June 29, 2007

President Street


Many people in Baltimore are in love with the idea of creating wide boulevards, such as has been proposed for Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor. But let's look at what happened when the City did that to President Street on the east side of the Inner Harbor along the Jones Falls. This is also instructive because many people want to extend this boulevard northward toward the prison complexes to create an attractive interaction between the river and pedestrians, bikes and cars.

The photo above shows a bicyclist stranded in the President Street median strip waiting for traffic to clear from the vast ribbons of concrete which surround him. This also shows the conditions for pedestrians along President Street, because the cyclist has ascertained that he is better off behaving like a pedestrian than out in the traffic lanes as cyclists are supposed to be. Conditions are bad for pedestrians but even worse for cyclists.

Conditions are not terribly attractive beside the boulevard either. Here is the waterfront "promenade" sandwiched between President Street Boulevard and the Jones Falls, north of Lombard Street. It's not a gold coast - it's a quintessential dead zone.

Well, how about a place farther away from traffic where there is room for a healthy interaction between development, pedestrians and the water? The problem in the photograph above is that the City made the mistake of making the promenade between Lombard and Pratt wide enough so that parked cars just took over. It seems that cars in Baltimore will eventually take over every spot of any use to them at all if no one is around to either tow, steal or vandalize them.

Another problem with waterfront development in Baltimore is that every development needs its own monster parking garage, so that there is likely to be a monster parking garage along any given waterfront promenade, such as this one along the Jones Falls at Columbus Center. The result is yet another dead zone.

On the other side of the Jones Falls from Columbus Center, we see a dumpster from Scarlett Place that has invaded the promenade. We also see a service vehicle in the background. Service vehicles seem to have special privileges to park anywhere in Baltimore. Somebody recognized this as a problem because they put up a sign, which is as much of a response as we could hope for.

Well, how about the locations for transit oriented development? The Shot Tower Subway Station is adjacent to the Jones Falls promenade, the escalator entrance to which is shown above as the white canvas-topped pavilion under the sign for "Power Plant Live". The plaza in front of the subway entrance has become - you guessed it - an impromptu parking lot and dumpster dive.

So in sum, the President Street Boulevard and adjacent Jones Falls Promenade are bad for pedestrians and cyclists and a dead zone for development. Parked cars, trucks, garages, and dumpsters have inevitably filled the dead zone like a vacuum. President Street is also a hell hole for traffic.

And people want to do the same thing elsewhere?


  1. I don't like "monster parking garages" eiher my solution has always been underground parking to create a denser envrionment.

  2. Gerald,
    When I saw the city in May of 2009 awarded a contract to Rummel, Klepper & Kahl to study the idea of demolishing the elevated portion of the JFX south of Eager and extending the President Street blvd in it's place, my first thought was to log on and see what you had said on the matter. I admit to being somewhat surprised by your negative portrayal of Preseident Street, but you do make a convincing argument regarding its flaws.

    Still, I can't help but wonder if you've made an argument against the idea of Present Street, or against the execution of that idea?

    Is the issue that this sort of boulevard is bad, or that it is simply poorly executed? I compare it to the striking case made on BaltiMorphosis.com for a livable, walkable Franklin Mulberry, instead of what the MTA has proposed. The need for the red line may spark the chance to go back in time and fix past sins. Is the same true for Presidet street?

    My commute regularly takes me across Center Street, down to the Fallsway, where I swing around to catch the JFX on-ramp at Madison. Now that I'm bored with the view of the homeless village, the Prison and the strip club, I've had a chance to consider just how wide the swath of land is in the gully under the JFX bridge, between Guilford and Fallsway.

    How cannot the idea of a boulevard in this space not be a vast improvement, replacing a impediment of a bridge with human-scale bridge between the city center and the east side? I'm not smart enough to understand the the traffic implications of this proposal, but I have a gut feel about the human implications.

    And while we're on the topic, Gerald, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Central Avenue. Wouldn't this proposal also spur movement on the long neglected stretch of Central Avenue through the heart of Jonestown? Already there is movement to build an apartment at 110 Central Avenue. With all the activity around Johns Hopkins to the east, Inner Harbor East to the south, and the possibility of adressing the southern tip of the JFX, doesn't all that point to Central Avenue being the next domino--and a central one at that in knitting the area back together?