Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Give historic Camden Station purpose again!

The sports legends museum and the historic Camden train station building were never a match made in heaven. Instead, the convenience of having the famous Oriole Park right next door forced a theme on the restored station interior that did not resonate with the transportation setting. Attendance in the museum was spectacularly lower than originally estimated and even holiday receptions and celebrations felt awkward and made the old station an uncomfortable event space as well. On Columbus Day the museum announced it will close effective immediately.
Historic waiting hall of Camden Station

Now the question is, what next?

The owner of the station building and of the ballpark is the Maryland Stadium Authority. They will decide what the future of Camden Station will be. On occasion of that deliberation I'd like to insert an older issue into the debate that has to do with a victory of cars over transit that came with the construction of the stadium and the concurrent light rail line. As is well known, then Governor Schaefer had the right idea to build a train to the stadium so that a real downtown ballpark could rise, well integrated with the City and without the usual seas of asphalt around it. The result is history, a ballpark that has been the gold standard ever since and has been copied in city after city all across the US. But there is one hair in the soup which may have to do with the problems that the historic station house has with meaning.

Maybe the real problem of the railroad station head-house is that it is separated from actual rails by 300', a distance which represents the before mentioned victory of cars over transit that came when the Stadium Authority required a Conway Street exit for cars and tour buses. And so the tracks behind the station were moved.

Imagine, if the tracks and trains would been kept where the MARC station originally was, directly behind the historic station head-house with the new light rail tracks and station right next to them. The rehabilitated station building could have had a new lease on life as a transportation facility again, augmented with restaurants and shops, providing a much better connection for riders than that curvy walkway along a fence we have now. 
The relation of the historic Camden Station to the MARC and LRT station and to Camden Yards

Riders now are squeezed in between an Interstate that originates here and parking lots serving VIP stadium guests served by a "station facility" that was quickly thrown up there as a temporary fix when an air rights project above the tracks didn't materialize. Instead, the MARC station, just like the stadium, should have been be an integral part of downtown and downtown just doesn't extend south of Conway Street.

Of course, it hasn't become easier to solve the circulation issues since the time when the stadium opened, but priorities have shifted since. It would appear to be a legitimate question to ask if daily transit riders and the baseball and football fans who arrive by train should take the back-seat to the ingress and egress of VIP parking. Whether an under or overpass could solve the problem of the dividing tracks, is not clear, possibly a transit friendly solution would mean simply a pedestrian-only connection.  

Either way, the whole issue does warrant a second look while the MSA mulls over the future of the historic station.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

My firm ArchPlan worked on a presentation in 2001 that investigated how the Camden station could be improved and potentially become an intermodal station for the already then debated Maglev Station which was envisioned just north of the historic station. Below several images from that investigation.
a diagram of the two stadia, Camden Station, the Convention center (yellow) and the station/tracks

A 2001 diagram showing in solid yellow extending the tracks closer to the station again.
At the time a Maglev Station was envisioned for 2012 north of the historic station

Current conditions with the LRT tracks snaking around the historic station and Conway Street
being extended into the stadium lot

A Maglev station section with the historic station building beyond (Cho Benn Holback)
A sketch showing extended tracks and a pedestrian bridge across the tracks at Conway Street (ArchPlan Inc.)

The MARC/LRT facility space-frame designed as a temporary fix. Since the photo was taken MTA has
"enhanced" this facility with unsightly advertising banners concealing the space frame

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