Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The JFX: Baltimore's Real Big Dig

After a very educational visit to Boston, I have come back with a few ideas from there that I think Baltimore should adapt. This one revolves around the highly controversial "Big Dig." To say that the big dig was a massive headache filled with corruption and cost over-runs and snarling traffic for years one end, I would say you were right. However, if you were to walk along the beautiful amenity filled pocket park that ties Downtown Boston to the North End, I think you may agree that it was worth it and can do the same for a similar situation right here in Baltimore.
For those who don't know what the big dig is, I will tell you about the portion of it that I want to bring to Baltimore; I-93 in Boston cut the City on half between Downtown and the north end. In order to make the City a more walkable area and re-open the link between Downtown and the North End, I-93 was taken below for grade for several blocks into an underground tunnel thereby re-connecting Downtown and the North End.
In more recent years, a multi block pocket park has been built over the below grade I-93. This amenity filled pocket park has been a huge boom for Boston as it has bridged Neighborhoods together and has made the area very walkable. The pocket park also provides much needed greenery in the middle of the City. That was the short explanation of the portion of the big dig relevant to this post. The project as a whole was much more involved.
Now here we are back in Baltimore and as the post title suggests, we're talking about the JFX. Like I-93, the JFX creates a very intrusive route through the City cutting off connections between Neighborhoods and is blocking much needed redevelopment in East Baltimore. Not to mention that the road itself is ugly and symbolizes why running a multi-lane Interstate through the middle of a large City was a mistake.
For about 10-15 years now, there have been plans floating around to dismantle the JFX. There have been those who support it and those who are against it. Those who are against it make the argument that Baltimore's traffic is bad enough already and that dismantling a grade separated commuter route will put even more pressure on surface roads such as Guilford Avenue and the Fallsway. I have been for dismantling the JFX so that a new era of redevelopment in East Baltimore can commence between Downtown and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
When I look at the big dig however, I see something that should make everybody happy in the long run for Baltimore. When applying the big dig to Baltimore, what do we get? Does the JFX in its current state get dismantled? Yes. Does Baltimore lose a freeway's worth of travel lanes? No. Is there now great walkability between Downtown in East Baltimore? Yes. Can a new era of redevelopment between Downtown and East Baltimore now occur unifying the two communities? Yes. Is there room for a large multi block pocket park that can go under the now below grade freeway? Yes.
So with the big dig approach applied to the JFX, everybody is happy. The JFX will start and stop at Fayette St. like it always has and will be capped by a pocket park spanning the blocks between Fayette St. and Preston St. with east-west streets going through a tunnel under the pocket park to keep vehicular traffic away from the pocket park. Most plans for dismantling the JFX use Preston St. as the northern end with the Freeway resuming as such before turning westward. Given that this portion of the JFX is actually below grade, I would cap this portion as well and keep the pocket park running all the way to North Avenue thereby bridging the communities of Mount Vernon and Station North.
The JFX in its current form would resume north of north Avenue. I would however like to see if the "Baltimore big dig" can continue all the way to Coldspring Lane so that the Jones Falls Valley Communities may be united once again. As you can see, the logic behind the bid dig was eventually successful in Boston and I see it being so in Baltimore. This is why we have to make the JFX Baltimore's big dig.

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