City pursues funds for 'people mover' Proposed monorail faces resistance on Baltimore waterfront

March 09, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

City leaders are busy courting Congress for funds for a monorail that would run from Camden Station to Canton, even though some residents of Baltimore's historic waterfront neighborhoods are upset about the proposal.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has asked Congress to spend $1.5 million on a study of his proposed "people mover" -- computerized electrical cars that would run on both sides of a rail elevated about 15 feet and supported by single poles.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, is spearheading the effort to get congressional approval for the estimated $200 million to build the people mover -- a cost roughly equal to that of the new Ravens stadium.

The city has spent $200,000 on preliminary plans for the project. Another $1 million has been budgeted, and the city is seeking bids to complete an engineering study.

"A system is needed to efficiently move people along an east-west corridor in the core area of downtown," Schmoke told members of a House appropriations subcommittee last month. "The people mover would reduce congestion and provide the real long-term answer to parking constraints."

Before Congress approves money for construction, Cummings acknowledged that "there's a lot of lobbying" to be done.

But he added, "I think we've got a 70 percent chance of getting the $1.5 million, and later, the additional funding we need. A lot of people in Washington are very excited about this project."

Camden to Canton

Preliminary plans for the rail line, designed by Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, a Cockeysville engineering firm, show the monorail beginning at Camden Station, running along Conway, Light, Pratt, President, Aliceanna and Boston streets, and ending at Boston and Clinton streets.

jTC The people mover would have elevated stops incorporated into existing pedestrian bridges and hotels. The route would serve tourist attractions such as Little Italy, Inner Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton.

City officials hope the monorail proves popular with tourists and conventioneers.

"I think the people mover is a great idea," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

As for community opposition, he said: "Change is not for free. There was a lot of opposition to development of the Inner Harbor. But once it got here, it was embraced -- even by its most vocal critics."

But some residents of the neighborhoods that would be directly affected by the monorail seem far from embracing the project.

'Ridiculous idea'

"It's just the most ridiculous idea," said Laura Gamble, who has lived in the 1700 block of Aliceanna St. in Fells Point for eight years. "People would be looking in our second-floor windows, not to mention that it would destroy the character of the neighborhood."

Fells Point, like Canton, is a community of 18th- and 19th-century rowhouses and light industry. Both communities are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and both are well-known for their willingness to oppose development that would compromise their historic value.

"The people mover has the potential to cause an uproar like we saw with the road fight," said Canton resident Caroline Burkhart, referring to a 1960s battle that stalled a proposed East-West Expressway. "The last thing this city needs is another divisive issue like the Wyndham."

The 750-room Wyndham hotel planned for Inner Harbor East has drawn the ire of several neighborhood groups, which have criticized the proposed height and width of the 31-story structure. Two civic groups have filed suit in Baltimore Circuit Court, alleging that the City Council violated its development plan when it approved the project.

Community role

The request for proposals for the people mover, issued by city officials in January, makes no mention of community participation in the planning process. But Public Works Director George G. Balog has promised that neighborhood residents will have a say in the matter.

"Of course residents will be involved in the process," Balog said. "They're concerned about how the people mover would affect their neighborhoods, and they have a right to be. But we won't go forward without community involvement and some positive signals from Washington."

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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