By Jamie McCoy, Baltimore intern
It seems as though the MTA is moving forward with plans to build a second light rail line, the red line, which will run west to east between Security and Bayview, making stops at Edmondson Village, West Baltimore, Harbor East, Fells Point, and Canton, among other places. According to the MTA, it will be 14.5 miles long and include 20 stations.
Although this plan is called the “Locally Preferred Alternative,” many groups ardently oppose aspects of it, particularly the section running through Canton along Boston Street, the section in Edmondson Village, and the tunnel under Cooks Lane.
Canton’s Jody Stoehr has helped organize the Baltimore Red Line Underground, a coalition of people in Canton and Edmondson who oppose the plan for the red line. She explained that “the coalition is 100 percent for mass transit, but it needs to be done right.” She feels that the plan, as it stands, will be a detriment to the neighborhoods in terms of safety, aesthetics, and noise.
Stoehr also believes that “Canton is just the wrong place for a light rail. Nobody rides the buses that already exist, and a surface light rail will take away from the community.” She further voiced concern for the safety of children in the neighborhood, and an increase in traffic problems that already exist along Boston Street.
Some people have taken their opposition to the red line one step further, proposing alternatives, many of which seem innovative and practical. I know that my three years of a Dartmouth College education do not give me the necessary credentials to tear apart the Maryland Transit Administration’s plans, so I decided to contact someone with a little more background.
Gerald Neily is a former Baltimore City Planner with a specialization in transportation. He maintains a blog where he publishes his many ideas for alternative solutions for several of the problems that the current red line plan has created. I encourage those of you who are interested to visit his page, which has maps and diagrams and is quite detailed, but here is the gist of some of his ideas:
The eastern section of the current light rail plan should be converted to streetcars. This way, the cars can mix more easily with traffic. The light rail itself would stop at the Harbor East stop, on Central Avenue. On the west side it becomes more tricky, but he proposes that the line stop at Hilton, and that planners take advantage of the grade differential between Hilton Street and Hilton Parkway, where it might be possible to put in an underground parking lot or light rail station with park space on top of it. Suggestions for how to deal with the Franklin-Mulberry corridor can be found on Peter Tocco's Baltimorphosis.com blog.
Mr. Neily feels that the problem with the red line started in 2002, when the MTA superimposed a drawing of the DC metro system on a Baltimore City map. While it looked exciting, the plan was taken far too literally. “They jumped right into detailed planning of the red line without really coming up with a workable design.” With what Neily considers inflated numbers for proposed ridership and the suggestion of a single rail tunnel under Cooks Lane, Neily is concerned that the MTA is letting this plan become not only impractical, but dangerous. “The MTA has a history of shenanigans” he said, “which we saw with the originally single-track sections of the existing light rail. They had to shut down the light rail to fix those sections—why not just try to do it right the first time?”
So it seems that the critics of the red line are all saying the same thing: We want more public transportation, but we want it done right. It’s a big enough and expensive enough undertaking to warrant careful and thoughtful planning, with extra consideration paid to what sections of the city could benefit from public transportation. We definitely need an east/west line of transportation bisecting the city, and it would be great to hit stops along the harbor and connect the MARC train stations. But if it’s not going to be safe or practical, what’s the point?