Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can Mass Transit Save Lombard St?

Yes it can, but it can also kill it. Don't get me wrong, Lombard St. is not any kind of danger I'm just throwing around ideas on how to make it even better. They City's doing the same thing but they don't have the right idea. We both agree that mass transit can save Lombard St. so the City has decided to tunnel the Red Line under it. Well that's it problem solved first round's on me.
Wait a minute, before you fill up on Natty Boh, may I remind you that this is the City's answer to Lombard St. and Downtown traffic woes as a whole is not mine. The City and I tend to clash on certain issues especially transit especially the Red Line especially option 4C. The City is using the Community Compact signed this past year as fuel to get MTA and possibly Economic Stimulus funding for the Red Line option 4C whether or not it's "shovel ready."I want to know who in the "Community" signed the Compact. Nobody along the Red Line corridor or in the City as a whole likes it. Cooks Lane residents don't want it to be routed on their street, Edmondson Village residents want tunnels because they've seen the bad effects of surface transit on Howard St., Nobody cares about Franklin Mulberry except Gerry Neily, and Pete Tocco who came up with a great plan which can be seen at which I highly recommend visiting. Then it goes under MLK Boulevard until Lombard St. cutting off crucial stops at Lexington Market, UMB, and the Westside of Downtown. Then it goes along Lombard St. in a tunnel which, like the MLK misses out on crucial connections. It needs to be a block south at surface level along Pratt St. to further show case the Inner Harbor. After that it goes under Fleet St. which Fels Point residents don't like and then surface level along Boston St. which Canton residents don't like.
Now back to Lombard St. and its roll or lack there of in the Mass Transit Planning process. As I've stated previously Lombard St. is due for improvements and Mass Transit needs to play a huge roll in doing so. Like I've stated the Red Line is better suited for Pratt St. and guess what's one block north on Baltimore St.? The Green Line! That's plenty of East-West transit for Downtown. Now what good are East-West transit lines without connections to North-South transit lines? They serve a purpose but aren't taken full advantage of.
So now we come to the North-South transit lines that will and already do cross Lombard St. First, all start off with the easy one, The Charles St. Trolley. It's local, it's surface level and it runs on Charles St. It will provide access to UMB/Mount Royal and JHU students as well as Charles Village residents a great alternative to driving to enjoy Downtown. Now we come to the harder parts; the Yellow and Blue lines. The Yellow Line can exist today if the MTA redrew its maps. Making the Light Rail route that runs from BWI to Penn Station the Yellow Line for the time being and the Light Rail route that runs from Glen Burnie to Hunt Valley the Blue Line.
Now here's what's tricky in order for the Yellow Line to be the best it can be it needs to be fast and it needs to be tunneled. Both expensive endavors. The Yellow Line trains, like what I'm proposing for the Red Line need to be the newest Light Rail trains on the market, which don't rely on overhead power lines. Why is this extra expensive? Because a decent portion of the Yellow Line will run on the already installed tracks of the Blue Line.
You know what that means right? The Blue Line has to be destroyed in order to save itself. Now as I've mentioned in order to save Howard St., the Blue Line must be tunneled from Pratt St. to North Avenue. It will use a tunnel that the CSX will vacate freeing up Howard St. to be a two way street its entire length. The entire Blue Line would have to be retracked so the newer trains can run on them. With the building of the Light Rail back in the 1990s Baltimore has since learned painful costly lessons and putting down new tracks from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie to upgrade the whole Light Rail system is perhaps the painful and expensive one. But it will have rewards with increased ridership and faster service.
Now wasn't this post about Lombard St.? It is! Everything I've discussed here relates either directly or indirectly to Lombard St. With the Blue Line tunneled Howard St. will be a better North-South vehicular route unclogging many intersections along St.Paul/Light St including the one at Lombard St. The Yellow Line will be a transit alternative for Mount Vernon residents, City Hall Employees, Court House Employees, and Mercy Hospital Employees and Paiteints who currently use and back up Lombard St. as a means to get onto I-95. See how it all comes to together?
Now we come to what is perhaps Lombard St's biggest jammer; Southeast Baltimore. Now, it's ironic because the Southeast has some of the best access to I-95 and 895 however, it's north of both the Harbor and Fort McHenry Tunnels. Residents and worker of Southeast Baltimore are like me a combination of being too cheap to pay the tolls or they have panic attacks driving through them (I'm guilty of Both). Now how do Southeasterners get to I-95? They take an East-West Street whether it be Eastern Avenue, O'Donnell St., or Boston St. and end up at President St. From President they drive a few short blocks to Lombard St. This part of President St. is very congested to say the least it's faster to walk that distance I've done it many times.
Now the Southeast solution is something that the MTA and City Hall are actually addressing. Well they're addressing the Charles St. Trolley but not the Yellow Line and a complete over haul of the current Light Rail to upgrade to overhead line free trains. The City is ready to build the Red Line and an East Baltimore MARC Station. Southeasterners looking to go Downtown or the Harbor can use the Red Line wherever it may be. Those looking to go further can take the Red Line to Orangeville to catch the MARC Penn Line, the Amtrak, or the Purple Line. Want to access the MARC Camden Line from the Southeast? Just take the Red Line to the Blue Line and transfer at Camden Yards and there you are.
Now all these transit lines effecting Lombard St. should we see a decrease in vehicular traffic? I should hope so. What I'm proposing for Lombard St. and all of Downtown Baltimore as a whole is to make it as car unfriendly as possible and transit, pedestrian, and bike friendly as possible. With all these new transit lines either built or rebuilt the need for such wide "boulevards" like Lombard, Pratt, President, and MLK will cease to exist. In narrowing streets it will almost force somebody who drives everywhere to use mass transit. Lombard St. will lose at least two lanes of traffic in favor of on street parking. Speaking of parking aren't there an awful lot of parking garages along Lombard St? More than say retail, office, or residential space? In addition to narrowing streets that should never been as wide as they are in the first place another way to force transit ridership and decease vehicular traffic is to decrease parking ie tearing down parking garages. Since this is Lomabrd St's. primary function for several blocks redvelopment will turn Lombard St. into yet another destination in Baltimore.
Right now tourism traffic be it whatever mode thinks of Lombard St. as its northern border. This blocks sections of Downtown like Charles Center, City Center, and the Westside of Downtown from any tourist traffic. Charles Center for one closes itself off from the outside world which was the order of the dy in the 1960s which I'll address in an upcoming post. Baltimore's tourist reach can go all the way up to North Avenue with Mount Vernon, State Center/Cultural Center, and Station North Arts & Entertainment District. But with a street like Lombard no one will know it's there. But with the extra space freed up from parking garages and traffic night mares remedied by mass transit. All of Downtown will shine. Mass Transit will indeed save Lombard St. and all of Downtown as a whole.


BomTrown said...

I really like that you are thinking about Baltimore's future and I really really like how many pictures you've included. It's like taking a tour of Baltimore on a Magic Carpet or something. Heh heh.

When it comes to public transit, ahem...public RAIL transit here in Baltimore, construction at this stage of the game is going to change some things permanently and some things only temporarily. We have to acknowledge that and move forward to stay competitive and increase our city's global status.

Now more than ever before, its a global marketplace out there. We've got to sure up our insides so we can compete with the outside world.

Thank you!

James McBee said...

I think there are many legitimate points to be made about the poor planning of the rail system in Baltimore. That said, I am all for the red line, and though it may be flawed, the way the city is doing it is the only way it's going to get done. My understanding is that the whole project rests on federal matching funds, which we won't get if the total cost of the project rises above its current level. Tunneled lines are great, but the fact of the matter is that they costs a fortune. This is still a poor city. Unless federal policy shifts substantially and we get the kind of aid we need to build a real/integrated subway system, the city will have to continue doing what it can, where it can, even if people in Canton are pissed off about the loss of parking. Fell's and Canton need to become accessible via public transit. Whether the residents there like it or not, those are the biggest nightlife areas of the city. Watching all the drunk drivers play slalom on that particularly curvy southern leg of the JFX every Friday and Saturday night, is a truly scary thing. There needs to be a way for people to take fast reliable public transit there. That means a train, and right now the only train we can afford is a largely above ground light rail line.

Spence Lean said...

James, I wrote a very long post called "Transit Fund Bundling" that suggests alertnative ways to fund rail transit in Baltimore. It includes alocating a percentage of funds from costly highway projects and devoting said funds to rail transit. This would help pay for a better Red Line and a better Mass Transit System for Baltimore as a whole.