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

 

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Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Poised to kick out Millennials

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Thirteen million visitors a year come to the Inner Harbor.  The city has much to gain if it puts its physically active young professionals out front on display.  By playing at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore Beach Volleyball helps create a desirable healthy active image for the city. Instead of being celebrated, Baltimore Beach’s millennials are getting kicked off-stage.

The Inner Harbor has been home to Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) for eleven years.  BBV has 2500 weekly participants, plays games seven days a week from May to September. It draws players who are 87% millennials, or adults between 20-34, 88% single (in case you’re looking), and 37% come from outside of Baltimore City, according to Todd Webster, who runs the league. BBV has been touted as the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the east coast, hosted games for the International Olympic committee, and become a permanent stop on the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tour. Baltimore ought to give BBV the proverbial keys to the harbor, instead there are plans to boot the volleyballers from the Inner Harbor to Swann Park. This is an unambiguous demotion to a low visibility location two miles to the south in the shadow of Interstate 95.

 

IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

The city of Baltimore, Waterfront Partnership, and Greater Baltimore Committee recently released  The Inner Harbor II (IH2 ) plan , which looks at ways to improve open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV’s courts and an existing park as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial with a  subterranean parking garage topped by an oval grass lawn and a small sand “destination.” How this lawn will be programmed is unclear.  The plan will cost $40 million, though parking revenues will likely offset some of these costs.

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field needs a refresher.  But the results of a citizen survey say about the area suggest that residents prefer more local retail in the area and want to address the lack of activity in some parts of the harbor. The plan does not ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.

There are good ideas in the plan, like the pool barge. But unfortunately, leaders are rushing to start with Rash Field,  a controversial and expensive part of the plan. How did the architects choose a grass oval lawn and sand lot for the top of the garage?  How is the proposed lawn not redundant with West Shore Park and grassy Federal Hill?

Baltimore and the Inner Harbor planners would benefit if they mixed-in some of the affordable ingenuity demonstrated by Janette Sadik-Khan’s New York City project portfolio.  Her matra: “Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out.”   She loves to talk about how Times Square was successfully transformed with lawn chairs and paint. All urbanists should view her Ted Talk.

Instead of replicating park-like amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things citizens asked for and retain an existing draw, all at a much lower cost. Beach volleyball could be an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, seasonal activities, and tables overlooking the courts. The space could also accommodate other activities like bocce, ping pong, yoga, zumba, stationary bikes, and kayaks.

Meanwhile, the Rash Field garage is not only expensive, but unnecessary with the existing 45,000 parking spaces in downtown Baltimore.  Has the city studied the possibility of valet parking service operating from the visitors’ center as an alternative? A valet service might make better use of existing parking capacity, be more convenient for visitors, and provide jobs. To increase access, extend  Charm City Circulator coverage to more neighborhoods. Creating a safe network of cycle-tracks to serve bicycles and bikeshare, which will launch this July, on the bike-unfriendly roads ringing the Inner Harbor would help.

In addition, building the parking garage will disrupt a public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for locals and tourists.  A parking facility isn’t enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and disruptive effect on the area.

The view from Federal will soon look a lot like this

The view from Federal Hill will soon look a lot like this

This plan also would have an impact on the city’s millennial community.   Many young professionals seek healthy and active social amenities. The data shows clearly that millennials are driving Baltimore’s growth more than any other generation.  For young professionals, Baltimore Beach Volleyball is arguably the Inner Harbor’s top draw.  Unceremoniously kicking them out will not be viewed charmingly by this opinionated generation.

Millennials heavily populate nearby neighborhoods and have brought new life to the city. Why not ask them to help program the harbor?

JL

crossposted at Greater Greater Washington, Rustwire, and Sustainable Cities Collective

Baltimore Bikeshare needs a Tango Partner: Better Bicycle Infrastructure

MDOT is requesting $882,000 for the implementation of “Charm City Bikeshare.”  44 stations and 425 bicycles are envisioned. Great news!  However, it takes two to tango, and Baltimore will still need better bicycle infrastructure to create a beautiful dance in Charm City. Baltimore has made strides, but Bicycle Magazine is probably on target ranking Charm City  48th out of its top 50 US bicycling cities. Baltimore falls right behind Fargo, North Dakota and Anchorage, Alaska on the list.

To leap ahead of our frost covered competition, Baltimore should build a bike friendly infrastructure network, focusing on its destination rich center to complement Bikeshare. Envision a resident or a visitor starting their Charm City Bikeshare experience in Inner Harbor East. “Sharing” a bike to reach the Convention Center, Camden Yards, University of Maryland Baltimore/Hippodrome, or Penn Station, are all indirect awkward bicycle trips. However, these are the kind of bread and butter trips that make for a successful  Bikeshare system.

Construction crews should be racing to build a generous bi-directional bicycle-only cycle tracks on:

  • Pratt Street from MLK to Inner Harbor East
  • Maryland/Park Avenue extending from Pratt Street to Penn Station/JHU/Charles Village
  • Light Street/Key Highway  extending to Ft. Mchenry/Under Armour
Proposed core cycletrack network (yellow) Approximate Jones Falls Trail (green)

Proposed core cycletrack network (yellow) Approximate Jones Falls Trail (green)

Cycle tracks covering the above territory would provide a core network while giving future Bikeshare users the desired infrastructure in the heavy traffic places that should matter the most. The costs would not be inconsequential, but pale in comparison with other transport infrastructure. It is not a whole lot more than barrier curbs and paint. Other cities are creatively funding these types of projects using local and federal dollars.

The quality of Bike friendly infrastructure on Pratt Street is a telling barometer of how serious the city is about making bicycling a serious transportation option. Pratt Street is home to more square footage of office, retail, restaurants, and visitor attractions than any other 1.5 mile stretch in the region.  It is arguably Baltimore’s premier main street.  This corridor is plenty-wide to incorporate a generous (bicycle only) bi-directional cycle track.  A city that has a Complete Streets Law and looking to advance its Bike friendly bronze rating should prioritize its priority streets for bike infrastructure.

Cycle tracks should be designed within the Pratt Street corridor

A bi-directional cycle track should be designed within the wide Pratt Street corridor

Pratt Street-Baltimore's unofficial main street

Pratt Street-Baltimore’s unofficial main street has poor bicycle facilities

Many Baltimore readers might ask, what about the Jones Falls Trail (JFT) along Pratt Street? It is not adequate.  Here are my reasons:

  • The JFT only traverses four of the roughly 18 blocks between MLK and Inner Harbor East.
  • The JFT doesn’t connect the stadiums, UMB, the convention center, Inner Harbor East, etc.
  • The JFT is a confluence of slow-moving humanity. On nice days, the trail is packed with moms, strollers, children, sports fans, tourists…. It is the ultimate bike/ped conflict hazard zone.  In places with this many people, bicyclists need a bike only cycle track.
Too many people crowd the Jones Falls Trail to be bike friendly-notice bicyclist walking astride bike.

Too many people crowd the Jones Falls Trail to be bike friendly-notice bicyclist walking astride bike.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Montreal and use the Bixi Bikeshare and their route verte system for almost every trip we made within the city.  Bixi worked so well that sometimes it was hard to find a bike because so many were in use. Montreal has built cycle tracks all over the city and they function as a real transportation network serving all generations.

Author on Bixi and Montreal Cycle track

Author on Bixi and uptown Montreal Cycle track

Montreal’s cycle tracks:

  • Directly connect the most important places people want to go
  • Avoid crisscrossing back and forth from one side of the street to the other and maintain straight ahead paths
  • Are geared toward bicyclists (separated from pedestrians and car traffic)
  • Include bicycle traffic signals, plentiful bicycle parking, and directional signage

A section of the cycletrack running parallel to the downtown waterfront in Montreal

Baltimore should be applauded for pursuing bike share. Baltimore is an ideal bicycling city  with clustered destinations and neighborhoods like pearls on a string.  However, to meet its potential, an efficient cycle track network starting in the core of the city should be implemented. Bikeshare is not unlike; roads, the internet, sewers, subways, and cell phones. The network is just as important as the bikes and it does not work well when clogged, indirect, or disconnected. What do you think Baltimore needs to be a Bikeshare success story?

JL

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