Tag Archives: Baltimore

Baltimore's Waterfront to Get Yet More Parking

Fancy office towers, hotels, museums, and tourist attractions line the contours of Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay harborfront. So too, do massive parking garages and interstate-sized roadways that feed them. What does the future hold? According to a new plan, still more parking.

waterfront parking garage

One of several waterfront parking garages at Baltimore's harbor. All photos by author

Like much of America, Baltimore waterfront development since the age of cars has been designed for the age of cars. That looks likely to continue as the waterfront grows.

The Greater Baltimore Committee and Waterfront Partnership hired architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross to prepare Inner Harbor 2.0, an overarching new plan for reinvigorating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront.

The Director of Landscape Architecture for Ayers Saint Gross, Jonathon Ceci, said about a parcel of harborfront currently covered by beach volleyball courts, “The site is basically an island cut off from the rest of the Inner Harbor. Besides Key Highway [on one side], you’ve got the water [on the other side] and a lack of parking garages. The question was, how do you make it a magnet for urban activity?”

How does Ceci plan to create “a magnet for urban activity”? Apparently, with parking garages. The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan recommends a $20 million garage on this waterfront site at a public cost of $12-14 million.

Baltimoreans should question the line of thinking that big garages are the best magnets for urban activity. Big garages and wide roads go hand in hand. They create the “island effect” that Mr. Ceci wants to eliminate.

Baltimore’s near waterfront has more high-rise parking spaces than high-rise residential units with waterfront views. There are at least 6 waterfront parking garages, and at least 14 large parking garages within one block of the waterfront. At least 9 parking garages rise to between 7 and 12 stories tall. The waterfront has around 4,500 parking spaces already planned or under construction: 4,000 at the Horseshoe casino and about 500 at Rash field.

Meanwhile, the one-way street pairs adjacent to the harbor have 10 lanes of through traffic, while at many times, cars cannot make it through a light in one cycle. Baltimore has used these streets for 180-mile per hour races.

What Baltimore’s waterfront has gained by attracting tens of thousands of cars it might have lost by being unfriendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, urban livability, and more local populations. Walkers can enjoy a promenade ringing the water, but to venture inland, they have to cross many lanes of unfriendly traffic. These physical road barriers separate the water from Baltimore’s traditional downtown and may limit economic development from more easily sweeping inland.

A family racing to safety at Baltimore's Harbor

Ironically, all the car infrastructure may not make car driving easy. Supersized roads and garages contribute to congestion that can offset cars’ theoretical time-saving advantages. Driving across town and up and down garages sometimes is slower than walking and bicycling. The business case for more parking erodes if corresponding congestion leads to traffic jams and stress.

Lombard Street

Rush hour traffic near Baltimore's Inner Harbor

By adding four high frequency Charm City Circulator bus routes, Baltimore has made progress. It can do much more to shift the balance.

Here are some additional ideas to consider near the waterfront:

  • Create an app that directs cars to affordable satellite parking spaces.
  • Create a tax on new parking garages and dedicate the revenue to non-automotive transportation.
  • Let developers choose to pay into an alternative transportation fund instead of building parking as required by zoning.
  • Encourage parking at outlying transit stations that serve downtown.
  • Re-introduce and enforce bus-only lanes downtown.
  • Create peripheral park & ride lots with frequently departing shuttles servicing downtown, similar to the way airport shuttles work.
  • Create iconic Inner Harbor bus shelters.
  • Operate Camden Line trains on weekends for special events and Orioles games.
  • Ask the Orioles to reward fans for not bringing a car.
  • Create a discounted MTA family pass.
  • Ask downtown employers to create financial incentives for employees to not bring a car.
  • Build Pratt Street and Key Highway cycletracks to support bicyclists and bikeshare.
  • Add Charm City Circulator routes to South Baltimore, Canton, the Casino parking garage, and new park & ride locations.
  • Make sure the east-west Red Line moves forward.

Baltimore’s waterfront must be accessible to people who own cars. However, with more affordable, safe, and convenient alternatives, some drivers would be happy to visit the city’s downtown waterfront, while leaving the car outside of the city center.

Jeff La Noue

Similar version of article cross-posted on Comeback City

 

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Baltimore's Inner Harbor Poised to kick out Millennials

Rash Field-Current home of Baltimore Beach Volleyball

Thirteen million visitors a year come to the Inner Harbor.  The city has much to gain if it puts its physically active young professionals out front on display.  By playing at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore Beach Volleyball helps create a desirable healthy active image for the city. Instead of being celebrated, Baltimore Beach’s millennials are getting kicked off-stage.

The Inner Harbor has been home to Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) for eleven years.  BBV has 2500 weekly participants, plays games seven days a week from May to September. It draws players who are 87% millennials, or adults between 20-34, 88% single (in case you’re looking), and 37% come from outside of Baltimore City, according to Todd Webster, who runs the league. BBV has been touted as the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the east coast, hosted games for the International Olympic committee, and become a permanent stop on the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tour. Baltimore ought to give BBV the proverbial keys to the harbor, instead there are plans to boot the volleyballers from the Inner Harbor to Swann Park. This is an unambiguous demotion to a low visibility location two miles to the south in the shadow of Interstate 95.

Rendering for Inner Harbor II’s Rash Field proposal

The city of Baltimore, Waterfront Partnership, and Greater Baltimore Committee recently released  The Inner Harbor II (IH2 ) plan , which looks at ways to improve open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV’s courts and an existing park as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial with a  subterranean parking garage topped by an oval grass lawn and a small sand “destination.” How this lawn will be programmed is unclear.  The plan will cost $40 million, though parking revenues will likely offset some of these costs.

Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field needs a refresher.  But the results of a citizen survey say about the area suggest that residents prefer more local retail in the area and want to address the lack of activity in some parts of the harbor. The plan does not ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.

There are good ideas in the plan, like the pool barge. But unfortunately, leaders are rushing to start with Rash Field,  a controversial and expensive part of the plan. How did the architects choose a grass oval lawn and sand lot for the top of the garage?  How is the proposed lawn not redundant with West Shore Park and grassy Federal Hill?

Baltimore and the Inner Harbor planners would benefit if they mixed-in some of the affordable ingenuity demonstrated by Janette Sadik-Khan’s New York City project portfolio.  Her matra: “Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out.”   She loves to talk about how Times Square was successfully transformed with lawn chairs and paint. All urbanists should view her Ted Talk.

Instead of replicating park-like amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things citizens asked for and retain an existing draw, all at a much lower cost. Beach volleyball could be an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, seasonal activities, and tables overlooking the courts. The space could also accommodate other activities like bocce, ping pong, yoga, zumba, stationary bikes, and kayaks.

Meanwhile, the Rash Field garage is not only expensive, but unnecessary with the existing 45,000 parking spaces in downtown Baltimore.  Has the city studied the possibility of valet parking service operating from the visitors’ center as an alternative? A valet service might make better use of existing parking capacity, be more convenient for visitors, and provide jobs. To increase access, extend  Charm City Circulator coverage to more neighborhoods. Creating a safe network of cycle-tracks to serve bicycles and bikeshare, which will launch this July, on the bike-unfriendly roads ringing the Inner Harbor would help.

 

The view from Federal Hill will soon look a lot like this

In addition, building the parking garage will disrupt a public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for locals and tourists.  A parking facility isn’t enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and disruptive effect on the area.

This plan also would have an impact on the city’s millennial community.   Many young professionals seek healthy and active social amenities. The data shows clearly that millennials are driving Baltimore’s growth more than any other generation.  For young professionals, Baltimore Beach Volleyball is arguably the Inner Harbor’s top draw.  Unceremoniously kicking them out will not be viewed charmingly by this opinionated generation.

Millennials heavily populate nearby neighborhoods and have brought new life to the city. Why not ask them to help program the harbor?

JL

crossposted at Comeback City

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“The Wire” Tour of Baltimore

A Preface

I love TV’s The Wire. When I heard about this self-guided, Wire-themed tour of Baltimore, I thought, “That’s the self-guided tour of Baltimore I’ve been waiting for.” But I read something a few days later that paralyzed my ambitions. Christian Lander, author of the blog and book “Stuff White People Like,” explained in an interview:

When and how did you get the idea for the site?

January 18th. A friend and I were having an IM conversation about The Wire. He said, “Not enough white people watch The Wire.” I said, “Don’t worry, they do.” We started talking about what they’re doing instead of watching The Wire : therapy, getting divorced, going to plays…

Thus The Wire is not only Stuff White People Like but the inspiration for the whole series.  Since I’m a white person, this discovery made me uneasy about my Wire tour, the way a Pakistani person must feel about a genuinely promising opportunity in the convenience store industry. And shortly thereafter, The Wire was parodied on Disney’s iCarly.

In the end, I just decided that Americans of all colors and creeds would love The Wire, if they saw it. The Wire transcends boundaries. Norman Rockwell has beaten me to the punch here with a painting I really think captures the sentiment:

In summary, don’t let your friends’ rolled eyes inhibit your pilgrimage to the greatest city in America to celebrate The Greatest TV Show in America.

The Tour

I arrived in Baltimore at about 1PM with three friends in the car. From the Interstate, Baltimore looks like scattered red legos. It was my first time in Baltimore, and I have never seen more red brick buildings. We pulled off at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd exit, which is a reliable exit to take for a tour of the ghetto in most American cities. Up close, Baltimore resembles both the Birmingham, Alabama where I grew up and the Pittsburgh where I live now. Baltimore has Birmingham’s African American majority, boarded-up buildings and ubiquitous vegetation. It has Pittsburgh’s pedestrian presence and row houses. I really liked seeing Baltimore’s famous benches.

The tour divides Baltimore into seven districts. We started out on the west side, thinking it would contain the most shooting locations. That was wrong. As the guide explains, “The directors found East Baltimore’s relatively treeless streets much easier to film in, as they could film throughout at least three of the seasons without losing seasonal continuity.”

It was most fascinating to circle the McCulloh Homes housing project, the location of the “low rises” that DeAngelo presides over in season one. We peered between two buildings from the car and discerned “The Pit,” where DeAngelo, Wallace, Poot and Bodie hung out. Housing projects were prevalent throughout West Baltimore, and they seemed very clean and new from outside. I hope someone can help me understand a question that occurred to me: “Why did cities build housing projects rather than supplementing the Section 8 program?” Questions like this one will ignite in your head throughout the tour.

Outside the McCulloh Homes, we passed several women and children picking through an overturned garbage dumpster. I stared, wondering if a kid had thrown away his retainer. In my retainer days, I picked through many a trash bin. A lady glared back and started waving her hands at me, pointing at the garbage angrily as if to say, “If you’re gonna stare, why don’t you come down here in this garbage?” She triggered a sobering transition—one second I related to the little kids; the next second I remembered my childhood had about 3% in common with theirs, and they probably do not see an orthodontist.

I realized then how strange our Wire tour must seem to locals: three white guys and one African African American girl (a 6’3”Nigerian), pointing at empty corners excitedly, cruising very slowly, snapping pictures. Unfortunately, I think there is no cure for your glaring touristness. You had better embrace it. The only thing worse than four suburbanites pointing at everything in the ghetto is four suburbanites acting like they belong in the ghetto. I wondered constantly whether the locals knew we were on a Wire tour…how often people came through taking pictures and talking loudly.

Then we headed to North Central Baltimore. Here we saw Bubble’s Garage, Bodie’s Corner, Greenmount Cemetary, and North Ave Motel and other attractions.

One difficulty of The Wire tour is that the sites are so mundane that it can be hard to tell if you’re on the right spot. As a matter of fact, here I am at a corner cattycorner to Bodie’s corner. I was so sure this was the right corner that I pointed out where the guy who shot Bodie was definitely hiding.

Above: the corner that Bodie would have ostensibly stared at

At the North Ave Motel, we pulled into a narrow parking lot, and I correctly identified the general area of the room where Omar shot brother Mouzone. As I posed for pictures, a bewildered guy on the upper balcony smoked two cigarettes while watching me. A woman dressed characteristically like a prostitute entered a room with a man.

There was a Mercedes Benz parked in front of Bubbles’ garage. This invited speculation.

Then we headed to East Baltimore, where the standout attractions were Marlo’s Hangout and Hamsterdam. The guide made a cautious suggestion: “Look immediately on the right for Marlo’s Hangout. Hop out of the car and into the square (Faith Ln) to take some pictures if you like, but bear in mind that this is a legitimately rough neighborhood.”

We parked and crossed a small patch of grass to access the concrete space where Marlo dispatched Chris and Snoop to dispatch people. The space’s former use is ambiguous. It looks like the ruins of a skate park/dolphin show. Across the street, a group of young men motioned for me to approach but I declined. This was the closest I came to the drug trade, and I’m only speculating.

There were no corner boys anywhere in Baltimore that Saturday afternoon. I would guess that the show exaggerated the daytime drug trade because it’s easier to film in the day. The light is cheaper. And you can’t film fictional drug dealers at times when real drug dealers need to use the very same corners.

As the day passed, we saw many other sites until wrapping up at the abandoned building that is Major Crimes HQ, located down by the port in southeast Baltimore. Every season of The Wire ends with a retrospective montage. In my own head, the projector played a retrospective montage of our day—shot on 8mm film, because that’s how people remember things. In the quiet peace of the empty port, we said goodbye to Major Crimes HQ and headed out.

Editor’s note: This post come from Lewis Lehe, maker of the famous congestion pricing video. If you’d like to take the same tour as he describes in this post, it is online here.  Lewis will soon be heading to the University of Leeds for graduate studies in the economics of transportation. We wish him well!-KG

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Cleveland Takes its Fight Against Wall Street to the Supreme Court

We’ve previously written about Cleveland’s lawsuit against 21 big banks over the mess that was created by the foreclosure crisis.

This article in Cleveland Scene summarizes the case nicely:

“The case against the banks isn’t a class action about individual homeowner losses, or whether they were tricked into signing commitments they couldn’t keep. (Attorney Joshua) Cohen knows that’s a common misunderstanding. Instead, it’s about the big picture from the city’s point of view — an attempt to recover money Cleveland has been forced to spend cleaning up the mess Wall Street left behind.

The foreclosed homes often end up as abandoned, ugly board-ups that are a haven for crime. The city is left to mow the grass when neighbors complain about rodents. The police end up dealing with festering drug problems. All of that costs money. And ultimately, the city must demolish thousands of these derelict properties at a cost of $7,000 each or more. But Cleveland is not alone: A similar case filed by the City of Buffalo, New York, claims the maintenance, police attention, and eventual demolition of foreclosed homes totaled as much as $16,000 per building. Of course, Buffalo was left holding the tab.

‘Was it irresponsible lenders or borrowers?’ Cohen asks rhetorically. ‘You could argue that until the cows come home. But whatever conclusion you reach, Cleveland was an innocent bystander. It’s amazing to me that the financiers have not been called to answer for this in any meaningful way.'”

Where does the case, filed in 2008, stand now?

Headed for a long-shot run at the US Supreme Court.

In addition to Cleveland, similar suits have been filed by Buffalo, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Memphis, the article states.

-KG

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Filed under Editorial, Real Estate, The Housing Crisis

Buffalo Artist Uses Material Salvaged from Demolitions

Take a look at the pieces created by Buffalo artist Dennis Maher using materials salvaged from demolished buildings.

The Baltimore native came to Buffalo eight years ago and finds the city to be a very inspiring place, he said in an interview with Rust Wire.

“There are very few places where I could do the kind of work I’m doing here,” working with debris, Maher said.

When he first came to Buffalo, he worked on a demolition crew to earn extra income.

His interest in demolition has different aspects, he said: the physicality of it, the political aspect of it as a development strategy, and as a process of erasure.

His art is being displayed at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo (second photo from top) and was recently shown at the Black & White Project Space in Brooklyn (top photo).

Maher is a full-time faculty member in the department of architecture at the University at Buffalo, part of The State University of New York.

Want to know more?

Here’s a piece the Buffalo ArtVoice wrote about one of his exhibits several years ago and here’s something from Buffalo Rising about an exhibit last year.

-KG

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Cleveland Wins $15M for Co-Op Revitalization Strategy

This is a very big deal. Big.

The city of Cleveland was chosen as one of five cities to share $80 million in grant funding through the Livable Cities Initiative.

Funders were impressed, specifically, by the city’s efforts to establish cooperative workplaces to serve as suppliers to some of the region’s major employers–including the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital.

We’ve written before about the Evergreen laundry, where workers from the impoverished Hough neighborhood are earning a stake in the company while putting in hours doing laundry for local institutions. That organization was seeded by the Cleveland Foundation as part of an innovative employee-owned business structure that has come to be known as ‘the Cleveland Model.”

Works at the Evergreen cooperative laundry earn a share of the company for their hard work.

The Cleveland Foundation has been looking to expand cooperative ventures in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods–most of which also happen to be near an important employment node–University Circle.

Their latest venture is a massive, 10-acre indoor lettuce farm. Between that, the laundry and a solar power operation, they hope to someday employ hundreds or even thousands.

The grant award goes a long way to justify Cleveland’s nonprofit urban revitalization capacity, which is driven by the local philanthropic organizations and is considered one of the country’s most sophisticated.

Detroit; Baltimore; Newark, N.J.; and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. were also selected for funding by the cooperative of 22 major philanthropic organizations.

-AS

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Blog Spotlight: Shrinking Cities

Check out Shrinking Cities from Virginia Tech’s Dept. of Urban Affairs and Planning.

The blog comes from the Shrinking Cities – Sustainability studio in Virginia Tech’s School of Urban Affairs and Planning, Alexandria Campus.

It  “aim(s) to explore the opportunities and challenges of shrinking cities in the context of contemporary urban planning. We will evaluate strategies and commentary on shrinking cities, including urban agriculture, storm water infrastructure, pocket parks, vacant property reclamation, land banks and community energy generation.”

Lots of good stuff here on Baltimore, Cleveland, Youngstown and more.

-KG

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Filed under architecture, Economic Development, Education, Good Ideas, regionalism, Rust Belt Blogs, Urban Planning