I’ve been spending a lot of time on North Ave. lately. Even without mentioning the Station North Arts District, there’s tons of history, great overlooked architecture and quirky things on the corridor which make this part of the city an overlooked gem. I believe I once said North Ave. is Baltimore’s most important street, and I still stand by that statement. The number of community assets either on or near the street is amazing.
But there are problems. Aside from the high vacancy rates, boarded up row homes and the like, the street acts like a highway and a divider when it should act as a connector and community asset. And with so many good things happening in the communities adjacent to North Ave., there is untapped potential to support the hard work community groups are doing by enlivening the street with better multi-modal access, public plazas, and neighborhood-friendly traffic speeds.
For fun I drafted a complete streets concept in Microstation which addresses several major issues on North Ave. between Greenmount and Howard Streets (and including the bridge to UB/MICA territory). While there is potential to apply these design components corridor wide, there seems to be the most neighborhood redevelopment momentum on this segment. What amazed me is how much right of way there is on North Ave. and how much of this space is underutilized. I was also pretty cost conscious in my design and tried to avoid moving sidewalk curb lines except where absolutely necessary. Let me break it down (you can download a 2 page PDF of the concept here):
- Firstly, the design is a partial road diet. No city street needs 6 lanes of through traffic. 4 lanes and dedicated left turn bays are more than sufficient to accommodate traffic volumes which have been flat or declining over the past 10 years throughout the corridor.
- Sharrows are truly the table scraps of bicycle infrastructure. Bike lanes are a bit better, but to get early adopters and novice cyclists on North Ave., a buffered bike lane increases the perception of safety for new riders. Having a 3′ buffer between the bike lane and traffic lane may be the difference between “No way am I going out there” and “OK, I’ll try it just once”.
- Parking. Full time on street parking is truly underrated as a traffic calming and economic development tool.
- Wider, programmable medians. Even with buffered bike lanes and full time parking, I was able to expand a few medians with the potential to make them true public plazas. Farmers markets, art exhibits, hoola hoop tournaments, live stock shows, etc. The sky is the limit.
- The viaduct. Have you ever tried walking or biking from Station North to MICA via North Ave.? It’s not pretty. Taking the bridge down to 4 lanes while adding buffered bike lanes will calm traffic and also make the bridge more pedestrian friendly.
- The intersection of Howard St. and North Ave. Crazy highway-like turning radius lets traffic fly around this corner. I would think Joe Squared would want a more pedestrian friendly intersection with more patio space. I squared off this corner, expanded the sidewalk and reduced the north-south pedestrian crossing distance.
There are things I left out which are implied. More pedestrian lighting, rebuilt sidewalks, excellent way finding, community kiosks and historical markers which explain the history of the street. A place like North Ave. needs a bold statement to let people know things are happening. More complete, community-focused streets can be the catalyst which expands redevelopment momentum across the entire city.