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We're getting closer to having a bike trail from DC to Baltimore

Last month, a 1.7 mile section of the WB&A Trail opened, bringing the separate parts in Anne Arundel and Prince George's County as close to one another as they've ever been. A few more additions to the trail would mean an uninterrupted bike route from DC to Baltimore.

Image from Google Maps.

The WB&A trail runs from Odenton to Lanham, with a gap at the Patuxent River. There are plans to bridge the river, extend it south to Washington and north to BWI and then onward to Baltimore, which would create a full trail between DC and Baltimore.

When the WB&A was first built, it was a state of the art, electric commuter railroad that ran on three lines connecting Washington, Baltimore, Annapolis and the B&O railroad at Annapolis junction. It operated from 1908 until 1935. Work on the WB&A trail began almost 20 years ago, when the bulk of the Prince George's section from Glen Dale to Bowie was constructed, and planning dates back to the early 1990s.

During the seven years after that first section opened, the trail was extended to the banks of the Patuxent River on the Prince George's side and 5.5 miles of the Anne Arundel section of the trail was built across the town of Odenton.

Work stalled after that, though, leaving a one-mile gap between the two sections of the trail.

The trail is expanding, but there's still a gap to bridge

In recent years, hope for connecting the trails has been rekindled. Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties have resolved the issue about how to close the gap, deciding to go with a detour that was the subject of a lot of debate. While this isn't ideal for trail users, and plans to build on the right-of-way make it worse, it does mean the stalled project is moving forward.

To that effect, this year Prince Geroge's County completed the WB&A Trail Spur, which extends the trail west along the old Race Track Railroad Spur. And last month, Anne Arundel County built the 1.7 mile trail extension. This brought both trails across the river from one another, albeit nearly a mile from where the train used to cross the river.

The newest section of the WB&A Trail along Conway Road in Anne Arundel County. Photo by John Ausema.

The next step is to build a bridge across the Patuxent River. Using a $560,000 state grant, the two counties plan to begin the design phase later this year on a bridge near the location of an old road crossing that disappeared sometime prior to 1945. Once the new bridge is there, the WB&A Trail, as officially planned, will be complete.

1908 Map showing location of old bridge between the railroads.

South to Washington, DC

The recently drafted Prince George's County Trails Plan proposes dozens of connections to the WB&A and extensions, most notably extending the trail south along MD-704 all the way to DC's Marvin Gaye Trail and to the Anacostia Tributary Trails via US-50.

Though these routes differ from the ones proposed by WABA in 2015 and fleshed out in 2016, the general idea remains the same, connect the WB&A to Washington, DC and the Anacostia.

Extensions to the WB&A Trail proposed in the Prince George's trails plan.

North to the BWI Trail

Subsequent plans to the original 1990's master plans for the WB&A, South Shore and West County (what the WB&A in Anne Arundel was called at the time it was planned) trails have taken the opportunity to expand and tie into it.

The 1995 West County Trail Master Plan included a sidepath along WB&A Road from the north end of the current trail all the way to the BWI Trail—the loop trail that completely encircles BWI airport. The 2002 Severn Small Area Plan included this same trail, built in four phases. Unfortunately, this trail extension is not included in the county's 2013 Master Plan.

Severn Small Area Plan bicycle and pedestrian map, showing the WB&A trail in red running north-south.

The BWI Connector Trail

In addition to the connection to Washington, the bridge across the Patuxent and the connection to the BWI trail, finally realizing the dream of a Washington to Baltimore bicycle greenway would require one other trail: the BWI Connector (formerly the Light Rail Trail).

This trail would extend the existing Light Rail Trail, which currently runs from the BWI Trail to Maple Avenue in Linthicum Heights, 2.4 miles north to connect it to either Baltimore's Middle Branch or Gwynn Falls Trails. Such a connection was one of the top priority projects in Maryland Trails: A Greener Way To Go, the state's 2009 statewide trail vision.

It was also one of five recommendations for a hiker-biker trail network in the 2003 BWI/Linthicum Small Area Plan and was a public recommendation in the Baltimore region's Maximize2040 surface transportation plan, though it's not mentioned in the plan itself.

A complete Washington-Baltimore Greenway could end up looking something like to this:

Four separate projects, all in different stages of planning and development, would have to come together to make this vision happen. But the small section opened last month in Anne Arundel County brings it slightly closer to fruition.


DC Streetcar ridership is... actually not bad

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.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

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.

You can help make sure the next extensions are indeed better by attending upcoming planning meetings, May 17 for the Georgetown extension, and May 19 for Benning Road.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces

Baltimore's World War I memorial is falling apart

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 Grove of Remembrance on October 8, 1919. There was a tree for each state in the union, along with three for the US' allies and Woodrow Wilson. More trees have been planted for each subsequent war. According to the Monument City Blog, it is the oldest living memorial in the United States.

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.

Inside the Edward L. Palmer Jr designed pavilion.

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.

Many years of neglect are taking their toll on the memorial site.

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.

The plaque in front of the Oak honoring the sacrifice of troops from Washington.

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.


National links: Houston, we have a... well, you know

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!

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr.

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.


This 1912 plan would have made Baltimore much bigger

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.

Image from the State of Maryland.

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.


Metro begins scrapping its oldest railcars

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.

Metro railcar 1013 at a scrap yard in Baltimore. Photo by MJofLakeland1 on Flickr.

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.

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