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Hi MTA, What’s Up?: Light Rail Connections

While the state has identified 14 transit stations for large scale transit-oriented development projects, my journeys on the light rail system show a far more insidious issue on a much smaller scale – the original designers of the system overlooked the connection between the stations and the neighborhoods. I’ll explain with two examples involving two very different Baltimore neighborhoods.

Cold Spring Light Rail Station: Roland Park is further from the station than it appears.

Exhibit A: Cold Spring Lane Light Rail Station. Just for kicks, I tried walking from the station to Roland Park. Bad move. You know that scene in Being John Malkcovich when the people who go through Malkcovich’s head get dumped on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike? Yea, it’s like that (I’ll assume you’ve all seen the movie otherwise what I wrote sounds crazy).  On/off ramps to the JFX, narrow sidewalks abutting the street and 6 lanes of speeding traffic, plants that look like something from Little Shop of Horrors overtaking the already narrow sidewalks. Maybe the original engineers plopped down the sidewalks in AutoCAD and said, ” Yes, now there are sidewalks. Mission Accomplished“. Not so fast. The experience of actually walking on Cold Spring Lane is a thrill and a bit death-defying – but it shouldn’t have to be. And yes, I’m fully aware that this is mostly a city issue and not an MTA issue, but when agencies support each other’s infrastructure and look at the “big picture” of making transit access intuitive and a real alternative to driving, everybody wins.

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The new Roland Park Master Plan has some recommendations for improving the pedestrian/bike connection between the neighborhood and light rail station.  Though I haven’t analyzed the street in a professional capacity, just from my walk I would say there is the potential for adding maybe 4 to 6 feet of sidewalk/greenspace width on this section of Cold Spring Lane. This would narrow traffic lanes, slow down traffic, create a buffer between pedestrians and cars, provide stormwater benefits, and beautify the corridor if trees could be added.  Cold Spring should be a much safer and more ped/bike friendly connection between Roland Park and the light rail station and less like the New Jersey Turnpike (GSP exit 154 representin’. Shout outs to my Jerszey boys Tony, Joey and Paul.)

Cherry Hill Light Rail Station: "Station" is an overstatement.

Exhibit B: Cherry Hill Light Rail Station. When you arrive here, there really is no “here”.  The adjacent property is industrial with long term plans for a mixed use development project – which is fine, but there’s not even a parking lot at the station and street parking is iffy. Why not add a lot just south of the station on city/MTA property? This would make the station more accessible to Cherry Hill residents because it’s like designing a Rube Goldberg machine trying to access the Patapsco light rail parking lot (by foot or by car) from Cherry Hill. Dedicated parking would (IMO) improve ridership at this stop as well. And just like the West Baltimore MARC area, perhaps a Cherry Hill station parking lot could serve the community in other ways beyond car storage. Though this is a “car free” blog, look, sometimes you need parking or else people won’t bother using transit.

I don’t know the details of why these station oversights happened in the early 1990s, but the teams working on the Red Line are designing the new transit line with a complete focus on neighborhood improvement and connectivity.   But while we’re waiting for big things to happen, smaller things can have just as much impact on increasing ridership and making existing stations more inviting and useful to nearby neighborhoods.

  • Ari Schenck

    Quite right. It is much less likely to step off a bus, LR or metro transport with adequate and safe walking or biking facilities and while very real and substantial changes are happening in terms of DOT responsibilities like car traffic and even bike lanes we’re seeing no development on the MTA side of things. It’s very obvious to me, using the LRT daily for my work commute between Woodberry and Gilroy Rd. that this rail system was designed primarily as a Disney World style convenience for baseball fans on the weekend. Stations anywhere between the suburbs and the park were afterthoughts at best and any acceptable infrastructure exception to this rule seems to be through private interests in proper access to the train (Woodberry?)

    Kudos to your blog and project, I know being car-less in Baltimore is a little like living in the wild west. It’s too bad doing this and making real change in Baltimore requires such an all-encompassing dedication. Perhaps activism and bringing the issue to the planners, engineers, and decision makers would be a good start?

  • Scott Adams

    “Hey Malkcovich!” (Queue the beer-can-to-the-head) That’s a classic scene that really does epitomize what’s it’s like to be a pedestrian on a hostile roadside.

  • Mark

    Thanks for the comments, Ari – you bring up good points. In defense of the light rail system, the stations at Mt. Royal and Mt. Washington are great (as well as the mentioned Woodberry station) and work as neighborhood amenities. I also think a big part of the problem was the new-ness of light rail when the system was being designed (technology and station design standards have greatly improved since early 1990s). While we can’t easily change the station locations, we can make the best out of the alignment chosen and work on better neighborhood connections.

    And because I don’t want this to be a one sided critique, it would be great to have someone from MTA comment or write a post here (hint hint).

  • Anonymous

    The Cold Spring light rail stop is dangerous. With the secludedness of the lot and having to cross the JFX, it is simply terrible for walkability. It would be one thing if there were a parking lot at the stop, but there isn’t — it’s pedestrian access only.

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  • WolfSkunk RedWolf

    A bit of digging into Light Rail’s history would of told you the answer:

    When Gov. Shaefer “built” the LR, he demanded that it be done 100% on the state’s dime. This meant many shortcuts, including:

    * Single tracking in areas, which is mostly fixed now all the up to the section of Gilroy to Hunt Valley. 
    * More towards your point, an “alignment” that uses old railroad and trolley paths that the state already owned or could easily take over.

    Not easy when you don’t have the Feds footing half the bill. But they got the LR running for Raven’s Stadium’s first opening.  Of course, they went back, got federal funds, and did the double-tracking.

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