Monday, June 29, 2009

Charles St. Trolley:Don't Let the Name Fool You

If you read past the protesters in Canton and Edmondson Village demanding their portion of the Red Line be tunneled. (I agree with both neighborhoods with Howard St. being my evidence) you will see that there's a proposal for another Rail Line in Baltimore.
It's the Charles St. Trolley which will run from Conway St. to the south to University Parkway. The project, will be Baltimore's first Streetcar Line since the last one was torn up in 1963 in favor of buses. Since then, the MTA has funded the MARC system which consists of three lines running through Maryland; The Brunswick which runs from DC to Martinsburg, West Virginia, The Camden Line, which runs from DC to Camden Yards, and finally the Penn Line which runs from DC to Perryville with stops at BWI, West Baltimore, and Penn Station. The MTA has also started to give Baltimore its own Transit System. First it was the Heavy Rail Subway (Green Line) which currently runs from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Then came the Light Rail (Blue Line)which, for the exception of its Howard St. length Downtown runs efficently. Its entire length runs from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie. In the late 1990s there were two branch offs one for Penn Station, the other for BWI. This branch off does not extend to the BWI MARC/Amtrak Station. Now, the MTA is ready to build the Red Line despite all parties' dissatisfaction with it. With the Red Line's Controversy, it's easy to see why the Charles St. Trolley doesn't get a lot of press.
It deserves a lot of press for the sole reason that it's not being funded by the MTA. Its funding is coming from Private Entities and Umbrella Organizations like the Charles Village Community Benefits or the Abell Foundation. I haven't gotten confirmation that either of these will be contributing funds I'm just using them as examples. One lingering question is who will maintain the Charles St. Trolley? It won't be build by the MTA but will the Builders of it turn it over to them? Or will they maintain it themselves?
My biggest concern with the Charles St. Trolley is that it's too far reaching. I don't blame the designers of it for this I blame the MTA and its lack of dedication to other projects. It seems as if the Charles St. Trolley is attempting to do is become the Yellow Line. The MTA would love that because that's one less line for them to build. There's evidence of this with the Light St. portion travelling southbound where just underground the Yellow Line would travel. The Yellow Line and the Charles St. Trolley must co exist together because they serve completely different purposes.
It's very true that for a time the two lines will have the same destinations and will run as little as one block away from each other if not over top of each other. However, the Yellow Line's route both north and south of the Charles St. Trolley is very important in relieving traffic congestion and bringing in new TOD districts. The Yellow Line will also be most likely tunneled Light Rail for the vast majority of its run. This means higher speeds, fewer stops, and more of a regional drawing power with Transit Hubs to Bus Lines and Park & Ride Lots. North of Penn Station, the Yellow Line will go up Greenmount Avenue/York Road ending in Towson. Southbound, it will separate the branches of the existing Light Rail (Blue Line) making its sole journey from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie eliminating the tracks to Penn Station. The Yellow Line will go to BWI Airport, Its Adjacent MARC Amtrak Station, Baltimore Commons Industrial Park, Arundel Mills, and the Dorsey MARC Station. Eventually it will extend to Columbia but I think the DC Metro should be extended there first considering so many feds live there.
The Charles St. Trolley's drawing power will be much more limited. Judging by the proposed maps it seems to to want to hit every Downtown attraction defeating the purpose of what a Streetcar is meant to do. Streetcar lines should be a portal here's a map of the proposed Charles St. Trolley Route and tell what you think. As you can see, it zigzags all over the place. Don't let the name fool you but for the last few southern blocks it doesn't even travel on Charles St! Ironically this is where Charles St. is the widest and can best support having a surface rail line on it. Here's a link of a Trolley running down Charles St. between Fayette and the Washington Monument and you can see it adjust to the differing widths of Charles St. It shows a bus using the same stops and riding along the trolley tracks.
What's that? You want me to provide a solution? Well here it comes. I would make the entire northern leg from Conway to University Parkway run on Charles St. and the entire Southern leg run on St. Paul/Light St. I would eliminate the southern leg Mount Royal Avenue crossover from St. Paul St. to Maryland Avenue. Maryland Avenue will play no part in the Charles St. Trolley. It will simply remain on St. Paul St. At the start of the northern leg it goes up Light St., down Redwood St. to meet Charles St. This whole mess would be eliminated especially because the southern leg would run here. Also, I'd build the Yellow Line! Well that was my solution, sometimes less is more.
By looking at the proposed Maps of the Charles St. Trolley one might get fooled by the name I didn't let it fool me and don't let it fool you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Charles Center:Open Up!

Now when I look at Charles Center what I see is a cocoon. Before Charles Center was built the land that occupied was that of a caterpillar. What Charles Center has failed to do (and this was done very intentionally) was turn into a Butterfly. Fly Charles Center Fly!
Urban planning in the 1950s and 1960s only looked at small parcels and not on a grander scale. In an effort to keep businesses in the City a group of Civic Leaders including Jim Rouse came together to plan Charles Center. The plan was critically acclaimed but at the same time with Suburban Flight the order of the day critics had the "this will never get built in my lifetime mentality." Well, the joke was on them because Charles Center was built and with it came the Inner Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods.
Charles Center was and is a fortress. Charles St and Cathedral/Liberty/Hopkins Pl act as a moat, keeping everyone and everything out. That was how it was done back then. Now, as neighborhoods surrounding Charles Center have gentrified and will continue to do so it's time for Charles Center to open up.Signs of redevelopment and reinvestment in Charles Center are already popping up. The Shuttered Mechanic Opera House will be redeveloped into a new Theatre with retail and either apartments/condos or a hotel above. The old Hamburgers Department store has become a Superfresh, Downtown's only full service Grocery Store. One thing that redevelopment and reinvestment in Charles Center has failed to do was reopen it to its surroundings.
On the plus side, it's not too late. The redevelopment of the old Mechanic Opera House hasn't begun in fact the old building's still standing. Now, what do I mean by "opening up" Charles Center? Well, in order to close off Charles Center several streets were cut up to close it off. Fortunately, in almost all cases the streets that were closed off weren't replaced by buildings but by open space.
The streets that were sacrificed in the name of Charles Center were Lexington St., Clay St., and Redwood St. going east west, and Hanover St. going north south. These streets can easily be reopened to traffic by relocating parking garage entrances. These open spaces are not frequently used the planners of Charles Center had hoped for. I don't consider them to be a big loss especially with my proposed expansion of Preston Gardens one block to the east.
For Redwood St., the Kaiser Permanente Building will have to be redeveloped and moved else where along the new Redwood St. The plans for the new Mechanic Opera House and its retail and residences would have to be revised.For Lexington St. no buildings would have to be moved, there's a clear path just waiting on either side. Closing off Lexington St. is nothing new as this was done blocks to the west which I'm also proposing be reopened.
Clay St., like Lexington also does a disappearing and reappearing act throughout Downtown and Charles Center is no exception. This will no doubt be the trickiest street restoration in Charles Center. First off, it's blocked by a parking garage entrance, second, it's multi level, third the Superfresh and a slew of restaurants are here.
The Restaurants are configured into one building and layed out as a Food Court known as "Eats" I doubt with its limited view from Charles St. that Eats will stay busy for long. It doesn't look like it's been in existence for very long. Not more than a few years. Regardless, its lay out is pure Charles Center; blocked off. The parking garage entrance will be easy to relocate but redeveloping eats? I'm not so sure.The entrance to Superfresh can be easily relocated to Saratoga St. rather than its obstructed Charles St. location. Relocating the doors to Superfresh will allow for the redeveloped Eats to face Charles St. unobstructed. Each Restaurant in the new Eats will have its own entrance/exit and will be accessible by car whether it's on Charles St. or the new Clay St. In other words it won't be in its current food court format. Also, the levels of this particular open space will be flattened for accessibility.
The only north south street that ran directly through Charles Center was Hanover St. It wouldn't make any sense to extend this street because it won't lead anywhere. Charles Center is very narrow and in most cases its eastern and western borders are only a block away. Well Charles Center, its time you emerged from your cocoon and became a Butterfly. In other words, Open Up!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

One Saint Too Many

Oh When the Saints Go Marching in.........Well they can't march traffic is backed up on St. Paul St from Penn Station all the way to the Inner Harbor. A leisurely stroll down St. Paul St on foot is often quicker than driving (I know I've done both) Luckily, this can be remedied relatively easily and the end result should make all partys happier. For now, there's one Saint Too Many.
Obviously, St. Paul St. is a traffic night mare for a variety of reasons. First, it's one of the few southbound streets leading Downtown that are utilized, people from other parts of the City don't have a better route to get Downtown,
Route 40 comes together to form Orleans street ending its Franklin Mulberry Couplet with no other intersections between St. Paul St. and the JFX,
the road splits into two wide sections around Preston Gardens which is unnecessary and creates more problems than it solves,and finally the JFX ramp onto St. Paul St.
Now how did St. Paul St. get this way? Well that's quite simple; the demise of the streetcar, the flight to the suburbs, the interstate era, the rise of the automobile, and the decentralization of jobs. All of these fads started to kick into high gear after World War II.
The Solution to St. Paul St is not so simple but I'll take a crack at it anyway. First and foremost the ramp from the JFX onto St. Paul St. should go bye bye.
North of here traffic on St. Paul St. runs smoothly. Looking from Penn Station one can see the traffic flood the road with the soul source being that ramp. It was supposed to be temporary for construction purposes yet it's still here. Lots of JFX Motorists prefer St. Paul St. to taking the JFX/President St. all the way Downtown.
Next we come to the sheer width of the road. Between Centre St. and Lexington St. St. Paul St. balloons to an alarming eight lanes of traffic. The road splits into two four lane sections one on higher ground the other on a lower slope.What separates the two? Preston Gardens. Preston Gardens is an urban oasis even in its current state, sadly very few use it.
It might have something to do with the fact that any way you cut it you have to cross at least four lanes of snarling traffic to get there.
Another reason could be the fact that Orleans St. and Saratoga St. slice the park in thirds.
Now whoever said wider is better isn't thinking in terms of urban traffic flow. The lower half of St. Paul will be eliminated.What will remain is just one lane of lower St. Paul St. aka St. Paul Pl. and that will be open only to emergency vehicles serving Mercy Hospital.
Speaking of Mercy Hospital, as it expands, its Front Door should remain on Calvert St. After all, that's where its Yellow Line Stop will be.
The rest of Lower St. Paul St. will be converted into an expanded Preston Gardens. St. Paul St. between Centre St. and Lexington St. becomes a two way street.
I believe this is because Orleans St. doesn't meet Calvert St. the Viaduct goes over it. As the JFX tear down becomes more and more of a reality I think it's time we got rid of the Orleans St. Viaduct allowing it to intersect Calvert St.
This will leave upper St. Paul St. with two southbound lanes and one northbound lane each with metered parking on the side. The northbound lanes will be converted to southbound lanes.
Between the two directions is a sidewalk median. This would be the perfect location for the southern leg of the Charles St. Trolley. The finished product of St. Paul St between Centre and Lexington Sts will be three lanes of through traffic, two lanes of metered parking, and the right of way for the Charles St. Trolley.
From University Parkway to Conway St. the entire southern leg of the Charles St. Trolley will run on St. Paul St. which is plenty wide enough to support its right of way.
Speaking of Charles St., it's undergoing major streetscape enhancements in Mount Vernon. They include brick sidewalks, additional street lighting, updated traffic signals, with count down pedestrian signals. It hasn't been repaved yet but it will be. Since the Charles St. Trolley is still a "pipeline" project City Planners most likely won't repave Charles St. with trolley tracks.The streetscape of St. Paul is looking a little tired and in need of a makeover like that of its northbound partner one block to the west. However, with St. Paul St. the Charles St. Trolley will be fresh in the mind of City Planners giving them the foresight to add Trolley Tracks when redoing St. Paul St.
Now the question is how do we get travelers to find a different way Downtown? That's something to discuss as the tearing down of the JFX becomes more of a reality because there will be a huge reconfiguring of the urban grid. St. Paul St. will benefot from this and the Charles St. Trolley, the Yellow Line, and the expansion of the Green Line. With a new St. Paul St. the Saints can march proudly because traffic will flow smoothly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can Mass Transit Save Lombard St?

Yes it can, but it can also kill it. Don't get me wrong, Lombard St. is not any kind of danger I'm just throwing around ideas on how to make it even better. They City's doing the same thing but they don't have the right idea. We both agree that mass transit can save Lombard St. so the City has decided to tunnel the Red Line under it. Well that's it problem solved first round's on me.
Wait a minute, before you fill up on Natty Boh, may I remind you that this is the City's answer to Lombard St. and Downtown traffic woes as a whole is not mine. The City and I tend to clash on certain issues especially transit especially the Red Line especially option 4C. The City is using the Community Compact signed this past year as fuel to get MTA and possibly Economic Stimulus funding for the Red Line option 4C whether or not it's "shovel ready."I want to know who in the "Community" signed the Compact. Nobody along the Red Line corridor or in the City as a whole likes it. Cooks Lane residents don't want it to be routed on their street, Edmondson Village residents want tunnels because they've seen the bad effects of surface transit on Howard St., Nobody cares about Franklin Mulberry except Gerry Neily, and Pete Tocco who came up with a great plan which can be seen at which I highly recommend visiting. Then it goes under MLK Boulevard until Lombard St. cutting off crucial stops at Lexington Market, UMB, and the Westside of Downtown. Then it goes along Lombard St. in a tunnel which, like the MLK misses out on crucial connections. It needs to be a block south at surface level along Pratt St. to further show case the Inner Harbor. After that it goes under Fleet St. which Fels Point residents don't like and then surface level along Boston St. which Canton residents don't like.
Now back to Lombard St. and its roll or lack there of in the Mass Transit Planning process. As I've stated previously Lombard St. is due for improvements and Mass Transit needs to play a huge roll in doing so. Like I've stated the Red Line is better suited for Pratt St. and guess what's one block north on Baltimore St.? The Green Line! That's plenty of East-West transit for Downtown. Now what good are East-West transit lines without connections to North-South transit lines? They serve a purpose but aren't taken full advantage of.
So now we come to the North-South transit lines that will and already do cross Lombard St. First, all start off with the easy one, The Charles St. Trolley. It's local, it's surface level and it runs on Charles St. It will provide access to UMB/Mount Royal and JHU students as well as Charles Village residents a great alternative to driving to enjoy Downtown. Now we come to the harder parts; the Yellow and Blue lines. The Yellow Line can exist today if the MTA redrew its maps. Making the Light Rail route that runs from BWI to Penn Station the Yellow Line for the time being and the Light Rail route that runs from Glen Burnie to Hunt Valley the Blue Line.
Now here's what's tricky in order for the Yellow Line to be the best it can be it needs to be fast and it needs to be tunneled. Both expensive endavors. The Yellow Line trains, like what I'm proposing for the Red Line need to be the newest Light Rail trains on the market, which don't rely on overhead power lines. Why is this extra expensive? Because a decent portion of the Yellow Line will run on the already installed tracks of the Blue Line.
You know what that means right? The Blue Line has to be destroyed in order to save itself. Now as I've mentioned in order to save Howard St., the Blue Line must be tunneled from Pratt St. to North Avenue. It will use a tunnel that the CSX will vacate freeing up Howard St. to be a two way street its entire length. The entire Blue Line would have to be retracked so the newer trains can run on them. With the building of the Light Rail back in the 1990s Baltimore has since learned painful costly lessons and putting down new tracks from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie to upgrade the whole Light Rail system is perhaps the painful and expensive one. But it will have rewards with increased ridership and faster service.
Now wasn't this post about Lombard St.? It is! Everything I've discussed here relates either directly or indirectly to Lombard St. With the Blue Line tunneled Howard St. will be a better North-South vehicular route unclogging many intersections along St.Paul/Light St including the one at Lombard St. The Yellow Line will be a transit alternative for Mount Vernon residents, City Hall Employees, Court House Employees, and Mercy Hospital Employees and Paiteints who currently use and back up Lombard St. as a means to get onto I-95. See how it all comes to together?
Now we come to what is perhaps Lombard St's biggest jammer; Southeast Baltimore. Now, it's ironic because the Southeast has some of the best access to I-95 and 895 however, it's north of both the Harbor and Fort McHenry Tunnels. Residents and worker of Southeast Baltimore are like me a combination of being too cheap to pay the tolls or they have panic attacks driving through them (I'm guilty of Both). Now how do Southeasterners get to I-95? They take an East-West Street whether it be Eastern Avenue, O'Donnell St., or Boston St. and end up at President St. From President they drive a few short blocks to Lombard St. This part of President St. is very congested to say the least it's faster to walk that distance I've done it many times.
Now the Southeast solution is something that the MTA and City Hall are actually addressing. Well they're addressing the Charles St. Trolley but not the Yellow Line and a complete over haul of the current Light Rail to upgrade to overhead line free trains. The City is ready to build the Red Line and an East Baltimore MARC Station. Southeasterners looking to go Downtown or the Harbor can use the Red Line wherever it may be. Those looking to go further can take the Red Line to Orangeville to catch the MARC Penn Line, the Amtrak, or the Purple Line. Want to access the MARC Camden Line from the Southeast? Just take the Red Line to the Blue Line and transfer at Camden Yards and there you are.
Now all these transit lines effecting Lombard St. should we see a decrease in vehicular traffic? I should hope so. What I'm proposing for Lombard St. and all of Downtown Baltimore as a whole is to make it as car unfriendly as possible and transit, pedestrian, and bike friendly as possible. With all these new transit lines either built or rebuilt the need for such wide "boulevards" like Lombard, Pratt, President, and MLK will cease to exist. In narrowing streets it will almost force somebody who drives everywhere to use mass transit. Lombard St. will lose at least two lanes of traffic in favor of on street parking. Speaking of parking aren't there an awful lot of parking garages along Lombard St? More than say retail, office, or residential space? In addition to narrowing streets that should never been as wide as they are in the first place another way to force transit ridership and decease vehicular traffic is to decrease parking ie tearing down parking garages. Since this is Lomabrd St's. primary function for several blocks redvelopment will turn Lombard St. into yet another destination in Baltimore.
Right now tourism traffic be it whatever mode thinks of Lombard St. as its northern border. This blocks sections of Downtown like Charles Center, City Center, and the Westside of Downtown from any tourist traffic. Charles Center for one closes itself off from the outside world which was the order of the dy in the 1960s which I'll address in an upcoming post. Baltimore's tourist reach can go all the way up to North Avenue with Mount Vernon, State Center/Cultural Center, and Station North Arts & Entertainment District. But with a street like Lombard no one will know it's there. But with the extra space freed up from parking garages and traffic night mares remedied by mass transit. All of Downtown will shine. Mass Transit will indeed save Lombard St. and all of Downtown as a whole.