Don't Protest, Participate

Rather Than Trying To Stop The Red Line, Opponents Should Work To Make It Better

August 13, 2009|By Otis Rolley III

Governor O'Malley's endorsement of a locally preferred alternative for the Red Line light rail project - the first east-west route that ties together this region's mass transit systems - marks a significant step toward reducing Baltimore's over-reliance on the automobile.

His decision sets the stage for detailed planning that will determine specifics on how this 14-mile transit line interacts with city and county neighborhoods.

A handful of critics of the Red Line, though, sought to disrupt the governor's announcement and tried to shout down his message. They object to surface portions of the Red Line along Boston Street in Canton and Edmonson Avenue. Their solution is a subway line for much of the route.

In an ideal world, no one would disagree. But let's be realistic. The density of our region, both current and projected, does not support a fully subterranean system.

The critics' tunneling solution would cost a whopping $2.5 billion - $830 million more than the governor's preferred plan. Their option is so expensive, Baltimore would be ineligible for federal transit funds. In other words, the Red Line would never be built.

Still, unhappy Canton and Edmondson Avenue residents have raised valid concerns about possible traffic congestion, street closures, pedestrian safety, parking problems, aesthetics and the Red Line's impact on property values. These are similar to complaints lodged against recent surface light-rail projects in Denver, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

In each of those cities, unhappy residents found they could make more headway if they stopped complaining and screaming from the outside and sat down with transit officials to discuss project modifications in their neighborhood.

The Maryland Transit Administration has stated it will study traffic mitigation and parking management plans for both Edmondson Avenue and Canton. It will examine streetscape enhancements and environmental sustainability strategies and work with residents who are impacted by the Red Line route.

That's an open invitation for critics to become part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem. It's the way other cities with light-rail projects have proceeded: They listened to opponents' critiques and sought to find acceptable solutions. The results there have been highly positive. We must hold the Maryland Transit Administration to its stated commitment and make sure everyone is part of the process.

From my experience as a former Baltimore City planning director, the Red Line process has been the most open and inclusive of any transit project in Baltimore's history. The number of public meetings and hearings has been extensive, even before Maryland submits a plan to the Federal Transit Administration.

The city's innovative Community Compact ensures that neighborhoods will be deeply involved in designing "community-centered" stations and in other aspects of the Red Line's development. The goal is transparent communication and an on-going partnership among local residents, businesses and transit officials.

The Red Line is immensely important to this region. Not only will it tie disjointed transit lines together, the Red Line will connect people to employment centers; reduce car usage; improve air quality; spur office, residential and commercial development around transit stations and enhance livability for hundreds of thousands of Baltimoreans.

This is, quite frankly, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give the Baltimore region a true network of rapid transit routes that will encourage people to leave their cars at home.

If we miss the chance to build the Red Line, it may never be revived. As Congressman Elijah Cummings said at the governor's announcement, "The stars have aligned. If we don't take advantage of this ... your tax dollars will go somewhere else."

Otis Rolley III is president and chief executive officer of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. His e-mail is orolley@cmtalliance.org.

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