Untangling the Traffic Knot in Annapolis and Beyond

On your seventh circle through the auto hell of Historic Annapolis in fruitless search of a parking place, you take traffic personally. Personally is how you take the blockage on Rt. 50 west, gridlock on the Bay Bridge — and your own personal traffic hell, wherever you find it.
    David Humphreys, a sailor from Bay Ridge, takes traffic personally, too. His job as director of the Annapolis Regional Transportation Management Association is to transmute the rage we share into solutions for unsticking traffic.
    The Annapolis Regional Transportation Management Association is one of 100 or so Transportation Management Associations around the country federally mandated to partner with local business and government to devise traffic solutions suited to their areas.
    “If it moves, ARTMA has an interest in it,” Humphreys says, from the bully pulpit of an organization that exists to influence decisions it doesn’t make.
    Humphreys has had the job a year, but the 68-year-old has been piling up experience for decades. He has practiced the trade of engineering traffic in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Pasadena, California; and at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He taught traffic management and transportation planning at both Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote a Public Mobility column for The Capital and served on Mayor Josh Cohen’s transportation transition team.
    Here, Humphreys shares solutions for three bedeviling traffic jams. These solutions are not pie in the sky. One materialized this week. Others could be in place next year. For the big one, we’ll wait a little longer.
    “Fifteen or 20 years,” Humphreys says. “But if you don’t take the first step, it’s always 15 or 20 years away.”
    Hey, time moves fast — except when you’re stuck in traffic.

I. Link Annapolis to the Metropolis

    Annapolis gets no respect in metropolitan transportation planning. Humphreys takes that disregard very personally.
    For example, Humphreys says, Maryland maintains the Blue and Orange Metro lines, yet Metro does not link to the state capital.
    “As a state capital, we’re more important than that,” he says. “We should be linked with effective transit connections.”
    So he spends time and imagination advocating for “things that take us from where we are not to some point in the future.”
    Or, more recently, keeping us from backsliding.
    Annapolis nearly lost its only public transit link to Metro. The 921 bus was doomed by Metropolitan Transit Authority cost-cutting.
    The route has been saved, thanks to ARTMA.
    “For the most recent contractor, Dillon Bus Service, the route was not a good use of over-the-road, long-haul busses that can be used much more profitably in casino trips and other charter services,” Humphreys explains.
    Now with ARTMA’s partnership with new private contractor Bill Young, the route has been right-sized.
    “With four, smaller, 15-pasenger vans, Bill Young is in a position to satisfy and grow the ridership,” Humphreys says.
    Humphreys has bigger dreams.
    “Permanent transit facilities change land development, and that’s what we want [in order] to get rid of suburban sprawl. You do that by creating transit mode links with station stops, and those nodes start to develop in patterns that create higher density land use.
    “I’m not saying extend hard rail from New Carrollton,” Humphreys says. “You can do pretty much the same thing with high-speed busways overhead in the median of Rt. 50, with buses bumper-to-bumper each way getting to and from New Carrollton twice as fast.”
    Don’t expect to be riding those fast buses any time soon. They’re years away, leaving Maryland’s capital city between the devil of Rt. 50 and the deep blue sea spanned by the Bay Bridge.
    That’s exactly why Humphreys says “the Annapolis region needs to be thinking now about a transit system that is efficient, serving both those who have no other option and those who choose public over private transit because it is much more effective.”

II. Untangle West Street — and Add Safe Bike Lanes

    Taking the snarl out of West Street, the main artery into Annapolis, begins, oddly, with reducing the space allotted to cars and trucks. Humphreys is not the only one who says so. So does the City of Annapolis Bicycle Master Plan to be released next week.
    Cutting West Street from four lanes to three, the center lane a standby lane like on much of Forest Drive, makes for safer passage.
    “It reduces rear-end collisions and prevents weaving and maneuvering from lane to lane. Two lanes make coming in and out of driveways and curb cuts safer, and it makes left turns much safer since you’re not confronted by two lanes of traffic and can’t see one,” Humphreys says.
    “In my career, we’ve converted four lanes 15 times. It’s much safer, and you end up with the same volume of traffic. But it’s going slower, paced by whoever’s in the lead.”
    The reduction is not only safer. It also makes room for bikes.
    Humphreys proposes “a single 11-foot running lane in either direction, plus a 12-foot standby center lane for left turns. Twenty-two and 34” — he does the math — “gives you two outer seven-foot bike lanes.”
    You want bike lanes wide, safe and well marked, he says, because bike traffic comes in two forms, land access as well as recreational.
    “You don’t just want the Spandex zoot-suit crowd on high speed bikes. You want bikes to be a mode of transportation in the city and county.”

III. Decongest Historic Annapolis

    Reducing congestion — and improving parking — in the horse-and-cart streets of Historic Annapolis begins with a humble garage.
    In Humphreys’ telling, that garage is the scene for many stories.
    In the first, you work in Annapolis and live close enough to bike to work.
    “It’s a beautiful sunny day, he imagines, and you leave your bike at a stop that is both a parking garage with safe, secure storage, and also a transit stop. From there, you walk to work. When it’s time to go home, the weather turns terrible. So you take your umbrella, walk back to the transit stop/garage and take the bus home. The next day you come to work by bus, and that night take your bike home.”
    In a second scenario, visitors to Maryland’s historic capital city also make the transit stop/garage their first stop because, Humphreys says, “the transit bus stop is part of the connector route to the city and beyond. Rental bikes and shared cars are also garaged there.
    “That kind of optimization minimizes cars on the street and makes our city core a much friendlier place to be a visitor, shopper, citizen, business.”
    Getting there from here doesn’t take much, Humphreys says.
    “You grade your parking structure rates with proximity to where you want turnover. Downtown, make the daily rate very high and the hourly rate affordable, but reverse the price structure in outlying garages, as airports do. You park in outlying areas for $4 or $5 a day and take a shuttle bus in.”
    In late June, when Humphreys and I talked, that solution seemed like pie in the sky. I hit him with a load of buts. But garages are full. But they’re inconveniently located. But there aren’t enough shuttles.
    On July 1, The Annapolis Circulator made the dream come true.