Friday, April 11, 2014

Recreating the Bottom

By the middle of the 20th Century it seems that almost every Neighborhood that encroached Downtown was nothing but slums. And when I say Slums I mean chronic over crowding, lack of indoor plumbing, and lack of HVAC. In addition to the buildings being in shambles Residents were destitute. At the time it seemed that the right thing to do would be demolish these slums and build what was then considered modern public housing. It worked for a few years however, the same problems began to resurface soon after.
I've told that story a million times on this blog and I choose not to bore you with it once again. This time I'm going to talk about a forgotten section northwest of Downtown and southeast of Upton. It crosses the blurred line between Upton and Seton Hill. It was known as the "Bottom." In Upton there are many historical Buildings that were home to Baltimore's African American Elite primarily in the Marble Hill District and/or along Pennsylvania Avenue above Dolphin St. The Bottom was the area below Dolphin St. that was over-crowded and housed Baltimore's African American working class and working poor. Given the area's lack of resources, the Bottom fell into disrepair as Neighborhood Boundaries didn't expand despite the great migration.
So what and where is the Bottom today? Today the bottom includes McCulloh Homes, State Center(pictured above), Orchard St. Mews, and Heritage Crossing (pictured above). During the slum clearance of the mid 20th Century, Murphy Homes occupied the land that is now home to Heritage Crossing. More on that later. There are currently plans on the books to redevelop State Center into a high density mixed use TOD haven. If done correctly it will fill the void in between the sought after Neighborhoods of Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon. 
Located just west of State Center is McCulloh Homes(pictured above), a public housing project that is in dire need of reinvestment if not a complete redevelopment. Some of Upton's most prized streets run through McColloh Homes; Pennsylvania Avenue, Druid Hill Avenue, and McCulloh St. East of MLK Boulevard which was not in existence when the Bottom was lies Orchard Street Mews. Orchard Street Mews is located in Seton Hill and is a Garden Apartment Complex whose buildings are in now where near as bad a shape as McCulloh Homes but stick out like a sore thumb when compared to the beautiful housing stock that has been handsomely rehabbed over the years. It should also be noted that Seton Hill is flanked with a plethora of trees, gardens, and parks.
Recently I wrote an article more or less celebrating the move of Social Security from its fortress (pictured above) on the edge of Downtown just south of the Bottom. I talked about the endless possibilities of redevelopment and how that section and surrounding areas can improve by leaps and bounds. One aspect I didn't touch upon was recreating the Bottom. Although the Bottom can be recreated without the redevelopment of the Social Security Fortress, I think doing so will create a synergy of development dollars will hopefully flood the area. 
So where and how do we begin recreating the bottom? First it's time to redevelop McCulloh Homes and Orchard Street Mews. McCulloh Homes is a no brainer given its high vacancy rate and the astronomically high cost it would be to renovate and modernize that whole complex. Originally the State Center redevelopment project included McCulloh Homes but Residents successfully nixed that idea. These days however, conditions at McCulloh Homes have continued to deteriorate and it appears that the City is in no financial position to make the needed improvements. Demolition and selling off the land may be the only way to move forward.
As I said earlier, Orchard Street Mews are not in state of crisis like McCulloh Homes but their decidedly mid century urban renewal era appearance leaves much to the imagination. Given that Orchard Street Mews is the link between Downtown/Seton Hill and Upton/McCulloh Homes in order to create a stream lined "Bottom" they must be redeveloped as well. In the beginning of this post I hearkened back to the worn story of blighted slums being removed in the mid 20th century. One thing I didn't address which I will now is what some of the slums that were NEVER cleared and what they look like now. Today, they're some of Baltimore's most sought after Neighborhoods most notably Otterbein. It was cleared of Residents but never demolished because the path for I-95 was redirected and the $1 row house was born.
Could the Bottom have fared as well as Otterbein? If so could Upton's Marble Hill District have be as in demand as Federal Hill? These are answers we will never know. That being said, lets recreate the Bottom. Now that the land has been cleared it begs the question; What will go in place of McCulloh Homes and Orchard Street Mews? If you're thinking I'm going to put upscale mixed use high density Apartments with cookie Retail, you're wrong. The Bottom was never a high class glitzy area even in its heyday. It housed Baltimore's African American working class and working poor during a time when segregation gave them no other options on where to live.
A redeveloped Bottom will pay homage to that by providing affordable housing of all types to Baltimore's working class and working poor. Gone are the days of segregation so hopefully a culturally diverse Neighborhood will rise. The housing types will mimic the beautiful row homes in Neighboring Seton Hill, Bolton Hill, and Mount Vernon. Some of these new Row Homes will be Apartments and others will be a one Family dwelling. Some will be rentals while others will be sold to first time buyers below market value. Remember, the Bottom was never a wealthy enclave so celebrating its history would be to offer affordable housing. Unlike the original Bottom, the new Bottom will be flanked with all the modern amenities and will not be over crowded. These new Row Homes will be built with similar architectural details found in Seton Hill, Bolton, Hill and Upton's Marble Hill District to make it appear as if they've been here the whole time. The new Bottom will also contain an unprecedented amount of trees, gardens, and parks.
The original Bottom was once home to slums that housed Baltimore's African American working class and working poor. If recreated the "New Bottom" will house Working Families from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds and instead of slums will be tree lined row homes with all the modern amenities. I can't think of a better way to recreate the Bottom.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Elkridge/Jessup Yellow/Orange Shuttle Bug

Yet another post that's relevant on both the Baltimore and Columbia/Howard County Blog!
On the MARC Camden Line there's an under utilized stop at the Howard/Anne Arundel County Line in Jessup (pictured above). Given that MARC is a regional Commuter Line and given all of the gridlock from Northern Virginia all the way to Southern Pennsylvania it is my humble opinion that every MARC Stop should be widely used with parking and shuttle buses to and from Stations to make the commute from home to the MARC Stop as quick and easy as possible. Take one look at the Jessup MARC Stop and you will see that we've got our work cut out for us.
I've resigned myself to the fact that the Jessup MARC Station will be never Metro Centre at Owings Mills, the end of Baltimore's Metro Subway that when completed will sport high capacity parking garages, a Community College Branch, a Library Branch, 495 Apartments with ground floor Retail, and Office Space. This will be TOD at its finest. Immediately surrounding the Jessup MARC Station is a mish-mash of Industrial uses (pictured above). I'm not proposing getting rid of said uses but I do think the Station can still attract a much higher ridership.
15 years ago the thought of Jessup being a high volume Station would have elicited major laughter from any County or State Planner and for good reason. Back then Elkridge and Jessup (the communities serving the Station) were not dense at all and Route 1, located about a quarter mile west of the Station appeared to be built out. That was 15 years ago. Today we have found that there is in fact a lot of land available along Route 1 through a combination of trailer park redevelopment (pictured above), demolishing dated industrial parks, and rezoning of uses along Route 1.
What does the spell for the Jessup MARC Station? It should spell more ridership. There is no shortage of high density mixed use developments either being built or slated to be built along Route along the blurry line that is the border of Elkridge and Jessup. First off there's the Overlook at Blue Stream(pictured above); 1500 Residences, Howard Square; 1,000 Residences Morris Place; 138 Town Homes as well as recently completed developments such as Port Capital Village, The Oaks at Waters Edge, New Colony Village, and Village Towns. This adds up to thousands of new Homes and the traffic these homes come with. Further south along Route 1 there's Mission Place yet another high density mixed use development with a couple hundred new homes. 
Existing Elkridge Residents have had and still have harsh scathing words for County Planners who have approved these new developments (pictured above) citing over crowded roads, Schools, and the need for more Fire Stations. I'm not here to take sides with anyone on this issue. What I am here to do is advocate for better connect-ability between this explosion of population growth and the under utilized Jessup MARC Station. This will minimize traffic impact along Route 1 and the increased ridership on the MARC line may pressure State and County Officials to invest more in Rail Transit. 
So ho do we get Commuters to the lonely MARC Station? That's where Shuttle bugs come into play. In the City, shuttle bugs play a great role in mobilizing Residents to get to and from Rail Stations if the walk there is difficult. Examples are the Maryland Zoo/Mondawmin Shuttle Bug and the Hampden Woodberry Shuttle bug. This type of shuttle bug that will have stops along Route 1 where this high density development is will be great to get riders to and from the Jessup Station. One advantage to high density development like that found on Route 1 in Jessup/Elkridge is the fact that huge a mass of people can live within steps of a shuttle bug stop making the incentive to take the MARC to work that much greater.
So why call it the Yellow/Orange Shuttle bug? The name pays homage to the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan's vision. In the plan, Baltimore's MARC Lines were to be localized with the Camden Line being dubbed the Orange Line and the Penn Line being dubbed the Purple Line. These lines will share tracks with the more regional MARC Lines as well as stops. The new "localized stops" will not be for MARC trains, only for the Orange and Purple Lines. If you recall on my previous post in my quest to get Rail Transit to Columbia, I proposed running the Yellow Line along the tracks that serve the Jessup MARC Station. Given that the Yellow and Orange Lines would run along those tracks, I propose that the shuttle bug be named; The Yellow and Orange Shuttle Bug.
Then there's parking. Not everyone would want to take the Shuttle Bug and would prefer to take their own cars. This is where expanded parking comes into play. On the site of the current meager parking lots, a parking garage (like that pictured above) would rise to serve the needs of the growing population and invite them to take the MARC. 
The new developments along Route 1 I have mentioned in this post are not the only ones being built or in the pipeline along Route 1. These developments are actually located at a MARC Station ie Oxfors Square and Belmont Station (pictured above) located at the Dorsey MARC Station, Annapolis Junction Town Centre located at the Savage MARC Station and Laurel Park Station located at the Laurel Race Track MARC Station.
The large amount of high density development in Jeesup/Elkridge is comparable to true TOD except for the mere fact it's not actually steps away from a Transit Station the Yellow/Orange Shuttle is an attempt to remedy this by providing the convenience of TOD and ease traffic along Route 1 while doing so.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Could Rail Transit in Columbia Be Closer Than We Think?

This post is one of those rare opportunities in which the content is relevant to both blogs. As a result it will appear on both blogs. With that being said, I ask you this question; Could Rail Transit in Columbia Be Closer Than We Think? Short answer; Yes. Relatively short answer; yes but nobody knows it. Long answer; yes but nobody knows so I'm going to explain how it can happen.   
The redevelopment of Columbia Town Center has slowed considerably due to the recession but in 2012 plans have begun to pick up steam again and in 2013 construction has begun and this year construction has continued as well as new plans being introduced. Part of the Master Plan for Columbia Town Center includes a Rail Transit Stop that will link Columbia to Baltimore. This same stop could also eventually link to the DC Metro for a truly regional comprehensive Rail Transit System. 
Everybody says this is way off in the future but in order to keep producing posts for this blog, I spend my days looking at maps any and all types ideas. In doing so I found a way that can link Columbia to Baltimore relatively easily and by using mostly existing tracks it will be much cheaper than most other projects coming down the pipeline.
In order to make this appear feasible we must first look at what's already there. Right now we have the Central Light Rail Line. In the Baltimore Regional Rail Transit Plan the Central Light Rail Line will break into two separate lines; The Blue Line and the Yellow Line. The Blue Line is already built to what is proposed in the Regional Rail Plan going from Hunt Valley to Cromwell Station between in Ferndale/Northern Glen Burnie (although my goal is to extend it to Annapolis) Then there's the Yellow Line, when completed it will share some track space with the Blue Line as already but when completed it will go from Towson to Columbia Town Center. 
To break up the two lines and "birth" the Yellow Line, all that would have to be done is to change the maps. If one is to ride the Central Light Rail Line (Blue Line) they will no longer have the spurs going to Penn Station or BWI Airport. The Yellow Line in its infancy will be those spurs starting at the Airport. joining the Blue Line for the vast majority of its length until it's expanded and then ending at Penn Station. Eventually the Yellow Line will get to Penn Station by way of Charles Center, Mercy Hospital, and Mount Vernon but that's way in the future.
Now back to Columbia, the Yellow Line is the Line that is to be extended to Columbia. Its southern end is at the Airport. Therefore we have to find a way to connect Columbia to the Airport. Before the Yellow Line (as I will be calling it from now on) turns into the Airport it runs parallel to Aviation Boulevard (MD 170) it will roughly continue to do so intersecting the MARC Penn Line at the BWI Amtrak Station. It will then travel through land that is largely undeveloped and is being banked for the future BWI "Aerotropolis. In Hanover at the Howard/Anne Arundel County line, the line will join the MARC Camden Line.
When funding more funding is in place the Yellow Line will continue on its own southbound with stops at the Baltimore Commons Business Park and Arundel Mills Mall/Maryland Live Casino which is one of Maryland's fastest growing areas. After leaving Arundel Mills it will meet the MARC Camden Line at the Dorsey MARC Station. Again, this won't be right away.
Once the Yellow Line joins the MARC Camden Line it will share tracks until there's a westward split between the Jessup and Savage MARC Stations. This leads into a largely industrial part of Savage and Jessup and skirts Guilford, an out-parcel of Columbia, This spur of train tracks ends in between Guilford, and the Columbia Villages of Owen Brown and King's Contrivance. Given how there's no real funding in place for tunneled rail transit this is the end of the line for now. It does give Rail Transit access to Columbia, not Columbia Town Center just yet. 
When the time comes for a Town Center expansion I would have it go up Broken Land Parkway and have it go through Oakland Mills for a stop at its Village Center (pictured above)as the Multi-Modal pathway proposed will make for a great right of way. This will also spur much needed reinvestment and redevelopment for the Village of Oakland Mills. Using this same Multi-Modal path, the Yellow Line will cross Rote 29 and will reach its ultimate southbound destination; Columbia Town Center.
Although I have started the route to Columbia by hardly laying any track down, when the route goes all the way to Town Center via Arundel Mills, there will have to be new tracks laid down, dug up and tunneled. However this "el cheapo route" will surely help the Mastered Planned vision of the Yellow Line come to fruition and that Rail Transit in Columbia actually is a lot closer than we think.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lexington Market: The Block Long Underground Conveyor Belt

When making a comprehensive transit plan, different lines have to cross paths in order for Riders to get anywhere and everywhere in the City and the inner ring of the County. These stations known as "transit hubs" make it possible for somebody who lives in Hunt Valley and works at Johns Hopkins Hospital to ride Rail Transit to and from work.
The only problem is, that fictional person can't get there because the transit hub connecting these two existing lines also isn't there. Poor planning? Yes, but a soon to be abandoned CSX tunnel and my idea for a "block long conveyor belt" might make for a true transit hub here in Baltimore.
Right now, with only the Light Rail(Blue Line) and the Subway (Green Line) there is only one possible place for a transit hub; Lexington Market. Unfortunately, whoever was given the task to plan the route for the Light Rail (it's newer than the Subway) nobody thought that locating a Light Rail Station one block west where the Subway Station is could in fact increase ridership and make rail transit viable.
Several years ago I attempted to address this by relocating the Light Rail, tracks under Eutaw St. This post was not met with warm fanfare to say the least. I don't consider that a bad thing because posts like that force me to look for a new way to address the problem the bad post was attempting to solve.
It was at this time that I began reading about the CSX fire in 2001. The tunnel that runs under Howard St. from Camden Yards to the JFX was deemed unsafe for cargo trains and it would have to be vacated by the CSX and a new route would have to be thought up. Now where does that leave the vacated Howard St. Tunnel? Many transit advocates not unlike myself have called for tunneling the Howard St. Light Rail underneath where it currently sits. This will free up precious lanes on Howard St. and should generate more private money to invest in the Howard St. Corridor. 
Although this endeavor wouldn't be nearly as costly as other rail line building/expansion projects it would still cost a pretty penny to build escalators and elevators down and making platforms underground for passengers to board and de-baord the trains. The physical tunneling which carries the heftiest price tag would already be done. I say lets get this started full speed ahead!
With the Howard St. Light Rail Tunneled it would be easier to think about making Lexington Market a transit hub. We wouldn't relocate any stations or anything like that but option to switch lines underground without leaving the station (s) possible. If you're on Howard St. and you go down an escalator you could board from that escalator not only the Light Rail but the Subway. Likewise, if you're going down an escalator from Eutaw St. you could board not only the Subway but the Light Rail as well.
With a plan like that the only tunneling needed to make that happen would be the block of Lexington St. between Howard and Eutaw St. True, this would be an expensive endeavor but I think bundling it with the Red Line construction costs would help us see the money sooner rather than later. Personally I would like to see a Lexington Market Stop on the Red Line as well. You can find that on one of my many posts that blasts Red Line Option 4C and provides an alternative that serves Downtown, the Inner Harbor and Southeast Baltimore much better than option 4C.
Now back to Lexington Market. It's agreed that tunneling the Howard St. Light Rail and creating a block long tunnel between the two or perhaps three stations would create a transit hub unlike that which Baltimore has never seen in modern day history. The question remains, aren't people still walking that same block between Howard and Eutaw St.? Other than not having to brave the elements, the walk is the same right? That's why I have decided to include conveyor belts that literally give you a ride for that block in between the two stations. Just stand and enjoy the ride and next thing you know you're at the other end of the station. Now are you convinced this is a transit hub? I thought so.
When planning the Light Rail and the Subway there was obvious disconnect when linking the two together. Lexington Market is the shortest distance between the two. In order for Baltimore's Rail Transit to grow and increase ridership, there must at least one hub that connects the two. By tunneling the Howard St. Light Rail and making the block long tunnel under Lexington St., a small move in the grand scheme of things, this one tunnel will do what has yet to be done in modern day Baltimore; create a transit hub.

Friday, March 7, 2014

York Road TAP: No Yellow Line?

I just got finished reading the new Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) for York Road. I thought that it provides a good plan to help the York Road Corridor move forward and recognize its assets while looking at opportunities for improvements. However one key component is missing; the Yellow Line. I'm aware that the Yellow Line is something that if built won't be built anytime soon. I have come to terms with that fact however when a TAP or a Master Plan comes down the pipeline that doesn't at least mention some sort of plan for it, that's a pill I can't swallow.
The York Road TAP does in fact mention transit. There are proposed "shuttle bugs" that connect the York Road Neighborhoods to the existing Light Rail Line as well as the numerous Colleges and Universities to the west such as Johns Hopkins, Loyola, and Notre Dame. The fact that something like this is mentioned when York Road is directly in the path of the Yellow Line and that fact is acknowledged, it shows in my opinion how shallow the York Road TAP plan actually is.  
If Rail Transit makes the headlines these days it's concerning the Red Line. The City and State are trying despite our economic woes to secure funding for planning and perhaps construction. The Red Line is not the only Rail Line in Baltimore that's included in the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan. Another line is the rarely mentioned Yellow Line. If built in full, the Yellow Line would go from Towson to Columbia Town Center. This is an ambitious project but neglecting to talk about it in Master Plans like the York Road TAP it will die.
Now why should the York Road TAP include the Yellow Line? That's an easy one, the proposed Northern Route of the Yellow Line IS York Road. So why wouldn't land for stations be Master Planned into something like the York Road TAP? One thing I neglected to mention is that the York Road TAP extends into the County and effects the southern edge of Towson. The fact that this plan includes portions of both the City and County and mention is made perplexes me even more.
With or without the Yellow Line York Road is making and will continue to make improvements. Belevedere Square and the Senator Theater have made huge investments in the Community as have streetscape enhancements along the northern edge of the City and the Southern edge of the County. Further into the City, the Station North Arts & Entertainment District has seen Artists moving into and rehabbing vacant homes in the Waverly and Barclay Neighborhoods. In Neighborhoods like Pen Lucy and Wilson Park, once one of Baltimore's highest violent crime zones, the violent crime rate has dropped and the quality of life has gone up. Indeed, new homes are popping up in vacant lots in the Pen Lucy Neighborhood.
There are still sections of the York Road Corridor that are in rough shape and would make great opportunities for reinvestment and redevelopment. This includes the commercial stretches of Greenmount Avenue in the Waverly/Barclay area that have high vacancy rates and low quality merchants. The influx of an Arts Community may help bring Co-op Businesses like a used Book Store and Art Supply Stores to the area. This will also boost the already successful Waverly Farmers Market. Personally I think that keeping the Yellow Line in the dialogue in these areas where additional heavy reinvestment and redevelopment is needed will help steer private dollars there because high density Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is highly profitable.
So how exactly do you "Master Plan" something like the Yellow line into something like the York Road TAP? Well lets start with stations. When looking at opportunities for reinvestment and redevelopment around land for stations two things need to happen; first leaving land open for the escalators and elevators that lead to the stations underground. Yes, this will be tunneled Light Rail. Second, leaving about a half acre of land for a surface parking lot. I have never advocated for surface parking lots in my life but I have a plan. If/when the Yellow Line does come to fruition, this surface lot can be built into a parking garage. Aren't parking garages not visually appealing? Nope, they are not but a high density mixed use TOD building can be visually appealing and building such buildings around parking garages has been a great way to mask them.
I like to take a timeout to reveal a truly genius example of Master Planning for the future. Although this "future plan" hasn't come to fruition I still applaud its planners and designers. The example I'm speaking of is the Charles Center Metro Station (pictured above.) What's so great about the Charles Center Metro Station? It's actually built for two lines to cross it! That's right it's meant to be a transit hub. When planning for this station all the back in the 1980s, Planners wanted a north south line to cross this station, so in a moment of pure genius, they built the Station with the intent of a second line eventually crossing it. Today there is no second line. This is the type of forward that I believe to lacking when planning the York Road TAP. Ironically the line that's proposed to cross the Charles Center Metro is also the Yellow Line further south Downtown on its way to York Road.
When the Yellow Line travels north to York Road/Greenmount Avenue, where are these stations that the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan and I are proposing? Sadly the plan doesn't have the exact locations but I will tell you where mine are. After shifting eastward from Penn Station, the Yellow Line will meet North Avenue at Greenmount for a "Station North" Station. At this point the Yellow Line will travel up the Greenmount Avenue/York Road corridor to 25th St. for a Barclay Station the to 33rd St. for a Waverly Station, then to 39th St. for a Pen Lucy Station, then up to Colspring Lane for a Govans Station, then finally for its final stop in the City to Northern Parkway for a Belvedere Square Station.
The Yellow Line will then travel into the County for a Rodger's Forge Station at Dumbarton Road then over to Cross Campus Drive where four major Employers/Institutions  will now have access to the Rail System; Towson University, GBMC, St. Joesph Hospital and Shepard Pratt. With all of these large Institutions having access to Rail Transit, York Road's gridlock will surely decrease. The final stop on the Yellow Line will be Townsontown Centre where TOD is already being built at break neck speed.

The York Road TAP was and is meant to provide a long range plan for the York Road Corridor. Although it does this, it fails to mention perhaps the most crucial part of what should be mentioned. Regardless of how far fetched or in the future the Yellow Line may seem, if it isn't mentioned in plans like this, it will die. Do you want to be the ones responsible for killing it? I don't, that's why I'm writing about it in hopes of keeping it on the books.