STREETCARS - PART ZERO
The photo simulation above shows the streetcar line proposed by the Charles Street Development Corporation ( www.charlesstreet.org/trolley ) on the Light Street connector to Calvert and Pratt Street adjacent to the Inner Harbor. This photo does an excellent job of demonstrating why streetcars can be such a great element of an urban streetscape. This is hardly a great urban street - cars are domineering and pedestrians are intimidated. Harborplace and all the other Inner Harbor activities turn their backs to this roadway. Essentially, this is just an urban obstacle.
And yet in spite of all this, the streetcar is able to "cut through" the suffocating auto domination to be a strong "presence" on the streetscape. Streetcars have the uncanny ability to be noticed, but they also thrive on other activity rather than taking anything away from it. Streetcars contribute to a great urban street in a way that regional light rail cannot because of its demands for capacity and speed.
Light Street adjacent to the Inner Harbor is in desperate need of a makeover. The photo of above certainly speaks for itself - Light Street has ten (count 'em, ten) freakin' lanes, not even including the left turn lanes or the fortress median strip. The two lanes into and two lanes out of Conway Street are certainly well used and need to remain in some form, but ten continuous lanes from Pratt to Key Highway is major overkill.Yes, Pratt Street doesn't work very well adjacent to the Inner Harbor either, but this segment of Light Street is a far greater plague on the City. In addition, it provides the extravagant luxury of space - plenty of space to accommodate every need, especially including streetcar tracks.
The Light Street re-make should be the City's first priority, before Pratt Street, or at least at the same time. The Light Street redesign should also point the way to demonstrate what will work on Pratt Street. The current plan for Pratt Street would make it more like what Light Street looks like now, which is the worst thing the City could do, not only for streetcars but for everyone else. The Pratt Street plan is totally "over the top" indulgent grandiosity.
Streetcars thrive on balance. Planning for streetcars is a great way to ensure this balance between the many functions that make for successful commercial urban streets. If a street truly works for streetcars, that is a strong indiaction that it will work for everything else.
Light Street is also a very key link to starting a true inner city streetcar system. This streetcar line could proceed south along the redesigned Light Street from Pratt adjacent to the Inner Harbor to Key Highway at the Maryland Science Center, then continue on the narrower but still ample width of Light Street to Henrietta Street in the Federal Hill Business District.
The streetcar line could then turn westward on Henrietta and proceed past Charles Street to the end of Henrietta at Sharp Street.
At the end of Henrietta shown above, the streetcar line could proceed between the Otterbein pool (which would probably have to be slightly reconfigured) and the adjacent tennis courts.
At his point, the streetcar line would have to be put into a slight cut in order to get sufficient clearance to get underneath Interstate 395 at its overpass structure shown above.
Finally, the streetcar line would join up with the existing light rail line just prior to the Hamburg Street Station adjacent to the Ravens Stadium. MLK Boulevard just off of I-395 is the overpass shown above. Some slight adjustments to the station would be necessary, such as relocating the ramp on to the high block.
Tieing the Light Street streetcar line into the Central Light Rail line at Hamburg Street would be a great way to create an instant streetcar "system". This is probably the most functionally successful segment of the entire light rail line, and would provide a very valuable augmentation to service between the very well used Cherry Hill Station and the key station serving the soon-to-be burgeoning Westport, into the Federal Hill Business District area and then directly into the heart of the Inner Harbor.
It would probably not be practical to run the streetcars all the way to BWI-M Airport and Glen Burnie, but it would provide an easy way for anyone on light rail to transfer to get from these places to the Inner Harbor.
Moreover, it would be a great beginning to a comprehensive inner city streetcar system, connecting everything from the heart of downtown to the Charles Street Corridor to Fells Point and beyond (see previous blog article). No one could complain anymore that the light rail line serves "only" Howard Street.
No one should delude themselves into believing that streetcars alone are a substitute for an effective regional transit system, but as a way of activating and expanding downtown, streetcars are ideal. Streetcars create a strong "presence" for transit that buses cannot match and no one can miss, no matter whether they are watching from a sidewalk or behind a windshield. Light Street may be the best place to start.