November 16, 2015

Rail "Value Menu": 25 projects for "Maximize 2040"

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council calls its latest long-term regional transportation plan, "Maximize 2040". That sounds like the old McDonald's ad: "Super Size Me !!"

But federal regulations require that the plan use real-world budgetable costs, so it must have a modicum of self-restraint.

So instead the proposed 25 year plan includes no new regional rail transit whatsoever. "Maximize 2040" has been minimized. That's pathetic.
New rail transit graphic - September 2017 - showing heavy rail Metro extensions (green) eastward from Hopkins Hospital to Sparrow's Point and White Marsh, and light rail branches (red) westward Woodlawn/CMS and southward to Port Covington/Brooklyn. I thought I'd try my hand with Lucidchart software, which isn't really the best thing to use.

The now-deceased MTA Red Line was like a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, forced to be available only in a combo meal bundled with the super-sized fries and giant empty-calories soft drink: $3 Billion for the Red Line, take it or leave it, with no options. No wonder it was ultimately indigestible.

So now at the other extreme, the proposed "Maximize 2040" plan deletes all new regional rail projects for the next 25 years - just MARC commuter rail improvements so Baltimore can engage vicariously with Washington DC's far more successful rail transit system.

For the last decade, the MTA has been saying that it was the Red Line or nothing, so now with "Maximize 2040" they've given us nothing. We've gone from Red Line gluttony to regional rail starvation. Binge and purge.

"Value Menu" to the rescue...

But over on the fast-food side wall is the Value Menu. Here are 25 rail projects priced "as low as" (to use typical ad parlance) around $100 Million each, if we go easy on the bigger ticket items. We could probably get away with calling this the "Dollar Menu and More", as McDonald's now does to finesse the fact that one dollar really doesn't buy much anymore. At least its still cheap compared to those overpriced Quarter Pounders and that malnutritious Red Line meal the MTA originally tried to cram down our throats.

As MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn said, the Red Line's fatal flaw was its downtown tunnel. The tunnel was not only staggeringly expensive, but it required the entire Red Line to be built at once to justify that expense, and yet it prevented any semblance of a growable system from ever being built to augment it. So it was both too much and not enough.

In contrast, this "Value Menu" consists of three basic affordable rail transit projects which form the foundation upon which an expandable system can be built, one step at a time - a starter Red Line for the west side and a minimal but effective Metro extension for the east side, at perhaps half a billion dollars apiece, and an East MARC station at the optimal location for somewhat less than $100 million. This is just enough to connect these rail lines to comprehensive transit hubs with east and west side MARC stations, which is just what Baltimore needs to call its rail transit a true system.

Then there are 22 additional projects which can affordably build upon this foundation. All of this is described in greater detail in articles throughout this blog. Listing over two dozen projects is a way to take "Maximize 2040" literally at its word.
A possible system scenario, with the west Red Line and east Metro projects listed below,
 integrated with some streetcar lines (2015 graphic by Marty Taylor and Art Cohen)

So here we present...




The following three projects are the foundation of a full rail system for Baltimore, basically following the model of the 2002 plan before the Red Line crowded the other projects out. A starter west-only segment of the Red Line can be built quickly because it leaves out the downtown tunnel and much of the engineering has already been done. The east Metro extension is the shortest, least expensive extension that allows a proper terminus hub that allows the entire Metro to function properly, replacing the defunct north extension to Morgan State. And the East MARC station is already included in the "Maximize 2040" plan, but should be moved to a location where it can serve all of east Baltimore.

1 - Red Line: Lexington Market Metro Station to West MARC Station
This does what the Red Line absolutely needs to do - connect to the far superior backbone Metro and the West Baltimore MARC Station/Transit Hub, located near the proposed rail yard, with transit oriented development opportunities throughout, and no more. Most of the engineering has already been done.

2 - Metro Extension: Hopkins Hospital to East MARC Station
The current Hopkins Hospital Station is a terrible place for a Metro terminus, and the proposed north extension under Broadway is dead. The best and easiest way to extend the line is to bring it to the surface in the Amtrak corridor, to a great terminal station location at nearby Edison Highway. This segment of slightly over a mile is the most important rail project in the entire transit system, but since the west Red Line has already been planned and designed, it should probably come first.

3 - East MARC Commuter Rail Station at Edison Highway/Monument Street
This station is included in the draft regional plan, but there's no reason anymore to put it in a landlocked site the middle of the Norfolk-Southern Bayview freight yard, especially since the plan has also eliminated the additional proposed MARC station at Broadway to serve Hopkins Hospital (which Amtrak as landlord would have never allowed anyway). The far superior place to put the station is on a far larger and non-isolated site half way in between, where it can be part of a comprehensive Metro/and bus hub. It would even make a great Amtrak station.


These are the west extensions of the Red Line which have already been designed, but would now make economic and functional sense to build as separate projects, if necessary, because the core segment from Lexington Market to the West MARC Station makes sense.

4 - Red Line: West MARC to Hilton Hub
A very short Red Line extension beyond the MARC station can bring it to one of the best development sites in all of West Baltimore, the obsolete Hilton/Edmondson interchange. A development there could be a Red Line terminal, parking, a community gateway to Leakin and Gwynns Falls Parks and additional multi-use space.

5 - Red Line: Hilton Hub to Edmondson Village
Edmondson Village is also an excellent place for converting the shopping center and the stalled Uplands community project into transit oriented development.

6 - Red Line: Edmondson Village to Woodlawn/CMS
This would provide the final segment of the west Red Line. Because of the Cooks Lane tunnel, it would be more expensive, but since it has no underground stations, it would not be prohibitive.


Both sides of the streetcar debate are right. The anti-streetcar faction is correct that buses can do virtually everything streetcars can do at a lower cost. The pro-streetcar faction is right to say that they can stimulate development in a way that buses don't. Like BMWs and Kias, streetcars and buses can both get you from point A to B. But design matters.

The issue can be resolved by planning streetcar lines as branches of the light rail lines, rather than stand-alone lines, linking them to the transportation advantages of light rail, while capturing the conspicuous urban design advantages all rail has over buses.

Montgomery Park streetcar line looking east from new North Carroll Park development toward B&O Railroad Museum
7 - Streetcar Line: MLK Blvd. to Montgomery Park
Streetcars would branch off from the Red Line at Martin Luther King Boulevard and proceed southwest along the historic "First Mile" B&O Railroad corridor to Carroll and Montgomery Park.

8 - Streetcar Line: MLK Blvd. to Inner Harbor Pier 6
Also from MLK Boulevard, a streetcar line could replicate the Red Line's downtown surface alternative, from its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, southeastward to the Inner Harbor and Pier 6, adjacent to Harbor East.

9 - Streetcar Loop: Camden Yards > Charles Street > Penn Station
Streetcars could also be integrated with the downtown portion of the existing central light rail line, in a loop northbound on Charles Street to Penn Station, then southbound on Howard Street along the existing track (with a potential additional stop at Antique Row), then completing the loop between Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor, and perhaps to Port Covington (see below).

10 - Streetcar Line: Westport to Port Covington ("Plank Line")
This would start at a new North Westport Station along the existing light rail line, just south of the casino, then proceed over the Middle Branch to Wal-Mart and Under Armour. It could also connect to the Charles Street streetcar loop described directly above for access to South Baltimore and the Inner Harbor, but should probably be built to full multi-vehicle light rail standards rather than just for streetcars.


Unlike the Red Line, the Metro has sufficient capacity and speed to actually make it worth significantly expanding, both to the northeast and southeast (and perhaps eventually northwest to Westminster).

11 - Metro Extension: East MARC to Bayview
This is the core extension, east to Bayview along the Amtrak tracks and Interstate 895 right-of-way, where it could be used to bridge the development gap between the Hopkins Bayview Biotech Park and the Greektown community.

12 - Metro Extension: Bayview to Baltimore Travel Plaza
This would run southward along Interstate 895 for a short distance to a transit hub and park-and-ride lot at the Baltimore Travel Plaza, which was originally so-named because it included these facilities and a Greyhound Bus terminal. It is still by far the best location for them in Southeast Baltimore.

13 - Metro Extension: Travel Plaza to Dundalk
This segment would travel southeast along a railroad right of way through the Holabird industrial area, including the new Amazon facility, to the Baltimore County Community College near Merritt Boulevard.

14 - Metro Extension: Dundalk to Sparrows Point
From Merritt Boulevard, its just a short distance to the massive new development site at Sparrows Point.

15 - Metro Extension: East MARC to Middle River
This would run eastward along the Amtrak tracks from north of Bayview, with intermediate stations at Eastpoint, Rosedale, Rossville and Essex.

16 - Metro Extension: Middle River to White Marsh
This would run northward along White Marsh Boulevard from the Martin Airport MARC Station to the White Marsh town center.
Overlay of Sept 2017 diagram of heavy rail (green) and light rail (red) showing a streetcar system (in blue) to serve shorter trips. This scenario shows the streetcars sharing the light rail tracks into the Lexington Market Hub,
 then curling around to a Mount Clare Branch to Montgomery Park, an Inner Harbor/Perkins Line (I call the proposed Perkins development "Perkins Point" north of Fells Point), then northward on Broadway to North Avenue.


Once the "starter" streetcar system is started, as described above, it could take on a mind of its own. Keep in mind that streetcars are not just a way to get from Point A to B, but a way of presenting the city. Here are some examples of streetcar lines that could make sense in helping to accomplish this. Use your imagination with all this, in conjunction with larger development plans and goals.

17 - Streetcar Line: Pier 6 to Harbor Point
Do the developer and the city really know what they're doing as far as providing access to this mega-project isolated on a peninsula? They rejected a Red Line station that would best serve Harbor Point at Central Avenue. Would a streetcar line that went straight into Harbor Point and terminated at Thames Street on the west end of Fells Point fulfill the access requirements?

18 - Streetcar Line: Pier 6 to Hopkins Broadway to North Avenue
If extending the Metro northward under Broadway is far too expensive for what it would accomplish, perhaps a streetcar line would make more sense. The first phase could be to connect it to the "Great Blacks in Wax" Museum at Broadway and North Avenue.

19 - Streetcar Line: North Avenue to Morgan State
This could be the second phase of the above, running through Clifton Park (along Rose Street) as a centerpiece in its revitalization.

20 - Streetcar Line: North Avenue to Coppin State/Mondawmin
Every few years, there was an effort to "brand" North Avenue as a tool in its revitalization. Can we really get warm cuddly thoughts about old decrepit North Avenue? If its possible, streetcars might be the way to do it. It could be cool to run a streetcar line right through the Coppin campus and create a streetcar "Main Street" in the Mondwamin Mall parking lot. How Philadelphia fares with streetcars on Girard Avenue (its North Avenue) is worth watching.

21 - Streetcar Line: Coppin State to West MARC
This line would complete the streetcar loop between the Red Line and North Avenue, via portions of Fulton Avenue and Pulaski Street.

22 - Streetcar Line: West MARC to Montgomery Park
Similarly to the above, this line would complete a loop from the Red Line to the southwest. Bon Secours Hospital would be a primary intermediate stop.

23 - Streetcar Line: Montgomery Park to Westport
Further extending this loop to the south along Monroe Street would tie it into the "Plank Line" to Port Covington (see #10 above).

24 - Streetcar Line: Penn Station to Charles Village
This is the proposed Charles Street project that got Jimmy Rouse's the Baltimore Streetcar Campaign going a few years ago. It probably makes more sense as icing on the cake than as a core system project.

25 - Streetcar Line: Mondawmin to Pimlico Racetrack
Park Heights Avenue is physically perhaps the best street in Baltimore for streetcars - nice and wide, not too much traffic, with attractive old rowhouses that desperately need tender loving care, along with a great old city landmark at the end that urgently needs to be brought into the mainstream. Pimlico Racetrack needs to be an all-year attraction - perhaps as the state fairgrounds and an exhibition center, with the Preakness and horse racing as a still-effective theme. Moreover, the Baltimore Zoo at the south end of this corridor has the same needs, to which streetcars may be just the way to fill the bill.

And here's a slide show I produced back in 2015 for the Right Rail Coalition to show various scenes where streetcar lines could fit in:


  1. North Avenue could gain transit improvements in multiple phases.
    Phase ONE
    Start as Circulator type bus service , but in dedicated traffic lanes for bus only (like Pratt street halfheartedly had) for most of it's run. That would be a matter of pavement Markings, and actual enforcement by the MTA and BCPD (which never really happened with the Pratt Street lanes). The lanes would also be used by regular MTA service. The existing bus stops would be used. Traffic Signal pre-empting could be programmed in, using the experience on doing so with the Howard Street Signals .(MTA has had 20 years to learn).

    Phase Two
    Once the service proves itself , then start reconfiguration of the road by removing the medians and replacement with transit only lanes . By transit only, I mean ripping it up to the sub pavement, and lay down rails in Concrete. I've seen the pictures of what it looked like in the BTCo days, There Is room at least between Penn North and Greenmount for dedicated lanes. These would use center lane platforms , which are raised enough so there is a curb (and pylons) to protect pedestrians.
    At this time, buses would be running with regularity, separated from traffic, using the "BRT" lanes.

    Plans for streetcar replacement would be completed.The decision should be made if it'll be modern light rail, or semi Historic, using cars from the BSM collection, along with newer ADA compliant reproductions from Brookville which look like PCC, but internally are from this century.
    Needed electrical work would be done at the same time, depending on the requirements for the cars. Obviously, learn from DC DOT , and don't promise service when you aren't ready. Depending on the option,plans would be made for a branch to either the light rail shop to maintain them, or the BSM itself. You know, What DC DOT failed to plan for with the H street line. Also, plan around future Amtrak construction in the form of the new Penn Line Rail Tunnels. Which DC didn't do around Union Station. In fact, Anything DC DOT did, do the inverse.

    Phase Three
    After acquiring the streetcars, and having the EIS and other cash hand outs to subcontractors out of the way, the streetcars would get phased in, with the connecting buses running regularly. The same lanes would be mixed streetcar and bus (many many cities do it, with out a problem). If it were to run up to Northwood Shopping/transit center, plans would have to been made to run it up the median of Hillen, and how to get through the gridlock of Harford road between North avenue and Lake Clifton. It'd not be as pretty as Rose, but much higher traffic, and I don't see any transit built over a gold course.

    Phase Four, I'm not sure. Hopkins isn't going to allow Broadway to be rebuilt through it's campus. Dedicated lanes in the 33rd street median would cause anger due to removal of the trees, even if it could improve the flow of traffic. A lot of the routes you've mentioned wouldn't get funded due to them being in areas which are now associated with the Uprising.

    1. Thank you, S. Farrell - great job of discussing a whole lot of issues for which there are a whole lot of options.

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