February 22, 2017

Pigtown gateway roundabout shaped like a sausage

... or maybe shaped like a hot dog or a bun filled with whatever pork byproduct your heart desires. Pigtown would be at the center, like barbecued pork surrounded by a rotisserie of traffic.

I'm not a designer or a cook, so consider this as something sketched on a napkin along with blotches of relish and salsa. One of my blogging goals is to present spastic plans that someone who feels sorry for me but actually "gets it" can turn it into something attractive and artistic. Silk from a sow's ear, so to speak.

Proposed Pigtown Roundabout represented by the green splotches
 at the intersection of Bayard Street (left) and Washington Boulevard. Carroll Park is in the foreground.
Downtown skyline in the left background and M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Ravens) in the right background. 

Gateway to Pigtown - Link to Carroll Park

The concept is that Pigtown needs a gateway from the west along with the one from the east. To the east is Pigtown's access from the Inner Harbor and downtown, which introduces people to the "Real Baltimore" that resides behind that urban facade. I addressed that gateway with a concept called the Pigtown Parkway that would envelope the approach to Pigtown in greenery.

But from the west, there's already a huge expanse of greenery in the form of Carroll Park, Baltimore's most historic and most underappreciated park. What is needed is to link Carroll Park to Pigtown as directly and assertively as possible... Link, as in sausage link.

The place to do that is the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Bayard Street, at the southeast corner of the park. And a roundabout is the perfect means to do so, because it would provide the exclamation point to the long linearity of historic US Route 1, main street of the east coast, which starts in Key West, Florida, 90 miles from Cuba, and extends over 2300 miles all the way up the coast to Canada.

Many years ago, the official US 1 designation was redirected away from Washington Boulevard to Southwest Boulevard, up to Wilkens Avenue and ultimately to the Mount Clare neighborhood just north of Carroll Park. Then a few years ago, a roundabout was even built a block from the end of Wilkens Avenue at its intersection with Mount Street.

In concept, it was a good plan. But it needed to be a part of something much bigger. The key is to link it into the vast verdant glory of Carroll Park, which currently is separated from the neighborhood by an abandoned incongruous industrial wasteland. The Southwest Partnership has its own plan to address this: They propose to build a wall to keep the riff-raff out of the old B&O Railroad corridor and thus out of the park. (Shades of President Trump and his wall.)

I have my own alternate plan, prepared with the assistance of skillful artistic urban designer Marc Szarkowski, who obviously felt sorry for my lack of design skills. The plan is essentially to make the north edge of Carroll Park part of the Mount Clare neighborhood in the same manner that the east edge of Carroll Park is part and parcel with Pigtown.

The bottom line for both the Mount Clare and Pigtown neighborhoods is that a great park like Carroll Park is one of the best resources any neighborhood can have, and we need to make the most of it.

Overhead (plan) view of the proposed roundabout, drawn in Rorschach or Kandinsky style.
Washington Blvd. runs from lower left to upper right. Bayard Street runs from upper left to lower right.
Carroll Park at left. Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School at right.

The special powers of roundabouts

Like great parks, roundabouts are also unique and indispensable tools. Roundabouts have the unique ability to take a long dominant street like Washington Boulevard and "de-linearize" it, diffusing it into a place instead of just a street. Once you enter a roundabout, the roundabout itself becomes your reference rather than the street itself. Then you realize you're not just on Washington Boulevard, you're in Pigtown. That's also what a gateway intends to do.

Roundabouts are capable of handling large volumes of traffic including large buses and trucks, depending on how they're designed. Washington Boulevard creates the perception that it carries more traffic than it actually does, because of its extreme dominant length (all the way to Key West if you think about it).

So what kind of neighborhood icon artistic creation should we put in the middle of the roundabout? That discussion is a whole 'nother that I'll leave to another. Maybe a statue of a pig? Or are we pigged-out? Just remember that it will have to withstand centuries of scrutiny from the PC Police.

An important functional aspect of this specific roundabout is that it should accommodate pedestrians within the oval. Many roundabouts are designed to prevent pedestrian crossings but this one should not be. The direct diagonal passage of pedestrians between the majority of the neighborhood to the east and Carroll Park to the west is one of its key characteristics. The roundabout should feel like an extension of the park itself into the neighborhood, sort of how Columbus Circle next to New York's Central Park might have originally been designed before Manhattan traffic overwhelmed it. (By the way, that's next to Trump Tower - so maybe he'll give us some funding!)

Such a pedestrian park link would work well with the roundabout's elongated sausage-esque shape, which is a physical necessity anyway. since the intersection is too small to accommodate the roundabout in a circular or any other way.

It all fits together. As Porky would say: That's All Folks !!!!!!!!!!