Let's really move people

March 22, 1998|By Wally Orlinsky

WITH all of the current discussion about building a "people mover" in Baltimore, there's been a renewed interest in mass transit ideas I put forth 17 years ago. But, while it is flattering to hear people use my name when ideas such as the people mover arise, they often forget the context in which I was working years ago.

Now, I would dearly love to see the Baltimore area have a modern integrated public transportation system. One that would be so convenient to use that many people would use it because it made their everyday lives easier. Clearly, what is now on the table has little to do with such an idea.

My thinking has been governed by some simple rules that I hope might help people focus on what can be done to make a good public transit system here:

1. The more stops you have on a transit system the less important peak speeds would be. (Baltimore spent far more than it should have for a high-speed subway that can't go very fast because of the number of stops.)

2. The cheapest space for a transit system to use is on existing surface right of ways. But, any such system will compete with vehicular traffic and probably won't be endorsed by the public.

3. Underground transit is the most expensive but least obtrusive.

With this in mind, it's clear that building an elevated transit system -- like the proposed $200 million "people mover" the city is considering -- may be appealing to many public transit enthusiasts. But a "people mover" for the Inner Harbor doesn't fix the key problem here: Building this system would give us a fourth mode of public transportation -- none of which intelligently linked.

Fragmented system

We have a small piece of heavy rail (subway) running from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital by way of Lexington Market, an expanding light rail system that is somewhat regional and somewhat interconnected with other forms of transit, and a frail and inadequate regional bus system. Now comes some city fathers suggesting still another mode of transit to serve still another fragment of the city.

At this rate, we will soon qualify as a living museum of transit modalities.

Such amateurism should be anathema to us. The Baltimore metropolitan area desperately needs an integrated modern transit system.

The reality that there are so many segments of our community that need efficient public transit argues strongly for a fully integrated system that maximizes service to a wide range of citizens. Increasingly, that means suburban residents who are traveling between suburbs, not just downtown.

This is a time when leadership in the region, capable of rising above our normal political passion plays, must force an honest examination of what is to be done. With the overall public interest as the paramount objective, we really can do something that will give us new life and vitality.

I had some good ideas years ago. But what we need today are good ideas for now that take into consideration what has happened in the past 15 years or so. Now that would be fun to work on.

Wally Orlinsky was Baltimore City Council president from 1971 to 1979.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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