Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Even without the Red Line: These things need to be done!

This is the second article about the "future of transit in the Baltimore region" after the termination of the Red Line and the first half of a ten point list of projects that should be done anyway.

What is easily forgotten, now after the Red Line was cancelled, are the corollary improvements that were supposed to be "leveraged" through the nearly three billion dollar investment.

I mean the stuff to the left and right of the "right of way. It was mentioned in the Community Compact: Stuff not budgeted in the transit project itself: Improvements to communities, transit oriented development, community development, walkways, trails, services, landscaping and new community gathering spaces. Items hundreds of residents had had distilled from visions, aspirations and deficits in countless community gatherings.
As MTA and local governments decide on a Red Line Alignment, Baltimore City will develop and fund a Red Line neighborhood investment strategy to enhance the quality of life in Red Line station communities.. (Community Compact)
With the transit dollars gone, these needs remain as much as the transit needs themselves, and so does the urgency for them to be met. Originally thought to be "leveraged" by the transit investment, it is now time to reverse the logic and make these investments first so they can leverage the transit eventually.

The Beltline in Atlanta presents a good example of this reversal: After voters turned down the grand idea of a circumferential rail line that tied the four ends of the two Atlanta subway lines into one giant circle, the idea did not die. Not being able to build the transit line, supporters in the Atlanta region created non-profits which set out to build on the "land-side" what would have been transit oriented development had the rail line been approved. With "land-side" I mean all the things outside the right of way for the transit line itself.
Atlanta Beltline: Progress before the transit line

In Atlanta the agencies protected the right of way so that the transit line could be dropped in later. But instead of doing nothing but waiting for a better day, they built trails in and to the corridor, created nodes and built pedestrian and bike access routes all around the beltline. At critical junctures they built affordable housing. Now, some years later and after all those investments, the Atlanta Beltline seems to be so much more inevitable. On their website they even say "the line is already here":
The Atlanta BeltLine is already here – with more to come! Four trail segments are open, six spectacular new or renovated parks are now open for public enjoyment, and new affordable housing is making it easier to live along the corridor. The Atlanta BeltLine Race Series and Art on the Atlanta BeltLine are now can’t miss events, energizing and enlivening the community. Much work remains, however, and it will occur in phases through 2030. Exciting new things happen every day along the Atlanta BeltLine!
The City of Atlanta has partnered with the Beltline non-profit for the construction of the first surface rail line in the Atlanta region since MART built the subway around the time Baltimore built its own (same coaches). By the way, Beltline CEO Paul Morris participated in the initial West Baltimore community visioning sessions.

What can Baltimore learn from this and what should we build, even now after the Red Line was denied construction? What follows is a list of projects and initiatives that had been identified around Red Line stations in careful community review and grass roots planning. I list some after having worked on the project for thirteen years and after years of evening meetings with communities and stakeholders. My list is far from complete, representative or properly prioritized. Some of the graphics don't show the latest state of engineering before the project was cancelled. Just for the sake of a round number I list ten items. These plans shall simply serve as a reminder that there are things that still need to be done, even if there are no Red Line stations! Because of the ongoing angst about traffic and density in Canton, I will begin the list on the eastern half of the Red Line corridor. An additional article will complete the western half.

1.     Bayview MARC station and Park and Ride
The Red Line was supposed to terminate at a new station along the MARC line coming in from Perryville. The station was to act as an intermodal point and transfer between regional and more local travel and was to include a large Park and Ride lot with concept designs commissioned by the City. A MARC station at Bayview is still important for the Hopkins Bayview medical campus. It along with a Park and Ride could become an important element of reducing the influx of automobiles into the fragile road network of Highlandtown, Brewers Hill Canton and Fells Point. It can also be the beginning of making MARC a part of urban transit in the segment from Middle River to BWI.
The Bayview Campus and the area identified for a MARC
station (top) and a P&R lot (top left, yellow)

2.     Highlandtown connection to Greektown
The proposed Red Line Station was supposed to be the element that would begin to connect Greektown with Highlandtown by building a strong pedestrian spine towards the station and by converting the Crown, Cork and Seal company campus into a mixed use TOD area. It was a classical case of using transit to turn community edges into a center. Much of this should proceed even if there won’t be a rail station anytime soon.
Highlandtown and Greektown are separated by rail lines and underused old
factories. The station was supposed to knit it all together

3.     Canton Crossing Park and Ride
The park and ride are envisioned across from the Canton Crossing Shopping center was anticipated as an intercept point where Boston Street drivers could transfer to transit. This function could occur still if a high capacity and frequency bus would stop here and reduce the congestion on the Boston Street corridor by increased transit usage.
The Canton Crossing P&R lot could still serve to intercept
incoming commuters for a reduction of congestion on
Boston Street and in Fells Point

4.     HarborPoint transportation management
HarborPoint with 3.7 million square feet of development was envisioned as the largest TOD development in the Red Line corridor. With or without the Red Line the peninsula or surrounding areas will not be able to handle a large influx of additional automobiles, the misguided planned large Central Avenue bridge to the peninsula notwithstanding. Absent the Red Line strong employer based transportation management strategies are needed to incentivize other modes of transportation than cars
Haborpoint (in pink) is a peninsula slated for 3.7 million
sf of new development including the Exelon tower
currently under construction. 

5.     A downtown bus hub
No matter what the talk about improved bus transit will yield, the geometry of downtown will remain the same without much space for transit hubs or improved amenities. The Red Line would have removed some of the pressure from bus service and moved many riders to rail and underground. With that relief no longer in sight, careful consideration should be given to the areas that act as pseudo hubs today (Saratoga at Eutaw, Fayette at Eutaw, Baltimore at the Arena, Paca at Saratoga, Lexington Market etc.). A potential hub could be built where the current City owned Arena sits if relocation plans become more real. Even if this isn’t imminent, the city should have a strategy for the future use of this area in mind before the situation becomes acute. Another less central area with extra space is the abandoned Social Security West area which may offer opportunities for a Westside hub.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Part 2 see here

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