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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Don't Fear Rail Transit. Embrace It

Whenever the idea of making the County or outer City Neighborhoods more accessible to inner City Neighborhoods comes around, there's a common message from those that oppose it; "Keep That Trash in the City." I have heard or read this in response to the Red Line being canceled and around the idea of discontinuing City buses to White Marsh Mall.Aside from being, racist, classist, and just plain hurtful, this battle cry harkins back to a time of segregation. A time in which invisible or "mental walls" were  set up to stay one step ahead of blight.
These days, the philosophy around City Planning has been the opposite of that. It's been that of bridging Neighborhoods back together either through redevelopment or reintroducing the urban grids that when interrupted, created the very mental walls in which I'm writing about. "Don't cross that street it gets bad over there" or "that fence keeps the bad people out of our Neighborhood" are just some of the familiar sayings said by middle class Residents who weren't able to leave the City but refused to let their Neighborhoods decay. These same people are the ones now saying; "Keep that Trash in the City."
Although a lot of physical walls are down, there is still limited accessibility from one section of the City and/or County to the other. Why not just get in your car and drive there you ask? Many people can't afford cars and are unable to get places other than that bus line or that light rail line the "Keep that trash in the City" proponents are trying to shut down. So the physical wall(s) may be down but the mental walls remain in tact.
Mental wall or no, there was always a way around them; Rail Transit. Whether it was street cars, light rail, or heavy rail, in most cities it has been and continues to be. There are exceptions to every rule and the exception I'm thinking of is Baltimore. While localized street car lines were torn up in favor of Subway lines going from Cities into Suburbs, Baltimore missed out. It had started planning Rail lines by opening the Metro Subway running from Owings Mills to Charles Center (eventually Johns Hopkins Hospital) and the Light Rail line from Cromwell Station to Hunt Valley with a few spurs to BWI and Penn Station.

Rail Transit has been a tough sell to Baltimore ever since the flight to the suburbs began and has it has become near impossible since the 1992 killing of a Saks 5th Avenue employee at Owings Mills Mall on a path in between the Mall and the Subway Station. That became the day that Rail Transit became the scapegoat for any type of crime that happened in the County. "The Rail Transit and Bus Lines allow people in the City to come to the County to rob and kill them." Up went the Mental Walls that haven't come down and the "Keep that Trash in the City" mentality increased. In fact, some blame that for the demise of Owings Mills Mall.
I'm going to clear the air once and for all and say none of that is true. Owings Mills Mall's death was comparable to that of the enclosed Shopping Mall  nationwide as well as an over abundance of Retail throughout. If you stopped going to the Owings Mills Mall because of that killing in 1992, you helped kill it. I will also say that the MTA and the Rouse Company (developers of Owings Mills Mall) did not come together to make a safe viable pathway between the Mall and the Subway Station. One either had to cut through the grass in between or walk on the shoulders Red Run Boulevard and Painters Mill Road. Not exactly transit oriented development. Also that crime could have happened anywhere at anytime.
 So we've put our mental walls up and little to no funding has occurred for creating or expanding Rail Transit lines. Whenever an idea comes around to expand Rail Transit, there's the same song and dance about "keeping that trash in the City" or how the City's crime problem will leak into the Counties etc. Now why don't other major cities complain about this all the time? Perhaps they've learned to embrace Rail Transit instead of fearing it.
Now comes the question; how can Baltimore embrace Rail Transit? Well, the first step is to keep an open mind. Next, we take the complaints people have about Rail Transit and turn them into opportunities for improvement; example "the Light Rail Stop near me is too dark" OK, lets improve the lighting at and around said station. Or "there aren't any Rail Stops near where I live/work". Then we build new lines so that there is one there. A Rail Transit stop has to complete and comprehensive in order for it to viable i.e., it has to go everywhere.           
One way to embrace Rail Transit is through Transit Oriented Development (TOD) There are some actual TOD developments going on throughout the region the biggest one of note is at the Owings Mills Metro Station adjacent to the now defunct Owings Mills Mall. There are numerous other opportunities at what are now surface parking lots along the following stops; Reisterstown Plaza, Rogers Avenue, Coldspring Lane, Mondawmin Mall, State Center, Cromwell Station, West Baltimore MARC, and Westport. Keep in mind, these are all existing Rail Stops. Imagine the TOD possibilities if more Lines were built?

The theory around TOD is that Residents neat Transit Stations don't need their cars anymore. In fact, that should be a big plus about City living. This of course is lost in Baltimore. There are only a few instances where this can be done today. If you live in Hunt Valley and work in Charles Center you're good. If you live in Owings Mills and work at Hopkins Hospital, you're good. But what if you live and work in White Marsh? Well, in that instance, you need a car. That's where the concept of TOD fails unless more Transit Lines are built so that the people living/working in White Marsh can now ditch their cars.
So with these examples and more Baltimore, I beg you, break down the walls built by segregation and fear of Rail Transit which as discussed above can be one in the same, and embrace it. That can be the best way to lure population back into the City and create a truly walkable environment. 


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