Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Howard St: Feet on the Ground

This post is kind of a continuation of the previous post "Darling I Love You But Give Me Park Avenue." That post has all northbound traffic on Howard St. being diverted onto Park Avenue where the current Royal Farms Arena is. One thing I left out and I did this on purpose, was what happens to Howard St. after the split.

When looking at Howard St., one can't help but look and see that the place is deserted. At the same time, it's very hard to leave Baltimore City when coming from Downtown. Luckily, there is a solution to getting feet on the ground on Howard St. and finding an easy exit from the City. As it stands now, the only way to exit the City from the south, is from Light St. or Maryland Avenue via Cathedral St. and Sharp St. Neither of those are a straight shot onto I-395 and I-95. However, Howard St., below Conway St. IS I-395. This needs to be used to the advantage of the City and its drivers.
Right now, Howard St. is two way in the southern part of its Downtown/Midtown journey. It eventually becomes a one way northbound only street. Before crossing the JFX, Howard St. becomes two way once again going through Station North, Remington, and Charles Village. We mustn't forget that the Light Rail tracks have been jammed down Howard St. for its Downtown and Midtown journey which I will further address.
So what do we do with Howard St.? We make the entire stretch of Howard St. between the JFX and Baltimore St. a one way street southbound as a sort of exit from the City since it dumps you right on to I-395 as an alternative to St. Paul St./Light St., MLK Boulevard, and Maryland Avenue/Cathedral St. I believe this will add more traffic to Howard St. and allow the corridor to grow in a way that it hasn't been able to yet. So now Park Avenue and Howard St. will become a couplet much like Charles St. and St. Paul St. just further west.     
Getting feet on the ground along Howard St. has always been a struggle. Similar to Old Town Mall, parts of Howard St. were banned from vehicular traffic causing those businesses to shutter. Although this was eventually rectified by reopening the entire stretch of Howard St. as a mixture of a one way or two way street, the Light Rail being shoved down it at surface level has caused more problems than it has solved given the narrow length of the road and better alternatives to get between Downtown and North Baltimore.
One thing in the last paragraph that I would like to expand on is the Light Rail. To say the least, what little Rail Transit Baltimore has is a mess. However, this existing stretch of Light Rail along Howard St. could remedy itself when the CSX tunnel running under Howard St. is redeveloped. This CSX tunnel currently causes a backup for all freight trains and needs to be repaired and expanded. If done correctly, the Light Rail can use this same tunnel under Howard St. and the stops can be underground and Howard St. will no longer have block long trains interrupting City traffic. The tunneling of the Howard St. Light Rail is a pipe dream and I believe converting to a southbound only route for vehicular traffic is still viable before the Light Rail tracks are tunneled.
Fortunately, there is still interest in some of the blighted buildings especially in the 300-500 blocks. In other parts of Howard St., the City is interested in getting Developers to build at the site of the Super Block and the Mayfair Theatre/ Congress Hotel Site. Although this interest is promising for Howard St., there are still many parts that need to be addressed. Most notably, the old Antiques Row and around the old Department Stores that have been converted into loft Apartments. Despite these upscale Apartments attracting Residents, the ground floor Retail sits empty and this section of Howard St. is still lacking feet on the ground.
Although there are development projects in the works for Howard St., I believe that in order to effectively increase the number of feet on the ground, Howard St. should be come southbound only from Mount Royal Avenue to Lombard St. while Park Avenue takes over the northbound traffic for stretch of Howard St.   

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Darling I Love But Give Me Park Avenue

I think if Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) were to look at Park Avenue in Downtown Baltimore, I believe she would agree that Green Acres is the place to be. For this post in case you missed it, will be about Park Avenue going through Downtown and how to make it better all around.
Park Avenue is very much an anomaly as it runs north as a one way street through Downtown above Baltimore St. but is neither part of Charles Center or the Department Store District on Howard St nor is it part of the Lexington Market area around Eutaw and Paca Sts. Hopefully after this post and the next post, you too will be saying "Darling I Love You But Give Me Park Avenue."
Although Park Avenue has a beautiful appearance through Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, and to a lesser extent Reservoir Hill, the Downtown section is very bleak. It consists mainly of boarded up row homes that had long since been converted into Apartments with ground floor Retail most of which is vacant. Another stark contrast Park Avenue has versus roads parallel to it is the fact that there is very little traffic bet it vehicular traffic or foot traffic. 
Fortunately, I know how to solve the lack of traffic on Park Avenue while at the same time easing congestion on parallel northbound one way streets such as Charles St. and Calvert St. In order to achieve this, we divert the would be northbound traffic from Howard St. to Park Avenue. Now where would this go? Howard St. would veer off into Park Avenue between Lombard St. and Baltimore St. where the current Royal Farms Arena is.
As has been discussed numerous times on this and many other blogs and forums, Royal Farms Arena is old, outdated, and needs to be redeveloped. It had been though that the best place to put it is right at the Inner Harbor. I disagree with this and I think it should be redeveloped in conjunction with equally dated and obsolete Convention Center a few blocks to the south. The Royal Farms Arena and Convention Center would share a building or buildings at the site of the current Convention Center and will be adorned with ground floor Retail and Offices and/or Apartments above it.
Now that the Royal Farms Arena is out of the way, we can continue travelling north Park Avenue. The first few blocks of Park Avenue run straight through the beleaguered "Super Block" of Downtown's Westside. Many, including me believe that the redevelopment of the Super Block will fuel additional investment in the Westside and put it on par with Baltimore's showcase Neighborhoods. A Park Avenue with heavier vehicular and foot traffic will be a step in the right direction.
Another shot in the arm for the Super Block is the fact that a brand new mixed use building can and should be built on the westside of Park Avenue between Lexington St. and Clay St. adjacent to the old Stewart's Department Store. This vacant plat of land only adds to the baron appearance of the Super Block and Development of it is crucial to further any future progress.
Above Clay St., Park Avenue begins to look very desolate. Originally this contained row homes that had been converted into Apartments with ground floor Retail however, they now appear to be vacant on all fronts. These few blocks below Franklin St. once contained Baltimore's Chinatown and the few businesses operating on these blocks of Park Avenue reflect that demographic. There has been interest in increasing the number of Chinese owned businesses along this stretch and I'm all for it.
 Redeveloping these properties will be very expensive since the facades were beautiful and should be preserved. However, the footprints of these buildings are outdated so I'm recommending redeveloping them in the same manor as the Marketplace at Fells Point with the facades preserved but everything else is brand new Apartments and Ground Floor Retail. I believe the end result to be worth it and I consider Marketplace at Fells Point to be some of the most innovative preservation/redevelopment efforts. The area won't be completely void of new development as the surface parking lot just south of Franklin St. would be developed to complement its newly developed and redeveloped Neighbors.
Above Franklin St., Park Avenue enters the western edge of the famed Mount Vernon Neighborhood. I've referred to this area as the "Midtown Donut" since I consider it be void of Retail and new construction. This use may fit this stretch of Park Avenue just fine. It contains some of Baltimore's best row house architecture that I don't believe should be modified to fit Retail. Fortunately, without this area being a Retail District, it is only a couple of blocks away from the main north-south thoroughfares of Charles St. and St. Paul St. respectively.
Park Avenue enjoys beautiful architecture in Mount Vernon uninterrupted until it hits Chase St./MLK Boulevard. This is where/when the road will have to be redesigned to meet Howard St. once again before crossing the JFX into Station North. Park Avenue as we know it goes northwest towards Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill and the Park Avenue as we know it takes on the Cathedral St. moniker before ending at Mount Royal Avenue. However, the redesign would include Park Avenue/Cathedral St. going past Mount Royal Avenue and going on a new road above the CSX tracks west of the Fitzgerald Apartment Building and joining Howard St. just before the JFX bridge.
Now I'm sure you're asking yourselves "Why?" Why do all this work on Park Avenue when there's a perfectly good and somewhat underused Howard St. just one block to the west? Well, I have a plan for Howard St. and I'm going to ask you to stay tuned for that plan. With this plan and the Howard St. plan, Eva Gabor as Lisa Douglas will say "Darling I love, but Give Me Park Avenue." and she'll mean Baltimore's Park Avenue. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Pimlico: No Preakness? No Money

Ever heard the phrase "money talks"? Well that phrase is very true and not only does money talk, it talks loud. It talks louder than any voice on the face of the earth. The larger the amount of money is, the louder the money talks. Enter the Stronach Group, current owners of Pimlico, Laurel Race Track, and a Bowie Training Facility. They have a lot to say quite loudly with the money they have, the money they've gotten, and the money they want. So I'm going to make this very clear to the Stronach Group; No Preakness at Pimlico will cost you a lot of money both in the present and the future.
Those sound like fighting words. Well, they are. Stronach Group is trying to do the unthinkable; Move The Pareakness not just out of Pimlico, but out of Baltimore completely and into Laurel. It has become very clear that through money they've personally spent and money given to them by the state goes overwhelmingly to Laurel and they think Pimlico is too far gone to be renovated or redeveloped and that the future of horse racing in Maryland is in Laurel.
Well we here in Baltimore don't take too kindly to having a tradition that dates back to 1873 taken away from them. In fact, it makes us very angry. So angry that we may want to make Stronach group and its anti Baltimore rhetoric do what it appears unwilling to do; Pay. Not only will they get nothing in aid, tax breaks, tax shelters, but every penny they've gotten from the City of Baltimore or the State of Maryland EVER. This comes out to over a $100 million check Stronach will have to cough up which is about 1/4 the cost of a full Pimlico redevelopment which the Stadium Authority estimates to be $424 Million.
OK, so coughing up $100 million+ to the state doesn't sound like much when compared to $424 million however, if they get nothing from the state as far maintenance aid, tax breaks, tax shelters, those numbers can add up very quickly and Stronach is paying that money out of their own pockets instead of the state, this may get people's attention. Also, Stronach can't do a cut and run with Pimlico, if they abandon the race track, they will have to foot the bill for demolition of the site, clearing of the site, and infrastructure for whatever new development replaces Pimlico. That's quite a hefty bill Stronach is being stuck with for moving the Preakness out of Pimlico isn't it? I bet these costs they would have to pay to exit Baltimore have now exceeded $424 Million.
Now, by making Stronach pay so much cash and lose out on any additional aid if they move the Preakness to Laurel, suddenly the $424 million cost to redevelop Pimlico is the cheaper alternative. Not only that, the City and the State are now working with you instead of against you. All of that aid will no longer have to be paid back and the City State will continue to be willing provide future aid.

The one thing Stronach has a point of is the lack of use Pimlico over all throughout the year. In a previous post several years back, I have proposed part of the redevelopment include turning the racetrack into a large swimming pool and water park during the summer and an ice skating rink during the winter using the Beverly Hills High Swim Gym technology as stated in my previous post. These additional uses may cost more with redevelopment however, with the additional uses at Pimlico the additional revenue, these upgraded uses will pay for themselves.
It's true, money talks. We can't change that. But it can be used to our advantage to turn the tables to get what's needed by using that very philosophy. No Preakness? No money. Lets get used to saying that.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Don't Fear Rail Transit. Embrace It

Whenever the idea of making the County or outer City Neighborhoods more accessible to inner City Neighborhoods comes around, there's a common message from those that oppose it; "Keep That Trash in the City." I have heard or read this in response to the Red Line being canceled and around the idea of discontinuing City buses to White Marsh Mall.Aside from being, racist, classist, and just plain hurtful, this battle cry harkins back to a time of segregation. A time in which invisible or "mental walls" were  set up to stay one step ahead of blight.
These days, the philosophy around City Planning has been the opposite of that. It's been that of bridging Neighborhoods back together either through redevelopment or reintroducing the urban grids that when interrupted, created the very mental walls in which I'm writing about. "Don't cross that street it gets bad over there" or "that fence keeps the bad people out of our Neighborhood" are just some of the familiar sayings said by middle class Residents who weren't able to leave the City but refused to let their Neighborhoods decay. These same people are the ones now saying; "Keep that Trash in the City."
Although a lot of physical walls are down, there is still limited accessibility from one section of the City and/or County to the other. Why not just get in your car and drive there you ask? Many people can't afford cars and are unable to get places other than that bus line or that light rail line the "Keep that trash in the City" proponents are trying to shut down. So the physical wall(s) may be down but the mental walls remain in tact.
Mental wall or no, there was always a way around them; Rail Transit. Whether it was street cars, light rail, or heavy rail, in most cities it has been and continues to be. There are exceptions to every rule and the exception I'm thinking of is Baltimore. While localized street car lines were torn up in favor of Subway lines going from Cities into Suburbs, Baltimore missed out. It had started planning Rail lines by opening the Metro Subway running from Owings Mills to Charles Center (eventually Johns Hopkins Hospital) and the Light Rail line from Cromwell Station to Hunt Valley with a few spurs to BWI and Penn Station.

Rail Transit has been a tough sell to Baltimore ever since the flight to the suburbs began and has it has become near impossible since the 1992 killing of a Saks 5th Avenue employee at Owings Mills Mall on a path in between the Mall and the Subway Station. That became the day that Rail Transit became the scapegoat for any type of crime that happened in the County. "The Rail Transit and Bus Lines allow people in the City to come to the County to rob and kill them." Up went the Mental Walls that haven't come down and the "Keep that Trash in the City" mentality increased. In fact, some blame that for the demise of Owings Mills Mall.
I'm going to clear the air once and for all and say none of that is true. Owings Mills Mall's death was comparable to that of the enclosed Shopping Mall  nationwide as well as an over abundance of Retail throughout. If you stopped going to the Owings Mills Mall because of that killing in 1992, you helped kill it. I will also say that the MTA and the Rouse Company (developers of Owings Mills Mall) did not come together to make a safe viable pathway between the Mall and the Subway Station. One either had to cut through the grass in between or walk on the shoulders Red Run Boulevard and Painters Mill Road. Not exactly transit oriented development. Also that crime could have happened anywhere at anytime.
 So we've put our mental walls up and little to no funding has occurred for creating or expanding Rail Transit lines. Whenever an idea comes around to expand Rail Transit, there's the same song and dance about "keeping that trash in the City" or how the City's crime problem will leak into the Counties etc. Now why don't other major cities complain about this all the time? Perhaps they've learned to embrace Rail Transit instead of fearing it.
Now comes the question; how can Baltimore embrace Rail Transit? Well, the first step is to keep an open mind. Next, we take the complaints people have about Rail Transit and turn them into opportunities for improvement; example "the Light Rail Stop near me is too dark" OK, lets improve the lighting at and around said station. Or "there aren't any Rail Stops near where I live/work". Then we build new lines so that there is one there. A Rail Transit stop has to complete and comprehensive in order for it to viable i.e., it has to go everywhere.           
One way to embrace Rail Transit is through Transit Oriented Development (TOD) There are some actual TOD developments going on throughout the region the biggest one of note is at the Owings Mills Metro Station adjacent to the now defunct Owings Mills Mall. There are numerous other opportunities at what are now surface parking lots along the following stops; Reisterstown Plaza, Rogers Avenue, Coldspring Lane, Mondawmin Mall, State Center, Cromwell Station, West Baltimore MARC, and Westport. Keep in mind, these are all existing Rail Stops. Imagine the TOD possibilities if more Lines were built?

The theory around TOD is that Residents neat Transit Stations don't need their cars anymore. In fact, that should be a big plus about City living. This of course is lost in Baltimore. There are only a few instances where this can be done today. If you live in Hunt Valley and work in Charles Center you're good. If you live in Owings Mills and work at Hopkins Hospital, you're good. But what if you live and work in White Marsh? Well, in that instance, you need a car. That's where the concept of TOD fails unless more Transit Lines are built so that the people living/working in White Marsh can now ditch their cars.
So with these examples and more Baltimore, I beg you, break down the walls built by segregation and fear of Rail Transit which as discussed above can be one in the same, and embrace it. That can be the best way to lure population back into the City and create a truly walkable environment. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Awful Truth About Neighborhood Schools

This post may be unpopular in fact, I don't like it much myself but I can't not write about something because the subject matter isn't good news. In this case, it's Neighborhood Schools. At the this point in time, the City just can't do it. The enrollment is too low and the cost to maintain so many small dilapidated buildings is just too high. What this means is closing a large number of Schools and consolidating them into one larger building. In many cases a shuttered Middle School will fit the bill.

There is a silver lining at the edge of the clouds though. The closed School sites can still serve their Communities. The buildings may be torn down and the Sites will continue on as Parks and/or Community Centers. Another idea to float around is the idea of moving Police Stations into Schools that are in better shape i.e. renovated somewhat recently since Police Stations and other public facilities are collectively in bad shape as well. A user comment from an older post suggested this and I support it and I thank them for suggesting it.

Now lets get down to the nitty gritty. What schools are closing where and where are they going to end up? As I've mentioned earlier I plan on using Middle School buildings (and renovating/replacing them) to house Elementary and Middle School Students K-8. This post won't cover High Schools all that much except maybe a pet project of mine here and there. There are also some cases where there has been adequate funding for school renovations and their districts won't be touched. If a school isn't mentioned, it's not a part of this plan. Now, lets divide the City into Districts and get this show on the road.


Fallstaff/Mount Washington:
Close Mount Washington ES
Close Fallstaff ES/MS
Close Cross Country
Relocate to old Northwest HS

Park Heights
Close Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ES
Close Edgecombe Circle ES/MS
Relocate to old Greenspring MS
Keep current program(s) housed in Greenspring MS building

Forest Park
Close Grove Park ES
Close Asburton ES/MS
Close Callaway ES
Relocate to old Garrison MS

Walbrook Junction
Close Gwynns Falls ES
Close Hilton ES
Close Windsor Hills ES
Relocate to Old William H. Lemmel MS

Close Edgewood ES
Close Rosemont ES/MS
Close Belmont ES
Build new ES/MS on North Avenue

Close Matthew Henson ES
Close Gilmor ES
Close William Pinderhughes ES/MS
Build new ES/MS adjacent to Carver Vocational HS

Close Eutaw-Marshburn ES
Close Samuel Coleridge Taylor ES
Close Furman Templeton ES
Relocate to Booker T. Washington MS

Close James Mosher ES
Close Alexander Hamilton ES
Close Calverton ES/MS
Relocate to old Calverton MS

Edmondson Village
Close Mary E. Rodman ES
Close Sarah M. Roach ES
Relocate to old Gwynns Falls MS
Keep current Green Street Academy program at Gwynns Falls MS

Beechfield/North Bend
Close Beechfield ES/MS
Close North Bend ES/MS
Close Thomas Jefferson ES
Relocate to old West Baltimore MS

Franklin Square
Close Franklin Square ES/MS
Close Lockerman Bundy ES
Close Mary Ann Winterling ES
Build new School along Lexington St. Saratoga St.

Close Stuart Hill Academic Academy
Close George Washington ES
Close Charles Carroll Barrister ES/MS
Relocate to old Diggs Johnson MS
Keep current Southwest Baltimore Charter School at Diggs Johnson MS

South Baltimore
Close Federal Hill Preparatory School
Close Thomas Johnson ES/MS
Close Francis Scott Key ES/MS
Relocate to Digital Harbor High
Move Digital Harbor High program to Old Southwestern HS with SEED School

Brooklyn/Curtis Bay
Close Bay Brook ES
Close Curtis Bay ES/MS
Close Marie Garnett Farring ES
Relocate to old Benjamin Franklin MS
Relocate HS to Arnett J. Brown MS Building with current programs

Close City Springs ES
Close Commodore John Rogers ES
Close General Wolfe Academy
Move to old Charles Carroll of Carrollton ES Building

Demolish Lombard MS, Thomas G. Hayes ES, and Dunbar MS

Move to Johnston Square to Madison Square ES Building with Community Initiatives Academy

Demolish Old Elmer A. Henderson ES Building

Close Harford Heights ES
Close Collington Square ES/MS
Close Dr. Bernard Harris ES
Close St. Vincent De Paul Head Start
Move to William C. March MS Building

Move Lakewood ES to Fort Worthington ES/MS

Close Montebello ES/MS
Close Abbotston ES
Close Stadium School
Build new School on Harford Road and The Alameda

Move all programs out of Lake Clifton HS and demolish. Restore Lake

Close Armistead Gardens ES/MS
Close Brehms Lane ES
Close Sinclair Lane ES
Build new ES/MS at Sinclair Lane ES Site

Close Furley ES
Close Hazelwood ES/MS
Close Moravia Park Primary
Close Garndenville ES
Build new ES/MS at Barbara and Parkwood Park Site

Close Woodhome Heights ES/MS
Close Hamilton ES/MS
Close Glenmount ES/MS
Build new ES/MS at Burdick Park Site

Close Yorkwood ES
Close Northwood ES
Close Lois T. Murray ES
Close Northwood Community Appold Academy
Build new ES/MS at Belvedere Ave and Hillen Road

Close Guilford ES/MS
Close Walter P. Carter ES/MS
Close Govans ES
Build new ES/MS at Dewees Park Site

Close Cecil ES
Close Barlcay ES/MS
Close Dallas F. Nichols ES
Close Margaret Brent ES
Build new ES/MS in Barlcay Neighorhood

And there you have it, the awful truth about Neighborhood Schools. With enrollment declining the way it is and the excess classroom space Citywide while most of the School Buildings are decaying, there's only one way to address it all at the same time. Sadly that means closing several Schools at once in order to balance capacity and renovate/replace what's left. The good news is, if crowding begins to occur, the old School Sites are ready and waiting to have new Schools rebuilt on them.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Go Finance Yourself

Now that Tax Increment Financing (TIF) seems to be the order of the day, no big development or corporation will come to the City without a big tax break and/or having their infrastructure updated on the City's tab. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Baltimore. All major cities are regardless of how cash poor they are are offering free money for large corporations with Billions in cash lying around to come their City.
If you think this is a "rich get richer" or "1% not paying their fair share" you're right. Most of America's large Cities including Baltimore have crumbling infrastructure, dilapidated public schools, many poor citizens on public assistance and declining revenue from their respective State and Federal Governments. So how can they all of the sudden afford to give so much revenue be it present or future? The answer is; They can't.

Cities believe that these big developments or corporations will eventually re-generate the revenue spent on getting them to choose their City be it cash, no tax on their land, or footing the bill for required infrastructure the developer or corporation would otherwise pay themselves. So should we tell large developers and corporations shopping around to build their offices to go finance themselves?
In theory yes. However if Baltimore were to adopt this philosophy by itself, other cities such as DC or Philadelphia etc. would be chosen because their City Governments would provide the funds. In order to restore City resources back to its actual citizens, ALL cities would have to come together and tell big business to go finance itself. At that point, big business would be forced to pay its fair share regardless of where they want to locate.
 The Go Finance Yourself strategy would work much better when developing land versus attracting a large corporation. Large corporations can go anywhere they want however, land doesn't move. For instance, if Sagamore hadn't taken on Port Covington for lacking of TIF from the City, another developer would respond and put in a bid. Since the second developer knows that the City isn't giving out TIFS, they will include that extra financing in their proposal.
There a few (very few) instances where TIFs would be useful in Baltimore. None of those instances are near the Harbor. They're in the City's poorest and most dilapidated Neighborhoods. If a Developer wants to build new, safe, affordable housing there, that's when a TIF may be useful since it's protecting the City's most vulnerable. I would also see a TIF useful when attracting a full service Grocer to these areas. Not only does that solve food desert problems but it brings employment opportunities to these Neighborhoods.
As you're aware, Baltimore is cash poor and it needs every penny of its revenue to rebuild itself from the ground up be it by rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, school construction, job training, and social services and healthcare for citizens who need it, it's beyond sickening that the City is giving tax breaks and others to the already rich. It's time to stand up to these rich developers and corporations Nationwide in addition to Citywide by saying; Go Finance Yourself!