Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rail Transit for Anne Arundel County

It's no secret that most of the job growth in this region is is Anne Arundel County mostly in the Fort Meade area because of BRAC. Granted I'm more than a little disappointed that this job growth isn't in Baltimore City but like most Marylanders, I'm holding out hope that long vacated Residential Neighborhoods in the City will be filled once again with this large population influx.
In order to achieve this growth for the City, Anne Arundel County needs additional Rail Transit. One might say that plenty of lines already run through Anne Arundel County. Although this is true, there are plenty of ways to expand and enhance existing lines using the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan as a guide.
No conversation about planning Rail Lines should be complete without discussing the Yellow Line. Often times I feel like I'm its lone supporter but I happen to find it crucial in supporting growth in Baltimore, Towson, Columbia and all points in between. 
(picture of Penn Station)

Right now the Yellow Line exits in its infancy as the spurs of the Central Light Rail Line from BWI to Penn Station sharing most of its route with the Central Light Rail Line. A lot of these proposed in between points are in Anne Arundel County. Currently, the "Yellow Line" ends at BWI Airport. At the very least it needs to be extended to the Amtrak/MARC Station at BWI roughly a mile away. This new stop will connect the Yellow Line with the MARC Penn Line as well as the Amtrak Line just one stop away from Penn Station. After this very important stop the Yellow Line should continue to the Baltimore Commons Business Park. This is located just north of Arundel Mills Mall, a VERY high growth area of Anne Arundel County. 
The Baltimore Commons area is experiencing plenty of growth of its own with more to come. After that, the Yellow Line will continue south for a stop at the sprawl ridden Arundel Mills Mall and Maryland Live Casino. 
This area has exploded from a rural Glen Burnie suburb to a bustling and congested shopping mecca. People come from all around the Baltimore Metropolitan Area to shop and gamble here so having a Rail Transit stop here is crucial to relieve traffic congestion. The Baltimore Regional Rail Plan calls for the Yellow Line to stop at the Dorsey MARC Station/MTA Orange Line before entering Howard County.
Personally, I think there's another station that needs to see more activity on the MARC Camden Line and that station is Jessup. Jessup is located just north of all the BRAC related growth although that can be serviced by the Savage Station. It is however located directly east of intense residential growth in Elkirdge. 
Route 1 has become very congested with TOD style high density housing but the Rail Transit that warrants this type of development isn't here yet. With that in mind I have decided to put the Yellow Line Stop at Jessup and make that stop into a full fledged station that can hold more than a dozen vehicles. After Jessup, the Yellow Line will go into Howard County ultimately ending at Columbia Town Center. I will write a post that's dedicated to the Yellow Line in Howard County at a later date. 
Now we come to the Central Light Rail Line or the Blue Line as it's also known. According to the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan, this line is complete. After all, it goes all the way from Cromwell Station to Hunt Valley! That's pretty long don't you think? Well, yes that is long but I believe it can go even further into Anne Arundel County.
 Southeast of Cromwell Station lies Glen Burnie Town Center, this early attempt at mixed use development in Glen Burnie is literally at the center of Town straddling the intersection of Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard and Crain Highway. In addition to Retail there's a small residential component along with a branch of Anne Arundel Community College and a Parking Garage. This heavily traveled corridor is the perfect location for a new Light Rail Station. 

After Glen Burnie Town Center, the Blue Line will travel under Ritchie Highway. 
It will have stops at Marley Station, Pasadena, Severna Park, Anne Arundel Community College, and Arnold. 
At the intersection of Ritchie Highway and John Hanson Highway, the Blue Line will branch off into two directions.
One will end at Annapolis Mall while the other will end at Downtown Annapolis. Annapolis should be the ultimate destination of the Blue Line. Annapolis to Hunt Valley imagine the traffic relief with a line that long. 
Now we come to the Purple Line, which is actually a localized MARC Penn Line. Non MARC Stops include Sandtown, Fredrick Avenue, Rosedale, Rossville in Baltimore City and County. This line will meet the extended Yellow Line at the BWI Amtrak/MARC Station. While in Anne Arundel County this line runs roughly parallel to Telegraph Road. Telegraph Road runs right through Severn, a mostly residential town that is right in between Arundel Mills and Fort Meade. Needless to say, given Severn's location, it has seen unprecedented growth with more surely to come. 
Reece Road at Old Meade Camp Road is my proposed location for a "Non MARC" Severn Station. This station would be smaller in comparison to say that of Arundel Mills because Severn is so residential. That being said, Residents living off of Telegraph Road, Reece Road, New Disney Road, Harmans Road, and Severn Road would be very well served by having a Rail Stop so close to home.
The end of the Purple Line's jurisdiction will be at the Odenton MARC Station. Odenton has also experienced major growth over the last 20 years with the construction of Piney Orchard and now the development of a Town Center. The existing MARC Station is strategically located right in between the two new developments and right where Town Center Boulevard is slated to meet Route 175. 
Given how much growth Anne Arundel County is experiencing, it's only right that the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan update itself to reflect this growth. Rail Transit only succeeds when there are stops at all or almost all populated places. If only highway expansion project funds were diverted into Mass Transit.       

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It All Started on Fulton Avenue

When discussing streets that are crucial to Old West Baltimore and its history, it would be criminal not to mention Fulton Avenue. Given that I like to stay on the right side of the law, and that I find Fulton Avenue and its history so fascinating, not only will I "mention" it but I'm dedicating a whole post. I'm going to say it right now, I don't want any more structures on Fulton Avenue to be torn down. What better way to end my series on Old West Baltimore with a plea for preservation?
When Baltimore's Black Population swelled from the beginning of the great migration beginning at the turn of the 20th Century, the City decided to erect strict boundaries of where Blacks could live. The result was two districts (one in West Baltimore the other in East Baltimore) where "colored housing" was permitted. The area in West Baltimore became what is now known as Old West Baltimore. Before the boundaries were drawn, the area was predominantly Black already and although Whites did have the option of staying in Old West Baltimore, they waived that right. The boundaries of Old West Baltimore were Eutaw Place to the east, Baltimore St. to the south, North Avenue to the north, and Fulton Avenue to the west. Thus Old West Baltimore was born.
South and east of West Baltimore's Black Neighborhoods in Bolton Hill and Hollins Market, there are still relatively large White Populations living there which makes the significance of Fulton Avenue that much greater. It seems that most migration by Whites of all income levels went west of Fulton Avenue. Working class Whites remained just west of Fulton Avenue in what is today known as Greenlawn and Midtown Edmondson while more middle class Whites opted for new "Daylight" Row Houses being built in Edmondson Village. Jews in the area were still quite restricted as to where they could move. Although they left Old West Baltimore, they took a more northwest route to Easterwood Park, Mondawmin, Penn North, and eventually to Park Heights and Forest Park. For the first half of the 20th century the western border of Baltimore's Black Ghetto remained uncrossed. But it all started on Fulton Avenue.
By 1950, the White and Jewish Neighborhoods directly west of Fulton Avenue had begun to lose population as suburban housing became more available to Whites of all income levels. Baltimore's Black Population had grown many times over due to the continuation of the great migration and Soldiers returning from World War II. However, the boundaries of Baltimore's Black Neighborhoods did not budge. This resulted in serious over crowding and unsanitary living conditions east of Fulton Avenue. Then one day in 1950, a Black Family moved into a house on the western side of Fulton Avenue and what followed was a demographic shift so dramatic and so fast that it defies logic. And it all started on Fulton Avenue
Once that first Black Family moved across Fulton Avenue, Baltimore turned into a chess board. Those playing chess were Real Estate agents saw an opportunity to placate on the fears of the still segregated Neighborhoods. At that point, Whites did not want integration but Blacks could not continue living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that was the order of the day in Old West    
Baltimore. As a result, blockbusting occurred and within 20 years all of the Neighborhoods west and northwest of Old West Baltimore went from completely White to completely Black. And it all started with that first family crossing Fulton Avenue. Would this have happened without blockbusters? Yes, but I think it wouldn't have happened so fast and Whites wouldn't have felt the urgency to sell low and Blacks could have payed the same price for a house that Whites pay. Blockbusters became VERY rich due to these circumstances. And it all started on Fulton Avenue.
Today Fulton Avenue has seen better days. There are boarded up row homes and vacant trash ridden lots throughout. However, it is far from the worst street in Old West Baltimore. Given that Fulton Avenue was ground zero in the rewrite of Baltimore's Demographics I believe it should be designated as an Historic landmark. One great event on Fulton Avenue was the restoration of the median that was the actual demarcation line between the White and Black Neighborhoods. Fulton Avenue's row homes must be rehabbed rather than demolished. There will be new housing but that will be built because homes were already demolished. I'm issuing an order that no further housing be demolished New housing will be held to the same architectural standards as existing homes so that new housing and existing housing can not distinguished from one another. 
It all started on Fulton Avenue, had that first Black Family not crossed the median who knows how history will have played out? Well, it's safe to say that Baltimore's Black Neighborhoods will have expanded and these once White Neighborhoods would have eventually become Black Neighborhoods but could the migration have gone east into Bolton Hill? Or south into Hollins Market? Who knows? One thing we do know is the facts and the fact is, it all started on Fulton Avenue. And that concludes my series on Old West Baltimore  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandtown Winchester: A Tale of Two Cities

Since the mid 1990s, Sandtown Winchester or "Sandtown" for short has been something of a "Tale of two Cities" on the one hand, there are the new and rehabbed homes brought to us by the Enterprise Foundation located mostly in the Neighborhood's eastern edges. However, there's the rest of the Neighborhood that includes Gilmor Homes and distressed homes between Gilmor Homes and Monroe St. the Neighborhoods western border. As I continue my ongoing series on Old West Baltimore, I'm going to attempt to unify Sandtown and make the whole Neighborhood as sought after as the section that's been redeveloped by the Enterprise Foundation. 
Like all of Old West Baltimore, the latter half of the 20th Century was not kind to Sandtown. As "second hand Suburbs" such as Edmondson Village and Park Heights became available to Black Residents via blockbusting, the overcrowded Sandtown emptied as Residents who could afford it relocated. This left Sandtown in shambles as close to half of its housing stock became condemned and boarded up with no end in sight. Residents left behind in Sandtown lived in extreme poverty with a deteriorating housing stock and a City that was too broke to provide them the essential services they needed.
Enter Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, given the success he saw with redeveloping Charles Center and the Inner Harbor (pictured above), he thought why not Sandtown? This marked the first time, that serious reinvestment money was being devoted to an Inner City Neighborhood not located by the Harbor. Given the City's financial woes, Mayor Schmoke needed some series financial backing from the private sector. This is where the Enterprise Foundation comes in. After Jim Rouse retired from the Rouse Company (his name should sound familiar from his involvement in Charles Center and Harbor Place) he formed the Enterprise Foundation, a charity that provides affordable housing to Residents and Communities in need. Obviously, Sandtown qualified for this. 
The result was a joint venture between the Enterprise Foundation and Nehemiah Homes. Nehemiah Homes agreed to demolish 210 dilapidated homes in Sandtown and rebuild with brand new affordable homes for purchase where the demolished homes once stood. Ryland Homes acted as the builder and in order to speed up the progress they opted to use modular homes. Despite Sandtown's reputation for crime and drugs, these homes sold faster than they could be built. Why? Because there wasn't anywhere else where somebody whose income was $11,000 could buy a house. Now just any house, a brand new town house with three bedrooms, two baths, full Kitchen, and central air. In short, they were selling dream homes and in this case the three rules of home buying; location location location appeared not to apply. 
It's been about 20 years since the first Home Owners moved into their homes and one question the Schmoke Administration wondered was;  Could this project and ones like it produce long term positive results? Well given the appearance and general mood in the redeveloped area of Sandtown I'm going to say yes. These new homes are immaculate, with manicured lawns, white picket fences, window treatments, shudders, planted trees, and not a single new home is boarded up. The pride of home ownership is a wonderful thing and it appears that the Owners of these new homes have discovered this. 
Now don't get me wrong, I don't like everything single nuance about the homes in Sandtown. I believe that all involved parties had hoped that their success would spread like wild fire into existing parts of Old West Baltimore like it did in the Harbor. Obviously this has not happened and the only real additional success stories in Old West Baltimore come from other large redevelopment projects.  I also find these new homes to be very plain and lacking of character. This is no real surprise considering they were modular homes sold to moderate income buyers.
Now like I said at the beginning of this post and in the title, Sandtown is a tale of two Cities. Roughly two thirds of the housing stock is old, dilapidated, vacant, and crime infested. I also said that new housing hasn't spurred much reinvestment in the Community at large and I think I know why. I think there's a lot more new housing in Baltimore City today than there was in the 1990s that isn't near a large segregated public housing development (Gilmor Homes) Albemarle Square, Broadway Overlook, and the Hopkins Biotech Park provide affordable housing alternatives that are perceived to be much safer than anything in old Sandtown. I think you know where this is going. It's time that Gilmor Homes be redeveloped. 
One thing I have always championed in this blog was for the discontinuation of large concentrated islands of Public Housing. Instead I would like to give assistance to Residents currently in Public Housing who are upwardly mobile (in School or Entry Level Jobs) become home owners. Gilmor Homes has been the site of multiple shootings throughout the years and a very violent drug gang that with dozens of members that terrorized Gilmor Homes. These dealers have since been arrested so I think now is the best time to redevelop Gilmor Homes as new Town Homes with a mix of incomes that offer the opportunity of Home Ownership for moderate income Residents who wouldn't have had the opportunity otherwise. There will still be a public housing building but that will be for Seniors only. It will include a mix of independent and assisted living options.
Like I said earlier, I think the current new housing in Sandtown is very plain and bland. When redeveloping Gilmor Homes, I think the new town homes in its place should have a lot more character. I believe new homes throughout Broadway Overlook, Albemarle Square (pictured above), and Greektown's Athena Square be used as models for more attractive new housing in Sandtown.
Now we come to the housing at the western edge of Sandtown. There are a lot of boarded vacants here as well as homes that have been demolished with nothing but overgrown vacant lots in their place. I don't want Sandtown to be nothing but new housing so I want all of these vacants to be rehabbed and sold. Personally, I think that with Gilmor Homes redeveloped the market for a rehabbed or "vacant shell" in Sandtown will increase. I had said that the growth spurred by the Nehemiah Homes of the 1990s hasn't spread like similar tactics had in the Harbor. Well I think the problem was Gilmor Homes and if they're redeveloped and a new thriving development with a high percentage of Owner Occupied Homes, I think ALL of Sandtown will then turn a corner. 
Since the 1990s, Sandtown has been a Tale of Two Cities; It's time that we unify the whole Neighborhood as a mixed income (like the one pictured above) haven that it was in its heyday, it can only hope help the rest of Old West Baltimore by doing so.