Gov. Larry Hogan's announcement that plans for the Red Line transit route would be tabled was painful both personally and professionally. It represented years of work for so many dedicated residents, government workers and advocates, but the people of Baltimore can't let this be the final denial in the development of an equitable rail system that serves all of our communities. We have to get back into case-making mode and prepare for a struggle ahead. The Red Line may not have been perfect, but it is a good idea — and good ideas are worth fighting for.

When I came to Baltimore in 2005, one of the first projects that came across my desk was a community-based visioning process for transit-oriented development around the West Baltimore MARC station in anticipation of an intermodal transit hub to include a future Red Line station. I spent hours at community meetings with, quite frankly, angry long-time residents who had previously been devastated by the creation of the Route 40 "Highway to Nowhere." But over the course of the two-year planning process, many dedicated and skilled city and state staff members and other advocates worked to ensure that the community's voice was heard in the development of the plan. I watched as residents of the adjacent West Baltimore neighborhoods slowly peeled away layers of mistrust in their government after decades of neglect.

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Since then, I worked on countless behind-the-scenes pieces of the huge Red Line puzzle, spending hundreds of hours to slowly, incrementally bring this behemoth of a project up that proverbial hill toward final approval. And my role in the direct development of the Red Line was tiny in comparison to so many others. Having the project shelved felt like we were all knocked off a precipice, and a decade-worth of community-based sweat equity was thrown away.

This decision bolsters the continued death-by-atrophy for the neighborhoods directly along the line, along with the city and metropolitan region as a whole. I oversee the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, which has been tracking quality of life measures for all of the city's neighborhoods since 2000. The purpose of the project is to help stakeholders make data driven decisions in situations like the one we are faced with right now.

Here are some facts: Baltimore was the only eastern seaboard city to continue to lose population between 2000 and 2010. All other cities between Boston and Washington, D.C., managed to reverse decades of losses. Like Baltimore, those cities have been plagued with similar urban issues that arise from rapid depopulation such as crime, poor education and economic restructuring. But those cities invested a long time ago in a transit network, including the Washington region, where Governor Hogan has agreed to allow the continued expansion with the Purple Line.

At the neighborhood level, the most negatively correlated indicator to population growth in Baltimore is the percent of the population that spends more than 45 minutes to get to work. That means that the more transit-dependent people are in your neighborhood with long commutes, the more likely your neighborhood is to lose population. The Sandtown-Winchester and Harlem Park communities, which lie directly along the Red Line, have the highest percentage in Baltimore (34.1 percent) of people commuting more than 45 minutes. The Red Line was the key investment to bring that percentage down. It would have helped reverse population loss in the community, but it would have also, based on recent studies by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and others, removed the main barrier to economic mobility for people currently living in poverty.

More than any other indicator, it is access to work via a reliable transit system that will truly ensure equal opportunity for everyone. Let us all use this information to make the case to Governor Hogan so that we can capitalize on the sweat equity that has been built in Baltimore, and have the courage to act now to reverse inequality in the region for generations to come.

Seema D. Iyer is associate director of the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute and former chief of research and strategic planning for the Baltimore City Department of Planning. Her email is siyer@ubalt.edu.

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