Baltimore Gears Up for Fight on Red Line Transit Plan

Baltimore Red Line Light Rail MapInhabitants of Canton see the line’s proposed route as a potential detriment to their neighborhood’s revival

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

13 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • rufustfyrfly

    My experience with the addition of light rail to the waterfront in San Francisco has been that they can actually greatly increase access. Because they take up much less space and pass at longer and more predictable intervals, it’s much easier to cross the light rail lines than it is to cross a car-infested street. It also gives planners an opportunity to generally redesign pedestrian crossings along the right of way.

  • The idea that the Red Line will somehow “cut off” access to the waterfront more than it’s already cut off is a joke — as you note, Boston St. is already quite wide, and is heavily trafficked, and crossing it to get to the water isn’t exactly inviting.

    The folks in W. Baltimore have somewhat more room to gripe, as the street the train will go down is narrower than Boston St., but still in heavy use as an East-West corridor (which is of course the reason the train should that route to begin with). One of the problems is that there’s only one proposed Red Line stop in that stretch, making it seem more like something people use to get through their neighborhood, rather than something for the neighborhood.

    On the note of connections, I think you overstate the problems a bit. Under 4C, here will be a Red Line station more or less directly underneath the current Convention Center light rail stop, making that transfer simple. My understanding is that there is also an underground pedestrian tunnel planned between the current Charles Center metro subway stop and the proposed Red Line stop a block south.

  • blarg

    The only thing that is disappointing is that the current Charles Center metro stop was designed as a transfer station, and we aren’t utilizing that. Rather, we’ll have to walk a block and a half under ground.

    The Cantonites are in a fervor over this. I attended a meeting, and all they did was yell about how this would ruin their neighborhood. When presented with the fact that the street will be completely gridlocked at all hours by 2020, and that the train would RELIEVE that pressure, they ignored the statement and said that the train will ruin their property values, which is also false.

    I got the feeling the underlying theme is that Canton is used to their cars, and used to not having low income black people having access to their neighborhood. So, they are afraid of moving into the future with a rail line, and would rather be secluded.

  • orulz

    Saying that the red line and the heavy rail metro won’t be connected at Charles Center is IMO not correct. That would be like saying the Metro and the Light Rail aren’t connected at Lexington Market. In either case it’s a mode switch, and you only have to walk a few hundred feet to make the transfer. There are plenty of IN-SYSTEM transfer tunnels that are quite a bit longer than that.

    IMO after the Red Line, the biggest improvement that can be made to Light Rail in Baltimore after the red line would be to move the Blue/Yellow line trains into the Howard Street Tunnel. Ever taken the Baltimore light rail? The trains crawl maddeningly down Howard, but they really fly quite satisfyingly elsewhere on the route.

    A new bypass tunnel that would move freight trains out from beneath Howard is already being planned. In a decade or so when that’s done, talk about a perfect opportunity.

  • sillyme

    I think the real reason the canton residents are in opposition, is because of this: a new train or bus line means black people into their community. There is no need to sugarcoat. And the sad part is, that half the black people in baltimore don’t even know of places like canton exist just beyond the harbor. In fact besides the actual harbor itself, the blacks in baltimore don’t go any futhur than lexington market. Its just moderen day racism if you ask me. Im not buying the “it brings down our house value and blocks the view of the water” BS. In actuality have a bus/train is more appealing to a home buyer because its easier commute to work/ ammenities.

  • Jim

    Walking a block between stations isn’t a connection. For a commuter it’s just a pain in the ass and for someone making a leisure trip it’s just another reason to drive. A connection is walking up a flight of stairs or crossing the street. People don’t like the uncertainty involved with transfers to begin with. No one wants to see their train pulling out of the station as they’re running down the street trying to catch it, only to have to wait for another 10 minutes. The opportunity exists to do it right – so why not do it right?

  • markus

    I grew up in west baltimore and I know that we need some type of boost to drive the economy back up… We use to always look at canton and those areas as rich people and for them to complain about property value oppose to the over all gain this project oppose on the thousands of people… It goes to show you how much people really care.

  • sillymealso

    I agree with Sillyme. It’s the prime reason why Baltimore has a incomplete, one line subway instead of a comprehensive transit system such as D.C. Of course its ironic that the proposed Red Line transit right of way within the “freeway to nowhere” is the very same tract of land where thousands of black residents were displaced to make way for a highway that was ultimate stopped by…you got it…folks in Canton.

    • Cathy Thornton

      Why didn’t the black residents of those areas fight the “freeway to nowhere” instead of leaving it up to Barbara Mikulski? If there had been a Barbara in that area, the taxpayers could have saved tons of money on that ridiculous debacle as well.

  • Cantonian

    $17 Million of YOUR taxpayer dollars were ALREADY spent over 10 years ago to make Boston St. in Canton a Scenic Byway! Brick sidewalks, stone medial strips & “antique” streetlights were installed. Trees were planted in the medial strips & along curbs that are now taller than the three story townhouses they shade. These MATURE trees also provide the ONLY shade for BOTH bikers and pedestrians on the South side of Boston St. There is NO shade on the promenade!

    Plan 4-C will take MORE of your tax dollars to DESTROY all of this! The stone medial strip and brick sidewalks will be DUG UP & be TAKEN OUT. ALL the MATURE trees will be CUT DOWN!! IF any new trees are planted, they will just be tiny saplings! WHAT A WASTE OF YOUR MONEY!!! Your money would be much more wisely spent to tunnel under Boston ST in Canton, rather than WASTING the $17 million that was ALREADY spent!!! Tell your Representatives.

  • Cantonian

    Asurface rail in Canton makes no sense. Tunneling makess the most sense.

  • Cathy Thornton

    What is the point of sending this unwanted waste of taxpayer dollars known as the Red Line through a residential/business area that already is short on parking? After reading the studies about how they already know that they’re going to have less than 40,000 riders per day, I don’t see the need to kill a few more perfectly good neighborhoods. We already have surface transit via the buses – many of them are free. Why waste all of this money building an infrastructure as intense as this rail system?

  • Bill

    The Red line doesn’t benefit the west side in any way. There is one stop and that’s in a drug infested area. A light rail
    train traveling along Edmondson Avenue just isn’t realistic
    because of the traffic and the construction in Edmondson Village. The train going under Cooks Lane seems like pure fantasy to me. Why is O’Malley green lighting all the projects that Ehrlich rejected? How are the other counties going along with these Baltimore centered projects?

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