Monday, August 1, 2016

North Avenue Rising From Hilton to Milton

The North Avenue Corridor and its neighborhoods

During the Mayoral primary campaign candidate Carl Stokes demanded a streetcar from Hilton to Milton, thus defining the full length of North Avenue.
Indeed, North Avenue represents like no other corridor the "other Baltimore". From end to end it traverses communities of color that have seen little investment for quite some time.
Streetcar on North Avenue at Penn and North
Demographics (from application)
North Avenue plays a vital role in Baltimore as
a corridor that connects neighborhoods and
institutions across the City. One of the few east-west
roadways that span the Jones Falls Expressway,
North Avenue is an important corridor for the local
economy. The avenue connects the Maryland
Transit Administration’s (MTA’s) Metro Subway and
Light Rail lines and is traversed by Baltimore’s
second-busiest bus line, carrying nearly 4 million
passengers annually – a figure that is expected to
grow as the MTA implements a new BaltimoreLink
bus network. North Avenue is also a designated
truck route and serves as US Route 1 through

Baltimore City. (from the TIGER Grant application)
This is why last week's news that MDOT and Baltimore's DOT was awarded a $10 million federal TIGER grant to fix up North Avenue was good news, especially since the federal dollars are matched with local and State dollars for an overall package of $27.3 million. (The project includes $14.7 million from the state, $1 million from the city of Baltimore and $1.6 million from the Federal Highway Administration. While this is peanuts compared to the Red Line that would have traversed another important east west corridor and certainly won't pay for Stokes' streetcar either, it allows to do a bit more than simple repaving.
Currently North Ave has two travel lanes in each direction
and parking on both side. Sections varies. (Photo: ArchPlan)

As is typical in the new world of scare public dollars, access to the money was competitive and required an application outlining ideas. The application had been prepared jointly by City DOT and MDOT under the title North Avenue Rising.

Already in 2014 the Neighborhood Design Center had worked with communities along sections of the corridor on streetscape plans that were released prior to the unrest. Bluewater Baltimore recently donated hundreds of street trees, some are already planted. City DOT has already concept plans for a redesign of the now world famous Penn-North intersection which was initiated after pedestrians were hit in crosswalks there that have very long crossing distances due to a diagonal position. MTA is interested in North Avenue as a major transit corridor. In the latest LINK plans it is shown to be served by the City LINK Gold Line. The intersection of North Avenue and Penn had also been of ULI Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) for its innate capacity for transit oriented development around the Metro station there.
Combined bus/bike dedicated lane on Lombard Street

The bulk of the project, $8.9 million, will focus on sidewalk and crosswalk improvements. Investments in transit infrastructure including bus stop shelters, transit signal priority at intersections, investments in the Penn/North Metro Station, and dedicated bus lanes amount to about $7.5 million. Funding for bicycle infrastructure makes up less than $1 million.

As part of the "complete streets" movement many cities have changed 4 lane arteries into two lane streets with protected bike/bus-lanes. Dedicated bus lanes taking up the second travel lane are generally in direct competition with protected bike-lanes. In conjunction with the LINK bus studies, MTA  does not consider designated shared bike/bus lanes as desirable. (Currently Baltimore has such a shared lane designated for bikes and buses on Lombard Street). However, where MTA and the City are planning to put dedicated bus lanes, bicycles will be allowed in those lanes. That will be indicated on the signage and where there is sufficient width striping make that clear as well. There are also some segments where there is space for a bike lane next to a bus lane. Both of these variants are shown in the image at bottom of this post.

However, recognizing that many bicycle riders won’t feel comfortable riding in a lane with buses, there is also funding for parallel bicycle facilities on slower, lower volume streets (20th & Baker) in order to provide bicycle infrastructure options for users of different skill levels.
Current bus stop on Penn & North (photo: ArchPlan)

MTA envisions several sections of designated bus lanes as part of the new LINK system, those lanes would be colored in red. In recent public meetings about bus lanes, North Avenue was not included in the presentation materials. In order to accommodate bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes on North Avenue, parking would probably have to be eliminated.

Whatever designs that have been prepared so far, they are preliminary at this point. One can hope that traffic engineers will involve urban designers and that the promising joint effort between MTA and City DOT will follow the lead of other cities which have discovered that
arteries with a single lane per direction can function very well and absorb nearly the same volumes as the four lane roads mostly because there is a more orderly flow.
Proposed enhanced bus stop at Penn and North
(from the application)

Proposed road section (from application)
North Avenue has seen its most pronounced improvements in the area of Station North with the significant investments made there by MICA, the Deutsch Foundation, Jubilee Baltimore and the Film Festival. On the western end Coppin has built a new Health and a Science Center facing North Avenue and Woda Development has built the new Gateway complex for affordable housing. Comparable investments on the east end do not exist.

Calling attention to North Avenue as one of the longest and most direct east west links will hopefully spur investment throughout all five miles.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

the article has been updated for additional information from MTA clarifying the bike policies suggested for the project. 
North Ave at Charles, 1937

Milkulski Press Release
SUN article
SUN article

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