September 30, 2014

Time: 8:00 – 9:30 AM
Location: Johns Hopkins Charles Commons (10 E 33rd Street)

Darcy Accardi, Eunice Anderson, Kate Anderson, Pat Bennett, Robin Budish, Celeste Chavis, Art Cohen, Grant Corley, Charlie Duff, Peter Duvall, Fleming El-Amin, Kathy Epstein, Tamika Gauvin, Tony Green, Paulo Gregory Harris, Mark Heishman, Steve Holt, Andrea Jackson, Henry Kay,Jeff LaNoue, Jim Leanos, Brian O’Malley, Eric Norton, Dru Schmidt Perkins, Sallye Perrin, John Renner, Michael Romeo, Jimmy Rouse, Greg Smith, Marty Taylor, Michele Whelley

Moderator: Paulo Gregory Harris, Ingoma Foundation

Introduction: Jimmy Rouse welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked the attendees for coming. He began his introductory remarks by stating that the majority of the meeting would be devoted to an open discussion about the Red Line. To give the discussion a little context, Jimmy reflected upon how Transit Choices got started, its mission, its accomplishments thus far, where we are today and where we are going.

  •  In November 2012, we held a transportation symposium at the Baltimore Museum of Art and brought in two keynote speakers: Chris Leinberger of the Brookings Institute and Mariia Zimmerman of MZ Strategies. The well attended symposium, was centered around the question “How can we improve our transit system” in the next five years to make Baltimore a more livable, walkable city? There was a great deal of excitement and interest after the symposium to continue the conversation which resulted in the formation of Transit Choices. The Transit Choices group began meeting monthly and developed a mission statement which has over 100 signatories to date.
  • One of Transit Choices greatest accomplishments has been bringing diverse voices to the table together to think about how we achieve a comprehensive, multi-modal transit system in Baltimore. The group decided to break into work groups around each mode of transit (rail, bus, bike, water taxi & pedestrian) and then come together monthly to share how we could work together synergistically to develop a first rate transit system. The work groups were charged with two tasks: 1) develop a list of “Quick Hits” (low cost, high visibility, high impact) improvements to our transit system and 2) develop a long term vision for what would be ideal for each mode in the future and a plan to join these visions together in a unified transit system. Adam Gross with Ayers Saint Gross, did a great job designing both the “Quick Hits” PowerPoint and the related handbooks. The City, MTA and MDOT have embraced the idea of working with us on implementing as many of the “Quick Hits” as possible. Some people may say that many of the “Quick Hits” were already in the works, and that is true. But, by unifying them in a handbook we were able to get Khalil Zaied, Director of Operations (Mayor’s Office), William Johnson, Director (BCDOT), Robert Smith, Administrator, Ron Barnes, Chief Operations Officer, Michael Walk, Director of Service Development all with the MTA, and a representative from MDOT to meet quarterly (which has never been done) to establish time lines for each of the ‘Quick Hits”, and follow their progress towards implementation. Transit Choices could not have gotten a better response from all of the officials in the City, MTA and MDOT. While we continue to work on the “Quick Hits”, our next task is to look at an overall vision for the future – how can we create a great multi-modal transit system for Baltimore? As part of that discussion, we now come to the Red Line.
  • Transit Choices has included both opponents and proponents of the Red Line in monthly meetings, and they have been working together with the full group to create our mission statement, guiding principles and “Quick Hits” list. It has been exciting to see these “adversaries” come together, work together, and respect each other. As a group, Transit Choices avoided taking a position on the Red Line, fearful that the issue would bring division to the positive work going on. While on vacation this summer, Jimmy received a request from the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) that Transit Choices write a letter of support for two bills supporting the Red Line that were going in front of the City Council. Jimmy responded by reiterating in a letter, that the group had not taken a position on the Red Line and suggested to City Council members that if they supported the project they needed to be looking for ways to make the system more effective & efficient through land use planning around stops. Additionally, they were encouraged to realize that the Red Line will not make a complete transit system and should be thinking about measures that may precede, run concurrent or occur even after the Red Line to enhance its value and help integrate it with other forms of mobility. If, on the other hand they should be against the Red Line, they need to come up with a realistic and fundable alternative. Given that Jimmy had limited access to the internet while on vacation and only a couple of days to respond to GBC’s request, the letter was not properly vetted by Transit Choices members. Several people who support the Red Line viewed the letter as negative and muddled, and were upset that it had been written. It was suggested that the letter be retracted which Jimmy subsequently did.
  • As an aftermath, internal pressure has mounted on Transit Choices to take a position of support. It was felt that since Transit Choices is a pro-transit group, it does not make sense not to take a position on the largest transit project in Baltimore’s history. Jimmy stated that it was understandable to him, that people who have been working on this project for over a decade and feel it is 95% close to achieving the $900 million of federal funding they have sought, feel passionate and strongly that they want to see the project happen and they want Transit Choices to support it.
  • Red Line Support Letter – work group chairs and other members of the Transit Choices community worked together to craft a letter in support of the Red Line which was presented at the meeting. Although some members of Transit Choices have felt that the group has been pressured into taking this position, Jimmy expressed that he did not feel this is the case. Given that we are a pro-transit group, it was inevitable that Transit Choices take a position on this largest transit project in Baltimore’s history.
With the above-mentioned introductory, Jimmy turned the meeting over to Paulo Gregory Harris (meeting moderator) to open the discussion about the Red Line in which everyone who wanted to be given the opportunity to express their views about the project would be heard.

Discussion Summary:

  •  Marty Taylor (president) of the Right Rail Coalition distributed a Vision Map and 4-page PDF. Electronic copies of both documents will be made available to the full Transit Choices group. The following is a short summary of the Right Rail Coalition’s key issues with the current Red Line plan:
    1. Astronomical cost will continue to rise. If built, the Red Line will be Baltimore’s only transit project for 30+ years. Inflation accounts for only a small fraction of the cost increase.
    2. No connectivity – another disconnected line.
    3. Very low speed and capacity.
    4. No plan B. Current Contingency plans include removing the Red Line-metro underground “connection”.
    5. Minimal development potential; many projects already on hold.
    6. Data doesn’t support “improvement”.
    7. Not streetcar compatible.

The Right Rail Coalition envisions modifying the current plan to build a real, connected transit backbone for Baltimore. Local trips would be better served by building a network of streetcars (or perhaps in some areas circulators, as deemed by local communities) that would connect into the transit backbone and hubs as needed for longer trips. The alternative has a number of advantages, including a connected hub in West Baltimore, a 7-minute trip from I-95 to downtown in East Baltimore, and a 4.5 minute trip between Hopkins and Bayview.

  • Henry Kay (Executive Director for Transit Development and Delivery) MTA and others asserted the Right Rail Coalition presentation of an alternative to the Red Line was flawed in several key ways:
    1. A change of direction at this point would require several years to re-plan and re-engineer the project and jeopardize the available state and federal funding.
    2. The Red Line’s purpose is to provide regional transportation. Ending the Red Line at Lexington Market as Right Rail Coalition has proposed would require most people to change modes. The commute time for people in west Baltimore to get to jobs in east Baltimore and vice-versa would increase substantially.
    3. Extending Metro from Johns Hopkins to Bayview would be expensive and have lower ridership than the Red Line because it would bypass the congested and rapidly growing waterfront.
    4. A good transit system has a mix between regional transit (light rail) and intracity transit (buses, circulator and possibly streetcar). The Right Rail Coalition plan loses what would probably be our last opportunity to create an east-west regional system to complement our existing north-south system and northwest to east system (metro). Together, these routes could become the skeleton on which we build an effective and efficient transit system for all Baltimoreans.

The lively discussion that followed involved many participants questioning or supporting all of the above-mentioned ideas.

  • A suggestion was made to change the title of the Red Line support letter from “Transit Choices Support of the Baltimore Red Line” to “The following members of Transit Choices support the Baltimore Red Line” in order to acknowledge that not all participants in Transit Choices support the Red Line. It was felt that the signatory format would give an opportunity to demonstrate the wide support that does exist for the project among Transit Choices participants.
Action Items:
  • There will be an open discussion about governance at the meeting on October 28, 2014