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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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe Towson University could kickstart this by privately funding an LRT line to Hunt Valley. In that way, they could knock out a big chunk of the infrastructure while largely dodging the normal NIMBY tendencies of nearby suburban communities (since it would mainly just be college students and Baltimore County folks riding the line, rather than scaaaaaaary city people). Then, as funding arrived later, the line could be extended southward. If you like that idea, please pass it along to any Towson-related people you know. I'd earnestly like to see this happen.