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?

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The National Zoo and DC Metro fit together, So could Baltimore’s Zoo and its Metro (but they don’t)

While Washington has a Metro stop with “Zoo” in its name, the Metro subway in Baltimore and its zoo appear to ignore each other.

Underutilized open space between the Mondawmin Metro Station and the (Baltimore) Zoo entrance. Image from Google maps.

Underutilized open space between the Mondawmin Metro Station and the (Baltimore) Zoo entrance. Image from Google maps.

At the nearby Mondawmin Metro stop, there is scant evidence the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore (Baltimore Zoo) even exists. At the zoo, there’s little mention of the subway. Meanwhile, the Washington Metro, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and nearby commercial retailers have a symbiotic relationship.

The Woodley Park/Zoo Metro station and the National Zoo are the same distance as the Baltimore zoo entrance and its nearest subway station, 0.4 miles or a 9 minute walk.

metro to zoo

Image from Google maps.

The zoo could be even closer to the Metro

The Baltimore Zoo is tucked away inside a park, Druid Hill Park. Unlike in DC, where the National Zoo’s entrance is right on Connecticut Avenue, the Baltimore Zoo entrance isn’t at the edge of the park. If architects designed a gateway closer to the station, or even across the street on the grounds of the beautifully renovated Parks and People Headquarters, it would create a stronger connection.

The station could reflect the zoo

Renaming the Mondawmin Station the Mondawmin/Zoo Station is an easy fix. Even bolder would be a zoo inspired interior/exterior design competition for the gloomy station. Baltimore’s Red Line light rail planners are currently seeking qualifications from artists for design projects for its stations. The subway’s stations could use some fresh design, too.

Better designed and safer pedestrian crossings would also help integrate the station, the Zoo, and Druid Hill Park. Auchentrolley Terrace is the size of an interstate and should shrink by multiple lanes.

In Baltimore, lots of open space exists between the Mondawmin Station entrance (left) and the hidden (Baltimore) zoo entrance (right). All photos by author.

In Baltimore, lots of open space exists between the Mondawmin Station entrance (left) and the hidden (Baltimore) zoo entrance (right). All photos by author.

In Washington, transit and the zoo integrate into the city.

In Washington, transit and the zoo integrate into the city.

The zoo could boost the Metro brand

The zoo in Baltimore has plenty of parking and most patrons arrive by car. Integrating the subway and the zoo won’t change this. What can change is the perception that the areas around the Baltimore subway stations never change and that the subway has few destinations at its stations.

Taxpayers have invested $1.3 billion in Baltimore’s Metro Subway. One of the valid complaints about the subway is that it does not serve enough places that people want to go. For the subway to attract new ridership and development at its stations, it needs to build its brand. By increasing the destinations it serves and refreshing its stations, Baltimore citizens and investors, may look at the line in a new way.

The new Social Security complex, potentially a State Center transit oriented development, a revitalized west-side, and an enhanced zoo stop would add momentum for the subway.

A connection could help businesses

The Baltimore Zoo draws almost 375,000 people who spend $10.8 million each year, according to a 2011 study. Linking the Baltimore subway with the zoo will not turn Auchentrolley Terrace into Connecticut Avenue overnight. But by integrating the zoo with the station and its neighborhood, there is more economic spin-off potential than with its current isolated location. It is not hard to imagine businesses that benefit from hungry or thirsty zoo visitors opening near the subway and zoo entrances.

Connecticut Avenue

In Washington, Connecticut Avenue has vibrant retail between the zoo and the subway entrance.

According to American Public Transportation Association, forty-nine million vacationers will use public transportation to sight see. Car-less Inner Harbor tourists in Baltimore and downtown residents might be tempted to take the subway from Charles Center to visit the zoo or seek the green space of Druid Hill Park, especially if they could grab a nice lunch near the station.

When the Baltimore Ravens provided Quarterback Joe Flacco a 120 million dollar contract and he was getting regularly sacked, people clamored for the need to protect the investment in the QB by shoring up the offensive line. Baltimore’s can also shore up the investment in its subway with a few strategic projects and destinations at its stations. A better connection to the Zoo warrants a look.

Jeff La Noue

A similar article is cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington

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