As the Red Line system glides a little closer to becoming a reality, one East Baltimore group is calling for the process to halt.
The Right Rail Coalition, a Canton-based group of transportation activists, would like the Red Line to be put on hold while the community considers whether the $2.6 billion-plus project is really the most efficient and cost-effective use of transportation resources, particularly for the east side.
Ben Rosenberg, a RRC member and attorney who lives in Canton, says some of the RRC’s broad concerns are that the Red Line—the most expensive public project in Baltimore history—doesn’t take advantage of the public transportation that’s already here, and that the city needs a coherent transportation system that will meet the needs of its diverse communities, not a one-size-fits-all approach.
“We should be planning a transportation system, not grabbing at whatever pot of money is available. If all the money is spent on the Red Line, we’re neglecting other parts of the system,” he said, referring to federal funds that are presumed to be covering much of the Red Line’s construction.
The RRC officially formed in April and has about ten members,” said Maris St. Cyr, a RRC member and Canton resident, who recently co-authored a June 26 op-ed in the Sun with RRC member Kathy Epstein, highlighting the group’s long list of concerns.
Fundamentally, the RRC is not anti-Red Line, it says, but it is calling for expanding the conversation on transportation options and Red Line alternatives.
They are especially concerned with the Red Line on the east side.
One alternative they see for the east side is surface street cars, which they believe would be better connected to the neighborhoods, be less costly, and wouldn’t take as long to build. Streetcars, they argue, would also more easily serve lower-income neighborhoods—which the RRC says are bypassed by the Red Line—dependent on public transportation.
As for funding the streetcars, federal money might be available, says Art Cohen a RRC member, attorney and public transportation advocate.
“The range of funding opportunities is beginning to open up a little more,” he said.
Cohen believes that federal Small Starts funds may be available for streetcar route construction, and that other cities are looking at similar concepts.
But streetcars are just one alternative to consider, he said. Another is different Red Line stations. Before the RRC formed, Cohen had submitted a document titled “A Case for the Red Line on Eastern Ave.” to the MTA, Federal Transit Administration, and other organizations in 2012 as part of the Red Line environmental impact statement.
He suggested that two Red Line stops be on Eastern Ave. closer to Patterson Park, to better serve the needs of residents who live around and north of the park.
“People who live north and east of the park won’t be as well served by the Canton stops as the Canton residents are. They don’t live within a quarter- to a half-mile radius of the stops—a usability benchmark—to say nothing of the fact that some of the riders are older and a quarter or half-mile uphill might be too far for them to walk,” he said.
Who will be served by the Red Line, however, is just one of the group’s myriad concerns.
Another is the impact the construction will have on Canton residents and businesses.
“Canton is still wondering what the plans are for Boston St. and what their impact will be,” said Epstein. “There has not been a well publicized meeting about traffic mitigation since the meeting with MTA on Jan. 16.“
The Red Line Citizen’s Advisory Committee met two weeks ago. Members of RRC attended. On the agenda was a video that would show a third option for re-routing traffic during the prolonged construction of the Boston St. tunnel transition—the first two options have already been hotly debated by the Canton community—but the video was not shown because the group ran out of time.
The RRC was disappointed.
St. Cyr says another meeting, where the third option will be discussed, is in the process of being scheduled with the MTA, but she has no date yet.
In the meantime, the Right Rail Coalition can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or rightrailcoalition.org.
by Danielle Sweeney