Without the Red Line: what is next for Baltimore transportation?

Most Baltimoreans concerned with the Red Line thought the rail project was finished when the election returns came in last November.  The Red Line was an O’Malley project, and when his Lieutenant Governor was beaten to a highway man, what other conclusion could be drawn?  Surprisingly, the new Governor promised to study the rail project and he kept spending money on it.  The Baltimore business community became more vocal in support of the Red Line and the Governor’s team met with project advocates. False hope creeped in for supporters for the next eight months, before the Governor did what we expected him to do all along and kill the project.

The new question is, does Baltimore get a consolation prize?  If so, the most befitting of Hogan’s rhetoric, would be a pledge to help pave Baltimore’s craterscape of a road network.  This would make many people happy, but would do almost nothing to help people connect to jobs or alleviate congestion.

There are several very-helpful piecemeal projects the Governor should consider, but he would have to be open minded to some transit-oriented solutions. Critics of the Red Line alignment, including the Governor, most often point to the proposed parallel tunnel.  Here are few ideas to contribute to the discussion, none of which include a duplicate tunnel.

Create a Metro Green Line extension to the west

West Baltimore needs jobs and better transportation connections. What better place to focus than a Washington connecting MARC Station with lots of available land for future development.  To make it viable, build a short speedy two mile metro branch from the West Baltimore MARC station that feeds into the green line at Lexington Market. The train can travel above ground with dedicated right-of-way in the former “highway to no-where” before descending into the existing subway right-of-way. This should keep expenses within Hogan’s fiscal sensibilities.  High-frequency buses can feed into the MARC station from all over West Baltimore including social security. This short rail extension would link the center of West Baltimore, MARC and bus riders, with a speedy rail connection into downtown and beyond.

Extending the Metro Green Line west could provide fast transit for West Baltimore and MARC riders into downtown and beyond

Extending the Metro Green Line west could provide fast transit for West Baltimore and MARC riders into downtown and beyond

Extend the Metro Green Line to the north

While closer to jobs in Southeast Baltimore, East Baltimore has a similar economic malaise as West Baltimore.  Extending the existing Metro Green Line just a half mile to the MARC train tracks and building a connecting station would drastically help east Baltimoreans reach jobs in downtown Baltimore as well as those that can be accessed by the MARC Penn Line. This new hub would drastically reduce the isolation of this part of the city.

A short Metro Green Line extension to the north could give East Baltimore a badly needed transportation hub

A short Metro Green Line extension to the north could give East Baltimore a badly needed transportation hub

Extend the Metro Green Line to the east

After the green line is extended north to the MARC train in east Baltimore, it can make an easterly turn above ground along the MARC right of way four miles to a new Bay View MARC Station.  While also serving the hospital, a station here could also create a great park & ride option for drivers on 95 and 895.  This should help ease downtown congestion if drivers can park here and take a swift metro ride into:  downtown, the Johns Hopkins Medical Complex, or other green line or MARC train destinations.

Extending the Green Line Metro along the existing MARC right-of-way east would enable a new hub connecting the subway with MARC, Interstate 95, Bayview Hospital, and a park and ride for many in eastern Baltimore

Extending the Green Line Metro along the existing MARC right-of-way east would enable a new hub connecting the subway with MARC, Interstate 95, Bayview Hospital, and a park and ride for many in eastern Baltimore

Create a high-frequency “jobs” bus line between the Lexington Market Hub and the Bayview Transportation Hub

A new high level of service 6.5 mile bus line linking the jobs, dense neighborhoods, shopping, and entertainment along the bustling southeast harbor coast with endpoints of Lexington Market and Bayview would very helpful.  This line is where a lot of jobs are. With tunneling off the table and no clear right-of way available needed for a practicable streetcar, major bus improvements appear to be the next best option here.

A high-frequency bus line between the Lexington Market Transportation Hub and the proposed Bayview Transportation Hub would provide more reliable connectivity in this growing section of Baltimore

A high-frequency bus line between the Lexington Market Transportation Hub and the proposed Bayview Transportation Hub would provide more reliable connectivity in this growing section of Baltimore

While many more ideas will surface, these four transportation enhancements would bring significant benefits to Baltimore, involve little tunneling, could be phased, and are fiscally restrained. Adding four new station hubs where rail lines would connect, while avoiding the expense of any new underground stations, might appeal to the Hogan administration.   Baltimore needs and deserves major transit improvements. Governor Hogan, does Baltimore get anything?

Bicycling Events in Baltimore this summer

Bicycling can provide you a great reason to come to Baltimore this summer. Charm City would love to have you visit. If you like pedals and wheels, come enjoy these events this summer.

Kinetic Sculpture Race: Sunday, June 14

I am not sure Kinetic Sculptures are bicycles, but they are human and often pedal powered. It is too late to build your own land, water, and mud traversing sculpture and enter the race this year, but you can come watch this spectator-friendly event and get ideas for joining the race yourself next year. Bring the kids, or not.

Baltimore’s kinetic sculptures are amphibious, human-powered works of art custom built for the multi-terrain race course. The American Visionary Art Museum is the proud host of the Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Be sure to check out the spectator’s guide and dress code before you come.

By land, sea, and mud...Image from kineticbaltimore.com

By land, sea, and mud…Image from kineticbaltimore.com

Tour Dem Parks: Sunday, June 14

If you prefer to be riding your own bicycle, try Tour Dem Parks,  also on June 14. There are three routes (14, 25, or 35 miles) that pass through Baltimore parks and neighborhoods. It is a great chance to interface with many charming parts of Baltimore you would not otherwise see. The ride is fully supported with multiple rest stops and ends with a barbeque lunch and live jazz.

The ride starts in Druid Hill Park. Proceeds for the ride benefit parks and recreational activities in Baltimore City. Register here.

TDP is great chance to tour Baltimore on your bike-Image from Tour Dem parks website

TDP is great chance to tour Baltimore on your bike-Image from Tour Dem parks website

Bikes and Beers: Saturday, June 20

The 15 miles, Bikes and Beers ride, passes sites such as Penn Station, City Hall, Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Shot Tower, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Maryland Zoo.  The ride begins and ends at the Union Craft Brewing Company at 1700 Union Avenue. Departure times are (9:30, 10, 10:30, and 11am) The start is about three miles from Penn Station for anyone coming by MARC train.

Your registration includes:

Official Bikes and Beers Baltimore event pint glass
Two 5 oz samples at Heavy Seas Alehouse and One pint of your choice at Union Craft Brewing
Post-event festival with live music, food trucks, and games.

Part of the proceeds are being donated to Bike Maryland and Bikemore.

Enjoy and be safe

Enjoy and be safe

Baltimore Bike Party: Friday, June 26, July 31, and August 29…

The Baltimore Bike Party is a fun, social themed ride on the last Friday night of every month. May’s theme was “prom.” It is a mass (meaning hundreds if not a thousand cyclists in close quarters) on a slow paced ride following a different route every month. Meet up is at 6:30pm with a 7pm departure.

Confirm the departure site, but it typically begins at St. Mary’s park in Seton Hill at 600 N. Paca Street.

The ride is free, however donations are appreciated.

Baltimore Bike Party heads through town  Image from bmorebikes.com

Baltimore Bike Party heads through town Image from bmorebikes.com

Tour Du Port: Sunday, September 27

This great ride is part of Indian summer. Tour du Port boasts four bicycle route choices, including one mountain bike option. Pick among these route choices: The Harbor Loop, The Port to Peninsula, The Raven Challenge, or the mountain bike Urban Challenge route and see parts of Baltimore and experience the harbor in a new way.

The ride starts at the Canton Waterfront Park at 3001 Boston Street. Families often do the shorter loop. Proceeds benefit the Maryland statewide bicycling non-profit Bike Maryland.

Resting by the water at the 2014 Tour Du Port. Image by David Choy

Resting by the water at the 2014 Tour Du Port. Image by David Choy

Baltimore would love to have you. These events provide five additional reasons to come!

Baltimore’s Red Line connects more than you may think

Baltimore’s Red Line will be much more than a new transit mode for a single city. Beyond making it easier to travel across Baltimore, the Red Line will join MARC and the Purple Line to better integrate Baltimore City and County with Washington DC, Prince Georges County and Montgomery County.  In fact, by combining with the MARC, Baltimore’s Red Line destinations can be accessed by rail from seven Maryland counties.

The Red Line (not to be confused with the Washington Metro’s Red Line) is a light rail line that will run east-west through Baltimore. It will serve popular destinations like the University of Maryland Baltimore, National Aquarium, Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, the Convention Center, historic Little Italy and Fells Point, and new job centers in Harbor Point and Harbor East.

Penn Line MARC riders will be able to easily transfer to the Red Line to reach harbor/stadiums/jobs. All images from Baltimoreredline.com

Penn Line MARC riders will be able to easily transfer to the Red Line to reach harbor/stadiums/jobs. All images from Baltimoreredline.com

Congestion, some narrow streets, and expensive parking make it easier for a lot of people to get to these areas by rail rather than car. Forecasts estimate it will serve 54,520 daily trips, and many will start or end their journey outside of Baltimore City. Four of the stops are in Baltimore County, but that’s only part of the story.

Linking the region by rail

The Purple line and the Red Line would provide “ribs” on the MARC “spine” from DC to Baltimore and beyond. Riders at any of the MARC Penn Line’s 13 stations or along the Purple Line will have better access to Baltimore, while Baltimoreans will be able to travel to the Washington’s Maryland suburbs like never before.

The Red Line will meet the MARC’s Penn Line at two points: the West Baltimore and Bayview stations, both of which are short trips to the jobs, tourism, and entertainment destinations near the harbor.  The area between downtown and Bayview, for example, is one of the fastest growing residential and job centers in the region.

No matter which direction they travel, Penn Line riders looking to travel to harbor-area destinations will be able to knock at least ten minutes off of current ride times by taking the Red Line from West Baltimore or Bayview to downtown. Plus, they won’t have to travel the extra distance to Penn Station in Mount Vernon.  The Red Line’s stations will bring them much closer to their destinations.

Park-and-rides will also make the Red Line accessible to drivers

The Red Line is not just for people connecting among rail transit. Five of its stations will have parking lots near interstates, giving drivers coming from both east and west of the city options for parking outside and taking the train in. Avoiding downtown Baltimore’s congestion and high parking fees is a good way to save travelers money and time.

Bayview- a MARC station and one of five park and rides planned for Baltimore's Red Line

Bayview- a MARC station and one of five park and rides planned for Baltimore’s Red Line

The park-and-ride stations should be particularly important to Governor Hogan because they make the Red Line available to a many of the outer counties and rural districts that voted for him.

Right now, it’s most important to persuade Hogan and new transportation secretary Pete Rahn of just how transformative the Red Line will be. A number of Baltimore officials are currently leading efforts to do so.

The Red Line is an example of why it’s important to think beyond just one city or one mode of transportation. When we consider the networks that multiple modes can build across multiple regions—local rail lines combined with a regional commuter train and park and rides, for example—we can reap the benefits of a more integrated Baltimore and Washington region.

Jeff La Noue

A similar article is cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington and the Sustainable Cities Collective

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 28,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Quicksand for Baltimore Beach Volleyball at Rash Field

Over the past 13 years, beach volleyball has become a success in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, drawing young adults for clean, athletic fun in a beautiful setting. But as the city moves ahead with plans to replace the volleyball courts with a parking garage and rooftop lawn, typically unengaged millennials are fighting back.

Baltimore Beach Volleyball

Fun in the Baltimore sand. All images by Katie Howell Photography

Under Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore hasn’t poured a lot of public resources into sexy projects, focusing instead on keeping the city afloat and the books balanced. That’s why it was surprising when the visionary Inner Harbor 2 Plan emerged.

The plan’s headliner is an iconic bike/pedestrian bridge across the harbor. Other smaller complimentary projects, like adding stationary exercise bikes, food kiosks with outdoor seating, kayak ports, bike share, playgrounds, more beach, or a pool barge, would collectively make a big difference.

But there’s been pushback to a proposal to build a $40 million, 500-space parking garage, which would replace the volleyball courts where the Baltimore Beach Volleyball league has operated since 2001, as well as a memorial to the Pride of Baltimore, a sunken clipper ship.

The garage, which would have a rooftop lawn, appears to be the very first project out of the gate, causing the Inner Harbor 2 plan to get off to an unpopular start for many. Millennials, often criticized as a demographic for being politically absent, are expressing their unhappiness about losing a popular recreational area for a parking garage.

Volleyball supporters have written at least five letters to the Baltimore Sun over the past month advocating for the beach at Rash Field and noting its ability to draw young people. An unscientific poll from an earlier post I wrote in February received over 850 votes of 900 total for keeping beach volleyball.

Rash Field could use some improvements, but the many smaller projects in the Inner Harbor 2 plan could give the space the punch the city is looking for. Todd Webster, owner of Baltimore Beach Volleyball has been willing to help pitch in, if he could secure a multi-year lease for the league.

Baltimore Beach Volleyball

Beach volleyball is a social attraction for Baltimore

A parking garage isn’t what will make Rash Field and the Inner Harbor a better place. There are many cheaper ways to make Rash Field better without displacing Baltimore Beach Volleyball or the Pride of Baltimore memorial. Doing so would not only be in keeping with the city’s bent for fiscal responsibility, but it could also free up money for projects that are truly a game-changer for the Inner Harbor.

JL

*crossposted on Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

America can learn from this French city’s complete streets

Strasbourg, France is a beautiful city that takes its complete streets to heart. The roads through the old (and new) city gracefully mix street trams/lightrail with bicycle paths and friendly traffic calmed streets. Pedestrians move easily. Its central intercity train station is housed in a glamorous historic building, sheathed in a chic modern glass shell.

Gare de Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s central railway station. Photo by Cha Gia Jose on flickr

My family moved to Strasbourg when I was 12.  In French school, I comprehended little, and regularly escaped the gates of Le Lycée International des Pontonniers to explore the city by foot and public transportation.  It was liberating to take my lunch money and spend it in boulangeries around town or even into Germany across the Rhine River.  My parents thought I was in school and I may not have been in the country!

Given the quality of its infrastructure, it would be easy to think the French city is quite large. In fact, Strasbourg is a metro area with a population the size of Albany, Little Rock, Colorado Springs and would rank 73rd in US metro size behind Columbia, SC.

6 tramway lines ply this small city

The Strasbourg metropolitan area of 760,000 people is served by six tram lines, 56km (36 miles) of track, 72 stations, and daily ridership of 300,000 (2010) No US city near this size, has this kind of rail system. During the day, trams run every 6 minutes  (M-F), 7 minutes frequency on Saturday and 12 minutes on Sundays. Yearly passes are 456 euros ($620 dollars) with discounts for those over 65 and under 25. Single fare is 1.60 Euro. ($2.18)

Crossing the L'ILL

Tram gliding through town. Photo by Gerry Balding on flickr

(Strasbourg’s trams function as a hybrid of US Street cars and US Light rail. The rail vehicles are similar to streetcars because they are mostly in the roadbed and integrate into the city’s fabric, but unlike streetcars, operate with their own right of way separate from traffic, in this regard more like light rail.)

Bicycle infrastructure abounds

To complement the tram system, Strasbourg has almost 500km (311 miles) of cycling paths, 18,000 bike racks that serve over 130,000 cyclists. Secure bike parking lots and tire inflation facilities are available at bus and tram stops for transit card holders.

Watch Out For Bikes

Streets are for diners and transport of different varieties. Photo by Brisan on flickr

Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and US  far behind Strasbourg

Many US cities have adopted complete street ordinances and individual streets have been retrofitted.  Close by, Baltimore County has been recognized as a national leader for Complete Streets.  Baltimore County ranked 6th among 83 communities in the US with Complete Streets programs. Despite this recognition, the County’s on road bike network is minimal, members of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee are agitated at the lack of commitment to projects, the county has missed the mark on its pedestrian safety campaign, and now it’s county executive struggles to find a $50 million contribution for the $2.4 billion Red Line his administration says it supports.

Future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County

Future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County

In Baltimore City, Council Bill 09-0433 was adopted in 2010 directing the Departments of Transportation and Planning to apply “Complete Streets” principles to the planning, design, and construction of all new City transportation improvement projects.

Despite the accolades and the policies, “complete streets” in Baltimore County and Baltimore City still feel foreign. On the ground implementation remains the elusive prize. High incidences of tragic pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crashes are more associated with user error than engineering design. Complete Street advocates look forward to seeing first rate projects in the city and the suburbs get designed, funded and become reality. In the meantime, please enjoy a few photos of a “complete streets” city that I used to roam.

Similar article crossposted on Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

Strasbourg urban “complete streets” gallery

(All gallery images from google street view)

This gallery depicts regular infrastructure treatments in the heart of the city that help create a safe and user friendly balance of transportation options.

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Strasbourg suburban “complete streets” gallery

Strasbourg’s outer areas have also built extensive infrastructure to serve multiple types of transportation and keep vehicles at safer speeds.

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Steps toward making Druid Hill Park a better city park

Part I- An urban park won’t succeed with suburban edges

The Friends of Druid Hill Park have successfully have helped bring music, a farmers market, art projects, and other events to the park and made it a more active destination. These actions have gone a long way toward improving Druid Hill, but fixing the park’s urban design flaws would make their job much easier.

The Druid Hill Park Master Plan from 1995 identifies the problem with the roadways on the perimeter.

“The Jones Falls Expressway and Druid Park Lake Drive claimed parts of Druid Hill, on the south and east edges, for enlarged, high-speed commuter corridors. The construction of these two arteries caused the loss of the Mount Royal entrance and the park frontage drive. The enlarged Druid Park Lake Drive separated the surrounding neighborhoods from the park, compromised the function of the park roadways and walkways on the south and west edges of the park, and altered the quiet ambiance of the lake edge. The most offensive symbol of these projects is found on Madison Avenue, where the grand entry arches stand in isolation from the park.”

The Jones Falls Expressway is not going to be changed anytime any time soon. However, Druid Hill Lake Drive and the arterials on the west and north, can be retrofitted if the city’s planners wanted to remake Druid Hill into a more neighborhood-friendly park.

Wide road

This road design is engineered for speed and creates a barrier between help Druid Hill Park and its neighbors.

These roads slice through Druid Hill Park and break the park's edges into incohesive fragments

These roads slice through Druid Hill Park and break the park’s edges into incohesive fragments

Park-adjacent real estate with reservoir views is in bad shape

Park-adjacent real estate with reservoir views is in bad shape

In considering change, city officials should ask themselves, is the road configuration around the park working for neighbors and neighborhoods next to the park? Could the road design be contributing to the economic malaise at edge of the park? If the answer is that the park edge is not working, here are changes that would help.

1) Eliminate the existing wide grassy median arterial road system that divides the park from its neighbors and leaves the park edge fragmented into pieces

2) Introduce an urban street grid on the parks border with regular, frequent, and pedestrian friendly intersections. (Central Park, Patterson Park)

3) If roads do bisect the park, their footprint should shrink to reduce dividing the parkscape into fragments.

4) Put roads on the park edge on a diet and reduce their width. (Patterson Park)

5) Convert traffic lanes on road edges to on-street parking. (Central Park (NYC), Patterson Park)

6) Within eyesight of the people who live on the park’s perimeter, add amenities like community gardens, running/biking trails, playgrounds, tennis courts, dog park, and activity nodes . (Patterson Park)

7) Add food carts or open air places to eat and drink near pedestrian crossings between park and neighborhoods. (Central Park)

8Move the zoo entrance close to the Mondawmin Metro Station and the neighborhood.

JL

crossposted on Sustainable Cities Collective

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