In just one night, the outdated bus system in Baltimore was transformed into BaltimoreLink, a faster, simpler, and more efficient network for commuters.
The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) on June 18 unveiled BaltimoreLink, a project that completely redesigns the bus network around the existing rail infrastructure in the Baltimore metro region.
“MTA pulled off the unthinkable,” said John Gasparine, customer relationship manager for WSP USA. “They planned, designed, and constructed virtually all elements of BaltimoreLink within a 20-month time frame; and all bus routes, stops and signs were changed over one single night.”
WSP USA provided MTA with program management support, facilities design, signage design and deployment, operations inreach, public outreach, safety and security analysis, technology support and operations field support.
“BaltimoreLink is a retransformation of the Baltimore bus system and network,” said Sam Minnitte, principal-in-charge for MTA contracts. “Our firm has had a major role in helping our client in various capacities such as civil, planning, traffic and operational training and support. We are proud of our efforts as part of the BaltimoreLink team.”
WSP was able to rapidly allocate resources, remain flexible with the iterative planning and design process, and collaborate closely with all stakeholders to help the MTA achieve its goals and meet its deadline.
The BaltimoreLink project began in October 2015 as a $135 million initiative that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland described as an investment to fix Baltimore’s “antiquated and broken transit system.”
Prior to BaltimoreLink, the bus network was linking to outdated job locations, while underserved areas had emerged as key employment locations. BaltimoreLink creates a more efficient and reliable bus network by spreading out the routes within the downtown core and creating a grid of high-speed, high-frequency bus routes.
“The new bus network is based on a comprehensive study of current origin/destination data and customer preferences,” Gasparine said. “It is built around 12 new high-frequency routes, 53 local/feeder routes, and an expanded commuter bus program.”
BaltimoreLink was also designed to improve transportation service quality, strengthen connections between MTA’s bus and rail routes, improve travel times and reduce waiting times at bus stops.
To achieve these goals, BaltimoreLink added dedicated bus lanes, transit signal priority equipment, enhanced bus stops, new signage and wayfinding, and bike and car sharing opportunities for last-mile connections.
“This is the most comprehensive overhaul of a bus transit system our nation has seen in the last 50 years,” Gasparine said.
One of the most visible changes commuters noticed in the weeks and days leading up to the BaltimoreLink changeover was a complete rebranding of the Maryland transit system.
“The BaltimoreLink project included an update to the color, logos, and overall design of bus wraps, signage, maps, print media, and the MTA website in a way that reflects both Maryland pride and a renewed focus on customer service,” Gasparine said. “It is a compliment to MTA’s renewed focus on transit efficiency, reliability and customer service; a visual reminder of MTA’s effort to change perception of the transit system for the better.”
The overhaul of the old bus network to the new one in just one day demanded significant preparation, organization and teamwork. Dozens of WSP staff coordinated across numerous parallel tasks to meet deadlines.
“Working with such condensed time frames demanded seamless coordination both with our client and within our team,” said Kimiya Darrell, WSP planner. “Through careful planning, proactive communication and close collaboration, we were able to support each other’s efforts to get everything done. Everyone confronted challenges by rolling up their sleeves and saying, ‘How can I help?’ Together we made sure we had all our bases covered and were able to really support MTA throughout this transition.”
A major component of the effort has been communication with the bus operators. Anne Carey was integral to these efforts, spending countless hours in the bus divisions talking with the frontline staff about BaltimoreLink and gathering comments and input.
“The most important thing I did was to listen to what they had to say,” Carey said. “The operators let me know what they needed in order to be successful, and then we worked to provide them with those resources. When you give people all the right tools, you set them up for success. When you provide a strong support system, people come to work and do their job well.”
“The success of this project was achieved by working as a team,” added Kevin Permisohn, lead traffic engineer. “Together, we developed innovative strategies for designing, constructing and inspecting common system elements under challenging and fluctuating circumstances.”
“It required many late nights and countless hours of overtime to meet MTA’s expedited project schedule,” Gasparine said. “Thankfully, the MTA is thrilled with our efforts. It has been an incredible experience to be part of such meaningful change for our home town.”
BaltimoreLink will set the stage for similar transit service improvements across the nation. Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Rochester are among cities considering similar overhauls to their bus systems.
Although BaltimoreLink is in operation, WSP is working with MTA to observe real-world travel patterns and make any additional adjustments to the system and schedule where needed. BaltimoreLink was designed so that it can adapt to changes in commuter priorities.
“The work will really never be done,” Gasparine said. “MTA has laid a foundation through BaltimoreLink, and now they will need to take a careful approach to continually improve and optimize the system so that, 50 years from now, BaltimoreLink is just as relevant as it is today.”
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