Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Why downtown needs a bus hub and where it could be

With all the talk about the bus system to be ramped up so it can be a consolation prize for the loss of the Red Line rail line, it is time to recycle an old idea of mine, a downtown bus hub where the current Arena sits. This idea was once presented in the now defunct Urbanite and last modified when MDOT Secretary Flannigan investigated a downtown bus tunnel under Governor Ehrlich and when a tunnel wasn't necessary a "boondoggle" yet.
The Arena sits like a big plug in the Westside. Once relocated
big opportunities open up here

Before getting disgusted by the prospect of a whole city block full of Diesel spewing buses, read on: The hub is envisioned underneath a new fine-grained mixed use center that would rise where the Arena stood as a monolith blocking the old street patterns. Unplugging the Westside and opening the old Liberty and Redwood Street alignments was actually the main argument, but the bus hub is a good one as well.

Whatever high frequency, high speed and high capacity bus lines the Hogan transportation folks may come up with, they all need "land-side improvements" to truly live up to thos promising attributes, MTA operations improvements alone can't do it.

One of those "land-side" improvements is sufficient real estate for hubs where various transit modes or lines inter connect, and that is pretty much most of the Westside. Lots of crowded curbside stops,
Rendering of a new developed Arena site. The bus hub would be below, out of sight but not out of mind (ArchPlan Inc.)
lots of connections around-the-corner, plenty of congestion and not enough curb space to even fit all the buses pulling up. On the north side of the Arena, on Baltimore Street, 18 bus lines are listed to serve this one stop alone! Whatever plagues the Westside, it is not lack of transit service but certainly a lack of quality regarding "facilities" if one can even use this word for the scattered bus stops everywhere.

A bus transit center could sit below new parcels
that respect the old street grid (ArchPlan and
Matthew Fitzsimmons)
The idea of a spanking new Baltimore Arena have been floated by wealthy folks who wanted to realize them in part or in full. Proposals came namely from the late Whiting Turner CEO Willard Hackerman and after that from David Cordish who wants to build an new Arena on Piers Five and Six. Without endorsing that particular location, it seems like a given that eventually a new Arena would rise someplace.  I really endorse this not being the old location because, of the street blocking deadening plug effect such a mega structure has there, as I already noted and above photo demonstrates.

Imagine, then,  a new mixed use urban center that would let Redwood Street go through and Liberty follow its historic diagonal course all the way to Fayette Street and imagine further a larger basement under the full block currently occupied by the Arena and its garage. If you have ever been in Denver, you may be familiar with downtown underground bus hubs, Denver has two of those. Out of sight but not out of mind, these are the places where to find your bus connection. Instead of waiting at a curb stop in the rain blocking the path of pedestrians and aggravating the retail merchants around the stop, a facility that is half train station, half subway and has air conditioned waiting rooms with an array of electronic real time displays offers all the amenities that current bus riders lack in Baltimore.
Transit Density on the Westside
A bus hub could sit under the full site (ArchPlan Inc.)

When I first proposed the bus hub at the Arena site, I thought it would connect to three rail lines, the Metro, the Central Light Rail and the Red Line and it could knit those three rail stops together since they are a good block, a fact that always has been the subject of much criticism but that wasn't easy to alleviate. But by having a  large piece of  MTA controlled real estate devoted to transit like the bus hub connecting the rail lines the transfer would become seamless. Alas, the idea works with two rail lines as well!

So, when we get ready to engage on the question what the next round of transit improvements in Baltimore should look like, don't forget to considerthe downtown Westside transit hub under what is now the Arena!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Bus hub under the new Denver train station area (Photo ArchPlan)

The Denver Union Station bus hub is part airport, part subway and part train station
(Photo: ArchPlan) 

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