Category Archives: Advocacy

The Fell’s Point Small Street Renaming Project

Poppleton Map 1822Once upon a time, the people of Fell’s Point knew the small street between Caroline and Bond Streets as Strawberry Alley. Since then, it has been renamed to Dallas Street. I think we can all agree that the new name is much less fun.

The area of Fell’s Point was founded in 1730 by William Fell, and during the 18th century it became a center for shipbuilding and trading on an excellent deep water harbor. In 1763, William’s son Edward Fell laid out streets and sold plots of land for homes. Families built rowhouses along streets both narrow and wide. The area prospered on tobacco, flour, and coffee trades. In 1797, Fell’s Point merged with Baltimore Town and Jones Town. The City of Baltimore was born.

Just before the war of 1812, Thomas Poppleton was asked by the City of Baltimore to create a plan for the fast-growing City of Baltimore. In 1823, the plan was finally published. His original map remains a treasure for historians to imagine the grand ambitions of the city in the early 19th century. We at Small Streets love the map because it maps every small street both existing and planned for the city, along with all of the buildings that stood on those streets at the time.

Fell's Point Poppleton

A resident of Fell’s Point today might look at the map and feel a little confused. Nearly all of the names of the neighborhood’s small streets have changed. In 1822, the names of the small streets east to west were as follows:

  • Spring Alley
  • Strawberry Alley
  • Apple Alley
  • Argyle Alley
  • Happy Alley
  • Star Alley
  • Castle Alley
  • Duneau Alley
  • Madeira Alley

In 2012, only Spring, Castle, and Madeira Streets retain their original names. The names of all the small streets today are as follows:

  • Spring Street
  • Dallas Street
  • Bethel Street
  • Regester Street
  • Durham Street
  • Chapel Street
  • Castle Street
  • Duncan Street
  • Madeira Street

At Small Streets, we prefer the original names, but at this point in time, we can’t afford to buy all new street signs, and we’re not ready to petition the City to do so either. But how about Google Maps? That’s free. Try making a search for “Strawberry Alley, Baltimore”.

Strawberry Alley

Yup, that’s right. We proposed to add all of the historical names in Google Maps, and they were all approved. Now if you want to find directions to Happy Alley (or Argyle Alley, or Star Alley…) in Baltimore, just ask Google Maps.

Turn This Parking Lot Into a Village

If we built village of small streets today, where would we locate it?

One great candidate would be a park-and-ride lot, which is a parking lot located next to a subway, light rail, or commuter rail station. These parking lots do the job of getting some people to use public transit who wouldn’t ordinarily take it.

But that’s just the problem: the people who use park-and-ride lots don’t ordinarily take transit. The reason they have to drive to a train station is that they don’t live near it. That’s why building new neighborhoods next to transit (called transit oriented development in planner lingo) has become popular in the last 10 years. If we built a small streets village next to transit station, then we’d have a whole village of people who could use transit for all of their trips longer than a walk or bicycle ride away.

There are countless park-and-ride lots to consider, but we’ll look at just a couple. Greenbelt Station is located in Maryland at one end of Metro’s Green Line, which goes through Washington, DC and back out to Maryland. If you’ve ever hopped a ride on the Bolt Bus from New York City or the bus from BWI Airport, you may have visited this station.

Greenbelt Metro

Greenbelt Station’s parking lot has 3,399 all-day spaces and uses an area of 37 acres. Is that large enough for a village of small streets? Let’s use the village of Jakriborg, Sweden as an example, since that was built next to a train station and we’ve discussed it before.

Jakriborg

The whole village of Jakriborg is just 12.5 acres, and over 500 families live there! Do a little basic math and you find that, at the average US household size of 2.6, almost 4,000 people could live in a small streets village that extends no further than the current boundaries of the parking lot. We’d still have plenty of room for buses, taxis, and Zipcars on the edges.

Greenbelt-Jakriborg

Even the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tel?, Czech Republic fits on the Greenbelt park-and-ride lot. Built during the Renaissance, Tel? is organized around a large town square with small streets surrounding it.

Telc CZ

Greenbelt-Telc

We would of course craft the village to best fit the site. But as you can see, there’s no reason why well over 1,000 people couldn’t live in a village of small streets on the site of a former park-and-ride lot.

There are plenty more park-and-ride lots on Metro. This example at Landover Station is 16 acres in area with 1,866 parking spots. Around 1,600 people could live here in a small streets village. Which would you rather see here? Parking spaces for 1,866 commuters or houses, apartments, shops and restaurants for 1,600 village residents and visitors from all over the DC region?

Landover Metro

We’ve invested billions of dollars in providing these sites with a rapid transit system that whisks passengers away every 6 to 20 minutes, from 5 am to 12:30pm weekdays and 7am to 2:30am on weekends. What’s really the best use of this land?

Let’s take these parking lots and build small streets villages.

Quebec

—-

If you’re curious to find out how many people could live in a small streets village next to a park-and-ride lot near you, use this handy tool to measure the site in Google Maps.

Our First Official Political Action

We Love Small StreetsWe’re proud to announce that we have taken our first official action to advocate on behalf of small streets. As we’ve mentioned on the blog and website before, Baltimore is in the process of completely rewriting its zoning code for the first time since 1971. Zoning is not the most exciting aspect of urban planning, but when it’s only reviewed in full every 30-40 years, it’s important to pay attention and speak up.

Lou and I reviewed the whole text of the proposed code and picked out 10 sections that affect the viability and vitality of small streets in Baltimore either directly or indirectly. All of our comments address the importance of planning for the pedestrian first.

There are three sections that we believe have a very significant effect on small streets:

  1. Rowhouses must have a lot area of at least 750 square feet and a maximum lot coverage of 80 percent. As we discussed in a previous post, many houses in the Fells Point neighborhood do not meet one or both of these requirements.
  2. Solar panels need to be set back at least six feet from the front façade. We mentioned in a previous post that it may be possible to allow a smaller setback for small streets.
  3. Carriage houses can only be converted to residences if they have at least 750 square feet in area. It’s our position that the minimum size for a safe, healthy, and comfortable dwelling is much less than 750 square feet.

We also commented on sections that reinforce and maintain the automobile’s dominance in Baltimore. Ultimately, small streets cannot fully flourish until we’ve reoriented the city toward the pedestrian.

To read the full letter we sent to the city, follow this link. We look forward to reading a final draft of the code that shows small streets some love!