Monday, November 16, 2009

More Transit Lines Can Exist, Without Much Digging

If you can't gather the money to build quality transit, don't build it all. Only quality efficient transit will gather riders anywhere and everywhere. With that I say we throw the Red Line on the back burner and take a long hard look at Baltimore's transit system and where streets are currently congested. With only one tunnel going under Cooks Lane (a major hurdle for the Red Line) and the fate of Canton Crossing up in the air, there are too many "what ifs" lets focus on places where what ifs and one direction tunnels aren't the order of the day. One might be surprised at what you could build upon when you look at what's already there.
Map From Google Earth
This is the preferred Red Line which, due to the pressure of being "shovel ready" is an all or nothing deal. Instead of building it in stages and waiting out the economy when the City, State, and Feds are a little less strapped for cash everybody wants to move forward on this fundamentally flawed Red Line which uses none of the old abandoned tracks that the City is flanked with. So, the entire line will be built from scratch. Now, lets take a little trip.
Here we are on W. Oliver St. where mixed use development featuring a Barnes & Noble is currently under construction. This is located on the flawed Light Rail Line. It is here that I find evidence that flawed transit projects impact ridership.
The original Light Rail's route was fine, the only problem was that during its time Downtown it's rammed down Howard St. Here, one can see the overhead lines on Howard St. and how a Light Rail train can add to the traffic mess. However, Howard St. has a saving grace of having CSX tunnels running under it and said tunnels have to be vacated by the CSX after the 2001 fire. This part of the Light Rail can just move on in.Expansions to the original Light Rail included a Penn Station stop that didn't help neighboring communities with their traffic congestion and the other to BWI where a one track at a time method was used just like that that is being proposed for Cooks Lane.
Now we're in Charles Center at the currently shuttered Mechanic Opera House. David S. Brown Enterprises promises to redevelop the site with a new Mechanic, retail, and high rise residential. What does this have to do with transit? Everything. One thing I didn't mention was that the Charles Center Subway stop is located right under the Mechanic. An even more important detail I forgot to mention was that this stop was built for two. This particular stop was and is perhaps the best Mass Transit Stop in all of Baltimore because it was built on the premise of expansion. Now, if we start referring to the existing lines in "colors" instead of "Metro" or "Light Rail" they will stir up excitement and demand expansion. The Yellow Line already exists believe or not. It travels with the Blue Line except for the Penn Station and BWI branches but here in lies the foundation for a transit line all its own. The Charles Center Stop knows this and this stop built for two will house a Yellow Line Stop.
The liberated Yellow Line will branch off from the Blue Line at Howard and Conway. With the Convention Center, Harborplace, and the numerous underground parking garages in this area it won't be very hard or expensive to dedicate bits and pieces of this for an underground tunnel that will lead us to the Charles Center tunnel for two after an Inner Harbor stop at Pratt St.Once the Yellow Line has used its tunnel for two with a Green Line transfer it will go northeast along Clavert St. where there is lot of digging and building for the ever expanding Mercy Hospital. This, along with City Hall and the Court House will serve as grounds for another Yellow Line Stop. Lets not forget the City's intention to demolish the JFX, there has to be a transit back up for the aftermath of it.
Past Mercy Hospital and into Mount Vernon, one will be hard pressed to find tunnels for the Yellow Line to latch onto. The Yellow Line will have a Mount Vernon Stop right here at Orleans St. where the blending of Franklin and Mulberry Streets, The Orleans St. Viaduct, and Preston Gardens warrant the additional stop but can they come up with the cash?I don't see it being a huge problem considering Penn Station's just a few blocks away, less than a mile even. Penn Station for now will be the north end of the Yellow Line. It will help the continued redevelopment of Station North, Greenmount West, and Barclay. When the time comes the Yellow Line will expand up Greenmount Avenue/York Road and and its real end will be Towson Town Centre.Map from Google Earth
The "Current Yellow Line" ends at BWI but about a mile away is the BWI Amtrak MARC Station. Although it's a simple shuttle bus ride away between the two stops it will be very easy to extend the line to meet the MARC/Amtrak Station. In fact it can be at ground level with its own right of way, i.e. not very expensive. The Yellow Line's southern end will be in Columbia via Arundel Mills but that's a ways away.Now we've made our way to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Development and redevelopment in this region of the City is recession proof. The Biotech Park and the upwards of 1600 new and rehabbed homes are right on schedule. It may not be as dense as the blighted Middle East neighborhood the Biotech is located in but considering the 30% vacancy rate of Middle East there will be more people living and working here.
Hopkins serves as the current eastern end of the Green Line. It was never supposed to play this roll but the fact that the Green Line is Heavy Rail instead of Light Rail has made expansion almost impossible. Although the partial expansion of the Green Line from Hopkins to Morgan State is a priority project I don't see it happening soon. I'd love to see it go all the way to White Marsh via Harford Road going through Lauraville Waltherson and Hamilton and eventually to Martin State Airport.The Green Line Expansion to Morgan is much of a "sure thing" than anything on the Red Line. Morgan State is expanding leaps and bounds with no end in site. Enrollment is through the roof drawing not just from Baltimore but from all over the region. The Red Line, especially east of Downtown is dependent on future development, a lot of which is now up in the air. West of Downtown its neighborhoods are half vacant. It would be wiser to shift focus on the Green Line where neighborhoods are growing, not shrinking. Also the proposed Red Line rams it down Edmondson Avenue in the same fashion the Blue Line is rammed down Howard St. This won't solve traffic problems, it will add to them. Another fringe benefit of the Green Line Morgan Expansion would be the redevelopment of Northwood Plaza. Northwood Plaza today is a suburban style shopping center in the middle of an urban environment. The Neighborhood Design Center has presented us with an ambitious plan to redevelop the center by making it denser and incorporating other uses for it. Now here we are back in Mount Vernon. This time for the Charles St. Trolley. This priority project of the City and Civic Groups alike is right on track and will provide a local link from Johns Hopkins University to the Inner Harbor. The Yellow Line and the Charles St. Trolley can co exist very nicely. The only issue I have with the Charles St. Trolley and my fellow "Envision Baltimore" Colleagues agree that it trys to have a stop everywhere. Its route looks more like a tourist tram than a Commuter Rail. I say keep it simple, northbound goes on Charles St., Southbound on St. Paul St. If you're a tourist, Ride the Ducks.
Here we are in Charles Village where the Trolley line will end. Now both Charles St. and St. Paul St. have much less traffic than they do Downtown. That's easy to explain, Charles Village is a College Community that is very walkable. There's plenty of foot traffic on the sidewalks here. The entire trolley line will be at ground level with traffic. Both streets are plenty wide to support it and a good redesign of St. Paul St. along Preston Gardens will relieve traffic congestion along the Trolley Line. Now we're in Locust Point where the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan doesn't have lines or stops running through it. Luckily there are train tracks running all over the South Baltimore Peninsula. In the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan there are two lines the Orange Line and the Purple Line which uses existing MARC tracks and making local stops on them. This plan wasn't met with open arms, however I love this concept. Before any new lines are built, these two lines should be implemented, Baltimore will see much better transit service without laying a single track. Local stops on the Orange and Purple lines will have "pulloffs" where riders on those line can board and deboard trains without interrupting service to MARC and Amtrak trains that won't be making as many stops. Map From Google Earth
Now, the Orange Line will travel mostly on the MARC Camden Line from the Dorsey Station almost to its Camden Yards end. Just before Mt&T Bank Stadium it will switch to CSX tracks where it will serve Sharp Leadenhall, South Baltimore, Riverside, and Locust Point. As displayed above it will make a loop around residential Locust Point and end. It won't directly serve Federal Hill but there will be a "Shuttle Bug" to give residents rides to stops on the Orange Line. The Shuttle Bug can stop at the Southside Marketplace, The Cross St. Market, and the Ritz Carlton Residences.

Now the Purple Line will use the MARC Penn Line as its tracks. It will start at the BWI MARC and end at Martin State Airport. New local stops will include Arbutus/UMBC, St. Agnes Hospital, Irvington, Rosemont, Sandtown, Biotech MARC, Orangeville (East Baltimore MARC,) Bayview, Rosedale, and Rossville beofre its end at Martin State Airport. Like the Purple Line, it will use "pulloffs" so as not to interupt serivce to MARC and Amtrak lines. Unlike the Purple Line it won't end with its own route on its own line. It will however, branch off at St. Agnes Hospital for the SoWeBO Street Car Line. This will run on abandoned track lines in Carroll Park and will jump start revitalization efforts in neighborhoods along Wilkens Avenue. It will end at the B&O Railroad Museum.

Well that's it our trip is over, as you can see with minimal building of new and expanded lines (Both the Green and Yellow Line will have to eventually continue) we can relieve traffic congestion in Baltimore. The Red Line at this point is too rushed and must be reevaluated to make it feasable and my next post will do just that. Stay tuned!


Michael Lantz said...

Does anybody know when are they going to put the red line in?I ride the light rail alot.I think that they ought to run a light rail to Annapolis.

Spence Lean said...

Construction is slated to start as early as 2012 or 2013 with a 2016 completion. Its design is flawed and my next post will discuss how to build the Red Line the correct way. As for Annapolis that's a good idea but I don't see it happening soon. First, the City and its closest suburbs need to be dealt with first.

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