How to refresh a bus system to better serve a city
OPTIONS OPPORTUNITYPlanning transportation around commuter patterns, community input, and accessibility can provide better, more useful service to riders.
Transit in the Baltimore region as offered by the Maryland Transit Administration has essentially been an ongoing expansion project since the inception of streetcar services in the late 19th century.
While there have been efforts to update the bus network, as well as the overall transit system, neither the city nor state has ever implemented a single comprehensive vision of how the region’s transit should operate. Instead, portions of prior planning efforts have been placed into service, creating the unbalanced system, which Baltimore residents and workers have struggled to rely upon for generations.
But new plans from MTA hope to re-align Baltimore buses so they serve, with greater accuracy, where people now live, work, and want to go.
What we do know is that many of the existing bus routes are too long, operate along the same corridors downtown and are not scheduled with dependable running times. Many of these routes, in fact, still follow similar alignments of those century-old streetcar routes. This has led to bus bunching across the system (which groups buses into irregular intervals and causes delays), modal connectivity issues, and an on-time performance of 84 percent, well below desired levels.
Ultimately, the system is unreliable and has been losing passengers at a steady rate over the past decade. According to the National Transit Database, MTA provided service to 45.8 passengers per revenue hour in fiscal year 2004, while only to 38.3 passengers per revenue hour in fiscal year 2013.
To stop this trend, the MTA approached the consulting teams of Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning and Jacobs Engineering to develop a comprehensive transit vision, previously lacking in the region. This new transit vision, entitled BaltimoreLink, would consider both the operations of bus service at the individual route level and within the big picture of Baltimore transit.
The project began with an inclusive analysis of MTA’s existing services and the demographic profile in which they operate, including the use of Foursquare ITP’s proprietary transit propensity index. The index, used in various Foursquare ITP service planning and vision projects, details the likelihood of transit use in any given area for transit dependent and commuting populations in terms of trip origins and destinations, respectively. Next, MTA led a public outreach effort with Foursquare ITP’s support, gathering detailed feedback on users’ experiences and their aspirations for transit improvements and expansions in the region. This outreach consisted of public workshops, “pop-up” events, stakeholder meetings, operator feedback, and a robust online crowdsourcing and social-media component. The campaign collected more than 1,500 comments to be considered during the creation of the new system.
Based on the poor performance of the current system and the chief issues revealed through public outreach (e.g., system-wide reliability issues and missing crosstown connections), MTA and its consulting team have presented BaltimoreLink as a plan to reinvigorate how transit is offered and used in Baltimore. The backbone of this plan will be the CityLink – a high-frequency, higher-speed bus service that will provide radial service into and from downtown Baltimore along 12 transit corridors.
In the downtown, these 12 routes will be distributed throughout a new grid network to alleviate bus congestion and ensure that riders traveling there can make connections with only one transfer. These routes will be complimented by the LocalLink network, which consists of expanded crosstown services providing additional suburban-suburban connections, and feeder routes that will create greater transit coverage across the region.
BaltimoreLink is currently undergoing another round of public outreach, asking community members to respond to and evaluate the BaltimoreLink draft plan. Modifications and adjustments will be made through careful consideration of public input, with an updated plan to be released by mid-2016.
As the new system will take time for MTA riders to adjust to, a six-month User Education Program will begin in early 2017 to help riders new and seasoned find their way through the system. Upon BaltimoreLink’s full implementation in mid-2017, transit riders in Baltimore should find themselves with better access to a more efficient bus system that takes them where they want to go.
Photo: Passengers boarding a current MTA bus in Baltimore (Elliott Margolies, Flickr, Creative Commons).