May 15, 2009

Morgan to Canton Streetcar Line


Here's an idea that should expand your visioning horizons, and provide an escape route from the MTA's Green Line planning stalemate.

The MTA actually claims to be considering streetcars as a transit mode for the Green Line project from Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University. This demonstrates that the MTA is ignoring the central overarching issue, which is what they should do with the heavy rail Metro which currently terminates suddenly and inappropriately at Hopkins Hospital. All it indicates is that the MTA is simply doing cookbook transit planning, and streetcars happen to be the fashionable mode du jour these days.
One of the biggest decisions that was made in the 1990s Metro planning at the the Hopkins Hospital station was when Hopkins pounded its omnipotent fist and said there would be no transit transfer hub at this station. So unless the MTA actually thinks they can get Hopkins to change their mind about building a transit hub so that riders can transfer from streetcars (and buses) to the Metro in front of their vast and venerable hospital campus, the streetcar option is a non-starter.

And all the land that was once available for such a facility has all been gobbled up by development anyway. Oh well, the MTA has often been deluded by less than this.

All this is particularly ironic because the MTA has refused to consider streetcars for the Red Line project, where they would make tremendous sense for the Inner Harbor to Fells Point to Canton leg, where the dense urban development and short trip lengths make streetcars a natural. But streetcars have only recently become a cause celebre and made their way into the transit planning cookbook.

The central question must be answered first: Where should the Metro be extended beyond Hopkins Hospital? This is not a question of which mode will be used. It will be heavy rail Metro, period. And it must be extended somewhere because it needs a multi-modal transfer terminal facility, like every other such major transit line in the civilized world.

The MTA has been so obsessed with badmouthing heavy rail in its conduct of the Red Line study that it cannot even confront the obvious fact that the Green Line extension must be heavy rail.

Of course, since the MTA has categorically rejected heavy rail on the Red Line because of a lack of perceived cost effectiveness, there is no way that it is suddenly going to become cost effective for the proposed run from Hopkins Hospital up to Morgan State University.

So MTA is stuck between a rock and hard place. The only possible transit mode for its Green Line project, heavy rail, is infeasible. This is what happens when you define your transit planning studies in such narrow ways, and then vainly hope that the all purpose cookbook can show you a recipe for it.

Back to the central question: Where can the heavy rail Green Line be extended in a cost effective manner beyond Hopkins Hospital?

Only one answer has ever emerged to that, and I came up with it about 15 years ago, and have been ragging about it on this blog since its inception.

The Metro can be brought up out of the ground along the Amtrak tracks and then terminated nearby at the large Edison-Monument landfill site, also known as Orangeville. This plan is short, sweet, inexpensive and provides almost limitless flexibility for future expansion in all directions in any mode - commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail, streetcars and buses.

So here is one multi-purpose plan: At this Orangeville Metro terminus, which also would include a MARC Commuter rail station, the MTA could build a very long but relatively inexpensive streetcar line to serve both the Green and Red Line corridors. Streetcars are normally not appropriate for a lot of long trips, but the orientation to this transit hub would make it more of a feeder route serving many more short trips, rather than a line that one would take from the beginning to the end.

Here's where it could go:

Starting at Morgan State University, the streetcar line would travel along Hillen Road, southward to Lake Montebello. It would wrap around the lake, then travel through Clifton Park. This could be a catalyst for the revitalization and redesign of the park and its golf course, which now has a heavy used road running right through it. The streetcar line would make a much more pleasant and compatible companion to the golf course than the road does. Through most of Clifton Park, the streetcar line would then follow Rose Street, an abandoned and crater strewn byway in the park's outback.

This photo shows the proposed alignment looking north from Sinclair Lane in the foreground, crossing Belair Road, then entering Rose Street and Clifton Park at an existing underpass under the CSX railroad. Rose Street goes between the Lake Clifton High School and a cemetery.

From Belair Road, the streetcar line would follow Sinclair Line to Edison Highway, both of which have plenty of room for the tracks, and then on to the Orangeville Transit Hub.

The Green streetcar line would then become the Red Line, and continue to proceed southward to the vacant railroad right of way next to Haven Street, down to Highlandtown and Greektown, Brewers Hill, and Canton Crossing. It would serve the same feeder function to Metro and MARC as the Green Line, but in the opposite direction. At Canton Crossing it would join Boston Street and proceed along the Red Line corridor to Fells Point, Harbor East and the Inner Harbor.

The MTA is going to need a new cookbook.


  1. Good Start, I'd like to see it extended northbound to White Marsh, Perry Hall and Martinb State just like the Green Line was in the all but abandoned Baltimore Regional Rail Plan.

  2. Can you please explain your enthusiasm for streetcars? I really don't understand what possible advantage they have over buses as a transit mode, and the disadvantages of rails in the streets and unsightly overhead wires seal the deal in my mind. I'm particularly galled by the proposed Charles Street Trolley; it just seems like a bunch of nostalgic, touristy nonsense to me. Who wants to see overhead wires and pantographs around Mount Vernon Place and the Monument? I feel like there is a very good reason why they no longer exist: buses are more flexible in terms of route planning and do not require dedicated infrastructure. If this city would concentrate on streamlining bus travel, e.g. fewer stops, simpler routes, paving streets, etc., we could stop wasting billions on pie-in-the-sky rapid transit in a city with not enough demand for it. Rail transit should be dedicated and high-speed if it exists at all, like MARC or Metro, not a glorified bus-on-rails in mixed traffic like the light rail on Howard Street or the proposed Red Line or Charles Street Trolley. Where's the public benefit vis-a-vis the expense involved?

  3. Having just spent time in Brussels, a historic city with an extensive tram network, it seems to me that overhead wire can coexist easily with historic buildings and beautiful neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon. One key is to install simple overhead lines instead of the high-speed continuous-tension heavy catenary that MTA used on Howard Street. Single wire overhead disappears into the background and does not detract from the ambiance. Dunno why MTA used the more complex and unsightly double catenary on Howard Street. To handle the light rail line's blazing speed through the corridor, no doubt.
    Greg Hinchliffe