September 24, 2015

Three Pilot Projects to Start Fixing Traffic/Transit

Better signal timing - new circulator bus lines - fixing traffic flow

Baltimore needs to learn to walk before it can run. Here's a simple step-by-step guide to getting started - one project each in north, south/west and east Baltimore, each located where it can most readily demonstrate the greatest improvements.

Instead of flailing from one overwrought, overhyped, chronically delayed transportation project to another, this city needs to start with the basics and then build from there. Each of these could be a step to fixing the entire city transportation network.

Step 1 - North Baltimore: Fix the traffic signal timing

The corridor from Mount Vernon to Charles Village is the best place for a pilot project to fix the timing of the traffic signal system because it is dominated by one-way streets, which are easier to time correctly than the two-way streets.

It's quite simple. Reduce the signal cycle time (combined red, green and yellow time) as much as possible, so that traffic does cannot see a long simultaneous swath of green lights proceeding from intersection to intersection that invite cars to try to race through as many as possible. This will also allow the time interval between when the lights change at adjacent intersections (called the offset) to be set to the optimum speed for the traffic. If two adjacent traffic signals turn green simultaneously, the signals are mathematically set for a speed of infinity, which is just what some motorists will attempt to do!

Cycle times of 60 seconds or less work in Philadelphia and Portland. They can work here too.

If two intersections are 370 feet apart, then to set the signal timing for 25 mph, the offset between when their signals turn to green and red should be set to 10 seconds - 37 feet per second or 25 miles per hour.

Minimizing cycle lengths also reduces delays, giving motorists less incentive to run the red lights and block intersections. It also reduces queueing. If a cycle is half as long, only half as many cars will stack up after the signal turns red.

Long signal times are often rationalized as being better for pedestrians. This is mostly wrong. Yes, flashing "Don't Walk" intervals should be a certain length in order to provide enough time to cross the street to avoid getting caught in the middle. But the law is that any pedestrian already caught in a crosswalk has the right-of-way regardless of the signal.

Moreover, it is the "Walk" signal time that varies depending on the cycle length, not the flashing "Don't Walk" time. Pedestrians don't need long "Walk" signal times. "Walk" is just the indication to get off the curb and start walking. Once you start walking, the "Walk" signal has done its job.

Much worse is a lengthy solid "Don't Walk" while the traffic and pedestrians on the conflicting street have the right of way. Lengthy solid "Don't Walk" signals are just an incentive for jaywalking.

In Philadelphia, they've actually been able to get rid of many pedestrian signals altogether because the traffic signal turning green/red is the only cue that pedestrians actually need. Yes, some streets in Philly are pretty narrow which makes pedestrian crossing easier. That can be duplicated by installing curb bump-outs, which would come after Step One.

Shorter signal cycles and slower traffic actually increase traffic capacity because they reduce intersection blockages and allow shorter safe distances between moving vehicles (fast traffic needs to spread out). Slow traffic is better for everyone, at least down to about 25 mph.

Instead of continually messing around with long-promised but never delivered two-way streets or complex "cycle tracks", Mount Vernon and Charles Village should first undergo a complete traffic signal system re-timing. That may change the entire outlook on traffic of motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and residents alike.

The #1 bus line is currently just another route segment among many between Mondawmin and Downtown.
It would be far more effective reinvented and optimized as a "Circulator".



Step 2 - South/West Baltimore: Split the #1 MTA bus line into circulators

The Maryland Transit Administration's #1 bus line starts at Sinai Hospital in northwest Baltimore, proceeds southward to the Mondawmin Metro transit hub, then meanders around West Baltimore into Downtown, then continues southward to Fort McHenry.

Nobody should actually want to take a trip like that. If you want to travel from Mondawmin to Downtown, you should take the Metro subway, which takes 7 minutes to Lexington Market. The #1 bus line takes about 25 minutes for the same trip (according to the schedule). Sure, there are some folks who have extra time and would prefer not to get off their bus and transfer to the Metro (or another bus). But vehicle operating time is critical to organizing a rational efficient transit system, and that's the whole purpose of the Mondawmin Metro hub. Time is money for the MTA.

Meanwhile, the city government decided to get into the transit business to run its own "circulators" because the MTA bus system just doesn't do a very good job of serving shorter trips.

The big basic problem is that the longer the route, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong. And longer routes ought to be optimized for higher speed, relative to shorter trips. For example, a 100% difference between a 5 versus a 10 minute trip is not that big a deal, but the same proportional difference between a 30 and 60 minute trip is a much bigger deal - both for the rider and for the MTA.

Shorter bus lines can thus not only be more reliable, but also closer to the people. This can be used to cultivate local community pride and identity. Meanwhile, longer routes can be made faster by avoiding every stop, zig, zag, nook and cranny within local communities.

The #1 bus line is the perfect prototype for the MTA to begin optimizing its system for shorter and longer routes. It inefficiently meanders around, but it connects to the Mondawmin Metro hub, the system's best connection point, and it terminates at the end of a peninsula at Fort McHenry, so any possible further extension is not an issue.

Meanwhile, the cash-strapped city has been forced to cut back its "Banner Line" Circulator which serves Fort McHenry, putting the line into what former MTA head planner Henry Kay characterized as a "death spiral" - less frequent service means less riders which then calls for even more cutbacks which means even less riders and on and on.

Here's the solution: Split the MTA #1 bus line into three separate routes: (1) Sinai Hospital to Mondawmin, (2) Mondawmin to Downtown, and (3) Downtown to Fort McHenry.

The Fort McHenry leg would replace the "Banner Line" Circulator. The west leg would become a new circulator serving such neighborhoods as Franklin Square, Harlem Park and Sandtown. The Sinai leg would be a shuttle to and from the Metro. Each would be optimized and "branded" to serve the specific needs and identity of each community.

Each would also create opportunities for creative funding and operating agreements. The "Banner Line" had a special subsidy from the federal government to serve the Fort McHenry National Monument. Hospitals commonly fund and run their own shuttles, so Sinai could be invited to do the same. Transit lines run by outside private-sector contractors are a common arrangement, both for the MTA (on so-called "commuter" routes) and the city's Charm City Circulator.

Splitting the #1 line can be the prototype for restructuring the entire transit system to optimize routes by trip lengths, eliminate redundancies and better assign responsibilities for transit run by the MTA and other institutions such as the city, hospitals and colleges.

Step 3 - East Baltimore: Decide between one and two-way streets

Political perception and historical happenstance have mostly decided whether streets in Baltimore are one or two-way, not rational competent traffic analysis. Most people still complains about traffic.

North Baltimore has mostly one-ways. That provides the best opportunity to rationalize traffic signal timing, which should proceed first before any decisions are made to change traffic flow, which is a much more arduous process.

East Baltimore has mostly two-ways, some of which work fairly well because of ample use of left-turn and parking restrictions (Orleans and Fayette Street) and because Pratt and Lombard end at Patterson Park (they were converted between Broadway and the park a few years ago).

South Baltimore is similar in that Charles and Light Streets end abruptly to the south, although Light Street becomes so narrow that two-way flow causes problems.

West Baltimore is a very odd mixture, even on couplets. Pratt is one-way eastbound while its couplet Lombard is two-way. Fayette is one-way westbound while it couplet Baltimore Street is two-way. Washington Blvd. becomes one-way between MLK Boulevard and Russell Street.

The big focus should be on the east-west streets through Fells Point, which have the biggest traffic problems. but not until people are confident about the capabilities of traffic signal timing to meet their needs.

That is why the Step One pilot project (above) should be conducted first to optimize the traffic signal timing in the north corridor through Mount Vernon and Charles Village, before anything major is done in the southeast.

There are actually numerous real opportunities for improvement in Fells Point, despite feelings of helplessness and despite the city's lack of action on traffic as they have approved a huge amount of new traffic generating development.

The easiest measures to implement are left-turn prohibitions and short length parking restrictions at specific problem locations, to create "daylight" at intersections to accommodate various maneuvers related to turns.

This is what the city recently did in restricting parking along a short length of Aliceanna Street just west of Boston Street to accommodate a minor left-turn movement into a small parking lot. Whether it was worth the trouble is debatable, but it simply indicates it can be done.

Unfortunately after that, the city created mass confusion and disgust by secretly planning to remove the rest of the peak period parking along all of Aliceanna Street through Fells Point with no substantial justification. Councilman Kraft then said it was OK to keep it a secret because the city wasn't going to change its mind anyway, but after the secret came out, the city did just that.

Aliceanna Street traffic has been tamed through Harbor East (the highest density area in southeast Baltimore) by a traffic circle at its intersection with President Street. That encourages traffic to divert to Central Avenue and Fleet Street.

Much flexibility in resolving the question of one-way versus two-way flow is afforded by the fact that there are three successive east-west through streets - Aliceanna, Fleet and Eastern Avenue. Potentially, two of them could be converted to a one-way couplet and the third "downgraded" to a more localized orientation.

As per the precedent in Harbor East, it would seem that Aliceanna Street would be the best candidate for traffic de-emphasis. Moreover, Aliceanna ends at Boston Street, while Eastern and Fleet continue eastward.

Thus an Eastern-Fleet one-way pair could transition eastward (perhaps at Boston/Chester Street) into the current two-way pair, with unbalanced flow as has worked well on Pratt and Lombard near Patterson Park. A first small step toward this has already been done at the intersection of Eastern Avenue and Haven Street in Highlandtown, where the city installed left and right turn lanes to promote some diversion onto surrounding streets which has successfully reduced congestion.

Conclusion

Better signal timing is the most important factor and should be first. Many people have rightly resisted traffic changes because they don't have faith that the city can pull them off. But other high density cities have signal timing and one-way streets which work well, so Baltimore can too.

So a series of limited manageable pilot projects is the best course. First, optimize signal timing in north Baltimore. Work with the MTA to optimize the bus route structure in west and south Baltimore. Then fix the traffic flow in east Baltimore.

September 14, 2015

Six-Mile Greenway Loop would rebuild West Baltimore

Unify the communities by unifying their geography - 

Southeast Baltimore has the waterfront... West Baltimore needs a comparable large, defining public space - a place that tells you where you are and makes you glad you're there. A place that confirms that West Baltimore is special and purposeful and tied together.

It just so happens that a six-mile greenway loop is available to fill the bill - an ideal shape for such a space - for pedestrians, bikes, joggers, transit and a magnet for new development.
Martin Luther King Blvd. frontage has the right idea here: A greenway oriented to housing.
It just needs to be expanded into a real linear park.
But unfortunately, the latest Southwest Plan looks inward where it should look outward. It turns its back to the very spaces that should define it. The area of West Baltimore to the north, including Harlem Park and Sandtown, is just beginning an agonizing reappraisal in light of the recent unrest. It urgently needs a strong linkage toward the city beyond.

This six-mile loop would serve both the northwest and southwest. It would have it all in spectacular contrast - academia, funk, history, organized nature, wild nature, golf, Baltimore's two largest office buildings, other commercial sites and a postmodern urban world apart.

West Baltimore already has the raw material: Huge historic Carroll Park, attached to a golf course, both of which are now isolated from all the nearby neighborhoods to the north. It has a major downtown college campus - the University of Maryland - which is far less of a campus than it could be. It has the very natural and very historic Gwynns Falls Greenway, which again is very isolated.

West Baltimore also has two great rail transit corridors - one of which happens to be the oldest rail corridor in America at nearly 200 years old (The B&O Railroad). The other is so new that it hasn't even been developed yet, despite 50 years of trying (the "Highway to Nowhere").

Nearest to the northwest is Heritage Crossing, the beautiful neo-Olmstedian neighborhood built in the 1990s as a catalyst to rebuild its surroundings, at which it has failed, including the fine but crumbing Victorian architecture of Lafayette Square.

The problem here is that we have allowed borders to divide instead of unite us. But borders are actually the best place to put a defining space, because they can take advantage of unique geography while minimizing conflicts, while bringing both sides together. Making these spaces the focal point for development is essential. Borders cannot succeed in a vacuum.

Most of this six-mile loop is already in the city's bike plan and various park plans. It simply has not been thought out together in the context of the whole city.

Let's make this work, folks! West Baltimore has too much going for it to fail.


The West Baltimore Six-Mile Loop

Here's the greenway loop, in six color-keyed segments, starting to the east (right) at the downtown end and going clockwise:

Six-mile West Baltimore Greenway Loop with six color-keyed segments

1 - Martin Luther King Boulevard - Purple - This major downtown bypass built in the early 1980s was originally supposed to be an expressway, and so had many odd leftover land parcels that are already lush and attractive (see top photo) but never really related to much. The boulevard can easily be shrunk by narrowing the median and eliminating some right-turn lane space without adversely affecting traffic flow.

This leftover space can be consolidated on the west side to create a great linear park oriented to adjacent development parcels. This can also serve as a great campus space for the University of Maryland, which has been striving to link its downtown campus westward across MLK Boulevard to its biotech park.

Read more about this in a 2014 article in the BaltimoreBrew.

2 - Pigtown Gateway - Orange - Between Pratt Street and Washington Boulevard, the loop would turn westward into the community to the B&O Railroad Museum. Besides those two streets, which carry more traffic, Ramsay and McHenry Streets in between would also be candidates for the loop, as would any two, three or all four.

Pigtown's recent plan identifies this area as a business district gateway to lure new customers from downtown and MLK Boulevard through traffic. This portion of the loop has the particular advantage of being the most affluent, including Barre Circle and Camden Crossing, which establishes the desired more upscale image to set the tone for business.

This type of association has often been the key to upgrading city neighborhood business districts, notably in Hampden, Federal Hill, Canton, Lauraville, Charles Village and Mount Vernon, while retaining their "funky" characters.

Large planters have been put in the middle of Ramsay Street to prevent through traffic, which is ideal for bikes and pedestrians.

3 - B&O Railroad "First Mile" - Royal Blue - The B&O Railroad Museum, terminus of the first mile of American railroading, is a truly world-class institution and historic treasure. Unfortunately, the track area has been allowed to become a dangerous urban "no man's land", officially off-limits but still an extremely important space at the north edge of lovely large Carroll Park overseen by the city's oldest and most significant mansion.

These tracks have had several lifetimes, from the original narrow-gauge "Tom Thumb" to the city's first major passenger terminal to a major railroad maintenance yard and then a short tourist ride. Now this corridor must be redefined once again to serve the communities. Urban parks such as Carroll Park need urban edges to draw people in and create a viable constituency. (This plan was first presented in this February 2014 BaltimoreBrew story.)

Carroll Park North Edge - "First Mile" schematic concept by Marc Szarkowski
Here is the concept (illustrated above and below). Just north of Carroll Park (starting from the left), a parkfront address would be established for new urban development along a public street, which could be named "First Mile Avenue". Next to that would be the railroad tracks, suitable for museum trains and/or streetcars (possibly serving a new streetcar museum) and echoing the corridor's historic roots. The streetcar line could even be branched-off a downsized Red Line.

Next to that would be the bike/pedestrian greenway trail. Finally on the south edge of the corridor would be steps down to enter the north edge of Carroll Park.

View of the iconic B&O Museum roundhouse would provide a memorable focal point
 
for the east end of the "First Mile" corridor. (by Marc Szarkowski)

The west end of this corridor is anchored by the city's largest office building, Montgomery Park, as well as the Carroll Park Golf Course. The golf course is blocked by active CSX railroad tracks, which in 1907 the Olmsted Brothers recommended be linked with a short tunnel (before the golf course was built).

Proposed Carroll Park Clubhouse could link the golf course to the rest of the park and anchor the greenway,
with an entryway under the active CSX railroad track. (Marc Szarkowski)

Such an Olmsted railroad underpass could be incorporated into a new golf clubhouse on the isolated park fragment north of Montgomery Park along Monroe Street, creating a memorable complimentary anchor to the B&O Roundhouse at the other end of the "First Mile" (illustrated above).

The golf course could be reoriented to this site and, for the first time, actually feel like a true urban golf course and an integral part of Carroll Park instead of just being a separate place off of the Interstate 95/Washington Boulevard 95 interchange. Imagine downtown workers catching a streetcar to play nine holes after a short day at the office.

Between the north edge of the golf course and the CSX tracks, the greenway would traverse one of the most beautiful, bucolic and obscure areas in all of Baltimore. Except for the litter, it's hard to believe the area in the photo below is practically right next to the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood.

Area between Carroll Park Golf Course and Southwest communities with a mostly unused dead-end trail branch 

4- Gwynns Falls Trail - Green - Westward from the golf course, the loop would join the existing trail near its most memorable point where it goes under the Carrollton Viaduct, America's oldest railroad bridge (photo below). This beautiful trail continues up to Baltimore Street, at which point the existing path continues northwestward to Leakin Park, historic Dickeyville and into Baltimore County, while the new West Baltimore loop would veer off back to the northeast.

Carrollton Viaduct - America's oldest railroad  bridge - from the trail

5 - Amtrak Trail - Red - The greenway would then proceed from Baltimore Street near the Gwynns Falls along the Amtrak right of way and adjacent miscellaneous industrial parcels. Amtrak, the state and Federal Railroad Administrations are currently studying a billion-plus dollar upgrade to the Amtrak line. The study is focused primarily on replacing the tunnel toward Penn Station, but it could have a major impact on this area was well. The MARC station at Franklin/Mulberry is also in great need of replacement, and sites in this area could be selected because they are on straight track, which is a requirement for stations. This trail, which is included in the city's bike plan, could be built as an early phase in what could eventually be a huge project.

6 - Franklin/Mulberry "Highway to Nowhere" - Light Blue - The final segment of this clockwise loop six-mile tour is the only one not currently included in the city's bike plan, but its significance would far transcend that of just bikes. (Instead the city has proposed a small four-block bike/jogging loop along the top rim of the highway's walls and bridges east of Fulton Avenue, a project of very limited use.)

The largest issue is whether the "Highway to Nowhere" should be eliminated to enhance redevelopment, of which the greenway loop would be an integral part. Recently, the highway has been closed numerous times in one or both directions for various reasons, even simultaneously with the closure of the Frederick Avenue bridge, with no significant ill-effects. The city was also willing to reduce the peak through capacity of US 40 by 50-percent (3 to 2 lanes) to squeeze in the Red Line, which was acknowledged to cause far greater congestion and traffic diversion impacts.

Eliminating the "Highway to Nowhere" to create a new redevelopment corridor would have a far better impact than even building the $3 billion-plus Red Line (although they don't preclude each other at all). This would be a unique new urban geographic feature, free of traffic conflicts, with tremendous possibilities comparable (but not at all similar) to the potential which was unleashed when the portion of the proposed expressway system was cancelled along the southeast waterfront in the 1980s.

Proposed Harlem Park Red Line Station with elimination of the "Highway to Nowhere".
(MTA rendering modified by Marc Szarkowski)

The greenway loop would be the element which most orients the new development corridor to the energy of the rest of the city, especially downtown. In the rendering above, the greenway is the frontage along the lower level of the buildings along Mulberry Street (to the left), off limits to auto traffic. The buildings along the roadway to the right would accommodate larger-scale uses for which auto access is desirable along both the lower level (street shown) and upper level (Franklin Street).

This rendering was adapted from the MTA's depiction of the Harlem Park Red Line Station isolated in the highway median strip. Considering the Baltimore region's abysmal track record on "transit oriented development", this is a far more effective plan than the MTA and city's concept which retains the depressive highway. (See blog post.)


Full-Circle to Downtown

That brings us full-circle along the greenway loop to the interchange of the "Highway to Nowhere" and Martin Luther King Boulevard. This is where the Social Security Administration recently abandoned the city's second largest office building. (Yes, along with Montgomery Park, this greenway would serve both of the city's largest office buildings at its opposite ends.)

It is crucial to the future of the entire city that this massive office complex be redeveloped, and yet the current highway configuration (going directly underneath) makes this extremely difficult. Getting rid of the interstate highway remnant is the best course for creating a viable redevelopment site, and adding the greenway loop would make it even better.

Furthermore, this site is the best opportunity for all of west and southwest Baltimore to feed off the energy of downtown. While until now, MLK Boulevard and the "Highway to Nowhere" have divided these areas from downtown and each other, here is the opportunity to tear down the barriers and create real unity.


Special credit to Marc Szarkowski for the great graphics, and the intelligence behind them!

September 7, 2015

Red Line Obituary 1999-2015: So What Happens Next?


The decision of where a west transit line would be built, if anywhere, was made nearly a half century ago in 1967, when a 1.5 mile swath of West Baltimore was condemned and quickly destroyed for what is now the "Highway to Nowhere", with the median reserved for transit. A rail system plan was completed one year later in 1968, following the "hub and spoke" model used for virtually all modern rail transit systems.

The previous post chronicled the history up to 1999, at which time the present regional rail system was already in place (except for some light rail double tracking).

Now comes the history of the birth, life and death of the Red Line, from 1999 to the present...

In 1999, a new 20-year statewide transit plan was completed with a clear and do-able future financial framework for the west line.

But then only one year later in 2000, that plan was cast aside for a financially unsupported multi-billion dollar pipe-dream that is the current Baltimore Region Rail Plan, which was the birth of the now-defunct Red Line and many miles of even more unattainable and infeasible rail transit.

Now in 2015, we need to look back at 1999 in order to salvage the dead-end planning which has taken place since then that has led to the current stalemate.


1999 Transit Plan

The 1999 plan's recommendation was that overall transit funding should be increased by 40% (it has actually increased far more than that), but funding specifically for "capital expansion" should be decreased by 30% from previous levels, in order to emphasize improving the operation of the existing facilities and services. The study concluded that doing this would nearly double transit ridership by 2020 (only four years and four months to go!)

Three alternative capital projects were defined for the Baltimore area: (1) A west line from Downtown to Security/Woodlawn, (2) A downtown light rail loop which would extend the existing Howard Street-to-Penn Station line around the east side of downtown via the Jones Falls corridor, then back again via Pratt Street, and (3) A Metro extension from Hopkins Hospital toward White Marsh.

Soon thereafter, the MTA and the City concluded that the light rail loop should be built first, since this would best fulfill the downtown distribution and circulation functions for all the rail lines and the system as a whole.

But almost as quickly, they realized such a surface loop would be too slow and circuitous to serve these functions. The Citizens Planning and Housing Association then organized a campaign called "Northeast Now" to make the Metro extension beyond Hopkins the top priority.

But instead, only a year later, the powers-that-be decided to scuttle this three project wish-list with its de-emphasis on capital projects, and go back to the drawing board to create an entirely new comprehensive regional rail system plan. The resultant multi-billion dollar capital plan was a major departure from the 1999 plan.

2002 Plan and the Birth of the Red Line

Thus in 2000-2002, the Red Line was born. After over three decades, it was the first working rail plan to abandon the unified downtown hub concept. Instead it called for the west rail line to continue eastward through downtown in its own right-of-way, rather than being built as a west-only project.

This 2002 plan ambitiously called for the Red Line to be built from its west end eastward through downtown to Fells Point, while simultaneously building two other high priority rail projects: a Metro (Green Line) extension from Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University, and a "Mini-MARC" (Purple Line) with five new stations providing local service eastward from Broadway (just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital) to Middle River (the existing Martin Airport MARC Station). The initial cost estimate for all three projects combined was $2.5 Billion.

But the latter two projects (other than the Red Line) were later apparently found to be infeasible. The Mini-MARC line was quietly abandoned, perhaps because Amtrak owns the tracks and surely would not want to see their New York-to-Washington service further bogged down by five new station stops in this highly bottlenecked corridor.

The Metro extension to Morgan began the same full-blown federal funding planning process as the Red Line, but its early cost effectiveness scores were so terrible that the study was abruptly cancelled.

With those "high priority" projects cancelled, the rest of the 2002 plan essentially was dead as well. Red Line supporters had to change their mantra from the being part of a complete system to being the single critical project that would save the Baltimore rail transit system.

Thus the Red Line became "all or nothing".


The Red Line Goes It Alone (2003-2015)

The next realization was that Fells Point was not an appropriate east terminal point for the Red Line. This opened a new debate because the original ultimate plan had two termini, one branching southward to the Canton waterfront and the other swinging northward to Bayview, then further southward to Dundalk/Turner's Station.

The initial idea to resolve this was to combine both alignments into a surface loop that would take the south route from Fells Point via Boston Street through Canton, then northward on Conkling Street to Highlandtown, then back to Fells Point. This was rejected.

The final resolution was a big zig-zag. The line would follow the south alignment via Boston Street, then swoop all the way north to Bayview and then south again to Dundalk/Turner's Station. But then, the Bayview to Dundalk leg was left off the "priority project" (probably forever, since it would be so slow and circuitous).

In this early stage leading to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, there was surprisingly little controversy. Most people were united in wanting maximum tunneling to minimize impacts and traffic conflicts. But gradually, the Canton (east side) and Edmondson Village (west side) communities realized the cost pressures meant they wouldn't get their respective tunnels under Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue.

And the MTA didn't want to play favorites. Even the west-side Cooks Lane tunnel was kept to a single reversible track in the initial "Locally Preferred Alternative" to keep the total project cost well under $2 Billion, which was considered a major price-point threshold.

The LPA plan also included a total revision of the ridership data that had previously been used to compare and reject all the other alternatives. Projected daily ridership was thus suddenly increased from 40,000 to 60,000, making the LPA plan look very much more cost-effective than before. (Since then, various adjustments have been made to bring the number back down to 47,000.)

Transit advocates were uniformly critical of a single track Cooks Lane tunnel, citing the reliability and delay problems suffered by the existing light rail line when it was originally built with large single track segments. Add to that the safety threat of running a reversible track in a tunnel with a sharp blind curve.

The MTA never retracted their contention that a single track tunnel would be just as safe and viable as a two track tunnel, but they abandoned their one-track design anyway while allowing the cost estimate to go over $2 Billion.

However, the MTA stood firm on no tunnels through Canton and Edmondson Village. East-side Cantonites continued to protest, but west-siders largely became resigned to a surface Red Line squeezed onto Edmondson Avenue.

Next, the MTA discovered they needed to extend the downtown tunnel under Fremont Avenue because of engineering problems, to which the community filed a lawsuit.

Then leading developer John Paterakis forced the MTA to move the Harbor East Station away from Central Avenue, the major north-south spine into the huge Harbor Point complex. This required the redesign of the entire tunnel under the Inner Harbor.


You Only Die Once?

As a result of all this and ensuing delays, the Red Line's cost estimate climbed to mere dollars away from $3 Billion, another major psychological price-point. This price tag was certain to rise even more because of further delays (even before Hogan was elected Governor), and the fact that the various project responsibilities and cash flows had never been fully itemized. For example, the hoped-for $900 Million federal funding was programmed in only $100 Million annual increments, which doesn't add up for a six-year project with very heavily front-loaded costs for expensive tunneling.

In addition, the 10% local share pledged mostly from the city government included many costs that were not in the totals. Most uncertain of all, the public-private partnership would have been extremely complex and was fraught with mystery.

All this made it impossible for the MTA to prepare the most important document to make the Red Line a real project - the Full Funding Grant Agreement.

Pete Rahn no doubt learned far more than all this during the brief time he had been Governor Hogan's Transportation Secretary in early 2015. Originally, he said he intended to make a decision on the DC suburban Purple Line prior to studying the Red Line.

But the Red Line apparently looked so bad to him that he didn't see the point in waiting to kill it, and the process which he used to save the Purple Line would clearly not work for the Red Line. The city's cost share was already "smoke and mirrors" and Baltimore County had already balked at contributing real money. The only major cost that could clearly be cut was the two block long pedestrian tunnel to the Metro. The Purple Line's private sector partner would clearly have top responsibility for design, construction and operation, unlike the convoluted web slowly being woven for the Red Line.

When Mr. Rahn cited the Red Line's 3.4 mile downtown tunnel as its "fatal flaw", it made the point that cost problems alone were sufficient to kill the project in the absence of a Plan B, since this tunnel alone comprised approximately half of the total construction cost.


Red Line Autopsy

In 1999, Governor Glendening presided over an incremental plan that created a sound financial basis for transit growth, but then almost immediately the hype-meisters pushed that strategy aside in favor of the indulgent 2002 comprehensive regional rail plan. Since then, the Red Line has been dieing a slow death.

Governor Ehrlich's administration saw problems, but tried to fix them by simply promoting bus rapid transit instead of rail, not by addressing the structure of the system. Then the O'Malley administration doubled and tripled-down on the Red Line, even while overseeing eight more years of chronic delays.

The downtown tunnel was the immediate cause of death, but the 2002 plan was the underlying cause. The Red Line's fatally flawed tunnel existed due to the 2002 decision to build an east-west line separated from the rest of the rail system. The other rail lines in the 2002 plan proved not to be feasible, leaving the Red Line with no Plan B.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was particularly confounded by this. She had steadfastly bought into the "once in a generation... all-or-nothing" hype, but then when the Hogan administration killed the project, she vowed that her staff would formulate and negotiate alternatives. This led to a "working session" with the state in August, at which time she and the other Red Line supporters reneged on her offer of alternatives and instead merely volleyed the challenge back into the state's court.

The years of preaching "No Plan B" thus backfired,


The Red Line is Dead - Long Live the Red Line

The Red Line's problems are clearly fixable: As MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn said, the downtown tunnel was the Red Line's fatal flaw. So just get rid of the fatal flaw.

The work of the past 15 years can be salvaged by building a west-only Red Line as it was planned from the 1960s onward to 1999, with additional linkages to the rest of the system that comprise Plans B, C, D and onward until Baltimore has a rail transit system that actually works.