Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Maryland Governor Hogan makes decision on Light rail: No for Baltimore City and County and yes for Montgomery and Prince George's County

In December, I predicted the decision that Governor Hogan announced yesterday ("Hogan Says No to Red Line, Yes to Purple," "Hogan goes off the rails," editorial, Baltimore Sun, to continue moving forward with the Purple Line in suburban Washington and shutting down planning for the Red Line in Baltimore City and County.

I wrote about Baltimore area transit in a piece for the master planning process in Baltimore County, when I worked there in FY2010. See "From the files: transit planning in Baltimore County."

I figured that Gov. Hogan would make such a determination because the business case for the Red Line was never as good, adding one more and different type of fixed rail transit to a mix that includes a truncated subway line and a "heavy" version of light rail that mostly follows the alignment of an old industrial railroad.

Plus, even though Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz was quoted in the Sun article as being disappointed, heretofore the County hasn't been willing to provide much in the way of supplemental funding.

Baltimore lost out when the federal government stopped funding new generation transit systems--that funding initiative supported BART, MARTA, Miami Metrorail, and WMATA. The DC area got the most money and was able to develop a true network, constructing a five line subway system (a sixth line opened last year).

-- Design as a city branding strategy: transit edition
-- Hip design for tram/light rail

Because DC has a transit network, while Baltimore has only a couple of dis-coordinated transit lines, DC and to some extent the suburbs depending on how they have shaped land use around the Metrorail system enjoys the quality of life and economic supporting elements of transit which for the most part aren't available to Baltimore.

The difference between having a transit network versus a couple of transit lines is seen in the widely disparate ridership numbers between DC and Baltimore.  According to the National Transit Database, the DC Metrorail system had almost 870,000 daily trips in the first quarter of 2015, while ridership in Baltimore was about 45,000 daily riders on the subway line, with an additional 19,000 riders on light rail.
Light rail at Penn Station, Baltimore
The Baltimore light rail vehicles were jokingly referred to as "heavy rail" by revitalization experts from Hamburg at a presentation a couple years ago.  I think they have a kind of old industrial charm, but they are clunky and likely generate more derision than appreciation from a design standpoint.

Likely this is one element that contributes to lack of support for transit among outstate constituencies visiting Baltimore.

By contrast, the Tram in Bilbao is much more design forward, complementing the built environment and engendering positive feelings towards that particular transit mode.  Image from "Bilbao Straßenbahn und U-Bahn."

In large part because it will inter-connect within the existing subway network, providing east-west links to both the east and west legs of the Red Line, the north leg of the Green Line, and the west end point of the Orange Line, as of its first day of operation, the Purple Line is likely to be the most successful light rail line in the US.

Phoenix has about the highest ridership of any single line system, with about 48,000 daily riders.  The Purple Line will greatly exceed that level of ridership by at least 25%.  The two lines will be about the same length, but the Phoenix system has 32 stations, while the Purple Line will have 20 stations.

I imagine to come up with the local match, which now will have to be $500 million higher, Montgomery and Prince George's County will create the kind of bi-county funding authority that I suggested first last year:

-- Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems
-- Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development

and re-mentioned a few weeks ago.

-- To build the Purple Line  perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority

 I had intended to write an op-ed about the topic in the Gazette, but the Gazette shut down as I was dealing with their editors.

One of the problems in promoting transit as a key element of economic success and quality of life is the reality that so few center cities in the United States have robust transit systems that generate these kinds of benefits.

New York City, Boston, parts of New Jersey abutting New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, DC, and San Francisco have the biggest heavy rail systems, while Portland has the most extensive and widely used light rail system.  SF's system is complemented by light rail and streetcars run by the city.

Cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Minneapolis are building and expanding systems, mostly of light rail, although LA, Philadelphia, and Boston have a combination of heavy and light rail.

While there are many other communities that have commuter railroad or light rail lines, the lines don't have the kind of collective impact present in cities such as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, DC, etc.

The fact is that most people in the US drive and most areas of the country don't have great transit options, and as a result, the average person sees transit as a social service provided to people who can't afford to own cars.

This also becomes an issue between cities and outer suburban rural areas within states.  State legislatures are districted in ways that favor rural and exurban interests, even though the economic engines of states tend to be the center city-anchored metropolitan areas.  Rural land use form doesn't make transit a logical and effective mode.  Combine that with other resentments and you have what's happening in Maryland.

What is frustrating about these discussions in the Baltimore-Washington region is that we do have perhaps the best examples--good and bad--about what works and what doesn't work and why.  Yet we proceed in these discussions without referencing this experience both in practice and theoretically.

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At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well put- also- baltimore is not particularly a good business investment now that its residents have shown the world how unfriendly they are to just about ALL businesses- witness the brutal attacks on storeowners in this springs rioting.Baltimore will not make any sort of comeback until it is absorbed into the general metro area of DC- in many ways it already has- it is part of the combined statistical metro area- but as of now there are only a few commuter neighborhoods in Baltimore city- and these areas are doing better than any of the other areas.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yes. The core of the city along N. Charles Street and on the north side of the harbor (Fells Point, Canton, etc.), plus on the south side of the harbor, Federal Hill and areas being built up (can't think of what they are calling the place where the Harris-Teeter is) towards Fort McHenry.

(Not unlike Detroit reviving along Woodward Ave.)

At 8:04 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes the right decision. Out of the 3 streetcar/light rail proposals (DC, Columbia Pike, the Purple Line) the PL is by far the best positioned.

(If PG County gets it act together)

Interesting that it adds no aggregative value to the core. A RT 7 line from Alexandria to Tysons would not do much for the core either. Maybe these are the sweet spots for investments.


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