'People mover' proposed for city Elevated cars would link Camden Station, Canton on main line

October 10, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Looking to a futuristic transportation alternative, the city is considering seeking up to $200 million in federal and state aid to build an elevated "people-mover" that would traverse downtown, with stops from Camden Station to Canton.

Based on an engineering firm's preliminary study, computerized electrical cars would run on both sides of a rail elevated 15 to 20 feet and supported by single poles.

While much of the initial spur would trace the waterfront, it would be built about a block from the harbor's edge to avoid obscuring views of the water.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he had discussed the idea with state and federal transportation officials and received positive responses. The city, which is commissioning a formal feasibility study, hopes to win federal aid for innovative transportation alternatives.

The rail line could open as early as 2001.

"I would say that this would be one of the next big projects, because I think we'll get very strong support," the mayor said.

Schmoke said his administration has yet to broach the idea to community leaders and a final possible route would depend upon their responses.

"Obviously, we'll get back to the community, because we want to make sure we reach consensus on the line itself, on the alignment. But the whole idea is Camden to Canton," Schmoke said.

Administration officials portrayed the idea as a safe, clean, quiet system that would ease traffic and parking crunches, provide fast transportation for residents, tourists and conventioneers and form a crucial link between the rapidly developing areas east and west of the Inner Harbor.

Disney World-like

George Balog, public works director, said getting there would be a whole lot of fun, pointing to colorful maps and a rendition of a sleek people-mover in front of the Renaissance Inner Harbor.

"I think about when I went to Disney World the first time in Orlando, Fla., and you take a boat to go across [the water], and then they have a monorail, too," he said. "And it's weird how Baltimore now has the opportunity to have boats and monorail and bring that whole Disney World feel here."

The preliminary plans show the line beginning at Camden Station, which would be the stop for Camden Yards and form a connection with light rail and MARC trains. From there, the spur would continue along Conway Street, behind the Baltimore Convention Center, along Light, Pratt, President, Aliceanna and Boston streets. It would end at Boston and Clinton streets.

Balog said the elevated stops could be incorporated into existing pedestrian bridges and hotels. Other stops would be simple structures built along the route, with stops in the Inner Harbor, Little Italy, Inner Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton.

One potential, high-profile stop, Balog said, could be inside the proposed Wyndham Inner Harbor East, widely criticized because of its one-mile distance to the expanded Baltimore Convention Center. "It would be a natural to run right into the hotel and transport people from that hotel to the convention center."

Spurs off the main line eventually could take passengers to the Ravens football stadium, South Baltimore and Hopkins Plaza, Balog said.

Automated

The people-movers would be fully automated, with no conductor or operator inside but with security cameras for monitoring. Passengers would pay a fare, board and push buttons for their stop.

Such people-movers now operate at numerous airports and in several cities, including Charleston, S.C., Morgantown, W.Va., and Vancouver, Canada. They're also being tested in larger cities, including Chicago and Boston.

Elevated transportation is not a new idea in Baltimore. Within the past three decades, various public officials have proposed the much bulkier, traditional monorails, but primarily for the Inner Harbor area, not as an east-west link.

Reaction

The people-mover idea drew generally favorable initial reaction in Baltimore yesterday.

"Anything that modernizes and brings our city transportation system up to date is bound to be a benefit to our whole city, so in that sense I think it's a great idea," said Steve Bunker, president of the Fells Point Community Organization.

"A modern transportation system is just what this city needs, but we would have to check routes and see how it affects neighbors on the streets where it would run. We need to be sensitive to history and at the same time keep an eye on the future."

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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