August 17, 2015

Lexington Market Metro Transit Hub

Re-centering the rail transit system
Lexington Market Metro Station - A short passageway to the Howard Street light rail line can be built
into this wall behind the turnstiles on the mezzanine to the Hutzler's Clay Street portico (see photo below). 

Baltimore's east and west sides have gotten severely out of balance. An urban realignment is needed to enable real connectivity in the transit system and thus maximize economic opportunity

Baltimore's has a hub and spoke transit system based on its geography, but the central hub is weak or non-existent.

The first step in creating workable connected rail transit is thus to give the system a real central hub. And the only practical place to do this is at the Lexington Market Metro Station.

Since the 1960s, this kind of connectivity has always been an essential element of every rail transit plan, but the city has failed to do its job to enable this to happen. Over the past 20 to 40 years, the city has allowed downtown to move steadily eastward, leaving the Howard/Lexington area as a largely boarded-up shell of its former self.

Then in planning for the defunct Red Line, the MTA responded by proposing its downtown transit hub to be built around an isolated two-block long pedestrian tunnel between the defunct Red Line and Metro at Charles Center. That was half-hearted at best. While the Red Line's abandoned 65% completed engineering drawings of the tunnel and stations showed great detail, they still showed only sketchy outlines of how that pedestrian tunnel might actually be built. It seemed inevitable that this severable tunnel would remain unbuilt even if the rest of their Red Line plan had somehow gone forward.

The MTA couldn't even do its job at what is rapidly becoming the new downtown at Harbor East and Harbor Point. Lead developer John Paterakis rejected the MTA plan and forced them to move the Harbor East station to a much more isolated spot between Harbor East and Little Italy.

The city has also failed in that the new east-leaning downtown is far more auto-oriented than the old downtown. The city's tallest building, the USF&G come Legg Mason come Transamerica come COPT Tower, had to build a new parking garage to become marketable. The city's newest growth centers are off on peninsulas (Harbor Point and Port Covington) and marching into what was the industrial waterfront along Clinton Street 5 to 8 blocks away from the Canton Crossing Red Line station site, which is across the street from a new suburban-style shopping center.

The traditional downtown role is probably now gone forever, but a central transit hub is still needed as much as ever, as an organizing element and for transfers. Baltimore still has a huge captive transit ridership base and there is also a growing market of people looking for a "transit lifestyle".

The Lexington Market area is still popular among this transit captive group, but they have insufficient income to trigger investment. The hyped-up "downtown as a neighborhood" trend is filling the void created by the loss of downtown as the center of the region, but so far this has happened in all other directions much more than on the west side, near Lexington Market or beyond. As a result, transit's image is of a downscale market, and the Red Line's attempt to change this has been hollow. Even if somehow built, once the Red Line's "new car smell" had worn off, it would have been just another captive transit mode.

The city's greatest challenge is not to just build an ill-conceived transit line by chasing regional development trends going in the opposite direction in an attempt to be "transformative" (catchphrase du jour, replacing "game changer"). It's to make the most of what we already have, and build upon that.

Lexington Market Metro Transit Hub

Downtown rail system - Existing Metro Subway Green Line and Surface Light Rail Blue Line,
and a proposed west-only Red Line. 

Geographically, it is readily apparent that Lexington Market should be the place for the city's central transit hub, where the Metro (green line) and central light rail (blue line) come closest, and where the Red Line can most easily meet them.

The Metro is far-and-away the best, fastest and highest capacity transit mode that Baltimore is likely to have in the conceivable future and therefore must serve as the trunk.

Even in the MTA's defunct disjointed Red Line plan, 22% of riders on the entire line were projected to be transfers to or from the Metro, while 10% would be to-or-from the existing central light rail, for a total of almost one-third between the rail lines. This should be augmented by a significant volume of bus transfers.

The Hutzler's Clay Street portico (left background) is an ideal place to connect the existing Metro and Light Rail lines.
Hutzler's was once the city's premiere department store, but now sits vacant along with much of Howard Street.
Here's what can be done in the near term to make the Lexington Market Metro station into the system's true central transit hub:

1- Link Light Rail and Metro - Build a short pedestrian connection between the existing light rail and Metro stations, using the Hutzler's Clay Street portico shown in the photo above. The ground slopes to promote this. When the Metro was built in the 1980s, a pedestrian plaza was provided there as part of Hutzler's Department Store's last-gasp renovation before it was closed up for good. This can be reopened and extended down into the Metro mezzanine itself (beyond the turnstiles in the top photo), rather than into the shuttered department store.

In the diagram below, this connection is the narrow dark red link from the big blue box (the Howard light rail station) at the far right to the big green box (Metro station under Eutaw Street). 

Possible Lexington Market Transit Hub - Existing Metro subway station in green.
Existing light rail (right) and MTA parking lot (top) in blue. Existing Metro entrances in pink.
Proposed Red Line station and portal and pedestrian passageway in red.

2- Create a Bus Hub - A convenient place for bus transfers can be created using the MTA's parking lot (blue box at the top of the diagram above) just north of their operations building which hovers over the Metro entrance in the northeast corner of Eutaw and Saratoga Streets (pink box in the diagram above). This building is also shown in the photo below, with the parking lot on the other side of the fence in the left foreground.

This bus hub is needed not just for transfers but also as a staging area for various bus lines terminating downtown. The parking lot is now used by MTA employees who prefer to drive rather than use their free transit passes.

MTA Metro Operations Building looking southward on Eutaw toward Saratoga. The Metro entrance is on its ground level
and the parking lot beyond the fence in the left foreground can be converted into a bus transfer hub.

3 - Make room for a west leg of the Red Line - This is shown along or under Saratoga Street on the left sides of both diagrams above. It can be on the street's surface, tieing into and sharing the Howard Street light rail station shown above, or it can be in a "cut and cover" alignment under Saratoga tieing into the Metro mezzanine.

In the "cut and cover" option, the tunnel portal would be two blocks to the west, just beyond Greene Street where Saratoga widens and has a big downward slope, ideal for a light rail line going underground. In the existing Metro mezzanine, the Red Line terminal station would be just beyond where the wall is in the photo below, just to the right of the Metro turnstiles. (The Red Line has been designed to operate without turnstiles.)

In either of these "Plan B" Red Line options, the MTA has already done most of the planning and much of the engineering. The only new planning would be for this 4 to 5 block portion on Saratoga Street between MLK Boulevard and the Metro Station.

The essential requirement is eliminating the defunct Red Line's "fatally flawed" 3.4 mile tunnel through downtown, which totally bypasses the Metro, exacerbates the lack of a central hub for the rail transit system and further reinforces the city's severe east-west development imbalance. It was that tunnel that led to the downfall of the MTA Red Line project after 15 years of planning.

Lexington Market Metro mezzanine under Saratoga Street.
The Red Line platforms could be located just beyond this wall to the right of the turnstiles.


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  3. Since Red's been nixed as planned, DO IT! Anything's better than nothing!

  4. Since Red's been nixed as planned, DO IT! Anything's better than nothing!

  5. Before the project was put on hold the locally preferred alternative was the light rail running on the surface from the West Baltimore MARC station then going underground at Fremont and heading south before continuing east under Lombard St. Under your scenario trains would simply turn east under Saratoga then head south under St. Charles or St. Paul before heading east again under Lombard. The only drawback I can see is that the trains might get slowed down a bit by the two tight turns it would require but a minute or two seems a small price to pay for creating a true network out of two independent lines.

    Other possibilities to consider would be to move your Red Line station under Saratoga one block to the east so that the mezzanine of that station serves as the connection between the Lex Market Metro station and the Lex Market light rail station. It might also be possible to focus on a stronger connection with light rail at Lex Market since a future Red Line could also pass directly under the Charles Center station.

    1. Thanks, Jimbo. Vertical alignment is a key factor in all this. Eutaw (where the Metro station is), along with Paca and Greene Streets are on a hill relative to Howard (where the existing light rail line is) to the east and MLK Blvd. to the west. But I'm very sure something good can be worked out. When good engineers are given a problem - like enlarging the Howard Street freight tunnel clearance - they solve it !!!!!!!