Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Oh, that's an overnight trip" - WBAL Jayne Miller about transit in Baltimore

That observation was made by moderator Jayne Miller when BDC chief Bill Cole spoke about how hard it is to get employers to Sparrows Point, the largest industrial redevelopment side on the East Coast. Miller, guiding a panel discussion, probably meant the trip for future employees, after access to jobs emerges as the major theme of the post Red Line debate. It also dominated CPHA's "Red Line: What Now event" which took place Tuesday afternoon at the UMB Biopark on Baltimore Street in an auditorium filled with transit activists and community leaders.

Several speakers and panelists tried to brighten the look into the abyss after the $3 billion project had been taken away from the core region of the State.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz demanded an approach in which more partners in the region would  have"skin in the game", Dru Schmidt Perkins called the Purple Line "Lavender Line" after its State funding got shrunk to 20% of the original volume, someone in the audience noted that the  gas tax what was not increased "so we can build a highway in Garret County", and Delegate Brooke Lierman even considered a subpoena to get the previously considered BNIP bus  improvement project plan which the current administration won't release, presumably as Lierman speculated to issue it as their own in a simpler form as "BNIP light". 

Senator Catherine Pugh rejected MDOT Secretary Rahn's assessment that "Baltimore is a bus city", Councilman Nick Mosby recalled the times when his mom had to get up at four in East Baltimore every morning just to reach her job at the Social Security Administration, a 14,000 employee job center that would have had a Red Line station on its campus. 

Brian O'Malley of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance (CMTA) provided some background about the area's rail plans going back as far as 1968 and listed a whole bunch of cities that went forward with ambitious rail expansions even in difficult fiscal times, among those listed were Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Seattle which is building LRT in a tunnel.

Lierman told the audience much to everybody's delight that she had reminded the MDOT Secretary that the MTA was "a dual function body", running transit and making transportation policy, so that he, Rahn, "had to ask himself what the alternative plan would be" after the Red Line. Schmidt Perkins tossed the request out "to get rid of the fare box recovery requirement" (which currently requires the MTA to collect 35% of its operating cost via fares).

The statements got more colorful when the floor was opened to questions from the audience. "Baltimore City and the County frankly too, they both got told "f** you" Richard Chambers opined from the back of the room. Transit advocate Jen Fischetti asked how the political equation can be altered so that Governor Hogan would have to listen (eliciting the comment from Delegate Lierman that "elections matter"). 

Cynthia Shaw, community leader from the Edmondson Village area, asked what will happen with all those plans developed by communities around station areas in 18 months of deliberations and noted "that with the MTA community liaisons gone there is nobody to address anymore."

The discussion ended with Rich Hall, former Secretary of Planning and now head of CPHA, admonishing those present that it would take "many voices"  to make progress with transit in Baltimore,  but that the current condition requires "to speak with a unified message". 

To this end two large screens were rolled down and anybody in the audience with a smart phone could vote on a set of options provided by CPHA as a nifty tool to erudite the priorities of those present.

Jayne Miller's question who the leader in the effort of a new transit strategy would be remained unanswered.  But it was a smart move to give Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz a forum in which he could display his obvious ambition to fill the void that was created by the cancellation of the Red Line. His regional approach "is spot on" as Bill Cole called it.

Chris Merriam, a bike advocate stated on Facebook about the event: "I got three solid laughs. It was a good day". In Baltimore these days, that is a good balance to have. To boot, with Miller the MC WBAL did a nice segment of the event in their evening news.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
The article has been corrected for various name spelling errors. 

WBAL clip of the evening news:
BBJ article

County Exceutive Kamenetz demands transit alternatives that are regional
Panelists from left: delegate Brooke Lierman, BDC CEO William Cole, CMTA Exec. Dir. Brian O'Malley
and 1000 Friends of MD, Exec. Director Dru Schmidt Perkins
City Councilman Nick Mosby and Senator Catherine Pugh, both mayoral candidates

CPHA Director Hall summarizing the meeting

Smart phone real time polling on transit options

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