March 21, 2016

Bayview Yard: A squandered plan for a MARC station

It's hard to believe this plan for a new East Baltimore MARC commuter rail station is what Johns Hopkins would actually want.

Railroad and transit stations are supposed to be at the central focal point of urban activities. But the proposed Bayview commuter rail station is hidden deep inside Norfolk Southern's freight rail yard, too far away from anything to benefit anyone.

It's all part of Baltimore's perverse pattern of doing everything possible to avoid transit-oriented development. Instead of creating sites for adjacent support development surrounded by access from communities throughout the east and northeast sections of the city, the station would be totally surrounded by freight trains that bang around to load and unload giant containers.

East Baltimore's proposed MARC commuter rail station would be located inside this Norfolk Southern freight yard
 accessible only by an overhead walkway and no regional rail line.
The Hopkins Bayview Research Park is about a half-mile south of here.

Johns Hopkins draws visitors, clients, customers and employees from a huge area from throughout Maryland's most populous corridor and Washington, DC. Hopkins has been doing everything in their considerable power to transform their world-class medical campus in East Baltimore into an "anchor institution" to transform the surrounding area in their image.

The government planners claim they're helping them, but this kind of help is worse than worthless,

The Bayview freight yard MARC Station plan is a vestige of the dead Red Line. The proposed station made little enough sense when it was attached only by an overhead walkway hundreds of feet long to the $3 Billion light rail line. It was also far enough beyond the Hopkins Bayview Research Park to send the line in the opposite direction from its original destination of Dundalk.

The Red Line died last year because even with its exorbitant price tag and poor performance, it didn't connect with Baltimore's "trunk" Metro line which serves the main Hopkins Hospital campus.

De-evolution of the 2002 plan to 2040


The original 2002 regional rail plan which included the Red Line looked innocuous enough when it was shown on its "cartoon" map along with lots of other rail lines and stations which made it look ostensibly like the DC Metro system. But reality has a way of setting in as years turn into decades of failure.

On the 2002 plan there were five new stations along the East Baltimore MARC line between Penn Station and the existing Martin/Middle River Station. That was part of a "mini-MARC" plan that was labeled "priority" in 2002, the same level of urgency given to the Red Line.

Fast forward to 2016. The latest reality is the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's new 2040 Transportation Plan. Those five stations have been whittled down to just the one - at Bayview Yard. Among the four that died was one on Broadway just north of the main Hopkins Hospital campus and their multi-billion dollar EBDI "Eager Park" community redevelopment project.

It was absurd from the outset that a commuter rail station would ever be built at that location, right between the tight Amtrak tunnel which connects to Penn Station to the west and a tight "S" curve to the east. For that matter, it was absurd that Amtrak, owner of the Northeast Corridor tracks, would ever approve five additional local commuter rail stops that would inevitably clog up their highly travelled operations all the way from Washington to Boston.

Doubly ironic is that while the latest 2040 plan reflects the fact that the Red Line to Bayview is dead, it revives the Metro extension north of Hopkins Hospital that the Maryland Transit Administration cancelled a few years ago due to lack of cost-effectiveness.

So the new BMC plan puts a commuter rail station at Bayview where there would be no regional rail service, and puts a regional rail line at Broadway where there would be no commuter rail service. What a pathetic joke!

The utter lack of cost-effectiveness is still plainly evident for all to see. The Metro extension proposed in 2002 was originally supposed to be 17 miles to White Marsh, to be completed by 2014. Then it was cut back to 3 miles to Morgan State University. Now it's only a single mile to be built by 2040 to North Avenue, at a cost of $1,692,000,000 - that's $1.7 Billion for 1.1 mile with two stations, all underground. And any extension beyond North Avenue would also be underground, so it would be just as absurdly expensive. That is the epitome of cost-ineffectiveness!

This BMC plan is just dripping with frustration. The planners lost their the 14 mile $3 billion Red Line, so their apparent revenge is to propose a one-mile $1.7 billion plan by 2040 to replace it. It's a kind of hypothetical sabotage. Shrink fourteen miles to one mile... that'll show 'em!

A simple, effective and far better plan


OK, enough of these childish games. None of us will be children anymore by 2040. Let's develop a plan that actually makes sense.

There's an ideal site for an East Baltimore MARC Station on 20-plus open acres at Edison Highway just north of Monument Street, half way between the Hopkins main campus and Bayview research campus, with excellent access to the surrounding communities throughout east and northeast Baltimore.

It's also located along the ideal corridor for a cost-effective Metro extension that would come up out of the ground at the first opportunity, minimizing the expensive tunneling which killed the Red Line and would even more inevitably kill the Metro extension under Broadway contained in the 2040 plan. Unlike the Red Line, such a Metro extension would be fully integrated into the MARC station, a local bus hub, and transit-oriented development, somewhat like a Baltimore version of the DC Metro's New Carrollton hub, only better.

"Health Corridor" Metro Extension - connecting Hopkins Hospital's main campus with Station East,
 an Edison Highway MARC Station and the Hopkins Bayview campus.

The MARC Station would be just a short hop on the Metro from the main Hopkins Hospital campus, from the Bayview campus and from the new "Station East" community. Just as importantly, all these stations would also be linked to each other.

And since the Metro would be out of the ground it could then be further expanded to White Marsh, Middle River, Essex and Dundalk with no more prohibitively expensive tunneling.

A Hopkins "Health Corridor"


Such a plan would essentially create a new Johns Hopkins "Health Corridor" which extends all the way from the main hospital campus to Bayview. It would be the ultimate completing step to the Hopkins vision for the area surrounding their main campus, but without the destruction and displacement which has already been carried out so painfully and expensively over the past decade.

Site of proposed East MARC Station under Edison Highway, looking west toward Hopkins Hospital campus.
The Station East neighborhood is in the background in front of the tall buildings.

The growth being stimulated by Hopkins already support such a plan. The first new neighborhood initiative beyond EBDI "Eager Park" is already in place - "Station East". This neighborhood just to the east, where newly renovated houses now stand next to where recently stood some of the city's most serious devastation, was named after a station that doesn't even exist yet, and isn't in the BMC 2040 plan.

But the station at "Station East" would easily be provided along an eastern Metro extension. It could be a cost-effective "cut and cover" station built into the tunnel portal instead of buried deep in the ground as the proposed stations under Broadway would have to be. This station would also support the greater Berea area to the north.

This redevelopment has already started in a responsible way, not like the wholesale destruction which occurred north of Hopkins Hospital.

Looking east from MARC Station site under Edison Highway at part of the adjacent large vacant development parcel,
 with Hopkins Bayview Research Park in background. The Metro would go between them.

Just to the east along Edison Highway is where the MARC commuter rail station would be integrated with a Metro station to serve all of northeast Baltimore, northward throughout the Belair Road corridor, as well as southeastward to Highlandtown, Patterson Park and Canton. None of this is accessible at the proposed Bayview freight yard site. A Bayview Yard MARC station site wouldn't even be easily accessible form the Hopkins Bayview Research Park.

On the other hand, the Metro could easily provide a station built into the berm between Bayview and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway (Interstate 895), easily accessible by pedestrians from all of Bayview as well as Greektown. The MARC station, Hopkins Hospital and the rest of the Hopkins Health Corridor, as well as downtown would then be a very short Metro ride from Bayview.

In sum


The BMC 2040 plan wants to spend $1.7 billion for a tiny one-mile Metro extension that doesn't even serve MARC. The plan also creates a MARC station that doesn't even serve the Metro, or much of anything else. Both Johns Hopkins and all the rest of east and northeast Baltimore would be the big losers.

It's time to stamp out such small thinking and create an integrated MARC and Metro plan that actually works.

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