Gov. Larry Hogan’s $135 million proposal is a good plan for overhauling the city of Baltimore’s embarrassment of a bus system. And it’s an excellent start to better integrating bus service into the larger transit infrastructure.
But it’s not a mass transit strategy.
Let’s take these one at a time.
As Hogan and Pete Rahn, his transportation secretary, ticked off the specifics of their proposal Thursday in front of a bucolic mock-up of what Baltimore Street could be like in this brave new world, it was hard to argue with many of the specifics. Actually, they should be applauded.
The Hogan administration knitted together a plan that brings together all of the elements of a cohesive and efficient bus system. Among them:
- Twelve high-frequency bus routes that are better connected and coordinated with other modes of transportation;
- Transit signal technology for 200 key intersections;
- Six new transit hubs;
- Bike-rack and car-share locations;
- Enhanced service for West Baltimore residents;
- Stronger coordination with major job providers in the region, such as Fort Meade, Owings Mills, BWI Thurgood International Airport, and others.
There was plenty more, all accompanied by a detailed timeline under which the plan would be fully implemented by mid-2017. It’s clear that the best minds, planners and engineers in the state’s transportation bureaucracy took seriously the governor’s pledge to come up with a fix for Baltimore.
“Not many cities get to redesign their entire transit system from scratch, fixing decades of accumulated inefficiencies,” Rahn said Thursday.
Well, neither will Baltimore. The simple truth is that without a much stronger light-rail system, Baltimore will continue to lag behind the transportation network a first-class U.S. city needs. What was unveiled at the West Baltimore MARC station Thursday addresses only a part – albeit a critical part – of the equation.
A couple of politicians, notably Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, quickly turned up their noses at the governor’s handiwork. They’re still lamenting Hogan’s decision to deep-six the $2.9 billion Red Line light-rail project that would have connected 14.1 miles of the city and county on an east-west axis.
Well, we thought the governor’s decision was ill-advised, too. It’s mystifying how he could have worked so determinedly to bring the Purple Line in suburban D.C. into a more financially palatable package but throw up his hands on the Baltimore project. The Red Line a boondoggle? Strange how the Washington Metro’s well-publicized problems – after all, the federal government is ready to take on oversight of its safety operations – went unmentioned.
There will come a day when the region needs to return to the light-rail issue, and that day won’t be long off. But for now, let’s turn to the matter at hand. The governor and his team have come up with a good plan, and they’ve put some money behind it. And they didn’t create this mess; as Hogan and Rahn both observed, many of the most maddening inefficiencies of the current bus system have been allowed to fester for decades by other state and local leaders.
The fixes Hogan proposes for the bus system and the steps to better integrate it with other transportation modes are long overdue. Their proposal clearly will benefit residents and businesses. Local officials need to call a cease to the hostilities and work with the state to bring this to fruition.