October 7, 2011

Purple Line gets approval for engineering

The Federal Transit Administration has given the Maryland Transit Administration the go-ahead to begin preliminary engineering on the proposed Purple Line in suburban Washington -- a step the federal agency took several months ago for Baltimore's Red Line.

The move puts the Purple Line project, which would extend a light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, in a select group of transit projects nationwide that have reached this step on the road to federal funding approval.

The decision was hailed by political leaders in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, but it could be seen as good news for Red Line supporters in Baltimore as well. That's because the chances of obtaining the General Assembly's support for the projects are enhances if they move in tandem. Neither Baltimore nor the Washington suburbs by themselves have the clout to deliver the votes for the billions of dollars involved, but together they have a chance at funding both. Think of it as the transit version of the deal that brought the Ravens and Redskins to Maryland.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

August 24, 2011

Group raising funds to support Red Line

A group of Baltimore residents will hold a pro-Red Line pep rally tonight in a hotbed of opposition to the proposed light rail tonight to raise money to advocate for the project.

The Red Line Now PAC will hold its event at 6 p.m. at the Field House Pub at 2400 Boston Street in Canton, where many local residents have protested plans to run trains along the surface of that street.

"This is one of the few issue-driven political action committees created by everyday Baltimore citizens, and the only one to focus on transit," said Robbyn Lewis, the organization's chairperson. "We want this project to be the best it can be."


Continue reading "Group raising funds to support Red Line" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:27 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Red Line

June 29, 2011

MTA responds to TRAC on Red Line tunnels

Nate Payer, a spokesman for the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore, raised questions about the Maryland Transit Administration's plans to tunnel under certain neighborhoods along the proposed Red Line Route, suggesting that the construction could damage historic structures on the surface.

Here, at Getting There's request, is the MTA's response from Henry Kay, executive director for transit development and delivery:

Based on the limited amount of design we have done, the top of the Red Line tunnels proposed through the Downtown area will be approximately 40 to 50 feet below the street surface.  The bottom of the tunnel is another 20 feet down, or approximately 60 to 70 feet below the surface.  The depth of the tunnels is determined by the need to avoid impacts to existing structures and foundations.  Ground conditions vary greatly along the three-mile downtown tunnel, but we expect a mixture of rock and soft ground with a high water table.  Tunneling technology has significantly advanced since the Metro Subway construction which will further reducing construction-related impacts.  Noise and vibration from operation of the Red Line will be mitigated through the design of the track inside the tunnel.  As the tunnel design work gets underway we will be looking for ways to further minimize the possibility of surface impacts such as depth and alignment changes.

Continue reading "MTA responds to TRAC on Red Line tunnels" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

June 28, 2011

TRAC questions MTA assertions about tunneling

The Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore is disputing assertions from the Maryland Transit Administration about the hazards of tunneling under  Little Italy, Fells Point and Canton to build the proposed east-west Red Line.

Henry Kay, the MTA's executive director of transit development and delivery, minimized the possibility of damage to historic buildings in those neighborhoods in an interview for an article published Tuesday in The Sun. He said the tunnel depth of the Red Line would be 40-50 feet deep, or comparable to the existing Baltimore Metro and that there should be no problems with noise or vibration on the surface.

Nate Payer, spokesman for TRAC, delivered the following response:


I feel compelled to make note that most of the existing Metro Subway tunnel is significantly deep than 40 to 50 ft, esp. in W. Baltimore area. Mondawmin Station is at least 60 to 70 feet down and Penn North Station is something like 90 feet under. Also of even more significant note: The Metro tunnel, at least west (or north) of State Center is bored through hard bedrock.

Continue reading "TRAC questions MTA assertions about tunneling" »

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Categories: Red Line

May 4, 2011

MTA plans open houses on Red Line station designs

The Maryland Transit Administration will hold a series of open houses this month for local residents to share their views about proposed designs for the 20 light rail stations planned for the east-west Red Line.

The MTA will begin holding the four sessions Saturday with a meeting at Edmondson High School. Others will take place of the 11th, 14th and 17th of this month.

At the open houses, members of the Red Line Station Area Advisory Committee will display the results of their work over the past six months. According to the MTA, 250 community "stakeholders" have been participating in discussions aimed at planning locations, designs, access, development implications and other matters relating to stations along the planned 14-mile light rail line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

Continue reading "MTA plans open houses on Red Line station designs" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Red Line

January 13, 2011

MTA hires Red Line community liaisons

The Maryland Transit Administration has hired five liaison workers to help work out issues in the communities affected by the planned construction of the east-west Red Line through Baltimore.

Henry Kay, the MTA's deputy administrator for planning, said the liaison team are undergoing training and will be introduced at a Citizens Red Line Advisory Committee meeting tonight. He said the team members have been hired as full-time consultant employees, rather than as permanent workers, and will work flexible schedules.

"They'll be out in the community. They'll be available at night," he said.

Continue reading "MTA hires Red Line community liaisons" »

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Categories: Red Line

November 9, 2010

Mrs. Smith gets her CharmCard fixed

Yesterday we recounted the  story of Bernard and Maria Smith and the hoops they had to jump through at the Maryland Transit Administration to resolve a problem of a defective CharmCard.

Today we can report that the problem has been resolved, though it took the Smiths three trips downtown to accomplish that. Here's the word from MTA spokesman Terry Owens:

Thank you for the opportunity to investigate and respond to a complaint about an inoperative CharmCard and MTA’s response.  Since hearing from you we did confirm that Mrs. Smith’s CharmCard is defective, and today she picked up a new card with its full value along with an apology for her wasted time.  Interestingly, there are currently 4,000 cards in operation and this is the very first report we have received about a defective card.

Continue reading "Mrs. Smith gets her CharmCard fixed" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM | | Comments (4)

Transit savings in Baltimore put at $9,549 a year

The American Publiic Transit Association estimates that a typical commuter to downtown Baltimore could save $9,549 a year by taking bus or rail to work and jettisoning a car.

Now APTA is a trade group and lobbying arm of the nation's transit agencies, so the fact the organization has come up with a large number for Baltimore and other cities is hardly a surprise. (New York tops that list at $13,962 a year.) But for certain commuters who would like to cut household expenses, the Baltimore number might be worth considering. That's $796 a month, if APTA's calaculations are valid.

Here's APTA's explanation of its methodology:



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Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (7)

November 5, 2010

Election provides mixed news for transit projects

This week's election provided mixed news for supporters of expansion of Maryland's transit system -- positive at the local level but foreboding on the national scene.

The big local story was Gov. Martin O'Malley defeat of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich  Jr. in a contest that pitted two very different views of public transit.  Ehrlich prmoised to scuttle Baltimore's Red Line and the Washington suburban Purple Line as light rail projects if elected. His stance in favor of a bus alternative was a turn-off to influential players in Montgomery and Prince Georges' counties -- as reflected in the Greater Washington Board of Trade's endorsement of O'Malley. His numbers in the Washington suburbs would have been anemic anyway, but his stance on the Purple Line deepened his problems. 

Ehrlich's Red Line position might have won him a few stray votes in Canton, but there are no signs it helped him much in the Baltimore area.


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Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:42 AM | | Comments (1)

October 21, 2010

MTA: CharmCard a work in progress

JIn a recent email, Jerry McCann of Lutherville raised some interesting points about how the MTA's new CharmCard works  on the light rail. We posted it on this blog.

Now  MTA spokesman David Clark has replied on behalf of the agency. Here's what he had to say:

Machines at the Lexington Market Northbound Light Rail Station are temporarily unable to accept CharmCards due to underground utility problems.  Additional notices placed on the TVM’s inform patrons that the machines currently accept “Cash Only” and CharmCard access will be available soon at that location. 

Continue reading "MTA: CharmCard a work in progress" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:03 PM | | Comments (6)

September 23, 2010

Franchot blasts report, reaffirms transit support

State Comptroller Peter Franchot reaffirmed his support for construction of two light rail lines as he accused a Washington newspaper of distorting his position after he questioned the costs of a contract for engineering on the projects.

Franchot released a statement Thuesday in which he said he felt compelled to respond to a Washington Examiner that he called a "gross misrepresentation of my longtime position" on the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. The comptroller said he fully supports construction of the 16-mile light rail lline from New Carrollton to Bethesda, as well as the east-west Red Line in Baltimore.

The Examiner, in an stricle that bore  the online headline "Franchot swings at Purple Line," interpreted the comptroller's remarks as a criticism of the cost of the projects themselves.

Continue reading "Franchot blasts report, reaffirms transit support" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:26 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: For policy wonks only, Light rail, MTA, Red Line

September 21, 2010

CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says

The chief of the Maryland Transit Administration says the launch Tuesday of the system's new CharmCard electronic payment system is just the first step in an effort to streamline the use of transportation services in the Baltimore region.

MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells said at a news conference at the Charles Center Metro Station that  “nothing is  off the table” in terms of future applications of the new “smart cards, which now can be used to pay fares on local buses, the Metro and the light rail system.

“We’re open to anything that will allow more accessibility to various transportation modes,” Wells said at the long-awaited CharmCard, which has been more  than a decade in development.


Continue reading "CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:20 PM | | Comments (2)

August 12, 2010

Get breaking news on traffic, transit here

Has a four-vehicle crash closed the Jones Falls Expressway? Did a light rail train jump the tracks? Are hundreds of passengers stranded on a MARC train?

You can find out fast by receiving text message alerts from The Baltimore Sun's Breaking News Desk. Just click here to sign up to receive traffic alerts and other news as it happens. These are not routine announcements or advisories about everyday congestion but the type of major developments that can help commuters get to home or work faster.

There is no charge for the service from The Sun, though standard test-message charges from cell phone providers may apply.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (0)

August 10, 2010

O'Malley supports Purple Line, dodges on gas tax

It was no accident that Gov. Martin O’Malley wore a purple tie to his campaign event in Silver Spring this morning.

The governor met with about two dozen small business owners and other voters at the Tastee Diner in this Montgomery County community to discuss his approach to transit issues -- and to underscore his support for a light rail project known as the Purple Line and the opposition of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to it.

While O’Malley launched no new verbal missiles at his prospective Republican opponent, he used the Purple Line issue to underscore a stark policy difference between the two.

Continue reading "O'Malley supports Purple Line, dodges on gas tax" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (1)

July 22, 2010

Bus rider urges: Give MTA a chance

Ada Orie of Towson recently contacted this after having difficulty getting her complaints dealt with. Our public airing of her problems helped bring out action from the MTA, including a  call from Administrator Ralign T. Wells, who apparently did a good enough job of responding to her concerns that she sent this email:

I was born, raised and have lived in Maryland all my life. I have been a MTA customer for about 15 years. I want to talk to you about MTA service and second chances. I have traveled on the MTA bus, light rail, MARC train and metro subway. I will say although the service has not been perfect in the last 15 years, I will say I always got to my destination safely and I am appreciative the fares have stayed the same for the last few years despite the economic downturn. As we are ten years into a new millennium, we have a responsibility to usher in positive change. Let us do it by opening up the lines of communication between the MTA and its customers.


Continue reading "Bus rider urges: Give MTA a chance" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:40 PM | | Comments (1)

July 21, 2010

Group to press for Red Line jobs, development

A church-affiliated community action organization is planning a campaign to ensure that Baltimore communities share in the jobs and economic development opportunities that would come with the proposed Red Line east-west light rail project.

The group, Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality (BRIDGE),  is working with U.S. Rep.   Elijah Cummings to work to ensure that the federal money for the Red Line is shared by the neighborhoods along the planned  route from Woodlawn to Bayview.

BRIDGE is planning to kick off its economic opportunity campaign  Wednesday, Aug. 4, from 11a.m. to noon on Pulaski Street between Mulberry and Franklin streets -- the site where the Red Line is supposed to meet up with the MARC commuter line at the West Baltimore station. Cummings, a Democrat who represents the Sevent District, is slated to speak.

Maureen Daly, a consultant and volunteer with bridge, said the event is not a protest but an effort to keep up the pressure to provide meaningful, career-building employment and useful community development. "We've learned from experience you have to build it in very early into the proposal," she said.

The state has submitted a $1.6 billion Red Line proposal  to the federal government and is awaiting a decision on funding.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:24 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

July 8, 2010

MTA extends call center hours

Spurred by recent service disruptions on MARC trains, the Maryland Transit Administration has extended the hours of its customer call center to roughly match the hours commuter rail service operates.

Starting immediately, the call center will remain open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday "until further notice." The center had previously closed  at 7 p.m. --- long before the last MARC trains of the day left their stations.

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells said one of the messages hhe had received in talking with customers is  that they want to be able to reach a knowledgeable  agency representative during service hours. The MTA said it has also designated some of its  agents to  deal specifically with MARC-related issues and to stay in touch with the commuter line's operations staff. The number for MARC-related callls is 1-800-325-7245.

The MTA said it has also extended call center hours for its other rail and bus systems to  the same period as for MARC. That number is 410-539-5000.

Continue reading "MTA extends call center hours" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:19 PM | | Comments (0)

July 1, 2010

MTA non-answers a rider's questions

On Wednesday night, both Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells owned up to the fact the communication with riders is the agency's No. 1 weakness.

It's good that these officials, who seem genuinely concerned about providing good service recognize the problem. But it might be even worse than they think.

Consider the case of Melissa Schober of Baltimore, who wrote a well-reasoned and well-informed email to Wells after a particularly bad commute June 22 -- a night of troubles that was overshadowed by the even worse problems the night before. Schober also had the moxie to share a copy with Getting There, a  practice this blog enthusiastically encourages.

Schober's June 25 email and Wells' reply, attached below, provide a vivid picture of the brain death that affects parts of the MTA. Here they are, you judge:


Mr. Wells:

Tuesday evening I was subject to one of the worst commutes I’ve ever experienced. I boarded the 4:15PMWAS departure train to Baltimore Penn Station. A few minutes after pulling away from the platform, the train experienced partial engine failure. We reversed into the station – a process that took more than 30 minutes – and were shuffled onto another train.

Continue reading "MTA non-answers a rider's questions" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:09 AM | | Comments (3)

June 29, 2010

MTA keeps tight grip on information

The first thing I want to make clear is that Terry Owens, the new chief spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, did not put me up too this. I asked some pointed questions and he gave honest answers. I hope that doesn't get him trouble.

What I asked Owens was simply whether he received a log each morning of incidents that occurred over the previous night.  To me, it seems like a no-brainer to provide such information to the public affairs office as a matter of routine. But his  answer was no. Logs of the previous day's performance are shared with "senior managers" but not the person in charge of answering questions from the media and the public. If somebody inquires about an overnight  lapse in service, the public affairs officer has to go dig out the information from the operations managers.

My experience suggests that these worthies are often less than forthcoming when approached by MTA spokespeople.

Continue reading "MTA keeps tight grip on information" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:59 AM | | Comments (2)

June 16, 2010

For a second view of MTA event, grab a Brew

It never hurts to have a second view of a public event, and Fern Shen of Baltimore Brew provides another account of MTA Administrator Ralign Wells' appearance before the Transit Riders Action Council earlier this week.

For the most part, Shen's account tracks the one on Getting There. It needs to be pointed out that while Shen put a lot of emphasis on the Red Line controversy, it only came up in the last 15 minutes of a 2-hour presentation, and the discussion was for the most part nonconfrontational.

The members of TRAC are a politically savvy bunch, and they  know Wells was not in a position to back down on the Red Line. The current Red Line light rail plan, after all, represents a decision made by his ultimate boss -- Gov. Martin O'Malley -- as well as the institutional opinion of his agency. To their credit, TRAC members spent most of the time concentrating on matters they could influence. Then they got their requisite licks in on the Red Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)

June 15, 2010

MTA chief outlines priorities

The top official of the Maryland Transit Administration says he's trying to instill a new  culture of individual responsibility and customer service at the often-criticized agency, outlining a series of steps he has taken or plans to take since being appointed to head the MTA last year.

"I'm very frustrated that there's a poor perception of transit,"  said MTA Administrator Ralign Wells. "What I'm trying to do is change the perception of transit."

Wells held a wide-ranging, almost two-hour discussion Monday night with members of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore. But while he found considerable support for his priorities among members of the pro-transit organization, Wells and TRAC politely agreed to disagree on the MTA's most ambitious local project: the proposed east-west Red Line.

Wells, who rose  through the  ranks from bus operator to head of the agency,  presented himself as an unabashed cheerleader for bus and train travel, frequently emphasizing that "I love transit."

Rejecting what he called some legislators' portrayal  of transit as "welfare transportation," Wells argued that the service is vital to society. "Public transit is a public service -- not unlike a police department or a fire department,"  he said. "If you're not using it, it's still benefiting you" -- by keeping other vehicles off the roads.

The Sun/Kenneth Lam

Continue reading "MTA chief outlines priorities" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:46 AM | | Comments (23)

June 14, 2010

MTA chief to speak tonight at TRAC

Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign Wells will appear tonight at the general membership meeting of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore tonight at 6 p.m.

Wells is expected to speak and answer questions at the meeting in the board room of the Maryland Association of Non-Profit Organizations, 190 W. Ostend St. It was nice of TRAC to point out that the location can be reached via the No. 1 and No. 64 buses, as well as light rail. It would have been even  better if the group had pointed out that the location is right on the route of the free (but non-MTA) Charm City Circulator Purple Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM | | Comments (0)

June 8, 2010

MTA seeks input on Red Line station design

The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking community participation in designing the stations for its proposed east-west Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

The Red Line plan submitted to the federal government calls for a light rail system with 20 stations along its 14-mile route. The MTA wants to form committees of stakeholders -- including community organizations, churches, residents and local institutions -- to advise it on the location, design, names, parking facilities and neighborhood planning of each of the station.

The committees, each to be made up of 15-20 members, are expected to include design professionals as well as citizen-advisers. Nominations are open until Aug. 25. Forms can be obtained at the Red Line web site. People and groups can nominate themselves.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

June 3, 2010

A view from the right on the MTA

For a view from the right on the Maryland Transit Administration, you need go no farther than the Red Maryland blog, where Brian Griffiths holds forth on the state of the MTA. It came to my attention recently that Griffiths was complaining that because of alleged leftist leanings I wouldn't link to his posts when I was linking to Maryland Politics Watch. In fact he never asked me to do so or even called attention to his work.

This doesn't constitute an endorsement of Griffith views, any more than I endorse those of Maryland Politics Watch. I would note, however, that the MPW article I most recently linked to -- though it had a point of view -- was solidly grounded in hard data.

The Red Maryland article, on the other hand, was almost entirely grounded in ideology. Entitled "Starve the Beast," it contains such gems as: "If I were in charge of the MTA, I would take steps to make the Agency profitable. There are ways to make the system self-sufficient without making the system unsafe or transit fares unaffordable to average riders."

Continue reading "A view from the right on the MTA" »

March 30, 2010

MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card

The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking volunteers to help test its planned "smart" electronic fare card, which is now scheduled to roll  out this fall.

The new card will allow passengers to pay the exact amount of their fare out of pre-established accounts by tapping the card against a sensor or the gate or  farebox.

The test of the unfortunately named CharmCard -- aren't you all sick of this Charm City this, Charm Ciity that? -- will include local buses and the Metro subway as well as bus and rail transit services in the Washhington area.

Continue reading "MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:42 AM | | Comments (11)

March 9, 2010

MTA trip planner is up and running

The Maryland Transit Administration got some grief on this blog last week for the dysfuctional state of the trip planner on its web site -- and the fact the agency wasn't telling its customers the service was out of order.

But now the planner is back on line and dispensing useful information about which buses and rail lines will get you where. The MTA is to be commended for its timely recovery.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:26 PM | | Comments (4)

March 1, 2010

MTA trip planner isn't working

The Google Transit-powered trip planner on the Maryland Transit Administration's web site isn't working. According to a reader, it's been out of operation for several weeks.

These things happen, but why wouldn't the MTA put a notice on its web site informing customers the service is out of order? This appears to be part of a pattern with the MTA of treating its web site as an afterthought instead of using it as a powerful tool to communicate with riders.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM | | Comments (3)

February 25, 2010

Transit activist Bob Keith dies

Bob Keith, a well-known activist on mass transit issues, was found dead Tuesday at his Fells Point home Tuesday, according to close friends. He was 78 and was undergoing treatment for emphysema.

Keith was a member of the Red Line Advicory Council and a persistent critic of the Maryland Transit Administration's plans for the east-west transit line. He was a familiar sight at Red Line hearings and meetings, where he would appear in nobviously fragile health, using a walker and portable ventilator but contest issues as vigorously as if he were a 20-year-old with excellent prospects of using the proposed line.

Fellow transit advocate Gerald Neily said he knew Keith as "a great and tireless champion for Baltimore."

"I got to know him, first when I was at the Baltimore City Planning Dept. working on Fells Point issues, and then working together with him as citizens," Neily said. "He was always creatively, intelligently and open-mindedly looking and advocating for better ways of doing things, and he always truly appreciated that which is great about Baltimore, and I will really miss him"






Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Red Line

January 14, 2010

Porcari role likely in transit policy shift

This is nothing more than an educated guess, but if investigators were to dust the Obama administration's new policy for funding transit projects, they would likely find former Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari's fingerprints all over it. The new policy allows the federal government to  give  more weight to such matters  as "livability," the environment and economic development in choosing which projects  to fund.

No disrespect  to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, but it is Porcari -- now the No. 2 official in the federal department -- who brought to the administration a deep experience with the  Bush administration's rigid cost-benefits formula for funding transit. As Maryland secretary, Porcari oversaw the Maryland Transit Administration's struggles to keep Baltimore Red Line project within the old formula -- which didn't allow much room  for accommodating the desires of the affected neighborhoods.

The payoff for Maryland in having an alumnus helping to craft federal decisions is that future policy could be more friendly to urban states such as Maryland. But  it is doubtful whether Porcari could play much of a role in decisions about projects already in the decision-making pipeline. The Red Line will have to stand or fall based on its own merits.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:33 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Red Line

January 13, 2010

Will new Obama transit policy affect Red Line?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new Obama administration policy Wednesday on funding of transit projects that scraps the Bush administration's rigid cost-benefit formula and replaces it with one that takes into account issues of neighborhoood livability.

This could be big news for the Baltimore area if it lets the Maryland Transit Administration go back and revise its pending application for funding of the east-west Red Line. In that case, what  otherwise might have been a community consensus has been fractured by the need to keep the project's budget within the old guidelines. And even if it doesn't bring about a re-examination of the  decision the keep the light rail line on the surface in Canton and along West Baltimore, it could open the door to permit  the MTA to drop its unpalatable proposal to run the line on a single track under Cooks Lane.


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Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:24 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Red Line

December 23, 2009

Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009

Apart from disasters, transportation stories tend to unfold over the course of many years. Some of the ones that garner big headlines at the time will be all but forgotten in a few years time. So in choosing the Top 10 Maryland transportation stories of the past decade, it helps to project forward to 2020 or 2030 and look back at what made a lasting difference.

A little disclosure is in order. I have covered transportation for The Sun since 2004 and before that followed many transportation-related stories as a State House Bureau reporter. So there might be a bias in favor of the stories I covered. (Thanks to my colleague Scott Calvert to reminding me of the Howard Street Tunnel fire, which occurred before my time on the beat.)

With those caveats, I present my top 10 in the bottom-to-top format made wildly popular by David Letterman:

10. Light rail double-tracking project completed. When Baltimore's light rail system opened early in the 1990s, it soon became clear that the system had been built on the cheap. The decision to run trains on a single track over long stretches led to constant delays and operational difficulties. Thus, under the Glendening administration, the decision was made to add a second track. The Ehrlich administration then made a tough decision to expedite the work by closing down the southern and northern stretches of the system for periods of about a year. It was a rough time for light rail users, but the project was finally completed in early 2006, and the result has been much more reliable service on this still image-impaired system.


                                                                                                 Sun photo/Amy Davis/2006      

Continue reading "Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:33 AM | | Comments (7)

December 4, 2009

Wells appointment getting good reviews

Gerald Neilly welcomes the appointment of Ralign T. Wells as chief of the Maryland Transit Administration in an article in The Baltimore Brew.

It's just one of the favorable reactions I've been hearing to the promotion of the 42-year-old former bus operator to the top MTA post.

Ed Cohen, former president of the Transit Riders Action Council, knows the Balltimore bus, Metro and light rail system about as well as anyone on the planet. His verdict: "He's the best guy MTA has."

Cohen said Wells, who had been the deputy administrator for operations, was the candidate transit folks had been rooting for ever since the departure of Paul J. Wiedefeld was announced.

"He loves his job. He loves trying to make transit better to the extent he can," Cohen said. "He's a guy that really relished tthe challenge and it'ss that character trait that is reallly going to  mean good things for MTA."

Meanwhile, deputy Baltiimore transportation director Jamie Kendrick called the choice by Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley "phenomenal," adding that Wells  has the support of the agency rank-and-file.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:22 AM | | Comments (1)

December 3, 2009

Wells appointment at MTA lauded

The news of the appointment of Ralign T. Wells as chief of the Maryland Transit Administration brought this reaction from Ken Chapman, a retired MTA employee who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.:

As a recent, 31 year retired MTA management employee (November 2008), I certainly applaud the decision by both the Secretary and Governor to appoint Mr. Wells as MTA Administrator. I happen to be an employee who also came up through the ranks, working in several departments. And yes, Mr. Wells is the ONLY employee who managed to come up through the ranks and land the Administrator’s job. He is not a political type who relies on politicians to get a job or advance his career. Mr. Wells is simply a transit official who is very well respected and comes with great leadership abilities.

Mr. Walter J. Addison was the first MTA Administrator, followed by Kimble, Wagner, Hartman, Agro, Freeland, White (Acting), Smith, Dickerson and Wiedefeld. In addition, Mr. Wells has experienced Deputies who should serve him well. I know. I worked with all of them and they certainly understand what it takes to advance transit in Maryland.

By the way, the salary of the new MTA chhief will be $183,000.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:04 AM | | Comments (0)

December 2, 2009

Former bus driver Wells is new MTA chief

Ralign WellsMaryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley announced the appointment Wednesday of former bus driver Ralign T. Wells to head the Maryland Transit Administration.

Wells, an MTA veteran who is now deputy administrator for operations, will replace Paul J. Wiedefeld, who is leaving the MTA after almost three years as administrator to return to his old job as chief executive of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

In choosing the 42-year-old Wells for the $183,000 post, Swaim-Staley and Gov. Martin O'Malley are turning to a veteran MTA insider who began his career at the agency two decades ago as a bus operator. At the MTA, Wells has served in a variety of positions, including deputy director of bus operations and director of Metro subway operations.

Swaim-Staley said Wells was responsible for implementing a new MTA scheduling policy that cut the agency's overtime budget by 26 percent in eight months.



Ralign T. Wells

September 9, 2009

Blog weighs in on Yellow Line idea

I just stumbled across the Transport Politic blog, which gives some extensive coverage to a recent proposal to advance the proposed Yellow Line from Towson to Columbia ahead of an extension of the Green Line.

I share the concerns that light rail to Columbia may be too slow to compete with autos. The public transit solution I'd suggest for Columbia is an express bus between the BWI Business District Light Rail station and Columbia Town Center. I don't see that it would kill the 310 or 320 commuter  bus routes, as one reader suggested, though it might lead to their being reconfigured. I see the express bus serving a much broader group of riders with seven-day-a-week service that would extend the existing light rail without the expense of an actual rail line.

Any thoughts?




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:48 PM | | Comments (8)

September 3, 2009

Brewing up interest in the Red Line

The Baltimore Brew blog has been giving a lot of coverage to the proposed Red Line lately -- ranging from the truly informative to the plainly misleading.

Well worth reading is city official Jamie Kendrick's attempt to dispel what he calls myths about the Red Line. For the most part, Kendrick sticks to the facts, but he's a little too glib in dismissing concerns about a single-track Cooks Lane tunnel. Some of the rhetoric about it being a "death tunnel" strikes me as overblown, but the Maryland Transit Administration does bear the burden of proving  such an arrangement is safe. That doesn't mean they can be expected to do so this week. The signaling and fail-safe systems haven't even been designed yet. But at some point the MTA will have to specify exactly what it will do to prevent a head-on collision from ever happening. The jury is out on that, and many of those weighing in with great certainty have no credentials to support their assertions.

Nathaniel Payer of the Transit Riders Action Council does a good job of making the case against the Red Line but he loses me when he talks about how the state could scrap the current proposal at a cost of only 18-24 months' delay. That's an ultra-rosy scenario.  Also, the notion that the Red Line could go it alone -- with no use of federal financing -- shows a naivete about state politics. Try explaining that decision in Annapolis or Rockville.

Payer's attempt to demonize "the developers" also strikes me as shallow. Cities need developers. Some are jerks; some are civic heroes. Either way, they have a vital part to play in the transit planning process. The populist rhetoric detracts from the credibility of Payer's other arguments.

I'm frankly puzzled by the fact the Brew would publish a Neighborhood Voices artticle perpetuating the falsehood that the Red Line would displace residents. You can criticize the project on any number of valid grounds, but that article did  nothing more than spread disinformation. Correcting that impression in a separate article doesn't cut it. Giving a lie and the truth equal time isn't fairness.

The best of the Brew's coverage comes from my former colleague Ann LoLordo, whose profiles of Dan Tracy and Ben Rosenberg -- two Canton residents on opposite sides of the debate -- accurately reflect the views and passions of people in the community.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

September 2, 2009

Group would speed Yellow Line, slow Green Line

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a group that brings together the movers and shakers in the Baltimore region, has endorsed what could be a critical change in the metropolitan area's long-term plans by urging that the proposed Yellow Line from Lutherville to Columbia be made the top transit priority after connstruction of the proposed Red Line.

The alliance's recommendation, which represents a consensus view of Baltimore business and ciivic leaders, would jump that project ahead of the proposed extension of the current Metro subway beyond Johns Hopkins Hospital toward Morgan State and eventually White Marsh. It came as part of a report relleased Wednesday on Baltimore's prospects for transit-oriented development.

Both projects lie far in the future, but the effect of such a change of priorities could be profound for today's young workers and future generations. If adopted by government leaders, the new priority could accelerate job growth and transit service in such places as Towson and Columbia in the 2020s while delaying an expansion of transit in the Harford Road and Bel Air Road corridors until later decades.

Otis Rolley, president of the transportation alliance, said the Yellow Line -- part of a 2002 comprehensive regional transit plan -- offers better prospects for connecting major residential and employment centers than the Green Line plan.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (9)

August 18, 2009

Oaks unhappy but won't block Red Line


                                                                                Sun Photo

Del. Nathaniel Oaks (left) and Del. Sandy Rosenberg.


I had the chance to catch up with Del. Nathaniel Oaks Tuesday on the subject of the proposed Red Line, the east-west transit line that would go through his  political base in Edmondson Village.

The 41st District Democrat said he's not happy with the route that Gov. Martin O'Malley chose or the fact that it involves running light rail on the surface along Edmondson Avenue. But he joined the other lawmakers from the 41st in pledging not to attempt to block funding for the transit line from Bayview to Woodlawn.

Oaks had previously relayed his position through Del. Sandy Rosenberg, his district colleague, but that's no replacement for a direct quote from the colorful Delegate Oaks.

"Am I going to raise the kind of hell that's  going to stop the prooject? I don't think so," he said. "The project itself is bigger than my opposition to  five or six blocks down Edmondson Avenue."

Oaks added that he would have preferred it if O'Malley had chosen a route along Eastern Avenue rather than one along Boston Street, calling the northern route a straighter shot to Bayview. But Oaks said an improved transit connection between the Security Square area and Johns  Hopkins' Bayview campus "is definitely something we need."

Incidentally, it is interesting to see the once-fractious delegation from the 41st, which also includes Sen. Lisa Gladden and Del. Jill Carter, working as a team on this issue. That can only help in their dealings with the governor and City Hall.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

August 12, 2009

Kraft clarifies his Red Line stand

I just had a pleasant chat with Councilman Jim Kraft, the District 1 councilman who is walking a tightrope on the issue of building the Red Line.

Kraft disputed my earlier posting that said he had come out against the east-west transit line, which was based on an email that said in part: "Consequently, I am, and will continue to be, opposed to any above-ground alignment on Boston Street."

Since Gov. Martin O'Malley made his choice of a plan that includes above-ground light rail on Boston Street, and since that plan will be Maryland's official submission to the federal government, that seemed pretty clear cut. But Kraft said his position is more  nuanced than that.

Kraft told me he is and has long been a supporter of the Red Line as long as it is in a tunnel on Boston Street as far as Clinton Street. In solidarity with the west side allies of his Canton constituents, he said he also supports tunneling under Edmondson Avenue.

Continue reading "Kraft clarifies his Red Line stand" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:08 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Red Line

Kraft opposes Red Line

Sun photo/Jed Kirschbaum

Defying City Hall and Gov. Martin O'Malley, Southeast Baltimore Councilman Jim Kraft will oppose construction of the $1.6 billion Red Line from Bayview to Woodlawn.

Kraft, a Democrat like O'Malley and Mayor Sheila Dixon, had been on the record favoring a plan that would have put the light rail line in a tunnel through Canton, announced his opposition  after the governor chose a plan last week that would  put the transit line on the surface through much of Canton on the east side and along Edmondson Avenue on the west side. Administration officials said plans that included more tunneling would have been to expensive to qualify for federal funding.

In an emaiil to city NAACP chief Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, Kraft cited strong opposition to surface Red Line in Canton.

"The number of folks who have requested that I support an above-ground alignment on Boston Street appears to be less than 50, while those who are opposed to it seems to be around 500," Kraft wrote. "This is not inclusive of, what I believe to be, over 1,500 signed post cards in opposition that were collected door-to-door throughout the greater Canton area and presented to Governor O'Malley."

The plan O'Malley selected is known  under federal transit law as the ""locally preferred alternative" -- a term that does not mean all the neighborhoods in a transit line's path prefer it. That plan is the only one that will be sent to the Federal Transit Administration for a decision on whether it is eligible for funding of up to 50 percent of its cost.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:48 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Red Line

August 11, 2009

MTA provides some Red Line answers

Last week I wrote that opponents of the proposed Red Line had raised some pertinent questions that deserved answers from the Maryland Transit Administration. 

One had to do with revised ridership projections in the plan Gov. Martin O'Malley chose for the so-called "locally preferred alternative," which came in about 28 percent higher than in the draft environmental impact statement. That revision helped bring the project within federal cost-effectiiveness guideline so that it could qualify for 50 percent U.S. funding. Red Line foes have implied that the magnitude of the change suggests the MTA had been cooking the books to get that result.

The other has to do with the decision to go with a single track in the one mile of light rail tunnel to be built under Cooks Lane. Opponents raiised the spectre of a catastrophic head-on, high-speed crash in the tunnel.

Continue reading "MTA provides some Red Line answers" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:44 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Red Line

August 7, 2009

Three city lawmakers back Red Line

Three Baltimore legislators from a district along the route of the proposed Red Line will not support any attempt to scuttle the project in Annapolis, one of them said today.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg said he and two district colleagues, Del. Jill Carter and Sen. Lisa Gladden "will not support any legislation that would jeopardize or delay funding for the Red Line." The fourth member of that delegation, Del. Nathaniel Oaks, has not yet weighed in on the matter.

The 41st District delegation had previously publicly supported an alternative light rail plan that would  have  run trains in tunnels under Edmondson Ave. and Boston St. But after Maryland Transit Administration studies showed that the cost of that plan would have exceeded federal funding guidelines, Gov. Martin O'Malley decided to support a plan that would keep trains on the surface on those streets.

Rosenberg said he and his two colleagues regretted that the federal guidelines prompted that decision but did not blame O'Malley for reaching the conclusion he did. Rosenberg pointed to earlier concessions won by lawmakers, including a guarantee that the project would not displace anyone from their homes and a tunnel under narrow Cooks Lane in West  Baltimore.

No residential displacements were in the MTA's plans for the Red Line but the lawmakers' success in writing that guarantee into law has immense significance in West Baltimore, where many residents have vivid memories of being ousted from their homes to make way for eventually aborted highway projects.

Continue reading "Three city lawmakers back Red Line" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Red Line

Della weighs in on Red Line: No

UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Sen. George Della. He says he will oppose funding for the Red Line if it gains federal approval. He also acknowledges the error noted below.

Maryland Politics Watch, a Montgomery County-oriented blog, has begun to take a curiously intense interest in the Red Line controversy in Baltimore. As part of its new focus, MPW has  posted a letter from Baltimore state Sen. George W. Della to Gov. Martin O'Malley opposing surface light rail through Canton, which Della represents.

It's an interesting letter but one that glides over the most obvious problem -- that a tunnel all the way through Canton would have pushed the project over the limit for federal funding. Like several other Baltimore lawmakers, Della has so far taken the out of endorsing a gold-plated Red Line that couldn't be built. Now he and others are going to faced with a yes-or-no decision. Do they try to scuttle it or fall in line with City Hall and the governor? It's not a an easy answer because there are neighborhoods along the Red Line corridor -- including Greektown in Della's district -- where many residents see advantages in being on the Red Line.

If you click on the link to Della's letter, look out for one obvious whopper that the senator should have known better than to include. Henry Kay is not on loan to the MTA from the Greater Baltimore Committee, his former employer. He's the deputy administrator for planning at the MTA and thus as much a Maryland state employee as the senator himself.

Sun file photo 2007

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:10 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

August 6, 2009

Red Line foes raise some good questions

O'MalleyGov. Martin O'Malley's decision on a "locally preferred alternative" has just opened up a new round in the continuing struggle over the Red Line. Battle lines are now drawn over a specific plan, not a fuzzy set  of alternatives (most of which were obvious non-starters).

And the increasingly organized opposition is asking some questions that need to be answered -- especially about single-tracking in the Cooks Lane tunnel and on the revised ridership estimates in the Maryland Transit  Administration's current  plan. Single-tracking certainly raises questions, especially in view of the MTA's opposition to the notion for the Purple Line in suburban Washington. And the rosier scenario adopted for ridership assumptions beg for an explanation.

Rest assured, The Sun is seeking answers to both these questions.

And as a housekeeping matter, this blog is going to refer to those  who continue to oppose Alternative 4C as Red Line foes, opponents, whatever. Alternative 4C is now officially the only game in town. To build anything else, you have to kill the Red Line in its current form. So let's keep it simple. If you loved Alternative 4D or 3B or whatever, you now have to choose whether you're for or against the locally preferred alternative.

And, yes, we're aware the chosen plan isn't preferred in some neighborhoods. "Locally preferred," in this case, means the choice made by regional elected officials after a process prescribed in law. Quibbling over the term won't move the debate forward.

Baltimore Sun file photo 2009

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:22 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

August 5, 2009

Here's some red meat for Red Line foes

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics watch has matched up the Maryland Transit Administration's arguments against single-tracking on a Washington area transit project against its decision to go with a single-track solution for the Cooks Lane tunnel on the Red Line and has come up with interesting results.

It turns out the MTA vehemently rejected single-tracking when pressed to use it on a portion of the Purple Line to reduce the number of trees it would have to cut down. Here's the agency's language:

In sum, introducing a single-track segment between Bethesda and Connecticut Avenue would significantly compromise travel time savings, service frequency, passenger carrying capacity, and the maintenance and operating reliability of the Purple Line, thereby reducing the effectiveness, efficiency, and the return on a $1.3 billion investment. The reduction in the amount of tree clearance hoped for from building a trail and single-track segment would not likely be achieved. For the many reasons stated above the MTA strongly recommends against single-tracking any portion of the Purple Line.

While Red Line foes will certainly find that language useful, there's a big difference between single-tracking to save a few trees  and single-tracking to make a project economically viable. With the Red Line, the choice came down to single track or nothing at all because the  double-tracked tunnel it wanted pushed the cost beyond federal funding guidelines. But MTA officials are going to have to get used to explaining its decision to single-track the Red Line through that mile-long tunnel. 

Pagnucco's conclusion:

You heard it here first: if the Red Line is built as the Governor is now recommending, MTA will soon return with a multi-hundred-million dollar request to widen the Cooks Lane tunnel. The feds will never pay for it. That means the rest of the state will be on the hook.

Pagnucco is likely at least partly correct here. The MTA is  likely to eventually seek to add  a second bore -- and is fact leaving room at its portals to accommodate a wider tunnel. But Pagnucco's statement that "the feds will never pay for it" assumes the current transit formulas remain in effect in the new transportation reauthorization bill. Maybe they will, maybe they won't.

Even if that eventual project must be built with state funds, it  will have to compete with the other priorities around the state at that time. Chances are, Montgomery County will have an item equally expensive on its wish list in the 2020s. There would be a  trade-off.

To some extent, Pagnucco seems to be trying to gin up a little conflict here pitting the Red Line against the Purple Line. I don't think he'll get very far with the Montgomery County legislative delegation, except for a few lonely Purple Line foes who would be happy to see both projects go down. It's well understood that the two projects balance out neatly in political terms. The hallowed Annapolis principle of "you kill my dog, I'll kill your cat" will deter proponents of both projects from going after  the other.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:27 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

Red Line foes exaggerate a tad

A press release just came my way from the West-East Coalition against Red Line Alternative 4C in which the group boasts that its members "shouted down" Gov. Martin O'Malley at the Tuesday morning press conference in West Baltimore at which the governor announced his choice of that light rail alternative.

I was there. That isn't true.

Opponents of surface Red Line in their neighborhoods certainly made their presence known. Their banners were quite visible and their voices were loud. They were, however, far outnumbered by supporters of the Red Line plan. The governor may  have been thrown a little off-stride by the yelling, but he finished his remarks without a significant interruption. He was not "shouted down."

I'm not sure why any group would want to brag about what is essentially rude behavior. Red Line foes certainly have every right to oppose the governor's plan and fight his re-election. But "shouting down" an official at a public event doesn't persuade others that the shouter is right, only that the shouter should have learned bettter manners.

Most of those doing the jeering appeared to be folks from Canton. As I was leaving the event, I was walking behind some West Baltimore Red Line opponents who were bemoaning the lack of civility shown by their east-side allies. This may be an alliance of  convenience for now, but it's far from a  comfortable coalition.

For a look at the full release from the opposition coalition, click below.



Continue reading "Red Line foes exaggerate a tad" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:52 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

August 3, 2009

Tuesday is 'Red Line, Purple Line Day'

Gov. Martin O'Malley is going to bite the bullet on two major transit projects Tuesday with announcements on the state's plans for Baltimore's east-west Red Line and suburban Washington's Purple Line. It appears almost certain he will choose the Red Line alternative known as 4C -- light rail in tunnels under downtown, Harbor East, Fells Point and Cooks Lane but otherwise on the surface.

Whatever he announces, the governor is going to make some people mad. The most likely choices for both projects have both fervent supporters and ardent detractors.

O'Malley will start his transit tour with a news conference in New Carrollton  at 8:30 a.m., the eastern terminus of the proposed Purple Line to Bethesda. He will follow that with a MARC train ride to West Baltimore, a stop on the proposed Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview, where he will make a second  announcement  at 10:15 a.m. 

For both lines, the choices of mode officially on the table are rapid bus service and light rail, but if the choice were anything but rail in either case it would be a huge surprise.

The leading alternative for the Red Line, supported by Mayor Sheila Diixon and Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, is 4C. That alternative has been the subject of vocal protests from residents on the Edmondson Village area and Canton.

UPDATE: Mayor Dixon is on vacation out of town and won't be attending the news conference, but members of her administration will be there  and are expecting  no surprises. The same is true for Smith. Also on the guest list is Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee and a public backer of the plan Dixon and Smith have endorsed. It would be quite a  shock if the governor invited Fry only to choose some other plan. Also, the governor's office -- while  not tipping its hand on its choice -- acknowledged that  the Maryland Transit Administration managed to bring the leading option within federal cost-effectiveness guidelines.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:21 AM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Red Line

July 24, 2009

Some in MontCo hungry to eat Baltimore's lunch

Adam Pagnucco does a terrific job of covering transportation for Maryland Politics  Watch  with a distinctly Montgomery County slant. So Getting There is proud to have him picking up some of its material. What he makes of it provides an interesting illustration of the how  projects in Baltimore and those in Washington are connected.

Essenhtially, Pagnucco's point in an article about Baltimore's Red Line  is that supporters of the proposed Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's County, as well as  the Montgomery-only Corridor Cities Transitway,  stand to gain from the contention over surface light rail in Canton and West Baltimore. He muses that fierce opposition to that plan might force Gov. Martin O'Malley to propose expensive tunneling on the Red Line that would put the project outside federal funding guidelines. That, he speculates, could give the Purple Line and the Transitway, which aren't burdened with the challenge of going through city neighborfoods, a leg up in the competition for federal dollars.

Pagnucco's theory is that such a move would be a win-win for the governor, placating Baltimore opponents of the Red Line while pleasing Washington area transit advocates. I respectfully disagree. Such a move would be too cute by half.  O'Malley's got to make a choice one way or another.

But the article  is a welcome reminder that some folks in Montgomery, behind their best One Maryland smiles, are always on the alert to profit from a divided Baltimore. Thanks for tipping your hand, Adam.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:01 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Red Line

July 20, 2009

Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea

By Michael Dresser

Maryland’s acting transportation chief, citing concerns about privacy, has pulled back an internal proposal to use listening devices on its buses and trains for recording conversations of passengers and employees.

The Maryland Transit Administration had been considering adopting a system that would allow it to conduct audio surveillance similar to that in several other large American cities.

The idea was first reported late last week by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, which reported that the MTA’s top official had requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on the legality of such surveillance.

After inquiries from The Sun Monday, acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley ordered the request withdrawn.

 "It certainly should have been vetted at the department level and it was not," she said. "We have not weighed the issues we should weigh before making a decision like this."

Swaim-Staley said she would review whether the state would move forward with such a program.

"Any privacy matters are of the ultimate importance," said Swaim-Staley. "They’re the ultimate test of people’s trust in government."

 The request to the attorney general had sought legal guidance on whether using such equipment would violate Maryland’s anti-wiretapping law.

Continue reading "Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:39 PM | | Comments (1)

MTA thinking of listening in? Never mind

Update: Maryland Transportation Administration Acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said Monday evening that she has withdrawn the following request to the attorney general for a legal opinion, saying the matter should have been reviewed at the department  level before the MTA sought legal advice.

Swaim-Staley took the action after the following was reported here early Monday.

The MTA is considering installing audio surveillance equipment on its buses and trains to record conversations of passengers and employees, according to a letter sent by the MTA's top official to the state Attorney General's Office.

The letter, reported by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, seeks legal guidance on whether installing such equipment would violate Maryland's anti-wiretapping law. In his letter, MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld notes that the MTA already uses video cameras for security aboard its vehicles.

"As part of MTA's ongoing efforts to deter criminal activity and mitigate other dangerous situations on board its vehicles, Agency management has considered adding audio recording equipment to the video recording technology now  in use throughout its fleet," Wiedefeld wrote.

According to the administrator, the MTA staff decided the idea raised legal issues and decided to send a letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general on whether such electronic eavesdropping  would be legal and, if so, under which circumstances.

Whether legal or not, the notion didn't play well with Paul Gordon, who broke the story on the Montgomery County-based blog.

"Personally, I find the idea of the state recording people’s conversations on public transportation creepy, something I would expect from the old Soviet Union," Gordon wrote.

I was reminded this weekend during a trip to Artscape on light rail that  one of the chief sources of amusement aboard public transit are the too-loud and uninhibited conversations of fellow passengers. It would be a shame if riders were cowed into silence by the fear that someone in authority was recording their descriptions of their wild weekends.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:57 AM | | Comments (6)

July 17, 2009

Monorails: Disney vs. urban reality


Monorail at Walt Disney World
                                                                                 AP photo
Monorail passes Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center
From time to time, a participant in the Red Line suggests that a good alternative to tunneling would be to run at least part of the system as an elevated monorail. It's an attractive idea -- particularly to the millions of people who have seen it work so well at Walt Disney World ( except for that matter of a recent fatal crash).


Reader Jed Weeks points to a recent article on the blog the transport politic that gives a cogent explanation of why Disney-style monorails may not be a practical solution for an urban setting such as Baltimore. The discussion that folllows Yonah Freemark's article is worth reading too.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:58 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Red Line

New web site fights surface light rail in Canton

Opponents of surface light rail along the path of the proposed Red Line have set up a new web site,,  to fight the city administration's preferred plan for a  transit line from Bayview to Woodlawn.

The choice of a specific transit line is now a huge hot potato that has landed  in the lap of Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is scheduled to make a decision this summer.

The new web site's color scheme, infernal red on hellish black, is an accurate reflection of the heated opposition expressed  there.

While the site --  registered July 9 -- is billed as the "Home of the West-East Coalition Against Red Line Alternative 4C," so far the content seems to be all about Canton.  It includes a letter sent in June to O"Malley by three of the legislators who represent that neighborhood -- Sen. George Della and Dels. Brian McHale and Peter Hammen.

Click below for a sampling of the rhetorical  battle.



Continue reading "New web site fights surface light rail in Canton" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Red Line

July 16, 2009

Edmondson, Boston no strangers to rails

Edmondson Avenue, 1950

 Sun file photo

A coalition of opponents of surface light rail in Canton and West Baltimore recently fired off a letter to elected officials urging them to abandon the city administration's preferred alternative for building the proposed Red Line.

One part of that letter read:

3. Neither Edmondson Avenue nor Boston Street were ever intended to carry a double-tracked surface light rail system and they are inadequate for that purpose.  

A couple of readers challenged that statement, noting that Edmondson Avenue was served by a trolley line -- the light rail of a previous generation -- before the automobile  crowded out other forms  of transportation.

The picture of Edmondson Village above, dated 1950, seems to support their position.  I don't suggest the opponents of surface light rail abandon their  fight, but I would recommend they find another way to phrase that argument. L

Some readers also noted that  Boston Street accommodated rail traffic in the days before the gentrification of Canton. I couldn't find any similar pictures in the Sun library, but reader Jon T. Merryman pointed the way to a gallery of photos from Canton's railroading past.    Lee Weldon, the photographer who took the shots, which show the last Conrail train to operate on Boston Street, believes they were taken in the spring of 1987.


Lee Weldon/The Conrail Historical Society


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:17 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Red Line

July 13, 2009

Rumblings against Red Line get louder

With a final decision on the Maryland Transit Administration's proposed Red Line either in the hands  of Gov. Martin O'Malley or very close, opponents of the leading alternative -- known as 4C -- have ratcheted up their opposition.

Opponents from West Baltimore and  Canton  share a strong aversion to surface light rail in their neighborhoods -- whether along Edmondson Avenue or Boston Street. The following letter went out today to O'Malley, leading 4C backer Mayor Sheila Dixon and other elected officials saying no to 4C.

You can read it below:


Continue reading "Rumblings against Red Line get louder" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:03 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Red Line

July 10, 2009

Forget Red Line tunnels, Montco blogger warns

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch in Montgomery County has been watching the Red Line debate from afar because his own county is in the midst of contentious debates over two proposed transit lines -- the so-called Purple Line from Cheverly to  Bethesda and the  Corridor Cities Transitway along Interstate 270.

He writes:

Mike, I know that some of the people in Baltimore oppose surface rail, but there is no way they are getting a tunnel. Here are the cost effectiveness numbers for the Red Line, CCT and Purple Line. Read his article.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Red Line

Red Line rumblings

I wasn't at the meeting of the Red Line Citizens Advisory Council last night, but I understand there were some fireworks. I'm not sure how important these matters are in the great scheme of things regarding the proposed east-west transit line, but they do reflect the depth of the opposition in some quarters to surface light rail through Canton and the Edmondson Avenue corridor -- the controversial aspects of the alternative favored by the Dixon administration and city business leaders.

One caveat about the Citizens Advisory Council: It isn't as big a deal as some of its members think it is. The relevant word here is "advisory." It's not a decision-making body. But its views are significant enough that  proponents of the leading alternative took comfort in their vote  in December in favor  of the alternative known as 4C. Opponents have a right to see a glimmer of hope in the apparent weakening of support shown that alternative.

In the absence of an unbiased report, here is the account of the proceedings from Ben Rosenberg, a Canton resident and fierce opponent of 4C:

Warren Smith, one of the Council members, moved to rescind the CAC's December 11 recommendation of 4-C. At the December 11 meeting, 9 members of the CAC were present. Of those 9, 2 abstained, 2 voted against 4-C and 5 voted in favor. I believe there are 14 members of the CAC. Tonight, 11 members were present. A majority of 6 voted to rescind the recommendation on account of the very strong east/west opposition to surface light rail. The Chair, Ms Bethea-Spearman, ruled that the moton to rescind failed because it required a 2/3 majority. She was wrong because the motion was on the CAC's agenda and under Robert's Rules of Order, only a simple majority is required to rescind a previous vote if there is prior notice of the motion. But that's not really the point which is that more members of the CAC voted to rescind the 4-C recommendation than voted for it.

Personally, I'm not impressed by either vote, but I'm passing it along for all you Red Line news junkies.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

July 7, 2009

Video to show other cities' transit lines

A group of mostly pro-Red Line sponsors will show a film Wednesday evening at the downtown Enoch Pratt Free Library intended to show Baltimoreans what other cities have been doing to integrate transit lines into their communities.

While this presentation will likely play up the virtues of surface light rail, it could be useful information for folks whose only exposure to light rail has been the circa 1991 north-south light rail line along Howard Street. 

Whatever decision is made on the Red Line, it shouldn't be based on a notion that the current line is the state of the art.

 The release follows below.


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Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Red Line

July 2, 2009

Reader warns of irrational transit-phobia

Every once and a while I get an email that displays uncommon good sense in the face of nonsense. This, from Terry Shepard of Baltimore, is one of them. After passing  along some compliments that are too extravagant to inflict on readers, Shepard writes concerning the June 22 Metro crash that killed nine in Washington:

The Sun and other papers continue to run follow-up stories on it and that is understandable.  What is less explicable is the employment of this accident by some to spread fear of and opposition to public transit.  Auto commuters say "See, that's why I don't ride transit" and even the Sun ran one of its reader polls on whether this would make people less likely to do so. 

Meanwhile, a June 30 story in the Sun reports on "a tractor-trailer that plowed into stalled cars in a turnpike accident that killed 10 people" and no one is running polls or saying "See, that's why I don't drive on the highway."  (I realize that crash was in Oklahoma, but you get the point.)

This despite the fact, reported in a June 24 story in the Sun, that:  "According to the National Safety Council, the number of accident fatalities per vehicle miles traveled is about 14 times worse for passenger cars than trains and subways. Only transit buses are considered safer."

Perhaps you could repeat those statistics and interview a psychologist who works on transportation as to why people refuse to accept this (beyond the obvious answer that many Americans reject facts that suggest they should get out of their cars and ride on public transit with people they don't know.)

As you know and have argued, more and better mass transit are both possible and absolutely vital if we are to avoid killing our environment, our cities and ourselves.  Americans must get past their unreasoning fear of transit and you can help them do it:

I have to disagree, Terry. If anyone, you are the one that can help them do it. And just have. Thanks.

I don't think you need a psychologist to explain what's at  work: Transit is unfamiliar to most middle-class, auto-oriented Americans. Cars are something they encounter every day. That  which is unfamiliar is more scary than what is familiar, even when the familiar is demonstrably more dangerous. Transit also involves contact with unfamiliar people.

The point on the poll is well-taken. It should be noted that it comes with the disclaimer: "results not scientific." Still, it is encouraging that only 17 percent answered yes. And I'm going to venture an unscientific guess that those most of those folks don't ride transit now.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:32 PM | | Comments (1)

June 26, 2009

Canton residents dispute MTA official

When MTA deputy administrator Henry Kay gave an interview to Suzanne Collins of Channel 13 Thursday night about the proposed east-west Red Line, he drew a quick and vehement reaction from Canton residents who oppose a surface light rail line on Boston Street.

Kay was talking about one of the alternative plans for building the east-west transit line between Woodlawn and Bayview called 4C. It would involve building a light rail line in a tunnel through downtown and Fells Point, as well as under Cooks Lane in West Baltimore, but on the surface along Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue.

Some in Canton were unhappy with the way Kay characterized the oppposition to the plan. Ben Rosenberg wrote:

Henry - I saw your interview on WJZ this evening. You said that many people who live just one block off of Boston Street want the Red Line. We've been looking for people like that, but haven't located a single soul. Would you please identify them. I'd like to ask them why they feel the way you say they do. Of course, if you don't really know of anyone who lives a block from Boston Street and supports the Red Line, maybe you should correct the record. It's not a good thing for a public official to mislead the public.


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Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:28 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Red Line

June 25, 2009

Cummings: Stay course on Red Line

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings told a Greater Baltiimore Committee Transportation Committee that he is optimistic that Congress will scrap a rigid federal formula that has complicated the process of planning the Maryland Transit Administration's proposed Red Line.

That might sound to good news to critics of the most likely alternative for the Woodlawn-to-Bayview line, which would run light rails cars on the surface along Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street in order to save money on tunnel construction in order to meet the Federal Transit Administration's cost-benefit formula.

 However, Cummings said Maryland should move ahead with its effort to gain federal funding for the Red Line under the old rules. He rejected calls for the state to delay the project in order to see whhat new rulles Congress and the Obama administration might adopt.

"I think we're going to have to move forward on the schedule that we're on," said the powerful 7th District Democrat, a subcommittee chairman on the House panel that is drafting the new, multi-year transportation authorization bill scheduled to expire this year.

Though many of his constituents in the Edmondson Avenue corridor oppose building the Red Line unless it runs in a tunnel thought their neighborhood, Cummings said it is vital to keep the Red Line planning process on track.

 "Whatever we do, I do not want to hold up the Red Line. I think the Red Line has been held up long enough," Cummings said.

The alternative that has won support from Baltimore, Baltimore County and the GBC is one that would run light raiil in a tunnel under Cooks Lane in West Baltimore, downtown and Fells Point but come out of the ground along Edmondson Avenue and in Canton. The plan has sparked vocal protests in Canton as well as West Baltimore.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:13 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Red Line

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.



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Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:47 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Red Line

June 2, 2009

New MTA "smart" card to work on D.C. metro

According to Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman Jawauna Greene, the MTA has worked out an agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration that would let holders of the soon-to-be-introduced MTA "smart cards" use them on the Washington Metro system and WMATA-operated buses.

WMATA users would also be able to use their SmarTrip cards on MTA buses, the Baltimore Mettro and the light rail (not MARC).

This makes so much sense it's a surprise it could actually happen.

These smart cards, which store value added in advance, make the experience of riding public transit much smoother. Users can eliminate much of the fumbling for change that complicates a simple bus or rail trip.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:00 PM | | Comments (5)

June 1, 2009

Dogs not barking at MTA

There's something very strange going on at the Maryland Transit Administration: Nothing.

That's nothing as in no news. And there's no place where the axiom that no news is good news applies as much as at a public transit agency.

It's been about a month since I've received an email from a disgruntled MARC rider. If anybody's been getting beat up on city buses, it's certainly been kept quiet. When I've ridden the light rail, the ticket machines have been working. The Metro subway just  keeps rolling along with its usual boring efficiency. The MTA personnel I've dealt with have been courteous and professional.

What's going on here anyway? Is this turning into the Stepford Transit System? Whatever happened to the font of horror stories where Sun reporters have slaked their news thirst at for years? Is this a fluke or could it be that this agency isn't as screwed up as it used to be?

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Mayor Dixon talks transportation

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Sheila Dixon to talk about transportation issues, It's a topic very close to the heart of the mayor, an avid  bicyclist who uses her rides around the city to get an up-close look at Baltimore infrastructure.

Some topics:

Speed cameras: Dixon expressed relief that a petition drive aimed at invalidating a law passed  by the General Assembly expandig the use of speed cameras failed. She said the city has a serious problem with speeding and not enough officers to enforce traffic laws.

Roundabouts: The mayor said she, too, finds the Towson rounabout confusing, even though her administration is looking at creating six of them to replace busy interchanges. She said she got a good look at the possible benefits of such traffic circles during a trip to Chicago. Dixon said she especially likes the opportunity to create green space in the  center  of the roundabouts.

Red Line: Dixon restated her backing for Red Line Alternative 4C -- a light rail system running in a tunnel under Cooks Lane and through downtown and Fells Point  but on the surface in Canton and Edmondson Village. But she said she understands the concerns of residents of the affected neighborhoods. She said the existing north-south light rail system down Howard Street -- built with the state-of-the-art technology of the early 1990s -- has colored people's opinions about the Red Line.

"People look at it like it's the light rail and it's not not," she  said. Dixon said  newer light rail technology is much quieter and will blend in better with the communities it serves. "People can't vision it the way we plan it to be."

The City that Paves: Despite severe recession-related budget cuts, the mayor said the city is still on track to repave 220 lane-miles this year. 

Stimulus money: Dixon said it's out on the street right now, paying for the resurfacing of Northern Parkway and Orleans Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                




Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bicycles, For policy wonks only, Light rail, On the roads, Red Line

May 15, 2009

State seeks $4 billion in transportation earmarks

Maryland is seeking more than $3.6 billion in congressional earmarks for transit projects, along with an additional $327 million for highway work, according to a document released Friday by the state Department of Transportation.

The request is part of process leading up to congressional action on a new six-year surface transportation spending reauthorization bill. The current law expires this year. States typically request many dollars for each one that ends up in the legislation.

Jack Cahalan, a department spokesman, said the wish list reflects the state’s priorities of transit, preparations for military base realignment, safety and bridge rehabilitation. The transit requests include $1.3 billion for the proposed east-west Red Line in Baltimore as well as $1.8 million for two transit lines in the Washington suburbs. The request also includes $188 million for the extension of Baltimore’s Metro subway line in the direction of Morgan State University.

All in all, the list brings few surprises. Most of the requests are for projects that have long been high priorities of the O'Malley administration and, in many cases, the Ehrlich administration as well.

On the transit side, the state is also seeking $100 million for the Baltimore bus system, $60 million for local bus systems, $60 million to study Amtrak tunnel replacement and $126  million for a new BWI railroad station.

Highway request include $30 million each for BRAC-related projects around Andrews Air Force Base, Aberdeen Proving Ground, For Meade and the Bethesda National Naval Center. Money is also being sought for improvements on Interstate 70, 695 and 81.



May 13, 2009

Summary of MTA Red Line comments posted

The Maryland Transit Administration has just posted a summary of public comments on its proposed Red Line here.

 This is part of the draft environmental impact study process for the proposed transit line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

Here are some quick highlights:

--Sttrong support for east-west transit improvements.

-Little interest in bus rapid transit alternatives.

--Strong support for Alternative 4C, the one preferred by the Diixon administration and business leaders, but also strong opposition to that alternative's plans for surface light rail on Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street. Alternative 4C got 146 positive comments, compared with 131 for not building the Red Line at all. (Alternative 4C would run light rail in tunnels under downtown, Fells Point and Cooks Lane  but on surface otherwise.)

--Business and labor groups are strongly on board the 4C option. --Common objections include concerns about a loss of parking and that surface light rail could create congestion and complicate travel patterns.

--Most of the objections raised are of  the NIMBY variety and don't deal with the kind  of broader concerns state and regional authoriities need to consider.

 --Unlike most opponents, the Transit Riders Action Council has raised serious systemic concerns, bbut its push for heavy rail has not won broad support. Only  3 organizations and 17 indiviiduals  weighed in for heavy rail.

--My quick take: The  4C alternative is gaining momentum  and will be difficult to block as the locally preferred alternative. 





Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:51 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Red Line

May 6, 2009

MTA chief to meet with city residents on Red Line

Council woman Helen Holton called to say that MTA Administrator Paul Wiedefeld will attend a meeting May 19 meeting at Edmondson/Westside High School to hear the views of West Baltimore residents about the various alternatives for building the east-west Red Line.

Holton said Wiedefeld has been invited to listen rather than to make a presentation on behalf of the transit line. The meeting will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the school, 501 Athol Ave.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

May 4, 2009

Highlandtown war-games the Red Line

The Southeast Community Development Corp. and its Greektown counterpart are asking Highlandtown arrea resients to take part in a strategy session this week to plan for the possibility of a new light rail station at the Eastern Avenue underpass.

The station would be part of the Maryland Transit Administration's proposed Red Line - a 14-mile rail or bus line between Woodlawn and Bayview.

 The session is called a charette -- an intense design workshop bringing together citizens, planners and architects. The first public session is Monday night between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School at 231 S. Eaton St.. Subsequent public sessions will be held at the same time and place Wednesday and Friday nights. There is also a series of daytime meetings during the week for such stakeholder froups as local merchants, property owners and government agencies. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Red Line
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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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