July 18, 2016

Port Covington needs a spine: Mc Cromwell Street

Attempting to relocate the existing Interstate 95 ramps to make Port Covington work is a crazy idea. The recent rejection of the federal grant request reinforces this. The planners need to go back to the drawing board.

The problems are virtually all at the Port Covington ends of the ramps, not at the I-95 ends of the ramps. When I-95 was built, the ramps were designed in a very competent manner, with proper sizes and spacing to handle as much future traffic as the expressway could absorb.

Interstate 95 is the main street of the entire east coast. Messing with it merely to suit a local development would open a major can of worms. (And you thought Chris Christie's New Jersey ramp-gate was bad.)

In light of this, one of my previous blog articles focused on how Hanover Street should be modified and partially eliminated through Port Covington to make its existing ramps work best.

At the same time, a concurrent premise was that Cromwell Street was largely adequate as-is and could simply be tweaked to work as necessary to improve its development and pedestrian environment, as well as its connections to the Hanover Street bridge to the south and its I-95 ramps at McComas Street to the northeast.

But building an entirely new Cromwell Street does have its advantages. It could result in a "cleaner" design and it would get the traffic farther away from the waterfront. The Port Covington plan calls for building virtually an entirely new street system on the site anyway, and even the remaining cost would be far less than the developer's plan, since it would allow much of McComas to be eliminated as well.

The key is to replace Cromwell Street, not eliminate it. The official Sagamore Development Company plan does just the opposite - it replaces Hanover through the site to handle through traffic and eliminates Cromwell's through traffic and ramp connections. Cromwell's baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

A Spine: How Cromwell Street could be relocated to connect seamlessly with the Hanover Street bridge
 to the south (bottom) and the existing McComas Street I-95 ramps to the northeast (top right).

Cromwell Street - not Hanover - is the key

Making whatever is the replacement for Cromwell Street work is the key.

The massive Port Covington project will generate a massive amount of traffic regardless of the street system, simply by virtue of its size. At the same time, through traffic must still be accommodated although some of it will divert simply because it will try to avoid the inevitable conflicts.

Hanover is a much worse street for heavy traffic than Cromwell because of its linkage to South Baltimore's residential areas and its expressway-style ramp merge/diverge conditions, which are very hostile to pedestrians.

The official Sagamore plan, despite spending a huge amount of money to relocate the ramps and lower the road down to grade, still keeps the existing southbound I-95 on-ramp, so it's not really much of an improvement. Hanover Street would also chop the development site in half in a much more severe way than Cromwell would.

The Sagamore Plan: Hanover Street north of the bridge is rebuilt as a wide, lowered boulevard which bisects the site.
Its I-95 on-ramp  is retained, but the other ramps are shoved off beyond the upper left corner of this "bird's eye" graphic,
where they are invisible but would be highly disruptive as traffic filters through the site grid.

The official plan also brings all the new ramps in and out at the extreme northwest (upper left) corner of the site, so all that ramp traffic needs to filter its way from there through the street system to the rest of the site. So that will increase the traffic on Hanover Street, as well as on the west waterfront boulevard (the west side mirror image of  Cromwell) and other streets.

Sagamore's plan presents an illusion of a quiet low-traffic local street grid, but it would really be quite the opposite. And it would get worse when clients for individual sites start planning their massive parking garages, which are inevitable since they have chosen not to locate in the city's downtown core with its maximum transit connections. (So far, there's been no evidence that Sagamore is serious about transit-oriented development, but that's a blog article for another time.)

The best way to accommodate the traffic is simply to focus as much of it as possible on Cromwell Street itself, moving the street as desired so that it works best with the development.

McComas + Cromwell = McCromwell = A spine for Port Covington

McComas Street already connects to ramps to and from I-95. So McComas should be integrated with Cromwell. That would make it "McCromwell Street". Or "McComwell", if you prefer to drop the "r" in deference to the "r"-less McComas.

The existing intersection of Cromwell and McComas at the northeast corner of the site has enough real estate around it to realign the streets in any way necessary to create continuity, so that the ramps will serve Port Covington as much as possible.

At the other end of Cromwell to the south, the kink in Hanover Street at the existing intersection just north of the bridge creates the opportunity to straighten out the road, while aligning the Hanover bridge seamlessly into Cromwell. It would look totally natural, as if it was always aligned this way.

So the relocated Cromwell Street would do a much better job of fulfilling the same purposes that Sagamore has attempted to serve by rebuilding Hanover Street and moving the ramps. It would also better serve the rest of the plan, being in proximity to its largest buildings. Tall and large buildings work best for large streets, making up in density and visibility what they lack in intimacy.

Other beneficial variations are certainly possible. The important point is that a great plan can be achieved without spending a huge fortune on roadway infrastructure, and particularly without tearing down the Interstate 95 ramps.

1 comment:

  1. What's the baseball diamond in the left hand quadrant and what's it's future. Kurt J