July 26, 2017

Get rid of wide Light Street from a past that never was

Baltimore prides itself for having never built highways that cut the city off from the waterfront. But in a way, we did. And that's one of the primary reasons the city keeps having to renew the Inner Harbor even though it's supposed to be the city's strength. Baltimore is like a vain old codger who keeps insisting on more facelifts when the rest of his body is bleeding from open wounds.

The current ten-lane Light Street on the west shore of the Inner Harbor was initially designed in the late 1960s to be the downtown gateway for Interstate 95 back when it was proposed to be a tall bridge from the front of Federal Hill to Fells Point. That disastrous plan for Interstate 95 was killed, but Light Street was built as planned anyway and never connected to anything. It's the Inner Harbor version of the Interstate 70 "Highway to Nowhere" which has plagued West Baltimore since the 1970s.

A half century later, the city still insists on keeping both of these overbuilt roadways for no good reason. It's time to finally cut Light Street down to size.
Urban designer Michael Costa's vision for narrowing Light Street northward from Key Highway
(in the foreground) to create a linear greenway park. The Science Center and Inner Harbor are to the right.

In many ways, the west shore's super-wide Light Street sets the tone for the entire Inner Harbor. Light Street sets the Inner Harbor apart so that it functions more like a separate tourist area and less like part of the city. Activity doesn't flow naturally from the rest of the city into the Inner Harbor. It requires a well-orchestrated visit.

Cities are built on interaction, tradition and ritual, whereas many if not most tourist areas must always keep reselling themselves based on what's trendy. This accounts for the perceived pressure to remake Rash Field into a "wow" attraction like Chicago's Millennium Park instead of just a place to hang out and play volleyball. Similarly, Harborplace failed as the local marketplace that James Rouse envisioned, and so instead has seen a procession of national merchants and tenants like "Ripley's Believe It or Not", and now a major gut-job to reinvent it once again. The city felt compelled to demolish McKeldin Fountain at great cost because it didn't appeal to someone's assessment of the  lowest common denominator. It wasn't enough that many people loved it.

Meanwhile, while the city keeps fiddling to find and refine the magic formula for the Inner Harbor, it has taking needed attention away from the rest of Baltimore. This harbor obsession needs to be wound down.

Entrenched traffic patterns


The design of Light Street isn't even a matter of choosing cars versus people. Both cars and people would be better off with a narrower Light Street, to reduce endless traffic weaving between lanes and the excessive clearance times to get through the giant intersections. Even the current adjacent bike lanes add to the Light Street pavement orgy.

The optimum width of Light Street should be established by reducing traffic conflicts to the minimum possible level, and then matching flow capacities throughout the adjacent street network. Key Highway has two through lanes in each direction, so the same two lanes are likely the ideal width where it flows into Light Street. Some additional traffic filters through South Baltimore and ultimately links to Light Street, but not enough to justify changing the usable street width. Port Covington and other new South Baltimore developments are continually adding to the overall traffic demand, but virtually all of it runs into other bottlenecks that regulate flow before it ever gets to Light Street, such as on Key Highway and Hanover Street at or near McComas Street.

The principal nearby traffic bottleneck is on Light Street to the north between Conway and Pratt Streets, which gets a huge traffic infusion to and from Conway and Interstate 395. The worst bottleneck is where northbound Light splits off into Calvert Street, and then the majority of the traffic must jockey and squeeze into the two right turn lanes into Pratt.

The city's proposed long-term solution would make this worse, and the city probably even knows that because they haven't ever released the traffic study they promised a decade ago. That plan is to eliminate the direct Light to Calvert connection and concentrating all traffic in both directions into a single intersection at Pratt Street on what is now the northbound-only segment of Light Street. This would require more widening of Light Street, and create an even more imposing traffic barrier between the Inner Harbor and downtown. My far simpler solution was presented here.

But none of this changes the far lower volume traffic condition on Light Street south of Conway Street. There simply is no justification for Light Street to be as wide south of Conway Street as it is north of Conway to Pratt. So it's time to narrow Light Street down and make it work for everyone!

Optimum redesign of Light St. intersection with Key Highway - to create one continuous curve,
with two lanes in each direction and a fifth lane in the Light St. (top) portion
for a northbound left turn lane into Lee St. (upper left) and a southbound right turn lane into Light St. (bottom).
There would also be a temporary transition area for southbound thru traffic at the Lee St. intersection (not shown).

The right design for Light and Key Highway


Light Street basically flows into Key Highway so conflicts are minimized by simply making into the same street that flows into each other. This minimizes pavement and maximizes green space to reduce pedestrian conflicts and enhance the environment.

Here's the design solution that accomplishes this (shown above): Maximize the radius of curvature between Light Street to the north and Key Highway to the east so that the flow between them is as unobtrusive as possible. This will shift their intersection farther north, minimizing pavement and maximizing overall green space. Pedestrian crossing distances will be minimized. And a key advantage is that the distance on Light Street between Key Highway and Montgomery Street to the south will be maximized, greatly improving traffic flow and reducing vehicles blocking these signalized intersections.

Light Street can also be bent slightly south of Key Highway so that looking northward, it focuses directly upon the Maryland Science Center, giving it a prominent urban rather than suburban setting for the first time in its life. When the Science Center was built in the mid 1970s, it was mistakenly oriented so that Light Street was its front door, and it therefore turned its back on the waterfront. (This is a too-common malady in a city which is proud of its waterfront, repeated more recently in the Port Covington WalMart and Horseshoe Casino.) When the Science Center was finally expanded and reoriented to the water later, Light Street became its rear end, from which it has never quite recovered. This is the opportunity to make the Science Center's rear end work for the many people who see it from the south.

Light St. looking north from South Baltimore (bottom) would be oriented directly toward the rear of the Science Center
(formerly the front). The bikeway would be relocated to the large new greenway on the west and south sides.


A major new Light Street greenway


Perhaps most importantly, this solution creates a large continuous new greenway along the west side of Light Street, northward from Key Highway. This greenway would be an ideal transition zone between the hub-bub of the Inner Harbor, the peacefulness of the surrounding neighborhoods and the purposefulness of downtown.

This is where the bikeway should be - where it can be surrounded by greenery while maintaining enough space to separate it from most pedestrians. The current Light Street / Inner Harbor bikeway is essentially a glorified sidewalk, and often it gets tangled with pedestrians whose own space is  sometimes well defined but mostly isn't. The total amount of pavement devoted to bikes and pedestrians is highly inconsistent - sometimes not enough but sometimes too much, such as in front of the Science Center where it simply adds to the excessive pavement of Light Street.

The ultimate extent of this new Light Street greenway should be given its own study. It could easily be extended southeastward to Federal Hill and northward to McKeldin Park, which sorely needs more activity now that the city has demolished the fountain (see my blog article). With intelligent planning and design, this greenway could even be extended all the way northward through downtown to Preston Gardens and even to Mount Vernon Place, both of which are historic urban greenways in their own right. More locally, there's currently a green space right in the southeast quadrant of the intersection of Light and Key Highway that was poorly designed from the start and had to be shut off from the public to keep it from being vandalized. The adjacent new greenway would provide the opportunity to redo it, if whoever rescued and adopted it so desires.

The entire plan could be done in phases, which is important since money is seldom available all at once. Each phase of the greenway construction will provide lessons for further refining the plans. The first phase could simply include the single block of Light Street northward to Lee Street, and the single block of Key Highway eastward to William Street. Since the quantity of pavement would be minimized, the cost would probably be comparable to whatever short-sighted design the city is now contemplating. The initial landscaping cost can also be controlled, similarly to the way the city went cheap on the landscaping and hardscaping for the new McKeldin Park after demolishing the fountain. They've promised more grandiosity later, as they usually do.

The city's original plan for the intersection of Light and Key Highway was for a roundabout, which would have been very costly, and the worst of just about every possible aspect. At that time, I proposed a far more modest plan that would function far better, with the stipulation that it should be only temporary until a good permanent solution was devised that included narrowing Light Street.

The good news is that the city then dumped its dumb roundabout plan. But the bad news is that they then proposed a permanent design that is roughly similar to my temporary plan. Can they ever do it right?

It has been about 45 years since the last time Light Street was reconstructed in the Inner Harbor in the early 1970s. Let's not do it wrong now and be forced to wait another 45 more years to get it right. Let's narrow Light Street down to size right now.

July 21, 2017

Hyperloop needs same level of local transit innovation

The need for speed makes the state-of-the-art Hyperloop transit propulsion system promoted by financiers such as Elon Musk almost incidental. New York to Washington DC in 29 minutes? Heck, you've been able to do that in an airplane for the better part of a century. But the real challenges are just as old and time-worn. What's required is that old technologies like local urban transit must advance to match the challenges of new technologies like the Hyperloop.

This Hyperloop hype image prepared for Carnegie-Mellon (urban version of a Roger Dean "Yes" album cover)
only feeds the impression of Hyperloop as an unattainable fantasy.

That's why demonstrations always take place in the desert or some other irrelevant place. And it's why artists' conceptions of the completed systems tend to look like a 1930s "futurama" - sort of an urban equivalent of a desert. Vintage visionaries like Le Corbusier (and later Hannah-Barbera and the Jetsons) were grappling with the same problems of reconciling high speed technology with actual urban living that we're still facing today.

And it's why Musk documented his government "approval" yesterday in a 140-character Tweet instead of a zillion page Environmental Impact Statement - following the lead of President Trump's favorite form of communication. Now that's speed!

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is already on board as well. The tone was set when the city recently granted Under Armour's Port Covington $660 Million in future tax revenue, exactly the amount they asked for. The Mayor knows that it would be just as easy for the Hyperloop to bypass Baltimore as it whizzes from Washington to New York.

But Baltimore and other cities tried to transform cities for speed as far back as the 1950s. Countless urban blocks were demolished in those days to build high rise apartments surrounded by vacuous open space and high speed expressways. It didn't work.

It's really The Boring Corporation


The real frontier barrier that Elon Musk is breaking is with his company that's ironically called The Boring Corporation. That's because in order to satisfy the Hyperloop's need for speed, the only satisfactory geographic frontier is underground. Speed isn't the critical technology - it's tunneling! Subterrainia is the new desert. America was right in "A Horse With No Name" when they described the new ocean as: "the desert with its life underground and the perfect disguise above". (Now if we can only figure out their Ventura Highway's "alligator lizards in the air.")

The physics of speed is relatively easy. Friction is the only thing in the way. That's why a spacecraft orbiting the earth in 90 minutes is a piece of cake. The hard part is finding an environment to do it in. The answer is state-of-the-art boring, as in boring a tunnel. We need tunnel boring machines that can respond to virtually any geology encountered deep in the earth. We must ensure that the Boston "big-dig" and Seattle "big bertha" debacles were tunnel learning experiences equivalent of the Titanic, Hindenburg and Apollo 13.

The other challenge is geometry. Minimizing friction requires an almost straight travel trajectory. Human physiology requires it too. There's a human limit to the roller-coaster thrill ride effect. Underground is where this geometric challenge can be met - perhaps the only place. The Magnetic Levitation concept of the 1990s with vehicles darting in and out of tunnels like an obstacle course seems to be gone. With it has gone the idea that MagLev or a similar technology could satisfy shorter trips of just a few miles. High speed propulsion is not the problem. It's the geometry to support it. Cities don't easily accommodate long straight lines.

Of course, speed has the same needs regardless of how it's powered. There's no inherent reason that conventional "heavy rail" subways and other transit lines can't be powered by MagLev sometime in the future as well.

But the deeper the tunnel, the better. Way underground, even the curvature of the earth is beneficial. It's somewhat of a shock to ride the New York City subway system which was built just under the surface of the streets over a century ago with very crude dangerous manual digging and with far fewer pipes and conduits in the way, and then exit the system on the brand new Second Avenue subway with its long escalator rides from deep in the bowels of Manhattan. Urban living needs to adapt to the new digging technology.

Proposed Hyperloop Station platform deep down in the earth

Baltimore must meet the Hyperloop challenge


The Hyperloop system looks like it will be a quantum leap deeper than modern subways. The current New York to Washington proposal would only "come up for air" at two intermediate places - Philadelphia and Baltimore. Sorry, Newark and Wilmington, but you're victims of the cruel fate of geometry.

So the proposal would apparently need to use elevators instead of escalators at the stations. High speed, high capacity elevators will require another engineering breakthrough. That's the way technology feeds on itself. Innovation begets innovation.

Those four stations at the four cities will need to be very special and important places indeed, with very high accessibility. With only those four Hyperloop stops, the existing Amtrak Northeast Corridor rail line will need to be refashioned to emphasize shorter feeder trips into the Hyperloop Line. Amtrak and MARC Commuter rail will need to emphasize stations like New Carrollton, Odenton and even the inner city corridor from North Avenue to Upton to Sandtown which will be bypassed by the proposed new multi-billion dollar West Baltimore tunnel.

Baltimore also has a special challenge in that unlike the other cities, its Amtrak station is not really downtown and does not have very good local transit access. This can be improved, of course, but we've already failed once with its pathetic light rail spur connection. And Penn Station's surrounding neighborhood, with a recent momentum built on education and arts, has only limited further potential for new development specifically tailored for a role as the city's high speed portal to New York and Washington.

Hyperloop transit will require brand new thinking with a totally blank slate, not a piggyback on existing development momentum.

It may very well turn out that the best place to build Baltimore's Hyperloop Station is along the Amtrak tracks at the West Baltimore MARC Station, at the west end of the "Highway to Nowhere". This area is truly a blank slate for new Hyperloop oriented development and local transit innovation. Downtown Baltimore is now being pulled eastward and this would push it back westward.

But the blank slate may need to be even bigger than that. The challenge of those new deep elevators may be best met with a new local subway line that dives deep enough into the earth to meet the hyperlink line on its own level.

Imagine that you've just gotten off the Hyperloop at the Baltimore Station. Do you then get in line for one of the elevators to come up to the city surface? Or do you walk over to the new subway line on the same underground platform, from which you can go anywhere else on the city and regional system? It would also need to be everything the dead Red Line wasn't, with high capacity, speed and connectivity. It would need to be so attractive that it would become an integral indispensable part of the whole multi-billion dollar Hyperlink project.

The new Boring Company tunnel technology that builds the Hyperloop line will be equally capable of building a new companion Baltimore subway line.

Innovation begets innovation.











July 10, 2017

"Green Network" Part 1: Four priority areas for growth

The biggest pitfall faced by the "Green Network" plan now being developed by the city's Office of Sustainability is taking an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach. Instead, when looking at the vast network of nodes and corridors on their "Vision Plan" map (as updated May 18th), the question must be answered: What are the top priorities?

The plan needs to zero-in on those critical areas where the integration of open space and development can propel the city's economic growth. Four prime candidates are offered below.

The landlocked median of the "Highway to Nowhere" has a huge amount of unused green space.
Despite being difficult, unsafe and illegal, this area is here used by pedestrians where Fremont Avenue is interrupted.
The vacant Metro West Tower is shown to the east in the background beyond MLK Boulevard.
(Note: Some trees were planted here recently after this photo was taken.)

Instead, the plan is full of presumptions about what to do with areas of mostly local community significance. For instance, what is it about the triangle bounded by Gay and Chester Streets and Sinclair Lane that makes it a designated "Community Node", whereas its complementary triangle (bounded by Federal and Milton Streets, with Gay Street as their shared hypotenuse) is not? There are surely some reasons, but if a local group or developer came along and said they were ready to create some major green space on the leftover triangle to support local needs, the city would not say "no" just because it violates the "Green Network" plan. And conversely, an even bigger question is what is it about the chosen triangle that signals the city should pour resources there instead of other areas of the city? It's all about priority.

"Green Network" priority must be economic development


There are some very smart (and very patient) people who have gone to the meetings held by the city to "vet" its plans to give them legitimacy. The keys to the entire "Green Network Plan" are contained in the final three points of the June 15, 2016 Green Network meeting results (page 9), which hit the nail directly in the center of the bullseye:
  • Green space does not equal amenity unless it is thoughtfully designed and/or programmed and maintained.  Replacing blight with green space = more blight.  Need people to activate space.
  • How does the Green Network Plan relate to transportation infrastructure/new bus plan/bike path?  Is there opportunity to green part of "Highway to Nowhere" as connector and community asset? What does the community think?
  • Planning process need to be in two areas of the city. Please do not hit and miss. Let's complete one area at a time to see an improvement.
These three points all relate to one overarching theme: The need for economic (and thus human)  development. A plan is not an end in itself. It must be a tool which is used to make the city a better place to live and work.

That means more human activity. Simply tearing down buildings and replacing them with open space means less activity. Open space needs to be located where it will generate the most activity, because that's where the people are. People don't like to use desolate open space and tend to avoid it except for perceived nefarious activities. Cities like Detroit and Youngstown have used large swaths of open space as replacements for urban development simply because they felt they had no choice. Baltimore has choices.

So open space must be coordinated with new development. Open space must be used as a tool to attract new development. Of course, this is not news to anyone who has ever been involved in Baltimore's planning. Green space planning has been a key element in mega-projects like Port Covington, Harbor Point, and the new development north of Hopkins Hospital (Eager Park). And it certainly has gotten plenty of lip service for the Middle Branch "Gateway" corridor anchored by Horseshoe Casino (even though the city ultimately decided that a giant parking garage and a Greyhound bus terminal were better waterfront uses than green open space amenities).

The "Green Network" plan needs to answer the question of which large areas will the be the focus. A very astute meeting participant said, it should be "in two areas of the city". I've proposed four candidate areas below.

It can't be done with watered-down planning that spreads the amenities in a thin veneer throughout the entire city.

On the other hand, people have countered that no area should be so "privileged", and that resources need to be directed to the rest of the city and not just favored fat-cat developments like Port Covington. But this can be better done through incremental and grassroots initiatives to aid communities in improving their own streets and neighborhoods rather than a top-down comprehensive planning process being used in the "Green Network". Such efforts need to be nurtured as enhancements to what the city already has.

Since the "Green Network" is a comprehensive large-scope effort, it must focus on areas and projects that are big enough to be of city-wide significance.

Picking Priorities


The city's "Vision Plan" map certainly shows numerous candidates for large scale new open space development. So what should be the selection criteria? It only needs to follow current city policies: The priority areas should be selected by:

1- Where it can attract numerous people

2- Where existing geography, resources and "anchor institutions" can be leveraged

3- Where there are major economic development opportunities

So which candidate areas fill the bill? Our smart meeting participants cited the "Highway to Nowhere" corridor. Yes! This is a huge current wasteland that penetrates into the surrounding communities of Poppleton, Franklin Square, Heritage Crossing, Lafayette Square, Harlem Park and Sandtown. It is focused and anchored by over a million square feet of empty space in the Metro West complex, which was occupied until recently by the Social Security Administration. The topography of the current highway "ditch" also creates unique development, open space and greenway opportunities.

However, the City has apparently opposed any larger greenway type of development here. The City allowed the federal government to sell Metro West to a private developer, Caves Valley Partners,  without any coordination with such a plan. The City also insisted that the "Highway to Nowhere" be maintained throughout the failed decade-long Red Line light rail planning process, except for one block at the west end between Payson and Pulaski Streets. Ironically, the Red Line planning process also included land use scenarios that eliminated the highway overpasses over MLK Boulevard, which would have sacrificed the highway's ability to serve traffic, but without opening it up to surrounding areas. The "Highway to Nowhere" would still be there, but would become even more useless.

The city also planned a bike/jogging loop along the top rim of the west end of the "Highway to Nowhere", which would have related to nothing in the area (not even the Red Line, which also related to nothing in this area). Presumably, they finally realized how pointless this would be.

The only current hint of additional new development is a billboard sign by the developer which advertises a "pad site" on the Metro West property, which is real estate language for the type of free-standing development suitable for a Royal Farms or other gas-convenience-fast food style store.

City "green" planning for the Middle Branch Gateway


The large scale urban corridor where the city has done the most recent "Green Network" style planning is the Middle Branch and Horseshoe Casino "Gateway" area. But the city's experience is an excellent example of what not to do.

As previously mentioned, the Middle Branch waterfront near the casino has been used to build a huge 3500 car casino parking garage and a Greyhound bus terminal isolated on a peninsula - uses that are seemingly as incompatible with waterfront amenities as they could possibly be. Except that this was the continuation of an ongoing pattern of waterfront destruction. In the previous decade, the city enabled the development of a Walmart and Sam's Club that completely cut off the other side of the Middle Branch waterfront.

Free-standing "pad sites" have also been an extensive part of the new development in the corridor, with numerous gas-convenience style stores recently being built and rebuilt along Russell Street, along with two self-storage warehouses, in concert with the new casino.

The city also enabled the Sagamore Development to let its Westport waterfront lay barren for what could likely be several decades or more until their Port Covington mega-project gets built.

In sum, along with the "Highway to Nowhere" corridor, we can also rule out the City government making the Middle Branch gateway any kind of genuine green space development priority as well, unless they're pushed. The conspiracy theorists and cynics in our midst thus have plenty of evidence to argue that the "Green Network" Plan is merely a city smokescreen to divert attention away from the bad planning which has been recently happening.

Here's the City's idea of enhancing the waterfront: A 3500 car casino parking garage,
which dwarfs the Middle Branch Trail bridge behind it. And this is not some isolated mistake:
It's highly reminiscent of the Walmart and Sam's Club that created a dead waterfront at Port Covington.

But it's not too late. The city holds many cards, and could still use a combination of pressure and incentives to promote and coordinate "Green Network" development in these two areas. These corridors are also so huge that new development can begin to take place at multiple locations.

Four Recommended "Green Network" Priority Areas


Let's think big, even if we need to act somewhat smaller. Let's designate the largest possible swaths of the two corridors discussed above as priority candidates for "Green Network" development:

1 - The "Highway to Nowhere" and MLK Boulevard Corridor - This could encompass a huge footprint of West Baltimore, not only the large corridor from Metro West (Greene Street between Franklin and Saratoga Street) to the West Baltimore MARC Station, but also the MLK Boulevard corridor from Howard and Chase Streets at State Center to Washington Boulevard at Pigtown, including the University of Maryland campus and biopark. In addition, the city's bike plan includes an extension along the Amtrak tracks from the MARC Station to the existing Gwynns Falls Greenway at Baltimore Street, which has somehow been left off the "Green Network" map. The federal government is planning to spend billions upgrading the Amtrak line from there to Penn Station, so this is a prime candidate for local mitigation development.

Camden Yards-to-Masonville "Green Network" Corridor

2 - The Middle Branch Gateway Corridor from Camden Yards to Masonville - This includes all of the Camden Yards stadium complexes from Camden Street adjacent to the downtown Convention Center at Howard Street, all the way south to the Middle Branch waterfront in Westport, Cherry Hill and Brooklyn to Masonville. The Stadium Authority's current lease extension negotiations with the Orioles owner Peter Angelos would fit into this process to enhance Camden Yards, as well as the current community related planning spawned by the Horseshoe Casino and Port Covington developments. At the south end, the Masonville Cove nature preserve built by the Maryland Port Administration on the Middle Branch waterfront is currently cut off from the Brooklyn community by a concrete plant and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway. These areas need to be stitched together.

To these two areas, I recommend adding two more corridors:
Marc Szarkowski's proposal to the Warnock Foundation for integrating Carroll Park and Golf Course,
the B&O Railroad Museum, the historic "First Mile" rail line and the Mount Clare community.

3 - The "First Mile" Corridor from the B&O Railroad Museum to the Gwynns Falls Greenway - This area includes the north edge of Carroll Park and the adjacent 1.3 million square foot Montgomery Park office complex. Along with Fort McHenry, the B&O Railroad Museum should be the city's premiere historic attraction but the neglect of its surroundings has been a major detraction. Several decades ago, they had a major plan to create a "Williamsburg of Railroading" in this corridor, but its lofty ambitions were beyond the museum's capabilities. More recently, the city and state planned an intermodal rail-truck freight terminal that would have extended into the area. Now that both plans are dead, a new plan is urgently needed to blend the corridor into the surrounding communities and Carroll Park, which is a magnificent recreational and historical resource whose north perimeter remains a dead industrial wasteland.

Pimlico-to-Roland Park "Green Network" Corridor - Unifying the racetrack with some of Baltimore's
 better neighborhoods would eradicate the reputation that the track is in a "bad" area. 

4 - Pimlico Racetrack to Cylburn to Roland Park Corridor - The renewal and redevelopment of Pimlico Racetrack area is one of the city's top priorities. The area needlessly suffers from a poor image, but is actually close to some of the city's premiere parks, neighborhoods and economic anchors. The area's perception can be greatly enhanced by creating a westward linkage to Cylburn Park and then beyond across the Jones Falls Valley and Roland Park, one of Baltimore's elite neighborhoods.

Adjacent to Pimlico Racetrack at the west end of this corridor is the Lifebridge health complex anchored by Sinai Hospital. At the east end in Roland Park is the Baltimore Country Club. Both of these institutions have significant open spaces which they need to balance with development. This should be done in a way that is compatible with the needs of the corridor as a whole. 

Again, the city has not shown much interest in this area as part of the "Green Network". A prime property on the most visible and accessible edge of Cylburn Park near Cold Spring Lane has long been the city's "stump dump" for churning up dead trees. Next to the "stump dump", more green space has recently been turned into an electric substation. These areas were previously supposed to be incorporated into the city's Cold Spring Newtown, but that development plan has instead been downsized and made more isolated.

One notable issue is that Cylburn Park was re-branded as an "arboretum", which then became a de-facto justification for shutting it off from the surrounding areas with only its only access point being a driveway from Greenspring Avenue. But Cylburn Park could be the linchpin for unifying the area's many attractive but disparate neighborhoods to Pimlico - including Roland Park, Mount Washington, Levindale, Cold Spring Newtown, and Cross Keys. The proposed extension of the Jones Falls Trail north of Newtown can be part of this unification process.   

In sum, all four areas discussed above have lofty economic development objectives, which need to depend on using green space as a crucial amenity attraction. This is what could make the "Green Network" an indispensable tool in promoting Baltimore development and amenities.

It's all about priorities.


Here are a few select links to blog articles about these "Green Network" corridors:
 
(Part Two tomorrow: The role that the City's "Green Network" corridor planning should play in reviving and promoting "Bike Boulevards")

"Green Network" Part 2: Revival of "Bike Boulevards"

While most the attention on the city Office of Sustainability's "Green Network" Vision Plan map is focused on green "nodes" and corridors (discussed as Part One of this article), much of the city's map is also comprised of specific streets. This makes sense, because streets are the main way almost all of us see the city.

The streets in the plan resemble a bike route map. That also makes sense, because bicyclists should ideally travel on a network of green streets. That brings up the idea of "bike boulevards", which was a trendy idea in Baltimore about a decade ago but has since gotten lost in the shuffle amid the recent bike route controversies.
One street in the "Green Network" plan is a practically perfect candidate for a "bike boulevard" that would avoid all that: MOUNT STREET in West Baltimore.

GUILFORD AVENUE - the city's prototype "bike boulevard" - here seen south of 25th Street.
A sign indicates that a "mini-roundabout" is ahead, but the roundabout is almost invisible
 and needs to be colored-in like the downtown bus lanes.

 

 Green streets: "Bike Boulevards" vs. "Complete Streets"


Green Network streets are actually pretty much the same concept as "Bike Boulevards", as far as local neighborhood streets go. The city's prototype "Bike Boulevard" was Guilford Avenue between 20th and 33rd Street. Basically, the idea was to take all the available traffic engineering and design tools that can optimize a street for neighborhood and bicycle use, and install those that work best for that particular street and neighborhood. This includes speed humps, all-way Stop Signs, mini-roundabouts, traffic diverters, bulb outs and chokers.

The major difference between "bike boulevards" and "complete streets" is that the latter attempts to accommodate all of the various different vehicular demands, not just for residents and bikes, but also for thru traffic and transit and perhaps trucks and commercial users as well. Thus, "complete streets" may be better able to better serve heavy traffic flows and buses and support diverse urban land use mixes than "bike boulevards". However, there is no point in overemphasizing conflicts. Plans can very often be optimized to work well for both residents and bicyclists. Each specific situation should be examined on its own.

While the Guilford Avenue "bike boulevard" was instituted with the usual city fanfare about a decade ago, the most recent bike planning efforts have instead focused on the "complete street" concepts. Roland Avenue and Maryland Avenue/Cathedral Street have both had to be planned to accommodate relatively heavy traffic and some transit buses in addition to bikes. Much of the bus traffic has been removed from Maryland Avenue, but not all.

While Maryland and Cathedral are part of a tight inner city grid and traffic can therefore readily divert between various parallel streets, this flexibility is limited by the fact that Maryland Avenue is fed by a Jones Falls Expressway ramp. Moreover, the closest parallel southbound street, St. Paul, has had its own concurrent lobbying group trying to reduce and "calm" traffic. The St. Paul interests wanted it converted from one-way to two-way flow. So the Maryland Avenue bike plan would tend to push traffic over to St.Paul Street, while the St. Paul two-way scheme would have tended to push traffic the other way.

Maryland Avenue and the bikers won that skirmish and had their plan implemented while the St. Paul folks didn't. But the city probably hasn't heard the last from the St. Paul folks, since they've been complaining about heavy traffic for many decades.

That controversy has actually simmered relatively quietly compared with the most recent bike project on Potomac Street in Canton, which ended up as a court battle between cyclists and community, then an injunction to prevent the City from dismantling it, and then a tentative compromise agreement.

POTOMAC STREET bikeway (as of yesterday) still dominated by "flexi-posts"
to define the bike lanes and push the parking out into the center of the street.
Doesn't Guilford Avenue (top photo) look much nicer?


The initial plan implemented on Potomac Street resembled the Maryland Avenue plan, with exclusive bike lanes delineated by "flexi-posts" next to a parking lane that was pushed out into the street. It's ironic that such a similar design was chosen when Potomac Street, unlike Maryland Avenue, has no bus traffic and very little auto traffic. Maryland Avenue needed to follow a process for "complete streets" whereas Potomac Street did not.

"People Corridors" in the Green Network" Vision Plan


The term used for the full range of all these streets in the "Green Network" vision plan is "People Corridors", and the whole range of street conditions is represented, from narrow to wide, very low to very high traffic volume, and from major transit streets to no transit at all. Calling them "People Corridors" doesn't convey very much, good or bad. Perhaps that was the intent. Everybody should want to live and travel in a "people corridor", unless they're not people.

The wide variety of these streets makes it very difficult to set priorities. Therefore, prioritization is likely to be set by competing local interests between one street and another, just as the Maryland Avenue advocates competed with the St. Paul advocates and won. Everyone should want their street to be a "people corridor", with whatever benefits that creates.

The big advantage of "bike boulevards" as priority streets is that the concept aligns the interests of bicycle advocates with residents instead of pitting them against each other, so controversies are avoided.

Top Priority: Mount Street would make a GREAT bike boulevard


Of all the "people corridors" prioritized in the "Green Network" plan, the one that can ake the biggest difference is Mount Street in West Baltimore. Mount Street has the exact requisites to make a great "bike boulevard" for the benefit of all. It is predominately residential, it has a very low traffic volume and has no buses. But best of all, it offers a sorely needed direct connection into Carroll Park, a magnificent major park that it is almost scandalously underutilized by West Baltimore.

Mount Street can follow the Guilford Avenue model as a "bike boulevard" rather than a "complete street". It comes on the heels of the community's rejection of bike lanes Monroe Street, a parallel major high volume arterial street just two blocks away to the west.

Mount Street also suffers from another problem that faced Guilford Avenue when the "bike boulevard" was first implemented - a high perception of crime. It was felt at the time that the auto traffic volume was actually too low on Guilford Avenue, which eliminated a sense of surveillance protection from passing motorists.

But a better solution has been emerging on Guilford Avenue than intentionally increasing traffic conflicts to provide surveillance. Guilford Avenue has simply gotten nicer inn the past decade. The attention the street has gotten from the "bike boulevard" has probably been a factor in this, but there has also been a larger effort involving the surrounding neighborhoods - Old Goucher, Station North, Barclay and Charles Village - to make everything better. (There is a disturbing tendency in this city to sometimes take clearly good things like less traffic conflicts and renovating housing, and somehow twist them so they sound like disadvantages instead of advantages. Complaining about an invasion of spandex clad bike nuts could also be put in this category.)

The key to giving Mount Street the larger kind of attention it needs to be a great "bike boulevard" is to make it a gateway to Carroll Park. Mount Street happens to be located so that it is oriented directly to the north on the park's Mount Clare Mansion, the meticulously restored oldest free-standing house in Baltimore. However, there is a fenced-off unused railyard "no man's land" between Mount Street and the park that serves only as a dumping ground for trash and a breeding ground for crime.

...but at the end of Mount Street now, a wall of debris cuts the park off from the neighborhood. (Photo by Gerald Neily)
MOUNT STREET "BEFORE" - The fence between the end of the street and Carroll Park provides no security and merely prevents healthy use of the park from the neighborhood while serving as a trash magnet.

 
MOUNT STREET "AFTER" - Proposed Mount Street extension into Carroll Park,
 as conceived by Marc Szarkowski in 2014, with the historic Mount Clare Mansion as the street's focal point
 and streetcar and/or light rail vehicles running on the B&O Railroad Museum "First Mile" tracks.

So the first step in making Mount Street a "bike boulevard" and a "People Corridor" in the "Green Network" vision is to create a connection from the community into the park. And as with Guilford Avenue, this step should be coordinated with a larger comprehensive effort to upgrade all the surrounding areas as well. This north periphery of Carroll Park also should be a priority among the "Green Network" corridor areas as well (see Part One). It has tremendous potential.

So the Mount Street "People Corridor" should be promoted to to be among the four priority green corridors cited in Part One. That makes for a total of five priorities. Is that too many? If so, Mount Street, the "Highway to Nowhere"corridor which intersects Mount Street, and the "First Mile" B&O Railroad corridor which coincides with the north edge of Carroll Park, can all be combined into a single mega-priority for West Baltimore. Everything is connected to everything else.