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A world-class transit system for Baltimore

Public TransportationTour Operations IndustryRailway TransportationPetroleum IndustryInner HarborOriole Park at Camden Yards

The corner of Howard and Lombard streets has the potential to be the pulse point of a healthier city and region. This is where the proposed Red Line and the existing Light Rail line will directly connect, addressing two long-standing deficiencies with mass transit in this city: the lack of an east/west rapid transit line and the absence of a direct transfer between rail lines to create a true "system." Baltimore and Maryland should consider taking this transfer point one step further.

If a new arena does rise alongside an expanded Convention Center, as proposed, the current arena and its parking garage should be razed, the area cleared, and the space transformed into a modern, multilevel and multi-modal transit hub. This would be similar to what is being constructed in Silver Spring or, on a grander scale, the existing Port Authority Terminal in New York. The Maryland Transit Administration's local routes that terminate and/or pass through downtown could be reconfigured to terminate and originate at the facility. The same could be done with the MTA's commuter and express lines. Giving all lines a common terminal would allow seamless transfers in a comfortable, climate-controlled facility that's centrally located and easily accessible. This is an excellent site for an intercity bus terminal given all the connections at the facility as well as its easy access to I-95.

Ground level of the transit center would be for unloading of the MTA's local, commuter and express lines, as well as for connections to the rail lines. (The Metro Subway entrance is only a block away and could be connected via moving sidewalk.) This would be the level to get information, pick up schedules, and purchase tickets and passes. Next level up would be for boarding of local buses; above that, a level for boarding of commuter and express buses; next, a level dedicated to Greyhound. The top of the facility could be dedicated to tour buses and discount carriers such as BoltBus and MegaBus.

Outside of the facility would be stops for the Charm City Circulator, which would only need slight modifications of its routes to serve it, expanding its role of circulating people throughout downtown. Sharing these stops would be the MTA's Quickbus, which would retain its through-routings downtown. Additionally, there would be areas dedicated for "Kiss and Ride" dropoffs and bike storage. Street-level retail and as much green space as possible would also complement the facility in an area of downtown that would benefit from more foot traffic. Another possible bonus of the site is that it sits next to the Howard Street Tunnel. Should CSX ever decide to abandon it, the MARC Camden Line could be extended further into the Central Business District.

Of course, funding this project would have to be addressed. I would suggest a public/private partnership between the city, the state (MTA), Greyhound Lines and a private developer who sees the huge potential in the site. Above this Transit Center could rise Baltimore's signature skyscraper. Its tallest structure, with a hotel, space for retail, offices, condos and apartments with phenomenal views of the city. Imagine the incentive of living and/or working in a structure where all you need to do is take the elevator downstairs and be within walking distance of some of the better destinations of the city or have a direct connection via bus or rail to take you anywhere you want to go in the region and beyond.

MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakewants to expand Baltimore's population in the next decade, and I share her sentiment. A more populous Baltimore is a healthier one. This city has some catching up to do, especially to be competitive in the Northeast Corridor. A successful city needs a robust transit network. Public transit that works well for all of its citizens, poor or rich, young or old is the fabric that ties a city together.

With the price of oil and increased global demand for it sure to rise astronomically in the next couple of decades, now is the time to start positioning ourselves for a time when driving everywhere in our personal vehicles is no longer practical. Having a well-connected transit system in place will play an important role in the long-term health of this city. The Red Line and the proposed transit center could be at the heart of that, a destination to destinations. It's time for this region to reverse its decades-old opposition to mass transit and embrace it for the catalyst is has the potential to be.

Is this "pie in the sky"? The same thing at one point was said about the Inner Harbor. It was said about Camden Yards. Look at the destinations they have become. The late, great Mayor William Donald Schaefer's legacy is not only these iconic landmarks but the ideal that Baltimore is capable of anything if we believe in what is possible.

We have world-class tourist attractions and world-class stadiums. Why not a world-class transit system for our citizens and visitors alike?

Gregory Spencer Jr. is a bus operator with the Maryland Transit Administration. His email is gregofbmore@aol.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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