Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reinventing Edmondson Avenue: I've Got Pictures

Now I have mentioned in several posts my desire to redevelop Edmondson Avenue between Upands and the West Baltimore MARC Station. I think that doing so will add to the gentrification that will already take place from each project and Edmondson Avenue's strategic location will connect the two together. As I've mentioned in the past, I have wanted Apartments/Condos to flank the new Edmondson Avenue with a more pedestrian friendly environment especially with the Red Line coming. I spent thanksgiving in Winooski Falls, Vermont just outside Burlington and my Friend's Apartment Complex and the surrounding area is my vision for Edmondson Avenue come to life.
Here's an example of what I have had in mind for Edmondson Avenue for quite some time. This building has a parking garage with key card entry, secure common areas, and elevators with space for Retail. These buildings make a U shape which allow for open space in the back.Here is another style for Edmondson, this time only one part of the Building has a 5th floor which makes for a Pent House or a 4th floor with a loft over top of it. Amenities wise this building is the same as the pictured above. These will be standard for all Buildings on Edmondson Avenue.
For those not using the garage, they can use this locked common door for all Apartments will suffice. They will have to be let in by the Resident they're visiting.Here are some Retail Spaces that have been occupied, a Deli and a Bank perfect Neighorhood Retail for Locals and Commuters alike. Speaking of Commuters, they can park in a garage area that's set aside just them. By Commuters of I course mean Red Line Riders.Here's a look at a more Pedestrian friendly street that Edmondson Avenue should strive towards. Notice the wide sidewalks, the crosswalk chokers, and the abundance of adequate lighting. Edmondson Avenue will be narrowed to four lanes instead of its current six and will retain its new landscaped median. Here is a bus stop, that's as TOD as is gets for Vermont but take a closer look. This could be an Edmondson Avenue Bus Stop at least intermittently until the Red Line is built. It's under Video Surveillance (no more flashing blue lights) and is sheltered. Hopefully this will be replaced with a set of escalators leading to a Red Line Stop. Once the Red Line is built Bus Stops will be deleted within a quarter mile of a Rail Stop unless it's a small bus for people with disabilities.Here's a look at the rear of several Buildings. Notice that above the garage is a shared green space. I went to Vermont to spend Thanksgiving with my Buddies and I come back loaded with pictures and a new post to go with them. This is how I've wanted to reinvent Edmondson Avenue for some time and finally I found a great area to illustrate it with.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Halethorpe MARC: CLOSED

What? I want to close the popular Halethorpe MARC Station? That's right I do! Please remember that every post I write is part of a large Master Plan for the improvement of the Southwestern Baltimore County Rail Transit system. I'm sure a lot of this will make more sense if I posted the most integral part of the plan first but I feel like keeping you, the reader glued. All I can say is that when you read this upcoming post, it will all fall into place.
Another purpose of this post is to redevelop Southwestern Boulevard or should I say develop it because there's nothing really there. It is my educated guess that Southwestern Boulevard was once to be the "Southwestern Expressway" one of the many expressways that were thrown around during the "Freeway Building Frenzy" that dominated the development landscape of the mid 20th century. Notice very few roads actually intersect it. Francis Avenue can be explained away because the MARC Stop is why it's elevated but with the MARC Station closed, how about an at grade traffic signal? This video store is one of a very few "select" businesses on Southwestern Boulevard further suggesting it was meant to be a full blown Expressway. In order to fully integrate Southwestern Boulveard into the landscape of Southwestern Baltimore County, there will have to be more traffic signals perhaps at Tom Day Boulevard/Maple Avenue and Linden Avenue and Old Sulphur Spring Road as well as Sulphur Spring Road itself and finally North Avenue and Marsha Avenue. Selma Avenue and Waelchil Avenue should also be considered.Now we can't forget about the train tracks, just because I'm closing the MARC Station, the train tracks will not go away. If you know my style you'll know what's coming next. Time to start digging! Yes, this will be tunneled all in the name of a more walkable Southwestern Boulevard and therefore or more walkable accessible Halethorpe and Arbutus.
Now, the comes the unanswered question of what to do with all the land that will be freed up by the MARC Station closure. Here where I really go bass ackwards. It will be developed into a parking garage(s) and residential and retail TOD. Why would I build TOD on the site of a Station that I just CLOSED? Well, I never said I wouldn't replace it a mile or two down the road. Heck, I may even put two stations in its place, after all, this is also the Purple Line of the Regional Rail Plan. Where the new station(s) ends up being there will be a shuttle bug to take riders there. So, in the name of my Southwestern Master Plan, consider the Halethorpe MARC Station CLOSED!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Elkridge TOD

Now since I write a Columbia Blog wouldn't one think that an Elkridge post would be on that one? Well, the northern border of Elkridge is very close to Baltimore County which in turn is very close to the City. Howard County is also looking make TOD districts along Route 1 to take advantage of its proximity to BWI and Fort Meade and the associated BRAC growth. Howard County calls this zonong "CAC" or Corridor Activity Center.
Now I know what you're thinking and it's not the case. My previous post called for the closure of the St. Denis MARC Station which I'm still calling for but Elkridge is not the location for the new station. Elkrdge will not be associated with MARC. However, the Camden Line tracks do run through Elkridge on their way to the Dorsey Station. What I have also called for the past almost four years has been the localiztion of MARC Lines not unlike the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan. The Orange Line will share the tracks with the MARC Camden but will have more stops that won't interupt service for the MARC lines. THIS is what Elkridge will be a part of.
Ironically, the Station and associated development will be in the heart of the Elkridge Historic District. No building will hit the wrecking ball that isn't a blighted industrial use. It just so happens that the Historic District has the most undeveloped land and that's where the tracks cross Route 1. Everything will center around the intersection of Route 1 and Levering Avenue but will travel down Furnace Avenue as well. Furnace Avenue does not have a direct intersection with Route 1 and the onlly way to make that happen would be to demolish an old house which is not what I would propose.
The parking garage(s) would be located on Levering Avenue just west of Route 1 on an old industrial plot of land (pictured above). The intersection of Route 1 will be transformed into a safe haven for pedestrians seeing as how there would be a lot more with the addition of a train station. Additional pedestrian "countdown signals" would be added along with an island between each direction of traffic along Route 1. On all effected streets sidewalks will be added, and speed limits will be lowered. On Route 1 sidewalks will extend to the new Elkridge Crossing development.
Speaking of Elkridge Crossing, (pictured above) it's a new high density development built on the grounds of a long abandoned drive in theater. Although it's located roughly a mile away from the new Station I do consider it part of the rider "catch" area. Not dense enough to be TOD it does fall under the CAC district which calls for high density development. In between Elkridge Crossing and the new Station is a wooded area could more TOD be in the works for that area? No, it will be roughly 100 single family homes with no access to Route 1, not optimal when trying to maximize rider "catches" but the geography of that area that's about all that can go there.
On the forefront of new TOD in Elkridge will be Furnace Avenue. It's already a location for proposed Apartments and Retail. My plan will be continue this trend with similar developments of a higher density.
There are several plots of undeveloped land along Furnace Avenue as you can tell by how many pictures of it I have (I have more) . Howard County has released a Master Plan to revitalize the Route 1 Corridor and redvelopment along Furnace Avenue goes along with that plan.
A discussion about Furnace Avenue can not be complete without bringing up the Elkridge Furnace Inn. This building has been an existance since circa 1744 and has been used as a Fine Dining Restaurant and a Wedding Hall for the past 20 years or so. I was a busser here in late 2002 but I was let go after three months or so. One thing I learned about the property while working here is that it backs to the Patapsco River and Wecker Brothers (who own the Restaurant) own five surrounding acres. It offers picturesque views that any new development would thwart so I won't include having that land being sold off as part of my plan, that's my way of saying "no hard feelings."
Now the largest elephant in the room; how do they get up there? The train tracks are elevated and the roads are not. Well to find an optimal solution I just drove a couple miles north to Halethorpe. Their MARC Station (pictured above) has a great elevated platform accessible by multiple staircases depending on where the rider has parked or is walking from. There will also be elevators for those unable to climb the stairs.
Well, I wanted to bring transit to Elkridge so that's what I did, it wasn't by creating a new MARC Station after just after my proposal to shut down the St. Denis Station but by creating a stop on the Orange Line. Speaking of St. Denis MARC What will I do to replace it? I guess that's a cliff hanger that you'll have to stay tuned for my solution.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

St. Denis MARC: Huh?

Now I admit that I knew very little about the Relay/St. Denis area before doing research to write this post. I will even admit that I don't know an awful lot about it now as I write it but from a planning prospective I can come to certain conclusions about how a MARC Rail should and should not operate and even how a Neighborhood Rail Line should and should not operate. So, when I began to research the St. Denis MARC Station located in Relay even someone who doesn't know the area that well and saw that the MARC Station in question, I said to myself; Huh?I always thought of Relay as a small neighborly Community that was once very connected to its surroundings which consist of Elkridge, Halethorpe, and Catonsville. This was very true until the area became essentially buried with the construction of Interstates throughout the latter half of the 20th Century. Evidence of this can be found with "stubs" of Rolling Road that were connected in the pre interstate days. Today the Relay/St. Denis Area can only be reached through Clarke Boulevard and South St both from Route 1.
So why put a MARC Station here? This isn't one of those questions that I ask and then I answer myself a sentence or two later, I'm asking you the reader or you the MTA; Why put a MARC Station here? MARC as you know is very regional and doesn't have nearly as many stops as the Metro or Light Rail lines because of this. Its hours are roughly that of rush hour suggesting that its function is solely to serve the needs of the commuter going from Baltimore to DC and all points in between.I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that MARC has two separate lines that serve the Baltimore and Washington area; The Camen Line and the Penn Line. The Camden Line ends Downtown at Camden Yards while the Penn Line goes through the City and points east all the way to Harford County. The St. Denis Station is on the Camden Line. Although both lines serve the Baltimore Washington area they don't meet up. There is a point where the two lines cross paths but contrary to common sense, there's no Transfer Station. Where do they cross paths? Not far from here at all. The two lines run very near each other here in Southwestern Baltimore County, about a mile away from St. Denis on the Penn Line there's a Halethorpe MARC Station that has very high visibility, ridership, and accessibility for Commuters. The lot could be bigger but for a transit advocate like myself I consider that to be one of those "good problems."So why add another line with the Halethorpe Station right there? Well like I said before the two lines only cross paths in this general area and there's no transfer point to speak of. My educated guess is that Commuters in this area who commute to the southern serving points of the Camden Line wanted a stop because the Penn Line won't take them to their ultimate destination. Sounds like a logical argument that would warrant a new Station in Southwestern Baltimore County for the Camden Line, after all, The northern terminus at Camden Yards and the Dorsey Station a the Howard County/Anne Arundel County Line are too far even for a regional Commuter Line like MARC.
So that's what the MTA did, they added a new Station (pictured above)in Southwestern Baltimore County along the Camden Line. Great! Excellent! I'm sure the MTA chose a great visible non residential Commuter friendly site for the new Station along Washington Boulevard in Arbutus, Halethorpe, or Lansdowne where the rider "catch" area is very high. Huh? they put in the Relay/St. Denis area? As you can already tell by the pictures of the area that is hardly the place for a MARC Station or even Neighborhood Rail like that of the Light Rail. You can barely call it a Station, there are probably about 25 parking spaces for cars suggesting a very low rider "catch" number. So why even add it? I think the MTA didn't want to spend the money to put in a proper Station at a proper location but at the same time they didn't want to appear blind to the concerns of their riders, so they put a joke of a Station in an even bigger joke of a location. Now if this MARC Station did take off and obtain a high rider "catch" the MTA would have a lot of explaining to do the residents of the Relay/St. Denis Community, like Commuters have parked their cars in the driveways of private homes and why their kids can't play outside anymore because cars are speeding through their Neighborhood. I say close down the Station and put it somewhere else that's better off for everyone. Otherwise, I will continue to say; Huh?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Baltimore County's Past Present and Future?

Sounds crazy right? Wrong! The main focus of this blog always has been and always will be Baltimore City. However, that being said there are a lot of things that need to addressed in the County, in the area of mass transitt to be more specific. One of the most consist things I blog about is the creation of a truly Regional Transit Network for the Baltimore Area that doesn't come to a screeching halt and the City's borders. In order to improve transit in the City it must also be improved in the County because of the direct correlation between commuters entering and exiting both the City and the County. I've always said in my transit posts that transit lines will leave the City and venture into the County with the transfer "core" pictured above being Downtown and points nearby. Also with every Neighborhood post I've done (all have been in the City thus far) I've discussed how transit will or won't impact and if a line exists how to improve on it. I haven't done that with the County, so what does that mean? It means that it may seem that I'm switching focus to the County for a while because I will be writing about Communities there rather than the City. My focus always has been and always will be the City and I would be doing the City a great disservice by not making the County as transit friendly as possible. When it comes to transit in the County and City I think it's very clear that one hand will have to wash the other. Stay tuned for County Posts and City Posts as both are relevant to Baltimore City's Past Present and Future.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Should Armistead Gardens Hit the Wrecking Ball?

This is the first post in the history of this blog that was brought on purely by comments from another post. Ever since I inked a post in June 2008 about whether the Armistead Gardens Co-Op can be extended and have its fundamentals used in today's environment. This is a moot point now but the development I wanted to "hand off" to a Co-Op was McCulloh Homes and I now think they should be redeveloped. But back to Armistead Gardens, residents past and present upon reading that post offered me their unfiltered opinions about growing up in and raising a Family in Armistead Gardens then and now. I was shocked by some of what they had to say about their Neighborhood which begged the question; Should Armistead Gardens Hit the Wrecking Ball? That wasn't a question I could answer without paying Armistead Gardens a visit so I did just that, armed with my camera trying to make sense of it all.
Now how did Armistead Gardens become a Co-Op? Back in 1955 Baltimore had the idea of shedding its public housing stock much like today. Unlike today Baltimore wasn't bulldozing Public Housing Units by the hundreds. Since Armistead Gardens at the time was a public housing development the City simply sold it off to the residents at the time. In order to deal with Neighborhood upkeep, something that the City used to responsible for, the formed the Co-Op. The Co-Op has been very strict in making sure blight and crime stayed out of Armistead Gardens and according to comments presented to me, they act like an HOA Police Force. Now Residents may own their homes but they don't own the ground their home sits on. This isn't uncommon for Row House Neighborhoods in Baltimore, the Home Owner pays the City "Ground Rent" which is a controversial subject on its own. When the City wiped its hands clean of Armistead Gardens they meant it. Rather than pay Ground Rent to the City, every Armistead Gardens resident has a 99 year lease on their grounds that they pay to the Co-Op.
Today, from what I've been told by commentators Armistead Gardens is in a Time Capsule. It has very low turnover for the most part but that's because homes have stayed in Families for generations. New Residents are those that were raised there whose Parents and Grandparents followed the same path. Housing Prices are some of the most affordable in the City so Residents raised in Armistead Gardens looking for affordable housing need not look far.
Now I told you about Armistead Gardens Residents who have moved back after being raised there but now I will tell you about a different group of Residents or should I say former Residents, like their counterparts they agree that Armistead Gardens is in a time capsule and that generation after generation has continued to live there as far back as when Armistead Gardens was public housing. This group of people couldn't wait to get out of Armistead Gardens because the Co-Op is unsympathetic towards residents who can't afford to make upgrades to their exteriors, crime, drug use, and drug dealing has reared its ugly throughout Armistead Gardens and they have watched their friends they grew up with turn into dope fiends. They say Armistead Gardens has gotten stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty and drug addicted residents.
Upon hearing these opinions more than twice about Armistead Gardens, I was both shocked and skeptical. I thought if these were indeed the living conditions in Armistead Gardens that maybe Armistead Garden's days are numbered.
After all, Freedom Village/Claremont Homes was a public housing development of varying densities west of Armistead Gardens that was just demolished in favor of the mixed income Orchard Ridge Community which has defied the recession and is Baltimore's best selling New Community. In the 1990s the public housing high rise known as Hollander Ridge east of Armistead Gardens was demolished in favor of Office/Industrial Space. So given what I was led to the believe the living conditions in Armistead Gardens are I thought it should hit the wrecking ball. I thought that its convenient location near Erdman Avenue, Pulaski Highway, Sinclair Lane, Moravia Road, I-895, and I-95, and eventually the Red Line and an East Baltimore MARC Station.
Orangeville, the proposed location of the East Baltimore MARC Station is currently industrial land with vacant swaths throughout. I have always thought that Orangeville, when transit comes will be transformed into a TOD Haven and transform those aforementioned roads in East Baltimore with lack luster Retail into a walkable urban haven. I figured a redeveloped Armistead Gardens would be an extension of that TOD in Orangeville. Eventually, that dream of mine could be realized but not now.
Why not now? Because I took a few trips down to Armistead Gardens to see if those claims by former Residents were true. I was pleasantly surprised to see that every time I was down there, I saw a very safe Family Oriented Community with houses that vary in their state of repair. There weren't many houses that needed a lot of repairs but I didn't see a single vacant. It's clear to see that some homes have been cared for and residents have invested the money in their homes. Some residents, since this was a public housing development way back when appear not to have the money to fix up their homes the way others have. Residents appeared healthy, kids were free to play outside, the drug and dealers that people told me "ran the streets" of Armistead Gardens weren't there and I don't think there are very many of them if any.
If there is a drug trade in Armistead Gardens it's kept under wraps, I've been blogging about Baltimore City and driving through every Neighborhood for almost four years and one thing I can spot very quickly is an open air drug market. In Armistead Gardens, it just wasn't there.
Now with all that info I provided to you, tell if you think Armistead Gardens should hit the wrecking ball. What do I think? I thought so at first but when I saw that the comments on my old post didn't appear to be true, I would have to say no. I do think that the main streets surrounding Armistead Gardens; Erdman Avenue, Moravia Road, and Pulaski Highway are all long over due for makeovers.