As Red Line planning restarts, West Baltimore group pitches ‘Smart Line’ to link east-west subway with MARC

Jun 14, 2023

Joe Richardson stood in a subway station in downtown Baltimore and stared at the wall, imagining another rail line extending west, all the way to his neighborhood of Midtown-Edmondson.
Today, it’s just an idea, but Richardson believes there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build an east-west rail line and create a regional transportation hub in West Baltimore.
His mayor is a Democrat, his president is a Democrat, and, perhaps most importantly, his governor is now a Democrat, and all three have spoken about the need to invest in public transportation.
Gov. Wes Moore came into office this year promising to revive the Red Line, the long-planned light rail project in Baltimore canceled by his Republican predecessor, and local leaders expect Moore to make good on that promise.
The $2.9 billion Red Line would have connected the Bayview area in Southeast Baltimore to Woodlawn in Baltimore County. The state spent about $300 million planning for the light rail project, then gave up a $900 million federal commitment when then-Gov. Larry Hogan canceled it in 2015.
Richardson, the president of the Edmondson Community Organization, said he was rehabbing homes in Midtown-Edmondson when he decided in 2019 to move to the neighborhood, which includes the West Baltimore MARC/Amtrak passenger railroad stop. Currently, the station is little more than a staircase to a platform with no wheelchair access.
Richardson envisions replacing it with a multimodal hub that would be the first stop of a new east-west transit line, a place where passengers arriving from Washington, D.C., could switch to a subway line and complete a trip to downtown Baltimore in as little as 45 minutes. His organization and its development wing — HUB West Baltimore — call it the “Smart Line.”
The group has reached out to politicians and transit advocates to float the idea. It likely will be just one of many proposals that jockey for political support in the coming months and years.
The original Red Line plan was billed as a transformational infrastructure project for the Baltimore region and an equivalent plan likely would cost billions of dollars more today.
“[It] would be a tremendous catalyst, an economic catalyst for a disinvested, redlined community,” said Richardson, calling Midtown-Edmondson “one of the most disinvested communities within the whole city of Baltimore.”
Baltimore once had an extensive system of streetcars, dating to 1885 and eventually growing to 56 miles of track. It extended from Ellicott City in Howard County to eastern Baltimore County before shutting down in 1963.
That’s about the same time that leaders formalized a plan for a rapid regional transit system similar to one being built in Washington. They envisioned six rail spokes extending from a downtown hub.
But only one line — the Metro SubwayLink — was built. The 15.4-mile north-south subway line opened in 1983 and was extended twice. It connects Owings Mills to the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
After the first extension was completed in 1987, the line’s average daily ridership reached 45,000, and transit officials predicted it could eventually grow as high as 82,000.
Instead, those numbers cratered. By 2017, average daily ridership hovered roughly around 30,000. It dropped to just over 20,000 on the eve of the coronavirus pandemic. Ridership then plummeted and has remained low, averaging just a few thousand riders each day.
Transit advocates say an east-west line would make the system more useful and increase overall ridership.
You could read more of this Baltimore Sun article here.