Sunday Train: Benefits of the Maryland Red and Purple Lines

Just as national attention has been focused on the sections of Baltimore that have been largely locked out of the revival of economic activity in downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor, the new Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, is considering whether to proceed with the construction of the Red Line in Baltimore, as well as the Purple Line in the Maryland DC suburbs.

As discussed in StreetsblogUSA back in January, "Considering to proceed", here, means:

Early in his gubernatorial campaign, Hogan promised to kill the projects, saying the money would be better spent on roads and that the western, eastern, and southern parts of the state deserved more attention. But closer to the election he moderated his views, saying the lines were "worth considering."

Now Transport for American ( has weighed in, producing a report that argues that the benefits of the lines make them well worth their cost.

Indeed, part of their case may well help explain why Gov. Hogan is "deciding" when originally Candidate Hogan sounded like he had already made up his mind. For the Transport for America case for these lines, join me below the fold.

Jobs Now and Access to Jobs in the Future along the Red Line

The Red Line is a proposed 14 mile light rail line running East/West from the Woodlawn Social Security Administration complex to John Hopkins Hospital Bayview Medical Center via downtown Baltimore. It emerged from the work of the Baltimore Region Rail System Plan Advisory Committee, appointed in 2001 by the then-Secretary of Transport, John Porcari. They developed a rail system composed of six lines, including the existing north/south Metro Subway and north/south Baltimore Light Rail.

Of the four proposed new lines, the "Red" line was slated as the first one to be built. It would run from the Social Security Administration offices in Baltimore County, west of the city, run through West Baltimore, including a transfer station at West Baltimore MARC, run through downtown, connecting with the two existing, and currently stand-alone, lines, and then run through to East Baltimore (cf. the MTA Red Line site for online zoomable maps).

Out of the proposed 100 mile system, the Red Line attracted the most interest. There was an early mode fight, with the State Secretary of Transportation wanting to have a BRT corridor, while federal and Baltimore City representatives insisted that rail options be included. In the end a heavy rail option was dismissed as being too expensive, and light rail and BRT ended up being studied, with a light rail system finally winning approval to proceed.

This recent "reconsideration" really is the last real chance for opponents of the corridor to bring it to a halt, since the project is now shovel ready, $900m in federal New Starts money has been awarded, and the state has already spent $230m on planning the Red Line. The alignment cope with downtown Baltimore's narrow streets with a downtown tunnel, with another tunnel to bypass Cooks Lane to line the West Baltimore part of the alignment to the Social Security Administration job center. Much of the West Baltimore route runs along US Route 40, including a median alignment along a freeway section left over from the cancellation of I-70 / I-270 within the Baltimore city limits.

Cancellation of the Red Line would be piling bad news on top of bad news for the City of Baltimore. As the Transport for American report (pdf) lays out, 9,000+ jobs will be required to build the project, in turn generating an additional 5,000+ jobs, leading to $2.1b in additional economic activity.

Now, while the local employment generated by a transport project are always welcome, a transport project should not be built primarily for the jobs generated by construction. So it is critical that over the long term, the Red Line will leverage the existing system by providing with a 62% increase in people living near a train station compared to today, and will providing access to substantial job centers that are only accessible by car or bus today.

The Red line added to the existing rail corridors will make nearly 250,000 jobs available by rail. The increase in access to these employment centers would be much greater than 62% in West Baltimore, which is not served by either of the two existing rail corridors. So neighborhoods have high populations without car transport, who today may have to take one, two or even through slow city buses to get to work, will gain a substantial increase in economic mobility from the Red Line. Since the Red Line interconnects with the two existing lines in downtown Baltimore, West Baltimore residents will not only gain access to the Social Security Administration, downtown, and Johns Hopkins Bayview job centers, but also access to the job centers accessible along the Metro Subway and Baltimore Light Rail corridors.

Of course, on the original project timetables, the Red Line would already be in operation today. The major delays in the project involved putting together the funding required by the system. It was under Governor O'Malley that the Red Line received the final push required to fund the system, and given the political nature of investing Maryland funding in Baltimore, it is not surprising that this was at the same time as another project was being pushed for the Maryland DC suburbs.

Jobs Now and Access to Jobs in the Future along the Purple Line

The Purple Line is a response to the dramatic evolution of the Maryland DC suburbs since the DC regional Metrorail system was first laid out in the 1960's and 70's. At the time the DC suburbs were bedroom communities for people working in DC, and the Metrorail system was laid out as a hub and spoke system to take people to and from DC, converging on DC Union Station, only a few blocks away from the US Capitol.

However, over the past half century, these once-bedroom suburbs have evolved. The hub and spoke system that works for getting into and out of a downtown employment center is not well suited for commutes to and from employment centers that have emerged in the Maryland and Virginia DC suburbs.

While Virginia has responded to this change, with the development of transit corridors that cross-cut the hub and spoke system to provide improved access to employment centers in the DC suburbs of Virginia, Maryland has lagged behind. The Purple Line is a project that aims to catch up to Virginia, connecting Bethesda in the west to New Carrollton in the east, running through College Park Maryland to connect to the main University of Maryland campus ... and improve the connection of the College Park metro station to the campus ... and Silver Spring.

In terms of the DC Metrorail system, this makes a rail connection from the end of the Orange line, to the second to the end station on the Green Line, to the first Maryland station on the "eastern" leg of the Metro Red Line, to the second Maryland station on the "western" leg of the Metro Red Line.

In terms of the Maryland State rail network, the Purple Line provides a cross-connect between the MARC Penn line, connecting to Baltimore and BWI, the MARC Cambden line, connecting the University of Maryland to Baltimore, and the MARC Brunswick line, serving Mongomery County as well as Frederick and Washington counties in western Washington.

As with the Baltimore Red Line, the 16 mile Purple line has a substantial employment impact, generating over 20,000 direct and indirect jobs and $7b in economic activity from building the line. It will mean 91,000 more people living near a rail station, making 290,000 jobs available by public transport, generating 28,000 new riders, and providing substantial transit time savings for existing transit users, with an estimated reduction in end-to-end travel times in 2040 from 104 minutes to 63 minutes.

But, what's in it for property developers?

Now, these are not the only benefits. Electric light rail traction is also more energy efficient than the typical 1.25 person per car commute to work, so there is a GHG emissions benefit up front. And as we increase the share of sustainable, renewable electricity on our grid, we automatically increase the share of sustainable, renewable power operating our transit, so those emissions gains can be increased in the future without requiring a switch-over of our fleet of light rail transit vehicles.

There are also the opportunities for employment benefits that go beyond the construction of the corridors. Transport for America (pdf, p. 15) refers to the experience of the Los Angeles MCTA:

The Red Line and Purple Line projects also represent an opportunity for the state to reignite its manufacturing sector. Only 6.5 percent of the state’s economic output comes from manufacturing, and just 4.4 percent of Maryland residents are employed in that industry.4 Nationwide, about 60 cents of every transit manufacturing dollar is spent overseas, but that does not have to be the case, as a program by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority has shown. LACMTA has required potential suppliers for its light rail vehicles and buses to indicate how much of the manufacturing will be done in the U.S. and how many U.S. jobs they will create. LACMTA considers that information in determining which bidder provides the best value. As a result of this process, LACMTA’s vehicle purchases have created over 400 new U.S. manufacturing jobs, with 60 percent in Los Angeles County. In addition, the cost of the vehicles was less than, or comparable to, other vehicle procurements of similar size.

As Transport for America notes, not every project is sufficiently large to be able to justify establishment of a local assembly facility, but with the Red and Purple lines together involving an order of 84 light rail cars, Maryland seems likely to have a project that would quality.

But when putting together these kinds of benefit ... GHG emission reductions, opportunities for increase manufacturing employment ... its not surprising that a Republican candidate for governor would launch their campaign with a call to "spend that money on roads in other parts of the state". The question to answer is how got into his ear to make him change his tune to a "they might be worthwhile, we'll take a look at the projects when I become governor"?

That is likely to be the property development opportunities opened up by the corridors. As noted by Transport for America, the Red Line would run past 2,000 acres of property with opportunities for redevelopment. Transport for America cannot put a dollar value on that property redevelopment opportunity, but they are able to put a figure to property redevelopment opportunities along the Purple Line, citing an estimated $12.8b in property value increase over thirty years.

Which gets back to an issue that the Sunday Train has looked at multiple times over the last six years, including July 7, 2012 in Rescuing the Exurb from its Design. The suburban development system is running out of gas. It was always founded on a system of collecting subsidies from urban and rural areas to promote development in suburban areas, so it was always going to face growing challenges when we reached the "tipping point" of half of the people living in the subsidy-receiving area, so that it becomes every more difficulty to squeeze the same dollar-per-suburban-resident subsidy from the declining share of the population living in urban and rural areas.

And laid on top of the simple, inexorable math undermining the subsidy-for-suburbs system that property developers have relied on for profits for over half a century, there is the swing in taste and preferences against the bedroom suburb. When the primary means of media consumption during leisure time is broadcast TV, neither a car commute nor a train or bus commute offers that as a ready option, but the car commute offers a superior environment for broadcast radio ... turning the "drive time" into the underlying advertising backbone for the broadcast radio business. And while "portable music" was available from transistor radios, then the cassette Walkman, then the CD Walkman, the investment in support for the car commute market ensured that the choice was typically between listening on headsets and listening on your car speakers.

But that started to change when portable DVD players made watching movies on a train trip a possibility. And the Social Media environment of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and etc. has turned it on its head. Now the need to chauffeur yourself in a car commute means choosing between being cut off from Social Media, relying on inadequate audio based work-arounds, and the dangerous habit of texting while driving, carrying the always present risk of a vehicular homicide or suicide around the next bend. Meanwhile, rail commutes offer opportunities to not just engage in visual media, but also offer the opportunity for public transit operators to chase passengers on a superior Quality of Service to self-chauffeured commutes with in-vehicle WiFi improving the quality of signal versus whatever is available via cellphone networks.

This means that many of the most desirable employers, competing for high skilled individuals that have a substantial freedom of choice as to where they wish to work, have a preference for "convenient access to transit" to add to their set of competitive advantages. And then those employees who chose that employer in part because of its "convenient access to transit" are then looking for a place to live that is convenient to the transit lines serving that employer.

And that is just the most obvious side of the economic benefit of improving access to transit-accessible employers. The benefit continues into married households that were previously two-income, two-car households by necessity, since there was not a reasonable commute to work for either partner ... who then gain the freedom to become two-income, one-car households, when one (or both) partner(s) gain access to a transit commute to work. Transport for American points out that households can save $11,731 ($931/month) by not owning a car. And so each household that switches from a car commute to a transit commute increases the disposable income of the region, without requiring an increase in wages or salary to do so.

Now, I have no special insight into Maryland politics or Governor Hogen's personal political thinking. But if I was a betting man, I would bet that somewhere along the way to campaigning for Governor, some property developers were able to pull Candidate Hogen aside and "mention" to him that this talk of cutting these rail lines was going to put the crimp into their plans to make some money for themselves.

Conclusions and Conversations

So, what do you think about the Baltimore Red Line and Maryland DC suburbs Purple Line? As always, I look forward to any thoughts on sustainable transport policy, whether on this topic or another.

And since this is a current political fight, remember that if you support it, and live in Maryland or known anybody who does, the more people who get involved in the fight, the better for the two lines. And while the transit commuting benefits are focused in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Prince George's County and Montgomery County, the transport benefits extend beyond this, especially with the substantially improved connection from the MARC Penn and Brunswick lines to the University of Maryland College Park campus via the Purple Line and the Penn and Cambden lines to Johns Hopkins Hospital Bayview via the Baltimore Red Line.





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Ideally, these projects would be pursued ...

BruceMcF's picture

... for their long-term benefits in reducing greenhouse gases, the massive risk exposure of our oil-addicted transport system, and providing improved access to employment opportunities to people who presently have to ride buses for multiple hours a day to get to work.

But for a Republican Governor who started out his campaign promising to kill both projects, I'm guessing that developers whispering in his ear to get him to reconsider that promise is likely to be a more effective argument.

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