July 5, 2007

Streetcars - Part 2


Sometimes, bad graphics are good enough. In contrast, it often takes a lot of experience and expertise to confuse people. Here's my crude rendition of what a Baltimore streetcar map could look like, done on the Microsoft Paint software thrown-in with Windows XP.

If downtown Baltimore had a simple streetcar system like this, you could go pretty much everywhere you need to go in the area where it would most likely occur to you that you'd want to take transit anyway. Although if you wanted to go to, say, White Marsh Mall, all that parking out there would immediately dispel any thought of leaving your car behind. If you didn't have a car but you still wanted to go to White Marsh, you'd obviously have to do more research.

But one map shouldn't tell you everything about everything anyway. That would be information overload and would hopelessly confuse matters.

Maybe the map above should be color-keyed to show routes. Maybe if I had a good idea as to whether the Charles Village trolleys should go to Fells Point or to Federal Hill, I would have done that.

But maybe some Charles Village trolleys should go to each place. And maybe you shouldn't worry about that when you see the trolley coming down the street. Maybe you should just get on board, and then figure out if you need to transfer somewhere to get where you're going, with the aid of some nice map on the streetcar, or the advice of the nice motorman, or an automated announcement system, or all three. And you should be able to transfer for free with a simple fare ticket system instead of paying two full fares as the MTA requires now. After all, it's not your fault that the vehicle that came along doesn't go where you want to go.

Baltimore's streetcar network should go everywhere it fits, and that is close enough together and has the development density to justify it.

If you're just joining us, the proposed streetcar system shown above is the consequence of several fortuitous circumstances:

1 - The Charles Street Development Corporation is planning a trolley line in the Charles Street corridor from the Inner Harbor to Charles Village.

2 - The Maryland Transit Administration should someday wake up and realize that their Red Line to Fells Point would make much more sense using trolleys/streetcars than oversized regional light rail trains.

3 - The MTA should also realize someday that streetcars should run on portions of the existing light rail line to integrate that line with the center of downtown, along with Howard Street.

4 - The City will eventually realize that they picked a bad plan as the winner of their recent Pratt Street design competition, and that instead of widening Pratt into a bad imitation of Les Champs Elysees, it can be ideally tailored for a streetcar line.

5 - Similarly, the City will also realize that instead of making Pratt Street look more like the incredibly oppressive and awful Light Street in the Inner Harbor, they should be narrowing Light Street to look more like what Pratt Street should be - with streetcars.

6 - By this time, the City will really be becoming the enlightened place that everyone knows we can be, and they will propose a streetcar line that magically transforms the southwest corridor from the Mount Clare B&O Railroad Museum along the historic rail right of way on the north edge of Carroll Park, and culminating at the Montgomery Park office mega-palace.

All of this is shown above, and more. And there could be much more than that.

As a result, the streetcars will become a Baltimore icon, and perhaps just coincidentally, a good transit system. And they will become so popular that the MTA won't be able to buy enough streetcar vehicles to handle the loads. So they'll have to use buses to augment the service, and people will discover quite serendipitously that buses can provide just as good service as streetcars can. San Francisco might just become the Baltimore of the west.

After all, streetcars don't have anything to do with Rice-a-Roni, but when has anyone ever used buses as a trademark for anything?


  1. Bringing back streetcars to Baltimore would be a great idea, just not downtown! I could see them running along Druid Park Lake Drive, Gwynn's Falls and Liberty Heights, North Ave, Broadway etc and so forth. Charles St. Would be a disaster. Remember Howard St? And don't tel me the LRT is not just a big fat street car!

    CDC's whole plan is just to move tourists up from the harbor to the resaurants of Mt. Vernon and back. We should build transit in this city where it is needed, not an area that is already served by surface modes. What we need a subway running North/South to Serve Towson all the way to South Baltimore. Building a streetcar would only distract MTA from what is really needed: rapid transit!

    I dont mean to just be a negative nancy. When I first saw this plan, I got real excited. This city was indeed built for streetcars, we should restore old lines and give the city some of its character back. The more I see the more I realize this is more of the same ol' transit for suburbanites, just like the light rail's orioles oriented design and the proposed red line's disaster of a plan. Lets get a real Metro for Baltimore and put it where it belongs UDERGROUND!


  2. I've been working with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association with the launch of their brand new site, VisitMyBaltimore.com.

    VisitMyBaltimore.com is giving away $2007 for the best 'My Baltimore' video - The new site officially launches July 10th, but you can get it on it now.

    Grab your video camera and create your own video about what you know and love about Baltimore. Show us your favorite neighborhood, bar or restaurant, where you love to shop downtown or the first place you take your friends and family who visit from out of town. The contest is running now through September 4th.

    To view a sample video visit www.VisitMyBaltimore.com
    To submit a video prior to July 10th: http://www.VisitMyBaltimore.com/whatsnew/video/sendvideo_bacva.php
    To submit a video after July 10th:

  3. A Streetcar line going though Downtown would be a great idea but it shouldn't be a substitute for the other rail lines proposed in the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan that if I had my way would be underground to give them their own right of way. A street car line would, just as you said be a visible way to navigate Downtown and connect to existing rail lines and the proposed ones.