Transit impressions of Europe

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Antero Pietila

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Sep 10, 2010, 1:45:43 PM9/10/10
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I just returned from a 14-day cruise around the British Isles plus
a six-night stay in Helsinki, my native city. While this trip was not
for fact-finding purposes, it produced a few notes:
Despite the ups and downs of the pedestrian mall concept in the
U.S., such walkable retail stretches are thriving in Dublin, Belfast,
Liverpool and Glasgow.
I finally figured it out during my final day in Helsinki, when I
visited Kamppi, a new five-story urban mall with a performance space
for concerts in front of it.
Kamppi replaced the city's old station for suburban and long-
distance buses without getting rid of them. Instead, all the transit
functions remain at the basement level of the mall where buses load
and unload tens of thousands of passengers every day. The underground
portions of the development also house thousands of parking spaces for
cars.
This transit-oriented mall is clearly thriving without the problems
that in the U.S. evoke protests whenever and wherever such
combinations are suggested. Benetton, LaCoste, the Apple Store and
Marimekko are among big-name tenants.
Nearby are located such Helsinki retail standbys as Stockmann's,
the Macy's of Finland, and several small retail arcades. All are doing
brisk business without seemingly losing steam to the suburbs because,
they, too are seamlessly connected by streetcars and buses that show
how an efficient, modern multi-modal system can be run.
The municipally run streetcar system -- the only one in the world
that is still expanding and adding lines -- is an example. Here is
what the most modern streetcars offer, with older models being made to
comform:
1. Taking advantage of GPS, displays at covered passenger sheds at
stops show how quickly streetcars on the various lines are expected.
The arrival time of the next streetcar at that stop and the following
are posted. Arrival times appear accurate.
2. Display panels inside the cars flash information about any
problems or congestion for riders to see. Those panels also contain
advertising and run news stories.
3. The newest streetcars are built so that any baby prams and
wheelchairs can be easily loaded/unloaded because a 7-8 inch elevation
at the gutter level brings them to the level of streetcar doors. There
is no need for expensive ramps and lifts, as in Baltimore.
These same innovations are now being adopted by the Helsinki
regional bus network. It is run by a number of private contractors,
including Veolia, the French parent of Baltimore's Yellow
Transportation company.
One result is a comprehensive transit system so good that many
Helsinki residents are able to live and commute without a car. Another
result is that downtown Helsinki has retained its leading role as an
office, commercial and retail center, despite the mushrooming of such
edge cities as Espoo and Vantaa which may eventually be annexed. In
fact, while Helsinki movie theaters thrive, some screens in those edge
cities have closed due to the lack of business.
It seems to me that Helsinki should be studied by transit planners
in the U.S. While many lessons may not be applicable, several clearly
are.

Gerald Neily

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Sep 10, 2010, 2:46:35 PM9/10/10
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Great post, Antero. American Planners know all those tools you speak of. Even the MTA. What you saw in Helsinki was simply an evolution where each of these elements was allowed to build upon the others, creating a consistent whole.

But around here, we just seem to push the "idee du jour". Take the City's Circulator Buses. The City felt they had to start a whole new transit system. And the MTA seems to be content that their pathetic ridership has apparently not gone down. It has never occurred to them that they are allowing a whole new transit market of short distance non-transit riders slip through their hands.

The Red Line would be our third completely separate transit line which would be totally unrelated to what came before. The MTA has unwittingly bought into a new transit line that is almost totally based on its segregation and isolation from the rest of the MTA and much of the city. They've had to trash the whole concept and structure of the existing heavy and light rail lines in order to push this thing. Red Line apologists say that light rail didn't work on Howard Street because the vehicles are too clunky... gimme a break...

But then they say the Red Line will work because it has those low floors from Helsinki. As if low transit floors are the difference between Howard and Helsinki. Yes, they are maybe one percent of the difference, along with 99 other things.

The next upcoming hype of this sort is the politically-timed celebration of knocking down the Pulaski Street retaining wall beyond the west end of the Highway to Nowhere, which is being done to prepare for the Red Line.

Get ready for the hype, which has already been spun to say that knocking down this wall is the equivalent of demolishing the ENTIRE highway, which of course it absolutely is not.

The MTA Red Line virtually forces the entire remainder of the abominable highway, which of course never should have been built in the first place, to be preserved forever, thus helping to seal Franklin-Mulberry's and West Baltimore's horrible fate.
--
Gerald Neily
www.BaltimoreInnerSpace.blogspot.com


Antero Pietila

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Sep 10, 2010, 3:21:45 PM9/10/10
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    All these ideas, of course, are common currency. For instance, I saw Baltimore's painted fish concept, undoubtedly borrowed from elsewhere, being duplicated in fish creatures in Liverpool and in a collection of more than 100 bears on the Senate Square, the ceremonial heart of Helsinki. Similarly, I spotted circulator bus routes in Liverpool. Whether they were part of the overall transit system or run separately I do not know.
    I guess today's situation in Baltimore follows logically from the 1940s takeover of the old Baltimore Transit Company by the National City Lines,  the holding company owned by General Motors, Goodyear Tire and oil companies that also acquired 100 other transit companies and ran them to the ground. Add to that a uniquely American bugaboo, race, and we have a transportation situation that really deals with all kinds of other issues beyond transit.
   When I was writing my Baltimore book, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City, I found a reference to the Rouse Company supposedly having intentionally kept the Metro from reaching the Owings Mills Mall and Town Center. Perhaps that happened, perhaps not. I contacted the author of the article that made that claim.  Sheepishly, he said he had "heard" that was the case. What is indisputable, of course, is that the Metro does not go to the Town Center, presumably because of racial fears and suspicions of "outsiders." The very same reasons that account for Ruxton residents having vetoed a light-rail stop in their wealthy village and the Linthicum stop not having any parking. That latter compromise is nothing short of criminal in its transit implications.
   In the Helsinki example, the Kamppi Mall downtown can be reached by all modes of public transit. A major Metro station is right there, adjoining the central bus station. And the Metro then runs to another big mall, Itäkeskus, on the eastern edge of the city which, interestingly, has so many Somali refugees (and other Third World migrants) living nearby that one street is commonly known as Modagishu Avenue. (In Moscow, the street outside the Lumumba University is known as spidway, SPID being the Russian abbreviation for AIDS.)
   So race and prejudices clearly play  a role in various other countries as well. In Baltimore and beyond in the U.S., that prejudice often affects public policy, providing conditions in which public transit falls short of its potential.  


Date: Fri, 10 Sep 2010 14:46:35 -0400
Subject: Re: [BALTOmorrow] Transit impressions of Europe
From: geral...@gmail.com
To: balto...@googlegroups.com

Gerald Neily

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Sep 10, 2010, 3:42:23 PM9/10/10
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Here's my blog take on the Rouse Owings Mills situation from a couple years ago.

http://baltimoreinnerspace.blogspot.com/2008/10/owings-mills.html

I don't think it is that important about what James Rouse's thinking and intentions might have been. It's the results that count.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about how blacks have not participated enough in the Columbia community governance. Is that some kind of Rouse failure? I don't know. It just is what it is.

Physical communities don't count for as much as they used to. We on this listserve are a totally unphysical community, and at this moment, it counts more to me than my next door neighbors.

But that which is physical provides for a lot of evidence of how well things are going, and Owings Mills is not going well. Neither is Cross Keys or Harborplace, which just proudly announced a new 20,000 square foot tenant that is already in five local suburban malls and a zillion other places around the country - not what Rouse wanted.

Ironically, Mondawmin seems to be doing the best of the local Rouse retail offspring, even though it is appalling as "transit oriented development".

And the newest part of Columbia, around Broken Land Parkway, is awful by classic Columbia community standards but it's doing well economically by mundane trashy suburban standards.


jamiehunt

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Sep 10, 2010, 4:19:30 PM9/10/10
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On Sep 10, 3:21 pm, Antero Pietila <hap5...@hotmail.com> wrote:
... When I was writing my Baltimore book, Not in My Neighborhood: How
Bigotry Shaped a Great American City, I found a reference to the Rouse
Company supposedly having intentionally kept the Metro from reaching
the Owings Mills Mall and Town Center. Perhaps that happened, perhaps
not. I contacted the author of the article that made that claim.
 Sheepishly, he said he had "heard" that was the case. What is
indisputable, of course, is that the Metro does not go to the Town
Center, presumably because of racial fears and suspicions of
"outsiders." The very same reasons that account for Ruxton residents
having vetoed a light-rail stop in their wealthy village and the
Linthicum stop not having any parking. That latter compromise is
nothing short of criminal in its transit implications.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Gerry's blog post on Owings Mills covers a lot of excellent ground.

W/R/T the mall's separation from the Metro stop: it's possible racism
or fear or whatever primordial emotion kicks in when the winds of
change blow was a factor.

It's also possible that the Metro builders decided not to fork over
the extra cash to "jump" or tunnel the station out of the median of
I-795 while at the same time financing for the mall was contingent on
it looking like pretty much every other mall. Bankers generally want
to put money behind "known" entities in familiar configurations. For
example, The mall in Helsinki looks wonderful, but it's not too
dissimilar in many respects to the Providence Place/Water Place
development in Rhode Island, which also has a train station and other
mass transpo facilities incorporated into it.

With regard to Ruxton, the (fairly liberal) demographics are more or
less the same as Mt. Washington's; however, the LR stop there would
have been _rightnextto_ people's residences. It's one thing to have
the train go flying by your door; quite another to have regular
braking, unloading, loading, accelerating happening there.

As for Linthicum, don't know enough about the circumstances.

Could be racism, or NIMBYism, or just plain cussedness*, or any number
of things. People are complicated.

(*I use the Light Rail, but I've long held a deep animus against it
for taking away the parking for the rugby pitch just off Bellona Ave
south of Ruxton.)

michele rosenberg

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Sep 10, 2010, 8:54:49 PM9/10/10
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I will miss the gentle mural of the man planting which welcomes us to the Highway to Nowhere.  Was it completely demolished today?

Antero Pietila

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Sep 11, 2010, 2:03:22 PM9/11/10
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    I finally had time to read Gerald's Owings Mills piece. There are at least biographies of Jim Rouse, and I have not read a single one of them. However, I remember the big man once telling me that he regretted that he had not made Columbia denser because that was the key requirement for public transit.
    I just wonder whether the Rouse vision about the Next America changed after the company got bigger and he got older. Anyone?
 
 
 
 


Date: Fri, 10 Sep 2010 15:42:23 -0400

Gerald Neily

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Sep 11, 2010, 2:35:16 PM9/11/10
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Rouse got worse with age, not better.

1 - Owings Mills - There were plenty of later opportunities to weave the mall into the potential urban fabric and the transit station, but instead, he built a huge movie theater complex to create a wall between them. Rouse Co. also refused to allow MTA buses to pick up passengers next to the mall buildings, and instead forced them out onto the parking lot periphery, not a whole lot closer as the crow flies from the Metro station itself.

2 - Columbia - Later parts of the town development were the most cliched forms of suburbia - mcmansions in River Hill and big boxes and strip shopping around Snowden River Pkwy.

3 - Sandtown-Winchester - Rouse waited until after he was a retired "gentleman planner" before he got heavily into low income housing, off the corporate books, and then he just played the same inner city/charity/grantsmanship game that everyone else played, rather than using his unique position as the foremost suburban guru to push the political/socioeconomic envelope for new creative housing strategies in the suburbs.

pto...@comcast.net

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Sep 11, 2010, 4:53:25 PM9/11/10
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Some interesting ideas floating around and this subject. I can say a few things about Rouse. First, he actually got his start by working with the Federal Housing Adminstration, working directly with inner city housing during the Depression. He would later coin the term "urban renewal," so his concern for urban rehab predated his interest in suburbs and malls.  He advocated preserving over wholesale razing. He had a rough growing up, both parents dying young, etc.  He moved in with his sister in Hawaii where he witnessed harmonious racial integration, which inspired him to become possibly the first developer in the US to completely disregard race, religion, and ethnicity for new home buyers in Columbia. He was an idealist, yet a realist. At first he brought in a consultant by the name of Vorhees to devise an advanced transit plan for Columbia, with extensive buses on their own rights of way, with extremely short wait times, etc. The mall was to be divided by a main street in which transit stops were integral. His planning team rejected Vorhee's proposal but Columbia continued searching for advanced transit concepts, all of them failing.  The on-demand transit that existed for a few years in the early 70s is quite interesting even though it didn't last long. So on the one hand, there was Rouse the idealist, balanced by Rouse the idealist. He always started out idealistically and often ended up compromising. Eventually the company got to be so large and propserous that he was taking a back seat to project management. I doubt if Rouse was calling the shots as to where to place the bus stops in his malls, for example. Nor was he willing to stick to his idealist guns and kill a project because it didn't fit his ideals. In the end he did a lot of compromising. I hadn't heard that he wished Columbia had been denser.  That would surprise me. Columbia's natural spaces are probably its biggest asset. On the subject of density, people are often complaining that density is not high enough to justify real transit. What they're really saying is that conventional transit costs are too high to build except in the densest urban spaces.  Lower cost would achieve the same thing as greater density in the effort to build more transit. Did low density stop the inter-urban trolley system from extending track 100 miles to remote municipalities? Not at all. Nobody cried about low density back then. I think lower cost mass transit will happen a lot sooner than a big jump in density.  At $200 million per mile, there's never going to be much heavy transit built, period. In fact, more people are talking about intelligent buses, particularly buses that can pre-empt traffic signals, etc.

 

I don't think you can fault Rouse's record on urban renewal or eliminating racial boundaries. That would be like criticizing Lincoln for being a racist, even though he freed the slaves.

 

 

Peter

www.plainview3d.com

Nate

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Sep 17, 2010, 12:14:59 AM9/17/10
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Antero,

As illuminating and interesting as Helsinki is, I simply cannot
seriously compare a European city with an American one. The histories
and economies are so fundementally different that "the what could
be"'s aren't that meaningful.

Peter,

Density certainly did matter to the streetcar. There were gaps in
density along the service lines, but the urban clusters near the
fringes of the service were frequently dense. Also, the service was
relatively expensive and people had no choice. Again, the cost of
heavy rail isn't really that big; it's just about priorities. They're
still trying to build multi-billion dollar highways through WV in
sensitive mountain ecosystems. The rest of the world is building metro
so I don't see an extreme impediment if we actually raise the revenue
sources. They're good cheap transit we can do sooner, and it's
certainly bus service, though pre-emption can only be done so much
around here. Everybody can't get priority!

N

On Sep 11, 4:53 pm, ptoc...@comcast.net wrote:
> Some interesting ideas floating around and this subject. I can say a few things about Rouse. First, he actually got his start by working with the Federal Housing Adminstration, working directly with inner city housing during the Depression .  He would later coin the term "urban renewal," so his concern for urban rehab predated his interest in suburbs and malls.  He advocated preserving over wholesale razing. He had a rough growing up, both parents dying young, etc.  H e moved in with his sister in Hawaii where he witnessed harmonious racial integration, which inspired him to become possibly the first developer in the US to completely disregard race, religion, and ethnicity for new home buyers in Columbia. He was an idealist, yet a realist. At first he brought in a consultant by the name of Vorhees to devise an advanced transit plan for Columbia, with extensive buses on their own rights of way, with extremely short wait times, etc. The mall was to be divided by a main street in which transit stops were integral. His planning team rejected Vorhee's proposal but Columbia continued searching for advanced transit concepts, all of them failing.  The on-demand transit that existed for a few years in the early 70s is quite interesting even though it didn't last long. So on the one hand, there was Rouse the idealist, balanced by Rouse the idealist. He always started out idealistically and often ended up compromising . Eventually the company got to be so large and propserous that he was taking a back seat to project management. I doubt if Rouse was calling the shots as to where to place the bus stops in his malls, for example. Nor was he willing to stick to his idealist guns and kill a project because it didn't fit his ideals. In the end he did a lot of compromising. I hadn't heard that he wished Columbia had been denser.  That would surprise me. Columbia's natural spaces are probably its biggest asset . On the subject of density, people are often complaining that density is not high enough to justify real transit. What they're really saying is that conventional transit costs are too high to build except in the densest urban spaces.  Lower cost would achieve the same thing as greater density in the effort to build more transit. Did low density stop the inter-urban trolley system from extending track 100 miles to remote municipalities? Not at all. Nobody cried about low density back then. I think lower cost mass transit will happen a lot sooner than a big jump in density.  At $200 million per mile, there's never going to be much heavy transit built, period. In fact, more people are talking about intelligent buses, particularly buses that can pre-empt traffic signals, etc.
>
> I don't think you can fault Rouse's record on urban renewal or eliminating racial boundaries. That would be like criticizing Lincoln for being a racist, even though he freed the slaves.
>
> Peter
>
> www.plainview3d.com
>
>
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Gerald Neily" <geraldne...@gmail.com>
> To: balto...@googlegroups.com
> Sent: Saturday, September 11, 2010 2:35:16 PM
> Subject: Re: [BALTOmorrow] Transit impressions of Europe
>
> Rouse got worse with age, not better.
>
> 1 - Owings Mills - There were plenty of later opportunities to weave the mall into the potential urban fabric and the transit station, but instead, he built a huge movie theater complex to create a wall between them. Rouse Co. also refused to allow MTA buses to pick up passengers next to the mall buildings, and instead forced them out onto the parking lot periphery, not a whole lot closer as the crow flies from the Metro station itself.
>
> 2 - Columbia - Later parts of the town development were the most cliched forms of suburbia - mcmansions in River Hill and big boxes and strip shopping around Snowden River Pkwy.
>
> 3 - Sandtown-Winchester - Rouse waited until after he was a retired "gentleman planner" before he got heavily into low income housing, off the corporate books, and then he just played the same inner city/charity/grantsmanship game that everyone else played, rather than using his unique position as the foremost suburban guru to push the political/socioeconomic envelope for new creative housing strategies in the suburbs.
>
> On Sat, Sep 11, 2010 at 2:03 PM, Antero Pietila < hap5...@hotmail.com > wrote:
>
>     I finally had time to read Gerald's Owings Mills piece. There are at least biographies of Jim Rouse, and I have not read a single one of them. However, I remember the big man once telling me that he regretted that he had not made Columbia denser because that was the key requirement for public transit.
>     I just wonder whether the Rouse vision about the Next America changed after the company got bigger and he got older. Anyone?
>  
>  
>  
>  
>
> Date: Fri, 10 Sep 2010 15:42:23 -0400
>
> Subject: Re: [BALTOmorrow] Transit impressions of Europe
> From: geraldne...@gmail.com
> To: balto...@googlegroups.com
>
> Here's my blog take on the Rouse Owings Mills situation from a couple years ago.
>
> http://baltimoreinnerspace.blogspot.com/2008/10/owings-mills.html
>
> I don't think it is that important about what James Rouse's thinking and intentions might have been. It's the results that count.
>
> Recently, there has been a lot of talk about how blacks have not participated enough in the Columbia community governance. Is that some kind of Rouse failure? I don't know. It just is what it is.
>
> Physical communities don't count for as much as they used to. We on this listserve are a totally unphysical community, and at this moment, it counts more to me than my next door neighbors.
>
> But that which is physical provides for a lot of evidence of how well things are going, and Owings Mills is not going well. Neither is Cross Keys or Harborplace, which just proudly announced a new 20,000 square foot tenant that is already in five local suburban malls and a zillion other places around the country - not what Rouse wanted.
>
> Ironically, Mondawmin seems to be doing the best of the local Rouse retail offspring, even though it is appalling as "transit oriented development".
>
> And the newest part of Columbia, around Broken Land Parkway, is awful by classic Columbia community standards but it's doing well economically by mundane trashy suburban standards.
>
> On Fri, Sep 10, 2010 at 3:21 PM, Antero Pietila < hap5...@hotmail.com > wrote:
>
>     All these ideas, of course, are common currency. For instance, I saw Baltimore's painted fish concept, undoubtedly borrowed from elsewhere, being duplicated in fish creatures in Liverpool and in a collection of more than 100 bears on the Senate Square, the ceremonial heart of Helsinki. Similarly, I spotted circulator bus routes in Liverpool. Whether they were part of the overall transit system or run separately I do not know.
>     I guess today's situation in Baltimore follows logically from the 1940s takeover of the old Baltimore Transit Company by the National City Lines,  the holding company owned by General Motors, Goodyear Tire and oil companies that also acquired 100 other transit companies and ran them to the ground. Add to that a uniquely American bugaboo, race, and we have a transportation situation that really deals with all kinds of other issues beyond transit.
>    When I was writing my Baltimore book, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City , I found a reference to the Rouse Company supposedly having intentionally kept the Metro from reaching the Owings Mills Mall and Town Center. Perhaps that happened, perhaps not. I contacted the author of the article that made that claim.  Sheepishly, he said he had "heard" that was the case. What is indisputable, of course, is that the Metro does not go to the Town Center, presumably because of racial fears and suspicions of "outsiders." The very same reasons that account for Ruxton residents having vetoed a light-rail stop in their wealthy village and the Linthicum stop not having any parking. That latter compromise is nothing short of criminal in its transit implications.
>    In the Helsinki example, the Kamppi Mall downtown can be reached by all modes of public transit. A major Metro station is right there, adjoining the central bus station. And the Metro then runs to another big mall, Itäkeskus, on the eastern edge of the city which, interestingly, has so many Somali refugees (and other Third World migrants) living nearby that one street is commonly known as Modagishu Avenue. (In Moscow, the street outside the Lumumba University is known as spidway, SPID being the Russian abbreviation for AIDS.)
>    So race and prejudices clearly play  a role in various other countries as well. In Baltimore and beyond in the U.S., that prejudice often affects public policy, providing conditions in which public transit falls short of its potential.  
>
> Date: Fri, 10 Sep 2010 14:46:35 -0400
> Subject: Re: [BALTOmorrow] Transit impressions of Europe
> From: geraldne...@gmail.com
> To: balto...@googlegroups.com
>
> Great post, Antero. American Planners know all those tools you speak of. Even the MTA. What you saw in Helsinki was simply an evolution where each of these elements was allowed to build upon the others, creating a consistent whole.
>
> But around here, we just seem to push the "idee du jour". Take the City's Circulator Buses. The City felt they had to start a whole new transit system. And the MTA seems to be content that their pathetic ridership has apparently not gone down. It has never occurred to them that they are allowing a whole new transit market of short distance non-transit riders slip through their hands.
>
> The Red Line would be our third completely separate transit line which would be totally unrelated to what came before. The MTA has unwittingly bought into a new transit line that is almost totally based on its segregation and isolation from the rest of the MTA and much of the city. They've had to
>
> ...
>
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