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Maryland

Hogan Links Baltimore To His Transit Plan

More than three months after he killed the Red Line, Governor Larry Hogan announced plans to revamp and improve public transportation for the Baltimore region.

He denied, however, that the plan to revamp city bus routes and add 12 color-coded routes called City Link was related to the abandoned east-west rail line.

Hogan made the announcement Thursday morning at the West Baltimore MARC Station, the same setting where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and a coalition of city leaders called on the governor to revive the Red Line last July.

Some of those leaders joined Hogan today to announce the $135 million plan.

Some changes, like a more frequent Quick Bus 40 service and increasing bicycle access on weekend MARC trains, will begin next week,.

But the big goal is a relaunch and rebranding of regional MTA services as Baltimore Link in June 2017

Hogan called Baltimore Link a “transformative” plan that would “help 800-thousand people.”

“It’s going to put people from their homes to their jobs and there’s no comparison between the Red Line and what we’re talking about,” he said.

The plan would involve creating dedicated bus lanes through downtown Baltimore, the construction of at least six transit hubs throughout the city and connections between suburbs. Hogan called for using technology to hold green lights longer for buses to improve speed and reliability.

State Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said this plan would “be delivered in a very timely manner. “

He conceded that it’s largely a bus system, rather than rail. But he said Baltimore relies heavily on buses.  And added that that’s just part of what’s being proposed.

“What’s different about today is that we are going to be delivering a transit system.” he said. “And the transit hubs that we have announced are actually tying together rail, MARC, light rail, Metro.”

State Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh was one of the city leaders who stood with the mayor in July. Thursday

Thursday she said Hogan’s proposal can’t be compared to the abandoned Red Line, but that the announcement is an important first step

“This is $135 million dollars being invested in the bus system of Baltimore,” she said. “Do we need it? Absolutely.  Does it make a difference? Absolutely.”

City Council President Jack Young agreed.

“I think that when people finally realize that it’s going to be a more efficient system, really connecting people with jobs and getting them on time and all that kind of stuff, I think it’s going to be well received,” he said.

But not everyone embraced the plan.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that it “falls far short of revolutionizing transportation across our critical East-West corridor” as the Red Line would have.

“Governor Hogan's proposal does little for the citizens of Baltimore who are in desperate need of forward-thinking transportation services to increase their access to jobs and better health care, childcare, and educational opportunities,” she said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz called Baltimore Link “window dressing.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that they just are doing a fix up of the bus system,” he said. “And that’s welcomed news that’s good for the bus ridership to improve service. But frankly, that’s their job anyway; that’s what they should be doing.”

Both Kamenetz and Rawlings-Blake said Hogan’s plan does nothing to get more people to use mass transit services.

Klaus Philipsen, an urban designer who was a consultant on the Red Line, said Hogan’s plan looks like “an actual system” that looks at where people need to go and is connected to other services.

He added that the MTA needs to make sure upcoming improvements, like those beginning on the Quick Bus 40 service is implemented successfully.

“When the riders on that bus have the same experience [next week] that they had this week with the buses bunching and not showing up on time then immediately the trust will be gone,” Philipsen said. 

Public input on the newly proposed Baltimore Link is expected to begin next month.