Where’s My Bus? There’s An App for That

Transit riders should have access to instant GPS data on their buses’ locations in the near future.

navigation-2049643_1920The Maryland Transit Association (MTA) has partnered with Transit, a mobile app that provides real-time transit information, trip planning, navigation services, and moreThe app will provide locations for every CityLink, LocalLink and Express BusLink bus in the BaltimoreLink fleet. The app is free and available on both Apple and Android devices.

According to MTA, the State entered into a $1.043 million contract last January with Swiftly, Inc., a San Francisco-based computer software firm, to install Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking in each of MTA’s 753 local buses, to coordinate with the Transit app.

From MTA’s press release:

Passengers will be able to use the app to view each bus in real time and will have a greater choice in determining which bus to take and when to expect its arrival. Riders can also select the GO feature to enable voice alerts and push notifications for their selected route.  Real-time bus tracking information is also available by calling the MDOT MTA Transit Information Call Center at 410.539.5000 and via text messaging by texting the stop number to MTAMD (68263).

 

Ellicott City Making Progress in Wake of Devastating Flooding

A large portion of Ellicott City’s Main Street was reopened to the public on Tuesday, just three weeks after devastating flooding ravaged the city.

According to a press release:

Effective Tuesday, June 19, Main Street will be reopened to two-way traffic west of Old Columbia Pike and east of Maryland Avenue. Vehicles traveling west on Frederick Road from Baltimore County will now be able to cross the Patapsco River Bridge and turn left onto Maryland Avenue to access St. Paul Street and College Avenue. New Cut Road will remain closed to thru traffic because of flood damage.

“Our public works crews have done a remarkable job repairing the necessary infrastructure to allow us to safely reduce our ‘no access’ footprint on Main Street,” said Kittleman. “I truly appreciate the cooperation and patience of the residents, businesses and property owners while this recovery work was completed.”

“By opening this portion of Main Street and these parking lots, we’re helping the businesses and residents who are ready to return,” said Councilmember Jon Weinstein, who represents Ellicott City. “I would remind anyone traveling down Main Street, especially through West End, to use extreme caution and reduce speeds because of the clean-up and recovery work that is continuing.”

On May 28, more than eight inches of rain fell in Ellicott City, triggering deadly flash flooding across the city.

Recent events have reminded not only emergency managers, but all of us, that devastating weather events can strike at any time – and that comprehensive planning is essential for a quick and efficient response. From ruptured water mains to natural floods, no county is immune from water-related emergencies. At this year’s annual MACo Summer Conference, learn how Maryland counties are collaborating with industry professionals to ensure that comprehensive crisis management plans are in place to address these emergencies quickly and efficiently.

Batten Down the Hatches! Weathering a Water Crisis

Description

No county is immune from water-related emergencies. From ruptured water mains to natural floods, counties must work with local water agencies to ensure that comprehensive crisis management plans are in place to address emergencies quickly and efficiently. Using real-life experiences and case studies, this session will cover various aspects of crisis management, including preparing and rehearsing a crisis response plan, creating and maintaining communications with media and residents, and a discussion of best practices from industry professionals and leaders in local government.

Speakers

  • Mark R. Weaver, Esq., Communications Counsel, Inc.
  • Ellen Coren, President & CEO, Chesapeake Public Strategies
  • David McDonough, WSSC Division Manager, Police and Homeland Security
  • Art Shapiro, Bureau of Utilities Chief, Howard County Department of Public Works

Moderator: The Honorable Allan Kittleman, County Executive, Howard County

Date & Time: Thursday, August 16, 2018; 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

The MACo Summer Conference will be held August 15-18, 2018 at the Rowland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

What’s Driving Our Transportation Policy

Over the last decade, differing approaches to transportation policies have fueled a number of partisan political fires in Maryland, from the death of the Red Line and the infamous “Scorecard Bill” drama to the gas tax increase and local governments’ perennial battle to restore highway user revenues. railway-508568__340

In an exposé published by The New York TimesPulitzer Prize winner Hiroko Tabuchi reports on the libertarian/conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and their efforts to fight fixed rail transit projects in local jurisdictions throughout the country.

The organization argues against the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on transit infrastructure. The article acknowledges a correlation between the organization’s libertarian principles and anti-transit position:

Public transit, Americans for Prosperity says, goes against the liberties that Americans hold dear. “If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want,” Ms. [Tori Venable, Tennessee state director for Americans for Prosperity] said, “they’re not going to choose public transit.”

However, the article also points out that the organization receives its funding from the Koch Brothers – who have received much of their wealth from oil and gas, asphalt, and even seatbelts and tires.

The Kochs’ opposition to transit spending stems from their longstanding free-market, libertarian philosophy. It also dovetails with their financial interests, which benefit from automobiles and highways.

The organization’s Maryland chapter advocated against the gas tax increase in 2013, arguing that it would put jobs at risk. Much of those gas tax revenues are used to fund transit projects, in addition to state highway projects.

There is no reason not to think that politics will continue to play a critical role in transportation planning in Maryland. In the meantime, transportation planners and engineers can seek some solace in another reality: more and more hard data continues to become available to enable more objectivity at the staff level in transportation decision-making.

The rest of us can learn from them at the MACo Summer Conference, at the panel, Still Waters Run Deep: Dive Into Your Dark Data Potential.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

MDLCV Releases Vision 2025 Environmental Issue Guide

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MDLCV) Education Fund released its Vision 2025: 2018 Issue Guide on June 6, 2018. The guide details issues that will be important to the environmental community during the 2019 Session and beyond. From the guide’s introduction:

Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund is dedicated to building the effectiveness of the environmental community by maximizing participation of conservation-minded individuals in public policy decisions. We are proud to present this guide to help Marylanders understand the issues facing our state over the next four years. …

Whoever is governor will oversee an administration that will determine our role as citizens of a global community, as well as the future of our citizens’ health, safety, and quality of life. The goals we reach in 2025 will be set in motion by the decisions our public servants make in the upcoming legislative session.

The guide provides a broad outline of issues that MDLCV and other participating environmental groups view as priorities in order to meet their Vision 2025 goals. These issues and goals include:

  • Setting the stage for 100% clean energy
    • Making Maryland a leader in clean, renewable energy
    • Ensuring the completion of the first large-scale Off-shore Wind farm on the East Coast
    • Building a clean energy workforce
    • Moving towards a clean transportation system, including improved public transit and electric vehicle infrastructure
  • Fishable, swimmable, drinkable state waters, and a healthier Bay Watershed
    • Improved bay ecosystem, including oyster sanctuaries and marine life
    • Smarter development policies that protect forests and open space
    • Reduced run-off from septics and agriculture
    • Conowingo Dam solution involving a federal and multi-state partnership
    • Accelerated progress in meeting targets to protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay
  • Improved health outcomes in all communities through reduced environmental degradation
    • Improved health in communities of color
    • Cleaner communities with reduced trash
    • Higher quality of life through sustainable development
  • Aggressive enforcement of environmental regulations through professionally led, well-staffed, appropriately funded state agencies.
    • Restored funding to enforcement agencies
    • Improved metrics on enforcement outcomes
    • Reduced recidivism of pollution violators
    • Renewed emphasis on protection of sensitive species, including oysters
  • An educated, energized, engaged electorate, reflecting the diversity of Maryland’s population
    • Public financing of elections
    • Improved voter access
    • Strengthened voter education

The guide also includes critical dates for the 2018 election and voter registration information. It does not include specific political endorsements.

Still Waters Run Deep… with Dark Data at #MACoCon

“Big data” receives a lot of attention among policy wonks and elected officials for its power to make government operations more efficient. While big data and analytics play an increasingly important role in developing strategies and informing decision making in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, local governments face barriers in acquiring and using such data.

That’s where “dark data” comes in.ball-63527_1280

Dark data is big data that is collected but not fully utilized.  During the MACo Summer Conference special session, “Still Waters Run Deep: Dive Into Your Dark Data Potential,” attendees will learn about data resources available from various state and federal agencies – and how to make use of that data to inform economic development and government operations decisions.

The effort has been done in collaboration between the Maryland Department of Transportation and the University of Maryland National Center for Smart Growth.

Still Waters Run Deep: Dive Into Your Dark Data Potential

Dark data – underutilized big data sources – can help counties tremendously in their planning, engineering, and social project development. In this session, attendees will learn how to put available data resources to work at the local government level. The Maryland Department of Transportation will provide an overview of growth trends in population, labor force, and employment, and apply them to current commuting patterns within Maryland. Attendees will also be shown the types of data available to learn about their workforce and how that information can be incorporated into economic development strategies.

Speakers:

  • Cory Stottlemyer, Senior Policy Analyst, Maryland Department of Transportation Office of Planning & Capital Programming
  • Benjamin Birge, CountyStat Manager, Office of the County Executive, Prince George’s County

Moderator: The Honorable Jeff Ghrist, Maryland House of Delegates

Date/Time: Wednesday, August 15, 2018; 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm

The Conference will be held August 15-18 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Still Time To Speak Up On Maryland Transportation Plan

There’s still time to provide your input into the Maryland Transportation Plan!

MTP
Courtesy MDOT

A few months ago, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) released a survey to allow Marylanders to weigh in on State transportation priorities. MDOT continues to receive comments and questions on the Plan at 2019MTP@mdot.state.md.us. All comments received through June 29 will be addressed in the draft plan anticipated in Summer 2018.

MDOT develops a new Maryland Transportation Plan every five years. The Plan articulates a 20-year vision for transportation priorities in the State, and provides a rubric for transportation investment decision-making.

MDOT has released this video explaining the planning process:

For even more information on the Maryland Transportation Plan, visit MDOT’s very informative website.

NACo Panel Discussion: Filling in Infrastructure Gaps is Critical

naco logoA National Association of Counties (NACo) County News article  (2018-05-08) recounted a panel discussion on “Building Inclusive Infrastructure” that was hosted by NACo on May 15 as part of Infrastructure Week 2018. The discussion highlighted the local, state, and national challenge of providing and funding core infrastructure services.  From the article:

“How do you think about infrastructure every morning when you wake up?” [Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program Adie] Tomer asked. “You want to make sure there’s clean running water in the bathroom, you want to make sure when you flip the light switch that there’s power on, that the gadgets you have plugged in are fully juiced up because when they’re not it causes real problems all day, right? You also want to make sure you have gas and electricity in the kitchen so you can prepare breakfast. And you definitely want to make sure the broadband into our homes and wi-fi into our routers is running very smoothly. Here’s the real capper … we also want to make sure there’s transportation infrastructure to get us where we need to go.”

These are reasonable expectations, he noted. But there’s a gap in the United States, he said, when you think about entire rural towns where children can’t do homework because they don’t have a broadband connection, communities in Michigan that don’t have clean water or when people have to drive two hours to get to work.

Filling the gaps takes funding and community engagement — two pieces of the puzzle that need to be addressed when considering infrastructure projects, said Ramsey County, Minn. Commissioner Jim McDonough, who was joined on the panel by Ellory Monks, co-founder, the Atlas Marketplace, and Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director, Center for City Solutions, National League of Cities.

Useful Links

NACo Transportation & Infrastructure Web Page

 

MACo Explores Government Applications for Drones

Various government departments may have uses for unmanned aircraft systems (commonly called drones). MACo is seeking information on current programs and future plans.

County and state governments are exploring various applications for unmanned aircraft systems that may allow them to provide improved services to the public. There are also challenges to using drones, including cost, safety, privacy, and liability concerns.

MACo is partnering with the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC) to gather more information from local governments about their current use of this aerial technology, and future planned uses. A survey distributed by MACo to its professional affiliates and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education will be shared with the State and Local Work Group on UAS. The Work Group was assembled by the Department of State Police to report on drone use to the legislature and Governor this fall.

Questions in the survey include:

  1. Does your agency/department use UAS for operations?
  2. Does your agency/department have plans to use UAS for operations?
  3. Have you observed any unmanned aircraft systems flying in such a way that they interfered with your agency’s operations?

MACo is also working with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to explore the possibility of holding an educational symposium for GIS, Public Works, and Procurement Officers to discuss drone applications and joint purchasing opportunities across governments.

For information about drone uses, also see:

Annapolis Deploys Drones to Tackle Traffic Problems

MES Evaluating Use of Drones For More Efficient Data Collection

 

 

New Stream “EKGs” Aim to Improve Ellicott City’s Flood Safety

Baltimore Sun article (2018-05-21) announced that a series of “smart” internet-connected stream gauges (referred to as “EKGs” by Howard County Council Member Jon Weinstein) will be installed throughout the Tiber-Hudson watershed around Ellicott City to provide better flood warnings. The article stated that 48 gauges will be installed in 16 different locations in the watershed. The installations are possible due to a partnership with the National Weather Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

County Executive Allan Kittleman applauded the project at the announcement outside the Ellicott City Colored School on Frederick Road. The building is on the edge of the historic district, an area where properties have been built on top of narrow, winding stream channels prone to flooding, and that in 2016 fell victim to six inches of rain in two hours that sent waters down Main Street and killed two people.

“This is what happens when the community, the government officials, the national entities as well, come together for the right thing and good things can happen,” [Howard County Executive Allan] Kittleman said. …

“We used to have to rely on modeling and simulation, but now through the internet of things, these sensors [can] provide us with this kind of information in real time that’s really going to change a lot on the community response, for our emergency management officials and others,” [Homeland Security Program Director David] Alexander said.

The article noted that the gauge installation process will begin in June of 2018 and continue throughout the summer. The gauges will remain in a location for 6-12 months and then be moved to a new location to build a more complete picture of the hydrodynamics of the watershed. Ultimately, program advocates hope that the gauges will lead to better flooding predictions and an improved warning system for when flooding is about to occur.

The article also discussed some of the other anti-flooding actions being taken for the Ellicott City region.

U.S. Senate Committee Passes Water Resource Authorization Bill

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed a version of the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) authorization bill, the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (H.R. 8). The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is scheduled to mark up the bill tomorrow.

NACo provides information on the bill. 

From the letter to the House advocating for WRDA, sent by NACo, National Governors Association, National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, and National Conference of State Legislatures:

WRDA is critical in helping to protect, maintain and further develop our water infrastructure systems including, ports, waterways, and clean and safe drinking water. It provides states and local governments with added stability and certainty to meet water infrastructure needs while also supporting the safety, environmental protection and economic development of our communities. Following a seven – year gap in the passage of WRDA, Congress was able to enact both the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) and the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 (WIIN) on a bipartisan basis. We strongly urge Congress to stay this course and approve bipartisan WRDA legislation in 2018, and continue to authorize WRDA every two years moving forward.

The Senate version of the bill includes extensions to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which provides low-interest loans to local governments and utilities to repair existing water and wastewater infrastructure. Route Fifty reports:

The version of the bill the Senate committee approved includes language that would effectively extend WIFIA lending terms to another set of waterworks programs known as the drinking water and clean water state revolving funds.

With the revolving funds, EPA awards “capitalization grants” to states. States contribute a 20 percent match, and then use the money to provide low-cost loans and other financing assistance for drinking water and wastewater projects. The funds are one of the primary ways the federal government provides support for local water infrastructure across the U.S.

The extension to WIFIA was originally proposed in the Securing Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now Act.

The National Rural Water Association supports the expansion, which it says will make it easier for rural communities to access the funds. The American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, and the Water Environment Federation oppose the move, however. They argue:

…it would undermine the purpose and ability of WIFIA to effectively leverage limited federal dollars to support major water and wastewater infrastructure investments.

Helpful Links

SC18 Brochure Cover - final
Like water? Join us for MACo’s Summer Conference, “Water, Water Everywhere,” August 15-18, 2018 at the Ocean City Convention Center!

NACo Coverage

NACo’s WRDA letters to the Senate

NACo’s WRDA letter to the House

Route Fifty: Senate Panel Passes Water Bill That Would Rework Lending Program

Route Fifty: Tension Bubbles Up Over Water Infrastructure Bill in Senate

Prior Conduit Street coverage