March 2, 2008

Red Line Down Under

I've finally figured out how the Red Line should be done: The Red Line can be connected from the Franklin-Mulberry Corridor to Fells Point without destroying the neighborhoods and without costing a huge amount of money.

At the same time, the Red Line can be connected to everything else that needs connecting and can create yet another fantastic new transit-oriented development opportunity in the process.

The key is in the inner, inner, inner realms of Baltimore Innerspace.

Here is the door that fits the key: The "Down Under" parking garage entrance opposite the intersection of Lombard and Hanover Street, at the south end of Charles Center.

This parking garage entrance should be turned into the portal to the Red Line tunnel. The Red Line should run all the way through the "Down Under" parking garage, which is an amazing underground edifice which extends underneath the entire length of Charles Center from Lombard Street northward to Lexington.

Back in the early to mid 1960s when Charles Center was built, designers didn't really know how to build parking garages yet. So they built a huge catacomb of parking underneath the entire eight square block Charles Center redevelopment area. When it was under construction, it looked like a huge asteroid had hit downtown Baltimore.
There is no reasonable need for parking to be integrated into the urban form in such a way, but planners and architects really didn't know that yet. They also didn't know that they didn't need to provide a dozen or so entrances to this parking that pop up at various points along Charles, Baltimore, Fayette, Hopkins and other streets, thereby screwing up the intersections and sidewalks.
But the '60s were a heady time, when urban designers actually thought that overhead walkways would be great places for pedestrians, leaving the ground and underground for the cars. And the huge "Hamburgers" building which hovered over the top of Fayette Street referred to menswear, not lunch.
The huge catacombs of parking under Charles Center are now obsolete, and are ready for their new 21st century life.
The "Down Under" garage should be totally transformed to accommodate the Red Line from the parking garage entrance at Lombard and Hanover Street, shown above, to an entrance to the Charles Center Metro Subway two blocks north at Baltimore Street under the Mechanic Theater (another dead '60s relic), then two blocks further north through the rest of the "Down Under" garage to Lexington Street.
Underneath Lexington Street, starting at Liberty, the Red Line would turn west into its own new tunnel, with a new station between Howard and Eutaw, where it would have a transfer connection to the light rail line above Howard Street, and again to the Metro at the Lexington Market station. The Red Line would then continue westward in its own tunnel and would surface in the Franklin-Mulberry Corridor west of MLK Boulevard.
Here's the great part: The entire gigantic eight square block "Down Under" garage would thus become a huge underground transit-oriented development site, with potential pedestrian connections to everything imaginable. Most of the existing automobile access points could be maintained for access, service, and maintaining the normalcy that auto traffic has been shown to provide. In this way, the "Down Under" would not be just a vast isolated underground cave. It would truly be an extension of the city into a fourth dimension, with full interaction with the other three dimensions.
Truly creative opportunities would open up. Think "Underground Atlanta" or underneath Michigan Avenue in Chicago, extending northward from Millennium Park to the Magnificent Mile. Think of shopping and think of pedestrian spaces. But of course, always think of Baltimore first.
Think of anything EXCEPT dingy parking garages like the kind where TV murders always happen.

The intersection of Lombard and Hanover Streets is the perfect place for an underground transit portal. Such portals are extremely difficult and expensive to build, and yet this one is already there, just waiting to be used !!!!!!!
Once the Red Line emerges from "Down Under" at his portal onto the surface streets of Lombard and Pratt, it can easily branch in all directions. The light rail aspect of the Red Line could continue by turning two blocks westward on Pratt and/or Lombard and then connecting to the existing light rail line toward Camden Station, Camden Yards, Westport, Cherry Hill, Glen Burnie and the airport.

The streetcar aspect of the Red Line could turn eastward onto Pratt Street to the Inner Harbor, then further east to Fells Point and further south to Federal Hill, Locust Point, Port Covington or wherever our ambitions lead us.

The Red Line would in effect function in a similar manner to the Market Street streetcar tunnel in Center City Philadelphia, which then fans out in various directions once it comes to the surface in West Philly.

All Red Line trains would use the main trunk line from the Route 40 West Corridor, into downtown, then into the "Down Under" garage, and then out of the ground at the Lombard/Hanover portal. The mainline of the Red Line would be light rail - once it emerges at Hanover/Lombard, it would proceed southward from Camden Yards to the airport. The branch lines would use streetcars, emerging from the same portal, and proceed eastward to Fells Point, southward to Port Covington and anywhere else.
In summary:
  • Fells Point, and South Baltimore would get single vehicle streetcars which would preserve the fragile functions of their narrow and small scaled streets.
  • West Baltimore would get light rail trains which would be truly regionally oriented.
  • The only new tunnel required would be less than a mile from Route 40/MLK Boulevard to Lexington/Liberty Street.
  • There would be a great new urban space under Charles Center.
  • And everything would be interconnected.