Monday, November 30, 2009

Northwood Plaza: Slam Dunk!

Northwood Plaza, sadly is now known as the place where City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. was gunned down outside of the New Haven Jazz Club in the early morning hours in 2008. Now, the one would think that residents would demand that New Haven Jazz Club be shut down immediately. Ironically, that's the one business that residents envision staying at Northwood Plaza after redevelopment. The New Haven Jazz Club is throw back to when Jazz Clubs were a dime a dozen. I'm sure as Pennsylvania Avenue redevelops and tries to attract new businesses they would love to have several Jazz Clubs like New Haven.
Northwood Plaza was completed in the late 1930s by the Roland Park Company, the Builder responsible for what is now known as Original Northwood. Obviously Roland Park was built by its namesake Company along with its neighbors to the West of Greenmont Avenue/York Road. Northwood Plaza represented, at least in Retail Trends a move towards suburbanization. A Hechts branch opened there along with two Grocery Stores and the Northwood Movie House. Opening a Department Store in what was thought of Suburbia was a radical move back then. Not surprisingly, the Shopping Center was segregated despite having the City's first Black Suburb; Morgan Park located nearby to the east. Northwood Plaza's popularity continued to grow as Northern and Northeast Baltimore became built out. It is unclear when the New Haven Jazz Club Opened but it has been there for several decades.
The Social unrest of the 1960s was not kind to Northwood Plaza. Its tenants including the Hechts Department Store were subject to non violent protests such as sit ins by Blacks and Progressive Whites pushing for integration. Civil Rights legislation that forced integration in all public venues including Northwood Shopping Center by the late 1960s. Unlike other parts of Baltimore, Northwood Shopping Center was relatively unscathed by the MLK riots in early April 1968 following his assassination. The neighborhoods surounding Northwood Plaza was still White. The rioting trends in Baltimore ironically, occurred alomost exclusively in Black Neighborhoods.
The 1970s bgean Northwood Plaza's slow decline. The surrouning neighborhoods however, remained a draw for Inner City residents looking to escape racial turnover. Department Stores, began popping up in enclosed Shopping Malls rather than Strip Shopping Centers. Hechts began competing with its own branches in what would eventually become Towson Town Centre and Golden Ring Mall. Needless to say these locations were more profitable than that of Northwood Plaza. Hechts closed. Efforts to find another Department Store for the Space proved unsuccessful as other area Department Store changes were looking to expand "further out" rather than open another City Branch. Other tenants such as the Northwood Theatre followed suit.
Small racial turnover in nearby neighborhoods began in the 1970s but it became more widespread and recognized in the 1980s. Hillen and New Northwood became majority Black while turnover in Ednor Gardens remained majority White. To the east, Greater Lauraville remained completely White. Although, this beginning trend of a Black presence proved to be no Danger as crime did not increase, White Shoppers began favoring other newer Shopping Centers.
For a small time the old Hechts Space was occupied by a Hechingers Home Improvement Store before the chain went belly up and on the Second Floor a Burlington Coat Factory. Burlington Coat Factory left Northwood Plaza not long after its first floor companion Hechingers leaving the old Hechts Space vacant once more.
Today, the Shopping Center has two different owners. A while back (I'm not sure of the dates) Morgan State University and its ever expanding Campus bought the vacant Hechts Building. Their intentions were and still are to redevelop it and put its School of Business and Hospitality there as well as possibly a Student Run Hotel. Once completed this will be a monumental move across Perrring Parkway/Hillen Road. It was supposed to be a full fledged Highway like the JFX known as the Perring Freeway. Perring Parkway now serves as a divider between the City's Northern and Northeastern sections. Limited development along the road and Mount Pleasant Park further create this portrait. I've always thought that Perring Parkway/Hillen Road should be redeveloped as an Urban Boulevard that bridges the gap between the two sections of the City and Morgan State University attempts to do just that.
The Retail Portion of Northwood Plaza is owned by the Schuster Family and up intil Harris's Murder in 2008 was self managed. Now Trout-Daniel & Associates has been put in charge of management, more importantly Security. Before Trout-Daniel & Associates signed on, local residents as well as Morgan State University Faculty and Students have blasted the lack of Security at the Center. It needs Security Guards to be present all through the night and into the early morning hours. The New Haven Lounge's late hours is cause alone for this heightened Security Measure.Stores at today's Northwood Plaza are down scale for the neighborhoods that surround them. They include; Shop Rite Supermarket, a Rent A Center, a Rite Aid, Sunny's Subs, a Beauty Supply Store, a Dominos Pizza, a Chinese Take Out Place, a McDonalds, a BP Gas Station, and the New Haven Lounge. Now, except for Lauraville, the Clientele living near Northwood Plaza (students included is majority Black) however, what doesn't make sense is how much money residents make versus the stores in Northwood Plaza. In Hillen the Average Median Income is almost $53,000 Ednor Gardens; $52,000, New Northwood; $31,000 Original, Northwood; $65,000 and Stonewood Pentwood Winston; $40,000 now what does this suggest? It suggests that neighborhoods near Northwood Plaza are strongly Middle to Upper Middle Class who don't fit the bill for the Retail there. These days College Students ie those of Morgan State have more disposable income than ever. The reason I can think of for Northwood Plaza's unaccommodating Retail Mix is that it's a majority Black area although their earning power is high which makes me use the phrase that put me under intense scrutiny; "Racist Retail."
Luckily, both the neighborhoods and Morgan State University are fighting back to lure upscale reatilers and redevelop Northwood Plaza. They've used the Services of the Neighborhood Design Center to brainstorm plans for both the University Section and the Retail Section. I've seen the plans and they're a slam dunk. It calls for a mixed use Residential with Ground Floor Retail and the School of Business and Hospitality to be incorporated together. Usually, with two separate owners, it's very hard to come up with a cohesive plan to make it look as one but they've been able to do it. Slam Dunk! here's a link to the plans for Northwood Plaza.
Now it's pretty well documented that Mogran State University wants to put its School of Business and Hospitality and possibly a Student Run Hotel. The plans suggest a Hilton Garden Inn but that was just for illustrative purposes. This will bridge the Hillen Road Gap Slam Dunk! Now, what about new Retail? The neighboring communities can support higher end Retail and it appears that two floors of housing above it are what the plans suggest. They want a Grocer and by its size (43,000 Square Feet) a Bloom or a Whole Foods fit the bill. I say in that space labeled "Grocery" we put a Barnes & Noble and put a much smaller Trader Joes in the Center. Trader Joes are only about 20,000 Square Feet and can easily be a medium sized tenant. Other suggestions could a Ritas or a Cold Stone Creamery, Peir 1 Imports, Chicos, a Dry Cleaners, an upscale Winery, and a few Sit Down Restaurants on the Caliber of a Pizzeria Unos, Bonefish, Applebys, or a Fridays, and of course teh New Haven Jazz Club. I higher end Grocers because Harford Road has a new Safeway and a CVS and in Waverly there's a new Giant. These merchants would certainly be a Slam Dunk!
Now, all this activity at Northwood Plaza and Morgan State University should catch the attention of the MTA. Buses overcrowd Hillen Road and back up traffic. The area is booming regardless of Northwood Plaza's current state. Yes, I'm talking about expanding the Green Line from Hopkins to Morgan State/Northwood Plaza. This has been overshadowed by the Red Line and the Charles St. Trolley but the time has come for a Green Line Expansion. It would go up Broadway to Harford Road to Hillen Road with stops at the new Biotech Park, Clifton Park/Coldstream Homestead Montebello and Morgan State/Northwood Plaza. This would end the Green Line for now. It was supposed to continue up Hillen Road/Perring Parkway but I'd rather see it travel under the denser Harford Road catching residents of Lauraville, Waltehrson, Hamilton, North Harford Road before going through Parkville Perry Hall and White Marsh. Slam Dunk!
Well, for a Shopping Center with two owners and different redevelopment plans it's very hard to come up with a cohesive plan to satisfy all parties but the Neighborhood Design Center did it this time Slam Dunk!

Monday, November 23, 2009

How Much Red Line Is Feasible?

The previous post was very dismissive of the Red Line favoring lines or portions of lines that were a lot easier and cheaper to build. Not only that, the lines are laid out properly and will get great ridership and decrease congestion in their respective areas. They also provide opportunity to expand those lines as redevelopment warrants it. One thing about Baltimore is that its north south corridors I've found to be more congested than the east west corridors.
Now, I'm very much in support of the Red Line but I want it done right. Option 4C does not fit my vision of the correct way to do it. The MTA wants to push the entire Line through the legislative process as quickly as possible to qualify for stimulus dollars to make it "shovel ready."
Transit, like any other project should be done very carefully and cost cutting measures are very detrimental to the final product. Now I pose the question which I will attempt to answer; How much Red Line is Feasible?
Now with every transit line, I believe we should start Downtown and go from there. Now I'm telling you right now that any Red Line that I think I deam "correct" will not pass by in its entirety but I've always said that the Red Line, just like all other transit lines should be built in stages.The Red Line Downtown is a joke, it goes along MLK Boulevard from the Road to Nowhere to Lombard St. with just a single stop at Saratoga St.
There are many missed opportunities here to aide in the redevelopment of the Westside of Downtown, the ever expanding UMB, and create a Lexington Market Hub. From the Road to Nowhere the Red Line will gradually descend in a southeast pattern until it meets Pratt St. at Camden Yards.Besides the Lexington Market Hub, there are other stops in my plan that aren't in 4C they include Seton Hill, the Western Edge of Charles Center, UMB/Westside, and Camden/Convention Center.
Once on Pratt St., the Red Line will go be surface level. Unlike Howard St. and Edmondson Avenue, Pratt St. is very wide and traffic will run more efficiently on a narrower street and what better way to showcase Baltimore's Mass Transit than on Pratt St. which is the crown and jewel of the Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Region as a whole.
It will be surface level with an Inner Harbor Stop at a redesigned Light St./Calvert St. intersection and a Pier Six Stop.
At President St. there will be an unbuilt transfer station where the Red Line will branch off into two. The branch is not in the first phase.

What is in the first phase is an Inner Harbor East Stop at Eastern Avenue and President St. I chose Eastern Avenue rather than Fleet St. because it will catch more riders from Little Italy, Perkins Homes, and Upper Fels Point which, if on Fleet St. may not travel the extra block. I also chose Eastern Avenue because surface transit on low density Boston St. is a joke. Canton won't even be in Phase I because Ed Hale's Canton Crossing's future is so uncertain.

Phase I will end at the Fels Point intersection of Eastern Avenue and Broadway one block above the Broadway Market.

Phase II or III will extend the line both east and west but it depends on one word MARC. If the redevlopment of the West Baltimore MARC Station and the creation of an East Baltimore MARC Station come first it will be Phase II if not, it will be Phase III.

Whatever Phase it will be will include the infamous Road to Nowhere from the Social Security Building to the West Baltimore MARC Station. Redeveloping the Road to Nowhere I'd like to see Peter Tocco's Baltimorphosis plan put into effect. Peter Tocco, like myself is a Baltimore Idea Man who resides in West Columbia. I have a link to his labor of love "Baltimorphosis" in my links field where you can see his ieda first hand. Gerry Neilly contributed a lot to Baltimorphosis as well.

The East Baltimore MARC Station located in Orangeville will open the door to massive TOD opportunities and a Red Line Station there is very much warranted. The Orangeville branch will use the President St. transer and that line will continue along Pratt St. through Albemarle Square and will have a stop serving the rapidly gentrifying Washington Hill and Butchers Hill. Then it will slope northeasterly above Patterson Park whose gentrification won't go above Fayette St. into McElderry Park. Hopefully a station here will jump start McElderry Park's gentrification. Lirbrary Square will also have a Red Line Station before ending at the East Baltimore MARC Station at Orangeville. This concludes this Phase whether it's Phase II or III I don't know.

The other Phase II or III depending on the development climate will be extending the Eastern Avenue Branch to Bayview. Highlandtown has some massive redevelopment coming down the pipeline starting with the abandoned factory on the Eastern End.

There will be a new loft district which will connect the neighborhood with Greektown. Obviously Highlandtown and Greektown will share a Station on the Red Line.

Canton will get its saving grace regardless of Canton Crossing with a stop at Eastern Avenue and Clinton St. It will have a shuttle bug with stops at Canton Crossing, Brewers Hill, and the Boston St. Safeway. This branch will end at Bayview.

Phase IV will be Edmondson Avenue. This is flawed because 4C has the Line going surface level along Edmondson Avenue disrupting the already busy street. I say wait until funding becomes available for tunnels under Edmondson Avenue.

Stations will include Edmondson Village (Allendale St.), Rognel Heights (Edmondson Shopping Village), and the new Uplands (Uplands Parkway) and ending at Hunting Ridge (Cooks Lane) concluding Phase IV.

Phase V will be the Orangeville branch making a sharp turn south crossing Bayview for another Red Line transfer Station. Then it will go down Dundalk Avenue to a redevloped O'Donnell Heights/Fort Holabird then meeting its ultimate final eastern terminus at the Industrial Dundalk Sparrows Point Waterfront. Redevelopment may not be far behind. That's Phase V.

Phase VI will be Cooks Lane to the Medicare/Medicaid Offices. Since 4C only allows for one tunnel under Cooks Lane it has to be shelved until funding becomes available for double tracking. Just one set of tracks will be very disruptive to the entire Red Line, it will fall like a row of Dominos. So, under Cooks Lane it will have a stop at the Ingelside Avenue/Forest Park Avenue and I-70 Park & Ride/Security Boulevard Intersection. Now it will travel along Security Boulevard where it will have stops at the Social Security Complex, Security Sqaure Mall, and Medicare/Medicaid Complex. That concludes Phase VI and the Red Line.

Now I can't provide a time line for the completion of all these phases because they depend on the funding of other projects and funding for itself. However, I think I've proposed a great and quality alternative to Option 4C where each Phase was calculated very carefully and added on when it was warranted. Right now Downtown and into Fels Point are the only parts of the Red Line that are needed and are currently feasible. Now that's how much Red Line is feasible.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More Transit Lines Can Exist, Without Much Digging

If you can't gather the money to build quality transit, don't build it all. Only quality efficient transit will gather riders anywhere and everywhere. With that I say we throw the Red Line on the back burner and take a long hard look at Baltimore's transit system and where streets are currently congested. With only one tunnel going under Cooks Lane (a major hurdle for the Red Line) and the fate of Canton Crossing up in the air, there are too many "what ifs" lets focus on places where what ifs and one direction tunnels aren't the order of the day. One might be surprised at what you could build upon when you look at what's already there.
Map From Google Earth
This is the preferred Red Line which, due to the pressure of being "shovel ready" is an all or nothing deal. Instead of building it in stages and waiting out the economy when the City, State, and Feds are a little less strapped for cash everybody wants to move forward on this fundamentally flawed Red Line which uses none of the old abandoned tracks that the City is flanked with. So, the entire line will be built from scratch. Now, lets take a little trip.
Here we are on W. Oliver St. where mixed use development featuring a Barnes & Noble is currently under construction. This is located on the flawed Light Rail Line. It is here that I find evidence that flawed transit projects impact ridership.
The original Light Rail's route was fine, the only problem was that during its time Downtown it's rammed down Howard St. Here, one can see the overhead lines on Howard St. and how a Light Rail train can add to the traffic mess. However, Howard St. has a saving grace of having CSX tunnels running under it and said tunnels have to be vacated by the CSX after the 2001 fire. This part of the Light Rail can just move on in.Expansions to the original Light Rail included a Penn Station stop that didn't help neighboring communities with their traffic congestion and the other to BWI where a one track at a time method was used just like that that is being proposed for Cooks Lane.
Now we're in Charles Center at the currently shuttered Mechanic Opera House. David S. Brown Enterprises promises to redevelop the site with a new Mechanic, retail, and high rise residential. What does this have to do with transit? Everything. One thing I didn't mention was that the Charles Center Subway stop is located right under the Mechanic. An even more important detail I forgot to mention was that this stop was built for two. This particular stop was and is perhaps the best Mass Transit Stop in all of Baltimore because it was built on the premise of expansion. Now, if we start referring to the existing lines in "colors" instead of "Metro" or "Light Rail" they will stir up excitement and demand expansion. The Yellow Line already exists believe or not. It travels with the Blue Line except for the Penn Station and BWI branches but here in lies the foundation for a transit line all its own. The Charles Center Stop knows this and this stop built for two will house a Yellow Line Stop.
The liberated Yellow Line will branch off from the Blue Line at Howard and Conway. With the Convention Center, Harborplace, and the numerous underground parking garages in this area it won't be very hard or expensive to dedicate bits and pieces of this for an underground tunnel that will lead us to the Charles Center tunnel for two after an Inner Harbor stop at Pratt St.Once the Yellow Line has used its tunnel for two with a Green Line transfer it will go northeast along Clavert St. where there is lot of digging and building for the ever expanding Mercy Hospital. This, along with City Hall and the Court House will serve as grounds for another Yellow Line Stop. Lets not forget the City's intention to demolish the JFX, there has to be a transit back up for the aftermath of it.
Past Mercy Hospital and into Mount Vernon, one will be hard pressed to find tunnels for the Yellow Line to latch onto. The Yellow Line will have a Mount Vernon Stop right here at Orleans St. where the blending of Franklin and Mulberry Streets, The Orleans St. Viaduct, and Preston Gardens warrant the additional stop but can they come up with the cash?I don't see it being a huge problem considering Penn Station's just a few blocks away, less than a mile even. Penn Station for now will be the north end of the Yellow Line. It will help the continued redevelopment of Station North, Greenmount West, and Barclay. When the time comes the Yellow Line will expand up Greenmount Avenue/York Road and and its real end will be Towson Town Centre.Map from Google Earth
The "Current Yellow Line" ends at BWI but about a mile away is the BWI Amtrak MARC Station. Although it's a simple shuttle bus ride away between the two stops it will be very easy to extend the line to meet the MARC/Amtrak Station. In fact it can be at ground level with its own right of way, i.e. not very expensive. The Yellow Line's southern end will be in Columbia via Arundel Mills but that's a ways away.Now we've made our way to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Development and redevelopment in this region of the City is recession proof. The Biotech Park and the upwards of 1600 new and rehabbed homes are right on schedule. It may not be as dense as the blighted Middle East neighborhood the Biotech is located in but considering the 30% vacancy rate of Middle East there will be more people living and working here.
Hopkins serves as the current eastern end of the Green Line. It was never supposed to play this roll but the fact that the Green Line is Heavy Rail instead of Light Rail has made expansion almost impossible. Although the partial expansion of the Green Line from Hopkins to Morgan State is a priority project I don't see it happening soon. I'd love to see it go all the way to White Marsh via Harford Road going through Lauraville Waltherson and Hamilton and eventually to Martin State Airport.The Green Line Expansion to Morgan is much of a "sure thing" than anything on the Red Line. Morgan State is expanding leaps and bounds with no end in site. Enrollment is through the roof drawing not just from Baltimore but from all over the region. The Red Line, especially east of Downtown is dependent on future development, a lot of which is now up in the air. West of Downtown its neighborhoods are half vacant. It would be wiser to shift focus on the Green Line where neighborhoods are growing, not shrinking. Also the proposed Red Line rams it down Edmondson Avenue in the same fashion the Blue Line is rammed down Howard St. This won't solve traffic problems, it will add to them. Another fringe benefit of the Green Line Morgan Expansion would be the redevelopment of Northwood Plaza. Northwood Plaza today is a suburban style shopping center in the middle of an urban environment. The Neighborhood Design Center has presented us with an ambitious plan to redevelop the center by making it denser and incorporating other uses for it. Now here we are back in Mount Vernon. This time for the Charles St. Trolley. This priority project of the City and Civic Groups alike is right on track and will provide a local link from Johns Hopkins University to the Inner Harbor. The Yellow Line and the Charles St. Trolley can co exist very nicely. The only issue I have with the Charles St. Trolley and my fellow "Envision Baltimore" Colleagues agree that it trys to have a stop everywhere. Its route looks more like a tourist tram than a Commuter Rail. I say keep it simple, northbound goes on Charles St., Southbound on St. Paul St. If you're a tourist, Ride the Ducks.
Here we are in Charles Village where the Trolley line will end. Now both Charles St. and St. Paul St. have much less traffic than they do Downtown. That's easy to explain, Charles Village is a College Community that is very walkable. There's plenty of foot traffic on the sidewalks here. The entire trolley line will be at ground level with traffic. Both streets are plenty wide to support it and a good redesign of St. Paul St. along Preston Gardens will relieve traffic congestion along the Trolley Line. Now we're in Locust Point where the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan doesn't have lines or stops running through it. Luckily there are train tracks running all over the South Baltimore Peninsula. In the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan there are two lines the Orange Line and the Purple Line which uses existing MARC tracks and making local stops on them. This plan wasn't met with open arms, however I love this concept. Before any new lines are built, these two lines should be implemented, Baltimore will see much better transit service without laying a single track. Local stops on the Orange and Purple lines will have "pulloffs" where riders on those line can board and deboard trains without interrupting service to MARC and Amtrak trains that won't be making as many stops. Map From Google Earth
Now, the Orange Line will travel mostly on the MARC Camden Line from the Dorsey Station almost to its Camden Yards end. Just before Mt&T Bank Stadium it will switch to CSX tracks where it will serve Sharp Leadenhall, South Baltimore, Riverside, and Locust Point. As displayed above it will make a loop around residential Locust Point and end. It won't directly serve Federal Hill but there will be a "Shuttle Bug" to give residents rides to stops on the Orange Line. The Shuttle Bug can stop at the Southside Marketplace, The Cross St. Market, and the Ritz Carlton Residences.

Now the Purple Line will use the MARC Penn Line as its tracks. It will start at the BWI MARC and end at Martin State Airport. New local stops will include Arbutus/UMBC, St. Agnes Hospital, Irvington, Rosemont, Sandtown, Biotech MARC, Orangeville (East Baltimore MARC,) Bayview, Rosedale, and Rossville beofre its end at Martin State Airport. Like the Purple Line, it will use "pulloffs" so as not to interupt serivce to MARC and Amtrak lines. Unlike the Purple Line it won't end with its own route on its own line. It will however, branch off at St. Agnes Hospital for the SoWeBO Street Car Line. This will run on abandoned track lines in Carroll Park and will jump start revitalization efforts in neighborhoods along Wilkens Avenue. It will end at the B&O Railroad Museum.

Well that's it our trip is over, as you can see with minimal building of new and expanded lines (Both the Green and Yellow Line will have to eventually continue) we can relieve traffic congestion in Baltimore. The Red Line at this point is too rushed and must be reevaluated to make it feasable and my next post will do just that. Stay tuned!