Thursday, September 25, 2008

West Baltimore MARC Redvelopment

This one's a no brainer, residents, commuters, planners, and elected officials all agree that the West Baltimore MARC Station is a major commuter route and will continue to be so in the coming years with projected BRAC growth and the continuation of soaring gas prices. MARC ridership has increased dramatically and the TOD near stations will only make this trend continue.The West Baltimore MARC Station needs to be redeveloped whether the red line is built or not and/or whether the purple lune shares tracks with the line in question. The afore mentioned lines will increase the status of this station as a multi modal hub but the MTA and City Officials must proceed no matter how localized transit unfolds or doesn't. Equally important if not more important is the addition of an East Baltimore MARC Station. The speculated locations are either Bayview or Orangeville. I prefer Orangeville, Bayview has enough development coming its way already and Orangeville has been aching for TOD.

Now it's no secret that the West Baltimore MARC Station is in a bad part of town. The neighborhoods surrounding it Mosher, Midtown Edmondson and Penrose/Fayette St. are in state of disrepair. Decades of disinvestment have taken their toll. In addition to the residential urban decay there's an idustrial wasteland southwest of the station. This general area was where I-70 was to be extended to meet I-95 but never came to fruition. It was also at this point that I-70 would meet its Downtown spur known at the time as I-170. I-170 was built and when I-70 was killed at Cooks Lane I-170 was rebranded as Route 40 which was Franklin and Mulberry Streets. Locals call this highway "the road to no where" the planners of the West Baltimore MARC redevelopment plan knew this and will call the revitalized highway "the road to some where."

This is the only part of the plan that I take issue with. What ever's done with this stretch of highway should be shelved until the red line's a sure thing. When that time comes (hopefully sooner rather than later) here's what I think needs to be done. The highway should be demolished and all vehicular traffic should be rerouted to Franklin and Mulberry Streets. The highway is underground and will serve as a great tunnel for that stretch of the red line. Above ground, the land above the highway will be brought back to street level and high density TOD will occupy it. It will spur the redevelopment of the highly distressed Franklin Square and Harlem Park neighborhoods.Well that's all for this one, short and sweet. It's much easier to publish posts quicker when you actually agree with what people are doing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Remington Master Plan

If you blink when you're driving Downtown from Hampden you might miss Remington. Remington is a collection of diagonal streets nestled between I-83, Hampden, Charles Village, and Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus. With all the investment and development in surrounding neighborhoods Remington seems to have gotten pushed to the side and I'm coming up with a master plan that will allow Remington to maintain its identity as an economically, culturally, and ethnically, diverse enclave in northern Baltimore.
What was Remington?
Remington started out as an outgrowth of the Hampden Woodberry Mill Villages that sprang up around the Civil War along the Jones Falls Valley in what was then Baltimore County. The bulk of residential development in Remington took place at the turn of the 20th century and into the roaring 20s. Like Hampden, mill workers were hit hard by the great depression and looked elsewhere for work. If they were lucky enough to find work it was through jobs created through FDR's new deal. The mills made a triumphant come back upon America's entry into World War II. After World War II production at the mills dropped and began closing during the 1950s and into the 1960s. Remington remained stable despite this increase in unemployment.
What is Remington?
Today Remington's layout is as diverse as its citizens. (I've worn that analogy to the born but I like it) The housing stock is both well preserved and dilapidated, it's a neighborhood for families young and old and college students. Being near the Jones Falls Remington has remnants of an industrial past that put a blighted appearance in certain areas.
A fundamental aspect of creating master plans is identifying a neighborhood's strength and capitalizing on them. On the other end of the spectrum is identifying the neighborhood's weaknesses and addressing them and coming up with solutions for them.
First Remington's strengths. Close to I-83, Hampden, Johns Hopkins University, Station North, Charles Village, and Wyman Park. Hampden Shuttlebug offers access to Woodberry Light Rail Station. Housing Stock is affordable. Diverse population who cares about their neighborhood. Old industrial land available for redevelopment. Lots of churches and faith based organizations. Robert Poole Middle has closed as of summer 2008.Now Remington's weaknesses. Rise in violent crime, Housing stock is aging, 18% of housing stock is vacant, retail is spread out and lack luster, vacant lots, blighted industrial land out of sync with the residential character of the neighborhood. No neighborhood entrance signs, very little open space and streetscape enhancements. Neighborhood is closed off from its revitalized neighbors. Neighborhood has lots of litter. No library or community center.Now to enhance Remington's strengths. First the addition of "wayfinding" signs throughout Remington directing pedestrians and motorists to nearby destinations. Although the Hampden shuttle bug will remain an intricate part of Remington's public transportation I will add a Light Rail stop at I-83 and 28th St. which will further enhance Remington's perception of a Transit Oriented Community. Further market Remington's diversity and host neighborhood block party for new residents and those who have lived here for generations to get to know each other. Since Remington's character will remain residential, old industrial land will be redeveloped into new mixed income housing which will range from town homes, to apartments and condos.
Now lets shift focus to Remington's weaknesses. There has been a rise in violent crime in Remington as everyone is all too aware. Ways to combat this would adding adding flashing blue light cameras at problematic areas, going after the most violent offenders (A strategy of the Dixon Administration that seems to work well), and stepping up foot patrols. The image of Police Officer should be that of a citizen who keeps you safe not that of a bully who's drunk on power.Next the aging housing stock, this goes hand in hand with the 18% vacancy rate. Bottom line is that Remington needs population growth and there are many organizations that target neighborhoods like Remington. If there are city owned vacants SCOPE would be an excellent tool. There should be a "Healthy Neighborhoods" initiative for Remington which provides low interest loans for existing home owners to fix their homes, especially the exterior facade. New housing should be aggressively marketed on to promote Remington as a desirable place to call home not only that, new housing near JHU should be student housing to further promote Remington's economic diversity.
Not all of the former industrial land should be developed as housing. Although Remington is in close proximity to a number of parks there's little open space in Remington proper. There should be a new "public square" which is only about a block in size but it will be a focal point for the neighborhood and can play host to any number of events.Now lets talk retail, retail in Remington is spread throughout the neighborhood where businesses can't complement and build off of each other. There should be two "retail spines" in Remington a north south and an east west. The north south retail spine would be Sisson St., an odd choice I'm sure you're thinking but it's the only north south street that connects the southern border of Remington to Hampden. 25th St. turns north into Huntingdon Ave.
Photo From Google Earth
I would extend 25th St. to meet Sisson St. The east west retail spine will be 29th St. It will be converted to 2 way traffic from I-83 to Howard St. Both Sisson and 29th will be Remington's version of "The Avenue" which is course of 36th St. in Hampden. Both roads will receive streetscape enhancements which will include planted medians, brick crosswalks, tree lined streets, additional lighting, metered parking, and new traffic signals with "countdown" pedestrian signals.
With the issue of litter residents will be educated on calling 311 to report illegal dumping and to have their street or alley removed of litter and debris. Now Remington is not a large enough neighborhood to support its Library Branch but I would implement a Hampden Shuttlebug stop at the Hampden Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library as well as a complete renovation inside and out to keep the library up to date and current. Now, a Community Center is something Remington can get and it's within an arm's reach believe it or not. With the closing of Robert Poole Middle that school can be torn down and a brand new school would be built in its place known as Hampden Woodberry Elementary/Middle which will draw from Medfield, Hampden Elementaries and the Green School. The Green School is located in Remington and if it were vacated it could serve as Remington's Community Center.
Well, I've figured out why it takes the city so long to come up with Master Plans. They take forever to think up write. You have to be ultra comprehensive while keeping in line your basic vision which in the case of Remington is for it to be a better version of what it already is.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Greenmount Avenue: A New Downtown Thoroughfare

OK I'm sure I'm, repeating many people's published sentiments as this area is perhaps home to one of Baltimore's most grid locked and under utilized road ways and at the same time it includes some of Baltimore's most sought after and up & coming and for lack of a better word down & falling neighborhoods. This post will attempt to unclog the grid locked arteries, better utilize streets that don't enough traffic, keep nice neighborhoods that way and spur development in neighborhoods that have long since been forgotten and left for dead.
Greenmount Avenue south of North Avenue becomes virtually deserted mostly because it's too far east from Downtown's major north south routes. Greenmount Avenue becomes a neighborhood street but has the potential to carry more traffic. The route that Greenmount travels doesn't take you to any destinations worth going to (unless you're driving a patty wagon) but I-83 does.
I-83 aka the Jones Falls Expressway aka the JFX does make that Downtown journey that city and county dwellers use and use it they do. There is a vacant parcel of land where an interchange can be created to connect Greenmount Avenue to I-83 just south of the Cemetery near Belvidere St. (yes that's how it's spelled) If you're traveling south on Greenmount Avenue you will be automatically be rerouted onto southbound I-83 or "North President St." (more about that later) by making a southwest curve that is the current Belvidere St. You will also have the option of exiting to travel northbound on I-83. If you travel southbound you will go under a bridge that is northbound I -83 traffic and will be in the left lane of traffic on I-83. Greenmount Avenue below the new interchange will be narrowed to reflect the neighborhood nature of the street and will be renamed "Old Greenmount Avenue" (I don't think it's original either.)In addition to receiving Greenmount Avenue traffic I-83 will receive changes of its own. First of all the southbound interchanges with Maryland Avenue and St. Paul St. will be closed and those wishing to exit I-83 before the Greenmount interchange may do so at the newly redesigned North Avenue/Mount Royal Avenue interchange. This will no doubt create relief to the over crowded southbound streets that lead Downtown such as Howard St., Maryland Avenue, and St. Paul St. Having closed off these interchanges will not effect accessibility to Penn Station because the ramps land you below Penn Station. Speaking of Penn Station the troublesome ramp from Charles St. to I-83 north will remain open but with pedestrian "countdown" signals and wider sidewalks.
Just south of the new interchange comes Preston St. and I'm sure you know where this is going but I'll explain it anyway. President St. which is I-83 below Fayette St. will be extended northbound to Preston St. The interchanges in between and including Fayette St. and Preston St. will be converted into traffic signals which takes care of I-83 "cutting the city in half."
Now this will obviously have a drastic effect on all neighborhoods effected. I'm banking that the effect will be positive for all effected neighborhoods.First and foremost is Greenmount West whose southern border is the location of the new interchange. I'm unsure whether this will open up or close off Greenmount West but being part of Station North it will see its day in the sun as it expands eastward into Greenmount West.
Next there's Johnston Square, Johnston Square has long been plagued by the ills of urban decay. Something that slips people's minds all too often is that the elevated I-83 is the only thing dividing it from Mount Vernon. With the elimination of the elevated highway Johnston Square will integrate itself into the Downtown landscape of Mount Vernon and redevelopment and reinvestment will turn this diamond in the rough into a gem. It may go all the way into Oliver where "Preston Place" is being developed on vacant lots that may be the first of many redevelopment projects there. Just south of Johnston Square is the area known as "Penn Fallsway." Here there are prisons with great architecture and parking lots. East of Penn Fallsway sits Old Town Mall, Forest St. Apartments, Somerset Homes, Douglass Homes, and LaTrobe Homes. The city is coming up with a master plan for the Old Town Mall area which includes the demolition of Somerset Homes and is looking into the possibilities of demolishing the other public housing complexes as well. This along with the surface level parking lots of Penn Fallsway creates acres of land ripe for redevelopment as an expansion of Downtown with high density mixed use buildings and a link to quickly gentrifying Middle East and Washington Hill neighborhoods. Mount Vernon will become more walkable as its streets won't be clogged with through traffic. I don't believe businesses in the area will suffer because the excess traffic isn't caused by patrons.
Well I covered a lot more than expected in this post but I truly believe turning Greenmount Avenue into a Downtown thoroughfare via I-83 will be a plus all around. I apologize in advance if this posts echos the thoughts of lots of people but I've had this plan for a long time.