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June 11, 2009

New Red Line proposal floated

Robert Keith, a member of the Red Line Advisory Council and a resident of Fells Point, is an outspoken opponent of what is now considered to be the leading alternative for construction of the east-west Red Line.

That alternative would run light rail from Westview ro Bayview, with tunneling under downtown, Fells Point and West Baltimore's Cooks Lane but with tracks on the surface allong Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street. The  roughly $1.6 billion plan has the support of business leaders and the Dixon administration but is opposed by many residents of Canton and West Baltimore.

Also on the table is an alternative that includes tunneling under Edmondson and Boston, but the Maryland Transit Administration said that plan would be too costly to meet the standards for federal funding.

Keith is planning to submit an alternative plan to the advisory council tonight calling for maximum tunneling, but with construction in two phases. It's an interesting idea, though the $2.3 billion price tag is daunting. Nor is it certain that the first phase of his plan would attract enough ridership to qualify.

 I'm not at all convinced by Keith's insistence that the line should run under Fayette Street downtown rather than Lombard Street. That plan would take the line two blocks farther from the waterfront, likely costing it a lot of ridership. Keith seems to believe a 600-foot underground passageway between the Red Line at the Metro's Charles Center station is an onerous imposition. To me, it sounds reasonable.

If you're interested in poring through a rather long, proposal, it's attached below. My caveat is that it is the work of an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional with extensive qualifications in the field. I pass it along without endorsing it.



A Proposal for Alternative 4D Modified;
Funding the Red Line in Two Phases


By Robert Keith

Widespread demands for tunneling, rather than surface rail, from resident organizations along Edmonson Avenue on the West Side and Boston Street on the East Side, necessitate a full rethinking of the funding approach to the Red Line project, especially in a year when the federal New Starts program expires in September and new rules and criteria are likely to emerge under the Obama Administration.


The only practical way to keep initial costs in line with present dollar expectations, and yet serve the tunneling requirements of the neighborhood groups, is to fund the project in two or more phases, known in transportation lingo as Minimum Operating Segments (MOS).


Phase One would consist of, or certainly include, the downtown core, defined for purposes of this proposal as West Baltimore MARC station on the West Side to the Harbor East / Harbor Point area on Central Avenue. Both of these end destinations would be included in the ridership calculations.


Phase Two would consist of the West Side alignments from the MARC Station to Social Security and CMS, and the East Side alignments from Harbor East/Harbor Point to Canton Crossing and Bayview Medical Center.


With MTA assistance, I have compiled on the following page the approximate costs of these alignments, based on 2009 dollars: I have used a Fayette Street tunnel alignment downtown, rather than the Lombard Street alignment of Alternative 4C, for reasons given below.

Phase One
Calverton (West Baltimore MARC) to MLK portal (surface)
MLK portal to Central Avenue in Fells Point (tunnel)
Underground stations at Greene, Howard, St. Paul, City Hall,
Harbor East/Harbor Point
Approximate cost............................................................................$705,000,000


Phase Two


West Side
CMS to I-70 Park & ride (surface)
I-70 Park & Ride to Calverton (tunnel)
Underground stations near Edmonson Village,
Allendale and Rosemont
Approximate cost:...........................................................................$841,500,000


East Side
Central Avenue to Clinton St. (tunnel)
Underground stations at Fells Point (Fleet Street) and Canton (Boston Street)
Clinton Street to Bayview Park & Ride (surface & aerial).
Approximate cost............................................................................$520,500,000


Total Phase Two...........................................................................$1,362,000,000

Add for yard & shop, vehicles, right of ways, other.....................$294,000,000


Grand Total..................................................................................: $2,309,000,000



Another possibility is to include the West Side alignments with downtown as part of Phase One. The combined cost of that would be $1,546,500,000, leaving the East Side alignments for Phase Two at $520,000,000.


At a June 9, 2009 meeting of the Waterfront Coalition, an East Side advocacy group representing 22 neighborhood organizations, representatives agreed unanimously that if it comes to a choice, they would be happy to see the West Side sector accomodated first in the funding priorities, so long as no surface Red Line is constructed on Boston Street in the meantime. Better to have it done right on both sides of the city even if the east side tunneling needs to wait.


Improvements Downtown:
Shift tunnel from Lombard Street to Fayette Street
The Red Line tunnel should be shifted from Lombard Street (Alternative 4C) to Fayette Street where it will far better serve the general public in access and convenience. A Fayette Street tunnel would continue to Southeast and Fleet Street on the same alignment shown now for a Lombard Street tunnel.


The Lombard Street tunnel of alternative 4C forces the worst connection between the Red Line and the existing Green Line Metro Subway of any Red Line Alternative proposed by the MTA. It requires a 600’ undergound pedestrian passage--the length of two football fields--under St. Paul Street to connect the Red Line with the Metro at Charles Center. This is greater than the distance today between the Metro and Central Light Rail at their closest at point at Lexington Market.


A Fayette Street tunnel would require only a 300’ passage under St. Paul Street, which would be the platform of the future Yellow Line. In addition, it would offer an underground station near City Hall, bringing the high-public-use City Hall/Court complex into the rail transit system. Alternative 4C’s Lombard Street alignment fails to serve City Hall. Both alignments, Fayette Street and Lombard Street, have underground stations at Howard Street and Greene Street (VA Hospital, University of Maryland) on the west side of downtown.


A streetcar line on Pratt Street


A Pratt Street streetcar, with the westbound tracks running on Lombard Street, would nicely complement the more northerly Fayette Street light rail service, when the City moves forward with its planned Pratt Street reconstruction. The line would run from the B&O Railroad Museum on the west to Eastern and Central Avenues and the waterfront on the east, replacing portions of the City shuttlebus service that opens this year. The federal Small Starts program provides assistance, and relatively fast approval, for streetcar projects costing up to $250 milion.


Bring in the Yellow Line
The 2002 Rail Plan shows the Yellow Line running North/South in the St. Paul-Light Street corridor, crossing under the Metro Subway at Charles Center and tieing together the Red Line, Metro, Charles Center, Harborplace and the various trip-generating activities at Camden Yards, including the MARC Camden Line, Central Light Rail, the baseball and football stadiums, Convention Center and new hotel.


The connecting role of the Yellow Line was acknowledged by the Red Line engineering coordinator at the April 10, 2009 meeting of the Red Line Citizen’s Advisory Council, but with the sad prediction that the actual construction of the Yellow Line ‘will be many years down the road.” Until the Yellow Line is built, the Red Line will fail to make all the key connections downtown, and the rail system will lack the synergy that comes when the lines are closely linked. At that point, all the destinations of each line become destinations for the other lines, and ridership rises with the tide, as is the case wiith the Metro system in Washington, D.C., Boston and elsewhere. The Yellow Line sector between Penn Station and Camden Yards needs to be fast tracked, perhaps as part of Phase Two of the funding.
Remedy A Deception in the DEIS
The Executive Summary of the Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) (the only part many people read) makes this soothing statement about the Red Line on page 5-5:


“The Red Line will connect directly to the Central Light Rail line and the Metro Subway, making combined east-west/north-south trips seamless.”


In transit parlance, “connect directly” and “seamless” suggest the kind of escalator connection between intersecting lines that contributes so much to the success of the Metro system in Washington, D.C.


As noted on the previous page, the connection between the Red Line and Metro made by Alternative 4C consists of a 600’ pedestrian tunnel. Moreover, there is no narrative description of this pedestrian walkway to be found anywhere in the DEIS. The Stations technical report describes other stations in some detail. It includes a drawing of the underground walkway, but the description, if ever written, is omitted.


It is difficult to conclude that the misleading statement in the Executive Summary and the omission of any discussion in the technical report is somehow inadvertant. Intentional or not, the description in the Executive Summary pollutes the information available to the public in voicing their support of Alternative C. o serve taxpayer interest and confirm the credibility of the agency, the MTA Administrator should take these steps:


1. Conduct an internal review of how this happened.
2. Ask staff to:
--Revise the language in the Executive Summary relating to “directly connect” and “seamless, with regard to the link to the Subway,
--Provide a written description of the pedestrian tunnel connection,
--Communicate thls information as a courtesy to all groups and individuals known to support Alternatve C.
East Side Concerns:
Possible Tunneling to Highlandtown
The stiff opposition of Canton neighborhood groups to surface Red Line trains on Boston Street is well known to the City and the MTA. Some residents have also raised concerns about building a tunnel under Boston Street, on the edge of the flood plain. The concerns relate to the mixed nature of the soil, high water table, and the need to build an underground station at Canton and exit portal at Clinton Street with walls high enough to guard against extreme hurricane tides and the current slowly rising sea level accelerated by global warming.


These residents have suggested shifting the Red Line to Eastern Avenue, to serve larger neighborhoods. An Eastern Ave. alignment is shown in the DEIS.


Another possible alignment that should be studied is a simple eastward extension of the Red Line tunnel under Fleet Street from its Harbor East and Fell’s Point stations directly to Highlandtown. A portal location acceptable to the community would need to be identified west of Haven Street so that the line could merge into the north/south Norfolk Southern right of way on the alignment already proposed by the MTA .


One advantage of a Fleet Street alignment is that it would join the Norfolk Southern right of way at a point south of the Eastern Avenue surface station, thus fitting well with the visions for this area reached in a recent charette conducted by the Southeast Development Corp. The Eastern Avenue tunnel shown in the DEIS would exit from a portal well north of Eastern Avenue, at a site much less convenient to patrons from Highlandtown and Greerktown. Also it would be longer than a Fleet Street tunnel, and thus costlier.


A streetcar line for the East Side


A streetcar line should be considered as a localized feeder service in coordination with the Red Line, to best bring Canton, Canton Crossing, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown, Greektown, the Bayivew campus, O’Donnell Heights and Travel Plaza into the rail system, with bus shuttle extension to Dundalk and Turners Station. The circular streetcar line would share the Red Line tracks alongside Haven Street.


A streetcar may be the best way to serve the Bayview campus, The site chosen by the MTA for the terminal Red Line station at Bayview, near the entrance to the main hospital building, has been obliterated by new construction. A new alignment should be designed, in consultation with hospital officials, so that the streetcar tracks can continue to Eastern and Dundalk Avenues for the streetcar line.
Surface Extension of Green Line Metro
Community groups in Southeast Baltimore have long called for an eastward surface extension of the Green Line Metro to the Bayview Medical Center and beyond, utilizing in part the existing Amtrak/MARC corridor. This would not only link the two hospitals but provide premium Metro service to “choice” ridership at Bayview, including Park & Ride commuters. Feeder bus connections could perhaps be accomodated at a surface station in Orangeville, in coordination with private development that is at an early planning stage for the Orangeville area now, including remediation of a contaminated industrial site.


The present terminus in the heart of the Johns Hopkins Medical Center is a terrible place to end a subway line. There’s no place for feeder buses to come in and lay over, and no place for Park & Ride other than the hospital garages.


The 2002 Rail Plan projected an extension northward, up Broadway and Harford Road to Morgan State University and beyond. The MTA has quietly shelved this plan after initial scoping which indicated the the cost effectiveness potential falls far short of federal requirements for funding.


Any Green Line extension eastward will need to be coordinated with the Amtrak and MARC rail plans for the corridor, which could include widening of the present embankments. The Maryland Department of Transportation should prepare a status report as a guide to future Green Line planning, including the Green Line’s appropriate place in the long-range visions of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board which sets the parameters for federal funding.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:47 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Red Line


I don't understand the mayor's proposal...where on Boston street are they going to lay tracks? It's a two lane street in both directions with paved sidewalk on each side.

The proposal is a variation of some very similar alternatives Bob Keith and the communities of Southeast have presented for sometime.

This is basically about studying all reasonable alternatives. I think it should be considered in a new Alternative Analysis along with HRT (heavy rail) and alternatate alignments/corridors.

FWIW, in my research I've found no publicly funded US transit system that has had a "connection" that was 600 feet apart. I'm interested to learn from others if they are aware of some.

Additionally, the idea that the harbor has more ridership is probably not true, since the water cuts off the rider walkshed. I have not seen modeled boarding counts of a Fayette St. tunnel alignment. I think that a Fayette St. alignment is generally redundant and inferior, but it's certainly better than Lombard St. I contend that Charles Center and Shot Tower is pretty effective at getting people to the harbor now from the NW. It's simply getting people from other areas of the region to get downtown via rapid transit.

The views expressed above are my own


Go to the report cited below in the AA/DEIS. It's on the MTA's website. The more informative and critical details are located there. (However, some key information is not included). If you haven't already gone through it, you should. It may take a while for each file to download:

LOD Drawings & Tunnel Plans and Profiles

Basically, the "mayor's" proposal, MTA, City DOT, GBC... would widen Boston St, narrow the lanes and eliminate parking on at least one side of the block. One variation has the tracks in the middle, another has them on the waterfront side. Unfortunately, it seems the MTA hasn't included all the cross-sectional diagrams that were once available during the Alternatives Analysis.

Back to Bob Keith. Bob had an earlier variation of the above alternative "examined" like the TRAC alternative was "examined", i.e. with some wrong assumptions about 1.5 years ago. The eastside Metro extension is very similar to TRAC's idea of going to Bayview from JHH. Also, TRAC supports studying the Yellow Line as part of the Red Line. The visual's still on our not often or skillfully updated website.

The views expressed above are my own.

I can think of a few connections exceeding or near 600 feet off the top of my head:

- The 14th Street connection between the F,V, B & D Lines and the 1,2 & 3 Lines between 6th & 7th Avenues on the NYC Subway is one Avenue block, which is 600 feet.

- The connection between Port Authority and Times Square on the NYC subway is also one Avenue block, or 600 feet.

- The connection between the G train and the rest the lines at Queens Plaza in Queens is well over 600 feet, and uses people movers.

It is a long connection to be sure. But it's not bad if you use people movers in the stations. Putting the line on Fayette, so close to the Metro line is frankly, a pretty stupid idea. The goal here is to have a line that serves a different area, not a redundancy one block away. It's the tail wagging the dog. You want a close connection for the sake of having a close connection, rather than providing motorized transit to different areas. Not to mention Michael's point that we want to get people closer to the Harbor.

Now what I have advocated in the past at meetings and continue here is that any tunneling going through downtown should have multiple lines running through it. Every real transit system in the world does this in some way or other. If we are going to build the Red Line across Lombard St. provisions should be made to have right of way for future expansions coming off that line that go off in other directions - a southwest to northeast line for example. These could even go through the tunnel downtown, then above ground once they reach less dense residential areas. The Muni in San Francisco is an excellent example of this. Another option could be to use the downtown portion of the Metro Tunnel to run the Red Line (which of course would then have to be the same gauge, heavy rail) through downtown, then have it break off to go to Woodlawn and Bayview on either end. This would save part of the cost of tunneling.

^Those examples, IIRC, are of lines built prior to the era of public funding, AKA "heritage" systems, built by private competing companies in some cases. I was refering to systems built since the 1950s.

Building either a Fayette or Lombard St tunnel is inane, because the new stations are also too redundant because their walksheds overlap too much. According to the MTA's very limited modeling (one run)of an HRT feeding into the existing Metro north of Lexington Market: the incremental increase in ridership on our existing stations is greater than the ridership that would be generated from the newly built stations for an LRT Red Line. I can make this comparison available if you interested.

You're certainly right in that the MTA should plan ahead and not cut corners by making the project cheaper and the system more expensive. Branching hooks of a pre-engineered system anticipating future segments and lines should be done first. The MTA isn't doing any of that, because the 2002 Rail Plan is, to paraphrase former MDOT Secretary Flanagan, just colored lines on a map.

Nate Payer
The views expressed above are my own.

Another idea that deserves consideration is to use modern, airy, quiet, elevated tracks to take the Red Line through the Pratt Street corridor downtown. The city has been trying to decide what to do with Pratt Street for a while now and this is a good solution.

Pratt Street is basically way too wide from Camden Yard all the way over to the UMBI. Plus it has that creepy tree promenade that obscures the businesses on the north side. The promenade should be torn out, with the trees (unfortunately) and part of that space should be used to create a widened walkway on the north side, the other part to add a traffic lane onto Pratt St.

The elevated tracks should be put in on the south side of the street, allowing easy exit access to the ballpark, the convention center, the Inner Harbor and the Aquarium. Revitalizing the area through transit.

Now there are two big problem I see with this offhand.

1. I'm not sure where the elevated tracks would go on the East side of the Inner Harbor District and subsequently go down into a tunnel through Little Italy, Fells Point etc. The space on Pratt St by the Power Plant and the gets pretty tight. One idea would be to take the tracks way out, over the water and squeezt them between the Aquarium and Power Plant, across the parking lot and back into a tunnel in that parking lot in Little Italy where they have the old mural of St. Leo's Church.

2. People get crotchety about elevated tracks and have knee jerk reactions to them. These are unfounded however. If you look at elevated tracks today they can be made virtually silent - the Miami system is a good, recent example. Also, just in terms of physical space, the Pratt St Corridor is too sparse already. It doesn't even feel like a city, there's so much space. Some density would be a good thing. Not to mention the fact that there is already an elevated walkway system that stretches from the Hilton to Harbor Place - so this grade is already present in the area.

The benefits of this approach are:

- It opens up and East West Corridor far enough away from Baltimore St. to avoid overlap.

- It's much cheaper to build than a tunnel. Which allows more tunneling on the east and west sides.

- It takes people straight to the Pratt St attraction - Camden Yards, Convention Center, Harbor Place, Aquarium - and could take them within reasonable walking distance to the Harbor East district as well.

- Building a tunnel through Pratt St would be an engineering nightmare due to how close to the water it is. The elevated line avoids all that.

Let's hear some thoughts. Oh and I would definitely be interested in seeing that comparison you have.

"Pratt Street is basically way too wide from Camden Yard all the way over to the UMBI. Plus it has that creepy tree promenade that obscures the businesses on the north side. The promenade should be torn out, with the trees (unfortunately)....."

Huh? that "creepy tree promenade" is what gives the non-watrfront downtown its character.

"One idea would be to take the tracks way out, over the water and squeez them between the Aquarium and Power Plan"

No,no, no, no, no!!!!!!!

" If you look at elevated tracks today they can be made virtually silent - the Miami system is a good, recent example."

Ever been to Miami to see how the elevated track has destroyed their downtown? Efficient? Yes. Ugly .... absolutely!

Please.... no... ... the above are all terrible ideas.

^I'm personally less averse to elevated alignments than the current urban planning establishment or others. NEPA laws may prevent elevated alignments chosen as the prefered alternative in most cases in most residential areas because this would be considered a negative environmental impact. Though if a community unanimously favored such an alignment, it could move forward.

Putting the technical issues you raised aside, the main question becomes:

How do you connect to the existing Metro Subway?

A double transfer system is a severe impediment to attracting ridership as well as acheiving significant time savings. Except in the largest cities, developing a 2 transfer system should be avoided at all costs.

Email me at to receive an excel sheet with the rider-boadings per station data.

The views expressed above are my own.

To Mista T.:

"Huh? that "creepy tree promenade" is what gives the non-watrfront downtown its character."

That creepy tree promenade is what makes people scared to walk around Pratt St after dark. It's also a major reason why retail continues to fail all along the corridor. It's useless and gives no character to the area whatsoever, unless you're a squirrel or bird.

"Ever been to Miami to see how the elevated track has destroyed their downtown? Efficient? Yes. Ugly .... absolutely!"

I don't have any idea what you're talking about and I don't think you do either. I actually kind of doubt you've been to Downtown Miami. The elevated tracks blend in there almost seamlessly. The last time I was in the Brickell area, a co-worker of mine kept getting surprised each time a train came by because she didn't notice the tracks. Next time don't make up stories to try and illustrate your point. It wastes time during serious discussions.

Now back to a real discussion with Nate. The ideal place to link up a transfer would be Lexington Market. This would of course require tunneling underground from MLK to the Lexington Market station and then further south to Pratt St, with perhaps a slight swing west to loop around back east and emerge above ground near the Hilton/ballpark. This could make for a three line transfer, if the MTA could get their act together with hooking the existing Lexington Ave Light Rail station in as well.

My real concern with this idea is getting an "El" line through the east side of the Inner Harbor area. That Power Plant and the subsequent devlopment around it make for some significant obstacles.

i'm late to this but what is all this talk of redundancy? because two trains run a block apart for a 4 block stretch? It's like saying the DC Metro green and yellow lines are redundant because they share track for 4 stations. The lines serve completely different areas and are merely delivering those geographically different people to the same destination. I can understand why anyone would want to have 3 rail lines that make their riders walk a block to transfer. How is that convenient? You'll lose a lot more riders by not having a convenient connection than you would being a block further away from the harbor. Those underground people mover "connections" happened in NYC as an afterthought. The result of two competing transit agencies merging and having to build free "transfers" between them.

Transit 101 - people hate to transfer. If you're asking them to endure it, it better be convenient and a minimal wait or they'll just drive next time. I can't express enough how incredibly shortsighted it would be to miss the opportunity to use the red line to tie this 'system' together. The Lexington Market idea seems to be the best so far.

As for how light rail cars will fit down the street - just like the do in Portland or Toronto or Philadelphia -

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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