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How To Build A Campus At Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Streets First

Almost all the major streets through the medical campus are one way and fast, designed for through traffic.

While cycling through Johns Hopkins Medical Center in East Baltimore the other day, I noticed the area seemed less like a campus and more like a collection of buildings.  Nobody really hangs out outside. Most medical staff briskly walk between buildings as fast as they can. Visitors do the same. I’m also willing to bet most of the traffic on the streets is through traffic, using the streets as the quickest route between two places.

East Baltimore Development Initiative has plans to create a mixed use biotechnology park just north of the main medical campus, with several buildings already constructed. While their goals are lofty, a more practical problem exists of how to create a sense of place and campus atmosphere within the existing medical center. With new residents and building expansions adding more people on the streets,  maybe consistent streetscaping and street level plazas could help.  But these all cover up the fundamental problem;   almost every major street through the campus is one way. You say, “big deal”. OK, imagine Johns Hopkins University on the other side of town, say the Wyman quad, divided up by streets carrying through traffic.  If you wanted to rebuild the campus and the social atmosphere of the quad, the streets would be the first thing you would have to deal with. My premise is that the best hospital in the country should have the best campus environment as well. Right now, it doesn’t.

One way streets in red which divide the campus and EBDI project area. These one ways extend beyond the campus into adjacent neighborhoods.

One of my most read blog posts is an indictment of one way streets.  While I won’t repeat all my arguments here,  a growing body of planners, engineers, and public policy leaders have recognized that two way streets reduce speeds, improve livability and support commercial centers and main streets. Converting all of the internal campus streets to two way while adding other streetscaping and traffic calming elements can be a first step in creating a more inviting campus for faculty and patients.

If this were the suburbs, the hospital would probably be on an island of curvilinear streets without much through traffic – like Bayview. All of the streets within the East Baltimore Johns Hopkins campus, however, extend for miles and miles throughout the city.  Converting all of these streets in their entirety wouldn’t be practical, so maybe a two way island in an ocean of one ways is possible.

Blue streets for local traffic, red streets for through traffic.

In an ideal world, the medical campus would be closed to through traffic accept for a few access points – just like the university. Because the medical center exists within a grid network of streets and lies between major traffic generators, a more plausible solution is to create a sense of place through environmental psychology.  Change the “feel” of the street through two way traffic and other visual cues, and the transition between the outside and inside of the medical campus will be clear. Drivers will act accordingly.

Converting all the one ways within the campus to two way would achieve three things; traffic calming, easier navigation for thousands of out of town patients and visitors, and a net reduction in campus traffic due to diverted through traffic.  Because Fayette, Orleans and Broadway probably have capacity to spare, these streets should be signed for through traffic while everything else should be local.

And who knows, maybe we can get even crazier and add bike lanes or cycletracks through the medical center.  Public health, you know?  If you’re talking the talk, you should be walking the walk.