The proposed Red Line, connecting Baltimore County in the west to the East Baltimore communities by light rail, “has the potential to be a transportation game changer if we get it right,” says Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Rawlings-Blake said the line will bring 4,000 jobs in construction and 200 permanent jobs related to the line itself and new development along its route could even bring more jobs to the city.
The Red Line is the planned 14-mile-long light rail that will run between Baltimore County to the west and neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. The line will connect Woodlawn, Edmondson Village, West Baltimore, downtown, Harbor East, Fells Point, Canton and the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus.
Construction of the line is expected to occur between 2015 and 2021 and cost about $2.6 billion.
But the current design for the line has opposition. Some critics say it will cost too much and others don’t like the route.
The plan for the Red Line would be too expensive for Maryland taxpayers, and constructing separate lines using different transit modes would be a more effective way to address transportation problems, said Kathy Epstein and Maris St. Cyr in a June column in The Baltimore Sun.
Epstein and St. Cyr are the founders of the Right Rail Coalition, a volunteer group advocating alternatives for an integrated and cost-effective Baltimore transit system.
St. Cyr said in an interview that whether the city goes with the current plan or another one, jobs will be created and the city should be focused on creating a long-term system that works for Baltimore the way systems have worked in cities like New York.
The Department of Planning is working on a zoning legislation overhaul called Transform Baltimore, which could help the city prepare for the Red Line through transit-oriented development in many of the planned Red Line areas.
Transit-oriented development encourages creation of residential, office, retail and entertainment spaces around transit stations. It also advocates integrating public spaces and improving pedestrian access to public transportation.
Transportation needs to support where communities are growing and where jobs are growing, Rawlings-Blake said.
In the plan, design standards in transit-oriented zones require buildings to face major streets and have their entries face the transit station on streets with stations. There would also be height limits on new buildings in transit-oriented sections of the city.
Rawlings-Blake said she wants the city to take lessons from the light rail system. She said while the light rail has been a benefit to some communities, others, like the Howard Street corridor, found the light rail to be disruptive. The line runs on an elevated platform down the center of the street, which critics say disrupts traffic and make boarding more difficult.
Rawlings-Blake said the light rail has made some residents question the Red Line.
“Some people are a little hesitant when it comes to the Red Line,” she said.
The mayor said she hopes Baltimore can use transportation as a catalyst for growth the way cities like Washington have. She said rebuilding communities around transportation is a significant opportunity for the city.