Thursday, June 23, 2011

Howard St. Light Rail:Fail

Now how could I end my series of Rail Transit failures without the creme de la creme of failures? Not only is the Howard St. fiasco a failure but it is spawning new and future failures all throughout the Red Line like a mutated transit virus that can't be stopped. Now there is some light at end of the the non existent tunnel for Howard St but the Red Line and its future might not be so "lucky."
Now to say that the Light Rail was built on the cheap would be like saying Owings Mills Mall has "a few vacant storefronts." The Howard St. surface portion is not the only evidence of this. Throughout the Light Rail's run south of Downtown it meets the CSX Line and runs side by side with it although never sharing tracks. This suggests that the MTA used the existing right of way in an agreement with CSX so that it wouldn't have to purchase the right of way from homes and businesses.The BWI Spur, although it doesn't share a right of way with the CSX was probably given the right of way through the owners of Airport Parking Lots as a means of drumming up business for Short Term Parkers, ie Light Rail Riders. The MTA may have promised a connection with the BWI MARC/Amtrak Station which doesn't exist. Although the connection distance between the southern terminus of the Light Rail is small, the MTA appears not to have anybody to cozy up to for the right of way. Like I said, this was done on the cheap.
Now Howard St. itself proves the tightness of the MTA's pockets not once but twice. First is the obvious, it's surface rail being rammed down the spine of one of the City's busiest north south arterys. Second, the MTA yet again is using the right of way of the CSX. This is achieved through a tunnel running below Howard St. which is outdated and the amount of Cargo bring imported and exported has suffered drastically because of this.
This sweet heart deal with the CSX lasts through Downtown and ends abruptly at North Avenue. Worry not! The MTA still has some tricks up its sleeves. Like I said, the CSX right of way ends at North Avenue but of all the parts of North Avenue for the Light Rail to have its Station it has to be at its intersection with I-83! That's right, for quite some time the Light Rail shares the Right of Way with I-83 provided by the State Highway Administration and the Feds.
At roughly the City/County Line, the Light Rail parts ways with I-83. It appears that the Light Rail would have had to purchase the Right of Way for the first time. However, I have a theory. Since nothing is ever quite what it seems (just look at any Beatles Album Cover and play said Record Backwards if you don't believe me.) I'm going to make a hypothesis that there was indeed a right of way that was the MTA's for the taking.
When the Light Rail goes through the Riderwood/Ruxton Area, it seems to "connect" the two portions of I-83 that if driving your car you would have to get on the Beltway for a couple of miles to "stay" on I-83. My claim that I'm going to assert is that at one point during the Interstate Building Frenzy there was the attempt to have I-83 be one contiguous route and that land was purchased for that purpose 50 some odd years ago and was long forgotten until the building of the Light Rail in the early 1990s when the MTA was looking not to purchase any rights of way. This theory of mine is probably not true and I have zero evidence to back this up but it's food for thought.
Now this post was about the failure of Howard St. and the part the Light Rail plays in it. It appears my brain shifted elsewhere so lets get back on track (pun very much intended.) Howard St. was part of Downtown's hurting Westside before the construction of the Light Rail. Today the status of Howard St. hasn't changed nor has the Westside of Downtown as a whole. Some parts are two way vehicular traffic while other parts are northbound only. Although this configuration of Howard St. is not ideal it's better than the pedestrian that was built as urban renewal in the 1960s. Howard St. needs to be a two way street through its entire run Downtown and accomplishing this would be impossible with the Light Rail remaining at surface level. I dub thee a FAIL.Not only has the MTA been blinded by the ramifications of the Light Rail being at surface level on Howard St. but they have built on its "success." I think they measure success in money not spent rather than by the quality and efficiency of their finished product. Notice I didn't say they saved money because the Howard St. fiasco probably cost them more money many times over in lost ridership than if they initially spent the money for a tunnel somewhere else perhaps along Eutaw St. where it could share stops with the Subway.
Now with the construction of the Red Line coming closer, I see many "Howard Sts." in that plan. The Red Line is slated to run at surface level on Security Boulevard, Edmondson Avenue, MLK Boluvard, and Boston St. It appears that the failure of Howard St. is spreading like a blight wildfire all over the City kind of like the Interstates did. Yikes! It seems as if history is repeating itself, Will there be a Transit Line to Nowhere?
Now I figured I would my series of Transit "Fail" posts with the most obvious one and that is Howard St. My biggest gripe with the MTA doesn't realize that this is indeed a failure and that building the Red Line in the same manner won't magically produce a quality product. FAIL!


Christina said...

There is one great example of a railway to nowhere... nearby in DC at H Street. Lets hope that doesn't happen in Baltimore!

SeanJ said...

I would much rather have a tunnel through downtown but I believe the biggest fail of this is the slumlords and "historical societies" holding the Howard Street buildings hostage and preventing redevelopment of that street into a pedestrian friendly retail and restaurant avenue. The trek through downtown on the light rail sucks because outside of the Baltimore Arena and Lexington Market stations, there are no destinations on or near Howard Street. If the street became a bustling strip of retail and restaurants, more people would ride the LR and get off on Howard St. I also believe that turning Howard into a pedestrian street only is a good idea.

Anonymous said...