Gov. Larry Hogan today announced a $135 million investment in the city bus system, erasing a glut of downtown routes and creating 12 color-coded routes that connect with Baltimore's other transportation lines, the MARC, metro, and light rail.
The investment package also calls for more bike racks near MTA stops, additional bike cars on the MARC train, and car share.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a supporter of the east-west rail project known as the Red Line, which Hogan killed, reportedly did not show up for the announcement of the project, called BaltimoreLink. Some of the candidates jockeying for the seat she is vacating—state Sen. Catherine Pugh and City Councilman Carl Stokes—did, as did City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. The Sun's Michael Dresser reports Young said he is "absolutely" on board with the plan.
Rawlings-Blake did later issue a statement saying BaltimoreLink fell "far short" of Baltimore's needs, while one of the Democratic candidates in the 2014 gubernatorial election, Doug Gansler, and another elected official who may be gearing up for a run against Hogan in 2018, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the plan amounted to a whole lot of nothing.
But it's definitely something, and that something sounds a lot like the Bus Network Improvement Project (BNIP) put forth under Martin O'Malley in 2013. One of the biggest advocates for Red Line, the group Red Line Now, drew that same connection in a statement cautiously praising the bus plan while also bemoaning the lack of rail projects.
According to documents obtained by The Sun's Kevin Rector, the BNIP "aim[ed] to overhaul schedules, in part by splitting 'long, cumbersome lines' and increasing 'MARC [train] connections, new suburban connections, and a downtown grid.'"
According to materials released today by the MTA, BaltimoreLink "will improve reliability and better connect riders to Amtrak, Commuter Bus, Light RailLink, MARC Train, Metro SubwayLink and other services in Baltimore and the surrounding suburbs." And if you look at the map above, it looks a whole lot like a downtown grid.
As Rector reported back in March, the BNIP was delayed once Hogan took office and his administration said it wanted to review the whole thing. But there were problems well before that. MTA officials spent $850,000 dragging their heels and eventually said system improvements might take as long as 18 years to implement. Current projections have BaltimoreLink being fully implemented by June 2017. So there's that at least?
Pretty much everyone can agree the current system is a shit-show, and that these improvements are needed, but Red Line Now argues that's only scratching the surface: "We support efforts to improve Baltimore's bus system, and the BaltimoreLINK program appears to be a sincere effort to do so. We commend the effort to study last mile problems and invest in bike infrastructure as part of the plan.
"Many cities across the country are performing similar bus system redesigns. A key difference is that those cities—like Houston or Los Angeles—are also building rail lines.
"That's because without designing and funding infrastructure that allows for reliable high-capacity transit service, good things like increased frequency or even a more logical bus network can only deliver so much."