Saturday, March 8, 2014
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.
Friday, March 7, 2014
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.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
"Could TOD Re-Centralize Industry?".
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The Social Security Complex originally moved to this newly constructed Super Block fortress as part of an Urban Renewal Effort with the theory that bringing public jobs Downtown would fuel private investment in the already ailing Westside of Downtown (pictured above). This did not occur and Downtown felt became all the more blocked off from West Baltimore as a result. Connectivity between Downtown and West Baltimore had already weak due to the Road to Nowhere, MLK Boulevard, and the crime ridden high rises of Murphy Homes and Lexington Terrace on either side of the Road to Nowhere.
Today this area of the City along with State Center, Lexington Market (pictured above), and the Super Block represent some of the most potential and hope for Downtown, Downtown's Westside, West Baltimore and the City as a whole. It's time too streamline development plans so that each parcel of land has its full potential recognized. It's also important to note that there are some bright spots in the area, both Lexington Terrace and Murphy Homes have been torn down and replaced with The Townes at the Terraces and Heritage Crossing respectively and the new Red Line is slated to run right through the area. Just to the south in Lexington Market is the potential for a transit hub connecting the existing Light Rail, the existing Subway, and the Red Line.
Before any real dialogue can take place regarding the redevelopment of the soon to be vacated Social Security Complex, we must first talk about the Road to Nowhere. I find that to be the biggest hurdle in opening up the barriers between West Baltimore and the Westside of Downtown. Currently there is a Master Plan for dismantling and redeveloping it however it has an obvious fatal flaw; they're doing it backwards! The plans for redevelopment start at the opposite end of the Road deep into West Baltimore at the MARC Station (pictured above)where the redevelopment energy now in Downtown's Westside is still eons away.
When it comes time to demolish the Social Security Complex, it must be done cohesively with the Road to Nowhere. As soon as the larger than life than life intrusion hits the wrecking ball, so too should the bridges (pictured above)that carry the Road to Nowhere traffic over MLK Boulevard and into Downtown where the re-assume being parts of Franklin and Mulberry Streets. Westbound, from Downtown Franklin St. traffic will never merge onto the Freeway as its right of way will be gone. Eastbound from West Baltimore, the freeway can remain almost in full except ALL traffic will exit onto the MLK Boulevard "ramp" thus eliminating the bridge. This idea for the Road to Nowhere is not my own, it was first proposed by fellow Blogger Gerald Neilly several years ago. I just happen to support it.
Now that the Social Scurity Complex has been demolished, we can finally have a real conversation about redevelopment. West of MLK Boulevard, I would build a Town Home Community to bridge together Heritage Crossing (pictured above)and the Townes at the Terraces. It will be a mixture of Home Ownership units both market rate and affordable. Fremont Avenue will be reopened between Franklin and Mulberry Streets and will serve as the western edge of this new Community. As for the Social Security Complex, I don't really know what to do with it at this time. All I can do is say what I don't want.
I don't want anymore Office Space. Well, I don't want anymore now. The City has way more Office Space than it can handle. The Central Business District (pictured above) has high vacancy rates as Offices have begun to move to Inner Harbor East and Harbor Point when it comes online. In fact if you read my "Keeping the State Out of State Center" post you will see that I intend on demolishing the State Center and having all of its Office Space move to the Central Business District to lower the vacancy rate. I would purposefully stall the any Office portion of State Center's redevelopment until the demand for it has returned.
I'm pleased that the Social Security Complex is being vacated and relocated. I'm even more pleased that the jobs are staying in the City and I hope this means major redevelopment for the building and surrounding areas. One reason I'm being so vague about what could go in its place is that the possibilities are endless. It's no wonder that I'm pleased about the pending move.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
East Baltimore had always been a working class Neighborhood. Small two story Row Homes were built to house workers from the Factories and the Docks both South and East. Bethlehem Steel was a major Employer of East Baltimore as was the American Can Company and the Breweries on Brewers Hill. Johns Hopkins and Church Hospital at the time occupied small spaces in the Neighborhood and their staffs were a fraction of the number employed by Hopkins today. In short, Hopkins workers didn't make up a large percentage of the East Baltimore Workforce.
As the 20th Century wore on East Baltimore began changing, White Flight and Blockbusting changed Neighborhoods from White to Black almost overnight, industry in America as a whole began drying up which made this once proud working class Community fall into Poverty, Public Housing High Rises were being erected between Downtown and Hopkins, and just as quickly as middle class Blacks began settling into East Baltimore, they began fleeing just like their White predecessors had as crime had begun to spillover from Neighboring Public Housing Developments. Poor Blacks in the area did not have the resources to move out of their once tidy row house Community so they were forced to stay in their constantly shrinking increasingly violent Neighborhoods where by the end of the 20th Century, boarded up row houses were beginning to outnumber occupied ones.
One fascinating detail of this all too common story of urban decay is the tremendous growth of Johns Hopkins Hospital during this time. As East Baltimore's row homes were being abandoned, Hopkins was acquiring land to expand their Hospital to offer more Patient beds, build new departments of growing Medical Fields where they hired the best and the brightest Doctors, and classrooms for Med Students, Interns, and Residents to become the best Doctors they could be. This expansion led to Patients coming to Hopkins and only Hopkins from around the Country and around the World to be seen by Doctors at Hopkins because they knew they were getting the best treatment in Medicine. This propelled Hopkins to become one of Baltimore's largest private sector Employers bypassing Bethlehem Steel.
The growth of Hopkins and the decay of the surrounding East Baltimore Community seemed to contradict one another. If the Neighborhood was decaying so much how could an institution like Hopkins grow with such surroundings? On the flip the question was asked, why weren't efforts being made to make more of the Hopkins Staff into East Baltimore Residents? The answer was and still is crime. The Hopkins Campus is heavily guarded day and night by Security and Police Forces alike. However. if somebody gets lost trying to find Hopkins or an exit from Hopkins, well that's a different and often scarier story. Hopkins workers for the most part have the means to live elsewhere, therefore they do.
In the early 2000s, Biotech Parks were sweeping the nation by storm. It seemed that every Hospital and/or University wanted to add one to their campus(s.) On the West Side, University of Maryland had wanted to add one (pictured above) and took the bold step of crossing MLK Boulevard into Poppleton, a West Baltimore Neighborhood that has seen the same crime and blight that East Baltimore has. Hopkins also wanted in. Only difference with Hopkins is that they wanted to use their Biotech Park as a springboard for full scale redevelopment of 1000+ row homes in East Baltimore north of Hopkins.
Neighborhoods south of Hopkins such as Washington Hill, Butcher's Hill (pictured above), Historic Jonestown, and Patterson Park had begun to see new signs of life partly due to the dismantling of the public housing high rises and new mixed income Town Homes that risen up in their place. These Neighborhoods have also provided a link from Hopkins to the Harbor as well as Downtown. Suddenly Hopkins and East Baltimore didn't seem so far from Downtown and the Harbor.
As the Master Plan for the Biotech Park and the redevelopment of the 1000+ vacant row homes north of Hopkins began to take shape, the recession hit. Today, the housing market is beginning to pick up some steam but there are those who say the entire New East Side is in Jeopardy because the Biotech Park part of the plan is in lingo. I'm sorry but isn't John Hopkins Hospital one of Baltimore's largest Employers with a infinitely growing staff? On that same note aren't people in general moving back to Cities because they're sick of long commute to and from work? The answers to both questions is yes.
The idea of actually having a thriving safe sustainable Community surrounding Hopkins is a relatively new idea. Most of the reasoning of it being so new is because Hopkins was so much smaller and employed so few people when East Baltimore actually was a thriving Community. The thinking has to be; Biotech Park or not, The Neighborhoods surrounding Hopkins can and should be desirable simply because Hopkins is such a huge institution that it's a magnet that draws Residents to it.
Neighborhoods south of Hopkins have fared much better than those north of it so full scale redevelopment or even small scale redevelopment isn't needed like it is north of the Hospital. That being said, Baltimore's new East Side should continue to build and reach its goal of 1200-1500 new and rehabbed homes. The only real question is what to do with land that had been set aside for the Biotech Park. I'm sure there are uses for it such as Community space, additional housing, or the land could be banked in case the demand for a Biotech Park resurfaces. I also don't see the Hospital's expansion stopping anytime soon so the Biotech Park land could also be used by the Hospital.