Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Bridge to Nowhere (Again)

A $10.4 million bridge to HarborPoint is not a bridge to nowhere in the sense that HarborPoint wouldn't be a worthy destination. Not even in the sense that there is nowhere for cars to go: Quite to the contrary, there will be more than 3,000 parking spaces on the peninsula and one can foresee that cars would want to use them.

So what is the problem then?

The issue of "nowhere" is more one of the street capacity in the area. While the bridge may allow cars to get elegantly on and off the HarborPoint peninsula, the streets are so clogged that they don't have the capacity to take thousands of additional cars, no matter how quickly they can pass the four lane bridge.

Proposed Bridge design. Source: BBJ/JMT
The bridge is now a done deal and part of the $47 million Central Avenue streetscape and reconstruction project. The funds come in part from the approved TIF, in part from the City and federal sources. The job was bid and awarded, JMT is the engineer. According to the BBJ, UDARP didn't much care for the design suggested by the Design-Build team.  But the bridge designers can hardly come up with an adequate design for a bridge that is way too low, too wide and too overloaded with lanes and wrongly conceived in the first place. Additional enhancements may come from the inclusion of art managed by BOPA per a RFP issued late last year.
Streetscape rendering Central Avenue
(Source: City of Baltimore)

The new development on HarborPoint needs access, of course, even more so, after the Red Line with its nearby underground station was cancelled. The prospects for transit are dim: The Baltimore Link bus 2.0 system only touches Harbor East at its northern edge at Eastern Avenue with the exception of the newly extended Express Link 150 with three buses each in the morning and evening servicing the area directly. Of course, there is the Circulator which was created to connect peripheral underused parking and centrally located downtown areas too valuable to build parking. Then there is the water taxi that needs a stop at HarborPoint and is currently in negotiation for a renewal of the license. There is no reason why water access could not become a solid transit connection.
City dock before the bridge

Once self driving cars will become common, (hopefully in the form as for-hire service vehicles like automated Uber or taxis) the thousands of spaces planned for HarborpPoint become an obsolete investment and will probably never fully materialize. But the city bridge will be constructed as a monument to failed transportation, just like the "highway to nowhere". In that sense, this, indeed, is already now a "bridge to nowhere", no matter how much UDARP will succeed in making it prettier through tough design review.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article

Previous article about the bridge on this site making the same point