All Aboard for the Future

Nov 27, 2013

An old port city, a once thriving steel city, Baltimore shocked the world 30 years ago when it became a tourist and convention city.

Riders at the Lexington Market Metro Stop.
Riders at the Lexington Market Metro Stop.
Credit Fraser Smith

And now? Yet another Cinderella turn: Millennials, empty nesters and those yearning to breathe sea are crowding into downtown Baltimore without a recruiting campaign.

The water is there, to be sure, and so are trendy new condos and apartments and bars and restaurants for this crowd of new city dwellers who’ve gotten the green message.

They want a walkable place to live.

They don’t want cars. They want good public transportation – including the Red Line, a subway and surface line that will link people to workplaces from Social Security on the west to Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital on the east.

There’s a new population to be served – as well as the older one. People have to get to work as well as to bars and restaurants. The city could use the new development expected at stops along the new route.

Cinderella had her pumpkin chariot. The new Baltimore needs the Red Line.

Jay Brodie, the city’s long time development chief, says it would be part of something that’s missing; a real public transportation system—emphasis on the word system.

The need stares us in the face, he says: Older young people on bikes, crowds on the light rail headed for Hunt Valley, the Circulator bus’s popularity. And one other thing, he says:

“The Zip Car phenomenon.”           

A fully developed transportation system, Brodie says, would also have shuttles from county to county; water taxis like Hoboken, New Jersey, has to Wall Street and Sausalito, California, has to San Francisco.

One of the new city lovers, Carly Page, says the Red Line will move Baltimore smartly into the future by addressing everyday needs; like getting from Federal Hill to Canton – a real problem now.

“It’s almost a different planet. It takes a long time to get there. The traffic is bad,” she says. “I think the Red Line is a very positive thing.”

Canton Crossing developers, Doug Schmidt and Neil Tucker, are eager for the line. Schmidt says their project is what he called “Red Line Ready.”

“We expect it to come. We hope it will come. We think it will help our retailer,” Schmidt says.

Carly Page says Baltimoreans should be open to the reality that progress will involve some inconvenience. Opposition on these grounds, she says, is “sort of selfish.”

Brody says the line will sustain momentum in the current mini-renaissance. It will respond to the needs of a new city population.

But he’s not impressed with assurances that Maryland’s in line for a $1.8 billion grant from the federal government.

“It has gotten initial blessing, which is why the design is going forward, but it is not a done deal until you get the federal check which is the majority of the money,” he says. 

Canton resident, Ben Rosenberg agrees with Brodie on the need for a transit system. A city lawyer, he also agrees the stars are not yet fully aligned for the federal money. And shouldn’t be, he says. Why? The current line misses too many riders, he insists. It traces the waterfront instead of city streets where people live.

“Nobody wants crabs and fish for the Red Line. On that side that’s all that’s there. There are very, very few people on that side,” he says.

He’s skeptical about reports that federal financing is essentially in hand.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that things aren’t lined up politically and bureaucratically. Or the federal government would have made a decision by now,” he says.

Brodie says this opportunity is not something to gamble with. The city has enough real issues.

“I see the city with tremendous potential but not easy to realize that potential because of problems we’re very familiar with like crime, drugs and the quality of the public schools,” he says.

He’s heard rumors of a law suit over the Red Line.

“Which would be unfortunate and I think foolish nevertheless…”

Given the opposition, Brodie says much depends on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She ought to have a Red Line office in Washington, he said – a very visible campaign for the line.

People ask him, he says, why the mayor isn’t more visible on the issue if she really wants it to happen.

The mayor says no one should think otherwise.

“The cities of the future, the cities that will thrive will be the cities with the best public transportation. Millennials and the generation that follows do not want to be car dependent,” she says.

Her ten-year-old daughter, she says, has gotten the no-car message. The youngster has said she wants nothing to do with burning fossil fuels. So Rawlings-Blake says how could her mother be anything but a backer?

The Red Line gains importance with every new car on the road: the new city lover may not have them but many others do. So there is mounting gridlock in the region – not just in Baltimore.

The big picture, he said is this:

“I think the fate of Baltimore as a city is hooked to two things: the fate of the region which continues to grow and the linkage with Washington. That’s the Super Baltimore Region. That’s the vision we should have in front of us.”

And he adds: No one should imagine there would be another opportunity.

“Well I think if it doesn’t happen now it won’t happen in the future. This is the Obama Administration. They’re keen on transit.”