Thursday, June 30, 2011

Poppleton: At a Crititcal Juncture

I recently was contacted by Suzanne Gunther, a reader of this blog who made me aware of some new affordable housing in Poppleton.
She also told me about the Michael Group, a firm that is very committed to providing affordable housing in Baltimore via Section 8. Their mission is to provide a second chance to young males who would otherwise be homeless, many times through no fault of their own. Their mission of "human redevelopment" a phrase I coined a while back that, in a nutshell means that physical redevelopment won't be successful unless programs are set in place to mend social problems that new housing alone can't fix. Hats off to the Michael Group.
Now back to Poppleton, I told Suzanne that I would be happy to write a post about Poppleton II, the 111 unit affordable housing development proposed to be built on what is currently dilapidated vacant row homes. Now when I'm asked to write a post by a reader or any other interested party, I do so the way I see fit. I think Poppleton II will be a great addition to the existing Poppleton Community but I do have concerns about what direction this could take the Neighborhood in and I would like to take this opportunity to voice them. Poppleton right now is at a critical juncture and any new development must be examined carefully so mistakes from the past aren't repeated.
To fully understand Poppleton as it is now I must start from the beginning. Poppleton was a product of the B&O Railroad and the slaughter houses located south of it in Pigtown. Poppleton housed the many railroad workers that were required for its successful operation and expansion. Poppleon was a successful working class Neighborhood where employment opportunities and hard work almost guaranteed a secure future.
The Job Market in Poppleton (as well as everywhere on the planet) came to a screeching halt as the Great Depression devastated America. The proud working class Community of Poppleton not only was loosing its employers but its population as well. As the Great Depression continued along seemingly endlessly the City erected a Public Housing Development known as Poe Homes. A glimmer of hope came through at the end of the 1930s; America's Entrance into World War II.
World War II not only new brought jobs to Poppleton and Baltimore as a whole but tens of thousands of new residents from rural areas seeking employment. Although Bethlehem Steel had a huge contract with the US Government during the War they couldn't magically create additional housing for all the migrant workers. Overcrowding became a way of life in Baltimore especially in the segregated Black Neighborhoods which weren't allowed to expand despite a surge in population. Poppleton, still a White Neighborhood at the time was assured that the color line wouldn't change and that the overcrowding would stop once the War ended and the need for Migrant Workers would dry up.
Well they were half right, at War's end the need for Migrant Workers did dry up however, they chose to stay in Baltimore anyway. Obviously the overcrowding brought on by Migrant Workers didn't diminish in fact it was exacerbated by the fact they were unemployed and relying on the City for financial help. Not surprisingly allowed for the Black Neighborhoods to expand west and south into Poppleton.
This caused massive White Flight from Poppleton into the newly booming Suburbs and Poppleton became a Black Neighborhood in a few very short years. East of Poe Homes, Slums began forming and as part of a sum removal effort a new public housing high rise community known as Lexington Terrace was built as were Murphy Homes and McCulloh Homes (above) in the adjacent Upton Neighborhood. It seems as though Inner Cities were beginning to become nothing more than a place to house Blacks. As blockbusting occurred in White Middle Class City Neighborhoods such as Edmondson Village, Poppleton's Middle Class Black Residents took advantage and by 1965, Poppleton was home only to poor Blacks. This led to a decades long downward spiral.
Poppleton continued on a downward spiral until the late 1990s when it was determined that the failed Lexington Terrace High Rises had to be demolished. With help of HOPE VI Federal Funds this was accomplished and a Town House Development known as Townes at the Terraces which has been successful in reducing a crime and has given that area of Poppleton a new face. Although most units of the new Terrace Development are still public housing there are some that are market rate. Newer High Rise Demolitions have gained a higher number of Market Rate Units versus Public Housing.
More good news graced Poppleton's front doors in the early 2000s when UMB announced that its new Biotech Park will be located in Poppleton. Although the Hopkins Biotech Park on the east side was accompanied by the redevelopment of close to 1600 homes in the Middle East Neighborhood, the stand alone Biotech Park in Poppleton should attract the attention of developers as well.
And wouldn't you know it? It has! Hampstead Co-Op and the National Housing Trust has teamed up to both Renovate Poppleton Place Apartments and build Poppleton II 111 new units of affordable housing. Now Poppleton II is very much needed but as far as low income housing goes that should be it.
Upon completion of Poppleton II, the Neighborhood as a whole should be stabilized enough to attract a broader mix of incomes. Whether or not additional new development will come in the form of solely low income housing or a mixture of incomes is a question that's hanging in the balance. If too much affordable or low income housing comes to Poppleton, we will be making the same mistakes that were made when Lexington Terrace was built.
Since the Hampstead Co-Op is focused on building only affordable housing, I think it would be better to seek another developer for future projects. Future projects should focus on Home ownership which will ensure a solid population base that isn't on the move like it is with rentals. As more dilapidated properties are acquired and requests for proposals for the bundled properties, the aim should be a mixture of Market Rate Home Ownership 65%, Market Rate Rentals 15%, and Affordable Home Ownership 20%. This should further stabilize Poppleton and if Poe Homes were to be demolished, it could be replaced with upscale TOD as the Red Line will be at its Front Door.
With Poppleton becoming a reality, the City and Developers will be at a Critical Juncture concerning the direction Poppleton should go in. Should it be solely low income units? Or should it be a broad mix of incomes? Once it goes one way, it will be very hard to change the course. In short, Poppleton is at a Critical Juncture.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Baltimore Rail Transit: Epc Fail

Well I gave 8 solid examples of how Baltimore Rail Transit lines both actual and proposed are failures. I started this series thinking I would make a post from the pictures I took with fellow Bloggers and Colleagues Gerald Neily and Peter Tocco at MARC Stations on the Camden Line.
When asked what post or posts would come from these pictures I took I had no idea at the time. Looking through the pictures from that fateful day I realized that these MARC Stops were an "Epic Failure" and when something goes really wrong the current saying is "Epic Fail"
Although this saying applies to the MARC Camden Line as far as TOD and encouraging ridership, I realized I couldn't address just this one Epic Fail, I had to address them all. So with that I began the series of Epic Failures designating the term "Epic Fail" only for the system as a whole and downgrading individual lines to just a "Fail" Now after carefully researching the entire Rail Transit system both existing and proposed I have put out eight "Fail" posts and it's time I wrapped it up and write posts that have been put on the back burner as I was focusing on the transit fail series.So without further ado I dub Baltimore Rail Transit an Epic Fail.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Howard St. Light Rail:Fail

Now how could I end my series of Rail Transit failures without the creme de la creme of failures? Not only is the Howard St. fiasco a failure but it is spawning new and future failures all throughout the Red Line like a mutated transit virus that can't be stopped. Now there is some light at end of the the non existent tunnel for Howard St but the Red Line and its future might not be so "lucky."
Now to say that the Light Rail was built on the cheap would be like saying Owings Mills Mall has "a few vacant storefronts." The Howard St. surface portion is not the only evidence of this. Throughout the Light Rail's run south of Downtown it meets the CSX Line and runs side by side with it although never sharing tracks. This suggests that the MTA used the existing right of way in an agreement with CSX so that it wouldn't have to purchase the right of way from homes and businesses.The BWI Spur, although it doesn't share a right of way with the CSX was probably given the right of way through the owners of Airport Parking Lots as a means of drumming up business for Short Term Parkers, ie Light Rail Riders. The MTA may have promised a connection with the BWI MARC/Amtrak Station which doesn't exist. Although the connection distance between the southern terminus of the Light Rail is small, the MTA appears not to have anybody to cozy up to for the right of way. Like I said, this was done on the cheap.
Now Howard St. itself proves the tightness of the MTA's pockets not once but twice. First is the obvious, it's surface rail being rammed down the spine of one of the City's busiest north south arterys. Second, the MTA yet again is using the right of way of the CSX. This is achieved through a tunnel running below Howard St. which is outdated and the amount of Cargo bring imported and exported has suffered drastically because of this.
This sweet heart deal with the CSX lasts through Downtown and ends abruptly at North Avenue. Worry not! The MTA still has some tricks up its sleeves. Like I said, the CSX right of way ends at North Avenue but of all the parts of North Avenue for the Light Rail to have its Station it has to be at its intersection with I-83! That's right, for quite some time the Light Rail shares the Right of Way with I-83 provided by the State Highway Administration and the Feds.
At roughly the City/County Line, the Light Rail parts ways with I-83. It appears that the Light Rail would have had to purchase the Right of Way for the first time. However, I have a theory. Since nothing is ever quite what it seems (just look at any Beatles Album Cover and play said Record Backwards if you don't believe me.) I'm going to make a hypothesis that there was indeed a right of way that was the MTA's for the taking.
When the Light Rail goes through the Riderwood/Ruxton Area, it seems to "connect" the two portions of I-83 that if driving your car you would have to get on the Beltway for a couple of miles to "stay" on I-83. My claim that I'm going to assert is that at one point during the Interstate Building Frenzy there was the attempt to have I-83 be one contiguous route and that land was purchased for that purpose 50 some odd years ago and was long forgotten until the building of the Light Rail in the early 1990s when the MTA was looking not to purchase any rights of way. This theory of mine is probably not true and I have zero evidence to back this up but it's food for thought.
Now this post was about the failure of Howard St. and the part the Light Rail plays in it. It appears my brain shifted elsewhere so lets get back on track (pun very much intended.) Howard St. was part of Downtown's hurting Westside before the construction of the Light Rail. Today the status of Howard St. hasn't changed nor has the Westside of Downtown as a whole. Some parts are two way vehicular traffic while other parts are northbound only. Although this configuration of Howard St. is not ideal it's better than the pedestrian that was built as urban renewal in the 1960s. Howard St. needs to be a two way street through its entire run Downtown and accomplishing this would be impossible with the Light Rail remaining at surface level. I dub thee a FAIL.Not only has the MTA been blinded by the ramifications of the Light Rail being at surface level on Howard St. but they have built on its "success." I think they measure success in money not spent rather than by the quality and efficiency of their finished product. Notice I didn't say they saved money because the Howard St. fiasco probably cost them more money many times over in lost ridership than if they initially spent the money for a tunnel somewhere else perhaps along Eutaw St. where it could share stops with the Subway.
Now with the construction of the Red Line coming closer, I see many "Howard Sts." in that plan. The Red Line is slated to run at surface level on Security Boulevard, Edmondson Avenue, MLK Boluvard, and Boston St. It appears that the failure of Howard St. is spreading like a blight wildfire all over the City kind of like the Interstates did. Yikes! It seems as if history is repeating itself, Will there be a Transit Line to Nowhere?
Now I figured I would my series of Transit "Fail" posts with the most obvious one and that is Howard St. My biggest gripe with the MTA doesn't realize that this is indeed a failure and that building the Red Line in the same manner won't magically produce a quality product. FAIL!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Green Line Above Ground:Fail

I read a long time ago that the value of your home sky rockets if there is tunneled rail transit in the general vicinity. On the flip side I read that overhead rail transit diminishes the value of your home. For somebody who has always been in favor of tunneled transit this came as no shock to me. It also led me to further examine the portion of Baltimore's Green Line that's above ground and give it a fail grade.
The Green Line runs tunneled from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Mondawmin Mall. These tunneled stops vary in terms of ridership. A lot of this has to do with the number of vacants in the Neighborhoods they serve. For instance, Hopkins would attract more riders than say Upton simply because Upton's vacancy rate is close to 40% while Hopkins is Baltimore's largest employer.
But I digress, my goal is to discuss the above ground portion that runs from just north of Mondawmin Mall to Owings Mills. At first the above ground portion runs along Wabash Avenue, a wide thoroughfare that runs from Hilton St. to Northern Parkeway. There's a dead end stub that stems from Liberty Heights Avenue suggesting the possibility for a connection.
Wabash Avenue serves as a divider from the Middle to Upper Class Forest Park Neighborhood with low (for Baltimore) crime and well kept Dulplexes, Single Family Homes, and Row Homes and the destitute crime ridden slums of Park Heights.
The barrier between the two Neighborhoods is more than just a too wide Wabash Avenue, there are also numerous blighted industrial businesses that are out of place. Also the above ground Green Line serves as yet another barrier. For more about Wabash Avenue please read an old post of mine called "The Two Different Worlds of Wabash Avenue."
When Green Line hits the County it bypasses possible higher rider "catch" areas on Liberty Road and Reisterstown Road. Instead the line runs through the residential Sudbrook Park with a Milford Mill Road Stop and an Old Court Road Stop. More about Sudbrook Later.
When the Green Line goes outside the Beltway, it accompanies I-795 (Northwest Expressway) for a couple of miles. It does this until the Line ends at what is supposed to be Owings Mills Town Center.
Currently Owings Mills Town Center consists of nothing more than an all but shuttered Mall and Parking Garages which mark the first stage of "Metro Centre at Owings Mills" which when complete (there have already been pitfalls) promises to be a TOD haven with Retail, Residential, Office, Community College, and Library for the Owings Mills Area.
No plans to redevelop the Mall have to come fruition.
Now back to Sudbrook, remember how a plethora of unbuilt or incomplete Freeways in Baltimore line the pages of the City County's History Books? Of course you do, you're from Baltimore and part of being from Baltimore requires you to yearn for details about you City's History.
With that being said, it should come as no surprise that I-795 was supposed to continue inside the Beltway and was to end at the other side of the Northern Parkway and Wabash Avenue intersection. Now it makes sense that the Green Line would pair with I-795 and Wabash; they were supposed to be the same road!
Now would connecting the two roads give the above ground Green Line a pass grade? No, it wouldn't, in fact it would only add to the problem. My solution? A combination of relocating and tunneling the Green Line. The non relocated portion to be tunneled would run along Wabash Avenue between Mondawmin Mall and Northern Parkway. The road would be narrowed complete with streetscape enhancements and redevelopment of the blighted industrial area which will hopefully have a positive effect on Park Heights.
Now above Northern Parkway is where my "solution" gets tricky. The newly tunneled Green Line will make a sharp turn east on Northern Parkway and yet another sharp turn northwest onto Reisterstown Road. Here, the rider "catch" Neighborhoods of Glen, Fallstaff, and Reisterstown Road Plaza will bring a higher number of City Riders.
Leaving the City the relocated Milford Mill Stop will be renamed "Pikesville" which will only help with redevelopment efforts in Pikesville along Reisterstown Road. The Condo High Rises along Slade Avenue will benefit from this new stop literally at their front door.
Next, the line will continue below Reisterstown Road for a Stop at Festival at Woodholme at Mount Wilson Lane. This has the potential to be yet another untapped high rider "catch" area with Ner Israel Rabbinical College, The Villages at Woodholme, Avalon, and The Festival at Woodholme Shopping Center. The next stop will be at Reisterstown Road and Greenspring Valley Road serving the McDounough Township, numerous Car Dealerships, Shopping Centers, and the Solo Cup Factory. The Apartment Complexes that flank the area as well as the Car Dealerships and Shopping Centers have all seen better days. The Solo Cup Factory is also slated for closure. This area has the overwhelming potential to be a TOD haven.
Finally as the Line turns down Painters Mill Road, it will end where it currently does at the uninspired Owings Mills Town Centre. In order for the Green Line above to receive a pass grade, one will literally have to move the earth in order to tunnel it and relocate it to a higher rider "catch" area north of Sudbrook Park.