Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yellow Line: Correcting Past Blunders

In the 1980s large cities across the nation began creating regional lines of rail transit connecting the cities to the suburbs who stole their population. At first it was heavy rail transit, the fastest and most efficient method of getting from point A to point B. Heavy rail is also the most expensive method and requires that the tracks be either tunneled or elevated. In the 1990s light rail hit the scene, a more streetcaresque method of rail transit. Light rail can operate at street level and cars can drive on the tracks when trains aren't on them. Light rail at street level can actually create more traffic at street level because it's one more obstacle. Tunneled light rail can solve and it isn't much slower than heavy rail when tunneled but it's a lot less expensive.

Baltimore got a light rail line in the 1990s. It runs north south from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie. I can only assume that this light rail line was part of a more integral system that involved more lines that never got off the ground. Since its opening in 1993 the light rail has had modest expansions and improvements including double tracking to decrease commuting times. Also, the light rail branches out twice, once to Penn Station and the other to BWI. It appears that the additional lines were a thing of the past.

This is where the yellow line comes in. It allows the existing light rail to resume its job of going from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie. The yellow line will run from the Dorsey MARC Station at the Howard/Anne Arundel County line to Towson. It will remedy the branches of the existing light rail or "blue line" by stoppin at both BWI and Penn Station. It will parallel to the blue line for a while before branching out to Calvert St. and eventually Greenmount Avenue/York Road where it ends at Towson Town Centre. Noow here's your new Yellow Line. As usual it will be tunneled light rail past the Camden Yards Stop. If this is successful maybe this can be extended to Columbia but that's a long way off.

Purple Line:From Marshall to Martin

All Photos From Google Earth and Doctored with "Paint"
Part three of my mass transit series.Just like the orange line, the purple line uses existing tracks. This time it stays on the same set of tracks throughout its entire length. It uses the MARC Penn line and will have additional stops that are exclusive to the purple line. Like the orange line, the purple line will utilize new "pulloff" tracks for Amtrak and MARC trains won't be slowed up by purple line trains. Now here's your new purple line. It will from BWI/Thurgood Marshall Airport to Martin State Airport.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Long Forgotten Orange Line

All Photos From Google Earth and doctored with "Paint"
Part two of my mass transit series. The orange line was doomed from the start but why? It, along with the purple line use existing tracks that they would share with MARC, Amtrak, and the CSX. Just add trains and additional stops and abracadabra there you have additional transit lines. The authors at the MTA had the same sentiment but nobody else did. The problem was that having localized trains stopping more often than their regional track mates than the regional trains would take longer to get to their destinations, sounds like a logical argument right? Well lets have our cake and eat it too. Lets put localized trains on these existing routes but when there's a stop that's just for one of the local lines how about we add tracks to allow for a "pulloff" to allow for riders to get on and off the train while the regional trains can whizz past them in the process.

Now for the orange line. It will use for the most part, the existing Camden MARC line, a little bit of CSX, and some tracking of its own. This is all west of Hamburg St. which will be the new end of the MARC Camden Line. East of Hamburg St. The orange line will be its own line that serves the South Baltimore Peninsula. Here's your orange line. Phase I involves getting trains on existing lines and building stops and "pulloffs."Phase II consists of the Orange Line east if the Camden Line going into South Baltimore and Locust Point.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Red Line: Think Phases

All Photos from Google Earth and doctored with "Paint"
This is the first in a series of posts involving rail transit. The task of building the red line would be so much less daunting if it were built in phases rather than all at once like the MTA and the city seem to be proposing. The biggest reason to build in phases would be not having to have all the money needed right away. My version of the red line would be built in three phases based on how controversial each phase is. The least controversial would come first and the final phase would be the most controversial, the least feasible, and most expensive.

Phase I from the West Baltimore MARC Station to the newly created East Baltimore MARC station in Orangeville. It will be light rail tunneled some of which already exist in Charles Center and running parallel with the Green Line. Another natural tunnel is the former I-170 which would be completely dismantled and all vehicular traffic will return to Franklin and Mulberry Sts. The TOD potential for Phase I is staggering. Click on images to see your new red line!
Phase II consists of two different projects built at the same time. The first one is an extension southbound from Orangeville through Bayview and down Dundalk Avenue through O'Donnell Heights and ending at Fort Holabird. The second project of the second phase consists of branching off at the Jonestown Station where the red line runs below Eastern Avenue through Inner Harbor East, Fels Point, Highlandtown, and Greektown ending at Bayview. The third and final phase of the red line is the most expensive, invasive, and controversial. If this ever gets built it will be way down the road it will also be tunneled light rail . It goes west of the original starting point at the West Baltimore MARC Station where it goes down Edmondson Avenue to Cooks Lane past I-70 and onto Security Boulevard where it will end at Security Square Mall.Well there's my red line I hope someone from the MTA is reading this and takes it seriously.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Little Italy: This One's a Survivor

There are some inner city neighborhoods that did not go into decline during the 1960s and 70s. There are classic examples of upper class neighborhoods like Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon, and Charles Village. It's almost unheard of for a working class neighborhood to stay strong in the age of urban decay and one that stands out is Little Italy. Little Italy is old, it has some of the city's oldest housing stock seeing as almost all other old developments did go into decline and were redeveloped at some time but Little Italy is a survivor.As immigrants from all over Europe came to Baltimore from Locust Point people from the same country or religious back round settled in the same vicinity in Baltimore's grossly over crowded eastside. Those who hale from Italy settled and still do to some settle in an enclave known as Little Italy in search of a better life. Today Little Italy's boundaries are Pratt St. to the north, Eastern Avenue to the south, and President St. to the west and Eden St. (roughly) to the east.By the turn of the century (19th-20th) Little Italy had become a thriving working class neighborhood filled with Italian owned restaurants, bakeries, and delis. To the south was a bustling shipping port that employed many of Little Italy's residents and residents of neighboring communities. Residents and business owners alike took pride in their community and kept their home fronts, store fronts, and alleys swept clean. After a quick recovery (in Little Italy's case) from the great depression the demand for work in the shipping industry sky rocketed as America entered World War II. East of Little Italy a new public housing development known as Perkins Homes was built on blighted land to house the huge influx of workers from the south to work the shipyards.
After World War II however, the demand for shipyard workers fell drastically. It wasn't just because the war was over and we were longer shipping goods to our soldiers over seas either. America had entered a time where an industrial workforce was something of an endangered species. One machine now did the job of dozens of workers who were no doubt laid off. Industry had all but abandoned the harbor by the 1950s. Downtown Baltimore, especially the Inner Harbor had hit rock bottom. Little Italy, although hit hard by the economic woes of the Harbor still stayed afloat through its homegrown businesses. Little Italy had already become an anomaly. Just north of Little Italy, in Jonestown where Baltimore's Eastern European population had settled blight and flight was occurring. The answer was two more public housing developments Lafayette Courts and Flag House Courts the ladder bordering Little Italy on Pratt St. Jonestown lost its Jewish population and became almost entirely black in a few short years. To its north and east Little Italy was surrounded by public housing developments which Little Italy walled itself off from, for good reason too because the crime and the drug trade were spreading like the plague. Little Italy seemed doomed yet again but it still hanged tight.
The 1970s brought change to Downtown Baltimore, Little Italy's western neighbor. The Inner Harbor experienced a rebirth that set the standard for waterfront redevelopment worldwide. Although just a few short blocks from the Inner Harbor Little Italy's business owners feared that they'd go out of business because everyone would flock to the harbor instead of their businesses. Thankfully they were wrong. the additional bodies Downtown made Little Italy's businesses flourish more than ever. This would soon be threatened by a proposed expressway that would divide Little Italy, Fels Point, Jonestown, and Canton from Downtown and destroy their architecture not unlike the I-170 fiasco. Yet again Little Italy came out on top when the expressway plans were scrapped and the career of Maryland's Senior Senator Barbara Mikulski was born.
The 1980s began the gentrification of neighborhoods that had waterfront access. Rehabs in Federal Hill, Canton, Fels Point, Otterbein, took off at an alarming rate. The 1990s brought new large scale development to the afore mentioned neighborhoods and the industrial wasteland south of Little Italy. Baker John Paterakis purchased the site in 1986 and despite many pit falls Inner Harbor East is truly an upscale waterfront haven. North of Little Italy in Jonestown the public housing high rises came down and new mixed income developments took their place, more notably Albemarle Square which thanks to HOPE VI another time Barbara Mikulski saved Baltimore opened Little Italy back up to its northern neighbor.
Now how did Little Italy handle all this gentrification? The same way it handles everything staying put and staying in business making it a true survivor.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Better Waverly Redevelopment

The last piece of the puzzle in my series on central north neighborhoods that need large scale redevelopment. That's not to say these are the only parts of the city that need redevelopment far from it. These neighborhoods have a bright future but need a push in the right direction.
Better Waverly, although located close to Waverly proper is a neighborhood separate from it and should be approached differently. Waverly is more of an Uptown enclave while Better Waverly was built as a Baltimore Belt Line community so there are industrial remnants throughout. Better Waverly just south of 33rd St. served as an overflow surface parking lot for patrons of Memorial Stadium. Once Memorial Stadium was torn down the surface parking lot remained and there's not much use for it. A big victory for Better Waverly is the new Giant food store at Old York Road and 33rdSt. The housing stock is as diverse as its population (one of my favorite analogies) that consists of single family homes row homes and garden apartments. That being said Better Waverly has a 21% vacancy rate and that doesn't include vacant land parcels. There are still many beautiful well kept homes located in Better Waverly so redevelopment won't sweep the whole neighborhood, just blighted and vacant spots.
As I mentioned in my Old York Road post new development near Greenmount Avenue and Old York Road should be of a higher density than that located on the neighborhood's eastern border; Loch Raven Boulevard. In the middle of the neighborhood there has been a lot of demolition of single family homes and new development in that section of the neighborhood should remain single family homes. The eastern end of Better Waverly that borders Coldstream Homestead Montebello that is now industrial remnants from the Baltimore Belt Line should be redeveloped as town homes seeing as the nearest residential component is currently row homes. The lone parking and building whose use I can't make heads or tails of will be redeveloped as mixed use high density residential that mirrors that mirrors the highly successful Charles Commons in Charles Village.Well that completes my series of redevelopment posts in the neighborhoods of central north Baltimore. Development will be staggered so the market can absorb the new housing at an acceptable rate but when complete a huge chunk of the city will be forever transformed.