There’s a plan for more rail options in Baltimore, and it doesn’t involve the Red Line

The Red Line might not be happening, but that doesn’t mean Baltimore’s transportation needs have gone anywhere. A plan from 2007 recommends new stations on the MARC’s Penn Line and make it easier to travel to and from Baltimore as well as within the city itself.

Baltimore's existing heavy rail lines, along with potential MARC stops and the now cancelled Red Line route. The 2007 Plan also discusses possibilities for expanding the Camden Line. Base image from Google Maps.

Baltimore’s existing heavy rail lines, along with potential MARC stops and the now cancelled Red Line route. The 2007 Plan also discusses possibilities for expanding the Camden Line. Base image from Google Maps.

Assembled by the Maryland Transit Administration, the 2007 MARC Growth & Investment Plan featured a number of rail projects, many of which would invest heavily in Baltimore. Adding more MARC stations to Baltimore would also amount to intracity service, removing some of the sting of losing the Red Line investment.

2013 draft update omits stations and improvements planned for the city. There isn’t an explanation for why.

Moving forward with the Penn Line stations identified in the 2007 plan would provide many more places to access or depart Baltimore on the MARC regional rail line. (The 2007 plan also calls for major Camden Line investments, but they are less shovel ready)

The plan includes three new stations on the Penn Line, which runs from DC Washington’s Union to Station to Perryville, Maryland, near the Delaware border.

1.The first is Bayview, near the Baltimore City/County line. Bayview would be a strong choice for a transportation investment because has easy access to Interstates 95 and 895 and park & ride opportunities, a major hospital, and dense neighborhoods nearby. Bayview is also easy drive from large suburbs in Baltimore County such as Essex and Middle River.

Bayview was meant to have a connection to the Red Line and has considerable station planning work was completed on the $60 million project. Of all the proposed new stations, this one is the most shovel ready.

2. The second is Madison Square, in the center of East Baltimore. The 2007 plan specifically calls for proposes a connection to the Metro Green Line and Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is one of the region’s largest job centers. A stop here would provide regional rail access to Northeast Baltimore, an area currently unconnected to any passenger rail network.

3.Finally, the plan proposes a station at Upton in West Baltimore, with a proposed connection to the Metro Green Line. This proposed stop is near the epicenter of the 2015 riots. Completing this connection would require making a station that links connection between the subway and the train tunnels that pass over each other.  Work on the B&P Tunnel is being planned now.

Riders leaving the MARC at Baltimore's Penn Stations. Would more stations on the Penn Line help transit in the city? Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Riders leaving the MARC at Baltimore’s Penn Stations. Would more stations on the Penn Line help transit in the city? Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The MARC lines are regional in scope, but by adding stations in dense populated neighborhoods outside of downtown on both sides of the city, Baltimoreans would have more access to the line. Those coming into Baltimore, will also have much greater choice of places to get off that might be closer to their destinations.

More MARC stations in Baltimore could attract jobs

When it was still on the table, a lot of people called the Red Line the “jobs line” because it would have connected so many of Baltimore’s densest employment clusters, especially near the harbor and in Baltimore County. The MARC Penn Line runs about three miles north of the Red Line alignment, and while the proposed stations are in places with fewer jobs, they’re still close to large residential populations.

That means new Penn Line stations could very well attract new jobs in the future. Like the Red Line, the MARC lines cross from west to east (although the Red Line was to go much further west into Baltimore County). Adding stations on the Penn Line at Bayview and Madison Square in particular, appear to be feasible. With multiple new stations within Baltimore and more frequency, it could create “transit-like” service through Baltimore. If that were to happen, it would be an economic jolt for neighborhoods in the city’s interior.

As the state and city discuss transportation improvements for Baltimore, the 2007 MARC Investment Plan for Baltimore should be on the table. Adding MARC service and stations in Baltimore is not a substitute for the Red Line, but it would do a lot of good in different areas of the city.

A similar article has been posted at Greater Greater Washington

Jeff La Noue

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Without the Red Line: what is next for Baltimore transportation?

Most Baltimoreans concerned with the Red Line thought the rail project was finished when the election returns came in last November.  The Red Line was an O’Malley project, and when his Lieutenant Governor was beaten to a highway man, what other conclusion could be drawn?  Surprisingly, the new Governor promised to study the rail project and he kept spending money on it.  The Baltimore business community became more vocal in support of the Red Line and the Governor’s team met with project advocates. False hope creeped in for supporters for the next eight months, before the Governor did what we expected him to do all along and kill the project.

The new question is, does Baltimore get a consolation prize?  If so, the most befitting of Hogan’s rhetoric, would be a pledge to help pave Baltimore’s craterscape of a road network.  This would make many people happy, but would do almost nothing to help people connect to jobs or alleviate congestion.

There are several very-helpful piecemeal projects the Governor should consider, but he would have to be open minded to some transit-oriented solutions. Critics of the Red Line alignment, including the Governor, most often point to the proposed parallel tunnel.  Here are few ideas to contribute to the discussion, none of which include a duplicate tunnel.

Create a Metro Green Line extension to the west

West Baltimore needs jobs and better transportation connections. What better place to focus than a Washington connecting MARC Station with lots of available land for future development.  To make it viable, build a short speedy two mile metro branch from the West Baltimore MARC station that feeds into the green line at Lexington Market. The train can travel above ground with dedicated right-of-way in the former “highway to no-where” before descending into the existing subway right-of-way. This should keep expenses within Hogan’s fiscal sensibilities.  High-frequency buses can feed into the MARC station from all over West Baltimore including social security. This short rail extension would link the center of West Baltimore, MARC and bus riders, with a speedy rail connection into downtown and beyond.

Extending the Metro Green Line west could provide fast transit for West Baltimore and MARC riders into downtown and beyond

Extending the Metro Green Line west could provide fast transit for West Baltimore and MARC riders into downtown and beyond

Extend the Metro Green Line to the north

While closer to jobs in Southeast Baltimore, East Baltimore has a similar economic malaise as West Baltimore.  Extending the existing Metro Green Line just a half mile to the MARC train tracks and building a connecting station would drastically help east Baltimoreans reach jobs in downtown Baltimore as well as those that can be accessed by the MARC Penn Line. This new hub would drastically reduce the isolation of this part of the city.

A short Metro Green Line extension to the north could give East Baltimore a badly needed transportation hub

A short Metro Green Line extension to the north could give East Baltimore a badly needed transportation hub

Extend the Metro Green Line to the east

After the green line is extended north to the MARC train in east Baltimore, it can make an easterly turn above ground along the MARC right of way four miles to a new Bay View MARC Station.  While also serving the hospital, a station here could also create a great park & ride option for drivers on 95 and 895.  This should help ease downtown congestion if drivers can park here and take a swift metro ride into:  downtown, the Johns Hopkins Medical Complex, or other green line or MARC train destinations.

Extending the Green Line Metro along the existing MARC right-of-way east would enable a new hub connecting the subway with MARC, Interstate 95, Bayview Hospital, and a park and ride for many in eastern Baltimore

Extending the Green Line Metro along the existing MARC right-of-way east would enable a new hub connecting the subway with MARC, Interstate 95, Bayview Hospital, and a park and ride for many in eastern Baltimore

Create a high-frequency “jobs” bus line between the Lexington Market Hub and the Bayview Transportation Hub

A new high level of service 6.5 mile bus line linking the jobs, dense neighborhoods, shopping, and entertainment along the bustling southeast harbor coast with endpoints of Lexington Market and Bayview would very helpful.  This line is where a lot of jobs are. With tunneling off the table and no clear right-of way available needed for a practicable streetcar, major bus improvements appear to be the next best option here.

A high-frequency bus line between the Lexington Market Transportation Hub and the proposed Bayview Transportation Hub would provide more reliable connectivity in this growing section of Baltimore

A high-frequency bus line between the Lexington Market Transportation Hub and the proposed Bayview Transportation Hub would provide more reliable connectivity in this growing section of Baltimore

While many more ideas will surface, these four transportation enhancements would bring significant benefits to Baltimore, involve little tunneling, could be phased, and are fiscally restrained. Adding four new station hubs where rail lines would connect, while avoiding the expense of any new underground stations, might appeal to the Hogan administration.   Baltimore needs and deserves major transit improvements. Governor Hogan, does Baltimore get anything?

MARC Train Edge Cities-They Don’t Exist, Yet

We splash cold water on our early morning faces before heading to Baltimore’s Penn Station in the dark where I  drop my wife to catch the 5:50AM MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) train departing Baltimore Penn Station for Washington Union, where she will then transfer to the DC METRO and arrive at her work site by 7:30. Based on time and cost, this is a better choice than driving through AM and PM rush hours in two cities, which she has also experimented. I work in Baltimore, but have meetings in DC’s Maryland suburbs.  Right now, we are a couple straddling the Baltimore/ Washington region. We are not alone.

It is not surprising that corporate offices and sprawling suburbs are consuming the green fields between the beltways. By being in the middle, families and businesses can access the employment, cultural, airport and other benefits of both metros.   It is also not surprising that traffic is terrible and there is pressure to use tax payer dollars to widen or create roads. (ICC)

Corporate sprawl 2

Image: Corporate sprawl between Baltimore and Washington alienates transit riders

The status quo development (above image) between the cities is comprised of both corporate and residential sprawl a few miles from MARC stations, but useless to arriving train passengers. The US Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED rating system need to play a role.  USGBC should not be giving isolated land gobbling sprawl producers green credentials for energy efficiency when  these same buildings require inefficient commuting.

What is surprising is there is nary a sprout of an urban cosmopolitan edge city that is oriented around a MARC train station between Penn and Union Stations.  Arlington, Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring are small cities that have grown up around Washington Metro Stations. Kaid Benfield has covered the Arlington success story and Chris Leinberger has described the growth of what he calls “walk up” development that is becoming so prevalent in the Washington Metro Area. By contrast, all seven MARC Penn Line stations between Penn and Union or “stations in the middle” (SIM), lie in a desert of surface parking lots (there is a garage at BWI). It is difficult to even get a cup of coffee at most of these outposts. What is also important to note, that MARC trains can deliver a passenger from these SIMs to the center of Washington (and Baltimore) roughly as fast and more comfortably as the Washington Metro (or car) from the aforementioned edge cities’s metro stations.

MARC Stations 2

Image: Lots of urban development opportunity at the underdeveloped MARC stations between Baltimore and Washington. Bowie State University and BWI stations shown.

While this author advocates for infill development inside the beltways, he acknowledges the demand for development in between.  It is time to start urban mixed-use development along the MARC Penn and Camden Lines. MDOT proclaims they are open for business partnerships and have a transit-oriented-development (TOD) underway at Odenton.  Private sector developers have made lots of money building urban product at Washington Metro Stations, particularly in Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There is potential for similar opportunity adjacent to MARC stations.

So why has scattered growth continued between the two cities while MARC stations remain the nucleus of constellations of barren commercial-less surface parking?  I speculate the issue is structured parking.  With cheap available green fields, why build the more expensive structured parking for more urban development patterns?  The reason for change is this.  There are an increasingly large number of consumers and employees who operate between Baltimore and Washington that prefer a hassle free train ride complemented by a short walk to an office, a restaurant, a hotel, or a residence on both ends, especially in a cosmopolitan urban environment. There is a premium for this in Bethesda and Arlington, and there will be at MARC stations.

BethArl

Image: Arlington (left) and Bethesda (right) are among several edge cities that have grown around their train station-each about 30 minutes from the center of Washington-the same as many MARC stations

Arlington TOD corridor

Image:  Arlington is being developed like pearls on a string with the densest development nearest the train stations. This is a model for MARC.  Source: Switchboard NRDC (left) and familypedia.wikia.com

To get on a roll at MARC stations, the public sector may have to help build and finance structured parking to open land adjacent to stations for development.  Stu Sirota, Principal of TND Planning Group, says there needs to be an overarching vision coupled with marketing. Stu  continues –  “A real regional planning effort  or charrette will show how all these station areas could become cool transit villages (or bigger) and what an incredible impact that could have on the Baltimore-Washington corridor.” Once there are a few hot spots along the line, the SIMs will be coveted real estate. It is time to get started.

Red Line: An Opportunity for West Baltimore

The western side of Baltimore has a golden opportunity.  An opportunity of a generation.  An opportunity that if missed, will likely not come again in a long time.  This opportunity is the Red Line.

The author grew up on the west side of Baltimore and wants it to flourish. The area is home to tight-knit neighborhoods, a great variety of historic architecture, and the city’s biggest park; Gwynns Falls Leakin Park.  That has not been enough. Unfortunately, West Baltimore (city) has few large employers and is not seeing enough private investment flow in its direction.  This has an impact on quality of life.  The west side has a dearth of sit down restaurants, no movie-plexes, no hotels, and few thriving retail districts.  Despite the city’s overall uptick in population, the west side continues to hemorrhage residents, which results in too much crumbling housing and falling employment opportunities.

If the west side remains isolated and it does not try something new, it is hard to envision change.  The opportunity is right in front of us.  In the short run, the Red Line will put thousands to work. When it opens, the west side neighborhoods will be connected within minutes to over 113,000 downtown jobs and thousands more in southeast Baltimore. The Red Line will make easy transfers to MARC trains at West Baltimore and Camden Station, opening up the Washington region in ways never before realized. The Red Line also will make it convenient to visit restaurants, shopping, and events. Most importantly, the Red Line greatly improves the prospects for attracting new employers, restaurants, retail, and potential residents that have been spurning the west side for other parts of the region. Rail transit does not guaranty new investment as those of us in Baltimore are all too aware. However, transit-oriented-development is happening in traffic clogged cities all over the world, especially right down the tracks in Washington.  Thirty-four MARC minutes from the West Baltimore Station, New Carrollton envisions 5500 new apartment units and 6.1 million square feet of office and retail around its station.  Development at transit stations will eventually catch on here in Baltimore too, hopefully sooner than later.

Transit Oriented Development opportunity at the W. Baltimore MARC Station

Transit Oriented Development opportunity at the W. Baltimore MARC Station

Development at this West Baltimore Station is a lot more likely with these train connection combinations: 45 minutes to Washington Union Station, 34 minutes to New Carrollton and the Purple Line, 10 minutes to downtown Baltimore, and 10 minutes to Baltimore Penn Station. Image Source: West Baltimore MARC Station Master Plan

Improved transit could make development in West Baltimore more likely

Improved transit could make development in West Baltimore more likely

For households and businesses that need easy connections to Baltimore and Washington, development at the West Baltimore MARC would be ideal. Image source: West Baltimore MARC Station Master Plan

The residents and business owners of: Dickeyville, Franklintown, Rosemont, Allendale, Ten Hills, Hunting Ridge, Poppleton, Franklin Square, Union Square, Edmondson Village, Harlem Park, and other nearby neighborhoods will be the biggest beneficiaries. As it is often said “location, location, location….”  The Red Line  will again give West Baltimore a location advantage and the chance for new development that otherwise would not occur.

Maryland’s General Assembly is debating funding and the Red Line.  There are only so many times that your districts can be part of a $2.5 billion shot in the arm and the chance to transform the economic outlook for dozens of neighborhoods. It is time to seize the opportunity.

JL

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