about 15 miles west of Hartford.  Canton has a   population of about 10,000, while the Collinsville census area has about 2,700.
Collinsville was a “company town” serving the Collins Axe Company, which finally went out of business in 1966.  The village has survived and even thrived.  To quote the town’s master plan:  “The business district of Collinsville is a wonderful mix of small retail shops, quasi‐industrial service businesses, restaurants, offices, arts culture, and residential units.  The residential housing includes single family houses, two family units, multi‐unit residential buildings, and residential housing above business establishments.  Most of the area is very pedestrian friendly. In many respects, Collinsville represents the mixed‐use vision that many communities are looking to re‐create in their own village centers.”

So, Collinsville has a lot of the ingredients we are looking for in a 21st-century New England village.  What it could really us now is redevelopment of the beautiful (but dilapidated) mill buildings.  There are some antique shops there now, but one can envision loft housing, incubator businesses, craft shops, etc.  Know any buyers/developers?