Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why the delay of an unloved bridge is still bad news

Bad news about east Baltimore transportation are compounding across the modes. Complaints about insufficient bus connections, the missing Red Line, congested roadways, canceled and then reinstated bikeways, uninspired Central Avenue streetscaping and wrong-headed plans to widen Boston Street come together as the message that something is deeply wrong with Baltimore's transportation planning and mobility efforts, regardless whether one wants better transit, better roads or better bike facilities.
Promenade, biketrail and roadways are closed at Central Avenue
and Lancaster (Photo Philipsen, May 2017)

Today the Baltimore Business Journal reports that the Central Avenue bridge is delayed. In itself, this wouldn't be particularly surprising, delays and cost overruns happen all the time on complicated infrastructure projects like this. What is more disconcerting is that there is no real information about what specifically caused the departure from the originally scheduled  opening later this year, nor is there a new date, nor seems there to be any communication between the affected parties, at least not any that is public. The public website posted its latest update in May(!) At that time a 15 months schedule was assumed for the bridge, with a start in 2017 this would certainly have moved the completion to summer 2018 and not September of 2017 as speaker Barnes states below. Either way, every party seems to be taken aback by the news of further delays according to the BBJ.
Clunky and car dominated: Four traffic lanes to nowhere (City Website)
"When the Central Avenue contract notice to proceed was issued, it was anticipated that the bridge would be open by September 2017. The project is rather complicated, however and coordination particularly in the early stages of the project with adjacent ongoing development projects has been challenging," she said. "These coordination activities have complicated tasks and caused the bridge completion date to be delayed. We are working with all of the involved parties to establish a revised completion date." " Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation in an e-mail to Melody Simmons of the BBJ.
Cosures and disruptions (City website)
Readers of this blog know, that the wisdom of this particular bridge and the design of the Central Avenue streetscape have been questioned here in various articles and from various angles: especially its capacity to reduce congestion, its enormous width and resulting clunky esthetics, the way it cuts off what is called City Dock and the Living Classroom and how it is partly funded by a TIF.

Here is why the delay of this questionable bridge is irksome anyway: The construction set-up and staging is very disruptive to the modes the bridge gives short thrift from its conception: Biking, walking and transit.  Because of the bridge construction Lancaster Street is cut off at Central Avenue. This cuts off  the famous waterfront promenade and pedestrians and bicyclists following it are especially hard hit. Both are diverted onto busy Aliceanna and Fleet Streets. Aliceanna itself is half closed by the construction of the new mixed use complex where the new Whole Foods will go. The result is confusion, an unpleasant much extended walk or bike-ride, and additional road congestion which also impacts the Orange Route of the Circulator bus run by Baltimore City DOT.
Clunky bridge: City website

No matter how ones looks at the bridge in terms of traffic, parking and transportation management, it is certainly a key link of the waterfront promenade which strings around Baltimore's Harbor from the Haborview tower on Key Highway to Canton Crossing,  one of the best "active transportation" assets Baltimore has to offer.

As expensive as this new bridge is, as suggested before, a provisional pedestrian-bicycle bridge connecting to HarborPoint should have been constructed ahead of construction so that the also temporary promenade on the peninsula the pop-up park "Sandlot" and all of Fells Point and Canton could be reached on foot and by bike without sharing busy and dangerous roadways. Now, with the additional delay, this should still be done.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Published schedule on City website: Last update in May '17

Related articles on this blog

The Bridge to Nowhere
Why that 4-lane bridge to Harbor Point is a costly mistake
Move over Paris Plage - Here comes Sandlot

Please attend my Baltimore lecture during AIA's Architecture Month on October 18 at 6pm at the MICAH Lazarus Center on 131 West North Ave.
The event is free but you need to register here

Making the connection across City Dock (August 30, 2017)

All street but no scape. The City has the audacity to label this car centric traffic orgy  "Central Avenue streetscape rendering" (website)

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