Monday, May 11, 2009

Pratt St. Redevelopment

Pratt St., Baltimore's Showcase, the street with longest uninterrupted view of the Inner Harbor. It represents all the progress Baltimore has made in turning itself from a Rust Belt City to a World Class Tourist Attraction. If anyone visits the Inner Harbor or close to any Downtown Attraction, even Johns Hopkins Hospital they will know the name Pratt St. and it will remain etched in their brain as the Inner Harbor's Main St.
So why Redevelop it? Well all it does is shuttle thousands upon thousands of vehicles through the perils of Downtown traffic and although most of its buildings are brand new the road itself can and will be reexamined. The City is vying for two way traffic but I'm not and neither are the vast majority of city and traffic planners with half a brain disagree but Sheila Dixon chose a two way traffic option.
Right before the opening of Harbor Place the City shifted the direction of Pratt and Lombard. Pratt ran westbound while Lombard ran eastbound. The City made the right choice in reversing the two directions. But did they make the right decision in creating such wide Urban Boulevards? Yes and No The widening itself was a bad choice but it leaves lots of room for improvement.

The buildings along Pratt St. are, for the most part mid rise mixed use built within the last 30 years. They were purposefully made a lower rise so that the high rises of Charles Center can also rake advantage of Inner Harbor views. That was a good choice.
Now here's a bad one; Sidewalks that are as wide as the five lane road itself. Pratt St. has so much potential to be more than an over crowded City Street that is often dangerous to Pedestrians.Another problem caused by the over sized sidewalks lies within the retail portion of the mixed use buildings. Now that the trees planted in the sidewalks have matured cars traveling on Pratt St. and even pedestrians traveling on the portion of the sidewalks closest to the street will walk by said retail without ever knowing it's there. The wide sidewalks aren't the sole problem with Pratt St.'s retail.
Take the Bank of America Building, it doesn't have outdoor access to its retail. That gives the impression that it's only for Office Workers housed in that Building. Once more, Shoppers don't want to go inside an Office Building for their retail needs. This is evident with the vacant retail spaces in the Bank of America Building. The spaces are laid out like a Mall Food Court.

Speaking of Malls, let me evaluate Harbor Place. Harbor Place has been, for the past 29 years the epitome of the Inner Harbor. My personal choice for the Inner Harbor revitalization would either be the Old Power Plant Building or the Aquarium. That being said, the Pratt St. Pavilion of Harbor Place is suffering from vacant store fronts. It's hard to access through cars (you'll have to park in a garage which may not be close by) you can get to it on foot but it's mostly used as a pass through in between sky walks.A lot of businesses have either relocated to the Light St. Pavilion or the Galleria. The Pratt St. Pavilion also turns its back on Pratt St., it does however provide frontage to the Inner Harbor Promenade. This also means that the Pratt St. Pavilion blocks Pratt St. from a larger Inner Harbor View.
Lockwood Place got it right.
Notice how it bumps out and offers great visibility to passing motorists and pedestrians alike. This is how Pratt St. needs to be redesigned.
In this general area we are offered a rare look at the Jones Falls. Before the Fallsway and eventually the Jones Falls Expressway were built a look at the Highway's namesake waterway was not a rare gift that Pratt St. offers us.
Now we come to the road itself. Because of its width both with the vehicle lanes and the absurdly wide sidewalks there. The road itself needs to be shifted to where the sidewalks are right now. The sidewalks will be much narrower and trees will be cut down for improved visibility from the road. The far left lane will be for metered on street parking.
The road will have 2 through traffic lanes (that will go east of President St.) one left turn lane and one right turn lane each ending at President St. There will be a landscaped median in the middle. It will be located in the middle of the current alignment. Now what will go to the right of the median? The Red Line!
If Baltimore is serious about having a world class transit system everyone needs to know. Pratt St. being the City's Showcase as in showcasing the City's best attributes wouldn't a City Planner want to showcase our transit system?
The Red Line would be at surface level along Pratt St. from Eutaw to President St. where in both cases it would be tunneled after that. Pratt St's width allows for surface level Light Rail much better than Howard St. which was narrow to begin with. This won't be a repeat of the Howard St. Light Rail fiasco. This will show that surface Light Rail can work in a Downtown setting.
It will have stops at Howard St. for the Convention Center (a Blue Line transfer)
Calvert St. (future Yellow Line transfer)
and the Aquarium. At President St., the Red Line will be tunneled and will branch off to Eastern Avenue or will remain on Pratt St. to go northeast to Orangeville. Option 4C for the Red Line does nothing of the sort, yet another reason for me to dislike it.
Buildings that have the setup like the Bank of America Building where the retail is located inside will be renovated so the retail is more of a classic storefront layout. Shoppers would not have to enter the Office Building itself to access retail.
General Growth Properties, owners of Harbor Place and the Galleria are facing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy they should sell Harborplace to a developer who has deep pockets. The Pratt St. Pavilion would be torn down in favor of a better few of the Harbor. The Light St Pavilion would be expanded and renovated. General Growth probably can't afford such an endeavor.
Like Lockwood Place, 30 East Pratt (currently a parking lot) would be developed with similar retail frontage. 30 East Pratt will be condos not a Hotes like I discussed in a previous post.
Since the Examiner went under, its Office Building now sits vacant. Its dated facade would make for a great redevelopment opportunity as well and since it's next to 30 East Pratt, the two could be developed together.
The Legg Mason building is yet another building whose future is in Jeopardy as Legg Mason will be moving its headquarters to Inner Harbor East. All options should be pursued to ensure this building or the site it sits on has a successful post Legg Mason life.
Now I'm sure you're asking yourselves why redevelop Pratt St.? Well, in order to keep a City's Downtown viable it has to constantly be reexamined and improved upon to keep its vitality. Baltimore, in particular because it's a waterfront City that set the bench mark for redeveloping an old industrial waterfront to a thriving urban oasis. If tourists get even a hint that Baltimore has lost its vitality it will cease to be a Tourist Attraction and its economy will suffer. Lets make Pratt St. the best it can be!


Patapsco Jones said...

I agree that the Red line should be directed down Pratt Street, but I think the stops at red lights through the corridor present a major obstacle for legit rapid transit. A way around this is to construct airy, non-imposing, 21st Century Elevated tracks through the corridor which should be on the south side of street. The traffic lanes should also be shifted to what is now the tree lined promenade that obstructs commerce on the north side of the street. The only issue with this is how to get past the squeeze by the Power Plant and then into a tunnel on the east side of downtown. Any ideas?

Spence Lean said...

It's all about timing, one there are very few right turn lanes on this portion of Pratt St. making this portion being surfaced a non issue, two adjusting the timing of traffic signals can make a significant improvement to traffic flow with or with or without transit. I've never been a fan of elevated tracks.

Gary said...

I think the wires and such associated with the Light Rail would be detrimental to the view of the harbor from Pratt St. and the adjacent businesses. Perhaps it could go on the northern side of the road?

Also, last I heard, the original plan was modified in order to keep Pratt St. one-way. Has this changed?

Patapsco Jones said...

Pratt is the busiest street in the entire city. Timed lights and the lack of right turn lanes aren't enough to ensure swift passage of trains through the corridor at surface level, particularly at rush hour. Tunneling is also very difficult and expensive so close to the water. An elevated track designed for the 21st Century - not the Chicago L or Baltimore's own, torn down Guilford "Viadock" - would be cost effective, logical and also fill in space in the harbor area which is frankly kind of empty for a big city. It would also force the traffic lanes over so we can get rid of that silly tree lined promenade which is so sheltered it scares people away from the businesses there. Plus it's great advertising for the new line. The only big problems are how to get past the Power Plant and where to tunnel back in on the east side.

Spence Lean said...

This site discusses the use of new light rail technology that doesn't use over head wires, this is what I'm proposing for the Red Line be it tunneled or surface. This would be less disruptive than elevated tracks. No steps no tunnels no over head wires just a high speed regional street car line.

Spence Lean said...

One thing I forgot to mention is that putting the Red Line on the north side of Pratt St. no matter what would be more disruptive because there are a LOT more left turns than there are right turns. On the north side everyone entering the City will be effected by the tracks. Hopefully, the Red Line where ever it ends up will drastically reduce vehicular traffic enough to provide relief for Pratt St. that's its purpose right?