America can learn from this French city’s complete streets

Strasbourg, France is a beautiful city that takes its complete streets to heart. The roads through the old (and new) city gracefully mix street trams/lightrail with bicycle paths and friendly traffic calmed streets. Pedestrians move easily. Its central intercity train station is housed in a glamorous historic building, sheathed in a chic modern glass shell.

Gare de Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s central railway station. Photo by Cha Gia Jose on flickr

My family moved to Strasbourg when I was 12.  In French school, I comprehended little, and regularly escaped the gates of Le Lycée International des Pontonniers to explore the city by foot and public transportation.  It was liberating to take my lunch money and spend it in boulangeries around town or even into Germany across the Rhine River.  My parents thought I was in school and I may not have been in the country!

Given the quality of its infrastructure, it would be easy to think the French city is quite large. In fact, Strasbourg is a metro area with a population the size of Albany, Little Rock, Colorado Springs and would rank 73rd in US metro size behind Columbia, SC.

6 tramway lines ply this small city

The Strasbourg metropolitan area of 760,000 people is served by six tram lines, 56km (36 miles) of track, 72 stations, and daily ridership of 300,000 (2010) No US city near this size, has this kind of rail system. During the day, trams run every 6 minutes  (M-F), 7 minutes frequency on Saturday and 12 minutes on Sundays. Yearly passes are 456 euros ($620 dollars) with discounts for those over 65 and under 25. Single fare is 1.60 Euro. ($2.18)

Crossing the L'ILL

Tram gliding through town. Photo by Gerry Balding on flickr

(Strasbourg’s trams function as a hybrid of US Street cars and US Light rail. The rail vehicles are similar to streetcars because they are mostly in the roadbed and integrate into the city’s fabric, but unlike streetcars, operate with their own right of way separate from traffic, in this regard more like light rail.)

Bicycle infrastructure abounds

To complement the tram system, Strasbourg has almost 500km (311 miles) of cycling paths, 18,000 bike racks that serve over 130,000 cyclists. Secure bike parking lots and tire inflation facilities are available at bus and tram stops for transit card holders.

Watch Out For Bikes

Streets are for diners and transport of different varieties. Photo by Brisan on flickr

Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and US  far behind Strasbourg

Many US cities have adopted complete street ordinances and individual streets have been retrofitted.  Close by, Baltimore County has been recognized as a national leader for Complete Streets.  Baltimore County ranked 6th among 83 communities in the US with Complete Streets programs. Despite this recognition, the County’s on road bike network is minimal, members of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee are agitated at the lack of commitment to projects, the county has missed the mark on its pedestrian safety campaign, and now it’s county executive struggles to find a $50 million contribution for the $2.4 billion Red Line his administration says it supports.

Future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County

Future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County

In Baltimore City, Council Bill 09-0433 was adopted in 2010 directing the Departments of Transportation and Planning to apply “Complete Streets” principles to the planning, design, and construction of all new City transportation improvement projects.

Despite the accolades and the policies, “complete streets” in Baltimore County and Baltimore City still feel foreign. On the ground implementation remains the elusive prize. High incidences of tragic pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crashes are more associated with user error than engineering design. Complete Street advocates look forward to seeing first rate projects in the city and the suburbs get designed, funded and become reality. In the meantime, please enjoy a few photos of a “complete streets” city that I used to roam.

Similar article crossposted on Greater Greater Washington

Strasbourg urban “complete streets” gallery

(All gallery images from google street view)

This gallery depicts regular infrastructure treatments in the heart of the city that help create a safe and user friendly balance of transportation options.

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Strasbourg suburban “complete streets” gallery

Strasbourg’s outer areas have also built extensive infrastructure to serve multiple types of transportation and keep vehicles at safer speeds.

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Steps toward making Druid Hill Park a better city park

Part I- An urban park won’t succeed with suburban edges

The Friends of Druid Hill Park have successfully have helped bring music, a farmers market, art projects, and other events to the park and made it a more active destination. These actions have gone a long way toward improving Druid Hill, but fixing the park’s urban design flaws would make their job much easier.

The Druid Hill Park Master Plan from 1995 identifies the problem with the roadways on the perimeter.

“The Jones Falls Expressway and Druid Park Lake Drive claimed parts of Druid Hill, on the south and east edges, for enlarged, high-speed commuter corridors. The construction of these two arteries caused the loss of the Mount Royal entrance and the park frontage drive. The enlarged Druid Park Lake Drive separated the surrounding neighborhoods from the park, compromised the function of the park roadways and walkways on the south and west edges of the park, and altered the quiet ambiance of the lake edge. The most offensive symbol of these projects is found on Madison Avenue, where the grand entry arches stand in isolation from the park.”

The Jones Falls Expressway is not going to be changed anytime any time soon. However, Druid Hill Lake Drive and the arterials on the west and north, can be retrofitted if the city’s planners wanted to remake Druid Hill into a more neighborhood-friendly park.

Wide road

This road design is engineered for speed and creates a barrier between help Druid Hill Park and its neighbors.

These roads slice through Druid Hill Park and break the park's edges into incohesive fragments

These roads slice through Druid Hill Park and break the park’s edges into incohesive fragments

Park-adjacent real estate with reservoir views is in bad shape

Park-adjacent real estate with reservoir views is in bad shape

In considering change, city officials should ask themselves, is the road configuration around the park working for neighbors and neighborhoods next to the park? Could the road design be contributing to the economic malaise at edge of the park? If the answer is that the park edge is not working, here are changes that would help.

1) Eliminate the existing wide grassy median arterial road system that divides the park from its neighbors and leaves the park edge fragmented into pieces

2) Introduce an urban street grid on the parks border with regular, frequent, and pedestrian friendly intersections. (Central Park, Patterson Park)

3) If roads do bisect the park, their footprint should shrink to reduce dividing the parkscape into fragments.

4) Put roads on the park edge on a diet and reduce their width. (Patterson Park)

5) Convert traffic lanes on road edges to on-street parking. (Central Park (NYC), Patterson Park)

6) Within eyesight of the people who live on the park’s perimeter, add amenities like community gardens, running/biking trails, playgrounds, tennis courts, dog park, and activity nodes . (Patterson Park)

7) Add food carts or open air places to eat and drink near pedestrian crossings between park and neighborhoods. (Central Park)

8Move the zoo entrance close to the Mondawmin Metro Station and the neighborhood.

JL

crossposted on Sustainable Cities Collective

An urban park won’t succeed with suburban edges

Part II-Steps toward making Druid Hill Park a better city park

A large urban park may be an oasis where the city feels distant, but to succeed, a good large urban park also ties in well with neighborhoods at its borders. New York’s Central Park does this well, as does Patterson Park in Baltimore. Druid Hill Park, to its northwest, does not.

Druid Hill Park edge

The wide roads at the edges of Druid Hill Park break the park into fragments and are a barrier to the adjacent neighborhoods. Images from Google Street View.

The borders of Central Park are clearly defined. Pedestrians easily cross into it and there is food available on three corners.

The borders of Central Park are clearly defined. Pedestrians easily cross into it and there is food available on three corners.

Druid Hill Park was built around the same time as New York’s Central Park. Its beautiful 750 acres offer urban forest, fields, a zoo, a reservoir, and recreation.

However, at its edge, traffic engineers designed a tangle of speedy arterial roads with grassy medians not unlike route 175 that links Columbia, MD with Interstate 95. Unlike sprawling suburban Columbia, Druid Hill Park is surrounded by dense historic neighborhoods filled with row houses and apartments.

Overview of Druid Hill Park

Big roads with fast moving traffic separate Druid Hill Park from adjacent neighborhoods. Image from Google maps.

Many of the people who live nearby do not own cars. The obese hard-to-cross roads do a good job of both being unpleasant for nearby neighbors and creating a barrier to accessing the park. Furthermore, the road slices into the park and leaves the park edges oddly fragmented.

The roads around the park have been engineered for speed to the detriment of nearby residents and families who might want to walk to the neighborhood park.

Compounding the problem, Druid Hill Park’s many amenities, including the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, picnic pavilions, pool, athletic fields and courts, gardens, and playgrounds are buried deep in the center of the park. It is a long walk from the edge of the neighborhoods to the park’s activity centers. To get to anything easily in the park, you have to drive.

Other large urban parks succeed where

Druid Hill’s contemporary, Central Park in New York, did not abandon the urban street grid, and it functions well as both a neighborhood park and a destination.

The same goes for Patterson Park, five miles to the southeast of Druid Hill Park. It has a road network on its edges that work much better. Patterson Park is bordered by heavily trafficked Baltimore Street and Eastern Avenue, but these roads remain true to the urban street grid with regular T-shaped intersections.

All streets are only four lanes, including on-street parking. Traffic travels much slower. Crosswalks are more frequent. Neighbors can see ball fields, playgrounds, people enjoying the park right from their bedroom windows.

Patterson Park is much more intimate with its neighborhoods on all four sides. This design difference helps make Patterson Park, far more interwoven into the daily lives of the residents in the blocks across the street.

edge of Patterson Park

In Patterson Park, the activities in the park are easily viewed from bedroom windows, traffic slow, and the roads are easily crossable. Photo by author.

Design is psychology

Happy City author Charles Montgomery writes, “Cities that care about livability have got to start paying attention to the psychological effect that traffic has on the experience of public space.” He explains that humans get anxious when speeds increase, because we know our bones cannot withstand a crash at more than 20 mph.

This makes places like the swift roads dividing Druid Hill Park with the neighborhoods of Reservoir Hill, Parkview, Liberty Square, and Park Circle unhappy places. It may also help explain why these neighborhoods’ park-front real estate is so weak.

In 2010, Gerald Neily, writing in the Baltimore Brew, made some of the arguments made in this post. Since that time, very little has changed.

Cities and neighborhoods always have to evolve to prosper. The southern, western, and northern edge of Druid Hill Park are not working. The evidence is as clear as the vacant buildings and lots on the park’s edge. New York’s Central Park and Baltimore’s Patterson Park can give direction on how to design the edge of a park in an urban setting. Druid Hill Park has unrealized potential to be a much better urban park. Retrofitting its suburban design will help. Here is a list to focus on.

JL

crossposted on Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

The National Zoo and DC Metro fit together, So could Baltimore’s Zoo and its Metro (but they don’t)

While Washington has a Metro stop with “Zoo” in its name, the Metro subway in Baltimore and its zoo appear to ignore each other.

Underutilized open space between the Mondawmin Metro Station and the (Baltimore) Zoo entrance. Image from Google maps.

Underutilized open space between the Mondawmin Metro Station and the (Baltimore) Zoo entrance. Image from Google maps.

At the nearby Mondawmin Metro stop, there is scant evidence the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore (Baltimore Zoo) even exists. At the zoo, there’s little mention of the subway. Meanwhile, the Washington Metro, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and nearby commercial retailers have a symbiotic relationship.

The Woodley Park/Zoo Metro station and the National Zoo are the same distance as the Baltimore zoo entrance and its nearest subway station, 0.4 miles or a 9 minute walk.

metro to zoo

Image from Google maps.

The zoo could be even closer to the Metro

The Baltimore Zoo is tucked away inside a park, Druid Hill Park. Unlike in DC, where the National Zoo’s entrance is right on Connecticut Avenue, the Baltimore Zoo entrance isn’t at the edge of the park. If architects designed a gateway closer to the station, or even across the street on the grounds of the beautifully renovated Parks and People Headquarters, it would create a stronger connection.

The station could reflect the zoo

Renaming the Mondawmin Station the Mondawmin/Zoo Station is an easy fix. Even bolder would be a zoo inspired interior/exterior design competition for the gloomy station. Baltimore’s Red Line light rail planners are currently seeking qualifications from artists for design projects for its stations. The subway’s stations could use some fresh design, too.

Better designed and safer pedestrian crossings would also help integrate the station, the Zoo, and Druid Hill Park. Auchentrolley Terrace is the size of an interstate and should shrink by multiple lanes.

In Baltimore, lots of open space exists between the Mondawmin Station entrance (left) and the hidden (Baltimore) zoo entrance (right). All photos by author.

In Baltimore, lots of open space exists between the Mondawmin Station entrance (left) and the hidden (Baltimore) zoo entrance (right). All photos by author.

In Washington, transit and the zoo integrate into the city.

In Washington, transit and the zoo integrate into the city.

The zoo could boost the Metro brand

The zoo in Baltimore has plenty of parking and most patrons arrive by car. Integrating the subway and the zoo won’t change this. What can change is the perception that the areas around the Baltimore subway stations never change and that the subway has few destinations at its stations.

Taxpayers have invested $1.3 billion in Baltimore’s Metro Subway. One of the valid complaints about the subway is that it does not serve enough places that people want to go. For the subway to attract new ridership and development at its stations, it needs to build its brand. By increasing the destinations it serves and refreshing its stations, Baltimore citizens and investors, may look at the line in a new way.

The new Social Security complex, potentially a State Center transit oriented development, a revitalized west-side, and an enhanced zoo stop would add momentum for the subway.

A connection could help businesses

The Baltimore Zoo draws almost 375,000 people who spend $10.8 million each year, according to a 2011 study. Linking the Baltimore subway with the zoo will not turn Auchentrolley Terrace into Connecticut Avenue overnight. But by integrating the zoo with the station and its neighborhood, there is more economic spin-off potential than with its current isolated location. It is not hard to imagine businesses that benefit from hungry or thirsty zoo visitors opening near the subway and zoo entrances.

Connecticut Avenue

In Washington, Connecticut Avenue has vibrant retail between the zoo and the subway entrance.

According to American Public Transportation Association, forty-nine million vacationers will use public transportation to sight see. Car-less Inner Harbor tourists in Baltimore and downtown residents might be tempted to take the subway from Charles Center to visit the zoo or seek the green space of Druid Hill Park, especially if they could grab a nice lunch near the station.

When the Baltimore Ravens provided Quarterback Joe Flacco a 120 million dollar contract and he was getting regularly sacked, people clamored for the need to protect the investment in the QB by shoring up the offensive line. Baltimore’s can also shore up the investment in its subway with a few strategic projects and destinations at its stations. A better connection to the Zoo warrants a look.

Jeff La Noue

A similar article is cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington

The Historic Beginning of Baltimore’s Downtown Bicycle Network

In the Enoch Pratt Central Library’s Edgar Allen Poe room, an overflowing enthusiastic audience witnessed history. The Baltimore Department of Transportation (BDOT) planners presented the “Downtown Bicycle Network“, a plan that could catapult bicycling forward in the central business district (CBD) and city. The plan’s signature infrastructure piece is Baltimore’s first ever cycletrack ranging 2.6 miles from near Johns Hopkins University in the north to the convention center near the harbor on Maryland Avenue. Installation is to take place in  fall 2014.

A cycletrack is a leap beyond today’s on-road bicycle investments in the city.  Baltimore bicycle enthusiasts look to DC with both envy and inspiration.  The hope is, the Maryland Avenue cycletrack will prove popular enough to open the door for building a bicycle system on par with the District.

Downtown Bicycle Network Meeting; photo by the author

Downtown Bicycle Network Meeting; photo by the author

Will the Downtown Bicycle Network actually serve downtown?

While its name is the “Downtown Bicycle Network,”  the projects are mostly actually in Mt. Vernon, a neighborhood to the north of the central business district. The cycletrack will get a bicyclist downtown, but for now that is where the network ends.

The proposed Downtown Bicycle Network. Image from Baltimore DOT

The proposed Downtown Bicycle Network. Image from Baltimore DOT

Pratt Street cycletrack could provide an east/west complement to the north/south Maryland Avenue Cycletrack.

Pratt Street is the main artery of the business district and because of its width and concentration of businesses, hotels, tourist attractions, and facilities like the convention center and institutions like the University of Maryland, it remains the grand prize for a cycle track. Bikemore, Baltimore bicycle advocacy organization, is pushing this idea.

Image: Pratt Street in Baltimore. The south lane (on left) is a bus/bike lane. Photo by author.

Image: Pratt Street in Baltimore. The south lane (on left) is a bus/bike lane. Photo by author.

Officially, Baltimore’s bike map lists bus/bike lanes on Pratt Street.  However, these lanes are not often enforced and not comfortable for many bicyclists.

Some maps and officials also tout the Inner Harbor Promenade and the Jones Falls Trail adjacent to Pratt Street as bike facilities. But in summer, they are often packed with tourists, strollers, pedestrians, and are often impassable for bicyclists.

If not for Bixi’s financial troubles, it is likely Baltimore would have Bikeshare by this summer.  Hopefully, Baltimore can use the delayed launch to continue to build a better network to support cycling.  The better the infrastructure, the better bikeshare will work when it eventually launches.

Baltimore Bikeshare

Proposed bikeshare stations. Image from Baltimore DOT

Baltimore can learn from DC and Pittsburgh

Washington is not the only nearby city for Baltimore to seek inspiration. Pittsburgh has integrated quality bike facilities along its water front and made connections to nearby neighborhoods. In a Pittsburgh Magazine article about the steel city’s revitalized river front, Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of Riverlife, likens the increased traffic along the riverfront to the growth of the regional trail network.

“The more trail that was created, the higher the number of users was,” she says. “We hit that momentum point along the rivers this year. People realized, ‘Aha — this is a network, and I can go in all directions.’ Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh’s new bicycle-friendly mayor wants his city to be in Bicycle magazine top ten US cities, despite its hilly contours.

Will the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack be the first of a series of complementary projects, extensions, and improvements to Baltimore’s bicycle network?   The fast growth of DC and Pittsburgh’s network make us optimistic that charm city will catch the momentum too.

Jeff La Noue

similar article cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

Baltimore’s car-stuffed waterfront is poised to keep adding more cars

Fancy office towers, hotels, museums, and tourist attractions line the contours of Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay harborfront. So too, do massive parking garages and interstate-sized roadways that feed them. What does the future hold? According to a new plan, still more parking.

Baltimore waterfront parking garage

One of several waterfront parking garages at Baltimore’s harbor. All photos by author.

Like much of America, Baltimore waterfront development since the age of cars has been designed for the age of cars. That looks likely to continue as the waterfront grows.

The Greater Baltimore Committee and Waterfront Partnership hired architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross to prepare Inner Harbor 2.0, an overarching new plan for reinvigorating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront.

The Director of Landscape Architecture for Ayers Saint Gross, Jonathon Ceci, said about a parcel of harborfront currently covered by beach volleyball courts, “The site is basically an island cut off from the rest of the Inner Harbor. Besides Key Highway [on one side], you’ve got the water [on the other side] and a lack of parking garages. The question was, how do you make it a magnet for urban activity?”

How does Ceci plan to create “a magnet for urban activity”? Apparently, with parking garages. The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan recommends a $20 million garage on this waterfront site at a public cost of $12-14 million.

Baltimoreans should question the line of thinking that big garages are the best magnets for urban activity. Big garages and wide roads go hand in hand. They create the “island effect” that Mr. Ceci wants to eliminate.

Baltimore’s near waterfront has more high-rise parking spaces than high-rise residential units with waterfront views. There are at least 6 waterfront parking garages, and at least 14 large parking garages within one block of the waterfront. At least 9 parking garages rise to between 7 and 12 stories tall. The waterfront has around 4,500 parking spaces already planned or under construction: 4,000 at the Horseshoe casino and about 500 at Rash field.

Meanwhile, the one-way street pairs adjacent to the harbor have 10 lanes of through traffic, while at many times, cars cannot make it through a light in one cycle. Baltimore has used these streets for 180-mile per hour races.

What Baltimore’s waterfront has gained by attracting tens of thousands of cars it might have lost by being unfriendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, urban livability, and more local populations. Walkers can enjoy a promenade ringing the water, but to venture inland, they have to cross many lanes of unfriendly traffic. These physical road barriers separate the water from Baltimore’s traditional downtown and may limit economic development from more easily sweeping inland.

 

A family racing to safety at Baltimore's Inner Hrabor

A family racing to safety at Baltimore’s Inner Hrabor

Ironically, all the car infrastructure may not make car driving easy. Supersized roads and garages contribute to congestion that can offset cars’ theoretical time-saving advantages. Driving across town and up and down garages sometimes is slower than walking and bicycling. The business case for more parking erodes if corresponding congestion leads to traffic jams and stress.

Pratt Street

Rush hour traffic near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

By adding four high frequency Charm City Circulator bus routes, Baltimore has made progress. It can do much more to shift the balance.

Here are some additional ideas to consider near the waterfront:

  • Create an app that directs cars to affordable satellite parking spaces.
  • Create a tax on new parking garages and dedicate the revenue to non-automotive transportation.
  • Let developers choose to pay into an alternative transportation fund instead of building parking as required by zoning.
  • Encourage parking at outlying transit stations that serve downtown.
  • Re-introduce and enforce bus-only lanes downtown.
  • Create peripheral park & ride lots with frequently departing shuttles servicing downtown, similar to the way airport shuttles work.
  • Create iconic Inner Harbor bus shelters.
  • Operate Camden Line trains on weekends for special events and Orioles games.
  • Ask the Orioles to reward fans for not bringing a car.
  • Create a discounted MTA family pass.
  • Ask downtown employers to create financial incentives for employees to not bring a car.
  • Build Pratt Street and Key Highway cycletracks to support bicyclists and bikeshare.
  • Add Charm City Circulator routes to South Baltimore, Canton, the Casino parking garage, and new park & ride locations.
  • Make sure the east-west Red Line moves forward.

Baltimore’s waterfront must be accessible to people who own cars. However, with more affordable, safe, and convenient alternatives, some drivers would be happy to visit the city’s downtown waterfront, while leaving the car outside of the city center.

Jeff La Noue

cross posted on Greater Greater WashingtonSustainable Cities Collective , and Rustwire

 

Do Baltimore Magazine’s “Best Places To Work” promote gridlock?

Many employers give us no commuting choices.     Photo by biofriendly,  Licensed under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0 Generic

Many employers give us no commuting choices. Photo by biofriendly, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0 Generic

Area magazines often issue lists of the “Best Places to Work,” but they don’t consider what the commute to those places is like. The real best places to work shouldn’t make employees sit in traffic for hours each day.

Each year, Baltimore Magazine releases its list of the Best Places to Work, based on factors like salaries, benefits, career mobility, and workplace culture.Washingtonian Magazine has a similar ranking.

But when my wife comes home from work, she does not talk about her employer’s 401K plans, her healthcare, or the free gym. Most often, I hear about how long or stressful her commute by car is.

I try to empathize, but my commute is a leisurely fifteen-minute bike ride that I love, or a two-stop light rail ride when it rains, getting me to work relaxed and clear-headed. Shouldn’t magazines talk about those things, too?

“Best Places to Work” rankings don’t talk about commutes

Virtually every rush hour, one or more of our major regional highways is backed up when some unfortunate driver’s car is mangled in a so-called car-b-que. The DC area usually ranks among the highest in the nation for traffic congestion, while Baltimore isn’t far behind.

Beyond causing stress and eating up time, commuting by car can be dangerous. In 2010, Maryland had 493 traffic deaths. 296 were in passenger cars or light trucks vs one fatality in a bus. 383 fatal car crashes were on urban interstates.

Meanwhile, employers on the Baltimore Magazine list highlight commuting options with about the same frequency as company picnics and employer-paid pet insurance. Of the top 25, there are only eight employers with a walkscore rating over 70. A high walkscore can indicate whether an employee can walk to a place to eat, to live, or a central bus or transit line from their workplace.

Six of the eight employers are in downtown Baltimore with lots of amenities and transit within easy reach, while one is in Towson, a walkable downtown in its own right. The seventh, America’s Remote Help Desk, is in Eldersburg in Carroll County, which isn’t a walkable area but earns a high walkscore due to being in a shopping mall with shops and restaurants. The middle seven are somewhat walkable. The remaining 10 companies are in more remote or isolated locations where driving to work is likely the only feasible option.

By walkscore (WS) ranking, Baltimore Magazine’s “Best Places to Work”:

Baltimore Magazine Top 25 Employers (2013) The higher the walkscore the greater the ability to get around without a car.

Baltimore Magazine Top 25 Employers (2013) The higher the walkscore the greater the ability to get around without a car.

Another way to measure the “best places to work”

Some area employers recognize that the best perk might be a variety of commuting options. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore’s largest employer, deserves credit. Its hospital is located at a Metro subway stop and has six bus lines. It runs an express shuttle service connecting its Homewood and medical campuses with Penn Station.

Hopkins is making investments so its community can conveniently live, shop, and play near each campus without a car. As importantly, Johns Hopkins has a robust Live Near Year Work program with downpayment/closing cost grants of up to $36,000, and is investing in the local public schools and business districts near its campuses as part of its Homewood Community Partners Initiative.

Let me tout my employer, the University of Baltimore. It has a 403b plan, comprehensive health and dental coverage, a free, full-service gym and library. But it also offers many choices for where its employees can live and how they get to work.

It’s within walking distance of many types of housing with different price points. Employees can choose to walk to work, and some do. Those who live slightly further out have the option of biking to work with new cycletracks on Maryland Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, as well as the Jones Falls Trail, which I use.

The university offers discounts on Maryland Transit Administration service, meaning employees can take advantage of the 5 nearby bus lines, the MARC Penn Line, the light rail, and the subway, as well as a fleet of Zipcars. Penn Station, across the street, offers Bolt Bus and Amtrak.

If my colleagues want to be on the highways, go to Jiffy Lube, replace the tires, they can. But they don’t have to. Having the choice is a benefit.

There are many ways to get around.  Image source: Jeff La Noue

There are many ways to get around. Image source: Jeff La Noue

As employers and office developers across the region make decisions about where to locate and to build, it is time to give employees choices about transport. There should be no more LEED-rated, “green” buildings in the middle of auto-oriented sprawl that costs employees their time, money, and health.

Greater Baltimore has plenty of available real estate a short walk from transit stations. There are office infill opportunities on or near commercial main streets and within walking distances of where people live. State Farm in Atlanta is one of many big employers who are moving to more transit-friendly locations.

But employers may not feel the need to offer employees more travel choices unless it’s recognized as a desirable feature. Baltimore Magazine, how about adding commuting alternatives in the criteria for your “Best Places To Work 2014″ list?

JL

Cross posted on Greater Greater Washington, Sustainable Cities Collective , the American Public Transportation Association’s publication  Passenger Transport and profiled on Streetsblog and Planetizen

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