Posts about Baltimore
The DC Streetcar is drawing a decent number of riders, so far. Compared to other US light rail and streetcar systems, it ranks near the middle in terms of riders per mile of track. It's slightly above average, neither horrible nor spectacular.
According to DDOT's latest streetcar ridership report, the H Street line carried an average of 2,285 passengers each weekday in April. It carries more on Saturdays, but weekday ridership is the standard measuring stick nationwide.
In raw terms, 2,285 riders per day is pretty low. But for a line that only carries passengers for 1.9 miles, it's actually not bad.
Middle of the light rail pack
Obviously, the 1.9 mile DC Streetcar isn't going to carry nearly as many passengers as, say, the 90-mile-long Dallas light rail system. And if you rank all US light rail and streetcar systems by total ridership, DC's 2,285 passengers per day is indeed near the bottom, at 31st out of 37. Dallas is 7th with about 105,000.
But to get a sense of how successful these lines are at attracting riders, we need to compare them on an apples-to-apples basis. To do that, divide the total daily ridership by the number of miles, to get ridership per mile.
And in those terms, DC Streetcar's 1,203 riders per mile is a respectable 18th out of 37. It's just barely in the upper half nationally. And it doesn't even go downtown yet.
Dallas is actually lower at 1,164 riders per mile. Other regional light rail systems that are lower than DC Streetcar include Baltimore (691 riders/mile), Norfolk (784), Sacramento (1,056), Saint Louis (1,035), Pittsburgh (850), and Cleveland (467).
On the other hand, DC is far below the number one system on the list: Boston's Green line light rail, which carries a whopping 7,126 riders per mile. Other systems near the top include San Francisco's Muni Metro (4,370 riders/mile), Minneapolis (3,275), New Jersey's Hudson-Bergen light rail (2,852), and the Portland streetcar (2,075, which is interestingly higher than Portland's MAX light rail at 2,048).
Compared to H Street's X2 bus
What about buses?
In terms of raw riders, the X2 bus on H Street is the 3rd busiest bus line in the WMATA system, with 17,400 riders per day as of 2015. The X2 is almost exactly 5 miles long, pegging it at 3,480 riders/mile.
So the streetcar is attracting about one third as many riders as the X2 was before the streetcar started, mile for mile.
But the X2 is a tall order to match. If it were light rail or a streetcar, the X2's 3,480 riders/mile would make it the third best system in America, after only Boston and San Francisco. That's one of the reasons a bigger and nicer vehicle makes sense there in the first place.
Plenty of room for improvement, but riders are there
Clearly the streetcar isn't perfect. Getting it open was a saga, and its lack of dedicated lanes or traffic signal priority continue to hurt. Future lines absolutely need to be better, and can be better.
And who knows what will happen if DDOT ever starts charging a fare. Atlanta streetcar ridership plummeted when it went from free to $1, but Portland's streetcar ridership remains high despite adding fares after 11 years of free rides. So that's hard to predict.
But in terms of attracting riders, DC Streetcar isn't doing particularly badly.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Nearly 100 years after World War I, Baltimore's memorial is badly deteriorated, and going ignored. As of now, nobody has plans to fix it.
Grove of Remembrance with pavilion in background. All images from the author unless otherwise noted.
The National Service Star Legion planted the
One other tree that went up as part of the original grove was for Baltimore. Once the United States entered the war in April of 1917, Maryland provided 50,000 troops. Most were from Baltimore, and they served largely in eastern France.
In 1992, Baltimore Sun reporter Jacques Kelly wrote:
Baltimoreans filled the ranks of an infantry regiment, the 313th of the 79th Division. Its Company A was mostly East Baltimoreans; Company F drew heavily from the old 10th Ward, a section south of Green Mount Cemetery. It was known as the Irish Fusileers. There were favorite companies from neighborhoods in South, Northwest and West Baltimore. Many never came home.The Grove of Remembrance also has a stone pavilion honoring Merill Rosenfeld, a Johns Hopkins graduate who died during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The site is next to the Maryland Zoo and adjacent to the Jones Falls Trail.
The pavilion was designed by Edward L. Palmer Jr., an 1899 graduate of Johns Hopkins. Palmer was also the designer of many significant residences in Roland Park, Guilford, and Gibson Island. With his partner, William D. Lamdin they designed over 200 houses and dozens of buildings including the Second Presbyterian Church in Guilford and the twin-domed Saint Casimir Church in Canton. Using old world charm, Palmer and Lamdin are credited with building some of the most graceful and distinctive homes and buildings in Baltimore.
The Grove of Remembrance is in bad shape, and it's unclear who should fix it
At Palmer's pavilion, wood beams are rotting, rain gutters are falling over, the iron work is rusting, the benches have been destroyed, the mortar supporting the stone structure needs repointing, and the signature slate roof needs repaired. There also aren't any flags on the flag poles, which need a fresh coat of paint.
And while the tree grove itself has glorious oaks that are nearly a century old, there's quite a bit of trash scattered around the memorial site.
Fixing these problems won't cost millions of dollars, but it will mean needing some money, and a capable project leader, which isn't all that easy to come by.
The Grove of Remembrance is in Druid Hill Park, but Baltimore's Park and Recreation Department is woefully short of money.
"There are no plans in place," said Deputy Director Bill Vondrasek recently. "We would welcome outside funds to help renovate the structure."
Friends of Druid Hill Park is an organization comprised of volunteers that are mostly engaged with programming events, so capital project fundraising is probably beyond their current scope. Billionaire David M. Rubenstein, the son of a Baltimore postal worker, is interested in historical sites and has donated millions to sites around Washington, including 7.5 million toward fixing Washington's Washington Monument. Maybe he has interest in being a benefactor for historical sites in Baltimore? Governor Hogan recently appointed a World War One Centennial Commission to develop activities and events for the war's 100th anniversary. Maybe that group could lead the project. One other option might be having the Maryland Zoo helping with day-to-day upkeep.
Nearly a hundred years after one of America's bloodiest wars, this memorial site is forgotten and neglected. Now that we've arrived at World World I's centennial, perhaps we'll find a way to restore the site and honor those who sacrificed.
The right hurricane could devastate Houston, and along with it some major sources of energy for the US, Baltimore's Black Lives Matter candidate is for real, and a California city is considering building a park overtop a freeway. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!
For Houston, not if, but when: Houston is the energy capital of the United States, with major chemical, oil, and gas facilities sitting on its ship channel. The city would also be a sitting duck if the right hurricane came along. This interactive story shows what happens when flooding inundates Texas' coast. (Texas Tribune)
Mayor of Baltimore: Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson is running for Mayor of Baltimore on a platform that's heavy on city planning. He wants to revitalize neighborhoods by making it easier for low-income residents to get home loans, along with restart the Red Line subway project that was cancelled last year. (Curbed)
Tip of the cap: Glendale, just north of downtown Los Angeles, could build a park overtop Highway 134, reconnecting downtown with the northern part of the city. City council members are visiting Dallas' Klyde Warren freeway cap, and will take a vote after that. (Time Out Los Angeles)
Circling Atlanta: Ryan Gravel wrote his master's thesis about the idea to turn a a network of old freight rail lines into what is now knows as the Beltline, a green ring of transit and trails around the city. Now, he's head of the "Atlanta City Design Project", a new effort to re-imagine Atlanta as a sustainable and inclusive city. (Atlanta Magazine)
Pilot light out: America's contract air carriers that do a lot of the regional work for major airlines have been suffering from a lack of pilots. Republic Airways just filed for bankruptcy, and some argue that this is a long term deficit that will hamper the industry for some time to come. (The Economist)
The coffee shop it is a changin':The coffee house has gone through four major stages, from a place to simply get a drink to a third space for the community to boutique coffee shops to, finally, the coffee bars popping up today. The general trend: less WiFi and invitations to sit and work for hours, more face time and conversation with baristas. (Core 77)
Quote of the Week
"These new standards are an urban design revolution, they overturn the destructive Chinese model of superblocks, gated communities, and giant streets that has been too long eroding the livability their cities. [The authorities] have been testing these ideas for years, but now they are moving them to a scale that is unprecedented."
- Architect Peter Calthorpe speaking to City Metric about changes a Chinese policy group has made to their urban design standards.
In 1912 Baltimore's city leaders hoped to annex this large chunk of Baltimore County. Had that happened, the city limits would have extended from near downtown Towson to just shy of Ellicott City.
Baltimore annexed big chunks of land in three successive waves: One in 1817 that took the city as far as North Avenue, a second in 1888 up to about 40th Street, and a third in the early years of the 20th Century.
Like other US cities, Baltimore was expanding rapidly in the early 20th Century amidst a wave of streetcar-induced sprawl. Suburban areas lacked city services like sewers, parks, and police, so central cities often annexed surrounding land.
By about 1910, Baltimore was ready for another round of annexation. Exactly how much land the city should annex became a major hot-button issue of the day, with proposals ranging from no expansion to the aggressive, far-ranging one pictured above.
In 1918 a compromise plan eventually won out, settling Baltimore's boundaries at their current extents.
By the time America's post-World War II suburbanization boom happened, the national mood had shifted against central cities. A 1948 amendment to Maryland's state constitution outlawed any further expansion of Baltimore City, and thus the borders haven't changed since.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Say goodbye to Metro railcar number 1013. Along with other 1973-vintage 1000-series railcars, it's headed to the scrapyard. More aren't far behind.
As new 7000-series railcars enter Metro service, WMATA is now beginning to retire its oldest railcars. So far the agency has scrapped four cars, with more scheduled to head out the door beginning this March.
In the past if WMATA had to permanently take a railcar out of service, they'd either keep it for parts or backup, or it would end up in any number of weird places. That happened rarely for most of WMATA's first four decades.
That's now changing. With the impending mass retirement of 400 decades-old 1000-and-4000-series cars, WMATA needed a process to handle getting rid of so many cars at once.
Since signing a scrapping contract late last year they now have that process, and railcars can begin to head to the scrapyard.
When that happens, workers truck the old railcar to United Iron & Metal in Southwest Baltimore, where they strip it of valuable materials.
It's an inglorious end for these old workhorses, but I'm not too sorry to see them go; those new car replacements are nice.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The city of Baltimore has over 20,000 vacant row houses and 300,000 fewer residents than at its peak. Governor Larry Hogan recently announced funding to demolish whole blocks of them. A common narrative outside Baltimore is that the city is in collapse thanks to manufacturing jobs leaving, as in many Rust Belt cities. But that's not the biggest problem. Suburbanization is.
Pundits often paint a picture of a place in economic decline that has never recovered from the loss of thousands of manufacturing and steel-making jobs. "Since at least the 1970s," E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote in the Washington Post in May, "the economy's invisible hand has ... been diligently stripping tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs from what was once a bustling workshop where steel, cars and planes were made."
Like Rust Belt cities, Baltimore used to rely on manufacturing and steel-making, but it has changed. The Baltimore metropolitan region's GDP is higher than Portland (Oregon), Columbus (Ohio), Orlando, Austin, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Nashville, and San Antonio. It ranks fourth in percentage with a graduate or professional degree and fourth in median household income among the 25 largest metro areas. (Washington DC is number one in both categories).
Here's the rub. While Baltimore City's population has dropped by 300,000 people since its peak census count in 1950, Baltimore County has added 550,000. Anne Arundel County over 400,000. Howard County almost 300,000. Harford County 200,000. Carroll County has added over 100,000 people.
State spending in the suburbs sapped Baltimore
Baltimore City's surplus of vacant houses is not there because of a poor regional economy or because the Baltimore region's population is shrinking. It exists because the region has built lots of new roads and highways, new schools, new utilities, and new homes outside the city, without equivalent investments inside the core city.
People and businesses have flowed to the geographic shift of new investments in surrounding counties. As this was happening, physical and social decay escalated in many of Baltimore's older row house communities, especially African-American neighborhoods.
Some of this early exodus was the result of directly racist practices such as redlining. However, shifting public investments outward, often based on theoretically race-neutral growth formulas, certainly was anti-urban and had the greatest impact on urban communities of African-Americans.
Regardless, people with choices of all races have made rational decisions to leave behind thousands of houses in poor school districts with old school buildings, high crime, pothole-ridden streets, inadequate transit, and leaky pipes.
A renaissance is around the corner for more neighborhoods
There are new positive trends that portend a brighter future for some of Baltimore's challenged row house neighborhoods. First, Baltimore City has stopped hemorrhaging net population. New city-based industries are thriving in health sciences and technology.
The Under Armour corporation is a major growth magnet with over three billion in annual revenue, and growing, every year. Lots of people are still moving out of the city, but there is a new crop of newcomers, often well-educated millennials and some immigrants.
However, they are not spreading across the city evenly. They are bypassing the most challenging row house neighborhoods.
Baltimore's booming Brewers Hill neighborhood is mixed with new apartments, offices, and fixed up rowhouses. Photo by Elliott Plack on Flickr.
Thousands of new upscale apartments and professional offices are being added downtown and in a ring of neighborhoods around the harbor, often on former industrial brownfield sites. The harbor adjacent row house neighborhoods have been fixed up and growing for two decades. It shows, that when there are amenities in the neighborhood, there is demand for row house living.
One sign of what may be to come: the resurging row house neighborhoods west and south of Johns Hopkins University, several miles north of the harbor. Where there is a neighborhood anchor institution, good retail, and reasonable transit, some old Baltimore row house neighborhoods may reverse their fortunes in the next decade. Inclusivity will be important.
However, as in decades before, state and regional decisions on school, infrastructure, and transportation investments will play their part on whether some Baltimore city neighborhoods can come back. These decisions are particularly important for the most vulnerable.
In DC, housing is so scarce that prices are skyrocketing, especially for charming, historic row houses. Just up in Baltimore, however, they can't give many dilapidated row houses away, and Larry Hogan recently announced a plan to tear many of them down. Is that a good idea?
In the short run, parks will replace the tear-downs, but Hogan also announced a loan program to encourage developers to build new housing in the same neighborhoods.
What's the point of knocking down housing just to build other housing? Our contributors discussed this issue.
Canaan Merchant articulated the concern:
There is a sense that these neighborhoods will just never recover (at least in our lifetimes) and until then the abandoned houses just make things more dangerous.
But if the "plan" (vague as it is) is to build parks and affordable housing then I have a hard time separating that logic from what we said about so many neighborhoods (like Southwest Waterfront).
Meanwhile, one of Baltimore's best resources are these old row houses and tearing them down is a big opportunity cost that can never be replaced. That's why we have historic districts and why historic districts are valued today.
Payton Chung explained the economics:
There is such a thing as property with a negative value. Think about if a smelly, flea-ridden old couch materialized in your living room—Richard Layman, a historic preservation supporter, posted some thoughts on an email list and gave permission to print them.
you'd pay to get rid of it, right? That's negative value.
Given the high housing prices in DC, we can sometimes forget that the capital cost of rehabilitating (or even maintaining) buildings can be so high that those buildings have negative value. Gut-rehabbing an old rowhouse just to meet code can easily cost over $100,000.
Given that move-in condition rowhouses in West Baltimore can cost $50,000, there's little economic incentive to rehab the houses unless you're comfortable throwing lots of money away. Nor can you just rehab a few of them: vacant properties really drag down the value of entire blocks, and selective demolition isn't an option since rowhouses depend on their neighbors for structural support.
What's more, even good houses at low prices won't be enough to stimulate demand for new housing. It's easy to think "oh, housing prices are cheap, therefore it's a bargain." As new arrivals to Detroit can attest, though, that's not always the case.
Not all rowhouses are created equal. The houses that are being targeted are quite different from DC rowhouses: whereas ours are typically 16-18' wide, Baltimore's rowhouses are just 12-16' wide in most cases. (It's not just a matter of platting—
rowhouses have beams across their entire width, and the price of solid-wood beams doesn't scale linearly.) Those extra few feet make a huge difference in livability, especially in the ability to have hallways next to habitably-sized rooms.
There is a difference in what people can do in weak markets as opposed to strong markets. In a city like DC, there is demand for property, whereas in Baltimore, my sense in talking with planners over the years is that they are beaten down by the sheer volume of the problem, that they have so many vacant properties and lots, that they see demolition as a reasonable step.
The weak market problem there is stoked by too much capacity for development in Howard, Baltimore, Harford, and Anne Arundel Counties. There isn't enough demand for all those places to be successful, and the success of the counties comes at Baltimore City's expense.
But the reality in a place like Baltimore is that a demolished empty building becomes a vacant lot, no easier to revitalize, and merely a different form of blight, an exchange of one blight for another.
Jeff La Noue lives in Baltimore and gave a perspective from up there:
As a Baltimorean, I appreciate our rowhouse architectural character. However, there have been so many public policy decisions, including poor transit as well as the preponderance of crime and poor schools, that make many row house neighborhoods lose their favorability/marketability. As a result, many shells can't be given away and there is no market to spend any money to redevelop.
We all dream of a time when the conditions change for many desolate row house neighborhoods. However, while we wait, the rot continues. In addition, Baltimore remains relatively affordable and we continue to build lots of new housing in the booming southeast part of the city and suburbs. The oldest and least desirable housing then goes vacant as people move up to better housing and "better" neighborhoods whether they be in the city limits or not.
I certainly would love to see a nuanced demolition plan that does not knock down the most charming and viable. However, I think we need to cull of the weakest of the rowhouse herd. It is hard to leave 20 to 30,000 vacant houses just sit for another decade or more. There is not enough demand for traditional row house living right now, especially with poor transit and little neighborhood retail, to make a massive rowhouse renovation plan financially viable anytime soon.
Could Baltimore be DC's next bedroom community?
So, there's negative demand for housing in Baltimore, and overflowing demand in DC. If Baltimore were adjacent to DC, we'd be talking about how it's the next hot area, but it's about 40 miles away. Could faster, better transit whisk Baltimoreans down to jobs in DC?
(Maybe that's what Hogan has in mind with his $10 billion maglev, except he doesn't want to pay for it, it wouldn't go to the distressed neighborhoods, and Hogan just cut a transit line that would have.)
What if Maryland improved MARC speeds and frequencies to make the trains Metro-like. Would Washington-area housing demand flow into Baltimore? Richard Layman doesn't think so.
If it were that simple, it would already have happened. I reverse commuted to Baltimore for a time, and yes, Baltimore markets itself as a cheaper alternative for people working in DC, but it really stinks to spend a couple hours each way each day commuting, especially if one does it by sustainable means (bike/walk/transit).Other contributors said that there might be a few spots where this could work, but they're nowhere near where Baltimore is tearing down blocks. Jeff La Noue:
As I wrote previously, Baltimore is undercut by massive overcapacity of development opportunity in the suburban counties, and great poverty and financial needs within the city, which outstrip its financial capacity. It lacks a transit network which would recenter demand on the center city, for both commercial and residential location.
Plus, while it has cool neighborhoods, the city is large and isn't so walkable between neighborhoods as much as it is within neighborhoods. EYA has a trademark, "Life within walking distance." Baltimore isn't set up that way.
From a Washington perspective, there are tons of super cheap and good looking row houses within walking distance of the West Baltimore MARC Station. That is a place that could seemingly develop market viability, but it needs some initial investment to get it going.
Yes, the property surrounding the West Baltimore MARC station is surprisingly undervalued. However, Sandtown-Winchester won't be improved by transit anytime soon, since it opens a peculiar can of worms: Winchester Street runs atop the Penn Line's B&P tunnel, halfway between Baltimore Penn and West Baltimore, and which is the subject of multibillion-dollar replacement proposals.It seems Baltimore faces such a mountain of problems that these demolitions may be necessary. One can't help wonder if things would have been different if Baltimore had gotten a full subway system like the Metro, which was proposed around the same time.
Commuting from Baltimore to DC would be much easier if the last-mile transit connections were better. The transit connections and densities surrounding Baltimore Penn and Camden stations leave much to be desired, and Washington Union Station isn't convenient to most workplaces in DC.
Through-routing MARC trains down to L'Enfant Plaza and Crystal City would help, as will the streetcar and [potential] future Metro Loop. So will new office developments within walking distance to Union Station, in areas like NoMa and Capitol Crossing.
And while the presence of the federal government kept Washington in better shape than Baltimore during the worst of times, the Metro elevated the value of downtown DC. Had it never been built, perhaps Washington would still be a "donut" of attractive suburbs around a continually decaying core with rising crime and insurmountable vacancy rates.
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