April 9, 2007

Greyhound Bus Station


Here's a transit planning debacle that can't be blamed on the MTA. To make way for new development, the Baltimore City government and its Baltimore Development Corporation wanted to get rid of the Greyhound Bus Terminal located in the center of downtown where it had convenient access from virtually the entire MTA regional transit system. The City selected a location on a peninsula along the Middle Branch south of Ravens Stadium that had virtually no transit access.

The City then had to rig up a left turn lane amid the construction cones for its long-term reconstruction project on Russell Street, where turns had previously been prohibited due to congestion and heavy traffic. Then the City had to pressure the MTA into detouring its #27 bus line into the isolated Greyhound site. The MTA and its parent Maryland Department of Transportation complained about this, but really had no choice but to twist its system to provide its patrons with access to the inter-regional Greyhound bus system.

Here's the view of the waterfront from the new Greyhound Terminal. Light rail trains ride over the water and under Interstate 395, zooming past the Greyhound terminal, with no opportunity to stop anywhere within walking distance. This prime waterfront site is considered a temporary location for the bus terminal, while the City prepares a permanent home for Greyhound within several blocks in the same inaccessible waterfront area.

It seems shocking that the City would relegate transit riders to such a purgatory, until you realize that the City undermines the transit system on a regular basis by continually building monster parking garages that strongly encourage people to drive rather than use transit. When observing the City's actions rather than its rhetoric, one is forced to conclude that the City has a rather active anti-transit policy.

But let's face it. Transit just isn't mainstream anymore, and hasn't been since about the 1940s. The idea is rather far-fetched that we could spend several billion dollars on new rail transit and then just wait for people to flock to it and reorganize their lives around it. Baltimore's biggest growth areas are along the waterfront from Harbor East to Canton which just happen to have the City's worst transit access. Meanwhile, the area with the best and most transit, around Lexington Market, has been crying out for new development which has been arriving painfully slowly. Making a transit system work requires constant attention.

So it isn't just Greyhound which sits in purgatory along the banks of the Middle Branch. The entire transit system occupies various states of purgatory. The MTA runs its transit system in the shadows of our automobile-dominated city.

Even well-utilized transit stops can exist in these shadows, as illustrated by the blog article on the Lexington Market Transit Hub area.

Apropos to the discussion of the isolated Greyhound Bus terminal is another well-utilized but isolated transit hub - the Cherry Hill Light Rail station, located just over a mile to the south. The photo above shows the entrance to the station on Cherry Hill Road, south of Waterview Avenue. As shown, to get to the station, one must proceed through a tunnel under the CSX freight railroad tracks.

On the other end of this tunnel, one must walk up a flight of steps or a set of switchback ramps. This arrangement makes the tunnel very isolated from the station and vice-versa. The MTA takes the resultant issues of safety and security very seriously, especially at such highly travelled locations, and has regular police patrols of this station.

I was stopped by MTA police officers as I attempted to take pictures of the Cherry Hill station. One of them demanded my photo ID, gave me a warning notice, asked to see the photos I had already taken, and strongly warned me not to take any pictures of the station. She even lectured me about the post-9/11 world, and started asking me for my life story before I finally realized that I really didn't have to go there.

So I didn't take any pictures on MTA property. But all of the MTA light rail platforms look pretty much the same, and most don't have such constant surveillance, so you can refer to any of the other pictures of any of them that I and many other people have published.

But what is distinctive about the Cherry Hill Light Rail Station is what's on the opposite side of the station - a huge vacant parcel of land underneath a power line right-of-way. The photo above was taken southward from near Waterview Avenue. The light rail platforms are on the left (east). Just beyond to the east is the pedestrian tunnel leading to Cherry Hill Road. Beyond the trees to the right (west) is the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

This is something I love about Baltimore. Cherry Hill Road is in the highly populated heart of the City. Just to the west of it is freight rail tracks, flanked by the light rail line. Then just beyond that, you might as well be in Appalachia, with a barely graded dirt road that meanders around the underbrush.

This would make a great site for the permanent Greyhound Bus Terminal. The light rail station and the Greyhound terminal currently exist in purgatories, but if they were combined on this one site, they would provide the kind of synergistic critical mass of which planners always abstractly talk but hardly ever deliver. Both facilities would provide security for one another, and MTA transit access to Greyhound would be infinitely improved. Great access for Greyhound buses would be provided from Waterview Avenue, just east of its Baltimore-Washington Parkway ramps.

Unfortunately, this type of site is beyond the City's development property inventory. That's why it has remained in Appalachia for all these years. It is far more expedient for the City to simply look at its available real estate and decide which parcel is expendable from development, than it is for them to recognize where the Greyhound terminal could best serve its present and future customers.

Transit in Baltimore is seldom looked at as a system. This is always inexcusable, but it is infinitely more so when dealing with rail transit, which is supposed to be the permanent immutable backbone of the system. Once the system begins to rely on bus routes which twist and turn away from the access nodes defined by the rail transit stations, the rail transit system becomes weakened and diluted.

If the light rail line is perceived as not going to the important places along the route, it becomes less imperative to make it truly work. An improvement such as making the light rail line actually connect to the heavy rail line at Lexington Market then become a "who cares?" kind of proposition instead of something that is done as a matter of course, for the sake of creating a system.

The light rail spur to Penn Station has already become that kind of optional accessory rather than an essential integral element of the comprehensive system. The MTA runs little shuttle light rail runs from the Penn Station spur to the rest of the light rail system just across the JFX. (See baltimoreinnerspace.blogspot.com/2006/09/penn-station-whats-wrong-with-this.html ) The City government once considered it to be a big deal to try to provide access between Greyhound, Amtrak and MARC at Penn Station, but with Greyhound banished to purgatory, this is evidently not so anymore.

System thinking has apparently disappeared. Leave the driving to Greyhound, but leave the transit planning to the City development planners.


  1. Gerald,

    You were improperly stopped by the MTA police when attempting to take photos. I can provide you with documentation to that effect if you wish to fight the MTA on this. The MTA cannot prohibit photos from public property (which the MTA is) depsite their desires for "security in this post 9/11 world.

    It appears you and I were at Northwestern University at around the same time.

    david warner
    wilmington, de

  2. Gerald,

    The same thing happened to me in the Washington D.C. Greyhound station. They have no right to do this, but I wanted to let you know that this is not just an isolated incident. I blogged about mine here: http://earcaraxe.com/blog/?p=48

    This is inexcusable behavior for officials.