I’m not trying to stir things up. Not like when your friend asks, “How’s Mary” when he already knows you broke up last month. I’m just asking an honest question. I wasn’t involved in the Red Line alternatives analysis process, and I plead ignorance to the power structures/power players/political stuff which may have made undergrounding the Red Line through downtown an important, “sellable” part of the project. From my 10 minutes of thinking about this and comparing Baltimore to other cities which have surface light rail systems through their downtowns (Charlotte, Dallas, San Diego, Denver to name a few), it seems like a possibility.
Instead of listing the reasons why a surface route through downtown would be preferable, let me list the reasons why it was probably taken off the table. I speak only for myself:
- Howard Street – people say, “light rail killed Howard Street”. This is an oversimplification. While Howard could use more through auto traffic for businesses, the street was already in decline when the system was built. If light rail was the single bullet that killed Howard Street and someone can prove it to me, I’ll buy all 4 of my readers a drink at some neighborhood dive bar.
- Business/Resident pushback – fair enough. Hearing the light rail screeching on every turn is annoying, but newer systems are sleek, much quieter, and less freight train-ish than our current system. Light rail, below ground or above ground, is good for business and improves property values.
- Transit travel time/headways – since light rail would run on its own right of way, the transit vehicles really wouldn’t be mingling with traffic. Signal prioritization could help speed things along at intersections.
- Traffic – fair enough. Losing a lane on Pratt, Lombard, Aliceanna and Fleet may be a hard pill to swallow for the engineers. However, we can safely assume a fast, modern surface route would take lots of cars off the roads, too.
So, MTA, I’m just sayin, you know, if we get hard up and we really need to cut a couple of hundred million off the Red Line budget, maybe this could be the way to go. In a perfect world, we would underground the whole thing and build the Yellow Line and Green extensions at the same time. But we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.