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.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Baltimore City Mayoral candidates views on transportation (and other matters)

The Greater Baltimore Committee is the "governing coalition" for the Urban Regime/Growth Machine in Baltimore, although that doesn't mean they don't do important work. Concerning the upcoming Baltimore City elections, they are surveying candidates on various topics and reporting out the responses weekly, in a series they call "In Their Words."

This week's topic is transportation and the question is "what are the three things you would do with transportation?"

There are many candidates.  Most mention transit, usually in the guise of access and equity.  At least one mentions the fact that a state agency provides the bulk of the transit service, and Baltimore has limitations on its ability to affect that service.

That was seen in how (1) Governor Hogan junked the Baltimore Red Line light rail project soon into his term and (2) the redesign of the MTA bus network in Baltimore, which arguably didn't improve service ("BaltimoreLink, a Bus System Reboot, Hunts for Riders," CityLab; "What to do transit-wise in Baltimore since the Red Line light rail program has been cancelled," 2015).

Baltimore bus lane
Baltimore bus lane with a city Circulator bus in front of an MTA bus.

Former mayor and returned candidate Sheila Dixon makes the point that she started the Baltimore Circulator bus service, which is an early example of a free intra-district transit service ("Making the case for intra-city vs. inter-city transit planning," 2011).  They paid for it originally via a tax on commercial parking.  That wasn't enough, so the state leased the city's parking garages as another source of funds.

MONTPELLIER--2053 lv Corum IB
The trams in Montpellier, France display liveries designed by Christian Lacroix ("Christian Lacroix has designed the livery for Montpellier's new Citadis tramways," Alstom).

Most of the candidates mention biking, one mentions micromobility, and another mentions "high speed rail" between Baltimore and DC.

Even without the multi-year budget crunch ahead because of the coronavirus, since politics is mostly about the here and now, expecting candidates to call for big infrastructure projects involving transit is too much, despite the fact that for center cities, transit is the #1 driver for new investment.

But Baltimore needs a serious economic development push.

GBC could provide "protection" to elected officials by encouraging the mayoral candidates to think bigger, but "pragmatically" by asking them about transportation at two scales: "what they would do now" and the kinds of projects that need to be inaugurated long term to reset Baltimore's economy in ways that will attract businesses, new residents, and tourists.

A longer term transit economic development agenda for Baltimore

Since the early 1990s when I started following Baltimore issues more closely, I've attributed the relative failure of the city compared to Washington as a result of the city's lack of a fundamental fixed rail transit network.  Instead they have a couple lines that don't really connect.

(Yes, DC also has the steady engine of the federal government, but with a broader transit network, Baltimore could have kept more residents and businesses instead of losing them to Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Howard Counties primarily, and Harford County secondarily.)

Rendering of a new north building for Penn Station.

And because Baltimore doesn't have a full blown fixed rail transit network that's why it's almost impossible to seed transit oriented development around transit stations.

Not with existing transit stations, nor around the city's main train station,  Penn Station, which is served by Amtrak, the MARC passenger railroad system, MTA buses, and the Baltimore Circulator and other intra-city shuttle services.  Although it seems to be once again moving forward--at least before the pandemic.

Note that the "turn of the 21st century" Baltimore area transportation plan called for a slew of infill stations on MARC lines, a subway extension on the east, the east-west Red Line light rail, and a second north-south light rail line, which would have added a number of city stations as well as an extension to Columbia in Howard County.
Baltimore Regional transit expansion plan

Before working for the County, I was active on the "Envision Baltimore" e-list (it helped me get the job), and I encouraged people to come together and produce an article about area transit improvement, along the lines of a cover story about Greater Philadelphia in the Philadelphia City Paper, "Let's Go," which outlined 33 items.  But it never came about.  It would have been a great story for either the Urbanite or the Baltimore City Paper

In the 1960s, the Baltimore area planned a subway network, but they were at the end of the funding line (unlike the SF Bay, DC, Miami, and Atlanta) so they ended up with a single line rather than a network of lines.

(The Green Line could have been extended to White Marsh later.  And the Red Line could have been extended to Columbia. Back when the system was planned, neither of those places were significant destinations.)

Baltimore has a single truncated subway line, and a light rail line that mostly follows an old industrial railroad.  The lines don't adequately connect or cover enough of Baltimore.

The city is also served by the MARC commuter system, and they have an opportunity to add infill stations in the city, to better provide access and service.

For all the accolades Governor Hogan has been getting lately on his response to the coronavirus, he is anti-transit, and since the single most important and successful public investment resulting in revitalization in center cities is transit, he is not Baltimore's friend.

While there are many reasons to have criticized the Baltimore Red Line light rail proposal, he scuttled it, and it would have helped to renew and expand Baltimore's transit network.

By contrast, Hogan is all in on maglev rail between DC and Baltimore and ultimately New York City and Boston, which is something that will take a couple decades at best to move forward.
Male/Female sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, Penn Station, Baltimore
Male/Female sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, Penn Station, Baltimore.  Photo: Bruce Anderson, Wikipedia.

1.  Re-make Baltimore's light rail and subway lines into an integrated network.  When I worked briefly for Baltimore County, it was during their Master Plan update cycle and I wrote an internal paper about what a transit agenda should look like there--the area subway and light rail lines serve part of the county, and the County is home to railroad service on both the Penn and Camden lines.

-- "From the files: transit planning in Baltimore County"

But it was at the height of the recession, and the planners were ordered by the County Executive's Office to remove any recommendation that cost money.  Hence, no recommendations on transit improvement and expansion.

My recommendations included (1) a station link between the light rail and subway at Lexington Market, (2) extending the subway east to the White Marsh district, and (3) re-routing the light rail to directly serve Towson, figuring that the proposed yellow line light rail would never be built.

Now, I would add other elements besides, like a short extension of the existing light rail line to Hunt Valley, and new train service between Baltimore and Frederick and Baltimore and Annapolis.

A more focused plan for Baltimore would have to include the Yellow Line light rail to serve the more eastern section of the city, as well as the extension to Columbia.

As well as leveraging to every extent possible the passenger railroad network...

2.  Expand the passenger railroad system, including multiple infill stations in Baltimore,  Last fall, I wrote a piece outlining "A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland."

Since Baltimore would be the key hub in that system along with DC, it would be a significant economic development measure for the City's elected officials to take that up--alongside an intra-city transit agenda.

Note that I didn't explore the opportunity of infill stations within Baltimore.  The 2002 plan calls for 9 infill stations--6 in Baltimore and 3 in Baltimore County--including the creation of 3 hub stations.  Two would be completely new, including one in East Baltimore serving an extended subway line.

Renderings for the West Baltimore Station

The plan also called for the current West Baltimore stop to be upgraded into a full fledged station hub, using the principles of transit oriented development (TOD plan for the West Baltimore station).  That initiative should be moved forward as well.

Note that while Governor Hogan doesn't seem to pay much attention to the MARC system, instead focusing on highway expansion, the State Legislature has called for extensions of the system to Delaware and Northern Virginia ("Maryland approves plan to expand MARC commuter trains," Washington Post).

One way to jump start this would be to merge VRE and MARC starting with the MARC Penn Line and the VRE Fredericksburg Line ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines," 2017) although it's dependent on a expansion of Long Bridge connecting DC and Virginia. But that's not a Baltimore City issue.

But the city's elected officials should jump on this initiative and leverage it to bring focus to rail service expansion within Baltimore City.

Both Boston (Fairmount Line Conversion - Fix The T) and Chicago ("Instead of extending the Red Line, some see promise in the Metra Electric," Chicago Reporter) are pursuing the repositioning of rail lines into city-serving "rapid transit" lines.  Similar proposals exist for NYC involving intra-city service on the LIRR and Metro-North lines.

The City could bring more support for MARC initiatives by working with elected officials in Annapolis and Frederick to move forward concepts for adding rail service between those communities and Baltimore.  It could also help BWI Airport compete with DC area airports, which would be a plus for Maryland.

3.  Integrate the fare media systems for passenger railroad service and local transit services.   At the local level, the transit systems in DC and Baltimore have integrated fare media systems, and the DC and Baltimore transit fare cards operate on either system.  But neither include MARC access.  That should be rectified.

In London, integrating fare media systems, improving and expanding service and stations, better connections between rail and subway transit, and rebranding the rail services to complement the Underground has led to a massive increase in ridership on the intra-city train network ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015).

4.  Upgrade Baltimore's light rail transit vehicles.  In my later Purple Line writings, I also made the point that leveraging the investment there, Baltimore's light rail system could be upgraded with new transit vehicles.

Baltimore light rail vehicle
Light rail at Penn Station, Baltimore

The design forward CAF transit vehicle likely to be adopted for the Purple Line
CAF Urbos 3 - Ginko 816

5.  Rebrand Baltimore light rail.  Using the example of Montpellier, France, like how I suggest Montgomery and Prince George's Counties could leverage transit vehicle design and liveries to reposition those communities as design forward ("Part 7 | Using the Purple Line to rebrand Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as Design Forward"), the Baltimore area could do the same thing.

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At 12:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

GGW has a post on the state legislature passed bill.

There are some awesome comments which I will copy and paste below.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Relevant comments from the GGW post.

From kk:

1 Extended the Camden Line underground to Penn Station or to atleast anywhere else in Baltimore

2 Combined St Denis and Halethorpe stations there really close together and the lines cross each other about 500 yards after St Denis station. They could build a station for both where the tracks cross each other.

3 Build an infill stations at Fort Totten Metrorail Station, Morell Park/Irvington and Lakeland neighborhoods in Baltimore along the current tracks that run through those areas

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

From rouge_foreigner:

1. Electrify the Camden and Brunswick lines, and cut a few of the worse curves, aiming for 60-minute service on the Camden and 45-minute on the Brunswick (all stops).

2. Replace the B&P tunnel with a new tunnel through downtown Baltimore under 40, via the Highway to Nowhere, and add a new central station downtown, roughly at where Metro West is now, and stations adjacent to the Jones Falls valley, Johns Hopkins, Elwood Park and Bayview. This tunnel will be four-tracked to enable Amtrak and MARC express service and aims for 30 minute travel time to Baltimore on express.

3. Shift the Camden Line alignment before the stadium complex and put it up Russell Street with a new Camden Station near the intersection of Russell and MLK, a new station under UMMC, intersecting with the Penn Line in that central station under Metro West (and also the Metro and Light Rail via a tunnel to Lexington Market), then north to stops at a new Penn Station, JHU-Homewood, Loyola/Notre Dame, Towson University, Towson, and then on to York and Harrisburg.

4. Construct a new electrified mainline from Baltimore to Frederick largely along I-70, primarily to avoid having to shunt freight through DC, and run MARC service on it as well (thus also connecting intermediate stops, including the Social Security office complex, Security Square, and others—this scheme would largely supplant the Red Line).

5. Construct a MARC line from the new mainline by I-70 and 32 or 97 to Annapolis, connecting Columbia, the Penn and Camden lines, Ft Meade, and Annapolis, and potentially even on to the Eastern Shore and Ocean City to alleviate traffic on the Bay Bridge and Route 50.

6. Construct a southern MD MARC based on the studies done for it, as well as the Capitol Freight Bypass (the two have significant overlap in construction needs).

7. Construct a new Metro line from Ellicott City to the existing Metro line, with stations along the route (using the old mainline to the B&O museum and having a station under UMMC, along with stations in Catonsville, UMBC etc), and new Metro lines from JHU northeast along the Belair Road and southeast to Canton and Dundalk.

8. Add infill stations to the existing MARC lines, at Hyattsville, Woodbridge, and Ivy City, among others. Replace the Halethorpe/St Denis stations with a combined Halethorpe Station with new wyes to enable train movement as necessary.

9. Construct a new airport line that allows for a station directly under BWI, probably involving a spur from the Penn Line connecting to the Camden Line on the north side. Airport spurs are about the only kind that are useful in regional rail.

10. Look into constructing a new tunnel from the Amtrak yards, under NY Avenue NW, to a new station between Chinatown/Gallery Place and Metro Centre (with pedestrian access to both), a new station under Smithsonian, and either linking up with the Long Bridge or a new Potomac crossing with stations at Pentagon and National Airport.

We could very well build a complete transportation system for all of Maryland, DC, and Baltimore, almost entirely just by doing regional rail projects, which have the benefits of “spreading the wealth” among many electoral districts and looking less like a solely urban project, and also eliminating more C02 than a solely urban project would, solely by doing more with mainline rail as is done in Europe with RER and S-Bahn

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

marc's general points are about the need for a real regional rail system. He argues that the extensions are less important than focusing on improvements on the Penn Line, primarily to:

boost Penn Line frequency to hourly base service from 4am to 2am seven days a week.

At 7:22 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Good post ... i'm no expert but (as a small thing) why not extend the John Hopkins Hospital Metro Stn terminus of the heavy rail line by 2/3 stops, a mile between each stop? Because they have 1.8 billion in investment completed/planned for that area so why not extend the line. Not sure how they would do it cheaply (cut & cover?) since it is still underground there.

New light rail lines might be a better investment tho. Wish I knew more!

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Am looking to write more. Am trying to do a joint writing project with a now retired Baltimore transpo planner, and maybe see if BBJ would be interested in a series.

Anyway, YES, it's a no brainer to extend the subway on the East. To Bayview (the other hospital) at the least, where it would connect to a new MARC station, but I say further to White Marsh.

That should have been done a long time ago.

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Unknown said...
A former city planner has proposed a subway connection between the hospitals for years.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Unknown: yep. We used to interact on the old EnvisionBaltimore list. That's how I started thinking about this stuff, about as much as 15 years ago.

Too bad that list and Urbanite and the Baltimore City Paper no longer exist.

I've reached out to Gerry (Neily) since writing this piece and we are exploring a re-do, with me reaching out to the BBJ about running a series.

He told me that MDOT just released its 25 year plan and it has zilch on transit. (I haven't looked it up yet.)

At 7:41 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Holy f*ing s**t that just said 1.7 billion for 1.1 miles! They already demolished hella blocks right there esp other side of Amtrak tracks. And they are doing a lot of infrastructure right there.


At 7:46 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

I'm no expert but I've rode a number of buses in Baltimore always off peak and they are packed! I know financial constraints but geez

At 11:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Hogan just vetoed the bill to extend MARC.


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