Baltimore’s car-stuffed waterfront is poised to keep adding more cars

Fancy office towers, hotels, museums, and tourist attractions line the contours of Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay harborfront. So too, do massive parking garages and interstate-sized roadways that feed them. What does the future hold? According to a new plan, still more parking.

Baltimore waterfront parking garage

One of several waterfront parking garages at Baltimore’s harbor. All photos by author.

Like much of America, Baltimore waterfront development since the age of cars has been designed for the age of cars. That looks likely to continue as the waterfront grows.

The Greater Baltimore Committee and Waterfront Partnership hired architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross to prepare Inner Harbor 2.0, an overarching new plan for reinvigorating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront.

The Director of Landscape Architecture for Ayers Saint Gross, Jonathon Ceci, said about a parcel of harborfront currently covered by beach volleyball courts, “The site is basically an island cut off from the rest of the Inner Harbor. Besides Key Highway [on one side], you’ve got the water [on the other side] and a lack of parking garages. The question was, how do you make it a magnet for urban activity?”

How does Ceci plan to create “a magnet for urban activity”? Apparently, with parking garages. The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan recommends a $20 million garage on this waterfront site at a public cost of $12-14 million.

Baltimoreans should question the line of thinking that big garages are the best magnets for urban activity. Big garages and wide roads go hand in hand. They create the “island effect” that Mr. Ceci wants to eliminate.

Baltimore’s near waterfront has more high-rise parking spaces than high-rise residential units with waterfront views. There are at least 6 waterfront parking garages, and at least 14 large parking garages within one block of the waterfront. At least 9 parking garages rise to between 7 and 12 stories tall. The waterfront has around 4,500 parking spaces already planned or under construction: 4,000 at the Horseshoe casino and about 500 at Rash field.

Meanwhile, the one-way street pairs adjacent to the harbor have 10 lanes of through traffic, while at many times, cars cannot make it through a light in one cycle. Baltimore has used these streets for 180-mile per hour races.

What Baltimore’s waterfront has gained by attracting tens of thousands of cars it might have lost by being unfriendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, urban livability, and more local populations. Walkers can enjoy a promenade ringing the water, but to venture inland, they have to cross many lanes of unfriendly traffic. These physical road barriers separate the water from Baltimore’s traditional downtown and may limit economic development from more easily sweeping inland.

 

A family racing to safety at Baltimore's Inner Hrabor

A family racing to safety at Baltimore’s Inner Hrabor

Ironically, all the car infrastructure may not make car driving easy. Supersized roads and garages contribute to congestion that can offset cars’ theoretical time-saving advantages. Driving across town and up and down garages sometimes is slower than walking and bicycling. The business case for more parking erodes if corresponding congestion leads to traffic jams and stress.

Pratt Street

Rush hour traffic near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

By adding four high frequency Charm City Circulator bus routes, Baltimore has made progress. It can do much more to shift the balance.

Here are some additional ideas to consider near the waterfront:

  • Create an app that directs cars to affordable satellite parking spaces.
  • Create a tax on new parking garages and dedicate the revenue to non-automotive transportation.
  • Let developers choose to pay into an alternative transportation fund instead of building parking as required by zoning.
  • Encourage parking at outlying transit stations that serve downtown.
  • Re-introduce and enforce bus-only lanes downtown.
  • Create peripheral park & ride lots with frequently departing shuttles servicing downtown, similar to the way airport shuttles work.
  • Create iconic Inner Harbor bus shelters.
  • Operate Camden Line trains on weekends for special events and Orioles games.
  • Ask the Orioles to reward fans for not bringing a car.
  • Create a discounted MTA family pass.
  • Ask downtown employers to create financial incentives for employees to not bring a car.
  • Build Pratt Street and Key Highway cycletracks to support bicyclists and bikeshare.
  • Add Charm City Circulator routes to South Baltimore, Canton, the Casino parking garage, and new park & ride locations.
  • Make sure the east-west Red Line moves forward.

Baltimore’s waterfront must be accessible to people who own cars. However, with more affordable, safe, and convenient alternatives, some drivers would be happy to visit the city’s downtown waterfront, while leaving the car outside of the city center.

Jeff La Noue

cross posted on Greater Greater WashingtonSustainable Cities Collective , and Rustwire

 

Do Baltimore Magazine’s “Best Places To Work” promote gridlock?

Many employers give us no commuting choices.     Photo by biofriendly,  Licensed under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0 Generic

Many employers give us no commuting choices. Photo by biofriendly, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0 Generic

Area magazines often issue lists of the “Best Places to Work,” but they don’t consider what the commute to those places is like. The real best places to work shouldn’t make employees sit in traffic for hours each day.

Each year, Baltimore Magazine releases its list of the Best Places to Work, based on factors like salaries, benefits, career mobility, and workplace culture.Washingtonian Magazine has a similar ranking.

But when my wife comes home from work, she does not talk about her employer’s 401K plans, her healthcare, or the free gym. Most often, I hear about how long or stressful her commute by car is.

I try to empathize, but my commute is a leisurely fifteen-minute bike ride that I love, or a two-stop light rail ride when it rains, getting me to work relaxed and clear-headed. Shouldn’t magazines talk about those things, too?

“Best Places to Work” rankings don’t talk about commutes

Virtually every rush hour, one or more of our major regional highways is backed up when some unfortunate driver’s car is mangled in a so-called car-b-que. The DC area usually ranks among the highest in the nation for traffic congestion, while Baltimore isn’t far behind.

Beyond causing stress and eating up time, commuting by car can be dangerous. In 2010, Maryland had 493 traffic deaths. 296 were in passenger cars or light trucks vs one fatality in a bus. 383 fatal car crashes were on urban interstates.

Meanwhile, employers on the Baltimore Magazine list highlight commuting options with about the same frequency as company picnics and employer-paid pet insurance. Of the top 25, there are only eight employers with a walkscore rating over 70. A high walkscore can indicate whether an employee can walk to a place to eat, to live, or a central bus or transit line from their workplace.

Six of the eight employers are in downtown Baltimore with lots of amenities and transit within easy reach, while one is in Towson, a walkable downtown in its own right. The seventh, America’s Remote Help Desk, is in Eldersburg in Carroll County, which isn’t a walkable area but earns a high walkscore due to being in a shopping mall with shops and restaurants. The middle seven are somewhat walkable. The remaining 10 companies are in more remote or isolated locations where driving to work is likely the only feasible option.

By walkscore (WS) ranking, Baltimore Magazine’s “Best Places to Work”:

Baltimore Magazine Top 25 Employers (2013) The higher the walkscore the greater the ability to get around without a car.

Baltimore Magazine Top 25 Employers (2013) The higher the walkscore the greater the ability to get around without a car.

Another way to measure the “best places to work”

Some area employers recognize that the best perk might be a variety of commuting options. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore’s largest employer, deserves credit. Its hospital is located at a Metro subway stop and has six bus lines. It runs an express shuttle service connecting its Homewood and medical campuses with Penn Station.

Hopkins is making investments so its community can conveniently live, shop, and play near each campus without a car. As importantly, Johns Hopkins has a robust Live Near Year Work program with downpayment/closing cost grants of up to $36,000, and is investing in the local public schools and business districts near its campuses as part of its Homewood Community Partners Initiative.

Let me tout my employer, the University of Baltimore. It has a 403b plan, comprehensive health and dental coverage, a free, full-service gym and library. But it also offers many choices for where its employees can live and how they get to work.

It’s within walking distance of many types of housing with different price points. Employees can choose to walk to work, and some do. Those who live slightly further out have the option of biking to work with new cycletracks on Maryland Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, as well as the Jones Falls Trail, which I use.

The university offers discounts on Maryland Transit Administration service, meaning employees can take advantage of the 5 nearby bus lines, the MARC Penn Line, the light rail, and the subway, as well as a fleet of Zipcars. Penn Station, across the street, offers Bolt Bus and Amtrak.

If my colleagues want to be on the highways, go to Jiffy Lube, replace the tires, they can. But they don’t have to. Having the choice is a benefit.

There are many ways to get around.  Image source: Jeff La Noue

There are many ways to get around. Image source: Jeff La Noue

As employers and office developers across the region make decisions about where to locate and to build, it is time to give employees choices about transport. There should be no more LEED-rated, “green” buildings in the middle of auto-oriented sprawl that costs employees their time, money, and health.

Greater Baltimore has plenty of available real estate a short walk from transit stations. There are office infill opportunities on or near commercial main streets and within walking distances of where people live. State Farm in Atlanta is one of many big employers who are moving to more transit-friendly locations.

But employers may not feel the need to offer employees more travel choices unless it’s recognized as a desirable feature. Baltimore Magazine, how about adding commuting alternatives in the criteria for your “Best Places To Work 2014” list?

JL

Cross posted on Greater Greater Washington, Sustainable Cities Collective , the American Public Transportation Association’s publication  Passenger Transport and profiled on Streetsblog and Planetizen

MARC Train Edge Cities-They Don’t Exist, Yet

We splash cold water on our early morning faces before heading to Baltimore’s Penn Station in the dark where I  drop my wife to catch the 5:50AM MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) train departing Baltimore Penn Station for Washington Union, where she will then transfer to the DC METRO and arrive at her work site by 7:30. Based on time and cost, this is a better choice than driving through AM and PM rush hours in two cities, which she has also experimented. I work in Baltimore, but have meetings in DC’s Maryland suburbs.  Right now, we are a couple straddling the Baltimore/ Washington region. We are not alone.

It is not surprising that corporate offices and sprawling suburbs are consuming the green fields between the beltways. By being in the middle, families and businesses can access the employment, cultural, airport and other benefits of both metros.   It is also not surprising that traffic is terrible and there is pressure to use tax payer dollars to widen or create roads. (ICC)

Corporate sprawl 2

Image: Corporate sprawl between Baltimore and Washington alienates transit riders

The status quo development (above image) between the cities is comprised of both corporate and residential sprawl a few miles from MARC stations, but useless to arriving train passengers. The US Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED rating system need to play a role.  USGBC should not be giving isolated land gobbling sprawl producers green credentials for energy efficiency when  these same buildings require inefficient commuting.

What is surprising is there is nary a sprout of an urban cosmopolitan edge city that is oriented around a MARC train station between Penn and Union Stations.  Arlington, Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring are small cities that have grown up around Washington Metro Stations. Kaid Benfield has covered the Arlington success story and Chris Leinberger has described the growth of what he calls “walk up” development that is becoming so prevalent in the Washington Metro Area. By contrast, all seven MARC Penn Line stations between Penn and Union or “stations in the middle” (SIM), lie in a desert of surface parking lots (there is a garage at BWI). It is difficult to even get a cup of coffee at most of these outposts. What is also important to note, that MARC trains can deliver a passenger from these SIMs to the center of Washington (and Baltimore) roughly as fast and more comfortably as the Washington Metro (or car) from the aforementioned edge cities’s metro stations.

MARC Stations 2

Image: Lots of urban development opportunity at the underdeveloped MARC stations between Baltimore and Washington. Bowie State University and BWI stations shown.

While this author advocates for infill development inside the beltways, he acknowledges the demand for development in between.  It is time to start urban mixed-use development along the MARC Penn and Camden Lines. MDOT proclaims they are open for business partnerships and have a transit-oriented-development (TOD) underway at Odenton.  Private sector developers have made lots of money building urban product at Washington Metro Stations, particularly in Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There is potential for similar opportunity adjacent to MARC stations.

So why has scattered growth continued between the two cities while MARC stations remain the nucleus of constellations of barren commercial-less surface parking?  I speculate the issue is structured parking.  With cheap available green fields, why build the more expensive structured parking for more urban development patterns?  The reason for change is this.  There are an increasingly large number of consumers and employees who operate between Baltimore and Washington that prefer a hassle free train ride complemented by a short walk to an office, a restaurant, a hotel, or a residence on both ends, especially in a cosmopolitan urban environment. There is a premium for this in Bethesda and Arlington, and there will be at MARC stations.

BethArl

Image: Arlington (left) and Bethesda (right) are among several edge cities that have grown around their train station-each about 30 minutes from the center of Washington-the same as many MARC stations

Arlington TOD corridor

Image:  Arlington is being developed like pearls on a string with the densest development nearest the train stations. This is a model for MARC.  Source: Switchboard NRDC (left) and familypedia.wikia.com

To get on a roll at MARC stations, the public sector may have to help build and finance structured parking to open land adjacent to stations for development.  Stu Sirota, Principal of TND Planning Group, says there needs to be an overarching vision coupled with marketing. Stu  continues –  “A real regional planning effort  or charrette will show how all these station areas could become cool transit villages (or bigger) and what an incredible impact that could have on the Baltimore-Washington corridor.” Once there are a few hot spots along the line, the SIMs will be coveted real estate. It is time to get started.

Connecting Baltimore’s Trails

Loch Raven Reservoir

Image: Loch Raven Reservoir

Part I: Could the Jones Falls Trail and the Torrey Brown Trail connect?

Part II:  Connecting the Gwynns Falls Trail to the BWI Trail/B&A Trail-(The Patapsco Valley link)

One of the goals of the update of Maryland’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan (originally adopted in 2002) is to connect missing pieces in the infrastructure, but specific projects are not on the table for discussion now. This article intends to get a head start when the time comes. It is time to build the Baltimore Region’s “Super Trail.”

First, regional trails should not come at the expense of a micro-network of bicycle connections in our communities. Trail links to schools, shopping centers, main streets, transit stops, downtowns, and employment centers are the most useful bicycle investments.

With that being said, thoughtfully planned regional trails can complement the above while also providing opportunities for trail tourism, economic development, commuting, recreation, and a regional amenity that helps us compete with other regions in the quality of life category. There are many aspirational comparisons by  Towson’s business and political leaders to Bethesda. One of Bethesda’s gems is the Capital Crescent Trail that weaves through Downtown Bethesda before connecting to the Potomac River, C&O towpath, and on to Georgetown.

Proposed here is a new trail connection between the *Jones Falls Trail and the **Torrey C. Brown (NCR Trail)/York County Heritage Trail and filling a missing link in the East Coast Greenway. There are several options, but we also have a general route in mind.

Jones Falls Trail extension large

Jones Falls Trail extension small

Here’s why we think it is a good idea:

  • A much longer connected trail (approximately 70 miles) is better than two shorter disconnected pieces
  • Added beautiful scenery and recreational amenities (Lake Roland, Loch Raven Reservoir)
  • Useful for commuting and transportation to and between: light rail stations, Towson University/Goucher College, downtown Towson, GBMC, Shepherd Pratt Hospital and residential areas
  • Connects a densely populated area with recreational amenities
  • Will generate economic development and hotel visits. (Overnight trail users could stay in Hunt Valley, Towson, or Downtown Baltimore hotels)
  • Light rail can complement the trail for those who do not want to do the “whole thing”

Trails are not free to build.  The Jones Falls Trail costs are approximately $850,000 per mile.  Accordingly, this project would cost between 15-20 million to construct. The author thinks it is worth it.

Well-designed and utilized urban/suburban trails are multi-purposed investments because they can boost community health and provide new transportation options. This trail could also attract serious bicycle tourism.  Museums, the zoo, festivals, sports events, fishing, water sports, fine dining, historic sites, shopping,  hotels, can all be incorporated into a trail visit package.  Maryland can see a multi-faceted return on its investment by thoughtfully constructing the missing piece.

JL (Full disclosure – the author lives next to the Jones Falls Trail)

*The Jones Falls Trail (six miles) is a relatively new trail extending from the Baltimore Visitors Center (Gwynns Falls Trail) to the Cylburn arboretum with an extension planned to Mt. Washington. The trail goes through urban and natural settings. The trail passes historic sites and monuments, the Maryland Zoo, Druid Hill Park, and views of  Jones Falls River along its path.

**The Torrey C. Brown Trail (20 miles)/York County Heritage Trail (also 20 Miles) connect York, Pennsylvania with Ashland, MD. The trail has beautiful rural scenery, is very popular, and provides a large economic boost to the communities along the trail, York, Pa and New Freedom, Pa in particular.

Photos of a few of the places adjacent to the proposed trail connection

The Day You Became a Red Line Convert

harbor-point-renderingoriginal_600

Image source: Ekus Manfredi Architects

Traffic is going to create Red Line supporters. You may support the Red Line because you got a job working on the project or like the idea of not having to move your parked car, but your conversion will probably be a day when you and your car (or bus) do not make it through the traffic light cycle on President, Fleet, or Aliceanna Streets.  Baltimoreans will realize the existing streets cannot support the amount of traffic on the way.  If it hasn’t happened to you already, it is coming. It might be at rush hour, or when a festival is happening, or an event, or when there is a game at the ball park that is causing the delay. When it happens, you will be aggravated and you will wonder, “Is there any other way? “

It (traffic) is going to get worse, a lot worse.  Baltimore City as a whole might be treading population water, but the southeast waterfront neighborhoods are booming with development and downtown is adding many residents.  It will mean a lot more people (cars) on the same sclerotic streets we have now.

The impetus for Red Line conversions are going to happen at our clogged intersections. When we put on our “look into the near future glasses” we see:

Thousands more downtown residents (Mechanic site redevelopment pictured below) one of many downtown projects in the works

Mechanic-Rendering-A10

A full Union Wharf  

Union Wharf

A bustling Marketplace at Fells Point

Market Place at Fells

A built out Canton Crossing

Canton-Crossing-rendering

The Hanover Brewers Hill and The Gunther Apartments

Brewers Hill developmentThe-Gunther-at-Brewers-Hill-

And of course, the granddaddy of them all, the 2.9 million square feet Harbor Point traffic Armageddon.

new-size-of-harbor-point

All of the above projects will be finished or in progress before the Red Line even breaks ground.  All these and future projects will increase traffic. When we put on our 2021 glasses, the year the Red Line is expected to be operational; all evidence points to SE Baltimore being a far denser and economically more important than it is 2013.  People are often arguing about the Red Line based on 2013 transportation needs. That is unfortunate. The Red Line is about what we need to do today to be ready for 2021.  Between today and 2021, there will be a lot of aggravated people stuck in intersections who will become Red Line converts. Hopefully, we are wise enough in 2013 to keep the project on track!

JL

Red Line: An Opportunity for West Baltimore

The western side of Baltimore has a golden opportunity.  An opportunity of a generation.  An opportunity that if missed, will likely not come again in a long time.  This opportunity is the Red Line.

The author grew up on the west side of Baltimore and wants it to flourish. The area is home to tight-knit neighborhoods, a great variety of historic architecture, and the city’s biggest park; Gwynns Falls Leakin Park.  That has not been enough. Unfortunately, West Baltimore (city) has few large employers and is not seeing enough private investment flow in its direction.  This has an impact on quality of life.  The west side has a dearth of sit down restaurants, no movie-plexes, no hotels, and few thriving retail districts.  Despite the city’s overall uptick in population, the west side continues to hemorrhage residents, which results in too much crumbling housing and falling employment opportunities.

If the west side remains isolated and it does not try something new, it is hard to envision change.  The opportunity is right in front of us.  In the short run, the Red Line will put thousands to work. When it opens, the west side neighborhoods will be connected within minutes to over 113,000 downtown jobs and thousands more in southeast Baltimore. The Red Line will make easy transfers to MARC trains at West Baltimore and Camden Station, opening up the Washington region in ways never before realized. The Red Line also will make it convenient to visit restaurants, shopping, and events. Most importantly, the Red Line greatly improves the prospects for attracting new employers, restaurants, retail, and potential residents that have been spurning the west side for other parts of the region. Rail transit does not guaranty new investment as those of us in Baltimore are all too aware. However, transit-oriented-development is happening in traffic clogged cities all over the world, especially right down the tracks in Washington.  Thirty-four MARC minutes from the West Baltimore Station, New Carrollton envisions 5500 new apartment units and 6.1 million square feet of office and retail around its station.  Development at transit stations will eventually catch on here in Baltimore too, hopefully sooner than later.

Transit Oriented Development opportunity at the W. Baltimore MARC Station

Transit Oriented Development opportunity at the W. Baltimore MARC Station

Development at this West Baltimore Station is a lot more likely with these train connection combinations: 45 minutes to Washington Union Station, 34 minutes to New Carrollton and the Purple Line, 10 minutes to downtown Baltimore, and 10 minutes to Baltimore Penn Station. Image Source: West Baltimore MARC Station Master Plan

Improved transit could make development in West Baltimore more likely

Improved transit could make development in West Baltimore more likely

For households and businesses that need easy connections to Baltimore and Washington, development at the West Baltimore MARC would be ideal. Image source: West Baltimore MARC Station Master Plan

The residents and business owners of: Dickeyville, Franklintown, Rosemont, Allendale, Ten Hills, Hunting Ridge, Poppleton, Franklin Square, Union Square, Edmondson Village, Harlem Park, and other nearby neighborhoods will be the biggest beneficiaries. As it is often said “location, location, location….”  The Red Line  will again give West Baltimore a location advantage and the chance for new development that otherwise would not occur.

Maryland’s General Assembly is debating funding and the Red Line.  There are only so many times that your districts can be part of a $2.5 billion shot in the arm and the chance to transform the economic outlook for dozens of neighborhoods. It is time to seize the opportunity.

JL

Red Line: an Alternative to Scarce Parking

State transportation funding is coming down to the wire and Baltimore’s Red Line is at stake. Losing out on this $2.5 billion injection into Baltimore’s economy is one of the many reasons outlined nicely in this commentary. However, it’s also worth talking about the many ways the Red Line will help your parking situation especially if you live in or visit Southeast (SE) Baltimore.

Premium street parking in SE Baltimore

Everyone who has driven to downtown, Harbor East, Little Italy, Fells Point, Canton, and Greektown knows street parking is beyond a precious commodity and garage parking is expensive.  When there is an event like the Fells Point Fun Festival, parking is a nightmare. Everyday parking is no piece of cake either and has created regular tension between residents, businesses, restaurants, and retailers. The Red Line will help in a major way.

If a meager four percent of the Red Line’s projected 50,000 daily users who would otherwise be parking on downtown/Southeast neighborhood streets are riding the Red Line instead of driving, it would free up 2,000 street spaces.  That translates to over thirteen acres of parking.  To build the equivalent amount of spaces in new parking garages would cost in the ballpark of $40,000,000 and would likely cost far more than a transit ticket for users to park. As an added bonus, Red Line users will generally bypass another Baltimore problem, traffic congestion, by speeding under the most congested intersections.

For many in SE Baltimore, parking is their number one headache. Of note, much of the Red Line opposition in SE Baltimore comes from those with their own parking spaces. The Red Line is not going to solve parking scarcity in SE Baltimore, but it will be darn nice to have an another way to get around and an alternative to giving up a space that you may have worked very hard to find.

Canton Parking Baltimore Sun

Increasingly scarce parking in Canton                Image source: Barbara H. Taylor, Baltimore Sun

Fells Point Fun Festival

Where do people park at events like the Fells Point Fun Festival? Red Line will help.  Image source: City Data

baltimore-md traffic

The Red Line would go underneath this congestion         Image source: Business Insider

tight-parking-space funny

The future of street parking without the Red Line         Image source: signature 9

Savings from not owning a car

According to Consumer Expenditures in 2006, released in February of 2008 by the US Department of Labor’s US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average vehicle costs $8,003 per year to own and operate. Meanwhile, an annual MTA pass costs $768. Zipcars also provide an alternative to car ownership.

Let’s presume 20% of the 50,000 Red Line daily riders decide they don’t need a car (or a second  or third vehicle in their household). Assuming they all purchase a monthly MTA pass, that 20% of riders would collectively save more than $72 million per year.

Of course, if you don’t own a car you don’t have to park it.

Summary

If you don’t like:

  • searching for scarce parking
  • paying for parking
  • the cost of owning and maintaining one or more vehicles
  • having a landscape devoted to surface parking or garages
  • traffic congestion at intersections
  • having federal infrastructure dollars being spent outside of Baltimore

then the Red Line might be exactly what you need!

JL

Baltimore Better with Red Line

Baltimore Red Line Route Map

Baltimore Red Line route map

By Grant Corley, Chair of Red Line Now PAC

As this year’s General Assembly heads into the home stretch, it’s become clear that one of the most important economic development opportunities Baltimore has seen a generation could soon slip from our grasp.

Baltimore is in dire need of a well-connected, effective public transit system. This is no small matter. Cities around the nation — most notably, our friends down the road in Washington, D.C.  — are capitalizing on good public transportation networks to help attract residents, jobs, and investment.

Certainly, Baltimore does have its share of transit now. But we lack a fast, effective east-west transit route; this fact severely impedes the usefulness and ridership of the overall network.

There is a solid plan to fill this gap. The proposed Red Line would connect downtown with the city’s east and west sides, meeting up with the Metro, the light rail, the MARC, and hundreds of employment centers along the way.

The Red Line is a major investment in Baltimore and its people. It would be a boost for neighborhoods West and East, and it would connect the city in ways we haven’t seen in nearly a century.

But because no funding source has yet been secured, we are in danger of losing the Red Line — this month. This would be a big mistake for our city.

Baltimore’s legislators already have a heavy lift with school construction funding, the death penalty, and dozens of other issues. But I believe they can find the energy to address our transportation revenue issue.

Why should we be standing up and demanding the Red Line?

1. Economic activity and jobs creation. According to a study by the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, the construction phase of the Red Line is projected to generate more than $2 billion in economic activity, and nearly 10,000 jobs. 83% of those jobs would require less than an associate’s degree. This is relevant, because the Red Line’s community compact makes it a priority to create employment opportunities for city residents.

2. Jobs access for residents. Once completed, the Red Line will open up useful transit access to hundreds of job sites, both along its east-west corridor and via connections to other transit routes. This will provide expanded employment opportunities for the 35% of city residents who lack an automobile. It will also make more areas of the city accessible and desirable for employers to locate.

3. Ability to compete. 10,000 families? Here’s a news flash: young people today are choosing to live in cities with transit. They’re bringing talent and energy, and they’re starting new businesses and families. If Baltimore doesn’t make itself competitive for these up-and-coming urban dwellers, we’ll lose them to a dozen other cities. It’s worth noting that in 2012, the District of Columbia, with its remarkable Metro system and soon-to-be streetcar network, leapfrogged Baltimore in population for the first time in decades.

4. Neighborhood revitalization. Dozens of Baltimore communities need a major shot of investment. The Red Line, and the remarkably useful regional transit network it creates, can become a ribbon of strength weaving them together. Neighborhoods along Edmondson Avenue can build on that strength, attracting homeowners and businesses. The West Baltimore MARC station can become a hub of residential, business, and transit activity. The same goes for Highlandtown and Greektown, where the Red Line has become a cornerstone in those communities’ revitalization plans.

5. Ability to get around. Last but not least, a good transit system makes the city more useful for everyone. Parking-starved neighborhoods such as Fells Point and Canton are never realistically going to have a guaranteed space for every car — but the Red Line would give residents an attractive, convenient alternative to driving, as good transit has done in urban neighborhoods around the nation. Many of us who previously didn’t ride transit have begun to get a taste of its usefulness thanks to the Charm City Circulator. However, the Red Line would be a far more useful and permanent system, with regional economic importance.

March 2013 is make-or-break time for the Red Line and other state transportation projects. Gov. O’Malley and the General Assembly’s Democratic leaders have proposed a revenue package to pay for much-needed transportation and transit improvements in our congested state. But if our legislators from Baltimore don’t step up to secure funding for the Red Line — now — we lose a multi-billion-dollar investment in our communities and our city. If you want this investment, you need to contact your state legislators and tell them.

If Baltimore does somehow fail to build the Red Line, the enormity of the opportunity lost will become apparent over time. D.C. is already eating our lunch, all the while continuing to expand its transit options. Virginia has passed major transportation funding legislation. And Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties do have the political willpower to fund and build the similar Purple Line, which will improve those communities’ economy and quality of life.

If Baltimore fails where our neighbors succeed, the next generation of city residents will have a stark example of what might have been. Let’s hope they won’t look back and wonder why our city squandered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have in front of us now.

Red Line Station

Red Line Station

Life or Death: America’s Crosswalks

In Baltimore, there are good crosswalks out there, but there are more that are mediocre.  Many have the stripes worn away. Others are not prominent enough to slow oncoming drivers. The sad state of crosswalks often includes areas that garner walkscore.com ‘s prestigious “walkers paradise” rating. Next time you are on a walk, notice the street crossings. Are they prominent? Are they in good condition? Do they slow car traffic?

In health circles, advocates preach that walking is good for your health.  That is not true if you get mowed over by a car, truck, or SUV. Walking can be deadly. In 2009, 4092 pedestrians were killed and 59,000 injured in the US according to walkinginfo.org According to the New York Daily News, “about 19% of the 770 pedestrian fatalities from 2005 to 2009 (in New York)- roughly 150 deaths-were people crossing at an intersection with the walk signal in their favor.” Over the five year period, 335 deaths occurred at intersections controlled by traffic signals.  This means crosswalks are not doing a good enough job, and there is room for innovation and upgrades.

Family sprinting to safety

Family sprinting to safety

In the 2010 Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State, prepared for the Governors Highway Safety Association, the study makes no meaningful analysis regarding the quality or type of crosswalks in pedestrian safety, nor does it dive into vehicle speeds or road design in areas where pedestrians frequent.  It does offer impotent conclusions like “pedestrian fatalities are affected by the amount of walking” and “no single countermeasure can make a substantial impact.” Pedestrian infrastructure deserves an out of the cubicle analysis.

Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, argues walkability is the single factor to attracting and retaining business and entrepreneurial talent. Surely, playing frogger from one side of the street to the other is not part of the recipe for Speck’s walkable prosperity. Kaid Benfield has a persuasive post about poor walking conditions across America where he points out, that in 1973, sixty percent of American kids walked to school and by 2006, kids walking to school had dropped to 13 percent. Should walking to school in America be an unusual thing?  I don’t think so.

Pedestrian crossing sign near North Avenue light rail station

Pedestrian crossing sign near North Avenue light rail station

I write this post, because crosswalk (and street) design does not consume enough of the discussion about safety, walking for health, or economic revitalization. It should. Pedestrian planners are often not the ones with the big influence at DOTs or MPOs and their influence is not heard enough.  A notable exception may now be Los Angeles. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is championing the investment of 53 “Continental Crosswalks” starting implementation near transit lines and schools. These crosswalks will have a vehicle stop line, have wider stripes, and be more prominent than LA’s other 5250 crossings.   LA has recognized the challenge and is beginning to overhaul its pedestrian infrastructure.

If your town, suburb, or city needs better crosswalks, let people know. It may save someone’s life.  I’ll conclude with a slideshow of good and not so good crosswalks.

JL

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