Canton-based group wants to press pause on the Red Line

Written by on July 24, 2013 in Neighborhood News - 6 Comments

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 therightrail@yahoo.com or rightrailcoalition.org.

by Danielle Sweeney
dsweeney@baltimoreguide.com

6 Comments on "Canton-based group wants to press pause on the Red Line"

  1. Dan Tracy July 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm · Reply

    Yes, the big problem now confronting the essential project is the cost, i.e. a 43% increase in the total cost and the likelihood that the federal government will not bear any material part of the increase. Nevertheless, now at the 11 ½ hour, is not the time to propose significant changes to the plan in the face of this challenge. To do so would be to stop the project in its tracks and lose this once-in-a-generation opportunity. This plan took many years and millions of dollars to develop. During this time all of the alternatives were considered. You can always find things to attack in any plan; but, there comes a time when you have to say “This is it. This is the plan. Now let’s get on with it”. Rather, we have to urge our elected representatives (local, state & federal) to do all in their power to find a way to finance its construction, whether that means obtaining a greater federal commitment and/or through the issuance of municipal bonds with commitments from the business community to purchase those bonds or through development of creative public-private financing vehicles, or that the project must be built in non-continuous stages.

  2. Grant Corley July 30, 2013 at 9:39 am · Reply

    I support the Red Line as planned because it’s a quality project, and one of the smartest transit reforms in Baltimore in generations. The Red Line is effective, connected, and will be a benefit to neighborhoods throughout Southeast.

    Some points to consider:

    1. There’s no room for the Red Line on the surface of Eastern Avenue. However, Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Review panel has praised the Red Line on Boston Street, saying it will actually improve conditions there:
    http://www.baltimorebrew.com/2013/05/09/city-panel-praises-design-of-red-line-through-canton/

    The Red Line would help turn Boston Street into a connected, pedestrian-friendly urban boulevard — as opposed to the concrete highway that it currently is, cutting off the neighborhood from the harbor.

    2. A recent nationwide study showed that homes in some neighborhoods near reliable transit lines outperformed their auto-dependent counterparts in home values by 42% on average.
    http://urbanland.uli.org/Articles/2013/May/MooneyHomePrices?utm_source=uli&utm_medium=eblast&utm_campaign=051313

    3. It’s unclear what the benefits of a streetcar system replacing the eastern end of the Red Line are. Streetcars are slower and less reliable, and get stuck in traffic with the rest of us. They were rejected in the Red Line planning process because they were determined to be ineffective. Streetcars might be fine to have one day, but only after a major east-west trunk line such as Red is already built. This is how D.C. is handling their new streetcars — they’re the icing on the cake of an already very good transit system.

    4. You get what you pay for. The Red Line is a ~$2.5B project because it’s well designed and integrated into its communities. This is a major positive investment in our neighborhoods. If we instead try to do a transit project on the cheap, we’ll get something more like the light rail on Howard Street.

    5. If we change the Red Line alignment at the eleventh hour, that kills the project’s funding. Either way, traffic in Southeast is only going to keep getting worse, but with no Red Line, we’ll have no good alternatives to get around. (Unless someone can come up with a levitating bus.) Remember, there are entire new waterfront neighborhoods coming online and being built up, and the east end of Canton hasn’t even been built out yet. We need quality alternatives to driving for all residents of Baltimore, and we need to get started on them now. The Red Line is the best alternative, and it has already been studied and planned for a decade.

    Rather than trying to kill the smartest transit reform in Baltimore in generations, I think it makes more sense to work to make the currently approved alignment the best that it can be. We will all benefit from it — let’s get it built.

    • Rusty Shackleford July 30, 2013 at 11:29 am · Reply

      Excellent points, Grant. In regard to your first point, perhaps many of these NIMBY’s like Mr. Rosenberg would prefer to have the Boston St waterfront cut off by a concrete highway to keep what they perceive as the riff-raff out of their precious waterfront community- which, I might add, was built AFTER the Red Line was put on the MTA planning maps. These people who oppose this project are the same people who would move next to an airport and complain about the constant noise of the jets flying overhead.

    • The Guide July 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm · Reply

      Hey, Grant. Thanks for posting.

  3. Jeff La Noue July 30, 2013 at 8:12 am · Reply

    The Red Line is not going to solve every transportation situation in the city, but it will do more to connect Baltimore than any other line. It will connect to MARC trains at Camden Station, Bayview, and West Baltimore helping to connect Baltimore to the job rich Washington region.

    It will allow residents of Canton, Fells Point, and Greektown to go to ballgames, events, restaurants, visit friends and work downtown (which has over 113,000 jobs and 40,000 residents) while not abandoning a hard fought parking space.

    The Red Line will conveniently be on the surface in Canton and then proceeds under the most congested intersections as it heads downtown. It is the ideal hybrid.

    Southeast Baltimore is getting more congested and developed. Many more big projects are on the way. Squeezing ever more cars is not the answer and streetcars are a slow supplement that is not on the funding table right now or in the immediate future. Street cars may complement the Red Line one day, but are not the trunk line Baltimore needs and is close to lining up. The Red Line and streetcars are not either or. However, the Red Line is teed up right now and should be full speed ahead.

  4. Marty Taylor July 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm · Reply

    Great article. One point from the RRC that’s not explicitly clear is that there is very limited federal funding, and Maryland will have to carry the rest of the weight. Although the exact amount for which the Red Line may qualify is a subject of hot debate, the last number I saw was around $970 million in total federal monies, leaving Maryland to pay $1.6 billion plus all overages. The state is currently working to try to qualify for 50% funding. So, it’s not like we’re back in the 1970s with 90/10 federal match. We’re looking about 37/63 or maybe 50/50 (before overages). Some who have looked at it closely also think the $2.6 billion is lowballed, so with Maryland paying overages our $1.6 billion share would have potential to grow some legs.

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