Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Light Rail Spurs:Fail

In the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Baltimore began work on a Rail Transit System. First came the Heavy Rail Subway (Green Line) which connected the burgeoning community of Owings Mills to Downtown and eventually to Hopkins. I believe even in its earliest days the Green Line was supposed to extend Northeast to White Marsh. Then came the Central Light Rail Line, it runs from Cromwell Station in Glen Burnie to Hunt Valley. Yes with these two lines and more on the way, Baltimore was well on its way to a World Class Transit System.
The money train the MTA was riding came to a screeching halt after the Light Rail was built. It didn't have proper funding to be built correctly for example; one way tracking, surface level on Howard St, no transfer points at Lexington Market, State Center/Cultural Center and Upton (MARC Penn Line.)
The MTA to its credit, corrected the single tracking by adding a second track in the late 1990s so trains in opposite directions can pass without interruption. Also in the late '90s when funding was minimal, the need for Rail Transit at both BWI Marshall Airport and Penn Station came front and center stage. Now, I'm only guessing here but I would have to believe that the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan was being drafted when the need for Rail Transit at these two locations.
This would have been the time to start building a new line that addresses not only the Airport and Penn Station but one that is more far reaching and may have a stop or two already Master Planned for it.
This didn't happen, instead, the existing Light Rail Line gained two "spurs" one that goes east at its Mount Royal Stop to Penn Station, and the other southwest from the Lansdowne/Baltimore Highlands area to you guessed it BWI. Now the southwest spur does give service to the Linthicum Area of Anne Arundel County but the Penn Station Spur does not offer any additional stops or serve any additional areas of the City or County. That's why I must "Fail" the Light Rail Spurs.

Now remember at the beginning of the post I said that Baltimore was well on its way to having a World Class Transit System in the 1980s and '90s? That was based on the assumption that more Transit Lines were on their way. The time to start building a new Line was and is when the need for Stops at Penn Station and BWI became relevant. This should have been the birth of the
Yellow Line.
Now, there are only a few things that should have been done differently different from the spurs to actually make the Yellow Line a reality. From Lansdowne/Baltimore Highlands to Camden Yards, The existing Light Rail and the Yellow Line will share tracks.Now instead of going up Howard St. to reach Penn Station, the Yellow Line should have broken away at Camden Yards going Northeast making for an Inner Harbor Stop, a Charles Center Stop where the current Green Line has a Station that has a second line already Master Planned into it, a City Hall Stop, a Mount Vernon Stop, and finally ending (for now) at Penn Station.
With the announcement of a new Line with a different name, it tricks the mind into believing more work is being done than there actually is. This new Yellow Line Path that goes northeast from Camden Yards up Calvert St to Penn Station is really only a couple of miles but it will serve thousands, provide traffic relief, and can used as a back up when the JFX is torn down.
Another benefit of adding a new Line be it big or small is the demand for expansion. If instead of building the Penn Station Spur, The Yellow came into existence instead, people would demand that the Line be extended in both directions which in the final 2002 Regional Rail Plan, that's exactly what the Yellow is intended to do.
Now, funding for these expansions is another story but Master Planning Stations into new infrastructure, and then tunneling the connections will certainly make the tasks of expanding a line much less daunting. I will give you examples.
BWI MARC Station. I don't why the southwest spur or the Yellow Line whatever you want to call it wasn't expanded here. It's literally just an extra mile of tracks but the connection potential would have been great.
The Dorsey MARC, this new station that opened in the late 1990s when Route 100 was built could have easily had a second station master planned into it for future use. The spurs were planned and built at the same time as this Station only a couple of miles away. The complete idiocy and lack of foresight by the MTA is laughable, but at the same time it's not funny. Also Arundel Mills, take a look at that mess of suburban sprawl that also being planned and constructed at the same time as the Light Rail Spurs. Was a Station Master Planned into it? Nope then again it's Anne Arundel County, where they want to shut down a Light Rail Station on West Nursery Road just because somebody got mugged there. It's no secret that they're anti Rail Transit. At the other end on York Road between Stevenson Lane in the County and Northern Parkway in the City, there was a huge project that involved a complete makeover of the streetscape and the road itself. Could a Station have been built there too? Or even tunneled tracks for future use?
Well now that I've told you what should have been done to make the reality of the Yellow Line more feasible, lets look at what can be done in the future development wise to plan for Stations to offset the cost of construction when the time comes.
Since the southern terminus of the Yellow Line is the Columbia Mall lets start from the Dorsey MARC Station to Columbia. Along Route 1 there are several new high density developments on their way and a Station at Route and Montevideo Road/Port Capital Drive will make for a great Station location. There are plans to put in an interchange at Route 1 and 175 literally one block south of this proposed location. Going west along Route 175 at Snowden River Parkway there is a Park & Ride Lot that can be expanded into a Station. At Tamar Drive and Route 175, that area is due for massive redevelopment, also the building of Blandair Park and the associated interchange will make way for new tracking underground. An additional stop at Route 175 and Thunderhill Road can be brought into the Blandair Interchange equation. Thunderhill Road south of Route 175 is also due for massive redevelopment. Finally we end at the Columbia Mall in the middle of Town Center which is to undergo massive redevelopment that a Station can be Master Planned into. Not only that DC's Green Line should ultimately end here making a true connection to the DC and Baltimore Rail Transit Networks.
North of Penn Station there are also opportunities to Master Plan Stations and tracks in before the Yellow Line is officially constructed. In Station North there will be a lot of redevelopment in the Greenmount West Neighborhood. A great Station location would be Greenmount and North Avenue. Continuing up Greenmount we come to 25th St. at the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway Neighborhood. In order for these Neighborhoods to thrive again, massive large scale redevelopment will have to take place where a Station and some tracking can be built in. There should have been a Station added to the Waverly area when Memorial Stadium was torn down and the YMCA and Giant were built in its place. But hey, better late than never. Pen Lucy is due for some redevelopment especially houses right York and Old York Roads. Station and tracks with redevelopment? I think so! Another missed opportunity was Belvedere Square, when it was revamped in 2000 a Station could have been planned. Now we come to a big potential Station crossing into the County Seat known as Towson. This stop would serve GBMC, Towson University, Sheppard Pratt, and St. Joseph's Hospital. That's a large work force that currently causes grid lock in Towson, having that station in place will certainly unclog the roadways. Last but not least we come to the northern terminus; Towson Town Centre. There have been talks on how to revamp what is known as "Downtown Towson" and with these talks there should be a discussion on Rail Transit and how it can shape Towson's future for the better.

Well the spurs are a fail but in my mind they "spurred" the construction of the Yellow Line and although I may be the only person keeping it alive through discussing it, it's a pass.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Proposed JFX Teardown: Fail

Now don't get me wrong, I am very much in favor of the proposed tear down of the JFX between Fayette and Preston Sts. In fact I'd like to see it done much sooner than 2020, which is the current time table. The plan in which they're using to execute it however is not something I can support. When demolishing and redeveloping a large piece of infrastructure, a lot of things need to considered and taken into account and in this instance, I don't think it was done.
If done right, the JFX tear down will reconnect East Baltimore to the Central Business District and the Inner Harbor, and encourage the redevelopment of Old Town Mall while highlighting the many attractions of Historic Jonestown. If done wrong, traffic on President St. will get even more congested (if that's possible.) In this post I will weigh the pros and cons of the current plan and offer suggestions to turn the cons into pros. The cons far out weigh the pros which this endeavor a FAIL.
The surface parking lots known as "Penn Fallsway" have been sitting in the middle of what's supposed to be Downtown awaiting development for what seems like eons. With the JFX in place as an interstate, it wouldn't very feasible or desirable to add large Sky Scrapers demanding high rent and/or purchase prices when Downtown is blocked by a large interstate. I am very much in favor of developing this area and since there are no residences to tear down any residential building here will be nothing but growth for the City's Population. So this is one of the many reasons tearing down the JFX will be beneficial.
Now, if you take a look at renderings of the development that will take place after the tear down, you can't help but notice the selected right of ways for noth and south bound traffic and the massive open space area in between the two. Northbound traffic will be diverted onto the Fallsway, which was the original JFX and is currently used a no outlet parallel street to the current JFX. This I like. Southbound traffic however will be diverted onto Guilford Avenue which will be re configured to meet the needs of the additional traffic.This, I'm not too crazy about. The two directions of traffic are way too divided which will result in twice as many new traffic lights than if north and southbound traffic were routed closer to each other. Also, would the massive open space between the two be used? I don't think so. Don't believe me? Just look a few blocks to the west at Preston Gardens at you will see my point.
What needs to be done is to have the Fallsway widened to support both directions which will literally cut the number of traffic lights in half. With fewer traffic lights, the number of obstacles drivers and pedestrians alike will have to endure. With the two directions of traffic now located side by side, it's time I addressed the massive open space area where the current JFX is. It's stupid get rid of it. For nearly a century, Baltimore has covered and concealed one of its greatest natural gifts; the Jones Falls.
The Jones Falls is the namesake water way the JFX covers and with its demolition, the opportunity has opened up to make the Jones Falls a treasure yet again. It's ironic because everything in Baltimore has to be "on the water" so reopening the JFX as a attractive water way "playground" and an extension of the Inner Harbor only seems natural. My Colleague Peter Tocco is a native of Indianapolis and has documented how redevelopment of a water way similar to the Jones Falls has benefited the area surrounding it.
I think the redevelopment of the Indianapolis Waterfront's success should be used as a blue print for the Jones Falls. They did a great job there. There was a rendering of what Baltimore could look like in 2010 drawn in 1985. It was a clipping from a Magazine Article that a reader of this Blog sent to me. It had a lot more water. Not only did it have the JFX re exposed but there was a second similar water way going up the Westside of Downtown around Lexington Market. This "Second Jones Falls" probably will never be a reality but the first one is a hidden reality just waiting to be realized.
Obviously the tear down of a Major Interstate will disrupt the current flow of traffic. So "bundled" into the plan should be a solution to the added traffic back up. I'm speaking of course about the Yellow Line. As part of the JFX Tear Down, the beginning stage of the Yellow Line should be included to to give an alternative to the extended President St.
The Yellow Line will start from the exising Light Rail at Camden Yards while slowly migrating (tunneled) northeast to Calvert St. just one block west of the JFX. This first phase will end at Penn Station where, for the time being, it can rejoin the Central Light Rail. This Central Light Rail "spur" will be eliminated when future phases of the Yellow Line are completed north of Penn Station.
While we're talking transit, I think the East Baltimore Spur of the Red Line I have constantly proposed will help relieve traffic congestion. People living in East Baltimore could take the Red Line Downtown instead of their cars and they can hop on the Yellow Line if they choose to go north or continue on the Red Line going west. The Green Line will help with Northeast riders and the proposed Red Line will help with the Southeast but this additional spur will help with Central East Baltimore which is poised for a Population Boom with the Hopkins Biotech Park and associated redevelopment.
Demolished Highway? Jones Falls as a Tourist Attraction? New Development on the Penn Fallsway Surface Lots? Additional Transit Lines? This adds up to one thing and one thing only; Higher Pedestrian Counts. What needs to be done with both the current and the extended President St. is to make the entire street more Pedestrian friendly from Aliceanna St. to Preston St. This means wide sidewalks, angled parking spaces, Pedestrian Crossing islands, and additional lighting. This will transform President St from a congested Boulevard to a truly integrated urban street with respect to Pedestrians, Transit Riders, Bikers, and Drivers alike.
Like I said at the beginning of the post I'm very much in favor of tearing down the JFX but it appears that several crucial aspects have been over looked which gave me no choice but to give the plan a FAIL grade. These deficiencies have been discussed and if added to implemented in the plan the FAIL grade will disappear from my radar.