The City of Baltimore has a lot of problems, just some of which officials hope to solve with fourteen miles of new light rail. The new Red Line project will be the city’s second light rail line, this time connecting the long-neglected southwest Baltimore to the downtown area and through to southeastern neighborhoods. The hope is that the actual presence of transit in Baltimore will encourage coveted transit-oriented development (TOD) in areas connected by the project.
There’s plenty of potential for development. For example, there are over 11,000 city-owned properties, a majority of which are in western Baltimore. Ten percent of the properties are in neighborhoods near the western segment of the Red Line, and nearly a third of those properties are vacant homes. Recent data from OpenBaltimore reports over 16,000 vacant buildings in the city. The neighborhoods with high vacancy rates are considered distressed, and predominantly showcase rowhouses and low sales prices, compared to the more competitive neighborhoods with high property values and either single-family homes or high-end rental properties, all near commercial clusters.
However, the placement of transit through these neighborhoods won’t be successful without certain “TOD friendly” factors present. Factors that typically lead to successful TOD projects include:
- Mixed land uses;
- Pedestrian and bicyclist accessibility;
- Effective parking management;
- Historic architecture;
- Attractive urban design;
- Regional cooperation; and
- A dense street grid.
The western most neighborhoods are mostly residential, with walk scores varying between car-dependent and somewhat walkable, few and far between bike lanes, and many other must-haves for TOD that are generally lacking. The project does, however, already have cooperation from the State, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and approval from the Feds, pending some changes made during the ongoing engineering phase.
Strong communities and a sense of place are also necessary, and is something that Baltimore does well despite its deficiencies. Urban design is something Baltimore has shown promise in, and many want to maintain the image of an artist-friendly city. The image below shows tracks from Penn Station passing behind the Maryland Institute College of Art. In a recent community unconference, the idea of a street art “safe zone” was proposed to allow students to continue creating street art without risk of arrest or death from crossing rail tracks, a common venue for street artists.
The Red Line project recently accepted applications for Maryland’s Art in Transit program, which will use local artists to design artwork of varying media at each new station and nearby points of interest. In dense cities, cultural murals, sculptures, and other vibrant art projects help create a common theme between vastly different neighborhoods while simultaneously adding beauty where green spaces may be sparse. The focus on arts, history, and culture around Baltimore is a positive step toward improving distressed neighborhoods, but better infrastructure is still needed to truly make a difference.
The Red Line is expected to begin operating as early as 2022, less than ten years away, and the hope is that through art, community resilience, and a variety of other programs Baltimore’s neighborhoods will be prepared to make the most out of the new transit line.
Do you think Baltimore’s programs, in line with and independent of the Red Line, have what it takes to distribute opportunities evenly for all city residents?
Credits: Map and image by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.