Friday, May 29, 2009

New Hotel for Penn Station

(image credit, wikipedia)

A news story in the Baltimore Sun mentioned that a 77 room boutique hotel will be going into the three top floors of Baltimore Penn Station sometime by late 2010. This will be the first major project in the Station North Redevelopment Plan. The upper offices of Penn Station have been vacant for a long time, and turning them into a hotel is a great idea.

Penn Station is the center of what could be a great redevelopment for a gap that exists between Mt Vernon/CBD and the JHU/Charles Village area of the city. Many commuters come in and out of Penn Station daily, and most make their way downtown to work, or they are heading out of town to jobs in D.C. There are those that work at UB or MICA, which while located close nearby, are really only so much. With the work going on along Oliver Street with the Fitzgerald and new Barnes and Noble, a hotel at Penn Station, and the eventual new UB Law School at the corner of Charles and Mt. Royal, things could be looking way up for this part of town. Slap a streetcar going up Charles/down St. Paul, and you have yourself a destination for employees, residents, visitors, etc.

In addition to the Hotel at Penn Station, Amtrak is also trying to figure out how best to use it's parking lot north of the Station. While a bad idea would be to put a parking garage, a good idea might be to include underground parking (so not to snub the travellers who use it) with a Mixed Use facility. News on this could come by the end of the year.

As someone who frequents Penn Station for business and leisure travel, I would be very happy to see a better use of the place. If one thinks of the great train stations in America, Grand Central, New York Penn, 30th Street, and Washington Union Station to name a few, you see more than just a newsstand and a coffee shop. There are places to eat and shop while you wait for your train. While our Penn Station is smaller and can't accommodate much, the development of the north parking lot should take this into account when they put those plans together. These amenities could also serve the hotel patrons, and make that venture more appealing.

Enjoy your weekend folks.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Observations from the Light Rail

(image credit, The Bergen Network)

I was riding the Light Rail yesterday and I noticed in two places that the train still stops for vehicular traffic. I know the MTA added additional "signal priority" systems to the line, but it still doesn't make any sense to me!

Spot 1.) Cultural Center Station, N. Howard St. at W. Preston Ave:

Problem - The station is right at the corner of the street. Yesterday, I observed the train stop, let all of the passengers on and off, and then continue to sit at the red light. The train had to wait not only for the Preston Ave traffic, but also through the Southbound Howard Street turning traffic, until the Northbound Howard light turned green and then the train moved.
Solution - Once the train is ready to move, allow the light at Preston Ave to switch to red, then let the train move through the intersection, and then allow for the turning traffic.

Spot 2.) Grade crossing at Mt. Royal Ave:

Problem - Once the train leaves the Cultural Center Station it has to stop at the light at Mt. Royal Ave. I also noticed that even when the lights turned red there was still a significant delay in the train signal switching, so the train sat for an enigmatically long time.
Solution - Give the Light Rail the priority to move here. When the train leaves Cultural Center it should trigger the lights on Mt. Royal to turn red, allowing the train to move into the University of Baltimore Station without having to stop. The distance is less than one-quarter mile.

These are simple solutions to problems that can cause delays and backups all along the downtown stretch of the Light Rail, and headaches and frustrations among commuters. If you're going to give the Light Rail signal priority, do it right for crying out loud.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Sidewalk Eating in Fells Point

(photo credit flickr, Indie Photo)

What a wonderful day for a walk on the water in Baltimore today. The sun is out, there is a little bit of a breeze, all-in-all the weather is fantastic. Walking through Fells Point I noticed an interesting thing, the sidewalk eating spaces have multiplied!

The newest edition, that I actually noticed the other day, was the outside seating area out Miss Irene's. Along South Ann Street they put out tables, umbrellas, and nice planters. On Thames Street they put small bar tables and umbrellas. This was a nice addition to an empty street corner.

Moving along Thames Street it seems like everyone has moved some of their tables on the sidewalk, Koopers and Slainte both have outside seating now. Thames is always a busy sidewalk with people walking dogs, getting coffee, going in-and-out of the bars, but now the sounds of dinnertime chatter, cutlery scraping plates, and beer glasses clinking permeate the air.

More and more, with initiatives likes this, Fells is becoming a more livelier place.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Office Greenspace...Urban Oasis

When you work in an urban environment you get used to the buildings around you, the noise on the street, and the claustrophobic feeling you have when you're stuck inside most of the day. For many people that could be on the umpteenth floor of an office building, far removed from the people below. Sure you get some awesome views, but you're still inside. The real treasure is the outside space.

Many buildings downtown have plazas and open space. Charles Center for example has a huge plaza between the state and federal buildings. The World Trade Center has the harbor promenade, and City Hall and surrounding areas have War Memorial Plaza. What all this places don't truly have, and what are harder to find is the public green space...the urban oasis.

Like water in the desert, you would probably need a camel to help you find them, but when you're there it's almost as magical. Now I'm not talking about the berms that line Charles Street. I'm talking about the places that cut out the noise of the city, where if you weren't looking, you wouldn't know you are in an urban spot.

Federal Hill Park is the closest thing we have to an urban square. Sitting above Key Highway overlooking the Harbor, it's green it's quiet, it's breezy, but it isn't accessible for most of the working folks on the other side of the Harbor. University of Maryland has University Square Park and Johns Hopkins Hospital has some of it's inner courtyards (I get to partake in the the Courtyard behind the SON...drowns out all sounds with the fountain). The Harbor Promenade is a great place to be outside, but it's busy and doesn't completely block the noise from Light Street (or the tourists).

Unfortunately Baltimore is not city with a great urban square in its center city. DC has many, Philadelphia has 4 (well really 3.5 Logan is more a traffic circle now), and New York there are more than you can shake a stick at. One good candidate is Center Plaza, which was redone in 2007 and has added more green and shady trees to Downtown. Charles Center, you should be next. Imagine if Rash Field were ever revamped and greened.

If you have a space like this, use it! Take your lunch outside, enjoy the public outside green space. It'll do you good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Finally Baltimore Has Smart Cards!

(photo credit flickr jpete)

...only took them 3 years since all the Maryland Transit Pass fare boxes and gates were added! Case-in-point, the above picture is from December 2006. Notice the Maryland Transit Pass COMING SOON! smart card tap pad on it.

Baltimore Sun article

Plans are to have it up and running by October, while now it isn't operational with the WMATA system yet, something about who gets what money, the systems are compatible to make it so in the future.

This is a great start. Next step - make it work for the MARC Train. This will help speed up efficiency on the Light Rail and Buses, get people through the fare gates in the Metro faster, and cut down on trash from the paper passes.

I am interested to see how the MTA will be policing fares on the Light Rail with this system. In Boston the MBTA has handheld fare readers that inspectors carry. It's also helpful with efficiency. During rush hour inspectors are placed on Green Line platforms to help quicken the boarding process. A similar system would work for the Light Rail and the MARC.

It's yet to be seen how much the cards will cost at the beginning, and none of the fare boxes can accept credit/debit cards yet, but that should be updated eventually (i.e. next couple years). Cash is the only option right now.

Can't wait for October.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What a Beaut

(photo credit, The Baltimore Sun)

The first of 26 new MARC MPXpress diesel locomotives (officially an MP36PH-3C) made its debut at a press conference today at Camden Station. They are supposed to go online in the next couple of weeks on the Penn Line with the last of the 26 arriving by 2010.
These will start replacing some of the oldest locomotives in the MARC fleet, which as of late have been plagued with breakdowns and other maintenance problems. The new guys are sleek, smooth, more powerful, and more reliable. However, at least one of the old brutes will be donated to the B&O Railroad Museum, so posterity can still see them.

Carsharing RFP Issued

Carsharing is one step closer to being a reality in Baltimore after this week. The Parking Authority issued a Request for Proposals on May 1st for an organization to provide their services to the city. While this isn't as good as say the nonprofit idea BaltimoreCareshare, this is still great. Would Zipcar finally see that they are missing out on a great market here? Maybe even a small company interested in starting up a for-profit Baltimore based car share would be even better. Local company investing locally benefits all of us.

For more here is the link to the RFP:

Happy Post Cinco de Mayo Hump Day Only Two More Days to the Weekend Day!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Opera Returns to Baltimore

(photo credit, flickr Eridony)

Baltimore high culture just got a shot of more life with the news that a new Opera company is in the planning. The Baltimore Opera Theater is the idea of Giorgio Lalov and his wife Jenny Kelly. He hopes to have shows up and running for next season. Soon the deep baritone voice of Figaro and the rest of The Barber of Seville, with many other shows, will return to Baltimore, but exactly where is yet to be seen. A recent article in the Baltimore Sun, mentions perceived resistence from the operators of the Lyric Opera House. Whether this is true or not, who knows, but one would think they would welcome a new local troupe with open arms seeing as, well, what else do they have. Silly huh?

Baltimore Sun article

Enjoy Cinco de Mayo weekend folks!