In 1997, I moved to Greenbelt, Maryland, a few years after I had earned a bachelors degree from St. John’s College, the “Great Books” school in Annapolis, Maryland. I came to Greenbelt to work at NASA Goddard in the data center for an experimental weather satellite. In 2008, I earned a Ph.D. in Computational Sciences from George Mason University, having researched hurricanes for my dissertation. In recent years, I have drawn, photographed, and written about the Greenbelt North Woods. In 2017, the Greenbelt City Council appointed me to the town’s Forest Preserved Advisory Board. That year, word spread that a maglev rail line might be built through and devastate the North Woods. “Maglev” is short for “magnetic levitation,” and this rail line was proposed to connect downtown Baltimore and downtown Washington, DC.

Maglev Ridership Analysis

In 2021, I self-published my analysis of the ridership forecast for the maglev rail line that had been proposed to connect Baltimore and Washington. The impetus for the book was that, earlier in the year, the Federal Railroad Administration released an oddly inconsistent document, the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed maglev. Many of the results in that lengthy document depended on the accuracy of the projected number of trips that would be made on the maglev. For unknown reasons, the agency saw no need to include a thorough explanation of how that official ridership forecast had been calculated. The document was several thousand pages long if you include the appendices, so it’s not as if the agency didn’t have room to explain their ridership-estimation method. The agency didn’t even allow the public to read the contractor report that was the original source of the maglev’s official ridership forecast.

I worked with several reference data sets and came up with a much lower forecast for the maglev’s ridership. I compared notes with several transportation planner. They found my analysis to be fundamentally sound and the Federal Railroad Administration’s forecast to be embarrassingly inflated. I first published my analysis as a series articles in the Greenbelt Online blog. Subsequently, I collected my analysis into a 92-page book that you can now order from me (okelley@gmu.edu) for $10 and from Barnes & Noble or Amazon for $19.95 . The book will also be available for sale at my table at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival’s craft fair on Sunday afternoon, September 5, at the Roosevelt Center in front of the Mother and Child Statue. While having this book in hand gives the best reading experience, an online version can be read for free on Greenbelt Online: Maglev Ridership.

Photo Magazine

Searching for a way to combined present-day photos of the Greenbelt woods with historical photos of the forest from the town’s New Deal beginnings, I came up with the idea of printing this story as a glossy photo magazine. Think of it as a quirky, shorter version of an issue of National Geographic Magazine. The title of my work is BEInG, which stands for Biota Ephemera In Greenbelt. “Biota” refers to the collection of living things in an ecosystem and “ephemera” means a collection of short-lived things that, in this case, have lasting influence. In its 24 pages, the magazine clarifies both the title and the historical importance of Greenbelt’s forests. Greenbelt’s North Woods is after all a contributing element to the Greenbelt National Historic Landmark that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Published in 2021, the magazine may be purchased for $15 by contacting me (okelley@gmu.edu). Sample pages are available here: Contents, page 5, and page 12.

North Woods Field Guide

To help people learn to identify some of the plants growing in Greenbelt’s forests, I wrote and self-published A Hundred Wild Things: A Field Guide to the Plants of the Greenbelt North Woods. First printed in December 2019, the book has 246 pages and is full of color photographs of trees, bushes, flowers, ferns, mosses, lichens, fungi, and more. The book can be purchased for $25 from me (okelley@gmu.edu) or for $30.77 from online retailers (Barnes and Noble or Amazon). The first few pages can be previewed here: field guide. A post about the field guide was published on February 2020 in the Greenbelt Online blog: interview.

Drawing the Forest

To familiarize people with the trails and plants of the Greenbelt North Woods, I have drawn two maps and several plant identification posters. One map thais shown here. This map could be used to show the potential impact on the North Woods of the proposed Baltimore-Washington maglev. As of early January 2021, one of the two routes considered for the maglev would come out of its tunnel from DC near the Northway athletic fields in Greenbelt, which is located near the lower right corner of this map. Wastewater pumped out of the maglev’s tunnel would be dumped into Goddard Branch, a stream running through a wetland of special state concern. The maglev would then proceed north along a track that would be elevated dozens of feet above the ground. The track would go parallel to and just west of the Baltimore Washington Parkway. The elevated track would broadcast throughout the forest the aerodynamic noise of the maglev’s 300-mph passage. This frequently repeated noise would shatter the tranquil atmosphere of this forest that currently enables it to function as a contributing element to the Greenbelt National Historic Landmark. The New Deal plan for Greenbelt was that the forests and fields that originally surrounded the town’s residential neighborhoods would contribute to residents’ quality of life. Inquiries about this map and other forest drawings may be sent to okelley@gmu.edu.

CONTACT INFORMATION
 Email: okelley@gmu.edu