Saturday, November 2, 2013

A more Walkable Southwestern Boulevard

When Southwestern Boulevard, which runs through Halethorpe, Arbutus, and graces the southwestern edge of the City was built, it was at a time when walk-ability and mass transit accessibility were considered a thing of the past. One thing everybody says about history though is that if you don't learn from it, it will repeat itself. Well history has repeated itself and walk-able Communities are now in great demand. When I look at Southwestern Boulevard, I see a walk-able area in the making that takes advantage of its transit accessibility rather than hiding it.
Southwestern Boulevard was built as a higher speed alternative to Washington Boulevard which was and still is littered with multiple at-grade intersections, homes, and businesses. Though not a highway it was not meant to be Neighborhood friendly street as the speed limit is 50 mph. I've often wondered if Southwestern Boulevard was meant to connect to Hilton Parkway. Had it continued past Wilkens Avenue in the City through the Loudon Cemetery and connecting at Fredrick Avenue opposite the "Fred Hilton Bypass" as it's called. 
The Fred Hilton Bypass (pictured above) always reminded me of a ghost ramp, like it was supposed to be part of something bigger. I also find it strange that so much money and effort was spent to create Hilton Parkway, it has a partial clover leaf with Edmmodson Avenue and that's it. Granted, it was supposed to have an interchange with the extended I-70 but it still doesn't explain the road's short length. It is my humble opinion that Southwestern Boulevard and Hilton Parkway were supposed to connect to each other as one long bypass for Southwest Baltimore and a link to I-70. I have no hard evidence to support this and obviously none even came close to fruition but it's worth mentioning.
Now back to the issue at hand; Southwestern Boulevard. Given its fantastic location along the MARC Penn Line and not too far from the MARC Camden Line and UMBC, I think its walk-ability or lack there of should be addressed. Back in 2010 I had the idea to close the St. Denis MARC Station in Relay (not supported by commentators)  as well as the Halethorpe MARC Station and build a consolidated one where the Penn and Camden Line cross. I should also point out that this where Washington Boulevard meet as well. Coincidence? I think not. 
Southwestern Boulevard starts right where the two MARC lines meet at a partial cloverleaf that is grade separated with Washington Boulevard. Here, I think there should be a four way traffic light here instead. On the other side of Washington Boulevard, there should be an entrance to the new MARC Station created by the crossing of the two lines. The whole area would be transformed into a TOD Haven as this crossing and transfer point will no doubt increase MARC ridership. 
This dismantling of the grade separated clover leaf at which Southwestern Boulevard begins will create a newly walk-able Southwestern Boulevard that will connect the western edges of Halethorpe, Arbutus, to their eastern counterparts as well as Lansdowne. How you ask? Well I will be happy to explain.
First off, as part of the project to build a connecting MARC Hub and replace the interchange of Southwestern Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, I would tunnel the existing MARC Penn Line tracks for the duration of its parallel run to Southwestern Boulevard. This will open up the floodgates to allow for signalized intersections, sidewalks, and mixed use development along Southwestern Boulevard all in the name of re-connecting Southwestern Baltimore County. 
Now if you turn back the clock to late 2010, you will read that I had intended to close the Halethorpe MARC Station in favor of the new Hub that connects the two lines. My stance on this has not changed and I'm still in favor of doing so. The MARC Penn Line doubles as the MTA Purple line as per the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan and I would make a Purple Line at Arbutus just before I-695 to not only serve the Community of Arbutus but UMBC as well. Shuttle buses will serve UMBC Students.
Where the Halethorpe MARC Station currently stands, the parking lots will be redeveloped into a small Town Centre for the Halethorpe Community. Small shops and restaurants will flank the area with Apartments/ Condos and Office Buildings above them. These 3-4 story buildings will be wrapped around parking garages and shuttle buses will take Residents to and from the Neighboring MTA and or MARC Staions. 
Adding to the suburban boulevard feel to Southwestern Boulevard will be the addition of signalized intersections to cross streets (like the one pictured above) that are inaccessible through Southwestern Boulevard and/or the street doesn't cross which in my humble opinion severs the Community.
Such locations would be Francis Avenue/Ridge Avenue where a bridge over Southwestern Boulevard doesn't provide for an intersection. As part of the redevelopment of the Halethorpe MARC Station, the bridge would be demolished and replaced with an at-grade signalized intersection. Just north of Francis Avenue/Ridge Avenue is Tom Day Boulevard. Tom Day Boulevard acts an entrance/ exit for the western part of Halethorpe. On the other side of the train tracks is Maple Avenue. Going back to my wishes to have the tracks tunneled this will allow Maple Avenue and Tom Day Boulevard to meet at a four way signalized intersection with Southwestern Boulevard.
Southwestern Boulevard then goes under I-95 at which point it's safe to say we're in Arbutus. Just north of the I-95 under pass is a small intersection with Selma Avenue. on the other side of the tracks (which remembering I want to have tunneled) is a small Apartment and Town Home Complex known as Colony Hill. Colony Hill Court now is only accessible via Potomac Avenue which in turn is accessible through Sulphur Spring Road. Instead of driving through an industrial complex I'm proposing that Colony Hill Court connect to Selma Avenue at Southwestern Boulevard. I don't know if this intersection warrants a traffic signal or not.
Just north of here is an overpass going over Sulphur Spring Road. Sulphur Spring Road is an important link throughout Southwestern Baltimore County. Currently to access it through Southwestern Boulevard you have to turn at Linden Avenue just south of the Fire Station and take an access road to it. This "permanent detour" as I call appears to have been created when the train tracks were put in place. Well now that I'm proposing the train tracks be tunneled, I'd say it's time to dismantle the overpass in favor of walk-able and drive-able signalized intersection where the overpass currently is. The Linden Avenue intersection will be re-worked to make a four way intersection with Old Sulphur Spring Road.
Just north of the fire station on the appropriately named North Avenue lies a struggling Shopping Center with a Price Rite and a Dollar General. I would redevelop this aging relic and extend North Avenue to meet Southwestern Boulevard and give the new mixed used development Southwestern Boulevard Frontage.   
At this point Southwestern Boulevard passes under I-695. There are a couple of intersections that I believe should exist between here and the City line that don't and they are; Southwestern Boulevard and Maiden Choice Lane, Southwestern Boulevard and Beechfield Avenue. Beechfield Avenue I believe is the City/County Line for Southwestern Boulevard. Whether traffic signals will be installed at these newly created intersections is unknown.
That about sums up my plans for Southwestern Boulevard and its walk-ability, I hope in some way shape or form they come to fruition because I think this area of the County/City is a diamond in the rough with all the possible transit hubs and TOD just waiting to be discovered.

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