Three times in the last month, I've been to the Joseph Meyerhoff Theater, once for a Louis CK show, once for Handel's Messiah (my mom was in the chorus!), and just this past Saturday to take my son to Cirque de la Symphonie. Each time, I parked at the Mt. Washington light rail stop, took the train to the aptly named Cultural Center stop and walked about 25 steps through a lovely sculpture garden to get to the theater, and after the show, 25 steps back for a train back north.
Each time, the train was almost entirely empty. And the passengers that were on the train were coming from points further south. Only after the Louis CK show did I see any fellow audience members—in that case, just a few young people—walking to the train with me. What a waste! Each time, as we pulled out of the station, I watched the gridlocked spiral of cars trying to get out of the garage on Cathedral St, after paying $11 for the pleasure—something I had done many times before realizing how easy the light rail is—and shook my head. Why are Baltimoreans so resistant to public transportation? It just doesn't get any easier that this.
The fact is, public transportation in Baltimore is kind of a mess. People much smarter than me can (and do) explain at length the many ways our patchwork system of buses and trains falls woefully short of the comprehensive system of nearby cities like Washington D.C. and New York. I lived in New York City for 15 years without a car and I never once wanted or needed one (except when I wanted to get out of town). That kind of commitment to public transportation—which is shared, by the way, by almost every resident of NYC, regardless of class or neighborhood—would be impossible here, the system is too inadequate. Unfortunately, as a result, many Baltimoreans seemed to have internalized a car culture wherein it's inconceivable to get anywhere in town without driving there.
Which is too bad, because the light rail is really an ideal solution to get to several key locations in Baltimore. I admit I don't frequent the Metro or the MTA or Charm City Circulator buses (or a bike) very often, but other swear by their resourcefulness—it mostly depends where you live. From our home base in Mt. Washington, the light rail is a cheap ($3.10 round trip—kids seem to be free until an unreasonable age) way to get to the Meyerhoff, the Lyric, Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, 1st Mariner Arena, Penn Station, and BWI, among many other destinations. In most cases, the light rail stop is just steps from the entrance without parking and traffic hassles. We've started to take note of kid-friendly restaurants that are at light rail stops (the train ride is half the fun for them), like Two Boots Pizza (Mt. Royal stop) or anything at the Hunt Valley mall (Hunt Valley stop).
So, let me hear it, Baltimore: why aren't you taking the light rail? In the past, I've heard that people think it's unsafe, but in my experience taking the trains with my kids dozens of times, I can tell you I've never felt unsafe or seen any reason why others would (though I don't doubt there have been isolated incidents, and I can understand why women traveling alone would be uneasy). In fact, police are on the train roughly 50% of the time to check that people have paid fares. Is it just the car habit? If so, it's work breaking the habit, at least once. You'd be surprised how easy and convenient it is...