April 25, 2017

New MARC stations: North/Mt Royal, Upton, Sandtown

The chosen plan for the new Amtrak tunnel in West Baltimore would provide enough trackage for all anticipated future train service. The old existing tunnel would thus be free to be used for anything. This means the old tunnel can be rehabbed in a way that is optimized for critical local needs - not Amtrak's - and new stations can be provided to support neighborhood development opportunities.
Seldom seen view of the southwest corner of Mount Royal and North Avenues, looking west.
The ancient brick enclosure for the tracks entering the Amtrak tunnel (in the foreground)
could be opened up to create a new local MARC station and lead into a "campus green"
that connects to the MICA buildings in the background. North Avenue is barely visible to the upper right.

The recent Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) "Record of Decision" calls for a new $4.5 Billion replacement tunnel that includes four tracks rather than the current two tracks. But the alignment for the new four-track tunnel would still make it possible to retain connections to the old existing two-track tunnel. As stated in the FRA Record of Decision: "The existing B&P Tunnel, a contributing element of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad historic district, will be abandoned in a manner that will allow for future transportation use." This specific point is also spelled out as one of the top five "Project Benefits" as listed on the Amtrak website.

So while future Amtrak trains and most (if not all) MARC commuter rail trains will be whizzing through the new modern tunnel, the existing historic tunnel can be uniquely reconfigured to position West Baltimore growth and development as a vital part of the burgeoning Baltimore-Washington corridor.

OLD AMTRAK TUNNEL - Going west out of Penn Station (right) toward Washington, DC, the tunnel begins
just prior to North Avenue and ends at Gilmor Street in Sandtown. Three new MARC stations can be accommodated
at the beginning, middle and end of the tunnel at North Avenue/Mount Royal, Upton and Sandtown.


Three new West Baltimore MARC Stations


Unlike the proposed new Amtrak tunnel which would be bored deep in the ground, the existing tunnel is located directly below the surface. New stations along the old route can therefore be intimately integrated with surface activities and development in the local communities, unhampered by demands for high speed and high capacity. This line could use shorter self-powered trains that consist essentially of a cross between commuter rail and light rail vehicles, even allowing riders to walk across the track at selected locations, which is forbidden in the Amtrak corridor.

The stations could then be configured as a kind of "transit mall" to bring the passengers as close to the communities as possible. The three proposed new stations also happen to be located at open-air interruptions in the tunnel, which would further reduce the separation between the station and community environments. The line could probably also be reduced to a single track in confined locations if necessary where pedestrians and platforms need the space.

The old tunnel has been designated as its own historic district and consists of fascinating nineteenth century stone and brick work that heretofore has mostly been seen only in dark, dank, dirty fleeting views seen by train riders with their faces pressed against the windows. A challenge to designers will be to present the historic aspects of this tunnel in the best possible perspectives and light.

Here are three key places for proposed new MARC stations between Penn Station and West Baltimore Station at US 40 (which would also be totally rebuilt and slightly relocated under the FRA's chosen plan):

NORTH AVENUE / MOUNT ROYAL STATION - connecting to North Avenue light rail station at the upper right,
and Maryland Institute College of Art buildings to the left and center.

1. North Avenue Station at Mount Royal

This new station could be built around a submerged "campus green" between the two North Avenue buildings of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) which are located on either side of the Mount Royal Avenue intersection between the Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill neighborhoods. This "campus green" would create intimate access to the station and generate activity by college students even when there are no trains. The new station space would also circumvent the major traffic conflicts at the busy intersection above. The current opening in the rail tunnel to the sky, located southwest of the intersection, could be enlarged to ensure it is a bright attractive place.

This station space should also be extended to the east in the existing tunnel under North Avenue and the Jones Falls Expressway to the adjacent light rail station. This would provide an important new transfer point so that all light rail trains could connect to MARC, not just the very limited number that traverse the stub branch from Howard Street to Penn Station. This new station would thus provide a valuable amenity not only for Maryland Institute and the neighborhoods, but for the whole region.

UPTON STATION - looking east into the tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue,
with buildings on both sides of the street seen above the tunnel portal. The "Avenue Market" is just off to the left
and a pedestrian connection to the Metro subway station mezzanine could be provided below it.

2. Upton Station at Pennsylvania Avenue

The anchor for this station would be a connection to the Upton Metro Station, located under and next to the "Avenue Market" on Pennsylvania Avenue between Laurens and Pitcher Street. The new MARC station would be located in the existing open-air interruption in the rail tunnel between Pennsylvania Avenue and Fremont Avenue (see photo above).

It would probably be best to completely rebuild the market to integrate it with the new station and facilitate the below-ground connection to the Metro station mezzanine, with a much larger site footprint that encompasses both blocks to the north and south sides of the tracks. The combined Metro and MARC station would then be a major focal point of the Upton community, instead of being hidden away as it is now.

SANDTOWN STATION - in an open air cut just west of the tunnel portal
from Gilmor Street (east, right) to Monroe Street (US 1 - west, left)

3. Sandtown Station between Gilmor and Monroe Streets

This station would be located just beyond the west end of the tunnel between Gilmor and Monroe Streets. Since it would be open to the sky, it would be the most visible, accessible, largest and easiest place of all to develop a new station.

This fringe area of the "Freddie Gray" neighborhood around the heavily used Fulton/Monroe Street couplet is rough even by Sandtown norms, so it's not a neighborhood that's likely to be too attractive to affluent Washington-Baltimore commuters for a while. But since this is a long range plan, every step helps and every job is important. There is also a huge amount of underutilized industrial land just west of Monroe Street toward Rosemont and Walbrook that can be redeveloped to a higher intensity.

Other alternatives and variations


It should also be mentioned that another alternative exists that would provide a West Baltimore Metro-MARC connection without using the existing tunnel at all. A MARC spur could be built onto the old West Maryland Railroad line (now owned by CSX) north from the current West Baltimore MARC station to either the Cold Spring Lane, Rogers Avenue or Reisterstown Plaza Metro Stations. An intermediate stop could also be provided where the tracks cross over North Avenue near Coppin State University. This line would require passenger service to be share the tracks with freight service.

All the concepts set forth here are an evolution of the previous plans for a localized type of MARC service that were part of the 2002 regional rail transit system plan. At that time, this was designated as a "high priority", but the idea self-destructed almost as soon as the plan was published, most plausibly due to inevitable serious conflicts with existing longer-distance Amtrak and MARC service on the same tracks.

That plan would have been far more limited than this one. The 2002 plan had only a new station at Sandtown-Winchester, but not at Upton or Mount Royal. It therefore would have connected to the existing rail transit system only at the very limited light rail stop at Penn Station. It was also planned to operate only in the Baltimore metropolitan area, as far south as BWI-Marshall Airport and Odenton.

However, a Washington connection would be very important, either running the service all the way to Washington Union Station or at least as far as the New Carrollton Station of the Washington Metro. Amtrak would have the final word on this. Union Station is currently very congested and train traffic will continue to increase..

There may also be some locations elsewhere between Baltimore and Washington where a similar kind of smaller and more localized kind of station is appropriate, which could then be linked to the local West Baltimore service. It may also enable some existing MARC service to be redirected away from smaller stations, which could improve travel times for some trains.

This is the point in the project planning process where these kinds of local amenities and mitigations can begin to be discussed, and where the negotiating power of the local communities can be used to their advantage.

The recent decision by the Federal Railroad Administration, in concert with Amtrak and the state, to abandon the old West Baltimore rail tunnel, now breathes new life into all these concepts. They are also fed by the urgent need to stimulate new growth and optimism for the future of West Baltimore.

April 18, 2017

Stump Dump solution is a bridge to Roland Park

The city's crappy Stump Dump sits in one of the city's most valuable and significant sites. But like many blighting influences, the stump dump doesn't need to disappear right away. It just needs to be exposed. Like alcoholism, the first step to redemption is simply to admit there's a problem.

The basic problem is that the Stump Dump has been sufficiently isolated from the urban fabric that it doesn't offend any particular persons or groups to the point of action. It's an affront on the need for transit-oriented development near light rail stations, but not nearly as much as State Center. It's a blot on adjacent beautiful Cylburn Park, so the park simply turns its back to it. It's adjacent to the banks of the Jones Falls, a lovely river that's mostly ignored anyway. It's right next to an Interstate highway interchange with potentially great access. And it is just far enough removed from the city's elite Roland Park neighborhood that no ruckus has been raised there to get rid of it, despite being home of many of the city's most well-connected movers and shakers.

The solution is to build a bridge. Sounds metaphorical, right? Yes, but it's also real.

West Roland Park - shaded in purple - created by a new bridge over Interstate 83 in yellow.
The Poly-Western High School campus is to the east (right). The Stump Dump is to the upper west
between the new bridge and Cylburn Park. The existing light rail station is the blue bar at the bottom,
and its proposed relocation is the blue bar at the top next to the new bridge.



Something has recently been going on at the Stump Dump. The stumpers appear to have been cleaning up their act a bit. From a distance, the place now looks more organized instead of in chaos. And they've apparently chopped down and mulched a few more trees along the abutting edge of Cylburn Park to create a nice defined edge, along with installing erosion and runoff control measures to demonstrate that they're following some kind of plan. There is starting to be some kind of "there" there.

The City Stump Dump - looking north toward a big pile of logs with Cylburn Park in the background.

The Stump Dump will continue at this location until the city is good and ready to move it out. But surrounding progress should not wait for that. There have been sporadic murmurs of future development plans - for the treasured green space of the Roland Park Country Club east of Falls Road and for the light rail station area south of Cold Spring Lane. A new police station was built on an isolated chunk of this land a few years ago, even when communities were clamoring instead to put it in a real neighborhood where the people are.

The most important priority is to create linkages so that plans can unfold when the time is right and the constituencies will be there to make sure everything fits together, which is what living in a city is all about.

A bridge to a higher power


Again like addressing alcoholism, the second step is to build a bridge to a higher power - an actual roadway bridge across the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83) between the Poly-Western High School campus, the Stump Dump and Cold Spring Lane. The "higher power" is that would then connect to the Roland Park community, east of Falls Road (Route 25). This will give them a sense of ownership and commitment to create a positive fate for the Stump Dump.

How much or how little traffic the new bridge carries is a secondary issue. Access and exposure are the keys.

The most basic issue is whether the new bridge should accommodate cars, or should be for pedestrians and bikes only. Designing a bridge for all people and vehicles would actually be easier because it would not limit future land use possibilities. The bridge approaches would be a trunk for any connections - a major or minor future gateway to Cylburn Park supported by any kind of compatible new development.

A pedestrian-only bridge would be less expensive, but would not be perceived as having nearly as strong linkages, so some of those linkages would need to be addressed immediately instead of later. It would also not be as safe for pedestrians and bikes without surveillance from occasional auto traffic. The least expensive and least secure pedestrian bridge option could go underneath the expressway, sharing the same underpass as the Jones Falls itself. So that's another option. An example of this kind of design is the underpass between the Mount Washington light rail station and the Whole Foods supermarket on the other side of the expressway. The paradox is that the most conflict-free environment for pedestrians and bikes is not the one with the best linkages.

The ideal goal would be for the new bridge to feed the Jones Falls Trail, and this could be done in a very attractive manner along the bank of the Jones Falls and under the Cold Spring Lane overpass (see photo below). But this is very hidden and isolated. Would this be where Poly-Western students go to smoke cigarettes - tobacco or the newly legalized "medicinal" kind or some kind of worse activity?

The Jones Falls - looking south between the Stump Dump and Cold Spring Lane (overpass in the background).
This hidden area would be a lovely place for a path between the Jones Falls Trail,
under Cold Spring Lane, to the new bridge to Poly-Western High School and Roland Park.

This is in stark contrast to the conflicts between pedestrians and traffic on Cold Spring Lane itself at its interchange with the expressway, which has exactly the opposite kind of safety problem - far too much traffic, not too little. Cold Spring Lane attracts very heavy traffic from all over the city which also dissipates any sense of local ownership or control. The current path along this interchange from the light rail station to Poly-Western is very dangerous for pedestrians trying to negotiate the ramps and intersections, most notably for the Poly-Western students, who are among the city's best and brightest.

The best location for a new bridge is as an extension of the roadway that already dissects the large high school campus and then extends east across Falls Road into Roland Park on Hillside Road, creating the best possible physical linkage.

The proposed bridge over the expressway (I-83) between Poly-Western High School (east, right)
and Cold Spring Lane (lower left). The Stump Dump is at the left top (north)
with a Vinegar Plant nestled between the Jones Falls and the expressway interchange.
The existing light rail station is at the bottom (in blue) and a proposed relocation is at the top.

Many possible subsequent steps


Of course, there should be a much larger plan for how to integrate the new bridge into the surrounding area. Here are some elements which could be incorporated into such a plan:

1. Move the Cold Spring light rail station northward adjacent to the new bridge

The existing station is in a terrible location down in a gully and as previously noted, is very dangerous for pedestrians (e.g. students) to and from Cold Spring Lane. A relocated station would also create far better, safer and more direct access for all the surrounding communities, most notably Roland Park, Cross Keys and Coldspring New Town. In fact, the station was originally intended to be located there, but cost overruns and budget cuts on the entire rail line killed it.

2. Expand the Poly-Western campus to include more citywide education-related facilities

While it is already one of the city's premiere "magnet" high schools and a "go-to" facility for other education-related functions for the city as a whole, there is great potential to do more, including more partnerships with the private and nonprofit sectors to bring education and training into the "real world". The modern buzzword is to create an "anchor institution" for the surrounding area. As is, Poly-Western's campus still resembles a self-enclosed suburban design like a 1960s shopping mall with its ring-road. There is tremendous potential to change that.

The hidden Jones Falls looking north from the proposed bridge toward Cross Keys (high-rise in the upper right).
Cylburn Park is in the upper left (west), just beyond the light rail line and the expressway. The school campus area
to the right (east) of the stream could make a great linkage between the new bridge and Cross Keys. 

3. Open up the Cross Keys neighborhood

Like Poly-Western, Cross Keys just to the north was developed in the 1960s as a self-enclosed community, even including "gates" to give it an exclusive auto-oriented aura. This kind of design is now totally obsolete and prevents Cross Keys from reaching out to the city as a whole which a mixed-use community needs to do, especially with its major retail component. Integrating the north side of Poly with the south edge of Cross Keys would create new facets for both, and also link Cross Keys to the new community bridge to the light rail line. The now neglected Jones Falls (see above photo) would be an ideal spine for this connection.

Falls Road looking north toward Cross Keys (upper left) with the Baltimore Country Club property
in the Roland Park neighborhood to the right. Developing this portion of the property would integrate Falls Road
with Roland Park and enable the rest of the site to remain as open green space.

4. Transform Falls Road into an integral part of Roland Park

There's no reason why Falls Road can't feel like part of the Roland Park community too, instead of just another auto artery. With the enhancements to Poly-Western, Cross Keys and the new West Roland Park bridge, Falls Road could function like its part of the center of Roland Park, not off on its west edge. These improvements would also create a more intimate scale to increase Falls Road's orientation to pedestrians. This could also lead to a solution to the long development controversy between the Baltimore Country Club and the community (see my blog from way back in 2008). The Country Club could be encouraged to develop a narrow strip of their property adjacent to Falls Road, with sufficient quality and density to make it feasible for them to leave the rest of their property as open green space, as the surrounding Roland Park community has long insisted.

5. Create a new east gateway to Cylburn Park

Huge Cylburn Park currently turns its back on Roland Park and everything else to the west. That's like Sherwood Gardens turning its back on Guilford (unthinkable !!!) The ultimate goal in getting rid of the Stump Dump would be to create a new entrance to Cylburn that would link it to all that's gracious and classy - and then the rest of us Baltimorons could tag along too !!!

6. Link all of this to the Jones Falls Trail and Cold Spring New Town

The original 1970s plan for Cold Spring New Town was intended to include the entire Stump Dump area, along a roadway alignment that was already partially graded along the Jones Falls Trail which was finally built just a few years ago. A new plan could be devised to do something similar between the Jones Falls Trail and the new bridge to Poly and Roland Park, although due to the steep topography, it would probably be best to make this linkage for pedestrians and bikes only.

7. Create transit-oriented development

Among the various area sites for transit-oriented development, the best is probably adjacent to the existing light rail station south of Cold Spring Lane, rather than the proposed station relocation. However, as has been the experience elsewhere in Baltimore (State Center, Westport, Howard Street), rail transit has been an insufficient inducement to promote new development. All the other new linkages and area plans discussed above would likely be a much stronger inducement.

The bottom line is that the new linkages would enable developers and real estate agents to call this area "West Roland Park" - a name that could be worth millions. As a small example, the Fleischmann's Vinegar plant hidden away in the stream gully, which features some great old architecture, could be rebranded as something like "Ye Olde Craft Boutique Vinegar Works".

It all begins with building a bridge


Each of these concepts would add value to the others, creating collective momentum to do all of them. After a while, even the Baltimore City government could not resist the elimination of the Stump Dump in favor of more attractive and compatible uses.

Ultimately, the greatest inducement would probably be the ability to create a new gateway to Cylburn Park where the Stump Dump is now, with the best payoff being the ability to call Cylburn Park a part of Roland Park. When arguing against the development of the Baltimore Country Club site, Roland Park residents have raised the point that there is currently no park at all in Roland Park. Claiming Cylburn Park as part of Roland Park may be the biggest prize of all.

And it all begins with building a bridge.

March 20, 2017

Metro West should become Heritage Crossing South

The vacant desolate Metro West office complex and the beautiful but isolated Heritage Crossing neighborhood next door need each other, as does the rest of northwest Baltimore beyond.

Former City Housing Director Dan Henson, the man in charge when Heritage Crossing was being developed in the 1990s, wanted the new neighborhood extended southward to take over the land now squandered on the "Highway to Nowhere". The time has finally come to achieve Henson's vision, now that planning has begun for redevelopment of the huge Metro West complex after its abandonment by the Social Security Administration.

Looking south from Perkins Park along Myrtle Avenue in Heritage Crossing, toward the Metro West tower,
which seems more accessible than it really is because the intervening "Highway to Nowhere" wall is hidden from view.

The elements for success are there. One can see the Metro West tower majestically in the distance from Heritage Crossing's lovely Perkins Park and imagine a large, connected and prosperous community, just as Dan Henson did in the 1990s.

But the contrasting reality is jarring. Beautiful Heritage Crossing stands adjacent to vacant hulks of abandoned rowhouses. Homeless people have been chased by the city from one campsite to another under and around the "Highway to Nowhere".

Economically, the biggest danger sign is that Caves Valley Partners was able to buy the million-plus square foot six-square block Metro West complex from the federal government for a mere $7.1 million. Contrast that with the recent Harbor East real estate deal that valued the single Legg Mason building at nearly $300 million for about half the square footage.

Events at Metro West have proceeded rather predictably from the account just over a year ago in my blog.

A design for a 2,200-car parking garage at Metro West was rejected by UDARP Thursday.
Metro West parking garage proposed by developer Caves Valley Partners, with retail frontage
along Saratoga Street to the south. MLK Boulevard is to the left (west) foreground
 and a bit of the "Highway to Nowhere" eastbound overpass can be seen in the left (north) background.

Step Minus One: Proposed massive Metro West parking garage


The first step in Metro West's redevelopment process has been a very bad one. The developer's recent plan plops a huge 2200 car parking garage down on a large vacant parcel (shown above) with no clue as to how it relates to anything, thus violating just about every principle of good planning. This parking garage plan was quickly rejected by the city's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel.

The fundamental problem with the monster Metro West parking garage proposal isn't simply how big, ugly and imposing it is. The problem is that it needs to fit properly into a comprehensive plan for the entire six square block site, and it just can't.

The parking garage site simply eludes all possibilities for good planning. It sit on a "superblock" that is far too big, bounded by Saratoga, Greene and Mulberry Streets and Martin Luther King Boulevard, equivalent in size to three square blocks, which creates a fortress mentality. This means it inevitably creates dead spaces, or "border vacuums" as Jane Jacobs called them in her seminal book, "Death and Life of Great American Cities".

The small ground level retail space shown on the Saratoga street frontage is a very lame attempt to address this problem. The chances of any kind of healthy retail being attracted here is somewhere between slim and none.

But all the frontages surrounding this garage site would be similarly desolate. To the south, the other side of Saratoga Street is the derriere end of the University of Maryland campus. MLK Boulevard to the west is just a huge congested traffic artery. To the east is the rear "service entrance" for the existing Metro West complex and to the north is the "Highway to Nowhere" as it slices through the site - possibly the next location for the nomadic homeless camp as the city chases it away from site after site.

Planners can deal with perhaps one, two or maybe even three dead sides to a development site, but not all four. Here they decided to pretend that the Saratoga Street frontage was somehow viable, but it really isn't.

Proposed connection of Myrtle Avenue in Heritage Crossing (left, northwest) and Pine Street through Metro West
 (right, southeast) which I proposed in 2011. This plan also includes the elimination of the north (westbound) overpass
 of the "Highway to Nowhere" over MLK Boulevard and the southward relocation of Franklin Street (foreground, west).
 (I apologize for showing the new buildings about twice as tall as I should.)  

Steps One to Five to fix the problem


The problems created by the proposed parking garage cannot be solved in isolation, but can be solved with a wide-ranging step-by-step plan:

1. Create an attractive human-scale street spine through the Metro West site - Fortunately, this is possible to do. Pine Street to the south through the University of Maryland campus has the potential to be such a street. Myrtle Avenue to the north through Heritage Crossing, flanking beautiful Perkins Park, is already such a street. They simply need to be connected, which is what the meandering (a la Olmsted) yellow line through the graphic above indicates. This street could be designed to carry no through traffic, since it could have no median opening at its crossing of MLK Boulevard adjacent to Heritage Crossing. It would approximate the southern extension of Myrtle Avenue which existed from the nineteenth century until MLK Boulevard was built in the late 1970s.

2. Distribute the new parking with new development - Instead of building a single dominant 2200 space parking structure as recently proposed, the parking should be spread to at least two major new structures with "wrap around" office space or other new development along its outer edges. The new Myrtle-Pine spine would actually facilitate this by created an attractive local street frontage for both development sites on either side of Mulberry Street, while not seriously reducing the footprint size of the buildings.

The developer's proposed retail frontage along Saratoga Street would then have a context to be able to function properly, and more retail frontage could be added along the new spine. Saratoga is also proposed as a street to locate a revised west-only light rail Red Line, and this would be an ideal place to put a station, although we know from the Howard Street experience that this alone is not sufficient for revitalization. The retail uses would also compliment the free-standing suburban-style Rite Aid drug store just across MLK Boulevard, which was recently renovated after suffering major damage in the 2015 riots. In the long run, this Rite Aid could be replaced by higher density development as the depressed property values hopefully increase to what they should be.

3. Tear down the northern overpass of the "Highway to Nowhere" and consolidate traffic on the southern half - We know that the "Highway to Nowhere" can be closed with little adverse effect to traffic, as has already been done numerous times for various peripheral construction projects. But while the "Highway to Nowhere" is extremely detrimental to its adjacent community environments, it is probably best to retain one of its two overpasses over MLK Boulevard so that all its traffic does not need to use the intersections with the similarly heavy MLK traffic. Consolidating traffic on the southern overpass would keep it as far as possible away from Heritage Crossing, to facilitate its expansion. This traffic diversion should also allow Franklin Street to be shifted away from Heritage Crossing as well, and perhaps even allow Mulberry Street to be closed just east of MLK to serve only as part of the Pine Street local circulation for Metro West.

In any event, demolishing just one overpass would eliminate the worst aspect of the "Highway to Nowhere", which is its isolated dead space between the eastbound and westbound highways. The single remaining overpass would actually be quite open and airy, and very compatible with an attractive development plan for the adjacent parcels. MLK Boulevard will remain a formidable barrier and the single overpass, open to both people and vehicles, will bridge it.

4. Restore and reopen Fremont Avenue between Franklin and Mulberry Streets through the "Highway to Nowhere" corridor - Old Fremont Avenue is the point where the highway makes its transition from being down in a ditch to the west, to being up on overpasses to the east. It is also the point where pedestrians now dangerously walk across the formerly Interstate highway. By rebuilding and reconnecting Fremont Avenue with traffic signals, the communities would become more unified and the crossings would be safer and more pedestrian-friendly.

A newly reconnected Fremont Avenue would also make an ideal location for an additional station in a revised Red Line plan, because it would not be down in the "ditch" like the planned Harlem Park station to the west. The community of Fremont homeowners just to the south sued the MTA to stop the Red Line tunnel under Fremont from the cancelled Red Line plan.

5. Get rid of the "Highway to Nowhere" in up to six phases to accommodate new development - The city doesn't need to get rid of the "Highway to Nowhere" all at once. The first two steps were already taken at the west end of the highway when its retaining wall was demolished and Payson Street was reconnected through the corridor. These projects were time consuming and lauded as a big deal, but they were really just preliminary. The third step would be to build the connecting roads that will enable the north (westbound) bridge over MLK Boulevard to be knocked down and allow both directions of traffic to be consolidated on the south overpass. One lane in each direction will be sufficient on this bridge and even leave room for new sidewalks and bike lanes, since this will no longer be an expressway.

The fourth and fifth steps will be to complete the new local north-south streets: Fremont Avenue across the corridor and Pine Street underneath the overpass to Myrtle Avenue in Heritage Crossing. The sixth and final step would be to close the remainder of the "Highway to Nowhere" in the mile-long ditch between Fremont and Payson to create a development and greenway corridor, as depicted in the rendering below.

MTA rendering of the Harlem Park Red Line Station, with the "Highway to Nowhere" removed and replaced with new development
 by Marc Szarkowski, The existing Calhoun Street overpass is seen in the background (to the west).



Step Zero: Plan comprehensively !!!


Right now, Metro West's developer appears to be acting under the assumption that since it paid a bargain basement price for the property, this will be a bargain basement project. Not only did they recently submit a bare-bones generic garage plan, they have also advertised for a "pad site" development, which is real estate parlance for a free-standing suburban-style use like a gas-convenience-fast food outlet.

But the city can't afford cheap shortcuts because this is a critical location and resource for the success of all the west downtown and northwest city neighborhoods, which are now suffering greatly. That's why the price was so low in the first place.

The city and state have already spent hundreds of millions on various projects in this area, including Heritage Crossing, the University of Maryland, and its Biopark, and have been trying to spend much more on the Howard/Lexington area, the La Cite development in Poppleton and other projects. And all this is just the beginning. Much more investment is needed in Lafayette Square, Harlem Park, Upton and other nearby neighborhoods. Metro Center is as critical as any of them, or perhaps more so because it sits on the fulcrum of downtown and the city's entire northwest corridor.

The first step in all of this is for Caves Valley to work with the city revise the design for the Saratoga Street parking garage so that it fits into a quality comprehensive plan instead of simply appearing to be plopped down on the site. The quality and coherence of Metro West must meet the standards that have already been set by Heritage Crossing, just as any new development would in any high quality city neighborhood.

March 15, 2017

33rd St. to Gwynns Falls: Updating Olmsted's Parkways

At the beginning of the automotive age over a hundred years ago, Frederick Law Olmsted conceived one of America's original parkway systems right here in Baltimore. While the lush green appearance of Gwynns Falls Parkway, 33rd Street and The Alameda have changed remarkably little over the years, the way they function and serve the city has always been in flux.

Olmsted's 1904 report stated very clearly that the parkways mission was always about the big picture as well as the design details: The parkways should "be treated as far as possible like extensions of the parks to bring them to the people and place them in touch with each other.”

Inside median view of 33rd Street looking east from The Alameda toward Lake Montebello.
It's already a very attractive greenway, but the challenge is to make it feel like a park.
The festering trash is a sign that this is now a "no man's land"

A lifetime of riding on various parkways has conditioned us to see them from off to the side, either on the road or sidewalk. But the real Baltimore parkway experience can only be had from being inside the median itself. Their typical width of about 40 feet is enough that the surrounding heavy traffic can feel like mere background. The Olmsted parkway medians really can be treated like parks if we would only let them.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is promoting a proposed 35 mile greenway loop that seeks to link and maximize the use of 25 miles of trails that already exist, to "create a powerful interconnected trail network around Baltimore City." But two of the critical gaps in this loop network are Olmsted parkways - 33rd Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway.

The RTC's trail network proposal is precisely the means to treat the parkways "like extensions of the parks to bring them to the people and place them in touch with each other" as Olmsted envisioned. The parkway medians need their own trail. 

Baltimore Greenway Trails Network Map
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Plan for a 35 mile greenway loop, including Gwynns Falls Parkway (#2) and 33rd Street (#4)
 and encompassing the existing Gwynns Falls Trail (#1) and the Inner Harbor (#8).

What would Olmsted do?


In over a hundred years, traffic and other conditions have changed dramatically, but the Rails-to-Trails goal remains the same as the original Olmsted goal: Treat the parkways like parks.

Back then, the neighborhoods around these parkways were considered suburban, and the whole concept of suburbs was relatively new. As conditions evolved, the parkways came to be considered extensions of the houses' front yards. Then as the traffic grew, the gentry moved farther out into suburbia and the green space inside the parkway medians became more isolated - a pretty sight but little else. So now it's time to rededicate to Olmsted's goal by making the parkway medians a people place.

One of RTC's plan options would do that: Create a pathway inside the medians for people to experience them up-close as extensions of the parks.

Along most of 33rd Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway, this would actually be fairly simple to do. Of course, simply laying down a 12 foot strip of asphalt would not do justice to the legacy of high quality design that Olmsted and his successors are known for, most notably in the presence of the stately rows of magnificent trees which line the median.

We also know that high quality design requires a variety of disciplines - not only landscape and urban design but also environmental and traffic engineering. We know that the new pathway must respect the trees. We also know that the pathway must not harm the permeability of the median to avoid poor drainage and excessive runoff. And we know that traffic can be controlled but it can't be eliminated.

In sum, the proposed pathway will create opportunities that can work very well in some respects but there will be limitations. It should not be cheapened with bad compromises.

How to make the parkway paths work


The way to accommodate people on pathways inside the parkways is simply to minimize conflicts between cars and people. This can be accomplished to four different levels:

1 - Gaps in the parkway median should be closed where possible. There does not need to be an opening in the median at every intersection, with full access to and from each of the low-traffic local streets. Cutting back access will also be beneficial to the neighborhoods by reducing traffic short-cutting thru the neighborhoods. It will also be a welcome sight to be able to see the attractive green parkway in the view corridor at the ends of these streets instead of just seeing more pavement.

As an example, closing the three median openings on 33rd Street between The Alameda and Hillen Road at Lake Montebello - at Tivoly, Fenwick and an alley - would create a continuous traffic conflict-free greenway of nearly a third of a mile in length.

A continuous greenway of almost a third of a mile, uninterrupted by traffic, can be created
 between Lake Montebello (top right, east) and The Alameda (left, west) in the 33rd Street median,
due to the lengthy blocks in the Lakeside (top) and Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello (bottom) neighborhoods.

2 - Gaps in the parkway which cannot be closed should be made as small as possible. There is very little need for the pavement openings in the parkways to be as large as they are now. They should only be large enough to track the traffic paths and no larger.

An example of this is the 33rd Street intersection with Old York Road. "Flexi-posts" have already been installed in the median opening as a cheap traffic-calming and diversion measure. Although the better solution is to close the median opening altogether, the second best alternative is to extend the median out to where the flexi-posts are now located.

This Old York Road median opening was already the very smallest (45 feet) along the entire length of 33rd Street. The flexi-posts have reduced it to about 20 feet. But the median openings for the other minor intersections on 33rd Street range all the way up to over 80 feet at Ednor Road - the equivalent of crossing an eight-lane highway! The median opening at the Guilford Avenue "Bike Boulevard" is a less-than-average 60 feet, but designing it for bikes-only would be appropriate, essentially bringing the width down to zero. All in all, there is great potential for increasing green space and the integrity of the parkway simply by putting the 33rd Street median on a pavement diet.

These "flexi-posts" in the 33rd Street median opening at Old York Road (looking west) are a cheapo temporary way
 of doing what needs to be done - reduce the size of the median opening to only what is needed.
Better yet, close the median opening altogether. The "Waverly Village" sign is also very non-park like
 and blocks the greenway, more like one would expect to see in suburbia than a park setting. 

3 - Wherever the parkway median must remain open, left-turns from the parkway should then be prohibited if possible. This means left-turn traffic would be accommodated from the side streets, but not onto the side streets. This further prioritizes the local neighborhood streets for residents. Also, the necessary size of a median openings for left-turns from side streets would be smaller than that from the parkways, because these vehicles can make wider turns.

4 - Wherever significant traffic conflicts remain, special signalization for pedestrians and bikes along the greenway should be provided. At some major intersections - Charles, St. Paul, Loch Raven, Alameda and Hillen - left-turns are sufficiently heavy that signalization is the only solution. At Charles and St. Paul in particular, the left turns are so heavy that it probably justifies the current lack of any median at all in the block between them. In that case, it is probably best to use signals to direct pedestrians and bikes to the existing sidewalks and bike lanes, for which further improvements are no doubt possible.

The goal should be to create the highest quality and most park-like environment inside the medians for people. With this priority, the pathways will not provide the best possible speed and connections for bicycles. Many skilled and commuter bicyclists will find it more advantageous to use bike lanes and routes along the streets than to use the pathways inside the parkways. This will also help resolve conflicts between bikes and pedestrian users of the parkway trails.

Better solutions may also be available for specific locations. In particular, the critical intersection of Gwynns Falls Parkway and Auchentoroly Terrace on the edge of Druid Hill Park is very poorly designed for anyone - pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists and the neighborhood as a whole. This intersection, as well as Druid Hill Park's entire edge highway system, needs a major redesign and realignment (see my 2010 BaltimoreBrew story - update coming soon).

The Gwynns Falls Parkway is particularly beautiful adjacent to Hanlon Park (to the left/north).
The median and park should be integrated in human design as Olmsted intended.
Gwynns Falls Parkway also provides great opportunities. Perhaps the most beautiful segment of the entire parkway system is adjacent to Hanlon Park. The new greenway path in the median of Gwynns Falls Parkway is an opportunity to extend the pathway system into Hanlon Park and northward to lovely Lake Ashburton. This should be given attention before the upcoming reconstruction of Druid Lake takes place to give the community more options during its severe disruption.

The large 35-mile RTC greenway loop is also a framework for an even larger system. Alameda, proceeding from Clifton Park to 33rd Street and northward, should also be given similar attention to 33rd Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway. The 6-mile West Baltimore greenway loop which I have proposed would also coincide with the RTC loop system along the Gwynns Falls Trail. This trail and others may be seen as tools for redeveloping the city as much as for access and recreation.

Urban parks are precious. Even after a century, the Olmsted parkways are as invaluable as ever to maximize the use of Baltimore's parks and green space for urban living.

March 1, 2017

Fix Pimlico and Preakness, shutdown Laurel Racetrack

In a horse race between Pimlico and Laurel, the "experts" and bean counters say Laurel is a much better racetrack and location than Pimlico. It has a larger market area, better access and it's in better condition. They even tout better parking as a selling point.

But it's still bad economics to close down Pimlico and move the Preakness to Laurel. Port Covington and Pigtown were previously promoted as better racetrack locations than Pimlico too, but that didn't mean we should build a new racetrack there either.

Three basic economic points should dictate the future of Pimlico Race Course:

   1. Horse racing is not now, nor is ever again likely to be, a major economic engine for growth in the city or state.
   2. The basic economic value of the Laurel Park racetrack site for virtually any kind of redevelopment is higher than Pimlico.
   3. Both the Pimlico and Laurel need to be redeveloped to serve as full-time economic generators 365 days a year, not just during the limited and sporadic racing seasons.
Pimlico Racetrack at Northern Parkway and Park Heights Avenue.
The Mount Washington and Park Heights neighborhoods are respectively to the north and south.

Talk of putting a new racetrack at Port Covington only came grinding to a halt when Under Armour came along and devised a multi-billion dollar plan for their corporate headquarters along with a major high density surrounding urban development. The same things that made Port Covington a good racetrack site - accessibility, visibility, market area, etc. - made it a far far better location for something much more valuable.

That's a law of economics. It's not just about value. It's about comparative value.

The same thing applies to Laurel. Its location halfway between Baltimore and Washington, with its own MARC rail station, has far more potential economic value than what it could ever return for horse racing, which has already pretty much reached its peak. Relative to its economic potential, Laurel needs a new land use and development plan just as much as Pimlico does.

The main difference is that major redevelopments in Baltimore must be catalysts for uplifting their surrounding areas, whereas Laurel is surrounded by the dynamic Washington metropolitan area where new development only needs to fit in and complement what is already there.

The fact that we're talking about Laurel versus Pimlico, one or the other, says that we're obviously not talking about horse racing as a burgeoning industry. However, it is still a highly visible and iconic industry.

Laurel simply doesn't need high visibility, but Pimlico and Baltimore does.

Even the warm and fuzzy "emotional" factors aren't so fuzzy when translated into economics. The annual Preakness "Triple Crown" race draws 135,000 people, and Laurel would be incapable of physically accommodating that many because it does not have a usable "infield" area inside the track. More importantly, the long storied tradition of this "Triple Crown" event isn't just emotion, it's everything. If we lose that tradition, we lose everything. It can't be remade from scratch.

The Preakness is very important to the state and city's marketing image, which is where the real value is.

So here is the agenda:


The Maryland Stadium Authority has just completed its Phase One Study of Pimlico, which concluded that a major racetrack makeover will cost approximately $300 Million. That's very reasonable in terms of recent price tags for major modern sports facilities, but it is far too much for a part-time venue that's only fully utilized once a year. The most important outcome of the study is that it appears that all involved parties want to proceed with a follow-up Phase Two.

So here is the way to proceed from here:

1. Create a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the entire Pimlico site, in which the renovated racetrack serves as an anchor motif, but which also includes other uses which can feed off the horse theme and create full-time year-around economic activity. The marketing theme is simply that people love horses and their unique traditions, and that can be a major attraction for year-around uses.

2. Then prepare an assessment of the value of redeveloping Laurel as well, based on closing down the racetrack and starting over with a clean sheet on a very valuable site.

3. Then begin partnership negotiations between the state and local governments on the one side and Stronach Group, which owns both race tracks, on the other. Negotiations that include both sites will provide more leeway than treating the two sites in isolation. A pot sweetener at one location may facilitate concessions at the other. It is beside the point that more money can be made from horse racing at Laurel. The overall bottom line for all uses on both sites is the key.

4. Include Timonium racetrack and fairgrounds in the discussion. Timonium is another valuable underutilized site with an obsolete racetrack, served by light rail and surrounded by very active suburban development. Perhaps Pimlico can be made into an exposition center and the Maryland State Fair can be moved there from nearby Timonium.

Stronach will contend that Laurel is the best home for racing because it requires the least investment on their part, creating the lowest priced baseline for their investment. This sets up the state as the investor that would spend the lion's share. Investors like to use other people's money.

The state needs to resist this position as much as possible, because private sector investors including Stronach would stand to gain the most from a maximum investment in redeveloping Laurel.

Here's a major precedent: Sites for a new Yankee Stadium were being considered in New York. The primary options were The Bronx, adjacent to the existing stadium, and Manhattan's west side. Manhattan had all the economic advantages, but The Bronx was ultimately the better choice. So the Bronx Bombers stayed in The Bronx right across the street from legendary old Yankee Stadium. And now the west side of Manhattan is prospering even more, with billions in new investment from the High Line to Hudson Yards to Hell's Kitchen. Of course, Laurel isn't Manhattan, but the point is the same. Laurel is at the intersection of four of the most affluent counties in the country: HoCo, MoCo, PG (#1 for AfrAms) and AA.

One could also think of horses as basically being Maryland's version of China's pandas. Nobody would ever suggest that pandas could or should become a major part of China's overall economic output, but they are a potent symbol for Chinese tradition and culture.

The same goes for horse racing at Pimlico. It's not fuzzy, vague or outmoded. Horse racing at Pimlico is simply a solid theme to build upon which adds real economic value.

February 22, 2017

Pigtown gateway roundabout shaped like a sausage

... or maybe shaped like a hot dog or a bun filled with whatever pork byproduct your heart desires. Pigtown would be at the center, like barbecued pork surrounded by a rotisserie of traffic.

I'm not a designer or a cook, so consider this as something sketched on a napkin along with blotches of relish and salsa. One of my blogging goals is to present spastic plans that someone who feels sorry for me but actually "gets it" can turn it into something attractive and artistic. Silk from a sow's ear, so to speak.

Proposed Pigtown Roundabout represented by the green splotches
 at the intersection of Bayard Street (left) and Washington Boulevard. Carroll Park is in the foreground.
Downtown skyline in the left background and M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Ravens) in the right background. 

Gateway to Pigtown - Link to Carroll Park


The concept is that Pigtown needs a gateway from the west along with the one from the east. To the east is Pigtown's access from the Inner Harbor and downtown, which introduces people to the "Real Baltimore" that resides behind that urban facade. I addressed that gateway with a concept called the Pigtown Parkway that would envelope the approach to Pigtown in greenery.

But from the west, there's already a huge expanse of greenery in the form of Carroll Park, Baltimore's most historic and most underappreciated park. What is needed is to link Carroll Park to Pigtown as directly and assertively as possible... Link, as in sausage link.

The place to do that is the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Bayard Street, at the southeast corner of the park. And a roundabout is the perfect means to do so, because it would provide the exclamation point to the long linearity of historic US Route 1, main street of the east coast, which starts in Key West, Florida, 90 miles from Cuba, and extends over 2300 miles all the way up the coast to Canada.

Many years ago, the official US 1 designation was redirected away from Washington Boulevard to Southwest Boulevard, up to Wilkens Avenue and ultimately to the Mount Clare neighborhood just north of Carroll Park. Then a few years ago, a roundabout was even built a block from the end of Wilkens Avenue at its intersection with Mount Street.

In concept, it was a good plan. But it needed to be a part of something much bigger. The key is to link it into the vast verdant glory of Carroll Park, which currently is separated from the neighborhood by an abandoned incongruous industrial wasteland. The Southwest Partnership has its own plan to address this: They propose to build a wall to keep the riff-raff out of the old B&O Railroad corridor and thus out of the park. (Shades of President Trump and his wall.)

I have my own alternate plan, prepared with the assistance of skillful artistic urban designer Marc Szarkowski, who obviously felt sorry for my lack of design skills. The plan is essentially to make the north edge of Carroll Park part of the Mount Clare neighborhood in the same manner that the east edge of Carroll Park is part and parcel with Pigtown.

The bottom line for both the Mount Clare and Pigtown neighborhoods is that a great park like Carroll Park is one of the best resources any neighborhood can have, and we need to make the most of it.

Overhead (plan) view of the proposed roundabout, drawn in Rorschach or Kandinsky style.
Washington Blvd. runs from lower left to upper right. Bayard Street runs from upper left to lower right.
Carroll Park at left. Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School at right.

The special powers of roundabouts


Like great parks, roundabouts are also unique and indispensable tools. Roundabouts have the unique ability to take a long dominant street like Washington Boulevard and "de-linearize" it, diffusing it into a place instead of just a street. Once you enter a roundabout, the roundabout itself becomes your reference rather than the street itself. Then you realize you're not just on Washington Boulevard, you're in Pigtown. That's also what a gateway intends to do.

Roundabouts are capable of handling large volumes of traffic including large buses and trucks, depending on how they're designed. Washington Boulevard creates the perception that it carries more traffic than it actually does, because of its extreme dominant length (all the way to Key West if you think about it).

So what kind of neighborhood icon artistic creation should we put in the middle of the roundabout? That discussion is a whole 'nother that I'll leave to another. Maybe a statue of a pig? Or are we pigged-out? Just remember that it will have to withstand centuries of scrutiny from the PC Police.

An important functional aspect of this specific roundabout is that it should accommodate pedestrians within the oval. Many roundabouts are designed to prevent pedestrian crossings but this one should not be. The direct diagonal passage of pedestrians between the majority of the neighborhood to the east and Carroll Park to the west is one of its key characteristics. The roundabout should feel like an extension of the park itself into the neighborhood, sort of how Columbus Circle next to New York's Central Park might have originally been designed before Manhattan traffic overwhelmed it. (By the way, that's next to Trump Tower - so maybe he'll give us some funding!)

Such a pedestrian park link would work well with the roundabout's elongated sausage-esque shape, which is a physical necessity anyway. since the intersection is too small to accommodate the roundabout in a circular or any other way.

It all fits together. As Porky would say: That's All Folks !!!!!!!!!!

January 30, 2017

Hopkins should expand into Bayview rail yard

Recent events point the way for the next expansion of Baltimore's ever-growing Johns Hopkins health care empire. The Hopkins Bayview Research Park should expand into the 70-plus acre Bayview rail yard immediately to the north. This would create the strong urban face for its campus and for Amtrak riders that Hopkins has been trying to achieve for decades.
Looking east along Lombard Street showing three possible new buildings located in the Bayview Rail Yard to the north
 and Bayview's existing National Institutes of Health to the south.

Here are the recent events (in reverse order) which make this a logical progression:

1 - Passenger rail: Most recently, the new Federal Railroad Administration's northeast corridor expansion plan calls for a "hub" Amtrak station at Bayview, which should provide magnitudes more service than the MARC commuter rail station that Hopkins had long sought.

2 - Freight rail: The Maryland Department of Transportation and CSX have announced a plan to enlarge the CSX rail tunnel under Howard Street to accommodate double-stack freight containers to fix a major bottleneck and create a long-needed viable freight route inland to the rest of the country.

3 - Port: The demolished steel works at the 3000 acre Sparrows Point are now being redeveloped as "Tradepoint Atlantic", which calls for a major investment by the private sector and the Maryland Port Administration in expanded port facilities.

What all this means is that the current Norfolk Southern freight rail yard at Bayview will likely become marginal if not totally obsolete, which makes it ripe for acquisition for an expansion of the Hopkins Bayview Research Park to the north. More than ever, freight rail facilities will need to be consolidated and expanded to be in total integration with the port, to create seamless intermodal connections. This includes existing port facilities at Canton, Seagirt and Dundalk, as well as the future facilities at Sparrows Point. The same thing happened previously on the west side of the harbor, beginning when CSX Transportation closed its Port Covington rail yard in the 1980s for redevelopment which has now led to the Under Armour Corporate Campus.

Container storage at the Norfolk Southern Railroad Bayview freight yard,
looking east along Lombard Street from Bioscience Drive

There will no longer be a significant reason to load containers onto freight trains at Bayview. This facility will make no more sense than the inland container terminal that CSX and the state proposed and then cancelled several years ago at various locations west of the port - Elkridge, Jessup, Morrell Park, Mount Winans - whereby freight would have to first be loaded from ships onto trucks travelling on local roads and highways and then subsequently loaded onto trains.

The Port of Baltimore has been investing in far more efficient facilities to load freight trains directly from ships, and Sparrows Point will provide new expansions of this capability.

Evolution of the Hopkins Bayview Research Park campus


The Hopkins Bayview campus now looks much different from how it was originally planned when Johns Hopkins originally bought it from the City in the 1980s. The original plan was to demolish the large building that originally served as City Hospital. This would have created a "blank slate" for a whole new campus which would have integrated the hospital with various health care research and support facilities, built around a "campus green" that in turn would be integrated with the large open space to the south toward Eastern Avenue.

Norfolk Southern's Bayview Rail Yard bounded by Lombard Street to the south,
 Interstate 95 to the east, Interstate 895 to the west and the Amtrak tracks to the north.
The existing Hopkins Bayview Research Park is shown to the south between Lombard Street and  Eastern Avenue.
But this plan was scuttled when it was determined that the old hospital building, now called the Mason Lord Tower, could be more efficiently renovated as offices than demolished for brand new construction. This then led to the decision to build a whole new hospital complex to the east rather than to integrate it with the offices to the west. Then they confronted the economic reality that it was far more feasible to build at lower densities and rely predominantly on surface parking lots rather than garages.

This has been a recipe for success for the Bayview Campus, but it has also resulted in lower density sprawl. Without a tight campus configuration, there is no true focal point that justifies a higher density and hiding the parking away. Bayview looks and functions pretty much like generic suburbia with large parking lot dead zones.

The cancelled light rail Red Line wouldn't have helped much either. It would have slowly wound around the campus much like the current central light rail line winds around Hunt Valley at its north suburban terminus. If anything, Hunt Valley has less sprawl than Bayview, with a higher density and more land use diversity with its attractive open air multi-level shopping plaza having replaced its dead mall, But as with the Red Line, the slow speed and mediocre quality of the light rail service has not justified creating a true transit-oriented focal point for Hunt Valley.

Perhaps an even greater stumbling block is that once a "culture" develops for a particular area, it is very difficult to change it. Areas like Bayview, Hunt Valley and many others have grown up around the automobile with plentiful land and parking, and interjecting light rail is not going to change it. Even newer very urban higher density areas like Harbor East, Harbor Point and Canton Crossing have trouble orienting to rail transit. Harbor East proved unwilling to make the necessary concessions to accommodate a subway station for the Red Line as part of its development, while at Canton Crossing, the developers banished the proposed station to the Boston Street median strip as they proceeded with their suburban inspired auto-oriented development.

Fulfilling Bayview's promise


Expanding Hopkins Bayview into what is now the Norfolk Southern rail yard would create a whole new opportunity for a cultural environment built around transit as the focal point. In turn, such a focal point would create a location of maximum value to justify new high density development.

The transit access would be superior to anything previously proposed - expanded MARC commuter rail to Washington right next to the campus office and research facilities, and potential rail service to Philadelphia, New York and places in between.

This arrangement also creates yet another reason to extend the "heavy rail" Metro from the main Hopkins Hospital to the east along the Amtrak right-of-way, providing the most direct and best possible transit between them and to downtown, and far, far better than the dead Red Line.

The corridor between the main Hopkins Hospital and the Hopkins Bayview campus would then become a "Health Corridor", including intervening Metro stations at the growing "Station East" neighborhood and the large undeveloped Edison Highway/Monument Street site. The latter would still make a very good alternative to Bayview as a comprehensive transit hub serving the Metro, MARC commuter rail and buses. However, if transit-oriented development could be introduced at the Bayview Yard, it would then become the odds-on favorite for the multi-modal transit hub as well. And since the new Federal Rail Administration report selected it as a hub station for expanded service, it's now firmly heading in that direction.

The site plan for the Bayview MARC station which had been created as part of the Red Line plan was totally inadequate. To enable the train station to coexist with the freight yard, the plan required it to be located out on an isolated island in the middle of the yard, with a long pedestrian bridge connecting it to the Red Line station and to its access point. Closing the freight yard will allow the two rail stations to be fully integrated with each other and with multiple access points and transit-oriented development, commensurate with their increasing importance.

Introducing residential, retail and other more diverse land uses into Bayview could also be a great benefit, both for added value and to enhance the "culture" as a true community and not just a work place.

Expanding the Hopkins Bayview Research Park into the Bayview Yard along with an Amtrak station could fulfill all the potential that Hopkins envisioned when development began in the 1980s, and much more.

January 19, 2017

A simple specific ten-point city transportation agenda

Skip the platitudes. Here's just what Baltimore should do to make its transportation system work for the city (with links to various blog articles):

1. Re-time the traffic signals: Green, yellow, red. Green, yellow, red... Reduce the signal cycle times to 60 seconds so traffic moves slower but more often. Take control of the city's heartbeat.

2. Spin-off the Charm City Circulator: The city government can't run it properly, even if it somehow could afford to. Merge it with all the other shuttle buses run by colleges and institutions to create a comprehensive circulator system. In the process, adjust the MTA bus system to eliminate all its redundancies.

3. Create a Lexington Market Transit Hub: This is the first step in creating a truly connected system of Metro, light rail and bus routes, and a fitting complement to the planned new Lexington Market.

The MTA's Harlem Park Red Line Station rendering - but with the surrounding "Highway to Nowhere" replaced by a vibrant
 transit-oriented neighborhood as envisioned by Marc Szarkowski. This is the part of the Red Line that should be built ASAP,
 terminating at a Lexington Market Transit Hub. It would also be part of a Six-Mile West Baltimore Greenway Loop. 

4. Get rid of the "Highway to Nowhere": Transform the desolate corridor into a new neighborhood that is truly built around a "transit culture", anchored by the redevelopment of the downtown Metro West complex to the east, an expanded Heritage Crossing to the north and the all-new West Baltimore train station that Amtrak wants to build to the west.

5. Build the buildable part of the Red Line: Abandon the "fatally flawed", ill-conceived, disconnected and inordinately expensive downtown tunnel. Build the western portion of the Red Line, which has already been mostly designed, and tie it into the Lexington Market Metro Hub, .

6. Make light rail the central access mode for Port Covington instead of an afterthought: Design the planned light rail spur to make the huge Port Covington development a central part of the city, even while it is still remains a world apart.

7. Make the city's bike route network neighborhood-centric: Livable neighborhoods and safe routes for bicycles should go hand-in-hand, while high volume auto routes should be pushed to the periphery.

8. Build a Six-Mile West Baltimore Greenway Loop: This is the key to creating attractive livable neighborhoods in West Baltimore. The six mile greenway loop would include the neighborhood that replaces the "Highway to Nowhere", a narrower and less imposing MLK Boulevard, the historic "First Mile" of the B&O Railroad (one of the city's best tourist resources), and an enhanced greenway from the north edge of Carroll Park to the Gwynns Falls Valley.

9. Make the light rail system "streetcar compatible": The light rail system should be the foundation for a streetcar system that serves shorter and more locally oriented trips with smaller vehicles. The best candidate for early implementation would be from Howard Street to Penn Station. After that would come the links between the new Lexington Market Hub (#3 above) and MLK Boulevard, the Inner Harbor, the Southeast Baltimore Perkins Homes redevelopment and the B&O "First Mile" corridor to Montgomery Park (the city's largest office building).

10. Build a Middle Branch Parkway: A narrow new "spine road" between Conway Street at Camden Yards and Waterview Avenue at Cherry Hill would jump-start development in between, including Westport, the Casino-Camden Yards Entertainment District and a campus for expansion of the Convention Center. Portions of this could be closed to make room for recreation on weekends and for special events.

Finally, the platitudes: The theme here is to use transportation as a tool for community and economic development, to unify the city. This can be done far more effectively through effective physical planning than the various social and legal remedies that people have been talking about for what seems like forever.

We must make as much of Baltimore as attractive as possible - to increase property values, to make investment worthwhile and to shatter preconceived biases. Enacting new laws and police rules won't do it. Creating island fortresses of prosperity won't do it. Giving a few lucky poor folks subsidized waterfront housing among the yuppies won't do it. Pouring tons of money into neighborhoods that aren't worth it won't do it. (That's economics, not racism.)

Creating One Baltimore is a physical change that requires a new way of thinking. Transportation is how we experience the city. Or as George "P-Funk" Clinton (no relation to Hillary 'n' Bill) said: "Free your mind... and your ass will follow."