September 5, 2013

Integrating Light Rail and Streetcars

How the Red Line and streetcars can live well and affordably together

Baltimore can have a rail transit system that accommodates light-rail and streetcar vehicles on the same lines, if not always in the same places, to take advantage of the best of both.

Modern streetcars and light-rail vehicles have evolved to become practically one and the same. The conflicts and confusion between them arise only because of their design flexibility.

State transportation planners has abused that flexibility in an effort to cram the Red Line into places where it just doesn’t belong and can’t work well. But the same flexibility could be used to integrate light-rail and streetcar systems to work well and affordably together, tailoring them to their specific environments.

Why the Red Line Fails

The proposed Red Line fails because the three-mile-long tunnel from West Baltimore to Boston Street through downtown will consume so much money – $1.2 billion and rising – that it puts the whole project out of reach.

To deal with the extraordinary cost of the tunnel, Maryland Transit Administration planners have shrunk the station platforms to handle only two-car trains. This despite higher projected ridership than the Baltimore Metro carries on its six-car subway trains.

The Red Line route – from Woodlawn in Baltimore County to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus – is far too slow for a regional system. Regardless of how prospective riders react to its less than 20-mph average speed, the lengthy 45 minute end-to-end travel time with only two-car trains would result in very poor productivity. Feeding bus routes into the line would have very limited benefit.

As presently designed, the Red Line is an expensive, slow, low-capacity “money pit” that is also facing citizen opposition in Canton and elsewhere.

The downtown tunnel isolates the line from the existing Metro subway, requiring a dysfunctional two-block-long pedestrian tunnel for transfers. It also isolates the line from street activity and major destinations it purports to serve, like the Inner Harbor, Harbor East and Fells Point.

Harbor East developer John Paterakis has gone on record as opposing a station at Central Avenue, which would serve his development and Harbor Point, the adjoining office-apartment complex set to receive $107 million in city TIF financing bonds.

Across town, the two stations that were going to serve the University of Maryland’s downtown campus and Medical Center – at Lombard and Greene streets and Martin Luther King Blvd. at Lexington – have had to be eliminated due to cost and engineering problems with the tunnel.

Adding Streetcars to the Mix

Streetcars are the solution. Not only are they far less expensive and more convenient than light rail, but because using surface streetcars for a portion of the Red Line corridor can enable the rest of the line to be built in a far more effective and integrated way – and at a far more reasonable price.

The Red Line’s route is not the major issue here. Much of the planning and design work already done can be salvaged. The main question is which segment of the Red Line should be designed to accommodate high-capacity light-rail trains and which should be designed to handle only single-unit streetcars.

These segments can overlap for greater connectivity and flexibility, since streetcars can be accommodated virtually anywhere (with some adjustments to its overhead electrical system and car-body design).

The potential for streetcars in the Red Line corridor should have been clearly suggested when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Alternatives Analysis by the MTA concluded that the all-surface option had by far the highest cost effectiveness.

Streetcars were not studied but would cost even less than the all-surface option, since they don’t need the kind of dedicated right-of-way which has worked so poorly on Howard Street. Inexplicably, the MTA rejected the surface option despite its numerical superiority in favor of the tunnel option.

Here’s how a combined light rail/streetcar Red Line could work: The west leg of the Red Line from downtown to Woodlawn, serving the Social Security complex and the Security Square shopping mall, should be designed to accommodate the longest light-rail trains possible, at least three cars, rather than the two-car trains currently proposed.

This west leg constitutes the longest portion of the line, where peak capacity and economies of scale are critical. Accommodating three-car trains (or perhaps four shorter cars) should pose no problem as long as they don’t need to go into the currently proposed downtown tunnel with its expensive underground stations.
Surface streetcars should be used through downtown and the southeast waterfront from the Inner Harbor to Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton.

That will enable the line to fit in well with the existing 19th century streetscape environments of the waterfront and allow stations to be located as close to the most active areas as possible without unseemly disruption. John Paterakis should be far more pleased if his station is nestled along an existing sidewalk near the heart of Harbor East.

Providing additional stations would also become feasible. Harbor East and Central Avenue (the gateway to Harbor Point) should each have separate stations. The Inner Harbor could easily have separate stations adjacent to Harborplace, the Aquarium, and Piers 5 and 6 – rather than just one station hidden 70 feet underneath Lombard Street.

The Greene Street station serving the University of Maryland Medical Center could then be restored.

Let the Metro Prevail

The next question is where multi-car light-rail service should end and single-car streetcar service should begin.

Streetcar service could go as far west as operationally viable, but a logical terminus would be the West Baltimore MARC station, which has long been touted as an important destination for downtown Red Line trips. Streetcar and light-rail service would thus overlap between there and downtown.

As for how best to terminate west leg light-rail service, many options and factors should be weighed, but here is one very clearly beneficial way to go:

A short light-rail spur can be built along Saratoga Street from MLK Blvd. directly into the Lexington Market Metro station mezzanine, terminating with a two-block tunnel from Greene to Eutaw Street.

Saratoga is very wide and has a nice hill just west of Greene Street where a tunnel portal can be tucked in. The MTA says that running a new transit line into the Metro itself is infeasible, despite being proposed since the 1960s. But adding a Red Line “west wing” to the Lexington Market station is the next best thing – and far better than the proposed two-block long pedestrian passageway.

Another surface Red Line station on Saratoga for UMB and the redeveloped Metro West complex could also easily be provided near Pine Street.
The Lexington Market station could be enhanced to transform it into the comprehensive downtown transit hub the visionaries have been dreaming about for decades.
A short escalator connection from the mezzanine could lead directly up to the Howard Street light-rail line, and the adjacent existing MTA employee parking lot on Eutaw Street could be converted into a bus transfer hub.
The biggest advantage of this set-up, however, is that it would maximize use of the underutilized Metro, which is by far Baltimore’s fastest, most efficient, and highest capacity transit mode, and provide a far more efficient eastward backbone connection for the Red Line than the proposed expensive Red Line tunnel.
Extending the Metro East
Accordingly, building a short eastward Metro extension from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Hopkins Bayview along the Amtrak right of way (there’s plenty of room on the south side) would be the ideal complement to this plan.
The route should include a comprehensive bus/rail/streetcar transit hub, with a MARC commuter rail station at Edison Highway near Monument Street. This is a far better location for a MARC-Red Line connection than the present isolated site  inside the Norfolk Southern freight rail yard at Bayview.
Even more importantly, the Edison Highway site would have a far larger rider “catchment area” encompassing most of east and northeast Baltimore and Baltimore County, enabling a far more efficient feeder bus network.
Another huge advantage of a Metro extension is that it could easily accommodate future branches to White Marsh, Dundalk, Middle River and other places.
The extended Metro would instantly become the “Hopkins Corridor,” with a six-minute ride reinforcing the strong synergy between the two health campuses, and stations for East Baltimore Development’s Biotech Park and the MARC station to Washington in between.

Goal: Service Flexibility

An integrated light rail/streetcar/Metro system would provide far superior transit for less than the $2.6 billion pricetag of the MTA Red Line.
It could be built in as many phases as the funding flow allows, unlike the Red Line that can only be built in one unaffordable $2.6 billion chunk in order to conform to its cost effectiveness claim.
This system would provide tremendous service flexibility, such as:
• Red Line A from Woodlawn to Lexington Market Metro Station.
• Red Line B from Woodlawn to Inner Harbor via surface streetcar route.
• Streetcar A from the West Baltimore MARC station via Inner Harbor to Canton.
• Streetcar B from Lexington Market Metro station via Inner Harbor and Canton to East MARC station.
• Metro from Owings Mills via downtown and East MARC station to Bayview.
(And not to mention a Lexington Market connection to the Howard Street light-rail line for north-south travel, and potential streetcar lines along Charles Street, the southwest Mount Clare corridor and other places.)
By adopting an integrated approach, Baltimore could have the true rail transit system it has wanted for decades and would follow the innovative systems now being built in places like Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco and neighboring Washington, D.C.

February 19, 2013

Red Line: All things to all people

The Red Line on the east and west sides are at fundamental odds with each other, so that neither can be built right. The solution is to split the Red Line in two to build what's best for everyone.
The MTA and their co-conspirators have actually attempted to use the proposed Red Line's absurd lack of focus to their advantage. The MTA is using its modest attributes - being slow, small, and tucked away - to argue that the Red Line would also simultaneously do all the things that the very biggest, fastest, highest powered and most connected urban rail transit lines can do.

But rail transit lines are wildly different. The Washington Metro has huge eight-car platforms, is highly connected, easily goes faster than competing automobile traffic, and dominates its urban environment. In contrast, Baltimore's Red Line has only been designed with skinny two-car platforms, isn't connected to much of anything, and would be slower than even some buses, much less cars. So some Red Line supporters have conjured very attractive images of a nice benign little rail transit line going through neighborhoods, while others encouraged people to believe it would work like the DC Metro.
The attribute which most dictates what a rail transit line ought to do is its length. At 14 miles, the Red Line needs to be able to accommodate long city-to-suburban trips, which means it ought to be fast and big. Which the Red Line is not. And in pretending to be fast and big, it will fail to live up to its expectations and image.

The solution is to quit pretending the Red Line can be something it can't be - a high-speed regional rail line spanning east and west Baltimore. And turn it into what it can be - an attractive, modest, civilized short-distance mode in East Baltimore and something else entirely in West Baltimore and its suburbs.

Case in Point: Highlandtown

In 2009, the Southeast and Greektown Community Development Corporations prepared a really outstanding "vision plan" which focused on transforming Highlandtown's largely underused old industrial district into a vibrant new urban community. And very logically, the proposed Red Line would be a centerpiece of this community. Their concept of what the Red Line should look like in their new community is shown in the illustration above (from page 31).

But this would not be a regional Red Line of the type that would provide high capacity, rapid rail service across the entire width of the city into the western suburbs, as promoted by the MTA. The Highlandtown plan shows a vision of a small, slow civilized Red Line that would wind along a quiet intimate urban street.

The city and MTA rejected the Highlandtown plan. The MTA Red Line "preferred alternative" was already slow enough at 45 minutes from end to end, and its two car trains were already barely big enough to accommodate the promised ridership needed to justify its $2.5 billion price tag. The MTA could not afford to make it any smaller or slower in order to fit on the proposed streets of the Highlandtown plan.
The MTA also needed a large "park and ride" lot at the Canton Crossing/Brewer's Hill Station to attract riders who couldn't be projected to use feeder buses. That meant that the surrounding development had to be of the faux "transit oriented" type, rather than the real thing shown in the Highlandtown plan. The new housing nearing completion (shown above) had to be of the veneer style that wraps around a massive parking garage, and the new retail center under construction had to be one of those Potemkin movie-set "main streets" rather than the real thing.

This area, just south of Highlandtown, is situated just beyond the existing fringe of urban development. To the west and north, there is Canton and Highlandtown, traditional urban rowhouse neighborhoods, while to the east and south, there is Interstate 95 amid sprawling industrial areas. New growth in this area can go either way, transit-oriented urban or auto-oriented sprawl.

What is actually happening is development that attempts to portray an urban image while still being auto-oriented. The proposed Red Line is part of that contradictory illusion. It is what is sometimes referred to as "symbolic transit", an empty but visible trapping to superficially portray urbanity.
But transit is a powerful symbol. That's why the Highlandtown, Brewer's Hill and Canton Crossing folks will all support the Red Line even if it really won't end up doing much for them. Or at least far less than it could have done. The image shown above from the Highlandtown plan can serve as an "iconic image" to promote their proposed development. Visually, it's really everything anyone could ask for - a nice rail transit line on an old freight rail right-of-way going over the existing major street, Eastern Avenue, surrounded by attractive new development. Of the entire 14 miles of the Red Line, this could become Image #1, just as Camden Yards is used to depict the existing light rail line.

East Baltimore's Big Losers: Canton

West of there, the Red Line would turn into Boston Street and Canton. This area has already been fully redeveloped, and Boston Street serves as its attractive but somewhat congested spine. Again, the Red Line would go as fast as it can, which would be too fast but not fast enough. Fitting the Red Line onto Boston Street would be a massive undertaking, requiring cutting it down from two lanes to one in each direction which would make it by far the highest volume-per-lane surface street in the central city area and perhaps the region. Traffic engineering will have to be drastically focused on making both the Red Line and the surrounding traffic flow as continuously as possible.

There are no opportunities here to make the Red Line an iconic centerpiece of the Boston Street corridor, as the Highlandtown folks have ingeniously done. Unfortunately, Canton has to deal with existing realities. The biggest problem physically would be accommodating the huge portal into the expensive tunnel under Fells Point, Downtown and Poppleton.

The solution: Splitting the Red Line

Since the Red Line has been sold as being all things to all people, big and small, fast and slow, transformative and benign, it should be split into two so that it really can fulfill these promises. This will also make it far, far more affordable - which is a particularly acute problem since there is no money to build it.

By splitting the Red Line in two, the shorter end east of downtown can be built as a far less expensive surface streetcar line. This is exactly what the Highlandtown plan shows in their "vision" of rail transit flanking a civilized high density urban street. Similarly, it would fit well on Boston Street in Canton, using the existing street rather than jamming a new rail right-of-way into the median.

A streetcar line would also fit perfectly into Fells Point and Harbor East, on Eastern Avenue and/or Fleet Street, with more and smaller stops conveniently located right along the street next to the shops rather than isolated in unmanned stations 70 feet underground. Alternately, the line could use Eastern and Fleet all the way to Highlandtown, which B'more Mobile has demonstrated would serve a greater ridership than the MTA's fantasy population projections.

Best of all, a streetcar line could run directly and prominently into the Inner Harbor via Piers 5 and 6, instead of isolated far underneath Lombard Street as the Red Line must do. It could then link to the already proposed Charles Street streetcar line for direct connections to the existing Metro and Penn Station, as well as perhaps other future streetcar lines to Federal Hill, Port Covington, Mount Clare and Carroll Park.

A streetcar system connecting all these places is feasible because the average trip length would be short - only several miles. So speed would be far less important than convenience and user-friendliness, which are the two greatest attributes of streetcars.

The Inner Harbor is Baltimore's front yard. Streetcars running through it would be a powerful symbol indeed of the importance of transit.

Upgrading the West Side too

By optimizing the east side of downtown for streetcars, the longer west side can then be optimized for its longer trips, which extend into the suburbs.

The proposed lengthy east side tunnel to Canton is what drags the Red Line down financially. Because it would be so expensive, the rest of the west side Red Line must be built as cheaply as possible. And since the tunnel must be built all at once, everything else must be built at the same time to create the necessary ridership to support it, in one impossible to swallow $2.5 billion gulp.

Getting rid of that tunnel would allow the entire west side Red Line to be built to a far higher standard, either all at once or in manageable affordable segments.

With streetcars serving the Inner Harbor and the Charles Street corridor, the west side Red Line could be built with a far shorter, less expensive and more usable tunnel under Fayette Street which would serve the existing Charles Center and Lexington Market Metro Stations far better and more conveniently than the proposed two block long pedestrian passageway under Light Street.

Alternately, the west side Red Line could be merged into the existing Metro north of Lexington Market, creating connections on the same Metro platforms. This would eliminate the need for all new tunneling in central downtown and allow the Red Line to fully leverage the entire Metro, even if only a small segment of it is built initially - say, to a West MARC station transit hub. 

The overall Red Line plan as described in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (see previous blog articles) is fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies. So it's far better to build less than to build wrong. Its not too late to focus on quality over quantity.

Perhaps what is most desperately needed on the west side is longer station platforms to accommodate longer trains. The MTA Red Line's pathetically inadequate two-car platforms are the penny-pinching result of the excessive east side tunneling. The money saved on less tunneling can be used to provide longer platforms and trains so that west side riders won't have to be packed in like sardines or passed over altogether.

It's all a simple matter of building the right transit line for each part of the system, rather than pretending to make it all things to all people. The Red Line needs to be fast and accommodating for its regionally-oriented west side, and slow and small for its the locally-oriented east side.

February 1, 2013

Ten Sample Red Line Environmental Impact Delusions

10 - The MTA estimates the Red Line travel time from Edmondson Village to Downtown as 16 minutes, while the existing #150 bus takes only 11 minutes.

9 - Red Line ridership projections are based on the premise of over 60% of the region’s population growth (the city and five suburban counties) taking place within the narrow Red Line Corridor, over the thirty year period from 2005 to 2035.

8 - The FEIS report says that at the east end Bayview MARC station, 2923 riders would get on the Red Line throughout the day but only 504 riders would get off - less than one-fifth as many. The daily westbound ridership from the Bayview MARC station to the Bayview medical campus station is given as 277, but the eastbound return volume is given as a grand total of ZERO per day.

7 - However, for the system as a whole, ridership is lopsided in the other direction, with the Red Line projected to carry nearly 3000 more total daily riders eastbound than westbound. The report does not reveal how or why all these riders would forgo the Red Line to make their westbound trips.

6 - The Rosemont station on Edmondson Avenue near Poplar Grove and Franklin Streets is projected to have only 36 daily walk-in riders.

5 - The Inner Harbor station would have a gigantic 9010 boardings per day, but less than 20 percent (1742) would be local walk-in riders from the surrounding Downtown, Inner Harbor and vicinity. The vast majority (6062) would be subway transfers from the Charles Center Metro station to the Red Line via the proposed two block long pedestrian tunnel. As a comparison, the total current ridership at this Metro station is only about 6500 boardings (and 6500 de-boardings) per day.

4 - With the Red Line, Boston Street in Canton is projected to have a peak traffic lane volume of 1575 vehicles per hour. (By comparison, President Street and MLK Boulevard each currently carry less than 900 vehicles per lane in the peak hour and peak direction.) Even with this huge traffic volume, many more vehicles are assumed to be forced to divert off of Boston Street into the communities to the north in order to avoid congestion.

3 - A Red Line train would a maximum seating capacity of 136 riders, with about 200 standees for a total of 336. Even though the Red Line is projected to carry more riders than Metro, the capacity of a Metro train is over four times more - 456 sitting and 996 standing for a total of 1452.

2 - An end-to-end Red Line trip is projected to take 45 minutes to go 14 miles. An end-to-end Metro trip takes 29 minutes to go 15.5 miles. So considering both travel time and rider capacity, the Metro is over six times more efficient in terms of passenger capacity per hour than the Red Line.

1 - Most unbelievable of all: Even though the multi-billion dollar Red Line is currently completely unfunded, the MTA anticipates construction to begin in two years, 2015, and be completed by 2021.

January 25, 2013

Red Line FEIS - Part 3

Red Line FEIS "Traffic and parking technical report" - Utter failure


The Red Line corridor's assumed gigantic share of regional population growth pumps up the Final Environmental Impact Statement ridership numbers (discussed in Part 1 of this analysis), but to an even greater extent, it pumps up auto traffic volume numbers. At the same time, Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue would be narrowed with no viable place for the excess traffic to go.

As a result, Boston Street would be forced to attempt to carry almost twice as much peak traffic on a per-lane basis as other major roadways in the corridor such as President Street and MLK Boulevard.

The huge population and traffic volume projection for this narrow corridor is assumed whether the Red Line is built or not - far more growth than for the rest of the city and five-county metropolitan area combined. As previously discussed, this growth and congestion is used to increase estimated traffic delays for autos and buses to make the Red Line appear better.

But despite the improbable focus of all this population, travel growth and delays in the two mile wide Red Line corridor, only a small amount of it would actually be captured by the Red Line itself. The rest would only translate to the increased automobile traffic. And as Part 2 explains, the Red Line itself would not have the passenger capacity to handle this growth anyway.

Traffic in Canton

The FEIS "Traffic and Parking Technical Report", Section 5.1.3, breaks down the Red Line's future year 2035 peak hour single-direction traffic volume impact on Boston Street in Canton as follows:

Total diversion away from Boston St. due to Red Line = 2000 "No Build" - 1300 with Red Line = 700
Diversion to Red Line stations = 150 to 200
Diversion to Fleet Street and Eastern Avenue = 400
Diversion to other traffic routes = 100 to 150

Percent travel volume growth = 2000/1500 = 33%
Percent of future Boston Street travel demand captured by Red Line = 150 to 200/2000 = 7.5% to 10%
Share of growth accommodated by Red Line = 150 to 200/(2000-1500) = 30% to 40%
Share of growth not accommodated by Red Line = 300 to 350/(2000-1500) = 60% to 70% 

This greatly understates the amount of growth which would not be accommodated by the Red Line, because it does not include traffic diverted away from Boston Street by the increased traffic congestion which would occur anyway even without the narrowing to one lane for the Red Line. It also does not consider the fact that the farther away from Boston Street and the Red Line, the less likely it is for people to use the Red Line, so the greater the proportion of the traffic growth that would be non-Red Line travel.

The bottom line is that creating a better overall transit system, not just one transit line, is what could actually enable population growth to be accommodated. The vast majority of any increase in population and travel would not be absorbed by the Red Line. On a systemwide basis, the Red Line would be a failure.
Huge new First Mariner Bank parking garage illustrates how Canton developers are banking on cars rather than the Red Line for their access needs.

Traffic congestion in Canton

The FEIS uses the "Synchro" computer model to evaluate the traffic congestion impact of the Red line and the assumed growth in traffic demand in the corridor. However, the FEIS "Traffic and Parking Technical Report" begins with a non-technical overview, stating: "These arterials tend to experience congestion at numerous signalized intersections due to the increase in regional developmental growth."

In simplified empirical terms, traffic congestion is a function of peak traffic volume per lane, signal timing and traffic conflicts due to cross-traffic, turns, pedestrians, other urban street friction. Of these factors, the FEIS consistently documents only traffic volumes and lanes, but since they are the most important and most variable factors, they will suffice to summarize the results.

Boston Street's peak hour traffic volume from Table 16.1 is:

Current traffic volume in two lanes = 1545 = 770 per lane
Future "no build" traffic volume = 2305 = 1150 per lane
Future volume with Red Line and only one lane = 1575 per lane

The FEIS thus asserts that Boston Street with the Red Line would carry more traffic in one lane than it now carries in two lanes. It would thus carry more than double its current per-lane traffic volume.

To gain perspective on this claim, compare Boston Street's future 1575 vehicle per lane peak volume with the current peak hour traffic volumes per lane on the other streets shown in the FEIS tables:

AM Peak Hour - Current per lane traffic volumes (derived from Table 16.1)

Security Boulevard, from Rolling Road to I-695  1,940 (WB)/3 = 650
Rolling Road, south of Security Blvd. 1,295 (NB)/2 = 650
Security Boulevard, from I-695 to Woodlawn Drive 1,865 (EB)/3 = 620
Cooks Lane, east of Forest Park Ave. 955 (EB)/1 = 955
US 40, from Winters Lane to Cooks Lane 2,600 (EB)/3 = 870
Edmondson Avenue, from Cooks Lane to Franklin Street 2,625 (EB)/3 = 875
Franklin Street, from Edmondson Avenue to Pulaski Street 2,585 (EB)/3 = 860
Fleet Street, from Wolfe Street to Boston Street 855 (WB)/1 = 855
Boston Street, from Aliceanna Street to Conkling Street 1,510 (NB)/2 = 755
President Street Lombard St. to Fleet Street 2,225 (NB)/3 = 740
Lombard St., from MLK Jr. Blvd. to President St. 2,085 (WB)/4 = 520
MLK Jr. Blvd., from Mulberry St. to Lombard St. 2,555 (SB)/3 = 850
Bayview Boulevard, from Lombard St. to Eastern Ave. 280 (SB)/2 = 140

PM Peak Hour - Current per lane volumes (from Table 16.2)

Security Boulevard, from Rolling Road to I-695  2,250 (EB)/3 = 750
Rolling Road, south of Security Boulevard 1,335 (NB)/2 = 670
Security Boulevard, from I-695 to Woodlawn Drive 1,905(WB)/3 = 635
Cooks Lane, east of Forest Park Avenue 1,200 (WB)/1 = 1200
US 40, from Winters Lane to Cooks Lane 2,475 (WB)/3 = 825
Edmondson Avenue, from Cooks Lane to Franklin Street 2,535 (WB)/3 = 845
Franklin Street, from Edmondson Avenue to Pulaski Street 1,885 (WB)/3 = 630
Fleet Street, from Wolfe Street to Boston Street 810 (EB)/1 = 810
Boston Street, from Aliceanna Street to Conkling Street 1,195 (SB)/2 = 600
President Street, from Lombard Street to Fleet Street 2,545 (NB)/3 = 850
Lombard St., from MLK Jr. Blvd. to President St. 2,345 (WB)/4 = 585
MLK Jr. Blvd., from Mulberry St. to Lombard St. 2,585 (NB)/3 = 860
Bayview Boulevard, from Lombard St. to Eastern Ave. 280 (SB)/2 = 140

Bottom line: With the Red Line, the FEIS claims that Boston Street would carry nearly twice the volume per lane as virtually any other street in the corridor currently carries, notably including primary regional arterials, MLK Boulevard, President Street, and Edmondson Avenue (US 40) all with less than 900 per lane in the peak hour.

Cooks Lane would come closest to Boston Street at 1200, due to its almost constant free-flow right turn flow off US 40 and lack of conflicts. 

But Boston Street's projected 1575 per lane volume leaves all comparisons in the dust.

Traffic on Edmondson Avenue

The FEIS does not furnish a breakdown of diversions from Edmondson Avenue as it does from Boston Street. Here are Edmondson Avenue's westbound peak hour traffic volumes per lane:

Current traffic volume = 2535 in 3 lanes = 845 per lane
Future no-build = 3120 in 3 lanes = 1040 per lane
Future with Red Line = 2535 in 2 lanes = 1270 per lane

Future diversion to Red Line and other routes = 3120 - 2535 = 585

As with Boston Street, the diversion volume is probably much higher than this because it does not include traffic that would divert regardless of whether the Red Line is built.

The future per lane volume with the Red Line, at 1270 per hour, would still be far higher than currently on any other comparable urban street such as the 860 per lane currently on MLK Boulevard or President Street, though not as stratospheric as the future 1575 per lane on Boston Street. 

The impacts could be even worse, however, because there are absolutely no other divertable through routes anywhere near Edmondson Avenue. The closest ones are Frederick Avenue to the south and Franklintown Road, Windsor Mill Road, Clifton Avenue and Gwynns Falls Parkway to the north - all in totally separate corridors. But there would have to be a huge amount of congestion to induce motorists to divert that far away.

Common Red Line factors on Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue

To attempt to accommodate vehicular and Red Line traffic on both Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue, there would have to be extremely long green traffic signal phases. Signal phases to stop through traffic and allow pedestrian crossings and conflicting cross traffic would need to be few and far between. All cross movements would be consolidated only at signalized median openings, which will further concentrate conflicts and increase their inconvenience and impact. Many local motorists and pedestrians would have to take very roundabout ways to get from one side of the street to the other. On-street parking would be greatly reduced and heavy full-time traffic lanes would be pushed up against the sidewalks.

All of the same traffic engineering measures which would facilitate the Red Line would also promote through traffic on the adjacent lanes. While through traffic would be very congested due to its extreme volume during peak periods, through traffic would fly along both Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue in off-peak periods, making the overall street environment even worse. And while the MTA would be able to force Red Line operators to observe the speed limit, little can be done to prevent the rest of the off-peak traffic from whizzing by them.

Red Line stations would be isolated in the median strips sandwiched between through traffic in both directions. In sum, there would be nothing "transit friendly" about the Red Line on Edmondson Avenue or Boston Street.

In sum, the traffic data provide yet another reason why the Red Line simply would not work.

January 21, 2013

Red Line FEIS - Part 1

Red Line FEIS "Travel Forecast Results" report: Utter failure

Astonishingly, the MTA's gargantuan Red Line Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) provides virtually no justification for the multi-billion dollar project - despite or perhaps because of being based on almost totally revamped population and ridership data from what was used to reject all other alternatives.

The proposed MTA Red Line is even slower than comparable buses. It cannibalizes the existing bus and rail transit system in an extremely cynical ploy to prop up Red Line ridership projections by exploiting poor captive bus riders. It restructures the MTA's already inefficient route system in an even more chaotic direction. And it is based on some assertions that are just too bizarre to believe.

There is far too much in the Red Line FEIS to cover everything, but the "Travel Forecasts Results Report" demonstrates its utter failure. Here in three parts, addressing the data assumptions and their impacts, are the FEIS comments I will submit to the MTA. Comments are due by January 28th emailed to with the subject heading "FEIS COMMENT".


Here is the problem in microcosm: The #150 bus line currently runs the length of US Route 40 from Howard County to Downtown. East of Edmondson Village, it's route resembles that of the proposed Red Line. It takes 11 minutes for the #150 bus to go from Edmondson Village to downtown at Greene/Saratoga. But the Red Line is projected to take 16 minutes for a similar trip to Howard/Lombard, five minutes more than the bus. The MTA wanted to provide a comparable Red Line station at Greene Street, which would save about a minute, but they had to eliminate it to save money.
Proposed future Edmondson Village Red Line Station hypes up the estimated 16 minute travel time to downtown, but the existing #150 bus line can do it in 11 minutes.

Under the MTA Red Line plan, however, a trip downtown originating on the #150 bus would become far lengthier than 11 minutes, by deviating off US 40 route onto Ingleside Avenue to reach the I-70 Red Line station, forcing bus passengers to transfer to rail, and thus slowing down the trip in order to include it in the Red Line's ridership numbers.

But messing with the efficient but obscure #150 bus route is just the tip of the iceberg. A large proportion of the MTA's indecipherable urban bus network would be even more mangled to feed the Red Line, even passing up far more logical connections to the existing subway and stealing bus service from non-feeder services that have little to do with the Red Line. And much of this is proposed for low income transit-dependent areas.

Phantasmagorical population projections

The foundation for all this is the revised 2035 population projections used for the Red Line, provided by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The key stat is highlighted on page 7 of the Travel Forecasts Results Report: "More than half of the region’s population growth is expected to occur in the Red Line Corridor for an increase of approximately 45,000 residents."

The table which follows shows the specific share of the region's population growth as 62%. From 2005 to 2035, almost two-thirds of all the population growth forecast for the entire Baltimore urban, suburban and exurban region, including the city and five surrounding counties, is presumed to occur in just a slender two-mile wide strip of land through the city and western Baltimore County. And much of this strip is water, large cemeteries and Leakin Park (FEIS Travel Forecasts Results Report, Figure 3).

Think about this. The Red Line plan assumes that the vast majority of regional population growth, starting eight years ago in 2005, would not occur in Howard and Anne Arundel Counties being fed by the far faster growing Washington region. It would not occur in Harford County which is booming from military base relocations. It would not occur in Carroll County where new subdivisions seem to sprout up monthly. And it would not even occur in urban/suburban "smart growth" districts like Charles Village, Westport, Owings Mills, Towson, Hunt Valley, and White Marsh.

The narrow Red Line corridor would get far more than all the rest of the region combined - from Pennsylvania to the DC suburbs to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Red Line's population growth projections and tortuous feeder bus plan combine to define its eye-popping daily ridership estimates of 50,000 in 2030 and 54,000 in 2035.

Breaking down the ridership

But the ridership numbers become even stranger when examined in more detail. For example, the Red Line is projected to carry nearly 3000 more daily riders eastbound than westbound (Table 23). Yes, sometimes transit riders take a different way home, but why would eastbound riders be so much more inclined to do this than westbound riders?

And the aggregate totals mask even bigger discrepancies on a station-by-station basis. At the east end Bayview MARC station, 2923 riders would get on throughout the day but only 504 riders would get off, almost a six-fold difference. At the Canton Crossing station, 5945 westbound riders would get on, but only 1906 eastbound riders would return, less than as third as many. These makes even less sense because they are major parking lot stations. What is to become of all those parked cars that the riders leave behind?

Practically every station is like this. Perhaps the most absurd example is that the ridership from the Bayview MARC station to the Bayview medical campus is given as 277, but the return volume is zero, nada, zilch.

These are examples of what is called the "black box" effect of computer models in a comment by Jamie Kendrick, who has worked on the Red Line for both the MTA and the city. He was referring to the cost-benefits model, but that is largely based on the ridership model. Reality checks are supposed to be done during the model calibration process, but of course, the whole purpose of computer models is to forecast the future, not reality.

In Table 23, the severe on/off discrepancies are resolved by computing averages of the disparate numbers. Thus at Bayview MARC, the 2923 on-folks and 504 off-folks are each counted as half a person, split to yield what are inaccurately described as 1710 "total boardings".

Other parts of the analysis handle it differently. The next graphic (Figure 11) calls the same data "production / attraction", which is transpo planning lingo for defining trips by how they are generated rather than whether they are coming or going, but the volumes are the same.

Then comes the station-by-station ridership by access mode (Table 24). Only the original boarding data are presented, not the very different numbers for folks getting off the train or those odd split averages. Some of the stranger numbers in Table 24 can only be explained from the equally strange feeder bus operations plan.

The Red Line ridership numbers are propped up by numerous proposed convoluted changes to Baltimore's already confusing bus system, which would exacerbate its already fundamentally flawed structure that is the root cause of the MTA's chronic reliability problems.

One of the strangest Red Line stations for these Table 24 data is Rosemont, on Edmondson Avenue near Poplar Grove and Franklin Streets. Incredibly, throughout the entire day, only 36 people in this very dense mostly black working class community are expected to walk to the Red Line. That's only about two an hour. In contrast, 3368 riders will arrive at the station by bus, 98% of the total. This includes six bus routes, the #10, #15, #16, #23, #38 and #47 Quick Bus. All those 3368 transferring riders would require a lot of buses, but the plan calls only for standard on-street curb bus stops.
Proposed Rosemont Station location in the middle of Edmondson Avenue, with projected ridership of
3368 per day transferring from buses and incredibly only 36 walk-ins

Four of those six bus lines - the #16, #23, #38 and #47 - would stay about the same in the Rosemont area, although the #23 would have major changes at the ends, westward in Catonsville and eastward from Bayview. The #47 (the Quick Bus version of the #15) would remain intact even though the #40 (the Quick Bus version of the #20 and #23) would be scrapped through West Baltimore. So #47 buses would be allowed to continue to whizz past Red Line trains along the "Highway to Nowhere", even though #40 and #150 buses would not.

The biggest messes would occur with the #10 and #15 lines, which would be split into branches off the existing routes which would terminate at the Rosemont station instead of going all the way downtown as they do now. Most bus riders would be confronted with a dilemma as to which branch of the watered down service they should take - the slow but more direct bus route or the more convoluted branch which requires an extra transfer onto the Red Line, and perhaps another transfer off the Red Line, and so is very likely even slower. Riders are screwed either way.

Some of the remaining #10 buses would branch off the existing route after serving Catonsville and Yale Heights in the Frederick Avenue corridor, cutting through some narrow residential streets to feed the Red Line, while other #10s would stay on the existing route to downtown and the Eastern Avenue corridor to Fells Point, Highlandtown, Bayview and Dundalk.

The #15 route would stay essentially the same from Security Mall to Forest Park to Rosemont to Poppleton to Downtown. But some of the buses would terminate at the Rosemont Red Line station, forcing the riders to transfer. And starting downtown, other buses would deviate from the current route, which proceeds out to the Gay Street/Belair Road corridor to Overlea and Perry Hall. The deviating buses would proceed eastward in the Baltimore/Fayette Street corridor to Bayview.

Bus route system structural problems

There are numerous fundamental problems with this proposed route structure. Basically, there is very little hierarchy or organization. Most of the bus routes would remain very long and unwieldy, requiring riders to slog though many miles of slow local Baltimore streets as they do now. Too many bus routes would continue to run parallel to the Red Line. To a distressing extent, bus routes and the Red Line would compete with each other since neither mode would clearly provide better service.

As part of this precarious balancing act, even some bus lines that would seem to have very little to do with the Red Line appear to get service cuts. The Bus Operations Plan Table 5 presents an inaccurate compilation of existing bus service headways (frequencies) which hides many of the changes.

For example, midday service on the crosstown #22 and #51 lines, arcing across the city from Bayview to Mondawmin to Cherry Hill, currently runs every about 20 minutes, but is presented in Table 5 as every 50 minutes (#22) and 40 minutes (#51). These are then shown as the "feeder bus" headways in Table 6, masking an apparent radical cut in service. The MTA seems to think that since these routes serve captive passive low income riders, no one will notice.

The travel demand has been rigged to assign a huge number of these wide-ranging trips to the Red Line, but many riders would not benefit from that. Moreover, riders don't like to make transfers unless there is a very good and clear reason to do so. In the MTA fare structure, riders without a pass are actually charged two full fares for the privilege of transferring, adding injury to insult.

Subway and kiss 'n' ride transfers

"Kiss and ride", planners' cheeky term for spouses, taxi drivers and other people who drop off other people at stations, has even more pronounced ridership differences from station to station. The Security Square Mall station is one of the more amorous, with 518 daily kiss 'n' riders. In contrast, the Edmondson Village station, whose kiss 'n' ridershed would include Ten Hills, Hunting Ridge and most of Catonsville, yields only two kissers per day. Is it a demographic distinction?

But the strangest numbers of all might be the Inner Harbor central downtown station at Lombard and Light Streets, which is supposed to provide access to the existing Metro subway though a proposed two block long pedestrian tunnel. Not surprisingly, it would have the highest number of boardings on the entire Red Line, a huge 9010 per day. But unbelievably, less than 20 percent (1742) would be local downtown walk-in riders.

The lion's share of the Red Line boardings at this station, over two-thirds (6062), would be subway transfers from the Charles Center Metro station to the Red Line. As a comparison, the current total ridership at this Metro station is about 6500 boardings (and 6500 de-boardings) per day. The Metro's ridership numbers have stayed essentially flat since its last expansion back in the mid '90s. The Metro to Red Line transfer through the two-block long catacomb passageway would be nearly as much as all the current Metro riders. Whew!

The MTA has long argued that a direct station connection is unnecessary between the Red Line and the Metro, even though virtually every other modern rail transit system has at least one. But with numbers like this, they're only kidding themselves.

The travel zone matrix

The FEIS trip matrix, the core of the ridership data from one place to another, is more revealing for what it does not say than for what it says. 

The FEIS does not provide a station-to-station matrix of rider origins and destinations, so it is impossible to do much sleuthing of all these eyebrow-raising numerical claims. The only substitute is a matrix of travel zones throughout the city and five-county suburban region, showing the number of Red Line riders that would begin or end at each (Table 21). Thus we know that Howard County would provide 2231 trip "productions" (mostly by people who commute from there) and 1182 "attractions" (mostly jobs). Some of these would be existing #150 bus riders diverted to the I-70 Red Line station, but this station is supposed to have 1811 transfers daily from bus to rail, so a lot more bus riders would be needed. And since the #150 service is the only bus line that would serve Howard County, and it would be much worse than it is now, the vast majority of these riders would have to come from elsewhere.

The report provides only eight travel zones in the Red Line corridor itself. With nineteen stations, that means the zones (Figure 4) are far too large and aggregated to be useful in modelling travel patterns, sometimes extending beyond what is defined as the "study area" (Figure 3). The four most central zones extend all the way up to North Avenue or beyond. Harbor East and North/Gay, two of the most disparate communities imaginable, are lumped together in the same zone. On the other hand, many Red Line stations straddle two zones - Highlandtown, Canton Crossing, Fells Point, Poppleton, West MARC, and I-70 - so it's impossible to tell who will come and go from where.

These ungainly travel zones are also used to compute rider "benefits", in terms of travel time savings accrued to transit riders. A very simple-minded summary of travel time benefits is presented in Table 18. The Red Line takes 36 minutes IVT ("in vehicle time") to go from Bayview to Social Security, while the "low cost" bus alternative takes 66 minutes. But the current #40 Quick Bus takes only 53 minutes to go even farther to CMS (which takes the Red Line 45 minutes). But somehow, this table inflates the bus vs. rail difference for in-plus-out of vehicle travel times to 84 versus 48 minutes. 

This is allegedly explained by greater congestion in 2035, but that is a relatively small factor and is largely caused by the Red Line anyway due to narrowing Edmondson Avenue and the city's refusal of confront traffic demand caused by the rampant proliferation of parking garages. Section 5.1.4 of the "Uncertainty Analysis" summarizes this by saying "there is little impact on ridership based on 2005 and 2035 bus speeds." This flies in the face of the assumed increase in the bus vs. rail travel time advantage from today's 53 vs. 45 minutes "in vehicle time" to a future 84 vs. 48 minutes total time. That makes no sense.

No wonder the model is described as a "black box". This leaves lots of FEIS wiggle room for the ridership forecasts. Data chopped up into much smaller zones is available, but there is a trade-off of confusion from too much to too little detail. They opted for less detail. As a result, we should gratefully be less confused about how much confusion there is. Capice?

Bottom transit line

The MTA is obviously willing to move heaven and earth to make their Red Line numbers look as good as possible, even though it requires making the rest of their transit system even worse than it already is. The MTA never examined other alternatives in the same way. And even with their inflated ridership claims, their plan still does not come even close to meeting the downplayed federal cost-effectiveness standard.

The MTA's ongoing track record of rail transit failure is perhaps best seen in the system's stagnant ridership and its almost complete lack of Transit Oriented Development, despite such hyped-up project areas as Howard Street, State Center, Westport and Owings Mills. The initial 8 mile Metro project promised a first year ridership of over 80,000 per day, but three decades later, it still hasn't consistently risen above 50,000 riders per day despite two extensions to 15.5 miles. All indications are that the Red Line would perform even worse.

Baltimore needs to get off this Red Line train. Continue to Part 2 of this critique.

Thanks to Edward Cohen for important contributions to this analysis.

Red Line FEIS - Part 2

Red Line FEIS system capacity and impact: More utter failure


The previous article discussed how the MTA Final Environmental Impact Statement future population projections and a proposed bus and rail system network have been formulated only to bolster Red Line ridership beyond any foundation of logic.

This article demonstrates how the proposed Red Line has been designed as a kind of "streetcar on steroids", to outwardly resemble a real high density urban rail transit line while actually being as cheap and puny as possible - the worst of both worlds. The proposed Red Line combines the high cost of a heavy rail line - $2.574 billion is the most recent estimate - with diminutive low capacity vehicles that are actually narrower than many or most buses.

Defining dimensions - width

Vehicle length and width define its capacity. The determining factor for the width is the need to squeeze the Red Line onto the highest density segment of Edmondson Avenue, where rowhouses come right up to a street which carries 39,000 vehicles per day. As the only true radial arterial street in all of West Baltimore, it is one of the highest volume streets in the entire city.

As a result, the Red Line would narrow already-congested Edmondson Avenue from three to two lanes in each direction, pushing the lanes as close as necessary to the adjacent sidewalks and closely flanked rowhouses, eliminate left turn lanes and median openings where necessary and eliminate 214 out of 330 on-street parking spaces.
There's no room to widen Edmondson Avenue at this point, so they would eliminate the right
 peak traffic/off-peak parking lane and squeeze the remaining two lanes of traffic up against the narrow sidewalk to make room for a Red Line that's actually skinnier than a bus.

All of this is proposed to arrive at the key dimension: A 8.7 foot (104 inch) width for the Red Line vehicle clearance between the power poles, station platforms, and traffic lanes. But the vehicles themselves would have to be narrower than that to account for motion and sway along the tracks. You can't ram the vehicles onto the tracks like driving nails into wood. It is more likely that the vehicles would have to on the order of about 8 feet wide (96 inches) to account for the "dynamic envelope" of vehicle motion.

Compare this 104 inch clearance to that of a standard 11 foot traffic lane (132 inches) and standard 8.5 foot buses (102 inches) which often encroach on the adjacent lane. A definitive vehicle width for the Red Line is not specified in the FEIS but it would almost certainly be narrower than many buses, perhaps only about 8 feet wide, nullifying a spacious interior as a key advantage perceived for regional rail.

Lower density cities which have most recently started building low cost all-surface light rail lines, such as Norfolk, Charlotte and Minneapolis, have adopted 104 inches as their standard vehicle width, but this should not be confused with Baltimore where the Red Line would be a high cost system with extensive tunneling and where the 104 inch dimension would apply only to the lateral clearance. 

Defining dimensions - length

The defining factor the length of Red Line trains is the high cost of the underground stations. Here to save money, it was decided that Red Line trains should be limited to two cars. The cars would be about the same length as the existing central light rail line (96 feet) and thus the platform lengths would be twice that (192 feet). 

But in contrast, both the existing central light rail line and the existing Metro heavy rail line can carry far more passengers than the proposed Red Line, due to far longer and wider trains and platforms. The existing light rail line is built for three car trains with total platform lengths of about 290 feet. The heavy rail Metro is built for six car trains of 75 feet length, for total platform lengths of 450 feet. Thus Red Line platforms would be well under half as long.

Lack of people capacity

Urban rail systems are generally designed to carry very heavy peak passenger loads with a high proportion of standees, relative to all-day ridership. But the skinny Red Line trains would combine allegedly high ridership with low capacity and greatly limited standing space in the aisles. Just like buses, it would be an ordeal every time someone wanted to move past someone standing in the aisle to get to an empty spot or to the door.

The FEIS gives the highest future peak hour/peak direction rider volume as 1807 passengers, out of a total daily ridership of 54,520. This is an irrationally flat rider distribution, assuming that only 3.3 percent of all daily riders would travel past the peak point in the peak hour. It would requires the overwhelming majority of Red Line riders to travel off-peak or on very short trips which avoid the peak point.

But even so, this would result in crush loads. To attempt to accommodate it, there would be an assumed train every 7 minutes in 2035 even though they are not planning to purchase enough vehicles or build a sufficiently large rail yard to allow it.

Previous to that In the year 2030, ridership is expected to be only about 5 percent less (50,000 per day). But the opening year fleet size and train headway frequency would remain and result in 30 percent fewer trains (10 minutes between trains instead of 7 minutes).

Here's the crush math scenario: If the vehicles are 7 inches narrower than the 104 inch clearance provided (3.5 inches on each side), with the specified two seats on each side of the aisle, they would have a crush capacity of about 66 seats and 100 standees, or 166 riders per vehicle or 332 per two car train.

The projected 1807 riders in the peak hour out of 54,520 per day in 2035 translates to just over 1700 peak hour riders (5 percent less) in 2030. All six trains of those rush hour trains would carry an average of 283 riders per train, out of a crush capacity of 332 riders (sardines?) with very little margin for error or variation.

And all that ignores the space which would be required for bicycles. Bikes are ignored throughout the entire FEIS, although they've no doubt assigned their riders to the ridership totals one way or another.

So if there was more than even a slight variation in the total demand from one train to the next, the extra jostling would slow down the trains and thus result in chain reaction delays from one train to the next. Jammed trains would pass riders by, thus jamming up the platforms and the entire system. With ten minutes scheduled between trains, there would be virtually no capability for recovery.

The potential for disaster would be further heightened by the lack of any crossover tracks within the downtown tunnel, another dubious cost saving measure. If any train would become disabled in this 3.5 mile section, trains in both directions would have to run in "emergency mode" on a single track and the Red Line would descend into chaos.

Comparison with the existing heavy rail Metro

Even though they're shorter than light rail vehicles, the high flat floors and wide aisles on Baltimore's Metro cars have 76 seats and room for 166 standees, for a total capacity of 242 riders per car or 1452 riders per six car train. That's over quadruple the capacity in a Metro train as a Red Line train. The current service frequency is about the same as the Red Line expects in 2035, and unlike the Red Line, it can be easily increased further from vehicles that are already available in the yard. The service frequency is also augmented by speed, so that each faster Metro train can serve more trips. Whereas each Red Line trip would take 45 minutes end-to-end, a full Metro trip takes only 29 minutes for a 1.5 mile longer line.

Time is money for a transit operator, as is capacity. Four times the capacity and over 50% again the service turn-around means that the existing Metro is on the order of six times more cost-efficient as the proposed Red Line. The MTA system's overall operating cost impact is ignored in the FEIS.

And that is what make the MTA's feeder bus plan to prop-up Red Line ridership even more pathetic. Feeder buses are devised to take longer and more convoluted routes to serve Red Line stations when more efficient and direct routes to the existing Metro are already easily possible.

For example, the #15 bus line begins at Security and proceeds up to Forest Park, within several blocks of Liberty Heights Avenue. From that point, it would be a simple matter to direct its buses along Liberty Heights into the Mondawmin Metro transit hub, which would give it easy transfers to both the Metro and many other bus lines. On the east side, the #15 could easily provide a strong transfer at the Hopkins Hospital Metro Station. A huge amount of painfully slow redundant bus service through downtown could be avoided.

This opportunity has been available since the Metro opened to Hopkins Hospital back in the '90s, and the MTA has never done it. This has contributed greatly to the Metro's stagnant ridership, still hovering under 50,000 per day as it has for decades. That's actually less than the MTA somehow projects the Red Line would carry.
The spacious efficient high capacity bus transfer hub at the Mondawmin Metro Station, in contrast to the proposed cramped weak inefficient Red Line stations

The #5 bus line illustrates the travel time savings that the MTA systematically squanders by not tailoring its service to feed the Metro. The #5 bus line takes a scheduled 50 minutes from the Mondawmin Metro station to Madison / Patterson Park Avenue. The Metro takes only 13 minutes to get to the nearby Hopkins Hospital Station, a breathtaking 37 minute savings. If the MTA is not willing to take maximum advantage of this, why are they trying to exploit such dubious and illusory advantages for the Red Line?

In contrast, the MTA proposes to direct the #44 to take an even longer, more convoluted and redundant trip along the Red Line corridor from Forest Park to Rosemont, then run a portion of the trips all the way downtown and onward to Belair Road. This makes no sense whatsoever on a system basis. It's only possible purpose is to prop up the Red Line numbers.

Creating a true transit system structure 

The most important function of urban rail transit is to create a "system backbone", whose economies of scale and consolidated connections give the overall system efficiency and integrity. The existing Metro built in the '80s and '90s provided an excellent start, with a very high capacity and effective transit transfer hubs, most notably at Mondawmin.

With the proposed Red Line plan, the MTA has totally abandoned that concept. What the Red Line promises is a slow, low capacity "money pit" of a rail transit line where inefficient rail and inefficient bus lines can jostle and compete with each other for captive riders. Of course, the Red Line also gives developers of the city's narrow waterfront veneer something to point to when they give lip-service to transit, ignoring the system as a whole.

The MTA likes to point out that they examined the idea of building the Red Line as heavy rail instead of light rail and found it too expensive. Their contention is totally beside the point, which is the need for system integrity, not the merits of one mode versus another in serving predetermined locations. The Red Line as planned by the MTA would make the system even worse than building nothing at all.

The Red Line's overall weakness would be seriously exacerbated if in the future, the MTA ever actually attempted to build a true hub and spoke rail transit system, based on enabling riders to transfer seamlessly at a downtown transfer station. While in the short run, the Red Line's two block long underground pedestrian Metro connection renders any comparison moot to the Washington Metro or any other modern hub and spoke rail system, the Red Line's puny two-car platforms are even more damning in the long run. With the Red Line, the objectives of the original integrated 2002 regional rail system plan can now be confirmed as being a total failure.

The only positive aspect is that the Red Line's ridership projections are so wildly over-optimistic, and the proposed feeder system they've concocted is so rife for rider rebellion, that the lack of capacity will never actually be a problem. Instead, the Red Line will be just another underused transit money pit.

And the even sadder aspect is that this is so consistent with the MTA's long-term public image of incompetence. The most famous example of this is their original single-tracking of the existing light rail line to save money after revelations of cost overruns, and then closing down the entire system for a year to rebuild it. Most recently, the MTA cavalierly proposed single-tracking the Cooks Lane Red Line tunnel. They still have not retracted their original claims that single tracking would not affect speed, safety, capacity or ridership. Thus in effect, the MTA has never actually provided justification for not single tracking it.

Rather than attempting to build the Red Line, the MTA would be far better off simply converting the existing Metro into a true "system backbone" with additional comprehensive bus transfer hubs at more stations, including Hopkins Hospital and Lexington Market. Then the MTA could restructure the remaining bus lines into a rational hierarchical system of short distance "Circulators", long distance "Quick Buses" and perhaps signature streetcar lines.

This is also far more in line with the MTA's 1999 plan to double transit ridership over the next 20 years by emphasizing better use of the existing system. The 1999 plan was almost immediately cast aside in the zeal to create the 2002 regional rail system plan.

The MTA could move toward this by planning for modest incremental affordable extensions of the Metro to strengthen the system backbone. The first project could be a very short and relatively inexpensive extension from Hopkins Hospital to a comprehensive Metro-MARC-Bus hub at the huge Edison/Monument site, which would enable a dramatic improvement and clarification of the overall system structure.

All in all, this account of the Red Line's various problems barely scratches the surface. Suffice to say that the MTA's planning process has been far more about a long series of dubious assumptions to make the case to get it built, than in figuring out how to build it right. Now it's time to get serious about creating a real transit system instead of a Red Line "streetcar on steroids."

Continue to Part Three of this analysis.

Thanks to Edward Cohen for important contributions to this analysis.