Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Rail Lines: Start Downtown and then the Suburbs Phases III and I V

This post is a continuation of the previous post. It started with Phases I and II of my plan to build a world class Rail Transit System for Baltimore and its surrounding. I'm taking the "Phase In" approach of building several lines at once rather than doing the Red Line all at once and pretending to entertain the idea of the Green Line Expansion to Morgan State. So without further ado, I give you Phases III and IV (the final two.)Phase III: Encroaching Suburbia
Pictured above is an extension of the existing Central Light Rail Line branch now dubbed the Yellow Line. This will be its southern terminus at the Eastern Edge of Howard County with stops at the BWI MARC Station, Baltimore Commons Business Park, and Arundel Mills before ending at the Dorsey MARC Station. The 2002 plan shows the Yellow Line ending in Columbia which I'm favor much in favor of. Look for a post dedicated to Rail Transit in Columbia on my Columbia Blog. I'm currently writing that post along with this one.Phase IIIB of the Yellow Line involves a northbound expansion. It will continue along Greenmount Avenue/York Road from Waverly with stops in Govans and Belvedere Square. This will also effect up and comers like Pen Lucy and Wilson Park. I've gotten idea from comments on this blog that neighborhoods east of Greenmount Avenue are bad. Greenmount Avenue itself isn't that great but the neighborhoods though not as prestigious as their western counter parts are very nice. Waverly, Govans, Pen Lucy, Chinquapin Park have all made great strides towards improvement and are well positioned to provide affordable safe housing in this economic downturn. Being on a Rail Transit line is just the icing on the cake.Phase III A of the ReD Line involves a branch out into East Baltimore. As you can see, Phase II A goes along Eastern Avenue from the Harbor East Branch Stop to Fells Point, Canton, Hghlandtown, Greektown, and Bayview. This branch travels northeast from the Harbor East Stop to Washington Hill, Butchers Hill, Library Square, Orangeville (East Baltimore MARC) before rejoining its southern counterpart in Bayview. It will continue along Dundalk Avenue for an O'Donnell Heights Stop. A few things I would like to see happen in the course of the building of this line; a complete makeover of Central Avenue in Washington Hill, Massive Redevelopment effort in Orangeville into a TOD District, and a redevelopment plan for O'Donnell Heights. It's been torn down but it's being "land banked" which is a fancy term for meaning City Hall doesn't have a plan or doesn't have any funds. Phase III B of the Red Line involves the westward expansion along Edmondson Avenue and up Cooks Lane to the eastern terminus of I-70. The Red Line 4C option currently set in place calls for surface level tracking along Edmondson Avenue. I don't want surface tracking along Edmondson Avenue I want tunnels, and I on this blog (and only this blog) I get what I want! I'd also like to take this opportunity to say that everything I'm writing about concerning Rail Transit I would like to have EVERYTHING tunneled (when I say along I mean under), that includes existing lines that are overhead or at surface level. The only thing I would put at surface level would be the Red Line along Pratt St. which is the City's showcase. I think if Baltimore had a world class Rail Transit system it should showcased along its prized Harbor. Back to Edmondson Avenue, with the West Baltimore MARC Redevelopment and the Uplands Redevelopment, Edmondson Avenue will soon be an up and coming part of Baltimore poised for growth. The array of beautiful affordable row homes in Edmondson Village will be bought and occupied by their owners who will restore them to their elegant beauty making James Keelty proud.Now let me turn your attention to the Green Line. We finally had it expanded to Morgan State University in Phase II but that's not its terminus. The Green Line will turn east along Argonne Drive and then up Harford Road where at Coldspring Land/Moravia Road will have a Lauraville Stop. Continuing up Harford Road there will be a Hamilton Stop at Hamilton Avenue. It will turn down Hamilton (it becomes Frankford Avenue on the other side of Walther Avenue) where at its intersection with Belair Road will have a Waltherson Stop. In addition to Waltherson, this stop will benefit Frankford, Cedonia, and Cemont before ending at an Overlea Stop along Belair Road just inside the City line. That concludes Phase III

Phase IV: Into the Burbs

Phases I to III have taken us through the City in all directions so Phase IV will take us into the Suburbs. Next to Downtown the Suburbs have the most traffic congestion in the area. Since most of these stops are meant to carry a larger area of riders than those of the City (Stops in the City are more frequent) this will be an opportunity to make the suburbs more walkable and rework Bus Lines to integrate them into the Rail Stops. Now we'll give the Green Line a proper eastern terminus. Upon existing the City it will continue along Belair Road until it meets White Marsh Boulevard for a Putty Hill Stop. Going along White Marsh Boulevard it will have a White Marsh Stop at Perry Hall Boulevard. This is at the Western Edge of White Marsh Mall. The southwest quadrant of this intersection is still surprisingly undeveloped perhaps some TOD might be in the cards? Speaking of TOD the Mall is aching for it. The Avenue at White Marsh is heading in that direction. The Mall itself has tons of surface parking that can easily be developed with underground parking. The vacated Boscov's Department Store could even be demolished to make more room. The Green Line will continue along White Marsh Boulevard until it ends in Middle River at the Front Door of Martin State Airport where it will have a MARC Stop marking its eastern terminus.The eastern end of the Red Line will be interesting to say the least. It will leave the City along Dundalk Avenue where it will have a Dundalk Stop. Hopefully this will spur some redevelopment that will reverse Dundalk's trend of Population Loss that has occurred for the past 30 years. The final stop will be Sparrows Point. Here, it's easy to see why Dundalk has lost Population. This was the location of Bethlehem Steel, at its peak it employed close tens of thousands of City and County Residents. Most of Dundalk's housing and infrastructure was built for workers of Bethlehem Steel and their families. So why put a Rail Transit Sop at this vacant site? Well, it's prime Waterfront land! This could be the next Canton Crossing, Harbor East, Fells Point, and Locust Point all put together! I would Cristen this new development "Bethlem Village", a TOD Residential, Retail, and Office Mixed Use Development. Its piece de resistance will be what's left of the Bethlehem Steel Plant. It will be a Clipper Mill Style revival with loft Apartments appropriately named "The Lofts at Bethlehem Village" I wasn't lying when I said this would be an interesting eastern terminus of the Red Line. Now I take you to the western end of the Red Line. It will exist the City to serve the highly populated and congested Woodlawn Community. It's congested and populated very three very good reasons; the first is Social Security, the second is Medicare, and last but not least Medicaid. They're all headquartered here in Woodlawn. With the Red Line servicing these areas (and Security Square Mall) some of these vast surface lots may not be so full anymore allowing for TOD. This may also allow for revitalization of the East Woodlawn. This part is older than its western counterpart and could use some TLC. The northern terminus for the Yellow Line will be in Towson. Also very populated and congested as this is the County Seat. The Yellow Line will continue along York Road and just after exiting the City will have a Rodgers Forge/Stoneleigh Stop. Continuing on it will have a stop that serves Towson University, Sheppard Pratt, and GBMC, there will be shuttles that will take employees and Students to and from the Rail Stop. Finally Towson Town Centre will mark the northern terminus of the Yellow Line.

Well, there you have it, phasing in transit seems much less scary than ramming an entire Line down the City's throat. In four phases, I've managed to build two new lines from scratch, build the Charles Street Trolley, expand the Green Line from Hopkins, and localize the MARC Stops allowing for more neighborhoods to instantly have Rail Service at their door steps. Yes in just four phases Baltimore can go from what it is today to having a World Class Transit System, in just four phases!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New Rail Lines: Start Downtown and then the Suburbs Phases I and II

As Baltimore plans to commission the unpopular Red Line Option 4c I'm still here advocating for a better process for building such lines and more adequate means of funding. Certain parts of the Red Line have major flaws (surface level on Edmondson Avenue and Boston St.) to name a few. This is both because inadequate funds have made planners marginalize the project and they're trying to build the whole line at once. Communities no where near the Red Line still lack any sort of rail transit and need it. Lets build (in phases) the best Rail Transit System that will be the benchmark for Cities in the future just like the Inner Harbor. Phase I:The Downtown Network
As the title suggests we start Downtown and build outward. As you can see I've started not just the Red Line but the Yellow Line as well. The Yellow Line will travel with the Central Light Rail Line between Linthicum and Camden Yards and will end at BWI Marshall (for now) and at Camden Yards will branch out traveling along Light St. to meet the Green Line at Charles Center and then reach the Eastern Edge of Downtown via Calvert St. ending (for now) at Penn Station. The Light Rail "branch" to Penn Station will be discontinued as the Yellow Line will now serve Penn Station. One thing that will be done as part of Phase I will be localizing the MARC Lines which will birth the Orange and Purple Lines. That will instantly add access to dozens of neighborhoods across the City and County. Now the Red Line will start roughly at the Social Security Building (for now) and will travel southeast with stops at Lexington Market, UMB, Charles Center, Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor, and will end (for now) at Harbor East. The Green Line will add a stop south of Hopkins to complement the new Development there and one at the Hopkins Biotech Park that will meet the Purple Line. The current Hopkins Stop will cease operations. Although not pictured on the above map, the Charles Street Trolley will be built in its entirety.
Phase II: Hugging Downtown
Pretty soon after the Downtown Network is complete and its jammed streets start moving again;
residents from far and wide will want Rail Transit under their doorstep. Just like I wanted because the neighorhoods that "hug" Downtown will compromise Phase II. Here we have the Red Line being extended into Southeast Baltimore where reinvestment and redevelopment are taking this area by storm. It will travel along Eastern Avenue (tunneled) where it will reach Fells Point, Canton, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown/Greektown, and Bayview. New communities like Harbor Point, Henderson's Wharf, Canton Crossing, Athena, Square, and the Highlandtown Arts & Entertainment District will all be even bigger draws to new residents and give existing residents incentive to stay and keep the Benz parked in the garage.
Also in Phase II will be the westward extension of the Red Line to the West Baltimore MARC Station. This area is poised for major redevelopment which includes the infamous "Road to Nowhere" now I will refer you to my friend Peter Tocco's "Baltimorphisis" site in my links section to show you the best way to reinvent the Road to Nowhere. The best part of it is that the Baltimorphsis plan can be implemented before, during, or after the construction of the Red Line. Also, the forth coming West Baltimore MARC Station redevelopment can commence. The Franklin Square and Harlem Park neighborhoods can be redeveloped as high density TOD zones.
Now the Yellow Line in Phase II will extend north from Penn Station. It will make an easterly turn in the Greenmount West Community to run along Greenmount Avenue rather than Calvert St. (its Downtown Route) It will have a Station North stop which will help bring investment to lots of abandoned Industrial Lofts in the eastern edge of the Community. Above North Avenue Greenmount Avenue/The Yellow divides the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway Communities. Both of these neighborhoods suffer from every urban ill of decay from abandonment to zoning violations. In my opinion the entire East Baltimore Midway needs to be redeveloped as does all of Barclay east of Calvert St. The Yellow Line can help push this along. Further north lies the peaceful Waverly Community once home to Memorial Stadium. There has been a lot of redevelopment here on 33rd St. where the Yellow Line will end (for now) including a new Giant Supermarket, Senior Housing, and a YMCA. The Yellow Line completely transform Greenmount Avenue.

Last but not least in Phase II will be the Green Line Expansion from Hopkins to Morgan State University. The MTA has always put this on the back refusing to kill it but it seems to put other projects ahead of it time and time again. I can only assume is because the Green Line is Heavy Rail. The current Green Line runs from Owings Mills to Hopkins. The expansion will cover the Oliver and Broadway East Neighborhoods, Clifton Park, the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community and Northwood Plaza/Morgan State. Pretty much all Communities here would benefit greatly from redevelopment which the Green Line will surely bring. Morgan State serves as a solid Anchor for the area in question.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reopening The Great Northeast Part III: The Roads are Just a Red Herring

Image From Google Earth
Well I've got a confession to make; this "Reopening the Great Northeast" series wasn't supposed to be a series, just a simple post advocating for the reopening of Gay St. between Old Town Mall and Broadway and making Esnor St. and Harford Ave. into a two way street that carry the Harford Road name. That was it. But then I examined the neighborhoods of East Baltimore and their conditions and this more than just a mere roads adjustment post. This warranted in depth research on how to turn around the East Baltimore neighborhoods that surround these two roads. I developed three distinct Master Plans for three sections of East Baltimore and how to move forward. That being said, I give the final part of my Reopening the Great Northeast series.
This post covers Johnston Square, Oliver, and Broadway East. The line between Johnston Square and Oliver is rather blurred so I will discuss them as one neighborhood. As its name suggests Broadway is the western border of Broadway. As you will find out Broadway is a very definitive border. The homes in Johnston Square and Oliver are typically larger and better cared for even if vacant. There have been efforts since the 1970s to revive these two neighborhoods with new and newish housing sprinkled throughout. This is what I would like to call "Historic East Baltimore" seeing that the homes are larger and are some of the most attractive and unique when they were first built.Here's an example of some of the earliest "new" town homes in Baltimore. They haven't quite withstood the test of time but they do anchor the Community very well. Two other anchors worth mentioning here are the East Baltimore Medical Center and the Stop Shop & Save Supermarket. These are both located along the one way Harford Avenue that is wide enough to support two way traffic. New development in these two neighborhoods should be minimal but from the picture above it's obvious that exceptions will be made. It's important to note that were Public Squares in these neighborhoods. As the name suggests Johnston Square is named after its Public Square. Oliver was home to Madison Square. In both cases, the Public Squares were marginalized to act as outdoor fields for their namesake Elementary Schools. As part of my School Closure plan, Johnston Square Elementary will be shut down and turned into a swimming center with an Outdoor Public Pool between Memorial Day and labor day and an Indoor Pool for the rest of the year. Admission? Why it's free of course! The Public Square itself will be redecorated with outdoor benches and perhaps a gazebo. It will have paths leading to the central area with adequate lighting. Madison Square Elementary has shut down but its building has been reborn as Bluford Drew Jemison MST Academy. This School will be relocated elsewhere as the Madison Square Building will be torn down in favor of a brand new State of the Art Community Center.
Broadway East tells a sadder tale. This is one of its healthiest blocks. Decades of urban decay and population flight have left this Community tattered and torn. Just blocks to the south is the Hopkins Biotech redevelopment. What separates the new Middle East from Broadway East is overhead railroad tracks. The trains that utilize the tracks are doing the same thing as the meager cars that drive through the streets; get out and pretend their surroundings aren't so psychologically damaging. This is a classic example of the "wrong side of the tracks" if I ever saw it. One promising development in Broadway East is Colloington Commons, a new TOD style Apartment Building that may suggest a higher density future for Broadway East.

As blocks like this in Middle East continue to be filled in with new housing, I can't help but wonder if that "wrong side of the tracks" mentality can't be blurred. Ten years ago nobody would have dared to dream that a typical block of Middle East could look like this in 2010. Well now it's 2010 and I'm daring to dream that a typical block of Broadway East will look like this in 2020. Obviously there's no Fat Cat Developer like Hopkins in Broadway East that can produce a product like this. But I don't give up that easily, I look elsewhere. This time I'm turning to the very tracks that separate gentrification from blight. The 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan discusses localizing MARC lines by adding more stops on its tracks. Well, I've got some good news; these tracks run MARC trains among others. This would be the "Purple Line" and can be implemented easily.Adding the localized Purple Line would allow Broadway East to be a TOD neighborhood. It's obvious that almost all of the neighborhood will have to be redeveloped as its homes are too far-gone to be rehabbed. So, Broadway East, meet your new face and your goal set by yours truly for 2020. Collington Square Elementary will be the new Community School. It will be rebuilt and will house the populations from several other Elementary Schools that would in turn shut down.Now we come to Gay St. What say we make it more than just the address of the former American Brewery Building? First lets start with the obvious; the disturbingly odd traffic pattern found here. Gay St. is three lanes well sometimes. Other times it's two. During rush hour northbound traffic uses two lanes and other times one of the northbound lanes is used for on street parking, like there's an occupied structure on Gay St. that warrants on street parking.
My solution? Do nothing with the lone southbound lane and make the far northbound lane functional for through traffic around the clock. That just leaves the center lane; that will be home to a new landscaped median complete with bushes, flowers, and additional street lights. When needed it will give way to make use as a left turn lane. But what about on street parking? Well since I'm proposing all housing on Gay St. be redeveloped, the new housing will driveways and garages. It's almost too easy!Well that just concludes my series on Reopening the Great Northeast/my referendum on East Baltimore. The only thing left to do is hold a ceremonial ribbon cutting for the new Harford Road and Gay St. attended by Myself, Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Governor O'Malley, Senators Cardin and Mikulski, and the City Council and State Senators who represent these neighborhoods.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reopening The Great Northeast Part II: Building on new Strengths

Image from Google Earth
I continue on with Part II of my series that will connect Northeast Baltimore with Downtown via East Baltimore. If you haven't read Part I it involves reconnecting Harford Road and Gay St./Belair Road from North Avenue to Pratt St. as two way thoroughfares.
As we move further Northeast, the neighborhoods become more residential. There's also less vacant land waiting for new development. There is however block after block of vacant boarded up row homes waiting for REdevelopment. There are also many blocks of new housing that aren't just stable, they're thriving!
The clusters of new housing are both small and large. I'd like to examine the tranquility that's very obvious when driving through these redeveloped blocks that just isn't there when driving through other parts of East Baltimore. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most new housing in East Baltimore is owner occupied and is dubbed "Affordable" This opinion is based on two things; one, they're kept up too nicely to be rentals, only a proud owner would take such care of his or her home. If these homes were built as "Market Rate" they would have sat as vacant as the home they've replaced. East Baltimore, at the time these homes were built wasn't quite ready for Market Rate Home Ownership Housing Yet. I also believe that the majority of those who have made these houses homes were already local East Baltimore Residents. They may have lived in high vacancy blocks, wanted to move but not out of East Baltimore so when these new homes come on the Market at an affordable price tag they jumped at the opportunity.Last but not least these new homes prove that East Baltimore can be a sustainable Community and they can be used as building blocks making it possible for future new housing developments to include a broader income mix i.e. Market Rate Homes.
And that's exactly what's happening as we speak. The East Baltimore Biotech Park could have been nothing but Offices (kind of like the UMB Biotech Park) but Hopkins decided to demolish the vacant homes north of its Campus and build a mixed income Community of 1500 new homes. I can't help but wonder if the existing new homes in East Baltimore, had they not been a success story if the Hopkins Biotech Park would have come to fruition.Another feat of the Hopkins Biotech Park is that it's ushering in contemporary design concepts in what used to be a neighborhood of "cookie cutter" row homes. If these design concepts are successful they can applied elsewhere throughout my Master Plan Map for this post.
Speaking of my Master Plan Map it shows highlighted in Purple; "Preservation Zones" and in Green "Redevelopment Zones" It's a sad truth that almost everything in the preservation zones is new housing to begin with. The photo above is one of the healthiest blocks in the Plan area. The awful truth is that East Baltimore as gotten into a state that in order for it to be a viable sustainable Community close to all of its original housing stock has to be torn down and rebuilt. This is a painful lesson to learn I hope Edmondson Village residents are taking these words to heart.Another Development that will hit the wrecking ball is Clay Courts. Cay Courts is a development of Section 8 Apartments and Town Homes. The only problem is that it runs through the once and future right of way of Gay St. After all, this post is centered around connecting Northeast Baltimore with Downtown. Luckily, there will be a lot of redevelopment in the plan area of this post that the number of Section 8 units in Clay Courts can be absorbed with the 2,000 + new housing units I'm proposing as redevelopment for the decayed vacants. Harford Road will be easier to adapt. It doesn't stop and start up again. However, it does eventually become a one way northbound street known as Harford Avenue. Luckily it's a very wide one way street so a two way conversion could be acheived by simply repaving and restriping the road. Well that concludes Part of my Northeast Baltimore connection to Downtown Series Like the sign below says: Baltimore's New East Side is on Track!See I told you, the sign wouldn't lie!