Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Charles North: No High Rises Please

During the latter half of the 20th Century, the Charles North Neighborhood was nothing more than blight separating Baltimore's showcase neighborhoods of Charles Village and Mount Vernon. A big reason this neighborhood became blighted was due to the fact that North Avenue runs directly through it and Goucher College, an institute that anchored neighborhood both in employment and residence had moved to Towson thereby emptying out the neighborhood.
In the early 2000s, in order to revitalize Charles North and neighboring Greenmount West, were designated an Arts & Entertainment District known as Station North. The City looked to capitalize on the area's proximity to Penn Station, Mount Vernon, Charles Village, Johns Hopkins University, MICA, and University of Baltimore which are all within a stones throw of Station North. This post however, will only discuss the Charles North portion of the district.
The Arts & Entertainment designation brought artists far and wide to Charles North and taking up residence in the area and opening businesses which brought both sweat equity and foot traffic back into the area. Buildings that long been vacant like the North Avenue Market, the Center Theatre, the Parkway Theatre, and the Charles Theatre are seeing brilliant restorations while businesses like the Windup Space and Joe Squared Pizza have drawn more people into the area.
There's a downside to Arts & Entertainment Districts though. They're meant to be for those with lower incomes to rent or purchase homes and businesses in the area and revitalize them using sweat equity. Sadly, this sweat equity make the property values sky rocket and the very Residents who helped create this vibrant Neighborhood are then priced out as landlords look to raise the rents and full on gentrify the Neighborhood. Charles North was no different.

In 2008, a Master Plan for the Charles North community was published and it showed six high end high rises buildings dominating the landscape of Charles North. I don't have a picture of the rendering but the high rises resemble those currently proposed for Port Covington. That part of the Master Plan did not go over well for Charles North Residents. Actually, very few parts of it did since they the Residents, built the Community into what it is today and they didn't want the City butting in to the Community they built.
I was for the Master Plan in 2008 when it came out. My mind has since changed and I am now not for them. Charles North was one Community that I believe benefited from the economy crashing in 2008. Had that not happened I believe the high rises would have been built and Charles North Residents would begin to be priced out of the Neighborhood they rebuilt.
As the years went by, existing buildings continued to be rehabbed and brought back to life. Throughout Charles North there a few buildings demolished quite possibly to make way for the proposed high rises. As of now, only one plan for a high rise has been submitted and that's in the surface level parking lot just above Penn Station.
So why did I flip flop on the issue of high rises? Well that's simple, I walk around the Charles North area and I see a plethora of Art Galleries, independent Restaurants and Pubs, a diverse array of Residents and Businesses, beautifully restored buildings, a landscaped median made up of work by local Artists. I don't want to see any of that change. As higher incomes flood the Neighborhood so too do the chain stores and the increased rents. In addition, the architectural gems in the area waiting to be restored would have a higher chance of hitting the wrecking ball.
So what do I have in mind for Charles North? More of the same, more rehabbed Artist Housing, more Local Businesses setting up shop, more green space, an expanded North Avenue median, a fully renovated Penn Station with its upper floors used a Hotel, and no affordable rent hikes. I would like all of that and more but no high rises please.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dismantling the JFX II: Northbound

When dismantling the southbound lanes of the JFX, it more or less opens the back doors of Downtown and Mount Vernon and puts them on ground level to generate more foot traffic. When dismantling the northbound lanes, we uncover a piece of the City that has been forgotten due to the construction of the JFX. Forgetting this part of the City was deliberate and when traveling down these old roads, it's apparent. The area I'm referring to, is the Fallsway.

The Fallsway, besides being my route for northbound traffic once the JFX is dismantled, served as a two way means to get to and from Downtown from the northern stretches of the City and County. It also covered up the namesake Jones Falls so that Downtown and East Baltimore may connect to one another. Access to Oldtown Mall, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and all of East Baltimore now had easy access to Downtown and Mount Vernon.

At the time the Eisenhower interstate bill was being funded, East Baltimore had begun decaying quickly and shareholders didn't want that blight to come to Downtown or Mount Vernon. Since an expressway was supposed to cut through Downtown and then go through Fells Point and Canton via Fleet St. and Boston St. respectively, the path in between Downtown and East Baltimore was the best choice to act as a Boundary between the two. Once the JFX opened, it worked like a charm.

During the early days of the JFX, Downtown began its renaissance with Charles Center and eventually the Inner Harbor while East Baltimore continued its decay. The Fallsway began to like the Baltimore of yesteryear as redevelopment quickly moved Downtown and in East Baltimore industrial decay made way for parking lots and residential decay made way for public housing high rises and low rises while Oldtown Mall continued its dissent to what we say today.

What we see today is a Fallsway that's all but forgotten. Not only has the Fallsway itself been forgotten but its cross streets have too. Hillen St.,? Gay St.,? Holiday St.? These were once important intersections connecting Downtown to East Baltimore that the JFX and the Orleans St, viaduct have made impossible to find let alone use.

Other parts of East Baltimore have seen a renaissance. The area around Johns Hopkins Hospital has become a hot bed for reinvestment and redevelopment with new homes, offices, labs, and eventually retail, and a hotel. In addition, there has also been great care taken to rehab existing row homes that are in good enough condition to warrant it. Currently, the goal is to connect the synergies between Downtown and Hopkins and the Fallsway has to play a big role in doing so.

As I have mentioned, this posts is dedicated to dismantling the JFX so lets go ahead and do so. My last post discussed an alignment for the southbound lanes primarily using Guilford Avenue and a then a small part of the former JFX to evenly connect it with President St. So lets talk about the northbound alignment for when the JFX is dismantled.

That alignment will be the Fallsway. In fact, not much will have to change about the Fallsway's layout. During most its alignment, the road is wide enough, the two way traffic will have to be converted to one way northbound lanes. There are on ramps and off ramps to and from the JFX which narrow the Fallsway for a block or two but part of the dismantling of the JFX will see those ramps demolished allowing for the Fallsway to be widened.

Now just like that, these forgotten roads and intersections that were severed by the JFX will reconnect Downtown and Mount Vernon to East Baltimore. Holiday St., Hillen St., and Gay St. will now be major player in moving traffic northeast via East Baltimore. There are more in depth posts on how this will be done in the future. Also streets like Eager St. and Monument St. will no longer stop and start up again on either side of the soon to be dismantled JFX. They will simply cross into East Baltimore without any interruptions.

The biggest change to the Fallsway will take place at its northern end. Currently just above Chase St. and curves west crossing the JFX and joining Guilford Avenue at its intersection with Biddle St. Once the JFX is dismantled, The Fallsway will will remain east of the JFX all the way to Preston St. where it will empty onto the JFX where the highway will continue its normal operations. Another addition above Preston St. will be a ramp to Greenmount Avenue via the current alignment of Belvidere St. This will help local not have to get on the highway and in turn keep the traffic more regional.

Now that the JFX has been completely dismantled, we can begin working on redeveloping and reinvesting in the part of East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins. There are many of dead zones that could expand Downtown and make Oldtown Mall a sought after destination. First we will have to look into how other intersections and roads make connections as I have been eluding to throughout this post. Stay Tuned! More in depth looks into those intersections are coming soon.  


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dismantling the JFX I: Southbound

There's a large elephant in the room that's keeping development from moving eastbound filling the neglected space between Downtown and Hopkins. That elephant is named the JFX. West of the JFX lies Downtown and Mount Vernon. Both areas are considered the best the City has to offer. East of the JFX lies the struggling Neighborhood of Johnston Square and the vast suburban style surface parking lots owned by Edison Properties.
The plan to demolish the JFX is nothing new but so far it's been all talk. Plans that show a redevelopment plan for areas east of the JFX show an extended Downtown on the Edison lots, a completely revitalized Oldtown Mall and a redeveloped Somerset Homes which was demolished in 2008 but whose site remains barren to this day. This plan shows the JFX demolished however it's shown as a very long term goal of this plan. According to this plan, the other redevelopment plans come first. I would argue that the other redevelopment can't occur until the JFX is demolished and the market for redeveloping the areas east of it can create a demand for themselves. So with that, lets demolish the JFX! This post will focus on the southbound lanes.
First we start at Mount Royal Avenue just east of Calvert St. The southbound lanes on the JFX run parallel to this stretch of Mount Royal Avenue which proves crucial to the beginning of the JFX demolition. Just east of Calvert St., all southbound JFX traffic will merge onto what is now westbound Mount Royal Avenue making for a wider one way eastbound Mount Royal Avenue. At this point, all southbound lanes will travel down Guilford Avenue which will be renamed N. President St. Lane widths will remain the same.
As we continue down Guilford Avenue/President St., many of the signalized intersections Guilford Avenue currently has will be used just like they are now for the JFX. In some cases, existing ramps from the former JFX may play a role as surface level turn lanes on N. President St. N. President St. may narrow as it continues south as some lanes may become turn lanes as well. One intersection change will be that of Eager St. which currently stops and starts up again at either side of the JFX. With the JFX dismantled, Eager St. will continue across the ruins of the JFX to connect to itself.
One casualty of dismantling of the JFX will be the Orleans St. viaduct. With the JFX dismantled and Orleans St. meeting all other north-south cross-streets at surface level, the need for the viaduct is now gone. When meeting Pleasant St./Hillen St./Harford Road/MD.147 President St. will break off from its Guilford Ave. Alignment and will go at surface level at roughly the same location as the JFX but at surface level. Beyond Pleasant St., Guilford Avenue will be renamed South St. which is what the street is named further south. It will also be a state road with the moniker MD. 147. This is the same route number as Harford Road. Why I'm doing this will be explained in a later posts.

Meanwhile N. President St., will continue a few blocks surface level until the JFX currrently ends at Fayette St. After that, President St. will continue as a surface level boulevard going into Historic Jonestown, Little Italy, and Harbor East. like it already does. In order to dismantle the southbound section of the JFX it will take a few existing right of ways but the pieces are there to put it back together as N. President St. Stay tuned for the northbound post.      

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Resurrecting the Red Line III: How I would do it

First, I told you about how the western portion of the Red Line works almost perfectly. Then I told you how and you why the Downtown and eastern portions of the Red Line did not work well at all. Now it's time I told you how the Red Line needs to work in order to have an efficient well connected route through Downtown and Southeast Baltimore.
In southeast Baltimore, there will be a south spur and a north spur for a few stops before coming back together. Just to warn you, my version of the Downtown and eastern portions of the Red Line will be very costly and will include much more tunneling.
At the end of the western portion, there's a stop along the Road to Nowhere at Heritage Crossing and Poppleton. As redevelopment continues in this area, this stop will see a very large increases in ridership as the large Social Security complex that is now vacant is redeveloped and puts feet on the ground again.
Instead of going down MLK Boulevard, The Red Line will tunnel right into Downtown and turn southeast for a stop at Lexington Market. This provides a crucial connection to both the Metro (Green Line) and the Light Rail (Blue Line.) The stop will roughly be at Lexington St. between Eutaw St. and Howard St. so that riders may take a tunnel to get to the Lexington Market stop on the Green Line at Eutaw and Lexington. A tunnel in the opposite diredtion will be master planned into the stop so that if/when the Light Rail is tunneled into the old CSX tunnel under Howard St., there will be a connection as well.
The next stop will be at Howard St.and Pratt St. which will be provide service to those going to Camden Yards, the Convention Center, Harbor Place, UMB, and M&T Bank Stadium. There's an above ground Light Rail Stop here that easily link these two lines again. Like the Lexington Market Stop, a tunnel will be master planned into this stop so that if/when the Howard St. CSX tunnel is vacated, the Light Rail can be tunneled to make a true two tier stop.
For the next several blocks, the Red Line will travel along Pratt St. The line will be at surface level during its Pratt St. run due to the fact that it's traveling through the Inner Harbor which is the City's showcase. I would like the fact that Baltimore's striving for a world class multi-module transit system to be showcased which is why I located this stretch of the line above ground.
On Pratt St., the next stop will be at the Inner Harbor. Pratt St. and Gay St. at Pier III to be exact. This stop will be for those whose destination is the Inner Harbor, National Aquarium, Power Plant, the Harbor Promenade, the Gallery, and the Pier VI Pavilion to name a few. Further down Pratt St, roughly across from Ms, Shirley's Cafe, the line will drop down to be tunneled yet again. This is also the beginning of the north-south spurs.
We'll start with the south spur. By simply moving the line up one block from Fleet St. to Eastern Avenue, I believe we can catch a larger portion of riders in the southeast. The first stop will be at Eastern Avenue and Central Avenue for the Little Italy/Harbor East Stop. This will be the stop for Little Italy and Harbor East and H&S Bakery workers who haven't moved to Hollander Ridge. This stop is in the middle of another large redevelopment zone whose ridership will increase as the area continues to grow.
The next stop will be at Eastern Avenue and Broadway for the Fells Point Stop. This stop will serve the Fells Point Neighborhood, Perkins Homes, and Harbor Point Development under construction as well as the Broadway Market and newly completed Marketplace at Fells Point. Like many other stops on this line, it's in an area where lots of redevelopment is occurring and the ridership will grow as the area does.
At Eastern Avenue and Patterson Park Avenue, I would have the Upper Fells Point Stop. This would also serve the western edge of Canton. The Red Line will not dip down onto Boston St. Instead, it will remain on Eastern Avenue where the homes are densely packed and despite there only being infill housing in terms of new development, the area is still growing as Upper Fells Point is becoming a destination for those looking to rehab a vacant.
The next stop will be at Eastern Avenue and Linwood Avenue for the Canton Stop. Yes, Canton will have a stop on the Red Line however, it will be several blocks to the north. Canton Residents and Patterson Park goers will be the primary users of those stop. This stop is directly north of the Canton Waterfront park.
Next will be the Highlandtown stop. Like Upper Fells Point, Highlandtown is a densely packed row house Neighborhood that is seeing a little it of new development but its growth is coming primarily from vacants getting rehabbed with new Residents moving into them. In addition to Highlandtown proper, this stop also serves the rapidly growing Brewer's Hill Neighborhood which has seen multiple large Apartment communities completed recently. This stop is also not far from Canton Crossing, Baltimore's first big box center with a large office and Residential component soon to come.
The last stop on the south spur of the Red Line before rejoining the north spur will be at Eastern Avenue and Bayview Boulevard for the Greektown/Bayview stop. Greektown is growing very fast with the rehabs and existing row homes but is also being helped two large town home communities being built at the southwestern edge of the Neighborhood. Hopkins Bayview Employees at visitors will be able to use this stop as well. This stretch of Eastern Avenue also has plenty of space for redevelopment.
Now we're going to travel back to Pratt St. and Gay St. This was the location right before the north spur and the south spur split off from one another. The north spur, instead of traveling along Eastern Avenue, will travel north along E. Baltimore St. Tunneled of course. Its goal is to cover a section of East Baltimore that neither the south spur nor the Green Line will cover. This includes the East Baltimore MARC Station.
The first stop of the north spur of the Red Line will be at Lombard St. and Exeter St. Historic Jonestown is quietly experiencing a rebirth and having its own Red Line stop will help Residents and tourists alike find this gem while allowing more growth in this often overlooked Community just north of Little Italy.
The next stop will be at E. Baltimore St. and Broadway. This will serve the growing Washington Hill Community. Washington Hill is located between Hopkins, Butchers Hill, Patterson Park, and Upper Fells Point. Its historic homes are larger than some of its Neighbors and there are new homes being built here as well.
Butchers Hill will host the next stop at E. Baltimore St. and Patterson Park Avenue. Butchers Hill, like Washington Hill contains larger row homes than its Neighbors. Its strategic location away from public housing, industrial ruins, and near both Patterson Park and Hopkins allowed minimal blight in Butchers Hill. For an East Baltimore Neighborhood, this is very rare.
On the other side of Patterson Park is....Patterson Park! The neighborhood named after the park that surrounds will be the next of the Red Line's north spur. As rehabbing row homes in Neighborhoods such as Fells Point and Canton, City Dwellers looked for vacants that were more affordable to rehab and they chose Patterson Park. Patterson Park is densely packed with row homes and is growing fast.

The next stop will be the planned East Baltimore MARC Stop in Orangeville. Though mostly industrial wasteland, Orangeville can one day be a huge mixed use TOD Community. The East Baltimore MARC Station and the Red Line meeting it there will remake this whole area.
The north spur will meet the south spur by traveling down Bayview Boulevard and joining at the Greektown/Bayview stop at Eastern Avenue and Bayview Boulevard. The line would then go southeast along Dundalk Avenue with stops at Graceland Park/O'Donnell Heights, Fort Holabird, and Dundalk Marine Terminal. Dundalk Marine Terminal will be the end of the line until there's enough redevlopment at Sparrow's Point to warrant an extension. Between Dundalk Marine Terminal and Sparrow's Point there will be a stop at Turner's Station which will be part of the Sparrow's Point extension.
This Red Line I have planned will be much more expensive and much larger than anything proposed by the MTA. However, with the amount of areas that will now have stops and the speed of the trains upped because of the additional tunnels, I think this line will have lots of ridership and inspire future lines and expansion of existing lines making Baltimore a 1st class Rail Transit Region.    

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Resurrecting the Red Line II: What Doesn't Work

My last post dealt with what was right with the Red Line. By first building it in West Baltimore and localizing the MARC Stations, the rail transit accessibility would have grown many times over just implementing those changes.
The only change I Made to the western portion of the Red Line was tunneling Edmondson Avenue. This post deals with the rest of the Red Line and how it wouldn't work. Although this improved Red Line will cost much more due to lots more tunneling and a whole other, spur, when our new Governor takes Office in 2019, he or she can take the necessary steps to move it forward.
Now lets talk about what was wrong with the remaining portion. First, it goes along MLK Boulevard which only skirts Downtown and doesn't provide easy access to major institutions like UMB, Lexington Market or Camden Yards. There also aren't any connections to existing transit lines which, is crucial to make a truly comprehensive transit system.
Then, the Red Line goes down Lombard St. Again, its stops don't connect to other transit lines and it doesn't link directly to landmarks like the Convention Center, Harborplace, National Aquarium, Pier 6 Pavilion, Power Plant Building and the Harbor Promenade. All of these are major attractions to Residents and tourists alike and if they have to walk too much (even if it's just one block) they will take their cars instead thereby decreasing ridership and increasing vehicular traffic.
Next, the flawed line goes under Fleet St. where it turns its back on high ridership Neighborhoods to the north such as Patterson Park, Historic Jonestown, Upper Fells Point, Perkins Homes, Butchers Hill, Patterson Place and Washington Hill. These Neighborhoods are compact row house Neighborhoods that are less likely to have multiple vehicles than Harbor East and Fells Point both of which buildings with parking garages.
The line then comes out of its tunnel and runs along Boston St. in Canton. Boston St. contains a low amount of density and is not pedestrian friendly. It's actually like a suburban boulevard than an urban street. I make this point because this portion of the line is at surface level and Boston St. will sacrifice its median and turn lanes and create a traffic nightmare like that seen on Howard St. There was another proposed nightmare by having Edmondson Avenue at surface level but I changed it to be tunneled for that very reason. Furthermore, Canton Residents hate this alignment and have all but promised to boycott the Line should it be built.
After Boston St., the Line joins an existing track that currently is used to get northbound near the old cork and seal factory to have a stop at the Highlandtown and Greektown communities before ultimately ending at Hopkins Bayview which the planned location of the East Baltimore MARC Station.
Now none of this is going to happen since the Red Line was ultimately killed. There are those who want to resurrect the line as do I. I however, don't want to have this particular alignment even if the Line were reinstated. The next post will show exactly how to resurrect the line to increase ridership and accessibility to denser Neighborhoods without disrupting existing vehicular traffic. I'm warning you now though, it will be much more expensive.    

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Resurrecting the Red Line I: What Works

When the plug was pulled on the Red Line I was furious to say the least. More than a decade of planning, studies, and obtaining funds was flushed down the drain by one Governor in true dictator fashion. When something like strikes a blow to Baltimore, the City must dust itself off and look towards the future. And what is that future? One where leadership cares about rail transit in Baltimore and surrounding suburbs, one that contains the resurrected Red Line.
Now I will admit that the design and route for the Red Line was not perfect, in fact I've made that statement here on this blog one more than once. However, there were parts of the plan that I think were correctly planned and I think should be resurrected and built. Other parts we should go back to the drawing board and fund and build when they're better. Right now I will focus on what should be funded and built now and that is the Red Line in West Baltimore, the East Baltimore MARC Station, and the localization of both MARC lines to create the Purple and Orange Lines.
So lets get started. West Baltimore is in dire need of better transit among other things. I also believe that this portion of the Red Line doesn't need much tweaking. The western Red Line will start at the end of Security Boulevard with stops serving the Medicare/Medicaid Offices, Security Square Mall, and the Social Security Complex. It will then dip down to Cooks Lane where it will serve the I-70 park & ride before traveling along Edmondson Avenue serving the new Uplands Community, Edmondson Village before traveling along Franklin St. to serve the Rosemont Community. The only difference between this and the agreed upon Red Line that was axed is the Edmondson Avenue and Franklin St. sections will now be tunneled. I know this will cost more but as I've said before taking the cheap alternative will cost ridership and speed.
The next stop will be the most important for this western portion of the Red Line. This is of course the West Baltimore MARC Station (pictured above) and the localized Purple Line. In the mean time, this will be the only connection to other rail transit lines for this Red Line Stub. Going northbound, this can and will connect West Baltimore to Penn Station(pictured below), East Baltimore, Martin State Airport, Edgewood and Perryville. Southbound, this can go to Halethorpe (relocated stop to cross with MARC Camden Line), BWI, Odenton, Bowie, Seabrook, New Carrollton, and fianlly Union Station in DC. With all of this now connected to the West Baltimore Red Line Stub, the number of job opportunities for West Baltimore Residents with personal transportation has increased many times over.
Now we come to Baltimore's Purple Line which will share track with the MARC Penn Line. With more localized stops, in addition to the above MARC Stops, the West Baltimore Red Line will have access to proposed northbound stops at Sandtown, Upton(connect to Green Line), Orangeville, Colgate, Rosedale, Rossville, Mddlesex, and Middle River. Additional southbound stops include St. Agnes Hospital, Arbutus, and Severn.
The MARC Camden Line will be localized as well and will be billed as the Orange Line. The orange Line will be accessible by getting on the Purple Line from the Red Line via the newly located Halepthorpe Stop that allows the two lines to cross. This will allow West Baltimore to access Elkridge, Hanover, Jessup, Savage, and Laurel via the Orange Line going south. Northbound will allow for Camden Yards, Pigtown, Morrell Park, and Lansdowne but I doubt that West Baltimore Residents will go all the way to Halethorpe just to go back into the City.
The West Baltimore Red Line will have two more stops east of the West Baltimore MARC Station (pictured above) both running on track space from the Road to Nowhere which should hopefully allow for redevelopment of the entire corridor. First will be for the Franklin Square and Harlem Park Communities. Both Communities will benefit from large redevelopment efforts that being on the West Baltimore Red Line will surely bring. The final stop for the West Baltimore Red Line will be just before the intersection of MLK Boulevard at the Poppleton and Heritage Crossing Communities where the Green Line stop at State Center and Light Rail (Blue Line) at Cultural Center are each just a few blocks away.
By only building the West Baltimore portion of the Red Line at this time and localizing the MARC Lines, Baltimore can expand its Rail Transit connect-ability may times over without having to deal with the currently flawed parts of the Downtown and southeastern portions. But fear not, those will get funded and built after going back to the drawing board of course. For now, lets focus on What works.