Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Light Rail Spurs:Fail

In the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Baltimore began work on a Rail Transit System. First came the Heavy Rail Subway (Green Line) which connected the burgeoning community of Owings Mills to Downtown and eventually to Hopkins. I believe even in its earliest days the Green Line was supposed to extend Northeast to White Marsh. Then came the Central Light Rail Line, it runs from Cromwell Station in Glen Burnie to Hunt Valley. Yes with these two lines and more on the way, Baltimore was well on its way to a World Class Transit System.
The money train the MTA was riding came to a screeching halt after the Light Rail was built. It didn't have proper funding to be built correctly for example; one way tracking, surface level on Howard St, no transfer points at Lexington Market, State Center/Cultural Center and Upton (MARC Penn Line.)
The MTA to its credit, corrected the single tracking by adding a second track in the late 1990s so trains in opposite directions can pass without interruption. Also in the late '90s when funding was minimal, the need for Rail Transit at both BWI Marshall Airport and Penn Station came front and center stage. Now, I'm only guessing here but I would have to believe that the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan was being drafted when the need for Rail Transit at these two locations.
This would have been the time to start building a new line that addresses not only the Airport and Penn Station but one that is more far reaching and may have a stop or two already Master Planned for it.
This didn't happen, instead, the existing Light Rail Line gained two "spurs" one that goes east at its Mount Royal Stop to Penn Station, and the other southwest from the Lansdowne/Baltimore Highlands area to you guessed it BWI. Now the southwest spur does give service to the Linthicum Area of Anne Arundel County but the Penn Station Spur does not offer any additional stops or serve any additional areas of the City or County. That's why I must "Fail" the Light Rail Spurs.

Now remember at the beginning of the post I said that Baltimore was well on its way to having a World Class Transit System in the 1980s and '90s? That was based on the assumption that more Transit Lines were on their way. The time to start building a new Line was and is when the need for Stops at Penn Station and BWI became relevant. This should have been the birth of the
Yellow Line.
Now, there are only a few things that should have been done differently different from the spurs to actually make the Yellow Line a reality. From Lansdowne/Baltimore Highlands to Camden Yards, The existing Light Rail and the Yellow Line will share tracks.Now instead of going up Howard St. to reach Penn Station, the Yellow Line should have broken away at Camden Yards going Northeast making for an Inner Harbor Stop, a Charles Center Stop where the current Green Line has a Station that has a second line already Master Planned into it, a City Hall Stop, a Mount Vernon Stop, and finally ending (for now) at Penn Station.
With the announcement of a new Line with a different name, it tricks the mind into believing more work is being done than there actually is. This new Yellow Line Path that goes northeast from Camden Yards up Calvert St to Penn Station is really only a couple of miles but it will serve thousands, provide traffic relief, and can used as a back up when the JFX is torn down.
Another benefit of adding a new Line be it big or small is the demand for expansion. If instead of building the Penn Station Spur, The Yellow came into existence instead, people would demand that the Line be extended in both directions which in the final 2002 Regional Rail Plan, that's exactly what the Yellow is intended to do.
Now, funding for these expansions is another story but Master Planning Stations into new infrastructure, and then tunneling the connections will certainly make the tasks of expanding a line much less daunting. I will give you examples.
BWI MARC Station. I don't why the southwest spur or the Yellow Line whatever you want to call it wasn't expanded here. It's literally just an extra mile of tracks but the connection potential would have been great.
The Dorsey MARC, this new station that opened in the late 1990s when Route 100 was built could have easily had a second station master planned into it for future use. The spurs were planned and built at the same time as this Station only a couple of miles away. The complete idiocy and lack of foresight by the MTA is laughable, but at the same time it's not funny. Also Arundel Mills, take a look at that mess of suburban sprawl that also being planned and constructed at the same time as the Light Rail Spurs. Was a Station Master Planned into it? Nope then again it's Anne Arundel County, where they want to shut down a Light Rail Station on West Nursery Road just because somebody got mugged there. It's no secret that they're anti Rail Transit. At the other end on York Road between Stevenson Lane in the County and Northern Parkway in the City, there was a huge project that involved a complete makeover of the streetscape and the road itself. Could a Station have been built there too? Or even tunneled tracks for future use?
Well now that I've told you what should have been done to make the reality of the Yellow Line more feasible, lets look at what can be done in the future development wise to plan for Stations to offset the cost of construction when the time comes.
Since the southern terminus of the Yellow Line is the Columbia Mall lets start from the Dorsey MARC Station to Columbia. Along Route 1 there are several new high density developments on their way and a Station at Route and Montevideo Road/Port Capital Drive will make for a great Station location. There are plans to put in an interchange at Route 1 and 175 literally one block south of this proposed location. Going west along Route 175 at Snowden River Parkway there is a Park & Ride Lot that can be expanded into a Station. At Tamar Drive and Route 175, that area is due for massive redevelopment, also the building of Blandair Park and the associated interchange will make way for new tracking underground. An additional stop at Route 175 and Thunderhill Road can be brought into the Blandair Interchange equation. Thunderhill Road south of Route 175 is also due for massive redevelopment. Finally we end at the Columbia Mall in the middle of Town Center which is to undergo massive redevelopment that a Station can be Master Planned into. Not only that DC's Green Line should ultimately end here making a true connection to the DC and Baltimore Rail Transit Networks.
North of Penn Station there are also opportunities to Master Plan Stations and tracks in before the Yellow Line is officially constructed. In Station North there will be a lot of redevelopment in the Greenmount West Neighborhood. A great Station location would be Greenmount and North Avenue. Continuing up Greenmount we come to 25th St. at the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway Neighborhood. In order for these Neighborhoods to thrive again, massive large scale redevelopment will have to take place where a Station and some tracking can be built in. There should have been a Station added to the Waverly area when Memorial Stadium was torn down and the YMCA and Giant were built in its place. But hey, better late than never. Pen Lucy is due for some redevelopment especially houses right York and Old York Roads. Station and tracks with redevelopment? I think so! Another missed opportunity was Belvedere Square, when it was revamped in 2000 a Station could have been planned. Now we come to a big potential Station crossing into the County Seat known as Towson. This stop would serve GBMC, Towson University, Sheppard Pratt, and St. Joseph's Hospital. That's a large work force that currently causes grid lock in Towson, having that station in place will certainly unclog the roadways. Last but not least we come to the northern terminus; Towson Town Centre. There have been talks on how to revamp what is known as "Downtown Towson" and with these talks there should be a discussion on Rail Transit and how it can shape Towson's future for the better.

Well the spurs are a fail but in my mind they "spurred" the construction of the Yellow Line and although I may be the only person keeping it alive through discussing it, it's a pass.

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