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.

No comments:

Post a Comment