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

An urban park won’t succeed with suburban edges

Part II-Steps toward making Druid Hill Park a better city park

A large urban park may be an oasis where the city feels distant, but to succeed, a good large urban park also ties in well with neighborhoods at its borders. New York’s Central Park does this well, as does Patterson Park in Baltimore. Druid Hill Park, to its northwest, does not.

Druid Hill Park edge

The wide roads at the edges of Druid Hill Park break the park into fragments and are a barrier to the adjacent neighborhoods. Images from Google Street View.

The borders of Central Park are clearly defined. Pedestrians easily cross into it and there is food available on three corners.

The borders of Central Park are clearly defined. Pedestrians easily cross into it and there is food available on three corners.

Druid Hill Park was built around the same time as New York’s Central Park. Its beautiful 750 acres offer urban forest, fields, a zoo, a reservoir, and recreation.

However, at its edge, traffic engineers designed a tangle of speedy arterial roads with grassy medians not unlike route 175 that links Columbia, MD with Interstate 95. Unlike sprawling suburban Columbia, Druid Hill Park is surrounded by dense historic neighborhoods filled with row houses and apartments.

Overview of Druid Hill Park

Big roads with fast moving traffic separate Druid Hill Park from adjacent neighborhoods. Image from Google maps.

Many of the people who live nearby do not own cars. The obese hard-to-cross roads do a good job of both being unpleasant for nearby neighbors and creating a barrier to accessing the park. Furthermore, the road slices into the park and leaves the park edges oddly fragmented.

The roads around the park have been engineered for speed to the detriment of nearby residents and families who might want to walk to the neighborhood park.

Compounding the problem, Druid Hill Park’s many amenities, including the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, picnic pavilions, pool, athletic fields and courts, gardens, and playgrounds are buried deep in the center of the park. It is a long walk from the edge of the neighborhoods to the park’s activity centers. To get to anything easily in the park, you have to drive.

Other large urban parks succeed where

Druid Hill’s contemporary, Central Park in New York, did not abandon the urban street grid, and it functions well as both a neighborhood park and a destination.

The same goes for Patterson Park, five miles to the southeast of Druid Hill Park. It has a road network on its edges that work much better. Patterson Park is bordered by heavily trafficked Baltimore Street and Eastern Avenue, but these roads remain true to the urban street grid with regular T-shaped intersections.

All streets are only four lanes, including on-street parking. Traffic travels much slower. Crosswalks are more frequent. Neighbors can see ball fields, playgrounds, people enjoying the park right from their bedroom windows.

Patterson Park is much more intimate with its neighborhoods on all four sides. This design difference helps make Patterson Park, far more interwoven into the daily lives of the residents in the blocks across the street.

edge of Patterson Park

In Patterson Park, the activities in the park are easily viewed from bedroom windows, traffic slow, and the roads are easily crossable. Photo by author.

Design is psychology

Happy City author Charles Montgomery writes, “Cities that care about livability have got to start paying attention to the psychological effect that traffic has on the experience of public space.” He explains that humans get anxious when speeds increase, because we know our bones cannot withstand a crash at more than 20 mph.

This makes places like the swift roads dividing Druid Hill Park with the neighborhoods of Reservoir Hill, Parkview, Liberty Square, and Park Circle unhappy places. It may also help explain why these neighborhoods’ park-front real estate is so weak.

In 2010, Gerald Neily, writing in the Baltimore Brew, made some of the arguments made in this post. Since that time, very little has changed.

Cities and neighborhoods always have to evolve to prosper. The southern, western, and northern edge of Druid Hill Park are not working. The evidence is as clear as the vacant buildings and lots on the park’s edge. New York’s Central Park and Baltimore’s Patterson Park can give direction on how to design the edge of a park in an urban setting. Druid Hill Park has unrealized potential to be a much better urban park. Retrofitting its suburban design will help. Here is a list to focus on.

JL

crossposted on Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

The National Zoo and DC Metro fit together, So could Baltimore’s Zoo and its Metro (but they don’t)

While Washington has a Metro stop with “Zoo” in its name, the Metro subway in Baltimore and its zoo appear to ignore each other.

Underutilized open space between the Mondawmin Metro Station and the (Baltimore) Zoo entrance. Image from Google maps.

Underutilized open space between the Mondawmin Metro Station and the (Baltimore) Zoo entrance. Image from Google maps.

At the nearby Mondawmin Metro stop, there is scant evidence the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore (Baltimore Zoo) even exists. At the zoo, there’s little mention of the subway. Meanwhile, the Washington Metro, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and nearby commercial retailers have a symbiotic relationship.

The Woodley Park/Zoo Metro station and the National Zoo are the same distance as the Baltimore zoo entrance and its nearest subway station, 0.4 miles or a 9 minute walk.

metro to zoo

Image from Google maps.

The zoo could be even closer to the Metro

The Baltimore Zoo is tucked away inside a park, Druid Hill Park. Unlike in DC, where the National Zoo’s entrance is right on Connecticut Avenue, the Baltimore Zoo entrance isn’t at the edge of the park. If architects designed a gateway closer to the station, or even across the street on the grounds of the beautifully renovated Parks and People Headquarters, it would create a stronger connection.

The station could reflect the zoo

Renaming the Mondawmin Station the Mondawmin/Zoo Station is an easy fix. Even bolder would be a zoo inspired interior/exterior design competition for the gloomy station. Baltimore’s Red Line light rail planners are currently seeking qualifications from artists for design projects for its stations. The subway’s stations could use some fresh design, too.

Better designed and safer pedestrian crossings would also help integrate the station, the Zoo, and Druid Hill Park. Auchentrolley Terrace is the size of an interstate and should shrink by multiple lanes.

In Baltimore, lots of open space exists between the Mondawmin Station entrance (left) and the hidden (Baltimore) zoo entrance (right). All photos by author.

In Baltimore, lots of open space exists between the Mondawmin Station entrance (left) and the hidden (Baltimore) zoo entrance (right). All photos by author.

In Washington, transit and the zoo integrate into the city.

In Washington, transit and the zoo integrate into the city.

The zoo could boost the Metro brand

The zoo in Baltimore has plenty of parking and most patrons arrive by car. Integrating the subway and the zoo won’t change this. What can change is the perception that the areas around the Baltimore subway stations never change and that the subway has few destinations at its stations.

Taxpayers have invested $1.3 billion in Baltimore’s Metro Subway. One of the valid complaints about the subway is that it does not serve enough places that people want to go. For the subway to attract new ridership and development at its stations, it needs to build its brand. By increasing the destinations it serves and refreshing its stations, Baltimore citizens and investors, may look at the line in a new way.

The new Social Security complex, potentially a State Center transit oriented development, a revitalized west-side, and an enhanced zoo stop would add momentum for the subway.

A connection could help businesses

The Baltimore Zoo draws almost 375,000 people who spend $10.8 million each year, according to a 2011 study. Linking the Baltimore subway with the zoo will not turn Auchentrolley Terrace into Connecticut Avenue overnight. But by integrating the zoo with the station and its neighborhood, there is more economic spin-off potential than with its current isolated location. It is not hard to imagine businesses that benefit from hungry or thirsty zoo visitors opening near the subway and zoo entrances.

Connecticut Avenue

In Washington, Connecticut Avenue has vibrant retail between the zoo and the subway entrance.

According to American Public Transportation Association, forty-nine million vacationers will use public transportation to sight see. Car-less Inner Harbor tourists in Baltimore and downtown residents might be tempted to take the subway from Charles Center to visit the zoo or seek the green space of Druid Hill Park, especially if they could grab a nice lunch near the station.

When the Baltimore Ravens provided Quarterback Joe Flacco a 120 million dollar contract and he was getting regularly sacked, people clamored for the need to protect the investment in the QB by shoring up the offensive line. Baltimore’s can also shore up the investment in its subway with a few strategic projects and destinations at its stations. A better connection to the Zoo warrants a look.

Jeff La Noue

A similar article is cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington

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