Thursday, June 25, 2015

So Long Red Line, Thanks for All the Memories

So it looks like the end for the Red Line, at least in its present form; and with it the hope that Baltimore will get any new transit in the next decade. I started this blog back in 2008, and a lot has happened in 7 years: I got married, had a kid with number 2 on the way, bought a house, switched jobs - all of which has led to significantly less Skyline blogging. Anyway, I took a look back at one of the first posts I wrote about the Red Line in 2008. Back then it was supposed to cost $1.6 billion and be up and running by about 2016. Now he we are on June 25, 2015 with federal money committed and backed by Baltimore City and County, and then Gov. Larry Hogan finally pulled the plug on what turned into a $2.9 billion gorilla that wouldn't run until around 2022. There is more to this story, but I'll leave that for another time.

What it all boils down to is this: Baltimore needs better transit. The Red Line wasn't perfect, but it could have worked. The real issue, however, is that it should never have gotten to this. The Red Line was seen as a panacea, it would solve our transit woes and get Baltimore back on its feet. MTA put all their eggs in one basket on this one. Instead of being a smartly designed addition to the system, it tried to be everything to everyone, and in the end got too big and too expensive at the wrong time. Now, all our eggs are smashed. Now what?

Maybe now the MTA in general and Baltimore in particular need to look at improving, enhancing, and expanding what we have currently.

  • This means fixing the Light Rail, so it moves seamlessly through downtown on Howard Street, and making it a more reliable choice. 
  • Being serious about revamping the MTA bus system: better routes, better reliability, improved signage and shelters, better professionalism of the employees, and no tolerance for riders who want to cause problems.
  • At the same time making the Quick Bus routes truly Enhanced Bus Service with signal priority, dedicated lanes where available, and specialized bus livery and stops. 
  • Having a serious discussion about how the Penn and Camden Lines can better serve commuters heading into Baltimore. 
  • Having additional Express and Commuter Bus routes heading into Baltimore City and the job centers in our immediate area. 
While this is going on. Let's start the process for another New Starts bid.
  • Dust off the plans to extend the Metro Subway beyond JHH to either North Ave or to Bayview along the Amtrak ROW, the latter which is favored by Gerald Neilly and the Right Rail folks (which I genuinely believe they are correct about)
  • Couple this with a renewed attempt for a spur line from Lexington Market along Route 40 to West Baltimore MARC as heavy rail, or even light metro if the ridership won't be as high. 
  • Look at taking the Light Rail beyond BWI to the BWI Rail Station and making a better connection with Penn Station. 
While this might be the end of the Red Line, we should still look forward to what we can do to make Baltimore a better and more connected city. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Baltimore's Top Transit Missed Oportunities

Baltimore Sun map from 1930s
  1. The Streetcar Subway: In the 1920s Baltimore floated the idea of burying its streetcar lines under downtown with a loop underneath Fayette and Baltimore Street. Streetcar lines along Pennsylvania Ave, St. Paul Street, and Gay Street would have funneled into tunnels at North Ave with lines from the west going into a tunnel under Baltimore Street, from the east under Eastern Ave along Patterson Park and through Fells Point, from the south under Hanover street through Federal Hill.  This would have created a very extensive subway system in central Baltimore, and would have in all likelihood, like Boston, SF, and Philadelphia saved much of the streetcar network. If this scenario had played out, places like Penn Station, Patterson Park, and the northeast would have been a quick underground trolley ride away from downtown. 
  2. Metro Subway to BWI: The original plan for the for the Baltimore metro called for a spoke-and-wheel system very much like the DC Metro, but that never happened. However the original Phase 1 plan was to have a metro line from Charles Center south through the Inner Harbor, Ledenhall and then along the old WB&A Electric Railway and Baltimore and Annapolis Railway rights-of-way to BWI and Glen Burnie. However, Ann Arundel County balked when it came to funding and construction, and this southern line was never built, as metro. It would be resurrected as the southern portion of the Light Rail in 1992, however with separate spurs for BWI and Glen Burnie, instead of a direct connection to both, leaving BWI with unacceptably long headways of 20 min. peak/30 min. off-peak. See Roads to the Future for more details. 
  3. Metro Extension beyond Johns Hopkins Hospital: The original 2002 plan called for a metro extension all the way to White Marsh, but a more realistic plan was to serve Morgan State University. However, this was then truncated back to North Ave when plans for the Red Line became finalized. Now however, an extension beyond JHH seems completely unlikely. Gerald Neily has pushed an idea to extend the metro instead beyond JHH, under Eager Street and along the Amtrak ROW to Bayview. With a MARC station at Bayview this would provide a one-seat side from Bayview, to JHH, and Charles Center while using existing infrastructure. Additionally this plan would allow for only one MARC station to be built. The current MTA plan envisions two: one at Bayview to connect with the Red Line, and then one at Broadway to connect with the metro subway. An extension to North Ave would allow for a better location for a bus transfer hub where northeast routes could be funneled into meet the subway. 
  4. Building the Red Line has a spur of the Metro Subway: IMO this is the biggest miss opportunity of them all. While it would not have been as extensive as the plan, a metro Red Line could have been envisioned as a spur using the existing Route 40 right-of-way to West Baltimore, a transfer hub at Lexington Market, and then an extension beyond JHH as mentioned above. For far less money, a more integrated system could have been created. further stages could have expanded the lines further west or north/east. New tunnels would be only needed to connect the spur north of Lexington Market, and approx. 1 mile to North Ave or 1.5 miles to extend the line to the Amtrak ROW to Bayview. 
  5. Pursuing the 2002 rail plan for the MARC Penn and Camden Lines: This is another big miss because it would have utilized already existing MARC system to serve as the backbone to a Baltimore-centric rail line. The 2002 plan envisioned the Purple Line to use the Penn Line between Edgwood and Odenton, but added new stations Rossville, Rosedale, Edison Highway, Sandtown, and at the city line north of Arbutus. The Orange Line would use the Camden Line between Camden Station and Dorsey with new stations at Morrell Park and Lansdowne, although and Elkridge station would also work here. These two lines would be designed to get commuters and riders to Baltimore, with more frequent service and weekend service utilizing multiple-unit trainsets. While the rights-of-way and many stations are there, work would need to be done on the Camden Line to add tracks to accommodate more passenger service.