Baltimore just got bikeshare, and lots of its bikes are electric

A month ago, Baltimore got its first bikeshare system, Bmorebikeshare, and ridership is already high. Forty percent of the fleet is made up of electric bikes that make it easier to go up hills, and as the system expands people are likely to want more of those.

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A bmorebikeshare dock. Photo by author.

 

The City of Baltimore has partnered with Bewegen Technologies to run the system, which cost $2.36 million to set up. Part of the contract includes operations by a company called Corps Logistics. With 22 stations (largely in the flat basin around the harbor) and 175 bikes, Bmorebikeshare has has generated almost 6,000 rides so far.

The system is designed to work for both residents and visitors who need to do everything from commute to run errands to just enjoying riding around. I would add that it’s also great for those who want to reach places where parking availability is tight.

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Phase 1 bikeshare stations (blue dots), Phase 2-spring 2017 (green dots). Photo by author.

 

Electric bikes are a hallmark of the system

Beyond being new, Bmorebikeshare stands out because it has North America’s largest fleet of bikes with an electric motor that helps you pedal (a technology known as pedal-assist-technology, or pedelec).

I tested the electric bikes on an uphill climb on the newly created Maryland Avenue protected bikeway, and it was amazing how helpful pedelec was. The extra giddy up made for a ton of fun whether on a hill or flat land.

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Baltimore’s Maryland Avenue protected bikeway. Photo by author.

 

But since Baltimore is a little like a funnel that generally slopes toward the harbor, the boost was particularly helpful when going uphill. The electric bikes will be a prerequisite for many users who seek higher altitude destinations such as Johns Hopkins University or Druid Hill Park or eventually Hampden and Morgan State University.

This spring, the system is set to grow to 50 stations with 500 bikes. And since many of the new stations will be uphill from where stations are concentrated now, the pedelecs will be in even more demand.

Is expanding the pedelec fleet actually doable?

Liz Cornish, Executive Director of Bikemore, Baltimore’s bicycling infrastructure and policy advocacy organization, said at Baltimore Greenway Trail Network meeting the pedal-assist bikes cost $1300 compared to $1000 for the regular bikes.

If the bikeshare expanded by another 500 bikes and they were 100% electric-assist, it would only be $150,000 more than an all regular bike purchase. This is not much money if the world of transportation expenditures.

Of course, bikes with pedelec may cost more to fix and maintain. But in a hilly city like Baltimore, splurging on the electric bikes to tilt the percentages of the fleet toward the pedelec bikes will likely make sense.

The best step forward would be for Bewegen to track which bikes are being used in order to get data on user-preference. If my hunch is true—that more people in Baltimore will travel to more places by bikeshare thanks to the new pedelec bikes—it’d be great to find a way to make sure that’s what’s added to the system.

This article is cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington

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A shot of Baltimore landmarks you can now take bikeshare to. Photo by author.

There’s a plan for more rail options in Baltimore, and it doesn’t involve the Red Line

The Red Line might not be happening, but that doesn’t mean Baltimore’s transportation needs have gone anywhere. A plan from 2007 recommends new stations on the MARC’s Penn Line and make it easier to travel to and from Baltimore as well as within the city itself.

Baltimore's existing heavy rail lines, along with potential MARC stops and the now cancelled Red Line route. The 2007 Plan also discusses possibilities for expanding the Camden Line. Base image from Google Maps.

Baltimore’s existing heavy rail lines, along with potential MARC stops and the now cancelled Red Line route. The 2007 Plan also discusses possibilities for expanding the Camden Line. Base image from Google Maps.

Assembled by the Maryland Transit Administration, the 2007 MARC Growth & Investment Plan featured a number of rail projects, many of which would invest heavily in Baltimore. Adding more MARC stations to Baltimore would also amount to intracity service, removing some of the sting of losing the Red Line investment.

2013 draft update omits stations and improvements planned for the city. There isn’t an explanation for why.

Moving forward with the Penn Line stations identified in the 2007 plan would provide many more places to access or depart Baltimore on the MARC regional rail line. (The 2007 plan also calls for major Camden Line investments, but they are less shovel ready)

The plan includes three new stations on the Penn Line, which runs from DC Washington’s Union to Station to Perryville, Maryland, near the Delaware border.

1.The first is Bayview, near the Baltimore City/County line. Bayview would be a strong choice for a transportation investment because has easy access to Interstates 95 and 895 and park & ride opportunities, a major hospital, and dense neighborhoods nearby. Bayview is also easy drive from large suburbs in Baltimore County such as Essex and Middle River.

Bayview was meant to have a connection to the Red Line and has considerable station planning work was completed on the $60 million project. Of all the proposed new stations, this one is the most shovel ready.

2. The second is Madison Square, in the center of East Baltimore. The 2007 plan specifically calls for proposes a connection to the Metro Green Line and Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is one of the region’s largest job centers. A stop here would provide regional rail access to Northeast Baltimore, an area currently unconnected to any passenger rail network.

3.Finally, the plan proposes a station at Upton in West Baltimore, with a proposed connection to the Metro Green Line. This proposed stop is near the epicenter of the 2015 riots. Completing this connection would require making a station that links connection between the subway and the train tunnels that pass over each other.  Work on the B&P Tunnel is being planned now.

Riders leaving the MARC at Baltimore's Penn Stations. Would more stations on the Penn Line help transit in the city? Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Riders leaving the MARC at Baltimore’s Penn Stations. Would more stations on the Penn Line help transit in the city? Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The MARC lines are regional in scope, but by adding stations in dense populated neighborhoods outside of downtown on both sides of the city, Baltimoreans would have more access to the line. Those coming into Baltimore, will also have much greater choice of places to get off that might be closer to their destinations.

More MARC stations in Baltimore could attract jobs

When it was still on the table, a lot of people called the Red Line the “jobs line” because it would have connected so many of Baltimore’s densest employment clusters, especially near the harbor and in Baltimore County. The MARC Penn Line runs about three miles north of the Red Line alignment, and while the proposed stations are in places with fewer jobs, they’re still close to large residential populations.

That means new Penn Line stations could very well attract new jobs in the future. Like the Red Line, the MARC lines cross from west to east (although the Red Line was to go much further west into Baltimore County). Adding stations on the Penn Line at Bayview and Madison Square in particular, appear to be feasible. With multiple new stations within Baltimore and more frequency, it could create “transit-like” service through Baltimore. If that were to happen, it would be an economic jolt for neighborhoods in the city’s interior.

As the state and city discuss transportation improvements for Baltimore, the 2007 MARC Investment Plan for Baltimore should be on the table. Adding MARC service and stations in Baltimore is not a substitute for the Red Line, but it would do a lot of good in different areas of the city.

A similar article has been posted at Greater Greater Washington

Jeff La Noue

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?

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

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

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