Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Southeast Community Path

This will be my last post that was inspired by my trip to Boston and surrounding areas. There are many instances in which adaptive reuse has served Boston and surrounding areas well. One such instance involves the right of a way of a discontinued railroad. Many times those who own these tracks "bank" them in case that pathway is reignited for something similar like Light Rail or a Subway. Other times they're left to rot and they become a blight and eyesore on the Community surrounding them.
In this instance, Somerville, MA (a suburb of Boston) decided to put the right of way for the long discontinued Somerville Freight Spur to a use that serves the Community and makes it an asset rather than a blight. Their solution was the Somerville Community Path which runs from Davis Square to Alewife. This path is well lit, well landscaped, and always busy with runners, walkers, hikers, and bikers day or night. Although there are many great trails and paths throughout Baltimore, I decided to add another one in abandoned railroad lines similar to the Somerville Community Path.
One thing Baltimore has a surplus of is abandoned Railroad tracks and rights of way. As a result a similar Community Path could be constructed practically anywhere in the City. However, one area and one particular right of way (some tracks have been taken out already) is located in Southeast Baltimore. More specifically, it runs from Canton Crossing through the Neighborhoods, of Canton, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown, Greektown, and Kresson.
This particular right of way is unique in that it doesn't have grade changes yet it barely crosses streets with vehicular traffic. It simply runs behind these rapidly growing Neighborhoods around land that was once industrial but is being redeveloped as Residential. This may have been part of the alignment for the Red Line had it not been killed by Larry. My personal Red Line proposal was and is very different from the MTA's so this Community Path can be constructed and my Red Line can built without conflict. In fact, the Path can help provide a link between stops.
The path that the Southeast Community Path will take starts at Canton Crossing just opposite Hanover at Brewer's Hill Apartments on Boston St. It will then turn north crossing under O'Donnell St. and Haven which point it will turn northeast and cross over Eastern Avenue. The path will end at Lombard St. just opposite the Oldham Crossing Community under construction. Should the East Baltimore MARC Station be built, the Path will be extended northward to end at the intersection of Kresson St. and Pulaski Highway.
Although I don't think Baltimore should become a clone of Boston, I have seen some things that Boston got right that Baltimore should take notes from including The Big Dig and in this post, the Somerville Community Path.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The JFX: Baltimore's Real Big Dig

After a very educational visit to Boston, I have come back with a few ideas from there that I think Baltimore should adapt. This one revolves around the highly controversial "Big Dig." To say that the big dig was a massive headache filled with corruption and cost over-runs and snarling traffic for years one end, I would say you were right. However, if you were to walk along the beautiful amenity filled pocket park that ties Downtown Boston to the North End, I think you may agree that it was worth it and can do the same for a similar situation right here in Baltimore.
For those who don't know what the big dig is, I will tell you about the portion of it that I want to bring to Baltimore; I-93 in Boston cut the City on half between Downtown and the north end. In order to make the City a more walkable area and re-open the link between Downtown and the North End, I-93 was taken below for grade for several blocks into an underground tunnel thereby re-connecting Downtown and the North End.
In more recent years, a multi block pocket park has been built over the below grade I-93. This amenity filled pocket park has been a huge boom for Boston as it has bridged Neighborhoods together and has made the area very walkable. The pocket park also provides much needed greenery in the middle of the City. That was the short explanation of the portion of the big dig relevant to this post. The project as a whole was much more involved.
Now here we are back in Baltimore and as the post title suggests, we're talking about the JFX. Like I-93, the JFX creates a very intrusive route through the City cutting off connections between Neighborhoods and is blocking much needed redevelopment in East Baltimore. Not to mention that the road itself is ugly and symbolizes why running a multi-lane Interstate through the middle of a large City was a mistake.
For about 10-15 years now, there have been plans floating around to dismantle the JFX. There have been those who support it and those who are against it. Those who are against it make the argument that Baltimore's traffic is bad enough already and that dismantling a grade separated commuter route will put even more pressure on surface roads such as Guilford Avenue and the Fallsway. I have been for dismantling the JFX so that a new era of redevelopment in East Baltimore can commence between Downtown and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
When I look at the big dig however, I see something that should make everybody happy in the long run for Baltimore. When applying the big dig to Baltimore, what do we get? Does the JFX in its current state get dismantled? Yes. Does Baltimore lose a freeway's worth of travel lanes? No. Is there now great walkability between Downtown in East Baltimore? Yes. Can a new era of redevelopment between Downtown and East Baltimore now occur unifying the two communities? Yes. Is there room for a large multi block pocket park that can go under the now below grade freeway? Yes.
So with the big dig approach applied to the JFX, everybody is happy. The JFX will start and stop at Fayette St. like it always has and will be capped by a pocket park spanning the blocks between Fayette St. and Preston St. with east-west streets going through a tunnel under the pocket park to keep vehicular traffic away from the pocket park. Most plans for dismantling the JFX use Preston St. as the northern end with the Freeway resuming as such before turning westward. Given that this portion of the JFX is actually below grade, I would cap this portion as well and keep the pocket park running all the way to North Avenue thereby bridging the communities of Mount Vernon and Station North.
The JFX in its current form would resume north of north Avenue. I would however like to see if the "Baltimore big dig" can continue all the way to Coldspring Lane so that the Jones Falls Valley Communities may be united once again. As you can see, the logic behind the bid dig was eventually successful in Boston and I see it being so in Baltimore. This is why we have to make the JFX Baltimore's big dig.