July 5, 2015

Rascovar: Plan B for Baltimore transit

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Photo by skabat169 with Flickr Creative Commons License -

Photo by skabat169 with Flickr Creative Commons License -

Photo by skabat169 with Flickr Creative Commons License

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. never devised a backup plan before killing Baltimore’s pivotal, $2.9 billion Red Line rapid-transit route last month. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seems equally bereft of new transit ideas.

So let’s see if we can help with some less expensive, but sensible, proposals to improve mobility and job access in Maryland’s largest urban region.

Since Hogan is expected to stubbornly resist pleas from transit and regional politicians to revive a slimmed-down version of the Red Line, it is time to move on to Plan B.

Clearly, Hogan had not done his homework — another rookie mistake from a first-time elected official. A more seasoned politician would have delayed the Red Line announcement until it could be paired with an alternative proposal for moving mass transit forward in metro Baltimore.

Rawlings-Blake hasn’t been much better. She seems bereft of what to do next — a failure of the mayor, her staff and her transportation and planning teams to recognize that viable options were essential once a conservative Republican became governor.

Bare-bones transit

Baltimore’s transit system might be called a bare-bones, 20th century model. Buses traverse the main thoroughfares radiating like spokes from downtown. Cross-town buses add to the mix of slow-moving public transit on heavily congested city streets.

Baltimore’s Metro works exceedingly well — it is fast and clean — but only serves people who can reach its one line, from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The region’s north-south light-rail line is slow-moving through downtown, never connects directly with the Metro and isn’t heavily used.

There’s also a popular, city-subsidized Downtown Circulator with four routes that offer free service and actually connects people to where they need to go within the city. It’s becoming a drain on a money-poor city.

Suburban transit is a joke. Unless you own a car or live near a corridor road with buses, you’re out of luck in the Baltimore ‘burbs.

That’s a pretty weak transit operation. Killing the Red Line erases an opportunity to integrate and coordinate Baltimore’s public transportation network with a strong east-west line.

Yet there are steps the city and state can take to ameliorate this sad situation. Among the possibilities:

  • Resurrect the western part of the Red Line, from Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn to the Lexington Market downtown, as a busway.

Separated buses-only lanes built for fast transport could achieve much of what the Red Line was designed to do in West Baltimore and western Baltimore County. Both the light-rail and the Metro have stations near Lexington Market. If a busway proves successful, more spurs could be added, such as a Catonsville tie-in and a Columbia tie-in.

  • Extend the existing Metro line from Hopkins to Northeast Baltimore and then White Marsh in Baltimore County.

This Green Line, proposed in 2002, would add greatly to Metro ridership, especially if the state offers ample parking for suburban drivers who are anxious to avoid the hassle, delays and high cost associated with taking their cars downtown for the day.

  • Expand the city’s Charm City Circulator routes to more neighborhoods; embrace the same approach in the suburbs. 

This would require ongoing state subsidies and cooperation from surrounding counties but it would give people — especially the young and the elderly — convenient travel options they don’t have now.

  • Develop transportation programs for getting city job-seekers to suburban employment centers.

Free Jitney service from bus stops and transit stations to buildings in suburban business parks would help immensely.

Right now, long commutes and one- or two-mile walks from bus and transit stops prevent employable city workers from filling two-thirds of the job openings in the suburbs. That’s a situation Hogan and his economic development team should jump into immediately and devise affordable solutions.

  • Expand bus service in metro Baltimore; enlarge the MTA’s fleet of buses by purchasing smaller vehicles; reduce the number of bus stops.

Baltimore needs more right-sized transports that can navigate narrow city streets. It also has way too many bus stops, placed there by powerful Democratic officials. Hogan, as a Republican governor, can put an end to this silliness. Fewer close-together stops means faster trips for passengers.

  • Expand MARC commuter rail service; add frequent rush-hour/mid-day service to Aberdeen Proving Ground; turn MARC’s West Baltimore station into a bus/rail/circulator hub; open a new rail station/bus/circulator hub at Hopkins Bayview; turn the MARC Martin State Airport stop into a rail/bus/circulator hub.

MARC can serve as a transit magnet for the metro Baltimore region. The potential is there.

APG and nearby business parks in Harford County need a practical transit option for civilian employees that is fast, convenient and dependable.

MARC’s West Baltimore station was planned as a key transit hub of the Red Line. It’s still a great idea if Hogan wants to show disgruntled residents of that impoverished area he cares.

Hopkins Bayview and Martin State Airport are natural transit hubs, if the state builds large parking lots and adds circulator routes. This would be a godsend for eastern Baltimore County and East Baltimore residents in search of transit alternatives.

Now that Hogan has wiped away a couple of decades of Red Line planning and $288 million already spent on that transit line, it’s incumbent upon the governor to move on to a more cost-effective plan involving a variety of transit options.

He could start with some of the suggestions listed above.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com

 

  • Brian

    This article is awful and does nothing more than bash Hogan. Hogan had the guts to stop this atrocious money pit before it went any further. The author claims that Hogan failed to do his homework. It is the author who failed to do his homework before writing the garbage b

  • Vidi

    Wonder whether ridership projections for the existing Red Line were met and when? The suggestions by the writer seem to make sense and are infinitely less expensive than the recently nixed Red Line by the Governor. Regardless of the writer’s obvious political bent and his trashing of the Governor, his suggestions are quite thoughtful.

  • aureliusjb

    I agree with Brian, this is a judicious action by a governor concerned for the taxpayers for once. I also contest the underlying assumption of this article, that somehow we are panicked if we don’t find an east-west rail route to link city to burbs. Look at any crime map and see how the light rail lines increase crime dramatically along their routes. The author does not address this crucial aspect, and this is negligent and biased reporting in my view.

  • michaelweiser

    The author is absolutely correct about right-sized transports. Electric cars don’t have to have side by side seating. I think the best solution would be to build and lease NCVs (narrow commuter vehicles) for single-occupant drivers who can charge the electric leased narrow cars at home. To attract leasers, narrow lanes could be created for NCVs and motorcycles for express travel.

  • My big issue with the Red Line was that it’s purpose was more for “economic development” than actual transportation, which is a bad reason to spend $3b, regardless of where it comes from. That said, many of these “Plan B” ideas are excellent and really should have been “Plan A” to begin with. These ideas are incremental and if they start as lower cost and there is demand, then more costly investments can be made at that point, but build it and they will come (for $3b) is just not a sound strategy.