The Baltimore Sun reported yesterday on the opposition of some residents of the Canton neighborhood of east Baltimore to the proposed routing of the Red Line transit corridor. The line would run 14 miles east-west from Woodlawn west of Baltimore City to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Campus, via downtown. The project, Baltimore’s top public transportation priority and in planning for several years thus far, is currently in the alternatives analysis stage of the New Start federal government funding process. In other words, though if all things go as planned the project would be completed by 2015 or ’16, the final routing of the project has yet to be determined by state planners.
But that doesn’t mean that a clear front-runner amongst the 11 options being considered isn’t yet clear. Rather, among others, Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) has been adamant in her support for the $1.6 billion Alternative 4-C, which would be a light rail system running in a tunnel through downtown and along the surface level along the waterfront in Canton (a section of the proposed alignment is illustrated in the map above). That routing is likely to be picked by the Maryland Transit Administration and to Governor Martin O’Malley (D) for approval this summer.
Other proposed alignments would run along a surface route through downtown and along Eastern Avenue and Fleet Street in Canton or along a tunnel route through both Canton and much of West Baltimore. The first is likely to be ruled out because it would make circulation in downtown a nightmare; the latter is, at $2.5 billion and with the same number of projected riders (around 40,000 a day), simply too expensive. An alignment with only one of the two sides of the city being offered tunnels – a potentially more economical proposition – was not considered because it would probably violate federal non-discrimination rules. West Baltimore is predominantly poor and black; Canton is wealthier and white.
Bus Rapid Transit is also officially being considered, but those involved aren’t interested in providing transit-needy Baltimore with anything less than a full-scale light rail line. The state’s probable decision in favor of light rail for the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in suburban Washington, D.C. (connecting Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carollton) makes it politically unthinkable to impose a less-desirable BRT system on much poorer Baltimore.
Those in Canton who oppose the 4-C alignment seem to be doing so mostly for NIMBYist reasons. The Sun quotes community dweller Caroline Burkhart saying that “No one wants to live next to a train… Our property value is going to deteriorate.” Another interviewee, however, rightfully makes the point that real estate values near the Washington Metro have only gone up since the system was built. But some in the neighborhood – and in West Baltimore – suggest in the article that they’d prefer no transit service at all to street-running service. In Canton, they’re afraid that light rail trains would block the waterfront from the rest of the city. To them, only tunneled trains are acceptable. But anyone who’s seen the relatively minimal impact of light rail trains along streets in Portland, Dallas, or Minneapolis knows that there’s really nothing to fear.
Running along Baltimore’s increasingly appealing waterfront, the city’s prime economic development tool, the Red Line would be quite good in assuring Canton’s health. Boston Street, along which trains would run, is quite wide, meaning that not only will no land have to be taken to make the project a reality, but also that trains will be able to run both ways along the same right-of-way, not true of the other surface-level alternative. Overall – downtown, in West Baltimore, and in Canton – this line is more likely to be a neighborhood generator than anything else, helping to turn around the fate of a city that has lost population in every Census since 1950, but which has recently been on the upturn (2008 projections show that it may have gained 700 people since 2000).
There are some fundamental flaws with the Red Line proposal, of course. Most importantly, it bungles connections with other existing transit lines in the city: running underground where the existing north-south light rail line runs overground and not intersecting with the Baltimore Metro at all. But it will drastically improve access to the three most bubbling parts of the city: Charles Center and the downtown waterfront, Fells Point, and Canton, each of which already attract lots of traffic and deserve better service. While community opposition to this project is guaranteed at this point, politicians at the city and state levels who have been working hard on getting this program going should not be dissuaded. It’s a worthy endeavor.
Image above: Baltimore Red Line plan, from Maryland Transit Administration