March 2, 2008

Red Line Down Under

I've finally figured out how the Red Line should be done: The Red Line can be connected from the Franklin-Mulberry Corridor to Fells Point without destroying the neighborhoods and without costing a huge amount of money.

At the same time, the Red Line can be connected to everything else that needs connecting and can create yet another fantastic new transit-oriented development opportunity in the process.

The key is in the inner, inner, inner realms of Baltimore Innerspace.

Here is the door that fits the key: The "Down Under" parking garage entrance opposite the intersection of Lombard and Hanover Street, at the south end of Charles Center.

This parking garage entrance should be turned into the portal to the Red Line tunnel. The Red Line should run all the way through the "Down Under" parking garage, which is an amazing underground edifice which extends underneath the entire length of Charles Center from Lombard Street northward to Lexington.

Back in the early to mid 1960s when Charles Center was built, designers didn't really know how to build parking garages yet. So they built a huge catacomb of parking underneath the entire eight square block Charles Center redevelopment area. When it was under construction, it looked like a huge asteroid had hit downtown Baltimore.
There is no reasonable need for parking to be integrated into the urban form in such a way, but planners and architects really didn't know that yet. They also didn't know that they didn't need to provide a dozen or so entrances to this parking that pop up at various points along Charles, Baltimore, Fayette, Hopkins and other streets, thereby screwing up the intersections and sidewalks.
But the '60s were a heady time, when urban designers actually thought that overhead walkways would be great places for pedestrians, leaving the ground and underground for the cars. And the huge "Hamburgers" building which hovered over the top of Fayette Street referred to menswear, not lunch.
The huge catacombs of parking under Charles Center are now obsolete, and are ready for their new 21st century life.
The "Down Under" garage should be totally transformed to accommodate the Red Line from the parking garage entrance at Lombard and Hanover Street, shown above, to an entrance to the Charles Center Metro Subway two blocks north at Baltimore Street under the Mechanic Theater (another dead '60s relic), then two blocks further north through the rest of the "Down Under" garage to Lexington Street.
Underneath Lexington Street, starting at Liberty, the Red Line would turn west into its own new tunnel, with a new station between Howard and Eutaw, where it would have a transfer connection to the light rail line above Howard Street, and again to the Metro at the Lexington Market station. The Red Line would then continue westward in its own tunnel and would surface in the Franklin-Mulberry Corridor west of MLK Boulevard.
Here's the great part: The entire gigantic eight square block "Down Under" garage would thus become a huge underground transit-oriented development site, with potential pedestrian connections to everything imaginable. Most of the existing automobile access points could be maintained for access, service, and maintaining the normalcy that auto traffic has been shown to provide. In this way, the "Down Under" would not be just a vast isolated underground cave. It would truly be an extension of the city into a fourth dimension, with full interaction with the other three dimensions.
Truly creative opportunities would open up. Think "Underground Atlanta" or underneath Michigan Avenue in Chicago, extending northward from Millennium Park to the Magnificent Mile. Think of shopping and think of pedestrian spaces. But of course, always think of Baltimore first.
Think of anything EXCEPT dingy parking garages like the kind where TV murders always happen.

The intersection of Lombard and Hanover Streets is the perfect place for an underground transit portal. Such portals are extremely difficult and expensive to build, and yet this one is already there, just waiting to be used !!!!!!!
Once the Red Line emerges from "Down Under" at his portal onto the surface streets of Lombard and Pratt, it can easily branch in all directions. The light rail aspect of the Red Line could continue by turning two blocks westward on Pratt and/or Lombard and then connecting to the existing light rail line toward Camden Station, Camden Yards, Westport, Cherry Hill, Glen Burnie and the airport.

The streetcar aspect of the Red Line could turn eastward onto Pratt Street to the Inner Harbor, then further east to Fells Point and further south to Federal Hill, Locust Point, Port Covington or wherever our ambitions lead us.

The Red Line would in effect function in a similar manner to the Market Street streetcar tunnel in Center City Philadelphia, which then fans out in various directions once it comes to the surface in West Philly.

All Red Line trains would use the main trunk line from the Route 40 West Corridor, into downtown, then into the "Down Under" garage, and then out of the ground at the Lombard/Hanover portal. The mainline of the Red Line would be light rail - once it emerges at Hanover/Lombard, it would proceed southward from Camden Yards to the airport. The branch lines would use streetcars, emerging from the same portal, and proceed eastward to Fells Point, southward to Port Covington and anywhere else.
In summary:
  • Fells Point, and South Baltimore would get single vehicle streetcars which would preserve the fragile functions of their narrow and small scaled streets.
  • West Baltimore would get light rail trains which would be truly regionally oriented.
  • The only new tunnel required would be less than a mile from Route 40/MLK Boulevard to Lexington/Liberty Street.
  • There would be a great new urban space under Charles Center.
  • And everything would be interconnected.


  1. Good ideas, but cityism is about being on the street, not under it, still the idea of using that space for tunneling is good.

  2. Thanks, Richard. I agree with you 100% - being on street level is by far the best. But a new regional rail line in Downtown Baltimore needs to be grade separated to efficiently make the connections. My "Down Under" alternative does this to the minimum extent possible, staying underground where necessary, but coming out of the ground to become a very visible interactive transit "presence" in the Inner Harbor on Pratt and Light Streets, and linking with the Howard Street surface light rail just north of Camden Yards.

    It is the best of both worlds, allowing us to effectively transform an overly extravagant 1960s mega-parking garage into something useful in support of regional transit.

  3. Gerald, I'm truly glad to have found your blog; I've done so in the process of researching a project on Baltimore's built environment. As such, you are now one of my citations, and are cordially invited to visit said project at the accompanying url, (click name).

    I find your "Down Under" review fascinating, particularly for present applications to transit issues. Thank you for making this sort of urban planning accessible; I look forward to tracking this blog, along with the city's cantankerous development machinations.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. why haven't you published this on the Envision Baltimore sight? People there would love it.

  6. Gerald, I just came across your blog. Great stuff. Glad to see another blog focusing on the same type of issues.


  7. I think this is a great idea? Have you presented this to the powers that be? If so what was the response?

  8. Hi Balmurfan. Why did you put a question mark after your statement that "this is a great idea?"

    This idea has been mentioned to at least several members of the huge bloated Red Line team. If they don't read my blog, they're even farther out on the limb that they're cutting on than I've imagined they are. In any event, I've been to numerous Red Line meetings and the official channels they've established for presenting "input" to them are far too tedious for me to deal with.

    For quite a while now, they have been in the final stages of writing the Draft Environmental Input Statement, which should answer our questions about what kind of bind they've put themselves in on this project, and then we should be able to pick up the pieces. Unfortunately, this will apparently happen AFTER Mayor Dixon's "summit" meeting on May 10, so I can't guess what will happen there.

  9. The question mark was just an error.

  10. Ed Cohen and TRAC have the best answer so far:

    You should definitely get in touch with them:

  11. I've worked with Ed Cohen and TRAC on numerous occasions, and we have been mutually influenced by each others' work. Yes, I agree that the TRAC Red Line alternatives are all far, far better than what has emerged from the MTA's own multi-million dollar studies, and I would definitely lend my support to TRAC's plans if the situation called for that. But unfortunately, the TRAC alternatives are also too expensive, particularly considering the way the Feds evaluate them for funding. The MTA has indeed run a variation of the TRAC plan through their evaluation process, and although they did it in an awkward, counterproductive and dismissive way, it nevertheless did not bode well for further pursuit of the TRAC plans.

    This might say more about the MTA than it does about TRAC. The way the MTA has been conducting its studies, they may ultimately end up with nothing at all.

  12. From what I have heard the MTA has unfairly discredited the heavy rail alternative. I think your idea is a good one but I just want to keep heavy rail in people's minds. I do not feel like people are going to want to ride a glorified bus and light rail is not exactly popular (or fast) either. If Baltimore wants to be first class town then let's go all out and have heavy rail.

  13. I am a newbie to your blog but an oldie to bad baltimore mass transit. After living in Boston for years, I sure miss that system.

    Baltimore needs a way to get things connected to each other and something other than buses you can't really count on for timely transportation.

  14. Nice idea (the garage concept) but unfortunately the "Down Under" garage does NOT run the full length of Charles Center. The garage is pretty much the footprint of Hopkins Plaza. The Center Plaza garage is a seperate garage, along with the garage for the PNC building, as well as the old Mechanic and other buildings in Charles Center. The cost to unite all the seperate spaces would probably be too expensive, and not worth the effort. Perhaps a better use of funds would be to build out the existing Baltimore Street station on two levels as originally designed, and constructed.

  15. Thank you for the insight, Anonymous, but the more I dwell on this concept, the clearer it becomes that its really essential element is the use the parking garage entrance at Lombard and Hanover Street (or perhaps one of the other ones) as the transit tunnel portal.

    This allows the creation of an integrated subway/light rail streetcar transit station at the Charles Center Metro station while also creating surface connections to the Howard Street light rail line at Pratt/Lombard and surface streetcar lines on Pratt and Light Street in the Inner Harbor - The best of all worlds.

    It also allows the avoidance of a huge amount of new tunneling east and south of Charles Center, which would save hundreds of millions of dollars. That would save enough to much more than pay for the cost of uniting whichever separate garage spaces that might need to be united.

    I certainly agree with you, however, that to "build out the existing Baltimore Street station on two levels as originally designed, and constructed" would be a better use of funds than any of the Red Line alternatives that the MTA is still trying to promote.