Monday, February 23, 2009

Transit Fund "Bundling"

All Photos From Google Earth
Well, Baltimore has missed out on Transit Funding from the Stimulus Package. The Stimulus Package is geared towards business as usual projects rather than new and innovative ones. This is across the board not just in transportation. This is a shame because Americans don't want business as usual they want change. However, I'm going on the defense and saying that innovation takes time and that the Stimulus Package was and is an emergency economic bailout that had to be passed so quickly that they couldn't take time to be innovative. The opportunity for such change will present itself but the money won't be as free flowing as it is with the Stimulus Package. What the Stimulus Package does do is fund highways. In Maryland that means the ICC in Montgomery and PG Counties and the I-95 Toll Road/Widening which includes the redesign of I-95's northeast interchanges with I-895 and I-695.
This widening will go from the city/county line to at least White Marsh Boulevard. This project has been nick named the Spaghetti Bowl.
Other projects of note include the redesign of the I-695/I-70 interchange, the expansion of the BW Parkway for the redevelopment of the Westport Waterfront, I-795 Dolfield Boulevard interchange, Reisterstown Road and Owings Mills Boulevard Interchange. JFX/MLK Boulevard interchange and extension, and finally Northern Parkway/JFX interchange redesign. Now with that being said, a fellow "Envision Baltimore" contributor by the name of Brad McCormick came up with the idea of sneaking in transit initiatives with road projects. Basically State, Local, and Federal Governments who have been writing blank checks for highways will see some of that money go toward rail transit lines. Brad, I told you this on Envision Baltimore and I'm telling you this now; you're a genius. I'm taking this idea of yours and I'm running with it giving you full credit of course but not only should Highway projects pay for transit but so should developers and other community stakeholders. So here's how we get Baltimore a 1st class transit system without allocating much money directly towards it. I call this "transit bundling" as in they will be bundling funds for transit in other projects.

Ok, since the Red Line is not "shovel ready" it won't get any Stimulus Dollars. Luckily, it's still a high priority on the MTA's agenda.Too bad option 4C (everyone's preference) is flawed from the get go. Lets use other sources of funding to fix it! The I-695/I-70 interchange redesign runs through the Red Line's path however, this section of the Red Line is not flawed but a little further east it's above ground on Edmondson Avenue from Cooks Lane to I-170.
Lets use some money from the I-695/I-70 interchange to have it tunneled here.
Also after I-170 the Red Line goes along MLK Boulevard until Lombard St. bypassing the Westside of Downtown and UMB. This will decrease ridership.The Red Line needs to stay on Mulberry St. until Paca St. where it will have a Seton Hill Stop, go down Eutaw St. where it will have a Lexington Market Stop, and meet the Green Line. At Eutaw and Baltimore Sts. It will have a UMB/Westside Stop. Funding for this can come from the ever expanding UMB, The redevelopment of 1st Mariner Arena, and other Developers throughout Downtown's Westside. It will then turn down Baltimore St. where it will again meet the Green Line and the future Yellow Line at South Charles Center. It will then travel down Liberty St./Sharp St. until it meets Pratt St. where it will turn east and emerge above ground to have a Convention Center, Inner Harbor, and Pier Six Stop, this can be incorporated into the Pratt St. redesign.
Now the Red Line in option 4C goes down President St. through Aliceanna St. and comes back to street level on Boston St. in Canton. This is one of Baltimore's lowest density areas, it needs to go where it's higher which translates into higher ridership.It should go down Eastern Avenue from President St. to Dundalk Avenue (tunneled of course) where it will have stops at Inner Harbor East, Fels Point, South Patterson Park, Canton, Highlandtown and Greektown. To make up for the cost difference one doesn't have to look far John Paterakis, developer of Inner Harbor East should put some money towards it as should Ed Hale Developer of Canton Crossing. The Developer of 1,000 condos in Greektown should also Pony Up.
Now there's supposed to be an East Baltimore MARC Station in Orangeville. This won't be reached via Eastern Avenue. Instead, the Red Line should branch off at President St. and travel through a tunnel on Pratt St. where it will have stops at Central Avenue, North Patterson Park, and Library Square, finally it will meet the East Baltimore MARC Stop in Orangeville (This is the only part that has funding gaps). Past Orangeville the Red Line will travel south and have a Bayview Stop (they cough up some cash for this), meet the terminus of the Red Line's other branch at Eastern and Dundalk and travel to the redeveloped O'Donnell Heights (developers can fund this) and then the Red Line will end at Fort Holabird.
Now comes the Yellow Line, itching to free itself the clutches of the Blue Line. The Blue Line should only be the Line that goes from Glen Burnie to Hunt Valley and the Yellow Line(in its current state) should go from BWI to Penn Station. It will follow the Blue Line until it gets built fully and here's I'll do it.Anne Arundel County and the Developers of Arundel Mills and Surrounding Areas will pony up to have the Yellow Line meet the Dorsey MARC Station, Arundel Mills Mall and the BWI MARC Station where it meet its current terminus at BWI. Along with the Blue Line the Yellow Line, upon entering Baltimore City will be tunneled. It currently separates the new Westport from existing Westport.Both Patrick Turner (developer of Westport) and the BW Parkway widening to prepare for the Westport development can pay for this.There has been a proposal to get rid of the JFX from Fayette St. to Preston St. this can fund the Yellow Line when it splits from the Blue Line at Camden Yards and it goes up Calvert St. through the Inner Harbor, Charles Center, Mercy Hospital, Mount Vernon, to Penn Station. The Demolition of the JFX will warrant more than enough money for this in fact it will complement the new road design perfectly.
After Penn Station but before North Avenue the Yellow Line will turn northeasterly and will parallel Greenmount Ave. The Station North Developers and the Developers for my Barclay East Baltimore Midway Better Waverly Redevelopment efforts can push the Yellow Line up to 33rd St.
In Towson there are plans being drawn to revitalize its Downtown, that coupled with the ever expanding triple campuses of Towson University, GBMC, and Sheppard Pratt will warrant these efforts to pay for the Yellow Line from the City/County Line along York Road to Towson Town Center, its northern terminus.
The only funding gap is between the city/county line and 33rd St. So that's the Yellow Line.
The MARC lines will include the Orange and Purple Lines and as part of the MARC System's Master Plan it includes "more localized" stops in the city ie the Orange and Purple Lines. The Purple Line however, will leave its MARC tracks south of Halethorpe and meet the BWI MARC Stop and will end at the Dorsey MARC Stop. Instead of Camden Yards being the end of the MARC Camden Line it will be at Hamburg St.
The Orange Line will then extend through South Baltimore and Locust Point making a loop around Locust Point. Developers of Federal Place Harborview, The Ritz Carlton Residences, Harbour Point, McHenry Point, Tide Point, and Silo Point can come together to pay for this. That's the Orange and Purple Lines.After the 2001 explosion under Howard St. it became clear that the CSX line would have to move. This leaves a tunnel vacant where the Blue Line can be placed. I'd rather have it under Eutaw St. but that post got blasted by the crictics. They did suggest underground pedestrian tunnels to connect the Blue and Green Lines. This corrects the mistake of ramming the Light Rail down Howard St. In option 4C of the Red Line makes this mistake seems to be made again twice first with Edmondson Avenue and then with Boston St.
Using funds from the MLK/JFX interchange and the improvements of the Northern Parkway JFX interchange I'd tunnel the Blue Line along the JFX and add a Remington and Reservoir Hill stop. I don't want to do this because it's a very scenic ride along the Jones Falls Valley but wet leaves disrupting service has forced me to change my opinion.
Another point Brad McCormick made was putting Street Car tracks when repaving roads. This can bring about the Charles St. Trolley Line because as luck would have it, a lot of Charles St. being repaved. The Trolley Line would go from Northern Parkway to an expanded Charles St. in Port Covington.

Now we come to the Green Line's norheast expansion.The Johns Hopkins Biotech Park warrants and can fund an expansion from the Hospital to North Avenue with a Madison Sqaure stop.
My Coldstream Homestead Montebello redevelopment plan and Morgan State expansion can push it up Harford Road to Lauraville.
The I-95 Toll Lanes aka the Spaghetti Bowl will have more than enough money to fund the Green Line from the I-695/Harford Road interchange to White Marsh Boulevard where it will have stops at Fullerton, White Marsh, Pulaski Highway, and its eastern terminus at the Middle River MARC Station at Martin State Airport.
The only funding gap is between Lauraville and I-695.

Now to perfect the Green Line, north of Mondawmin I'd tunnel it under Wabash Avenue which is overdue for redvelopment. Said Developers will pay for that.

At Nothern Parkway, which could also use new development it will turn easterly and go up Reisterstown Road. In the county,

Pikesville is trying to revitalize its Town Center, it can relocate its Milford Mill and Old Court stops along here instead of where I-795 was supposed to go.

On Reisterstown Road between I-695 and Painters Mill Road the Green Line will continue rather than along I-795. It will have new stops at Woodholme Shopping Center, The Avalon Community, and McDonough Township. It will go down Painters Mill Road to end at Owings Mills. To pay for the new Green Line above I-695 we can take funds from the I-795 Dolfield Boulevard interchange, the Reisterstown Road/Owings Mills Boulevard interchange and the Owings Mills Metro Station TOD.

Now we've just "bundled" ourselves to a brand new state of the art comprehensive transit system which will create new jobs, housing, population gains, and a great magnet for BRAC families. There are only three funding gaps; The Red Line Branch from President St. to Orangeville above Patterson Park, The Yellow Line from the City/County Line to 33rdSt. along York Road/Greenmount Ave., and the Green Line from Clifton Park to I-695 along Harford Road. If we managed to get funding for everything else secured I don't see a problem with these three little road bumps. Thanks Brad!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Birthday

Baltimore City's Past Present and Future turns 2 years old today! I published my first post on February 13th, 2007 and haven't looked back since. After a slow start people started catching on. Now, close to every post gets multiple comments of varying satisfaction. The posts are longer and more involed and now have pictures. The pictures started in 2008 and have mostly been from Google Earth and a few of my own. Now I'm in the process of replacing those in older posts with pictures of my own. I'm shooting for most of my posts to have only my own pictures. Keep reading, I'll keep writing!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Violetville/St. Agnes Transit Hub

When building a truly comprehensive transit system, certain stops should be known as "hubs." Hubs are where you can transfer to other transit lines or bus lines. When planning where a hub should go you should examine the neighborhood surrounding it. There should be an existing draw but on the other hand there should be factors where a transit hub would jump start revitalization. The West Baltimore MARC Station will be one no doubt.Other options have been the Lexington Market area. Lexington Market being the draw and the Westside of Downtown being the area that needs a jump start. The Lexington Mall for instance, the block of Lexington St. that was closed off to vehicular traffic would be a perfect place for a hub seeing as the Green, Blue, and eventually the Red Line will have stops here. This would reopen Lexington St. not only to cars but for the many bus lines that travel around here.
Another hub option mentioned will be the Orangeville/Bayview area. This would be the location for the East Baltimore MARC Station. Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus would be the draw to this location and Orangeville, an under utilized industrial area slated for dense TOD is the area that needs the jump start. The MARC Penn Line and Purple Line (same tracks) would stop here as will the Red Line. There are also numerous bus lines that stop here and there is access to all the major highways from here.
Yet another hub option would be the Hamburg St. MARC Hamburg St. under my transit network would be the terminus of the MARC Camden Line. Also stopping here would be the Orange Line (same tracks), the Blue Line and the unbuilt Yellow Line (same tracks as blue line.) Obviously, draw here would be the Stadiums and the Convention Center. It may Jump Start redevelopment efforts in Westport, Mount Winans, and Cherry Hill.
Then of course there's the Mac Daddy of all transit hubs; Penn Station. With access to Amtrak, The MARC Penn Line, the Purple Line on operating on the same tracks mind you with transfers to the Yellow Line, the Charles St. Trolley and easy walk ability to the blue and green lines. Lets not forget the JFX is right there and multiple bus lines as well. Penn Station is currently the catalyst that will give Station North a jump start. Currently on the drawing board for Station North is a Boutique Hotel located on the vacant floors above Penn Station, a Concert Hall, Green Space possibly on conjunction with the Concert Hall, Six High Rise residential buildings with ground floor retail, and the restoration of the North Avenue Market and the Parkway Theatre.
Map From Google Earth
Now the hub I'm proposing, it's the purpose of this whole post, everything else is just examples and justification for this one. It will be the SoWeBo Hub located at Southwestern Boulevard and Wilkens Avenue. Its draw will be St. Agnes Hospital and it will jump start every neighborhood that makes up SoWeBo. Now I'm sure asking how does a transit hub have that kind of pull? The only rail stop is the Purple Line and the MARC Penn Line and Amtrak don't even stop here. Well, you're right but there's a little something called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will introduce itself here. BRT has not been included on any of my transit plans until now. I'm considering down grading my Silver Line that spans Northern Parkway down to BRT because of its lower density.
Map From Google Earth
Now what is the route of this new illustrious BRT line? Well, it will begin at the transit hub at Southwestern Boulevard and Wilkens Avenue and travel under Violetville and St. Agnes Hospital where it will meet abandoned rail road tracks just north of Carroll Park and south of Wilkens Avenue. Its route will be short ending at Mount Clare Junction and the B&O Railroad Museum. In between the SoWeBo transit hub and Mount Clare Junction there will be three stops; one at St. Agnes Hospital, another at Monroe St. and finally Carey St. This will jump start many neighborhoods that make up SoWeBo that need that shout in the arm.
The effected neighborhoods will be Oaklee, Violetville, Morrell Park, Gwynns Falls, Mill Hill, Carrollton Ridge, Mount Clare, Pigtown, Union Square, and Hollins Market. There are many vacant homes in this cluster of neighorhoods but I feel redevelopment should be minimal. A few dalapidated rows of homes sure but for the most part, $1 row homes with a "no flip" clause.
New development should be in scale with the existing housing stock and will be located on the industrial wasteland that seperates Wilkens Avenue from the BRT tracks. Other notable places along the BRT track include the Montgomery Park Office Building and Carroll Park, which includes an 18 hole golf course. At the other end of the BRT line is the Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center which struggles with vacancies. The BRT line's terminus here will certainly boost business here. Also located here is the B&O Railroad Museum. The BRT Line, for the most part will operate on tracks that were once B&O Railroad tracks, what better way to showcase the evolution of transit than to have something modern like BRT on old Railroad tracks? I think this is a win win for all of SoWeBo.BRT is not very popular because too often transit planners want to use it as a cheap method for a much more regional line that demands Light Rail or even Heavy Rail. BRT does have its niche in the hierarchy of transit systems but it has to be local and not a cheap substitute for Rail Lines.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Neighborhoods of Greater Forest Park: All About The Retail and Rentals

As I've said in previous posts a Neighborhood is only as strong as the retail that serves it. It least that's the outsider, the passer by or quite possibly the potential home buyer may think to themselves. Which brings me to Forest Park, a cluster of neighborhoods with plush park lands, beautifully maintained Single Family Homes without inflated price tags, a Golf Course, Lake Asburton, and Historic Dickeyville. It also holds the title of being an African American Neighborhood with a large middle class and upper middle class population, something that's rare in Baltimore. When one travels down Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard he/she will think they're in a poor neighborhood Why? Because the retail that they see is what is found in poor African American Neighborhoods and it's kept up as such. It's almost insulting to Forest Park residents that because they're African American "stereo type retail" has dominated their neighborhood. True, the retail there is used but that doesn't mean retail that supports the entire population can't fit in as well, after all there are plenty of vacant storefronts.

Forest Park has always had middle class routes, when it was built as a suburban Jewish enclave in the earlier half of the 20th century. It was more expensive than the row homes of Lower Park Heights but less expensive than the larger Single Family Homes of Upper Park Heights. Street cars had a very brief history here before it was made quite clear that the personal vehicle would be the dominate way of transportation for Forest Park. Although Forest Park had a suburban land scape its main streets were much more urban in nature than its counterparts built at the same time. There weren't miles of shopping centers with a sea of parking lots which had just become fashionable during that time frame. Forest Park's Main Streets were exactly that, Main Streets.
Forest Park's Racial turnover was not nearly as quickly and urgent as its neighbors, it was very gradual. White residents were much more accepting of their black neighbors than in other communities. It began in the late 1950s and spanned all the way into the mid 1970s. In Edmondson Village it made a complete racial turnover from 1960-1965 and Lower Park Heights from 1965-1970. Both of these neighborhoods have much larger and denser populations than Forest Park making the speed of their turn over that much more shocking. Those neighborhoods fell victim to blockbusting while Forest Park was less privy to it. As Forest Park became an all Black neighborhood its retail slowly began to shift. It remained a Middle Class neighborhood but still the retail dynamic began to shift downward. At the same time rental developments had begun aging and requiring more and more maintenance which land lords weren't providing. In 2001, Forest Park suffered its biggest blow to date with the closing of the Super Pride at Liberty Heights and Gwynn Oak Avenues leaving Forest Park without a Grocery Store.
Today Forest Park's retail sector is a hodge podge of "stereo typical black stores." They include Fried Chicken joints, Lake Trout, Ribs, Dollar Stores, Pawn Shops, Check Cashing Places, Pawn Shops, Bail Bondsman, No name Cell Phone Outlets, Beauty Supply Outlets, Auto Part Outlets and "urban clothing and shoe stores." Although there appears to be a market for these types of stores there's much to be done to improve their facades. Better signage, tree/hedge plantings, new awnings, getting rid of bars on the windows and doors etc.
Now most of Forest Park is still middle class. These businesses don't cater to them. They tend cater to the rental developments that have deteriorated over the years. These developments have also scared off petential home buyers because they don't think the neighborhood is safe.

Many buildings along Liberty Heights are two to three stories tall with retail on the ground floor and the other floors vacant. This is where some of the larger businesses can go due to their need for large square footage. Still others can take over multiple units that are vacant. Others will find the perfect foot print without much construction. Now what everyone's been waiting for; the businesses I see fit for Forest Park. First of all I see Forest Park as a "Retail Destination" that draws from other neighborhoods including the County.

Trader Joes (Old Super Pride), Dick's Sporting Goods, Pier 1 Imports, Filene's Basement, Barnes and Noble, Cold Stone Creamery, PF Changs, Bennigans, Outback Steakhouse, Bone Fish, Olive Garden, Men's Warehouse, Banks, Staples, Hallmark Gold Crown, The Apple Store, and FYE.
On the residential side there are many rental developments that need redevelopment to breathe new life into Forest Park and reenforce the safety of the neighborhood.

Well there you have it, a neighborhood's only as strong as its retail and Forest Park is due for a steroid injection.