July 22, 2009

Hilton Terminal

Hilton Terminal: The only solution to the west end Red Line mess

Nobody else has a solution, so I'll just have to do it. This plan original appeared in March in Baltimore Brew.
Now the MTA has said they need to save money by building only a single track tunnel under Cooks Lane. Obviously, if the MTA can't build a decent tunnel under Cooks Lane, that means they really can't build a tunnel under Edmondson Avenue either, which has become a non-negotiable demand of the surrounding community. But if the MTA ignores this demand, they will probably end up in court and the Red Line will die a slow death.
So in the spirit of reconciliation, I offer this plan. (I don't know why people think of me as a troublemaker. I only want to help.)

The Red Line should end at Hilton Parkway, where it will still serve the Edmondson communities, but it will not ram its way into them. Then build a terminal station/parking garage/Leakin Park Gateway where part of the obsolete Hilton Parkway interchange now stands on land that once belonged to the park.

I've sketched the rough concept in the Google Earth image above. The colors are:
RED - The Red Line - ending in a widened median of Edmondson Avenue at Hilton Parkway.

YELLOW - A multi-level structure built on what is now the north half of the Hilton Parkway interchange. The top level would be new parkland with a playground, commercial kiosks serving transit riders, and a gateway entrance to the rest of the park. The lower levels would be parking.

This photo shows the grade differential between Hilton Street (above) and Hilton Parkway (below) which enables the construction of an almost invisible parking garage in the hole created by the interchange. The houses in the background would then look out on parkland instead of a highway interchange.

MAGENTA - Hilton Parkway, straightened out and narrowed into the westernmost underpass under Edmondson Avenue. The ramps south of Edmondson would be unchannelized to accommodate traffic now using the ramps to the north.

BLUE - The existing southbound ramp from Hilton Parkway to Edmondson Avenue, which would be adapted to carry two-way traffic including some vehicles now using the ramps. It may be necessary to feed all southbound traffic from the north into this road to nullify the potential conflicts at the north end. A short bridge over the parkway below would provide access to the parking garage.
GREEN - New pedestrian and bike paths through the new parkland on top of the parking deck, leading to the Gwynns Falls Greenway shown in the upper right corner, at the Leon Day Park playfields off of Franklintown Road. Connections to this path would be provided over the top of Hilton from Harlem Avenue (shown, upper left) or Denison Street, as well as inside the existing underpass under Edmondson now used by northbound Hilton Parkway traffic.
Here is the Hilton Parkway underpass seen from the south, with Edmondson Avenue on top. Traffic would be consolidated into the road going through the left tunnel, and the right side would be renovated for pedestrians and bikes. If Edmondson Avenue can be widened sufficiently, a stairway up to the transit station in the Edmondson median could be provided.
This photo shows the gorgeous Gwynns Falls Valley which is now all but invisible and inaccessible to the community because of the interchange. The new pathway from Hilton/Edmondson to the Greenway Trail would be just to the left of this photo and the railroad tracks.

Implementing this plan would enable the Red Line to work with the community instead of tearing it apart. It would also save a ton of money compared with what the MTA wants to do (a squeezed force-fed unworkable Red Line), and two tons of money compared to what the community wants to do (an underground Red Line).

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.