Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hogan and Trump one step closer to the destruction of the historic B-W Parkway

Robert Moses is now considered to have been an authoritarian planner who plowed his grand visions ruthlessly through the fabric of communities displacing especially black and poor people in favor of roads and new housing high-rises. But Moses also created beautiful New York parks and parkways in his role as metropolitan Park Commissioner, appointed in 1934.
Robert Moses: Historic Northern State Parkway, Long Island
wide medians, gentle curves following contours, natural stone bridges
and walls 
The fruits of the New Deal and of Moses' organizational genius were evident all over the city. In these first years, hundreds of playgrounds were built. Three zoos, 10 golf courses and 53 recreational buildings were completed. [..]
Parkways, now defined as modern highways isolated in a ribbon of parkland, were an important part of the new parks system. By 1936 the Grand Central, Interborough and Laurelton Parkways opened. The Triborough Bridge, the heart of the city's new arterial system, opened in July. The Henry Hudson Bridge and the first sections of the Henry Hudson Parkway opened on December 12, 1936.(NYC Parks website)
82 years later, our governor still shares with Robert Moses the love for the automobile; however without Moses' appreciation for design and beauty which characterized his many New York parkways.  For Hogan the now 54 year old B-W Parkway is merely another conduit for cars which needs widening. He is is not bothered by the long history with early concepts going as far back as L'Enfant, route planning from Charles Eliot (1910), and real planning started by the National Park and Planning Commission which was created in 1926. The B-W Parkway is the only fully developed parkway in Maryland.
Baltimore Washington Parkway (NPS)
The Governor wants to buy the 19 miles of Parkway currently managed by the National Park Service from the feds so he and his road addicted Secretary Rahn can turn it into another eight lane commuter night-mare like I-95 as part of his $9 billion "traffic relief plan". The State sure has extra money, after the Baltimore Red Line was tabled and the increased gas tax keeps flowing. (The State actually envisions much of the road cost to be covered by private consortia who get to collect tolls). On the other side, the National Park Service under Secretary Zinke and President Trump is eager to offload a costly "burden". A deal made in hell.
Shifting the B-W Parkway to Maryland — and then widening the highway in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, also known as Maryland Route 295, and tolling it — is key to Hogan’s three-pronged $9 billion “traffic relief” plan. That controversial plan also calls for adding toll lanes to Interstate 270 in Montgomery and Frederick counties and Maryland’s portion of the Capital Beltway. The I-295 agreement was signed by Hogan on Friday and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday. It formalizes “the Parties’ interest in evaluating future operation and ownership alternatives for the portion of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that is administered by the National Park Service.” And it acknowledges that the transfer cannot take place without federal legislation(Washington Business Journal)
Graphic: PIRG report
Given Hogan's past insensibility to the subtleties of transportation, it is not likely he or his secretary would pay attention to the fact that the B-W Parkway was carefully placed along the geological fall line between the Atlantic coastal plain and the Appalachian Piedmont. (NPS website) and as part of a regional park system explocitly designed as a contrast to the ugly commercial corridor of Route 1. Nor would he care that the Parkway has maintained green buffers on both sides which make travel on it a pleasant experience in spite of all the sprawl that has filled much of the land between the two metro areas. The extra lanes would kill tens of thousands of trees and expose much of the ugly stuff that has sprung up near the route.

The Governor doesn't care that the Parkway runs along the Agricultural Research Center, the Patuxent National Wildlife Research Refuge, Greenbelt Park and Fort Meade, all precious large green open spaces. He doesn't care that it touches a number of places with historic significance, all reasons which landed the Parkway on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Parkway maintains original integrity of setting, design and associations characteristic of the earliest parkways designed for pleasure motoring - the preservationof natural topography and vegetation for scenic purposes coupled with "high speed" elements of modern freeway design (National Register)
The realized Parkway suffered from the beginning from the fact that the critical gateway into the Nation's Capital, a key original motive for the early concepts,  was never integrated into the actual parkway, even though the National Arboretum sits right next to the freeway entering DC. Even less considered was the manner in which the parkway would arrive in Baltimore. By the time it was actually constructed in 1954, traffic relief and economic development had long trumped the loftier aspirations of the 1920s and 30s. Today Baltimore's southern gateway is dominated by the incinerator's smoke stack, Baltimore's largest polluter.

Still, when in the pre-construction debates of the 1940  funding through a Maryland toll road was considered and legislated in Annapolis in 1940, this approach was nixed by Congress.
Endangered: B-W Parkway, recently refurbished 
"Congress found it unwise to give State rights through federal property which composes so much of the parkway's right of way". (NPS)
By 1950, though, Maryland had already completed 7 miles of the project leading to its Friendship airport, the portion that remained in the responsibility of the State ever since.

Today, the real opportunity the Parkway offers, is to redesign these two termini so they are worthy of the parkway's initial aspirations. Instead, the Governor's plan is to make the 19 mile centerpiece just as ugly as the two ends. This is a crime against history, historic preservation and the future of sustainable transportation all at the same time. It should not stand.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Washington Business Journal: Hogan has a deal with the Trump administration
US-PIRG report: Highway Boondoggles

Related on this blog:
Why the Baltimore-Washington Parkway needs to be protected

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