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Look outside U.S. for Baltimore’s transit future | READER COMMENTARY

Copenhagen Central Station is pictured a few days before the opening of the new Metro M3 Cityring, on September 25, 2019. The line forms a ring around the city center. (Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP)

The Baltimore Sun’s historical accounting of the various rapid transit plans for Baltimore that have come and gone over the last 119 years is a saddening tale of what could have been as the city still lacks a comprehensive rapid transit system (”Retro: Proposals for building a crosstown subway date back to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904,” Jan. 10). The 1916 assertion of Councilman John D. Spencer that, “Now is the time for Baltimore to act,” to keep pace with subway building programs in New York, Philadelphia and Boston is a bit jarring to read given the economic prominence of those cities today.

As a city resident and transit supporter, I am encouraged by the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan and Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s interest in an expansion of services. However, I believe that transit officials should consider a different rapid transit technology approach for the Baltimore region, compared to what is seen in the rest of the United States today. Baltimore should take cues from international cities with maximization of service frequency in mind as a guiding principle. Specifically, fully grade-separated rapid transit should be prioritized, with implementation of automated driverless lines.

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The Copenhagen Metro and the Vancouver SkyTrain (now managed by former Maryland Transit Administration chief Kevin Quinn) are examples of concepts that should be pursued. Even after 70 years of shrinkage, Baltimore remains more densely populated than most U.S. cities that have built light rail systems in the last 30 or 40 years including Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and San Diego. While the vast majority of U.S. light rail systems (including Baltimore’s) do not offer “turn up and go” levels of service, considering the limited funding normally available for transit operations (and the nationwide shortage of transit workers), automated driverless rapid transit would allow for a frequent rail service in the Baltimore region that can be built and scaled up less expensively than driver-operated rapid transit.

More immediately, perfect does not have to be the enemy of good. Although light rail-oriented U.S. cities do not offer Baltimore a rapid transit service blueprint that should be followed, if a light rail Red Line, as formerly planned, is the most realistic and expeditious option for east-west rapid transit in the city, then it should be pursued. As for a potential north-south Towson to Port Covington rapid transit service, as proposed under the CMRTP, and any new rapid transit lines beyond that, automated driverless technology should be the standard.

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Expanded transit infrastructure will help facilitate Baltimore’s growth as an underpinning for residential and commercial densification; accordingly, automated driverless metro service is a concept worthy of further analysis from transit decision makers.

— Jeenly Louis, Baltimore

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