Opinion: What Baltimore and D.C. can do to start working better together as a region (Baltimore Business Journal op-ed)
I wrote an op-ed in response to an article that ran in last week's Baltimore Business Journal discussing the meeting of a group of stakeholders from DC and Baltimore sitting down over dinner and talking about the need for a stronger focus on regionalism.
I have paid attention to Baltimore pretty carefully since I got involved in urban revitalization as an avocation and vocation, partly to contrast the difference between strong and weak real estate markets and to be able to become more nuanced in understanding the differences in opportunity that result from significant differences in material conditions.
For example, DC still has a strong center and a transit network, while Baltimore is bigger, has more poverty and crime (although for a time crime was worse in DC), has lost relevance with the outmigration of population and economic activity, and has a couple rail transit lines, but no transit network.
I worked briefly as a planner in Baltimore County in FY2010 (I wasn't able to stay on for a couple reasons, one being during the recession they were cutting staff and agencies not adding people) and that gave me more insights into some of the issues in the metropolitan area, and I have written many blog entries over the years about it, including:
-- "From the files: transit planning in Baltimore County"
-- "Best practice suburban bicycle planning using the 'action planning' method"
-- "Morgan State University should move their architecture and planning school to Downtown/Station North Arts District"
-- "Marketing resident attraction"
-- "New Baltimore area regional plan for sustainability"
-- "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example"
Here's the article but note that the actual article is locked and only available to subscribers.
"Opinion: What Baltimore and D.C. can do to start working better together as a region," Baltimore Business Journal, 12/16/2016
In “Building a case for regionalism between Baltimore and D.C.,,” published Dec. 9, Melody Simmons reported on a recent meeting of Baltimore and Washington stakeholders.
As a planner-writer with experience in both communities, I believe building the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas into a single region is dependent on three things:
1. Each metro needs to “get its house in order” by functioning and acting at a “best practice” level;
2. More efficient physical connections need to be constructed within and between the metropolitan areas; and
3. More attention needs to be put on working together — rather than reflexively choosing to be obstreperous, the first inclination needs to be to collaborate.
Here are five initiatives where Maryland can start setting the stage for making real a powerhouse Baltimore-Washington region:
1. The state must acknowledge that the two metropolitan areas drive the state economy and rather than pit the areas against each other or against other parts of the state, a program of high value investment in both the Baltimore and Washington areas needs to be prioritized.
2. While as a Washington resident I would never argue for re-merging the city into Maryland. Maryland should “take ownership” of D.C. by recognizing it is the linchpin of the economies of Anne Arundel, Charles, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties.
3. For example, the state government needs to have an open mind about financial solutions for the D.C.-area’s sputtering Metrorail system and should be “all in” on not only building the Purple Line as currently planned, but should initiate the planning process now for extending the Purple Line from New Carrollton to Alexandria, Va., and extending the Purple Line from Bethesda to Tysons in Northern Virginia should be part of any discussions about rebuilding the American Legion Bridge.
4. As the home to national political dysfunction, Washington has serious image problems. For different reasons, so does the Baltimore area. The metropolitan economy languishes in the face of Baltimore’s crime and population shrinkage despite the city’s incredible array of assets.
To completely redefine “Baltimore,” serious consideration must be given to a merger of Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The two jurisdictions separated in 1851. Consolidation isn’t easy, but Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky and Nashville, Tenn., offer models that show that it can be done.
A combined city and county would have a population of 1.425 million, making it the nation’s seventh largest city, the most populous and powerful jurisdiction in Maryland, and a much bigger player in the multi-state mid-Atlantic region.
It would increase bonding-financing capacity and enable significant transformation of the role of transit. A merger of the city and county community colleges would create a powerhouse institution as well, as would the merger of the parks and recreation systems
A merger could create difficult political issues, because the formerly suburban county would have more legacy residents and like in Toronto and London, where more conservative suburban voters tend to outvote more progressive voters in the core, this could create representation and governance issues.
A slightly different governance model could be adopted, providing for city-county consolidation, but also the creation of separate boroughs within “the city.” Boroughs are smaller and more local governments, with elected representation and responsibilities for planning and the delivery of certain services. London, Montreal, and Paris are some of the cities that are organized in this fashion.
5. High quality transit defines great cities. Right now transit in the Baltimore area doesn’t have the kind of multiplicative place and investment value that can intensify development and population. That’s why it’s so hard to build transit oriented development projects like State Center or Penn Station, or new lines like the Red Line.
The major impetus for New York City’s consolidation in 1898 was to increase its ability to raise funds to build the subway system. A merged Baltimore would have the heft to address strengthening, extending, and leveraging transit investment.
Reconfiguring the light rail system to serve Towson and extending it a bit into Hunt Valley, extending the line southward to Howard County, spiffing it up with new, design forward, rail cars, connecting the light rail and subway lines more directly in the vicinity of Lexington Market, and extending the subway line to White Marsh would begin to create a transit system and network out of what are now two disconnected rail lines.
They did a good job cutting the piece down. But mostly, they did so by cutting the last three points. Here's the rest:
6. MARC is one of the more successful commuter railroads in the US. In recent years, the system has added weekend service on the Penn Line between Baltimore and Washington, but the Camden and Brunswick lines operate only on weekdays, and the Brunswick line doesn't offer reverse commute service from Washington to business districts in Montgomery and Frederick Counties.
Like how London reconfigured some rail lines to function as a railroad equivalent of subway service, MARC should integrate its fare media system and station network into the local transit systems in Baltimore and Washington--the MTA CharmCard and WMATA SmarTrip fare cards are already interoperable.
Building on that, Maryland should create a framework where DC can become a co-owner of MARC system, with expanded coverage and stations within DC, new lines to Annapolis from Baltimore and Washington, service to Charles County, and reverse commute service added to the Brunswick line. An improved station in West Baltimore, a new station in East Baltimore, and service between Frederick and Baltimore should be part of this program.
7. Longer term the merger of MARC and Virginia Railway Express should be on the table -- I suggest calling the new system RACER, for "Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region" -- extending the Penn Line into Virginia, and adding lines throughout the multi-state region including connections to Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Richmond.
8. DC’s public higher education system does not have institutions of quality comparable to the University System of Maryland. Why not treat DC residents as “residents” for enrollment purposes at Maryland’s public institutions of higher learning?
There are plenty of other initiatives that can be added to this list, ranging from integrating tourism planning, building the region into a biotechnology powerhouse, better leveraging the value of federal research facilities and higher education institutions, integrating airport planning, supporting the Port of Baltimore at the multi-state scale, etc., but this is definitely a start. Now on to making a list for Washington.