West Baltimoreans react to Red Line plans

Colin Kelly grew up along Edmondson Avenue, and he struggled to wrap his mind around the image of an above-ground train passing safely down the middle of the busy, four-lane artery.

"Man, a curb ain't going to do nothing about it," he said Saturday morning as he listened to a Maryland Transit Administration official address Kelly's safety concerns regarding the proposed Red Line, which would run down Edmondson Avenue on its way to East Baltimore.

But as the former bus driver watched a computerized depiction of the train cruising gently along the median, he softened his tune.

"On that film, it looks good," he said. "I guess it's time for it."

The MTA hoped to answer questions and concerns such as those raised by Kelly at a Red Line open house Saturday at Edmondson-Westside High School, the first of four gatherings the agency will host this month in key neighborhoods along the proposed east-west rail corridor. The line would run from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in East Baltimore to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Security Boulevard in western Baltimore County.

"We not only want to keep the community informed; we want them actively involved," said MTA spokesman Terry Owens.

MTA officials filled the Edmondson High cafeteria with large poster boards depicting the Red Line route and describing potential development in the neighborhoods around each stop. Plans for each of the 20 stops were developed by advisory committees made up of local activists and others with an interest in the neighborhoods. Residents were invited to submit questions and comments, which Owens said the MTA will incorporate as it continues to plan the stops.

MTA officials hope to receive federal funding this year to start detailed planning and engineering work in anticipation of construction, which could begin in 2016. They ultimately hope to secure enough federal money to match the state's 50 percent share of the $1.8 billion project.

Many of the local objections to the Red Line have arisen in West Baltimore, where residents worry that streets are too narrow to accommodate a surface transit line.

Most residents and activists who attended Saturday's meeting, however, seemed to welcome the Red Line concept. They said they're tired of having to catch a bus or hop in their cars every time they want to go downtown or across to Canton and Fells Point.

"This is long overdue," said Floyd Aaron, who has lived in West Baltimore for four years. "I've worked in D.C., and I've seen what the Metro has done for neighborhoods there. Baltimore needs to move into the next century."

Neighbors were not as convinced that funding would materialize to clear out vacant properties and spur new residential and commercial development around the stops.

"I'm encouraged, but I want to see some dollars spill into the community," said Zelda Robinson, an activist from the Midtown-Edmondson neighborhood. "The line itself looks beautiful, but I want to see the communities around it looking just as beautiful."

The plans displayed yesterday included spaces for developments of shops, apartments and offices in neighborhoods such as Poppleton and Harlem Park. The boards listed goals such as preserving Edmondson Avenue and Baltimore Street as historic commercial "main streets" and expanding Hollins Market.

But much of the money for such efforts would probably have to come from private sources.

"I just hope this will wake people up to do something with these properties, the vacant ones," Aaron said. "This line might attract people from outside the area, and who needs to see those eyesores? We need a Starbucks, some place where people can use Wi-Fi, a place where people can go to socialize instead of loitering on the corners."


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