May 26, 2008

Red Line Portal

If the Maryland Transit Administration would listen to just one of my recommendations for the Red Line, let it be this one: Put the tunnel portal in the proper place, just south of the Charles Center Metro Station.

Here is what a proper Red Line portal location could accomplish:
  • A huge cost savings from the avoidance of tunneling south and east of Charles Center and through Fells Point.

  • Full integration between the Red Line and the existing subway at the Charles Center Metro Station.

  • The ability to branch the Red Line into as many as four directions south of Charles Center - toward Harbor East and Fells Point to the east, toward Federal Hill to the south, toward Mount Clare to the west and connecting into the existing light rail line at Camden Yards to the southwest.

  • Full integration with the proposed Charles Street streetcar line to the north toward Penn Station and Charles Village, by way of an additional portal at Preston Gardens (St. Paul Street near Saratoga).

  • Connections at the Charles Center Metro Station to ALL rail transit lines, even the existing light rail line from Downtown to BWI-M Airport, although not light rail to the north toward Hunt Valley.

  • Red Line service directly to the Inner Harbor along Pratt Street.

  • The flexibility to design and operate the Red Line as a single vehicle streetcar line in mixed traffic where streetcars are appropriate, and as multi-car light rail trains where light rail is deemed appropriate, as dictated by specific local street and neighborhood conditions.
The MTA Red Line alternatives provide none of these things. The MTA Red Line alternatives avoid the Charles Center Metro Station completely, with a potential connection at the end of a cave-like pedestrian passageway of a block or two in length.

In effect, putting the Red Line portal in the proper place would allow the MTA to create a full eight or nine legged rail transit system with a centrally integrated hub for about the same price as that strange disconnected concoction that they're currently contemplating.
A great portal location would be as shown in the above photo, along Light Street near Redwood Street, one block south of the Charles Center Metro Station under Baltimore Street. A portal here would then allow the Red Line to be fully integrated into the Metro Station, then come out of the ground immediately south of it, so that the rest of the line to the east can be fully integrated into the city itself. There should not be any more expensive, disruptive, wasteful, remote and anti-urban tunneling than absolutely necessary.
None of the MTA Red Line alternatives has the eastern portal located anywhere near downtown. This means a lot of very expensive additional tunneling in the area in and east of downtown. What's worse is that it means that the Red Line will be isolated from all the other transit lines on and under the downtown streets, including the existing Metro subway and light rail, as well as the proposed Charles Street trolley line.
The most commonly cited problem with the existing MTA rail transit system is that the lines don't connect to each other - and the MTA is ready to make exactly the same mistake again with the Red Line. The only other alternative the MTA has left is to run the Red Line entirely on surface streets through downtown, with no portal at all. This would repeat the second most commonly cited problem with the existing light rail line on Howard Street - that it gets bogged down in traffic and is too slow.

The MTA has been planning the Red Line with the kind of schizophrenia that comes from desperation. They want to build a great regionally-oriented transit line that goes from one end of the city to the other. They want it to embrace new urbanism in Fells Point and Canton, encourage workforce housing (which is the code name for affordable) in West Baltimore, and serve suburbia in the Woodlawn/Security area. They realize that they have to somehow squeeze it into a lot of tight spaces and give it some advantages over clogged congested cars. They are somehow trying to give the Red Line the speed and widespread geographic coverage of a heavy rail system, the design flexibility of a light rail system, and the charm of a streetcar system.

The MTA has even discovered a suitable vehicle to try to achieve all that: The Skoda from the Czech Republic, which is about 30 feet shorter than the current light rail vehicles, but can be formed into trains that are as long as the hopefully strong ridership requires. If you buy the stripped down standard equipment motor, the Skoda is woefully underpowered to achieve the MTA's objectives, but they should be able to spring for some kind of extra-cost optional supercharged performance package. Unfortunately, speed is precisely what urbanites don't like along their local streets. The Skoda is also as cute as a streetcar, although again, if you hook three of them together they will create an excessively imposing 200 foot long train which will totally overwhelm any finely-grained urban streetscape.

So the result is an almost impossible balancing act between charm without harm and the need for speed.
All of that makes the location of subway-to-surface portal east of downtown extremely crucial.
What is needed is a Red Line that creates the kind of comprehensive center city transit hub which is the hallmark of any modern decent rail transit system, while also providing a strong surface presence that intimately enhances the most important, vital and livable urban streets.

The key to curing Red Line schizophrenia is to keep the multiple personalities as distinct as possible, which means putting the portal in the proper place.

The mezzanine level of the existing Charles Center Metro Station has a huge amount of wasted space which could be well used by the Red Line - and by transfers between all the heavy rail, light rail and streetcar lines.

The Red Line needs to be underground from the east end of the fast Franklin-Mulberry corridor to the Charles Center Metro Station. By doing this, Charles Center Metro station will finally become the kind of comprehensive rail transit hub that was originally envisioned when it was designed in the early 1970s. It would also assure that the western leg of the Red Line out to Franklin-Mulberry, the West MARC Station and beyond will be the kind of fast efficient regionally-oriented transit line that the MTA wants it to be.
Then the Red Line needs to be on the surface of Pratt Street through the Inner Harbor, centerpiece of the iconic modern Baltimore. Mayor Dixon's original transition team tried to get the MTA to locate the Red Line on Pratt Street through the Inner Harbor for this reason, which the MTA rejected.

Until now, however, just east of downtown toward Fells Point has been the place where Red Line schizophrenia has most reared its ugly head. The line either had to be an expensive, disruptive tunnel or a slow out-of-place surface alignment gobbling up precious parking spaces and even more precious urban charm. Or the worst of all worlds: A Red Line that attempts to be fast but fails, and is just a beached whale.
So as much as possible of the Red Line should be above ground - to be built at reasonable cost, to avoid Boston big-dig style disruptions, disasters and surprises, and to be weaved into the urban fabric with a presence that becomes an integral part of the urban lifestyle.

The perfect portal place is anywhere just south of the Charles Center Metro Station, so the Red Line can be integrated there. Everything northwest of that point will be fast, regional and underground - almost like heavy rail- and everything south and east of that point will be local and intimate - like a streetcar.

This operating diagram shows the Charles Center Metro Station as the transfer point between the Green and Red Lines, and for all the lines in the entire system, except half the light rail. On this plan, the line to Harbor East and Fells Point is called the Purple Line because it is streetcars, while the Red Line connects to the light rail line to BWI-M Airport. But they would share the same tracks and use the same Skoda vehicles and are thus interchangeable.
This will also make it easy to create branches to the Red Line in any direction - east through the Inner Harbor, Harbor east and Fells Point, south through Federal Hill and west and southwest too.

This is important not only because it maximizes connectivity, which is something in extremely short supply in the MTA plans. But to reinforce this, it also creates maximum operating flexibility. The Skoda vehicles can be operated as single streetcars and as light rail trains in whatever proportion, to whatever destinations on whatever routes are appropriate.

The "Down Under" alignment concept (discussed in a previous blog article) fully supports this, but there should be other alternative portal locations that work as well.

The MTA should get their engineers to be creative and identify alternative portal locations that will accomplish this.

One location that should work would be right in the middle of Light Street in the vicinity of Redwood and Lombard Street, one block south of the Charles Center Metro Station. This will work with the topography of the area. The Metro Station is under a ridge that has its high point just north of Baltimore Street. The portal would be downhill from this point, so that it could be built into the hill.

This hill on St. Paul at Saratoga Street in Preston Gardens which is now used as a traffic slalom could be another portal between the Charles Center Metro Station and the Charles Street Trolley (Yellow Line)

This plan would also be fully compatible with a Charles Street Trolley (Yellow Line) on St. Paul Street going into a Preston Gardens portal. The amount of additional tunneling would be minimal.

In sum, the MTA could put the Red Line on whatever streets they want to the east and west of this point. To the west of the Charles Center Terminal, it would be a fast regional line. To the south and east, it could start with the Red Line and then fan out into an entire network of routes.

The Red Line would no longer exude schizophrenia. Its multiple personalities would no longer conflict, but would instead be a single complex personality that adapts to each area it serves, the way a true transit network should perform.

May 5, 2008

The Baltimore InnerSpace Transit Plan


Every transit system worth its salt needs an "icon map" that should be plastered everywhere in the system, like pictures of Chairman Mao in China. My first attempt at such a map is the crudely drawn amateur graphics version shown above. You can get almost anywhere in this system from either the Charles Center or Lexington Market Metro Stations, and anywhere at all from one station or the other.

This system relies on the heavy rail Metro Green Line and the almost-heavy rail Red Line to do all the heavy lifting. The Blue and Orange lines are the existing quasi-regional light rail lines.

The Yellow, Brown , Purple and Gray lines are for streetcars, which serve all inner city destinations in a manner that is in harmony with their streetscapes, but which fully connect to the system inside the two major downtown Metro subway stations.

The key to a successful transit system is downtown connectivity, and the key to this connectivity is a comprehensive downtown transit hub built into the "Down Under" parking garage.

The "Down Under" parking garage puts the comprehensive downtown transit hub right where it should be - underneath the middle of downtown, where it can connect to everything. It also allows the portals that bring the transit lines from underground up to the surface to be located as close to the hub as possible.

This maximizes the advantages of an underground transit hub which serves the existing Metro, while allowing the maximum amount of the rail transit system to be built on the urban surface. This saves a huge amount of money on tunneling, while linking the transit lines as intimitely as possible with the surface street activities.

The portals would be located at:

1. South, East and West: Lombard at Hanover Street - just south of Charles Center at an existing parking garage entrance.

2. West: MLK Boulevard at the Franklin-Mulberry Expressway - just west of downtown where it would connect directly to the 16 block Franklin-Mulberry "Edge City" development.

3. North: St. Paul Street near Saratoga - built into a southern extension of the wall that defines Preston Gardens.

To make this comprehensive "Down Under" transit hub as fully functional as possible, it simply needs to be built as part of a relatively inexpensive rail transit system which includes:

1. A short Red Line westward through the Franklin-Mulberry corridor to the existing West MARC Station - approximately two miles.

2. A short Green Line Metro extension east of Hopkins Hospital to a new East MARC Station - approximately two miles.

3. A streetcar system that serves the inner city in all directions -

(a) northward toward Charles Village and possibly Northwood/Morgan State
(b) southward toward Federal Hill and possibly Port Covington
(c) eastward toward Fells Point and possibly Canton
(d) westward toward the Mount Clare B&O Museum and possibly Montgomery Park.

4. New bus transit hubs located at three key locations:

(a) West MARC Station - Franklin at Pulaski Street
(b) East MARC Station - Edison Highway at Monument Street
(c) Lexington Market Metro Station - Eutaw at Saratoga Street

Many intermediate destinations would also be served as well as possible by this arrangement, on the street surfaces and not underground. These most notably include the Inner Harbor along the sections of both Pratt and Light Streets which are to be rebuilt in a manner which is optimum for streetcars, as well as Harbor East, Camden Station and Penn Station.

There are several other keys to making this plan work in the most flexible possible manner: The Red Line should be built to work with either light rail or streetcar vehicles between Downtown and the West MARC station. South of Downtown, the Red Line should then connect to the existing central light rail line toward Camden Station and beyond.

It may also be worthwhile to make the streetcars and the central light rail line compatible, at least in key inner city locations.

Both of the downtown hubs under this plan, at Charles Center and Lexington Market, would provide direct connections between the Metro, light rail and streetcar systems. The Lexington Market hub would also connect directly to the bus system. The Metro would provide connections to the west and east MARC stations, while the light rail and streetcar lines would connect to the Camden and Penn MARC Stations.


This hub would operate on two levels crossing at a right angle, connected by escalators, similarly to the way most modern downtown rail transit terminals operate, such as MetroCenter, Gallery Place and L'Enfant Plaza in Washington DC.

The existing Metro line running east-west under Baltimore Street would be on one level. The other level would incorporate both the light rail Red Line and the various streetcar lines running north-south approximately under what was once Hanover Street in the "Down Under" garage.

The light rail Red Line would extend through this station from under Lexington Street to the west to the Lombard/Hanover portal to the south.

The streetcar lines would make the same connections as the Red Line, and would also run eastward under Lexington Street to the Preston Gardens portal where it would proceed northward along St. Paul Street.


The Red Line, which would accommodate both light rail and streetcars, would be built under Lexington Street through the Lexington Market Rail/Bus Transit Hub. The east end of the station would be under the intersection of Howard Street, and would incorporate escalators up to the surface of Howard Street to connect directly to the existing central light rail line.

Accommodations should also be made for a future connection to the Howard Street CSX tunnel, in the event that this freight tunnel is ever to converted to passenger use.

The west end of the new Red Line station would be under Eutaw Street for a connection to the existing Lexington Market Metro Station, either at the mezzanine level of that station, or via a new escalator linkage.

The north end of the existing Metro station, along Eutaw between Saratoga and Mulberry Streets, would be a new bus transit terminal. This would be on State-owned land immediately adjacent to the existing Metro escalators. The Red Line station under Lexington would be accessible via the existing mezzanine under Eutaw. Thus, the Lexington Market Rail/Bus Transit Hub would be shaped like an "L" under Eutaw Street (Metro) and Lexington Street (Red Line). The top (north end) of the "L" would be the bus terminal, linking directly to the existing Metro. The bottom (south end) of the "L" would be the Red Line, linking directly to the existing Howard Street light rail line.


To illustrate the high degree of connectivity which this plan offers, here is one of the many ways that such a system could be operated.

I have not included the extension of the Red Line westward from the West MARC Station to Social Security, because I have not seen a way in which it can really work. (I don't like to discuss ideas unless I believe they are do-able). When a viable Red Line plan for Edmondson Avenue and Cooks Lane, or anywhere else, is presented by the MTA or whomever, I will jump on board.

In any event, a westward Red Line extension to Security can be built as a later stage.

For similar reasons, an eastward Green Line Metro extension to Middle River is also possible, but not shown here.

However, an additional Green Line Metro extension southeastward along the Haven Street corridor to Bayview, Highlandtown, Greektown, Brewers Hill and Canton Crossing is included, because it appears to be inexpensive and emminently feasible as the first subsequent extension to the basic plan.

The sample operating plan is as follows. Not all stations are listed.


Owings Mills
State Center
Lexington Market - bus terminal - transfer to Red, Purple, Blue and Orange Lines
Charles Center - transfer to Red, Purple, Yellow and Brown Lines
Hopkins Hospital
Berea/Biotech Park
East MARC Station - bus terminal
Brewers Hill
Canton Crossing


BWI-M Airport
Camden Station - MARC - transfer to Blue and Orange Lines
Convention Center - transfer to Gray and Brown Lines
Charles Center - transfer to Green, Purple, Brown and Yellow Lines
Lexington Market - bus terminal and transfer to Green, Blue and Orange Lines
Heritage Crossing
Franklin Square
West MARC Station - bus terminal


Glen Burnie/Cromwell
Camden Station - MARC - transfer to Orange and Red Lines
Baltimore Arena
Lexington Market - bus terminal and transfer to Green, Red, Orange and Purple Lines
Centre Street
State Center
University of Baltimore
Hunt Valley


BWI-M Airport
Camden Station - MARC - transfer to Red and Blue Lines
Baltimore Arena
Lexington Market - bus terminal and transfer to Red, Green, Blue and Purple Lines
Centre Street
State Center
University of Baltimore
Penn Station - MARC - transfer to Brown and Yellow Lines


Northwood/Morgan State
Memorial Stadium
Charles Village
Penn Station - MARC - transfer to Orange Line
Mount Vernon
Preston Gardens
Charles Center - transfer to Green, Red, Brown and Purple Lines
Inner Harbor/Light Street
Federal Hill
South Baltimore
Port Covington


West MARC - bus terminal
Franklin Square
Heritage Crossing
Lexington Market - bus terminal and transfer to Green, Red, Blue and Orange Lines
Charles Center - transfer to Green, Red, Brown and Yellow Lines
Inner Harbor/Pratt Street
Harbor East
Fells Point


Montgomery Park
Mount Clare
University of Maryland
Camden Yards - transfer to Red, Blue and Orange Lines
Convention Center
Inner Harbor/Pratt Street - transfer to Purple and Yellow Lines
Harbor East
Fells Point


Northwood/Morgan State
Memorial Stadium
Charles Village
Penn Station - MARC - transfer to Orange Line
Mount Vernon
Preston Gardens
Charles Center - transfer to Green, Red, Yellow and Purple Line
Convention Center - transfer to Red, Orange, Gray and Blue Line
Camden Yards

University of Maryland
Mount Clare
Montgomery Park

And I think I've run out of colors so I'll quit now...