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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
(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. 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.
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
The design forward CAF transit vehicle likely to be adopted for the Purple Line
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.