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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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

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