Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What's this "Big Jump" all about?

Space for people on a highway bridge: Big Jump (Photo: Bikemore)
On the surface the Baltimore Big Jump is a "pop-up installation" of a temporary walk and bike facility across the JFX on one of the most car-friendly freeway-style connections we have in Baltimore.

The bridge on 28th Street which, in tandem with 29th Street brings cars from the east and west to the I-83 Interstate and connects Remington and Old Goucher with Reservoir Hill is part of a necklace of traffic chokers strangling Druid Hill Park. Until now 28th Street was not a connection that was useful for walkers or bicyclists and severely limited access to Druid Park from the east.
the dotted lines show improvements associated with the "big jump"

The most remarkable aspects of  the "Big Jump" are not so much the additional pieces of "active transportation" infrastructure but that 
  • it is funded by a national organization as a transformative element.
  • it is fully supported by Baltimore's DOT
  • it is an example "tactical urbanism" which is quicker and cheaper than permanent construction requiring a full engineering and environmental study.
  • the project will have hands on artist engagement
The idea of taking a lane away from Druid Lake Park Drive and 28th Street in favor of a protected and comfortable two-way walk/bike connection was realized due to persistent advocacy from Bikemore, the leadership of Councilman Leon Pinkett, and the commitment from BCDOT Director Michelle Pourciau, dedicated and creative staff like Graham Young, and the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission. The master is getting national attention

Unlike any of the previous bicycle accommodations, this one addresses head-on one of the roadways designed to move suburban commuters in and out of the City, a policy which resulted in maiming many city neighborhoods. 

In the case of Reservoir Hill and Auchentoroly Terrace, the added divided multi-lane roadways (Swann Drive and Druid Lake Park Drive) separated fine neighborhoods from the park they were designed to front.
The street Auchentoroly Terrace consists of nine rows of housing, two mansion houses and two duplexes that all face the west side of Druid Hill Park. Built between 1876 (when the Orem and West mansions were built) and the mid 1920s, Auchentoroly Terrace represents an unusually impressive collection of architecture. Built at the height of Victorian sensibility, these rows exemplify grand rowhouse design and a lively, diverse array of architectural details. Framing the western boundary of Druid Hill Park, the buildings eloquently contrast with the park’s open space, a synergistic composition of neighborhood and park. (CHAP Ordinance).
Councilman Pinkett in an editorial that appeared in the Afro and in similar form als in the SUN expressed his strong support for the Big Jump not so much as a bicycle facility but as a space given back to local residents.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, over the protests of the local NAACP and neighborhood associations, City-led, car-oriented planning robbed local residents of Druid Hill Park’s public health benefits. Literally paving the way for White flight, highway projects cut off the predominantly working class Jewish and African American neighborhoods from the park in exchange for faster commute times for mostly White suburban county residents. Construction of the 1948 Druid Hill Expressway and 1963 Jones Falls Expressway resulted in the widening of Auchentoroly Terrace and Druid Park Lake Drive from two lane, park-front residential streets into a roaring five-to-nine-lane-wide highways equipped with only a handful of routinely ignored crosswalks...Giving back space to people, and creating a balance to how much of our space we give up to traffic is transformative. All of Baltimore’s neighborhoods deserve this consideration, and I hope that over the course of this project we will receive your consideration and support.

The history of the Druid Hill Expressway was brought to light again last year in an article by Daniel Hindman in the SUN under the title "Right a past wrong by opening access to Druid Hill Park". Hindman explains how the Druid Hill Expressway was built in 1947/8 without input from the Jewish and African American communities. writes:
As a community member and physician, I find the historical narrative of Baltimore City’s decisions pertaining to the communities surrounding Druid Hill Park deeply disappointing. While many know of the racism of the park’s past — the segregated swimming pools, tennis courts and playgrounds — many do not know the politics and history behind the construction of the Druid Hill Expressway. The story of the expressway’s construction is a narrative of racism and corruption, that, like an arrow shot from the past, inflicts damage on our most vulnerable populations today. ...The impact of this history is evidenced today in the 2017 Neighborhood Health Profiles, which demonstrate that Reservoir Hill and Penn North, communities that border one of the largest urban parks in the country, have some of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in the city.
Before Hindman architect Davin Hong had looked at Druid Hill Park, possibly in the context of his work on the Green Network Plan. Hong, also in the SUN wrote:
Facilitating travel away from the city center reduced urban populations and promoted suburban sprawl. The results are barren border territories that are unfriendly to people and draining to neighborhoods. The damage done from that era of city planning was so severe that American cities like Baltimore have yet to fully recover.
Former Baltimore traffic planner Gerry Neily wrote about in the Brew and Jeff LaNoue in GGW in 2014. Pinkett, Hindman and Hong all refer to the large scale construction currently underway in Druid Lake as the opportunity to finally rectify past sins. The good news is that the City's new DOT Director Pourciau is on board, at least with the pop-up installation which one has to describe as the camels nose in the tent. 

A big community celebration of the Big Jump is planned for 8/26/2018. An artistic treatment of the white water filled Jersey barriers and an array of ideas for place-making and community activities will be developed in the weeks until then.

Baltimore's 2.6 star (out of 5) for being bicycle friendly is not a place to rest on. Worse, its ranking in how segregated the city is. If the Big Jump can create connectivity between segregated neighborhoods as well, it would be a great success.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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