August 21, 2009

Low Hanging Fruit Plan


For years, the MTA and their cohorts have been accusing their opponents of trying to disrupt the Red Line process. What we're really doing is trying to make the process work.

After numerous delays of their own, the only way the MTA was able to come up with something that looked even superficially feasible was to inflate the ridership numbers at the last minute, after submitting lower numbers to the Federal Transit Administration in their Alternatives Analysis and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. While inflating the ridership numbers by increasing future population and employment projections, the MTA got rid of two stations and narrowed the tunnel under Cooks Lane to a single reversible track, in their last ditch effort to make the cost and benefit numbers work.

Thus, the MTA's "preferred" Red Line alternative was something that no one preferred during the process, based on data that was unavailable. Nor would anyone ever want to "prefer" their plan.

Anyway, the MTA process is over. I will no longer devise additional ways to make the MTA plans work. They've finished their process and have totally failed. Enough is enough.


This plan that can be designed and built more quickly, easily and economically than the MTA's plan, without contrivances like the single track Cook Lane tunnel, the two block downtown pedestrian tunnel and the ram-jobs to squeeze surface light rail into the median strips of Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street. See diagram above.

1. The Red Line should use the existing heavy rail Metro tunnel that already exists under downtown between Lexington Market and Hopkins Hospital. This saves a huge amount of money and disruption and allows riders to transfer between the two lines by stepping on a platform instead of walking through a two block tunnel.

2. To the west, a short tunnel spur should be built north of Lexington Market to the Franklin-Mulberry corridor, where the line can be easily built to the West MARC Station. It can be extended in the future, perhaps along the Amtrak right of way to a new town on the site of the former Southwestern High School campus and to a transit hub at FredHilton, and perhaps eventually back to Edmondson Village and Security/Woodlawn.

3. To the east, a short tunnel should be built to the Amtrak right of way, where the line can easily be built to a new East MARC station and to the Bayview Research Park, with a future extension to Eastpoint, Essex and Middle River. Green Line extension options currently under study should be preserved.

4. The Charles Street Trolley project, already demonstrated to be feasible in a detailed study by Kittelson Associates, should be built from the Inner Harbor northward to Charles Village. Since this study was done outside of the MTA and city government planning processes, additional coordination will be required to integrate this plan into the comprehensive rail transit plan.

5. MTA's Red Line study already showed that the all-surface Alternative 4A was by far the most cost effective plan. It can easily be made feasible with negligible negative impacts eastward from the Inner Harbor to Harbor East, Fells Point, Canton and Highlandtown, by using single vehicle streetcars in mixed traffic lanes instead of block-long light rail trains in their own exclusive right of way.

6. The City government has recently proposed a streetcar line from the Inner Harbor southward through Federal Hill to Port Covington. This can be built as an extension of the Charles Street trolley.

7. The City has also proposed to totally reconfigure Pratt and Light Streets adjacent to the Inner Harbor. This should be done in a way that is fully in concert with the streetcar plans, to make these streets as transit oriented and friendly as possible.

8. Baltimore Street and its surrounding environment should be redesigned to serve as a comprehensive transit hub between Light and Howard Streets, with particular attention to areas around the escalator portals to the Charles Center Metro station. A two block spur from the existing Howard Street light rail line to the Charles Center Metro Station should be also investigated. This would enable all rail transit lines to converge at a single point.

Many variations to this proposal are possible. The important strategy is to sieze the opportunities that are readily available, not to try to contort a Red Line plan into locations where it clearly does not fit, as the MTA has done.


  1. Using Amtrak right of way seems like it would be a disaster. Amtrak delays already cause MARC delays and we don't need more congestion on those lines. I do agree with your support of the above ground option which is the right option in the vast majority of the areas. But I disagree with mixed-traffic lanes which will doom the system to single car trolleys and traffic jams forever. The most effective tram systems I know (Bordeaux, Marseille, parts of Zurich) are separated from traffic in the vast majority of circumstances and given priority at all traffic lights. This actually makes rail a better option than the bus since it no longer has the same traffic problems and it cleans up some congestion. I agree that the MTA is trying to boost its numbers to pay for needless tunnels but I don't think that means we should instead fight for a mediocre system which will lose much of its ability to expand and overcome traffic problems. We want to keep the light rail away from traffic when possible and mixed-traffic lanes would be even worse than the weaving pattern that slows both car and light rail traffic on Howard St.

    What we need is to minimize high-cost items (tunnels) while maximizing the potential to expand and move more people (multi-car French style tram) and easily adjust frequency as demanded while bypassing traffic. The Bordeaux tramway does this in part by pedestrianizing many areas around the tram to help remove traffic delays (

  2. Using Amtrak's right of way should not effect Amtrak's tracks. The design layout for the regional rail lines should make sure to accommodate all possible future Amtrak track upgrades, most of which are already on the books. It may even be possible that preparing the right of way for regional rail makes it easier to build the Amtrak upgrades, or vice versa, with Amtrak's upgrade program, some of which is paid for by our own MDOT, creating opportunities to accommodate regional rail. Or the regional rail may be located along the right of way, but not in it. The important thing is to take maximum advantage of existing rights of ways rather than cramming the Red Line through existing communities where it does not fit or is too expensive, or both.

    I agree with most everything else you said, although the speed requirements for streetcars are lower than regional rail because of shorter average trip lengths. Also, exclusive rights of way are feasible through most of the Inner Harbor, to which I hope the French would approve.