Saturday, February 16, 2013

Improving the Hampden Shuttle

Having moved to Hampden last summer from downtown Baltimore, I have come to enjoy the neighborhood feeling of the area: wider streets, bigger rowhomes, trees and grass, etc. But I have also realized just how car dependent Hampden and its immediate surroundings really are. It does not take long for the Avenue to get filled with cars in the morning or a busy evening, and traffic can get backed up along Falls Road because of the light signals at the Avenue, and at 41st Street.

Hampden is currently served by two local bus routes (22 and 27), the Hampden shuttle, and indirectly by the Woodberry Light Rail station. All of these options have problems that make it difficult for people to reliably use them to access Hampden. Let's explore.

The Route 22nd bus only runs along the northern edge of the neighborhood along 40th and 41st Streets. While it does run approximately every 10 minutes during the rush and about 20 minutes during the rest of the day, it does not serve the heart of Hampden. The Route 22 does not go anywhere near the business district of Baltimore, and so cannot be used directly for commuters.

The Route 27 is even worse, while it runs right down the Avenue and up Falls Road, and allows a rider to get downtown along the Howard Street corridor, it only runs every 40 minutes. This make it very difficult to use for commuting back and forth, or for the occasional rider.

The Woodberry Light Rail is generally the best option. It has the most direct service to downtown and has a higher frequency of service. The downside being that it is .5 miles from the heart of Hampden and at the bottom of a rather large hill. You can always catch the Route 98 Hampden Shuttle from here, but this brings me to the point of my post...the Hampden Shuttle is worthless!

I think I have been able to whittle down the issues with the Hampden shuttle to three main points.
  1. It only circulates around Hampden. It doesn't connect to anything else other than Remington and Woodberry, so you cannot ride the 98 to anywhere else, nor can you get to Hampden from anywhere else on the 98.
  2. It only runs every 40 minutes.
  3. It only runs in one direction. 
With that said, I would suggest a few improvements that would make the Hampden Shuttle a better mode of transportation to access the neighborhood.
  1. Connect the Hampden Shuttle to Penn Station. I would suggest routing the shuttle to continue down Howard Street, turn onto North Ave, and then SB on St. Paul to Penn Station, where it would loop back up Charles Street, and then continue back to Hampden. This routing would increase Penn Station's use as a multimodal station, and increase bus frequency along Howard Street. Riders heading further south could catch any of the MTA buses or the Charm City Circulator there.
  2. Increase the frequency of the Shuttle to every 15-20 minutes. 40 minutes is insufficient, and does not allow for any chance of increase ridership.
  3. Have the shuttle run in both directions. If someone wants to go back and forth between the Woodberry station from the Avenue, a rider has to go around the entire loop. For a good example look at SEPTA's LUCY shuttle which connects the University of Pennsylvania campus with 30th street station. It has two color coded routes; one runs clockwise and the other counterclockwise.
  4. Have the Shuttle run more like the Charm City Circulator, and have less frequent stops. Currently the Shuttle stops at nearly every block; instead this could be reduced to every other block or every 2nd block in some cases to allow for quicker travel between stops.
 These are not major changes, but seeing how popular the Charm City Circulator is, a branding for the Hampden Shuttle could have great impacts. The Hampden Shuttle is already only $1 a ride (less than the normal MTA service), so why not seriously think about how it can be a better alternative to driving.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Creating a Separate Yellow Line

The Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan that was drafted in 2002 included, besides the Red - which after 11 years has yet to begin construction - also envisioned a separate yellow line that ran parallel to the current light rail, but several blocks east that would connect the Inner Harbor with Mount Vernon and Station North; eventually going up York Rd to Towson before rejoining the current Light Rail right of way at Lutherville. This was a very ambitious plan which looks to be nowhere near feasible in the near (or long term) future given how expensive that would be to build.

However, what about building the line just to Penn Station? From Camden Yards to Penn Station would be roughly 2 miles of new tunnel, but would provide rail access to an extremely traffic heavy portion of the city. The 2002 Plan proposed a new station at the Inner Harbor (approx. Conway and Light), a transfer at Charles Center to connect directly to the Metro, a new station in Mount Vernon (approximately at Madison Street), and a transfer at Penn Station to connect to Amtrak and MARC.

View Larger Map

This new separate Yellow Line would run trains between Penn Station and BWI (or alternating to Glen Burnie), sharing stations between Linthicum and Camden Yards with the Blue Line. The Blue Line would continue to run trains between Hunt Valley and Glen Burnie, and potentially alternating to still serve BWI. The short Penn-Camden shuttle would be eliminated.

There are many advantages here that would drastically improve the interconnectivity of our transit system.
  1. A direct underground transfer connection at Charles Center for the Baltimore Metro, and ideally the Red Line.
  2. A new connection at Penn Station which would get riders to/from Penn Station faster and more frequently than the current light rail station.
  3. Serve more of the dense downtown neighborhoods which are currently the fastest growing in the city. including a station in the Inner Harbor. This would allow for
  4. Remove some traffic from Howard Street to allow for better headway frequencies along that ROW for Timonium/Hunt Valley trains.
  5. Potential for expansion north of Penn Station in the future, or a connection for southbound trains from Timonium/Hunt Valley to also access Penn Station.
There are also some disadvantages/problems that need to be addressed.
  1. This would be quite expensive. For two miles of track and new stations the cost would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more.
  2. Lack of funding. There are already questions about this with regards to the Red Line, so who knows what would be available 10+ years from now for a project like this.
  3. Station placement: There is not a lot of open space for station entrances along the alignment. Sidewalk bumpouts with enough room for an elevator on one corner and a stairwell on another would probably be sufficient.
There is a lot of potential for a separate Yellow Line, especially when it comes to make a more comprehensive and connective transit system in Baltimore. Let's hope some transportation planners will think about this seriously.