July 7, 2009

Something Borrowed, Something Red



Revised diagram showing Fayette Street Red Line thru Downtown to Harbor Point, Orange Line to Jones Falls Valley and Yellow Streetcar System

Here's a Red Line plan that unlike the MTA preferred plans, would be rather easy and cheap to build, would provide tons of flexibility, would be very politically popular, and doesn't propose anything stupid.

Better yet, the MTA has already done most of the basic alignment planning on most of it, so they wouldn't be able to give their usual knee-jerk response about Red Line plans being outside their scope. In fact, most of this plan is assembled from other people's plans, not mine (with just a couple of exceptions where I don't know of any other plans.)

The best part is probably that this is a great way to create a comprehensive rail transit system relatively quickly, probably at no more cost than the piecemeal partial plan the MTA wants to do.

So without further ado, here is the full phased system, starting with:


The Red Line would be built as light rail in a short tunnel under Fayette Street, where it would have a reasonably easy pedestrian linkage with the existing Charles Center Metro Station just to the south. It would emerge out of the ground just east of this point near Gay Street, adjacent to City Hall. It would stay on the surface of Fayette Street eastward to Central Avenue, then proceed southward on Central Avenue to the waterfront at Harbor East, where it would enter the vast undeveloped Harbor Point property (formerly Allied Chemical). The final termination point would be near the intersection of Caroline and Thames Street at the west end of Fells Point.

The Red Line would thus hit all the right spots - the Charles Center Metro Station, Harbor East, Harbor Point and Fells Point. It would also miss Canton, much to the relief of the active opposition there. Unlike the MTA's alternatives, it would provide great service to the heart of Harbor Point, jump-starting future development there and hopefully giving it an equity boost. It would also cost a whole lot less than the City and business community's preferred Red Line tunnel alternative, which includes its long scary pedestrian tunnel under Light Street.

Red Line on Central Avenue thru Harbor East, terminating at Caroline and Thames Street in Harbor Point development site. Fells Point is to the right (east), Inner Harbor to the left (west). Yellow Line would be streetcars on Fleet Street and Eastern Avenue couplet.

From Central Avenue westward, this alternative is identical to one the MTA has already mapped out. It is also very similar to what was originally defined as the "high priority" route segment in their system 2002 plan, before the extension to Bayview was added two years ago. The big difference is that it would serve the heart of the Harbor Point development. And none of this plan weaves any tight threads along any narrow streets.


This would essentially be the streetcar plan developed by the Charles Street Development Corporation, between Charles Village and the Inner Harbor. This plan has already undergone a rather rigorous professional feasibility study. Hopefully, the powers-that-be would choose to re-evaluate this plan in the context of its role as part of a full rail transit system, but it stands fairly well as-is. However, this streetcar line should not be a mere "circulator". It should be the backbone of a comprehensive local transit system serving the new enlarged multi-use downtown that we have heard so much about lately (or not so lately, if you've been paying attention.)


This is already supposed to be a "high priority" MTA project anyway. The Metro absolutely needs to be extended somewhere beyond Hopkins Hospital.

The standard MTA practice for alleged high priority projects that lose favor is to just let them sift to the bottom of the workpile where it is hoped that they will eventually be forgotten (see MagLev, Downtown Light Rail Loop, Inner City Shuttle Bugs, Downtown Glen Burnie/Marley Light Rail Extension, etc.). But it should not be forgotten that the existing Hopkins Hospital Metro station was built with no facilities at all for feeding the transit system, so it is totally inappropriate as a regional rail terminus. It also needs to connect to an East Baltimore MARC Station, for which the existing Metro is far better suited as a feeder to downtown than is the Red Line from a MARC Station in Bayview.

(Of course, the MTA thinks my idea of extending the Metro eastward along the Amtrak tracks toward Bayview, rather than northward under Broadway, is dumb. If that is what the MTA believes with all the intellectual fortitude at their disposal, I'm powerless to change them. Just extend the Metro somewhere.)


Now is the time to giving serious thought to what an eventual comprehensive streetcar system should look like. The following are mere suggestions. I apologize that they happen to be my own suggestions, and not someone else's. Please replace them with your own if you wish.

(a) Eastward along Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor to Pier 5 to the Red Line corridor to Fells Point, Canton, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown and/or Bayview.

(b) Southward to Port Covington and/or the Key Highway corridor.

(c) Northward to Northwood and Morgan State University.

(d) Westward to Mount Clare, Carroll Park and Montgomery Park.

(e) Somewhere else.


This has been proposed by Edison Properties as part of their proposal to knock down the lower Jones Falls Expressway to create attractive new development sites.

Running the Red Line under Fayette Street, then bringing it up to the surface near the JFX, would greatly enhance the Edison Properties transit plan. Shifting the expressway southeast of the prisons to divert traffic away from this area would enhance their transit plan still more.

This would allow the existing North Central light rail Blue Line from Hunt Valley to have a faster and better route into the heart of downtown and to the Charles Center Red Line station, facilitating transfers to the rest of the system. It would also include a direct link to Penn Station.

(Note: A previously shown light rail connection branch southwest of the Red Line from MLK Boulevard/Fayette Street to Mount Clare and Carroll Park would not be feasible under this plan, and would need to be streetcars instead, as shown on Yellow Lines.)


Under this system, all of the following operating scenarios are possible. Major intermediate transfer stations are noted:

- Green Line Metro: Owings Mills to Lexington Market to Charles Center to Shot Tower to East MARC Station

- Blue Line Light Rail: Hunt Valley to Lexington Market to Camden Yards to BWI-M Airport or to Cromwell / Glen Burnie

- Red Line Light Rail: Social Security to West MARC Station to Lexington Market to Charles Center to Harbor East to Harbor Point/Fells Point

- Yellow Line Streetcar: Charles Village to Penn Station to Charles Center to Inner Harbor to Port Covington or to Harbor East to Canton/Highlandtown

- Orange Line Light Rail: Hunt Valley to Penn Station to Shot Tower to Charles Center to Lexington Market to West MARC to Social Security (Note: Orange Line connection previously shown to Carroll Park / Montgomery Park would not be feasible, and should be streetcars instead.)

- Purple Light Rail Line: BWI-M Airport to Camden Yards to Lexington Market to Penn Station to Shot Tower to Charles Center to Lexington Market to West MARC Station to Social Security (or some of the above).

And the best part is: Almost all of these were the ideas of the MTA, Charles Street Development Corporation and Edison Properties. Almost none of this plan was originally mine.


  1. Gerald: I'm learning Adobe Illustrator and would like to make a proper diagram of your plan. Not to say yours isn't perfectly readable, but maps can capture the imagination in a way long-winded blog posts geared toward enthusiasts cannot.

  2. Sounds great, Drew. I only do long-winded blog posts because that is what I know how to do. Please be sure to give us a web link when you get your plan up and running. Thanks.

  3. Just to clarify, I love your long-winded blog posts. The term wasn't intended to be derisive at all!