Friday, September 29, 2017

Why the Red Line didn't get built

The cancellation of the Red Line has reached such notoriety that hardly any local discussion about transportation goes by without bemoaning the fact that Baltimore has no major transit project of any kind on the horizon. Hogan's toll lane highway proposal was instantly compared with his stand on Baltimore's Red Line. Even national publications keep mentioning the Red Line, such as the Atlantic's CityLab in an article on Thursday as an example for possible obstacles cities find on the path of being the perfect Amazon HQ2 city. (Amazon HQ2 Search Is a Reckoning For Transit).

Which begs the question: What exactly caused this region to loose the $3 billion project?
Beyond the obvious reason that Governor Larry Hogan, once he was governor of Maryland, decided not to pursue the project, declined the federal funding offer and instructed the engineers to shut down their work on the project and cancel any planned bidding. Is that really all?

Why did the newly elected governor even get into the position to make this decision? A question which reaches further than how it came that the anointed candidate Brown lost against Hogan.

The real question is, why after 13 years of planning and design and spending around a quarter billion dollars on preparing design documents, the project was so shaky that a new sheriff in the State could simply sweep it off the table. Why was the project not already bid and under construction 13 years after having been identified as the priority project of the regional rial plan?
broad coalitions are needed to get anything done

Asking these questions is about what lessons this region can learn from the past, with a gubernatorial election around the corner yet again and various candidates vowing to revive the cancelled project. Also, since the State currently doesn't have any projects for expanding transit, what has to be done differently next time?

To take the question why the project wasn't under construction before O'Malley left office first: A simple answer is that the late baker and developer John Paterakis killed the schedule and thus the line by demanding a last minute shift of the Harbor East station one block to the west. This demand required costly and time consuming re-engineering of an underground station and re-configuring the alignment leading up to the relocated station because of changed curvature. Even without a new environmental impact study (EIS) as the enemies of the project demanded and  MTA rejected, resorting to a simple amendment, the shift took at least six months of engineering time and prevented bids from going out. Without that delay several contracts would have been bid and awarded prior to Hogan coming into office.

But blaming the late baker still doesn't answer a host of related questions: Why did MTA go along with this request instead of fighting it or setting on eminent domain? With condemnation and "quick take" the project could have move forward. The price uncertainty from the powerful developer potentially dragging the State through the courts for years with unpredictable cost implications stopped the State going that route. But nobody actually grabbed the bull by the horns and set up a face to face meeting with Paterakis trying to make him reconsider, potentially with the help of some political pressure. Instead, everybody just settled with that it was too difficult to discuss the matter with the old man, as illustrated by the fact that even his former partner Michael Beatty, a friend of the Red Line, could not change the baker's mind.

That unwillingness to engage with a powerful player and play hardball was indicative of a general lack of urgency that had been sitting like a big fog over the  project for some time. This set the Red Line stood in stark contrast to Governor Schaefer's central light rail line. That new rail line completion had been inextricably tied to the opening of the new downtown Oriole Park and everybody understood the deadline from the first day on, excuses and delays were simply unacceptable. Wherever  and whenever obstacles appeared, whether it was the Meyerhoff objecting to trains on Cathedral Street, or Ruxton protesting a station, the Gov himself showed up and made a decision. Just like City department heads had feared the irascible Schaefer when he was mayor, none in the light rail project hierarchy dared to contradict him when he was governor. In the case of the Meyerhoff Schaefer avoided the conflict himself, when surrounded by engineers, he by realigned the train to a route which traffic engineers had described as impossible. In the case of Ruxton, he simply ordered their station eliminated.

On the Red Line project, Paterakis was only the last in a long line of cases in which "bad behavior" was enabled by leniency and lack of resolve. All along, any number of tangential studies were launched to appease the eternal naysayers in Canton or the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC), each time diverting resources away from getting the project done. Unlike on Schaefer's line, which was presented as a done deal from the onset, the Red Line, as defined in the regional rail plan, seemed always more like an unloved  stepchild that could be pushed around. Most notably this became obvious when Bob Ehrlich became governor soon after the project had been kicked off. Ehrlich was lukewarm about the rail plan, ended work on the Green Line, and ordered lengthy investigations into bus rapid transit alternatives to be integrated into the alternatives analysis which turned out to be more costly than rail when tunnel was considered.

When O'Malley became Governor he soon announced alternative 4C as the locally preferred option, essentially the version that was eventually fully engineered. By this time, though, valuable time had already been lost and there was no drive to make it up. Instead the project bid dates and opening dates came and went while the overall cost estimates increased. That this was possible cannot only be explained with MTA's project management or slow engineering but is also a reflection of an environment where the project was devoid of strong champions in local government, at MDOT or in the private sector. Governor O'Malley and his MDOT Secretary Porcari were initially strong supporters and spearheaded the bills that established the necessary funding streams on the State level, but once that was done and Porcari changed to the federal level, leadership from the State began to flag.
Always strong: Congressman Cummings and the congressional
delegation. Always absent: The county executive

On the local level, Mayor Rawlings Blake needed years to warm up to the project for which her predecessor had been a strong supporter. And the County Executive was generally a no-show when it came to the Red Line. He frequently grumbled about details and design flaws and did nothing to convince his doubtful suburban voter base to embrace the project. For example by conceiving strong land use initiatives for the line which ran essentially through no man's land except for the federal offices of Social Security and CMS. While Sheila Dixon created the Red Line Community Compact to support community planned intensified land use at the envisioned stations, no such effort happened at the stations in the county. Huge transit oriented development opportunities at the ailing Security Mall were sketched out by Red Line consultants, but the Executive shrugged his shoulders, pointing out that it was not the government's job to corral the five mall owners around a TOD plan. Now, one of the mall owners presented just such a plan as the Red Line would have needed. Baltimore County also balked when it came to local funding for the Line and contributed a small amount only after a lot of hemming and hawing. Former mayoral deputy Dan Sparaco recently pointed correctly to the fact that Kamenetz only became a fervent Red Line supporter after Hogan killed the project.
Brown-Hogan debate 2014

Finally, the private sector. Large transit projects need strong private support, but in Baltimore enthusiasm for the Red Line was generally tepid and rarely went beyond a signature under the Compact document or letting the Greater Baltimore Committee CEO do the talking. Since the project was designed without the necessity to occupy private land (with the exception of Paterakis' lot and very few other locations), company CEO's and developers didn't have to really step up to the plate and become active partners, instead they often hedged options for the case the project wouldn't happen. While this may look smart in hindsight, it also let a Republican governor eliminate the project without fear that potent business interest would get on his case because they had actual "skin in the game".

This enumeration of lacking enthusiasm is incomplete and one can certainly argue about the degree to which support did or did not exist, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding. It is obvious that the current Governor could take $3 billion off the table without hurting much politically, especially not with groups which represent his constituency. Had the region from the beginning stood united across all geographic areas and all levels of government and with the business community, we would have seen see the project under construction, no matter who is Governor, just as the Purple Line survived.

For the Baltimore area to be a competitive location and be attractive for its own residents, a plan for a much more diverse and multimodal transportation system is needed, whether it is a version 2.0 of the 2001 rail plan or some other more innovative iteration. For such a plan to be implemented, though, it takes much more leadership, commitment and engagement on all sides than was seen for the Red Line. The same is true for almost anything big, this region wants to get done.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Loss of Red Line will prove costly - Baltimore SunHow You Can Tell Larry Hogan’s Decision to Kill the Red Line Was Racially Discriminatory

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Gambling, development and the Solo Gibbs Park

Proceeds from casino gambling, a historic African American community in which Frederick Douglass once worshiped, two feuding community factions, a large developer engaged in community conflict elsewhere, and a green space named after a local community activist, it is easy to suspect a juicy story and certainly the Baltimore Brew did so. ("Sharp Leadenhall stands up for its park"). But then, sometimes things are much more benign than they appear.

Solo Gibbs Park is a 5.2 acre patch of grass with tennis and basketball courts,  a baseball diamond a small rec center building and plus a splash pool, all  hemmed in between the elevated I-395 and the historic black community of Sharp Leadenhall. The park is a kind of consolation price created when I-395 greatly diminished Baltimore's oldest African American community, Sharp Leadenhall.
A new splash pad in Solo Gibbs Park replaced a run down wading pool
in 2013 (Photo: BC DRP)

Over the years the park has seen many more aspirations and dreams than love and funding for improvements. 13 years after a Sahrp Leadenhall community masterplan recommended significant improvements, the park continues to languish in a not too impressive state. Raven stadium parking abuts the park under the I-395 viaduct and is currently and unattractive edge of the open space. Not all is bad: The closure of the rec center was averted when the police stopped running it as a PAL center and in spite of former Mayor Rawlings Blake's rec center strategy of fewer but better centers that had threatened this substandard facility. Solo Gibbs is run by the City, attempts of the community to run it under their own management were not successful. A new splash pad was installed in 2013.
Solo Gibbs  Park and its current facilities

In this situation one should think that the community would have leveraged the huge Caves Valley Partners (CVP) Stadium Square development with 650 apartments and 300,000 sqft of office space when it appeared on the horizon some three years back to the benefit of the park, especially since the developer needed approval for some zoning changes. A monetary infusion into the park via a public private partnership would have also followed one of the 2004 masterplan recommendations and realized some of the community dreams.

But the split Leadenhall community left it to CVP to recognize that a better park would serve their interest as well, at one point offering "to take it over". Two years ago (CVP) Caves Valley engaged the Baltimore firm of RK&K to explore options for a future park. As a result four program possibilities showed a menu of activities with and without a rec center and with baseball or football. Arsh Mirmiran of Caves Valley says that these options were offered in various community meetings "not as alternatives" but as "possibilities that one can mix and match". Those plans were made public earlier this summer as reported on the SouthBmore website:
Four concepts for the park have been released by RK&K Engineers, and Mirmiran said many conversations will take place with the community about the future of Solo Gibbs Park. Two of the designs include restoring the existing baseball field, and two include replacing it with a 1,200-seat football stadium with synthetic turf. In order to construct the football stadium, the existing Solo Gibbs Recreation Center would need to be demolished and replaced. In the plans, one proposed idea is to replace it with a new recreation center near W. Hamburg St. The other proposed idea is to convert Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary, which is scheduled to close in 2020 and which includes a pool, into the new recreation center. The splash pad would need to be relocated. (Kevin Lynch in on June 21, 17)
The small existing rec center
Mirmiran says that his firm couldn't get any consensus or clear read and referred the matter  the appropriate entity, the City and its Department of Recreation and Parks, owner of the park. Caves Valley meanwhile provided about $500,000 for a new "one million dollar community center" (Mirmiran) across from Solo Gibbs and on land owned by the Leadenhall Baptist Church and its pastor Alvin Gwynn. That center will provide after school programs and training, some of what is taking place in the current rec center, potentially reducing the need for it.
Difficult vicinity

This summer the Department of  Recreation and Parks retained a consultant and begun preparing for a Solo Gibbs masterplan by forming a steering committee which includes stakeholders such as the community and also Caves Valley.

In a meeting on Monday that served the purpose to lay the groundwork for a cooperative process some community members expressed surprise about the Caves Valley concept plans. The Baltimore Brew had dispatched a reporter to the meeting, apparently alerted by some community members who saw Caves valley's ideas of including a dog-park and a football field as threats to their park. The Brew made their article sound as if CVP walked off in anger, but Caves Valley states that they will continue to participate in the future planning of the park and offering continued assistance in finding funding partners such as the Ravens or the Orioles and that nothing has been taken off the table. Several participants at Monday's meeting confirm that the event was a model for community participation, even if some still harbor suspicions.
One of the RKK concept plans showing a football field (

Baltimore City Recreation and Parks and their consultant Mahan Rykiel (MRA) vow to develop a "masterplan" concept together with the community and all stakeholders including Caves Valley, the Sharp Leadenhall Improvement Association, the South Baltimore Partnership and those in charge of some of the linkages such as the Gwynns Falls trail and the Hamburg Street light rail station.

MRA told me that there is no firm capital budget yet. A $1.4 million Casino Fund cash injection to Recreation and Parks was announced yesterday by the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership which oversees use the local casino impact grants and may help the department to fund the yet to be defined improvements.
According to Kevin Lynch of, CVP and the Leadenhall Baptist Church had filed jointly for funding earlier this year. A $10,000 grant funds Leadenhall's "Partnership" group to support environmental stewardship.

The use of community impact money collected from gambling proceeds to generally support an underfunded city department such as Recreation and Parks deserves scrutiny. Maybe that could be a Brew story.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA Caves Valley teaming up with Sharp Leadenhall on Solo Gibbs

Philipsen's architectural firm ArchPlan Inc. worked in various capacities in Sharp Leadenhall on housing rehabilitation and new construction and on various feasibility studies for an addition to the Solo Gibbs rec center and a new community center and history museum. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Bill Struever - just savvy or a savior?

Next week William ("Bill") Struever will receive a "lifetime achievement award" of the Urban Land Institute Baltimore as part of the annual ULI Wavemaker awards. In the increasingly divided public discussion developers sit in a precarious position. Courted by mayors and economic development officers as saviors they are also painted as evil exploiters of vulnerable populations by some community activists. Where does Bill Struever fit, a big force in Baltimore's development since 1974?
Bill Struever at Innovation  Week 2013: Rumpled
but energetic (
ULI’s Lifetime Achievement Award is given to a recognized leader in the development community who has served more than two decades; has touched all aspects of development (acquisition, design, financing, implementation); and has touched a variety of different land uses (retail, office residential, hospitality, etc.).
Even though Struever has been instrumental in shaping Baltimore for three decades he has largely escaped the often vicious public debates and the role of developers in gentrification, white supremacy that has roiled Baltimore especially in the context of the Port Covington TIF and the fact that the city now is often described as the "white L" and the "black butterfly", describing the shape of the "two Baltimores", the one glitzy, prosperous and full of construction cranes, the other poor and dis-invested.

That Struever isn't pigeonholed in that binary is due in part to having been washed from public view by the financial crisis of 2008 which brought eventually the collapse of his construction and development empire that he and his brother had built together with partner Cobber Eccles under the name Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse. More importantly, though, Struever never fit the image of the evil developer who is awash in money he has siphoned from the poor.

Struever's Baltimore presence begins like David Warnock's with a pick-up truck riding into town, except that Struever and his brother came nine years before Warnock and began a construction company by fixing up rowhouses. Unlike Warnock, Struever never wanted to run for public office, even though he was asked to do so many times. "Too many skeletons in the closet" he told me once, referring less to a secret scandal than to the simple truth that developers are deal makers and that their particular style of sausage making will never look all that great in light of public scrutiny that comes with an election campaign.
SBE&R had to pull out of Providence in 2009
Struevers first projects include a rowhouse infill named Grindalls Yard in Federal Hill, but soon he set his eyes on bigger projects such as Tindeco, Canton Cove, the American Can Company, Clippers Mills, Steiff Silver, Procter and Gamble/Tide Point and eventually reached beyond Baltimore and Maryland to places such as Wilmington, Durham, and Providence.  When the financial crisis hit, it caught Struever highly leveraged as it had been typical for all his projects which were tangled financial deals usually including historic tax credits and grants, too complicated to understand for most mortals. Struever emphasizes that in spite of the collapse, he never declared bankruptcy but began selling his assets to cover his obligations. Even though that took many years and left many creditors holding the bag with only cents to the dollars they had spent on Struever's projects, it seems like a more honorable path, certainly one where the personal assets didn't remain untouched.
Mixed use redevelopment project Clipper Mill (Photo: CBH)

Still, depending whom one asks and how directly someone was affected by the demise of SBE&R, very different opinions about William C. Struever, the developer emerge. Nobody, though, accuses Struever of a lavish lifestyle. Whether at the height of his successes or in the valley of his defeat, he always looked rumpled, slightly hung-over, under-dressed and at time precariously like a homeless who just had walked in from the street, even when he was a keynote speaker. He wasn't stingy, either. His holiday parties at Cross Street Market remain a matter of Baltimore lore until they became so crowded, that the venue had to be abandoned in favor of celebrations in his half finished projects. One year the holiday party took place at Proctor and Gamble before the place had lighting or heat. The path to the festivities led through the cavernous soap company halls and illuminated by hundreds of Christmas trees. Whether the party took place in the public market where actual homeless showed up in droves for beer and oysters or in his projects, it was always boisterous, had plenty of food and much to drink, Struever mingling with the masses, cheering and toasting with his booming voice. Those who provided services to SBE&R sometimes wished for fewer parties and better fees when they were confronted with a much less generous company that expected fees to be rock bottom and wasn't always known for prompt payment.
American Brewery: Not just the waterfront

When Struever climbs behind a podium his bigger vision emerges. He is and always has been a Baltimore booster, full of optimism for his adopted home-town, pronouncing it like a local, "Bawlmer". A somewhat reluctant speaker,  he brims with ideas and infectious energy to this day, his value system heavily gleaned from one of the grand old men he admires, the late developer Jim Rouse. "What ought to be, will be if we want to make it so" was one of Struever's standard references to Rouse, so was his "doing well by doing good". Now 65 and asked about retirement, he refers to Baltimore icon and wise man Walter Sondheim who died at the age of 98 without ever fully retiring, with a workplace at the GBC offices to the end. "I feel blessed in that I love what I do. I’m having way too much fun to even think about retiring" Struever said in a recent statement.

Indeed, when Struever picked the Jones Falls Valley for a mill restoration for arts and crafts completed in 1986, Tindeco as a cannery turned waterfront apartments, the burnt out Clipper Mill for an entirely new mixed use community, or the soap company in Locust Point to be an innovation hub as part of his vision of a "digital harbor", he never picked a glitzy spot for his projects but always an area where hardly anybody else but him saw "potential".  That is easy to forget today since all of these areas are humming now. There is probably no dispute that his projects generated gentrification or, at least contributed, to the sea-change in communities like Woodberry or Canton.
Touring the Hoen Building (SUN photo)

Today, in his second incarnation, first as development consultant and increasingly also, again, as a development partner, his projects are once again in areas where others fear to tread: Deep in black butterfly territory, literally"on the wrong side of the railroad tracks", as in the case of the Hoen Lithograph building converted to be a hub for social entrepreneurs. It sits on the other side of the Amtrak tracks which delineate the EBDI redevelopment area. On the west of downtown, in the other "wing of the butterfly", Struever is involved in the redevelopment of Lion Bros. industrial building at Hollins Street.

So does his long legacy make him a savior or a villain?

There is no doubt that he played a large role in making Baltimore a leader in creative adaptive re-use projects which were quite hard to realize without innovative ideas and the willingness to take a risk. There is absolutely no guarantee that without him somebody else would have come along and developed the American Brewery atop Baltimore's most disinvested neighborhood; Or that Clipper Mill would have become such a vibrant hub. It took somebody with his brashness, can-do attitude and bigger picture thinking to get these projects done. For success he had to cultivate an entire culture of preservation, re-use and nourish the skill sets that are needed to do these difficult conversions. Projects he did didn't start out to be popular among architects, contractors or financiers, because they were much harder than the prevailing sprawl projects on former cornfields. Of course, today urban mixed use seems to be almost the prevailing project type and has become so popular that even new construction mimics old factory buildings. Of course, Struever didn't invent the industrial chic as a style, he didn't invent urban mixed use either, that was done before him in SoHo and the docks of London. But he convinced a often timid Baltimore that this can be done here.
Canton Cove and Tindeco in Canton

Ironically all his initial large projects happened in predominantly white working class neighborhoods, an observation that can be held for or against him, depending on whether one thinks his projects were fundamentally desirable or not. For Struever, the projects were always about building a better city and celebrating urban life.

He wouldn't deny the enormous disparities in Baltimore. In fact, he has pivoted for some time to the black neighborhoods. Still, just like his mentor Jim Rouse couldn't save Sandtown, Struever could not prevent Baltimore's continued shrinkage, no matter how cool and hip his projects were or how some of the uses squarely serve the surrounding communities (A social services non-profit in American Brewery, for example). But without the SBE&R projects Baltimore may have joined the list of top 10 distressed cities in the nation. As it is now, it isn't on the list.

No developer, socially conscious or not, can be a savior and solve the complex web of issues through development. Today the most enlightened developers conceive even more complicated deals in collaboration with the community in which a slew of projects act in tandem as in the case of Seawall in Remington or TRF in Oliver, but those measures, too must be part of an even bigger picture.
Lion Bros. Building Hollins Street

If Struever plans to keep going for another 30 years, he has to continue to adjust and learn as developers must to avoid being washed away by social and technological change. Struever isn't any longer using Schaefer era slogans, he ditched the "digital harbor" talk after the dotcom bubble burst, and he is no longer simply touting urban living to attract millennials. He may look old fashioned to techies, eschewing social media and barely maintaining a proper website for his new company Cross Street Partners, earlier than many leaders and stakeholders, Struever realized that Baltimore won't thrive without equity, and many projects show that he understands this well.
To build a stronger tech scene, you need to build a better city.(Bill Struever, 2013 
Having worked with Struever from when I came here in 1986 (although not in recent years) and being in his age cohort, I am not a neutral observer, by any stretch. I think, though, that he not only fully deserves this ULI award but that he is on his way of becoming a Baltimore legend just like his mentors Rouse and Sondheim. Not one to put on a pedestal as a hero, Mobtown's legends are hardly ever that pure, but a legend without whom Baltimore cannot be understood.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore Business Journal: At 65, Struever now working behind the scenes
Citybizlist: Bill Struever named lifetime achievement award winner by ULI
The Hoen Lithograph Building

also on this blog:
Bill Struever re-emerges

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why Baltimore's traffic signals can be so much trouble

Transportation has moved to the front line when evaluating metro areas for quality of life, equity and a competitive environment.  Discontent with area transportation in general quickly leads to the criticism how transportation is managed, run and planned. Sometimes, it is worth to look at details to understand what the systemic problems are. Today we are looking at Baltimore's traffic signals.
An early Baltimore manual signal
The traffic tower at Charles street and North avenue, with Patrolman Adolph Von der Linde at the dials, was put in service on the evening of March 9, 1922, with appropriate ceremonies. This was Baltimore’s first traffic tower, copied from New York and Detroit. On each of four sides it had three large lights, red, yellow and green. It was, in short, the last word in safety. And it was not struck by an automobile until seven days later, when an unknown motorist removed part of its concrete base. (Sun archives)
Signals are in the news again for the cameras that ensure people obey them and whether those cameras are accurate. But what about the signals themselves? Are they doing their job? Many think that signal management in Baltimore leaves a lot to be desired. What is the job of a traffic light?

I recall when in the early sixties German cities started to implement "the green wave", meaning that on major arteries all traffic "lights" would be synced in such a manner that a platoon of cars could move over a long stretch and always hit a green light, intersection after intersection. Go too fast and you would be caught on red, go too slow and you would lose your platoon. There was something magic to this, even though today we don't share the goal of removing all obstacles for free flowing cars and we don't like the one way streets any more that were a direct consequence of the signal timing for free-flow idea. In Baltimore it was Henry Barnes who came to the city in 1953 and implemented these very same strategies possibly ahead of Germany which was then still a backwater. According to lore, Barnes installed in 1957 the world's largest traffic control computer right here in Baltimore. Of course, at that time a single main frame computer filled a classroom but had less operating power than Apple's very first I-phone.
First Baltimore signal tower at Pratt and Light: Looks chaotic

But even today, in the age of multi-modal "complete street" considerations and active transportation with an emphasis on walking, biking and transit, signal timing remains a valid topic. There is little benefit in stopping traffic randomly at every light simply because the signals aren't timed properly. The resulting back-ups create pollution, frustration and tempt impatient folks to blow through the randomly switching lights. In short, mentioning bad signal timing isn't propaganda for a more car friendly city, instead it raises the question why a relatively simple thing that worked in 1960 doesn't work in current day Baltimore. Obviously, Barnes didn't need fancy satellite signals or global positioning to create a "green wave". All that is needed timers and a program that establishes the optimal sequence derived from a test vehicle traveling in the desired speed. The most advanced element at the time was a special signal that indicated at which speed the "green wave" would be met, giving folks an incentive  not to speed.

There is some evidence that things don't works so well anymore because the system was gummed up with new more elaborate elements such as vehicle detectors, a central computing unit much more complicated than 50's technology permitted. Detectors can sense actual vehicle and ideally adjust the time of signal phases to actual volumes. When signals sit in a row such adjustment happens within a fairly narrow window defined by synchronization with neighboring signals. vehicle actuation allows signal phases for designated left turns and the like to be skipped or extended as needed. The bad news: Those pavement embedded detectors are vulnerable and frequently fail making all the extra phases go through a fixed cycle no matter whether there is demand or not. Worst, there are no metrics when and where to install detectors or a reliable data base where they are. Experts think that in an urban setting with a dense sequence of signals those adjustments via detector are not only a waste of money but often even a bad idea. Outdated old technology and new elements seem to have created a unholy hard to manage union. As a result the following things seem to occur in Baltimore on a regular basis:
Ancient signals still dangling over Baltimore's streets
(photo Philipsen)
  • Signal timer creep which happens when individual clocks manage the signal timing. If one of them is a few seconds fast every day, even the most perfect sync will fall apart after some time.
  • Vehicle detectors fail on a regular base and make signals run through a fixed cycle which is worse than without the the activators because the signal will run through the added phases it would likely not have without the promised efficiency of detectors.
  • There are no standards for when and where to install detectors nor seem to be even complete records as to where they are installed
  • Most of Baltimore's signal equipment is old, often very old. One can find signals in the City which date back to the 1950's. Controllers and computers become obsolete faster than the other hardware. The more the city moved away from the simple analogue systems of the past, the less reliable the system became. 
  • Many signals are now managed from a central control room the central computer "loses signals" that it previously recognized, mostly when they are peripheral to the zone the controller manages. 
  • New equipment is expensive, complicated and requires proper operator education and operation procedures which seem to be lacking. 
  • New demands, for example for TSP, transit signal priority, add new complexity requiring that different agencies use compatible software and hardware that can, indeed, communicate to the extent that a bus can influence the signal phasing (a bus will always fall out of sync with the platoon of cars since it will have to stop for passengers, ideally right behind signals and not, as frequent in Baltimore, right before them).
Before signal experts or BC-DOT officials jump all over me for for maybe being slightly off on some of the details in the above list, let me explain that the list wasn't obtained from a secret dossier or from sitting in an outdoor cafe overhearing DOT engineers at the next table, but is the result of observations, some research, consulting on traffic planning and conversations with BC-DOT staff about particularly badly behaving signals. Those conversations go way back when Frank Murphy was in charge of these matters, a stalwart traffic planner that has been around at DOT almost as long as the signals themselves. Timing signals in the Howard Street corridor so that trains would go a bit faster took 25 years before it finally worked well this year.

Also, BC-DOT has been on the matter of signals for years (modern controllers have been in the works since 2004 and in 2008 when  presumably a milestone had been reached. But 2008 was one year after introduction of the first iphone, a device long considered  obsolete now. In spite of that, progress has been made, even though increased complexity was occasionally detrimental to optimal operation. As a result progress is hard to detect for people who see only the results and not the effort.

BC-DOT describes the responsibilities of its signal engineering section on its website this way:
The Signal Engineering Section is responsible for the design of new and existing traffic signals. Specific projects include:

-Development of a state-of-the art Traffic Management Control Center (TMC)

-Replacement of the City's 1300 Traffic Signal Controllers

-Replacement of the 40,000 plus traffic signal bulbs with LED's (Light Emitting Diode)

-Signal timing contract to retime signals in the Central Business District and along selected gateways

-Installation of traffic monitoring cameras

-Installation of fiber optic cable to link signals and cameras to the TMC
That is a lot of stuff, especially since the City lost 35% of its residents but hardly any signals. And it doesnt even include signals for pedestrians and bicycles and the specific concerns that come with those "active modes" such as not enough green time for the elderly to cross, no signals at all for bicyclists going counter flow ("use the ped signal"), non functioning ped push buttons and the like.

All issues with signals may not even be all that important all by themsleves given all the other worries in this city, except they can teach valuable lessons which are applicable to other departments and even private business. If those relatively simple things don't work right, trust in the system becomes undermined. Some of the lessons in random order are:
  • Don't make things more complicated when simple works as well. (like four way stops)
  • Don't opt for complex technology if you can't afford it in the first place or don't have the capacity to operate or maintain it
  • Don't fall for vendors and consultants that always want to sell stuff but don't care how it can be managed afterwards 
  • Establish strict metrics for when and where what technology is appropriate, ensure those are met and that records are kept where which technology has been used
That the signals need cameras to monitor motorists and issue citations if they don't stop highlights the crux of technology: The efficiency of the automated cop needs to be augmented by an automated enforcer. Efficiency through automation is often not what it is touted to be.

One last word on time wasted waiting for a light to turn green. Most signal cycles don't exceed 2 minutes and 30 seconds, most less. Typically 3 minutes is considered the maximum except for special conditions where programs are overridden to "flush out" event traffic, for example after a game. Two to three minutes can seem very long, especially if one is in a hurry. But then, if people would stop reading their phones when lights turn green wasting precious seconds, things would work much better. Flaws in traffic flow usually have cumulative effects. Automated vehicles would take the human factor out and possibly make even cutting edge signal technology obsolete.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

A photo caption was updated

Baltimore County FAQ on traffic signals
The History of Traffic Lights in Baltimore

Related on this blog: Why downtown traffic is such a mess

Baltimore traffic management - frozen in time

Monday, September 25, 2017

Why more pavement won't solve congestion, no matter what Hogan says

Hogan's gigantic road expense proposal has caused consternation and derision among those who follow transportation policies, are transportation professionals, or promote smart growth.
This props wouldn't look much different if it had been designed by

However, the notion that more lanes must surely alleviate congestion is so pervasive, that in the interest of a broader understanding this topic, the topic will once again occupy this space.

Others have made very good arguments which are worth sharing, especially those which are economic in nature and compound the transportation arguments. In other words, Hogan's proposal is unsustainable and indefensible on account of all three pillars of sustainability: The environment, the economy and social justice!

Barry Rascovar has strong comments in Maryland Reporter:
Gov. Larry Hogan never met a highway project he didn’t like. He’s a 1950s type of politician – solve all the state’s transportation gridlock and congestion by paving the countryside with lanes of new concrete....It’s an all-highway solution straight out of the mid-20th century. [...]
Every expansion of I-495 and I-695 (the Baltimore Beltway) has meant more cars on those roads and a quick return to the same level of congestion and added pollution. Los Angles has experienced the same thing with the famed I-405, where a $1.4 billion expansion didn’t help ease congestion at all.
Hogan’s no-cost-to-taxpayers assertion may sound good to voters, but there’s virtually no way he can make it happen. These are ultra-expensive projects. For starters, seizing private properties through eminent domain can’t be privatized and will be extraordinarily expensive in the high-priced Washington suburbs.
Hogan also says the state’s share of profits from the I-495 and I-270 toll lanes will pay for the four toll lanes on the B-W Parkway. That doesn’t compute give the woeful record of the state’s last two toll projects – the InterCounty Connector and the I-95 Express Toll Lanes from Baltimore to White Marsh. Neither has come near the revenue numbers anticipated prior to construction.
The Department of Legislative Services says that between now and 2022, Maryland’s tolling facilities will take in $267 million less than projected but operating expenses will be $588 million higher than anticipated. This will force $1.7 billion worth of cuts to future projects and reduce the toll authority’s ability to float bonds by $3.7 billion.
Adding Hogan’s toll-road projects, even with a public-private contract, will scare the heck out of bond-rating agencies, which know full-well the state isn’t getting a free ride on construction projects of this size.....There’s nothing in Hogan’s transportation vision that helps people at the lower end of the economy. No expansion of commuter buses, no shuttles connecting workers to spread-out job sites, no future mass transit such as a desperately needed east-west line through Baltimore.
Hogan at the ICC naming ceremony this month
Rascovar adds to the monetary concerns a few very practical traffic questions that are as basis as the observation that a chain is as good as its weakest link, or a highways is as good as its lowest capacity segment:
How in the world could Russell Street in Baltimore handle an additional two lanes of rush-hour traffic? Ditto as the BW Parkway flows into New York Avenue in D.C. It would be a nightmare. Arterial roads and cut-through streets in adjacent neighborhoods along these three interstate highways would be clogged. The law of unintended consequences could kick in.
Smart growth advocates point to land use implications that shortening trip times have.
“Adding four lanes to all these highways is insane, With everything we know about transportation, everything we know about car travel, everything we know about our transportation budget and all our needs, t's totally a bad idea.”” Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the smart-growth group 1000 Friends of Maryland.
Here is why: Every time a distance can be traveled in less time people will look for homes further away from their place of work since they set a mximum commute by how long it is and not how far it is. This behavior creates what transportation planners call induced demand, i.e. more people want to use the roadway, eating up the new road capacity. Worse, additional residential sprawl will also fuel demand on other systems, such as water and sewer, electric grids, fiber optic lines, schools, churches and the entire set of services people expect no matter how far away from a city or town they move.  This isn't just bad for the environment, it also bankrupts communities, another reason why Hogan's assertion that this won't cost tax payers anything is flat-out false. Conversely, with more concentrated and less wasteful land use traffic can go down a lot, one reason why most European countries have about half as many miles driven per person as Americans.

Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition and author of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism makes the most elaborate cost and equity arguments:

Simple arithmetic says that if there are 4 free lanes and 2 toll lanes (what Hogan proposes for the Capital Beltway), more than 2/3 of the traffic must be on the free lanes -- otherwise the toll lanes would be more congested than the free lanes, and there would be no reason to pay the toll.  
When the free lanes back up, the only reason not to pay the toll is to save money.  How badly you need to save money depends, obviously, on how much of it you have, so upper-income drivers predominate on Lexus lanes.  Research confirms this common-sense conclusion. [...]
On Lexus lanes nearly all toll revenue comes in rush hour, because few will pay high tolls when the free lanes don't back up.  A pair of express lanes can carry 5 million trips a year if they fill up for 2½ hours a day in each direction.  Now, the payments on a 30-year $4.4 billion loan at 2½% interest are $209 million a year.  Dividing $209 million by 5 million, we see that the one-way toll from Frederick to Shady Grove would need to be $41 to pay off the construction costs alone.  [...]
Maryland's only existing Lexus lanes are the 8-mile-long I-95 express toll lanes north of Baltimore, which opened in 2014.  The price tag for this project soared from $645 million in 2004 to $1.49 billion in 2009.  The O'Malley administration trimmed the cost back to $1.1 billion by eliminating ramps onto the Baltimore Beltway, making the project significantly less useful.  Toll collections in 2015-16 were $11.4 million.  That's barely 1% of the price of construction, a fraction of just the interest on $1.1 billion, and nowhere near enough to cover operating costs and pay back principal. Some years ago, the State Highway Administration took a hard look at Beltway Lexus lanes -- and SHA blinked.  In 1996, it launched the Capital Beltway Study by scanning a wide variety of road and transit options.  The transit part of this study gave birth to today's Purple Line; the highway part continued separately.  Soon the agency decided that there was no way to squeeze in four more lanes at ground level; they would have to be elevated above the existing roadway.  But in 2004 SHA rejected this option too, declaring that "Construction costs are prohibitively high. Interchange ramps connecting to the elevated structure may be over 80 feet high."  
Pandering this much to your base can backfire as the President could have noticed on many occasions. Hogan has put the question of the inadequate mobility in our region on the front burner again.
Cartoon on Drivetribe

He is pretty much the only 21st century regional leader that still wants to solve the issue Robert Moses style. From San Francisco to LA and San Diego, from Denver, Co to Charlotte NC and from Pittsburgh to Fairfax, Va planners, politicians and people are aligned behind a strategy that shifts from the individual car as the backbone of metropolitan transportation to rail and road bus transit. Pretty much the only thing that Hogan's proposal highlights is that free unfettered access to highways is a thing of the past and demand based pricing is a tool to be considered, even though it requires a social net to protect the most vulnerable from regressive fees to drive. Another reason why paving over the landscape is so unimaginative is that it completely ignores the onset of autonomous vehicles. Those self driving cars operating in platoons can achieve higher speeds, cause less friction and are promising to move so much efficiency to existing roadways that they will most likely create congestion relief, at least until more sprawl will eat up the advantage. A prospect that is already frightening, without the existing roadways getting further widened.

It will be interesting to see how Hogan will deal with the realities noted above. He "railroaded" Baltimore without too much of a backlash by killing the Red Line. But he will have a much harder time with his Neanderthal transportation policies in the Washington suburbs.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related article on this blog: Hogan's $9 billion Lexus lane boondoggle

Friday, September 22, 2017

Hogan's $9 billion Lexus-lane boondoggle

Just when we thought that Maryland's Governor can not be any more retro and regressive in his approach to transportation, he outdoes himself. Sending $900 million of federal funds back to Washington and flushing $250 million of money already spent on the complete design of a new rail transit line which he called a "boondoggle" brought him national notoriety.  Announcing the nation's largest toll lane project ("Lexus lanes") right here in Maryland will get him attention again as a governor that just doesn't get it when it comes to transportation.
Beltway craziness: I-495 Springfield Interchange 

The people in the Los Angeles area stuck on their endlessly widened freeways in the nation's worst congestion have resolved for a decade now to abdicate the viscous cycle of ever more freeway lanes and build solid transit instead. They will be laughing at tiny Maryland trying to be more Californian than California itself. Their 405 widening has not made them happy.

Killing the scenic B-W Parkway
Hogan's $9 billion idea of widening the Washington Beltway and I-270 plus destroying the B-W Parkway with privately funded toll lanes reserved for those who want to shell out money to go faster can only be seen as a populist pitch to his conservative base, people who believe that more lanes means less congestion, a formula that has been practiced and proven wrong for at least 50 years. The Parkway is owned by the federal government, a complete overhaul of the four lane roadway had only recently been finished, following standards of the National Park Service regarding esthetics. Widening happened only in a few sections near Arundel Mills Mall and north of MD 175, where the State already owns the road. The 1954 roadway, designed to be a scenic gateway to the Capital, carries today about 120,000 cars daily (trucks are prohibited). Where the road was widened much of the tree buffer that is supposed to give the road a "green" feel was removed.
“These three massive, unprecedented projects to widen I-495, I-270 and MD 295 will be absolutely transformative, and they will help Maryland citizens go about their daily lives in a more efficient and safer manner” (Hogan)
I-270, every few years a few more lanes
The "innovative" part of the tale is that the private sector would pay (Private-public-partnership P3) and the State would be getting 100 miles of lanes for free. ("No cost to taxpayers, the Gov says.) This, too is a formula that has long been proven as false, even in our home state. The Inter County Connector (ICC) was built in a P3 partnership including state money coming from "innovative" Garvi bonds and has revenue that is much below expected levels.The insane widening of I-95 north of the Harbor Tunnel also attracts little traffic because outside rush-hour nobody wants to shell out the extra money for the separated lanes. An extension of those lanes to Bel Air has been put on hold. The irony is that those two toll projects were green-lighted by Governor O'Malley as part of a grand bargain with the road lobbies so they would go along with the Red and Purple line transit projects and the transitway on Rockville Pike. Now it is more voodoo and less transit. P3 toll roads are frequently pure vodoo economics. There is no reason why Maryland of all places should build the nation largest such experiment.
“I don’t know how you fit four more lanes from Silver Spring to Bethesda without an enormous dislocation of homes and parks” State Senator R. Madaleno, Montg. Cty)
I 695 craziness: I-95 interchange 
Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition (MTOC) chair Ben Ross explained in a press release:
Adding four toll lanes to the Beltway would be enormously expensive, Ross pointed out.  When the State Highway Administration last studied this idea in 2004, it determined that some or all of the new lanes would have to be elevated above the existing highway.
For equitable and sustainable transit the twin-region needs massive infusions so the existing transit systems can be maintained, expanded, and integrated with each other. "The MTOC plan for transit would serve more travelers and create far more jobs and economic growth," said Gary Hodge, a former Charles County Commissioner now heading the Southern Maryland Alliance for Rail Transit. TheMTOC plan includes the Baltimore Red Line, light rail from Branch Avenue to Waldorf, and massive upgrades of all three MARC rail lines stretching from Frederick to Elkton.

To his credit, Hogan did suggest this week that he is open to funding WMATA at the tune of $500 million if the other states do the same. DC Mayor Bowser, and Governors Hogan, and McAuliffe remain divided still on how much each should contribute to the $25 billion unfunded Metro needs and how to pay for the upgrades. Bowser favors a regional sales tax, while Hogan and McAuliffe have pushed back against taxes as a funding source.

Luckily the shovel for the roadway super boondoggle won't go in the ground soon. There are many hurdles, environmental studies and federal approvals needed. So far this is nothing but a bad idea and one that must be stopped in its tracks. Not because there aren't substantial transportation problems in the Baltimore-DC Metro area but because these 100 miles of new lanes won't solve the problem, just as the toll lanes on I-95, the ICC and current widening project on the westside of the Baltimore Beltway doesn't solve them.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Washington Post about the Hogan Plan
Greater greater Washington

Now available in bookstores and online and at the Baltimore Bookfair (BAF and BOPA booth across from the Visitor Center)

Cat # / ISBN:  Y308725 / 9781138230361

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How beer and art revitalize southwest Baltimore County

Brewpubs and artists have been bellwethers of urban revitalization for some time. The trend has now reached the suburbs. Catonsville, so far known as "music city" for its several stores selling instruments, and Arbutus, unjustifiably more object of unflattering jokes than tourist promotions, will soon benefit from the opening of the Guinness Brewery in Relay (named after the nearby railroad juncture) which will also boast a tap room and benefit from relaxed laws allowing larger beer sales right at the brewery. Art isn't far behind the beer, at least not when it comes to the supporters of the Southwest Art and Entertainment District Commission. The group certainly has the attention of State Senator Ed Kasemeyer,  Delegate Eric Ebersole and Councilmember and County Executive candidate Vicky Almond who doesn't even represent this district but the also art hungry Pikesville area. All attended a recent update about the state of the arts in the area.
Catonsville Arts and Crafts festival: Big and well attended

The State of Maryland has 24 State recognized arts and entertainment districts, three are located in Baltimore City and none in Baltimore County, another indication that under Kevin Kamenetz fiscal austerity trumped creative innovation. A countywide group called Baltimore County Arts and Entertainment Council is working on changing this by considering four potential districts in all four quadrants of the county.

The kicker: The approach is collaborative and harmonious. Since each year only one A&E district can be recognized in each municipality, and Baltimore County absent any incorporated places is only one jurisdiction, the group wants to file applications in sequence. Ideally one per year until the County has an A&E district in each of its quadrants.

Miraculously, the three other areas have agreed that the Southwest is most advanced and should go first. This is almost as impressive as Governor Hogan and his challenger Kamenetz who both agreed that Amazon's HQ2 should go to Baltimore City and shows that the bigger picture and coordination beats parochialism.

Thus the Southwest area with Catonsville and Arbutus is slated to prepare a final application by August next year with a pre-application in February. The Southwest group under Arts Guild president Marilyn Maitland is casting a pretty wide net. Owing to suburban sprawl, the potential A/E district would be quite large and include powerful but somewhat isolated players such as UMBC with its arts curricula and brandnew performing arts center, the Charlestown retirement community and its time-tested performances in the Chapel, the 4 year old Baltimore County Arts Guild with artist studios on Maiden Choice Lane,  the Lurman Woodland Theatre, and annual art and crafts festivals in Catonsville and Arbutus respectively. With distances like that, UMBC is considering transportation options with its university shuttle that already connects those points in the area but is currently barring non university riders.
Old Catonsville Elementary School

An elephant in the room is the unclear future of the former Catonsville Elementary school with its 60,000 sf that currently sit vacant after the school relocated around the corner to the renovated and enlarged Bloomsbury School. Executive Kamenetz envisioned to raze the school in favor of a much smaller modular rec facility but ran into considerable flak from the community which wants to see the stately old school preserved and be used as an arts center similar to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, or the Chesapeake Arts Center in a former Middle and Highschool in Brooklyn Park in Anne Arundel County.

The County has yet to come to terms with the notion that this school would be re-purposed rather than torn down. Adaptive re-use of an old structure is also the issue in Pikesville, where the group 1000 Friends of Pikesville  likes to see the old armory converted to an arts center.
Hyattsville & Mt Rainier A&E district

City residents tend to think of the surrounding counties as cultural wastelands with few if any of the arts institutions the City has. Because that was historically accurate, it is even more surprising to see elaborate venues like the UMBC performing arts center springing up that are every bit as sophisticated as any venue in Baltimore. Arts and entertainment districts are no longer an urban phenomenon. Last year even Oakland in Garrett County landed a successful application. Hyattsville and Mount Rainier are small artistic outposts in the suburbs of Washington DC which together form the Gateway A&E district. Its geographic spread could be a good example for Catonsville and Arbutus.

On the matter of historic preservation and protection of cultural heritage, adaptive reuse and placemaking, though, the suburbs still have much to learn. And there is no brewpub in Catonsville, either. Beyond the reviatlization, the collaboration  which is cultivated among all A&E districts across the state though could be a model for approaching goals with an open mind without boundaries.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN about a Soutwest AE District


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Recycling bad ideas for the Red Line

David Warnock, one of the mayoral contenders who lost against Catherine Pugh offered up a "Pugh Plan" in an editorial in Tuesday's Baltimore Sun.  Using this unusual format of getting his ideas back into circulation, his suggestions include a "modified" Red Line similar to what had been suggested before by the Baltimore Brew, by the "Right Rail" coalition and by gubernatorial contender and current County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. It remains a bad idea and here is why.

The "idea" of all these parties has been to build only the western half of the Red Line up to Lexington Market, save the cost for the downtown tunnel by using the existing Metro tunnel through downtown. From points just north of the current Metro terminus at Johns Hopkins the suggested concept follows the existing Amtrak alignment to Bayview, or as Warnock has it, all the way to Sparrows Point (the original Red Line alignment ended the line in Dundalk). Here how Warnock describes this in his editorial:
Baltimore Red Line in its own tunnel
Build a modified Red Line. The large number of jobs created at the Baltimore port, Tradepoint Atlantic and Port Covington most likely go to drivers on the 95 corridor unless we create an east-west public transportation system. The cost of the old Red Line was largely in the tunnel under the city that was duplicative with the subway. We could put hundreds of people to work, revive Lexington market and create real opportunity for marginalized populations in east and west Baltimore. Build a light rail that runs from Social Security to Lexington Market and then from John Hopkins Hospital to Bayview down to Sparrows Point. We have a viable subway system; make it part of a cohesive public transportation system. We will not move the needle on jobs and economic opportunity in Baltimore city unless we create a public transportation system that allows our citizens to get to those jobs.
This sounds convincing. After all, why duplicate a downtown tunnel just one block away from an existing tunnel if it is the tunnel cost that, according to Governor Hogan sank the Red Line in the first place? The devil sits in the details and requires some excursion into the difference between light rail and metro, into what construction is needed and how riders would be served.

The originally proposed Red Line was suggested as light rail and not as Metro because there is no cost effective way to build a grade separated Metro with its "third rail" power supply on Edmondson or Dundalk Avenues even though the original Metro plans conceived in the 1960s did, indeed, imagine a real subway line to run in the median of the "Highway to Nowhere" and extend west. But along with the urban freeway extension died also the option to run a metro through West Baltimore.
Baltimore Metro: Incompatible with light rail

Once it was clear that the east west line had to be Light Rail, i.e. trains that get power from overhead and are narrow enough that they fit into a street like the north-south Central Light Rail Line, it isn't compatible with the Metro trains. It can't easily run in the same tunnel because the light rail trains are narrower and lower than the metro trains. Doors and vehicle floors would not meet the platforms without a large gap or step, both not allowed under accessibility rules and very hard to work around. Additionally, a second power supply system would have to be shoehorned into the existing tunnel.

So maybe Kamenetz, Warnock and others imagine that the light rail trains end at Lexington Market and people would transfer to Metro, not a popular option. Beyond Hopkins Metro line could be extended to Bayview alongside the Amtrak tracks (or Sparrows Point) similar to the Metro line running on the surface along I-795. Not cheap, but possible. In that case the whole eastside of their proposed "modified" Red Line would be an entirely new project. Tunnel construction would not be entirely avoided. A tunnel is needed to get the trains from the Hopkins station to the elevated Amtrak line running through East Baltimore and another tunnel is needed to get to the Lexington Metro station unless one wants to suggest a surface option from Fremont Avenue (near the end of "the ditch") to Lexington Market with complicated turns and intersections at MLK, Paca and Greene Streets. Those shorter tunnels would be highly inefficient, probably not worth a tunnel boring machine and therefore to be constructed in open excavation. It would inconsequential that "knock-out panels" at the Lexington Metro Station once envisioned a west extension.
Environmental Impact Studies take lots of time

But even if one assumes that these tunnels could be constructed and funded and there would still be savings left over the actual Red Line as it was designed when Hogan killed the project and nobody would mind the disruption to the existing Metro operations or the transfers at those new connections, the resulting system wouldn't at all provide the same service. The "modified" east-west rail line wouldn't serve the existing light rail, the two stadiums, the Convention Center or the Inner Harbor any better than the current Metro and many think that those links aren't nearly good enough. The "modified line" wouldn't serve Harbor East, HarborPoint, Fells Point, Canton or Canton Crossing or Highlandtown-Greektown, all growth areas with lots of jobs and residents that represented a large portion of the estimated Red Line ridership. Instead, east of Lexington Market the "modified line" would only serve areas which are either already served by the existing Metro or could easily be served with additional MARC stations (for example at EBDI).

In other words, benefits would take a deep dive and would exceed whatever imagined saved cost. That is not a trivial matter, it would make the cost-benefit ratio unacceptable for federal funding. Given how averse the current Governor is towards rail transit spending (He even cut the State funding for the surviving Purple line to less than half what was originally envisioned) federal funds seem indispensable, even when assuming a private public partnership. The Purple Line qualified for and needs a $900 million federal funding portion.
Typical tunnel section for Red Line

On top of all this, a significantly "modified" Red Line requires all new reviews, community participation, environmental approvals and engineering, essentially putting the project back to square one (where it was in 2002).

The "modified" Red Line is not a promising alternative and that is precisely why it was discarded as an option after some initial analysis. Unlikely that another run at the same idea would yield a different result. While Kamenetz and other candidates for governor are right that the  the Red Line is essntial for the future of the Baltimore region, they must realize that the only way to revive and jump-start the project is to keep the design and concentrate on re-instituting funding.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA