Canton Residents Need Red Line Too

July 01, 2009|By Art Cohen

In 1969, strong community action from all over Baltimore defeated an expressway plan that devastated neighborhoods in West Baltimore and threatened to do the same in Canton and along Boston Street. I was one of hundreds of people across Baltimore who worked with neighborhood groups and the citywide Movement Against Destruction to prevent the building of an eight-lane East-West Expressway.

Forty years later, Baltimore finds itself again in a debate about the best way to move people to and through our city. Some residents of Canton who oppose the Red Line are waving a similar banner of "transportation destruction."

Destruction? Far from it. Anyone who drives on Boston Street knows it is a dangerous speedway, inhospitable to the many would-be pedestrians, runners, bicyclists and others who live in the area. It also could be a lot more inviting to prospective visitors and business customers than it currently is.

One way to do that is to reduce the travel lanes of Boston Street to a more neighborhood-friendly feel, accompanied by light rail in the middle. Such light rail would also provide much-needed public transportation for the many people of Baltimore who do not own personal vehicles and who must depend on such transportation to get around the area.

A landscaped median with a train passing by every eight minutes or so would calm traffic and draw more pedestrian activity to Boston Street as people got on and off the rails. Reducing travel lanes on Boston Street would force county commuters and trucks back to U.S. 40 or I-95, where they belong. The Red Line would also offer a new transportation option to some of those Canton locals who might otherwise have to drive.

Wouldn't they rather not have to hassle with rush-hour gridlock or pay for parking when they go downtown or further west or north in the city? A relatively few parking spaces may be lost along Boston Street, but fewer people would need to park in Canton, too, once high-quality transit service was available.

For decades, Baltimoreans have longed for a transit system even half as good as the D.C. Metro system. Our experience with the light rail has been mixed, and Canton leaders have asserted that a surface Red Line would lead Boston Street to a similar fate. But to compare a surface alignment on Boston Street with Howard Street is a poor analogy. Howard Street is a north-south downtown street intersected by many well-traveled east-west streets; Boston Street has few such intersections. The shopping areas along Howard Street were ailing long before the light rail construction began; Canton's restaurant and retail scene is vibrant and stands to gain much new patronage from Red Line riders.

Canton residents also argue that their waterfront views would be blocked, but in fact, a surface rail line would provide many more people (its riders) with a view of the waterfront which, after all, belongs to all of us. The residents of Canton would do well to remember that their present comfort and luxury owe something to the efforts of people from all over the city who said "no" to the East-West Expressway many years ago, often at some personal cost to themselves.

Canton belongs to the entire city, not just to its residents. It is now time for Canton to welcome and open its arms to people from all over Baltimore, just as they did for Canton years ago. With the Red Line, Canton can go a long way toward doing so.

Art Cohen is the convener of b'more mobile, which supports increased public participation in transportation planning. He was president of the Movement Against Destruction from 1968-69 and executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, 1969-70. His e-mail is

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