Baltimore’s Mass Transit Suffers as Leaders Bicker
A contentious meeting between city leaders and governor's staff reveal lack of vision for Baltimore's problem plagued mass transit
A contentious meeting between city leaders and governor's staff reveal lack of vision for Baltimore's problem plagued mass transit
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I’m an investigative reporter for the Real News Network in Baltimore.
There has been much controversy about the city’s future in terms of mass transit. And that [conference] came to a head this week when Governor Larry Hogan and city officials met to try to hash out the future of Baltimore’s mass transit. What came out of that meeting was very little, but to parse it and to figure it out I have two guests here who know much about Baltimore City. Luke Broadwater is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Sun, an award-winning investigative reporter. And joining me also is Sean Yoes, the host of First Edition and also an award-winning reporter for the African-American newspaper. Both of you, thank you for joining me. I appreciate it.
So Luke, you were at a meeting this week that had–tell us a little bit about what happened between Governor Hogan’s people and city officials about the, sort of, future of the red line. Well, not the future, but the canceling of the red line. Tell us a little bit about what happened.
LUKE BROADWATER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BALTIMORE SUN: Yeah. Governor Hogan summoned about 40 Baltimore lawmakers out to Hanover to discuss alternatives to the red line.
JANIS: This is the headquarters of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
BROADWATER: Right. He wasn’t there himself, but his secretary of transportation was, Pete Rahn. And so he, Pete Rahn was there, and then these are the heavy hitters from Baltimore Politics. Elijah Cummings, Barbara Mikulski, Sarbanes, Mayor Rawlings-Blake. And they had them sit all around a table and basically said, so, what do you think we should do? They had them fill out a form which had 13 options. The first option was, you know, should the buses run on time? Should the buses run, be overcrowded, should the–and had them pick their five top options.
The Democrats were like, this is it? We need to have more serious alternatives than just making the buses run better. The Hogan administration thinks that if they can make the buses run efficiently and be reliable that that is perhaps the solution to Baltimore’s mass transit problems. The Democrats in the room thought that that was ridiculous.
JANIS: The red line, Hogan has canceled the red line. He’s basically said it’s not going to happen. Why was the Baltimore political establishment wedded to this idea of the red line? A lot of people said it was not connected to mass transit. It was not a good alternative–.
SEAN YOES, HOST, FIRST EDITION: Well, it wasn’t connected to mass transit. If you look there’s a stretch of what the red line, what they said they wanted to do as far as building the red line is concerned, there was a stretch of it from Fells Point to the University Center that ran exactly parallel to the metro that’s already in place. But it wasn’t–that in and of itself, that swathe of track of the red line would have been a major waste if you already have the same thing in place just a little bit north of it. So I think that was just kind of symbolic of the failure, the fiscal failure of the red line from the beginning.
JANIS: So why do you think, so where does this project come from? I mean, Baltimore has this history of creating these weird swathes of mass transit that go nowhere.
YOES: Highway to nowhere.
JANIS: What’s behind this? Or why were they so…
YOES: I think that it was something that was inherited from the Glendening and O’Malley years, quite frankly. Because I think it goes back–because it goes back like 15 years.
BROADWATER: Yeah, maybe even longer. Two decades or so.
YOES: And it was just, probably the thought was that we need to improve transit in the city. Okay, let’s do something. Okay, we’ll do this. The red line. Oh, great. And it just kind of falls into the same pattern of how things are done in this city, in this democratic structure. I mean, different cities, I guess, operate differently. But in Baltimore it’s just like, okay, this is what we’ll do. And it’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction, I think. I think.
JANIS: Did you get any sense when you were there that the Democratic establishment, including the mayor, had any sort of alternative idea of anything they wanted? Or were they just saying it’s red line or nothing?
BROADWATER: So no, no. it seemed to me that no one on the table on either side had any real ideas about what could be a possible mass transit fix, a large-scale mass transit fix for Baltimore. That said, the Democrats’ point is Governor Hogan canceled the red line and gave the funds to everyone else in the state. We have no funds to work with, so what kind of fixes can we come up with? Hogan’s point of view is come up with some ideas and then we’ll talk about maybe we can fund them.
This week I talked to Maggie MacIntosh who said, well, the circulator works great downtown. Why don’t we do circulators for East and West Baltimore? Maybe the state could contribute funding to that. Jack Young, Kurt Anderson said, well, maybe let’s just do a portion of the red line, just for West Baltimore, to get people from Social Security where there’s a ton of jobs to Downtown, or vice versa, you know, so people who live in West Baltimore can go to the jobs of the East or the West.
So people do have other ideas. But nothing concrete, and nothing that’s being funded. So as of right now there’s zero alternative to the red line.
YOES: Ultimately, and Luke is speaking to other ideas, other options, right, ultimately when the red line was put together there were models not just in the United States but worldwide that were more viable than what they were trying to say we should do with the red line. And why weren’t those other avenues explored? I mean, you had a ton of time to do that. It just doesn’t make sense.
JANIS: Like rapid bus, or something.
YOES: Well, when you think about how the DC Metro is connected. I mean, it connects. It literally connects, which seems to make sense. Other metro systems in other countries, the spoke method. It just seems like they could have been, there could have been much more viable alternatives put forward than the red line.
JANIS: How much does this have to do with race in this city? The fact that we don’t want connectivity? I mean, I’m asking you honestly.
YOES: I think that when you talk about structural racism, which has been a term that’s been kind of thrown around in the last year or so, especially in the wake of law enforcement reform, the death of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and all the other names that we can throw out. It talks about just a political structure that has no–it has no connection to the people that it’s serving. And the vast majority of people when we’re talking about Baltimore are black people or poor people.
And ultimately it just, it’s like the road, the highway to nowhere. It stands there as this symbol, when it was I guess completed in 1979. This symbol of just ineptitude, one, but just a kind of broken, empty promise to the neighborhood saying oh, it’s going to bring thousands of jobs, it’s going to do this, it’s going to do that. It doesn’t, it’s done nothing, and it’s so ironic and almost like a slap in the face to that community that they were going to build the red line pretty much adjacent to that road to nowhere. It’s almost like, it’s almost like a backhand, like–.
JANIS: One thing I wanted to ask you is, Hogan said the whole thing was ill-conceived. But I think what you’re hearing from some people in the Blake administration, this is more about Hogan’s sort of dissing the city politically. How much do you think this decision had to do with political tensions that have been obvious between the Blake administration–is there any evidence, or do you think the Hogan administration sincerely thinks this project is a bad idea?
BROADWATER: Yeah, I don’t think that this results from petty personal politics. I think that Hogan said during the campaign trail he didn’t like the red line or the purple line. That makes sense. He’s a Republican. He believes in roads and people driving, and thinks things like $3 billion rail, light rail lines that don’t go very fast are a waste of money. So that doesn’t come as a surprise to me.
But I do think that Baltimore has, and everybody knows this now, has terrible mass transit. I mean, look at DC. They have the Metro line. New York City, you don’t need to own a car. You don’t need to drive a car, ever.
JANIS: And the buses are so fast.
BROADWATER: Chicago. All the major cities of the country have great public transit systems, except–I can’t speak for everybody. But Baltimore doesn’t. And so how do you fix that, and what are the alternatives?
Now, when they picked the red line they passed over like, 13 other different projects back in the day. I don’t know whether one of them can be resurrected. Sheila Dixon was talking to me the other day about doing some kind of trolley cars that connect the, the metro–.
JANIS: Like in Toronto.
BROADWATER: Yeah, the metro and some other–.
JANIS: In Toronto you have a track, a little bit faster.
BROADWATER: Yeah. Because we do have some public transportation. We have the metro, we have the light rail. And if we could connect some of these things to the big employers, Social Security, Hopkins, et cetera, then people could get around more easily without having to have a car.
JANIS: We find ourselves in a situation, right, we have no funding for a red line, no plan. Is this an example of just plain incompetence in our city? I mean, are we–.
YOES: I think ultimately it is. And I, you want to try to put the best spin on–. This is our city, so we want, I, personally I root for us to do better. I want us to do better. But it just seems like just flat incompetence. It seems like, it reminds me of just the crime fighting strategy. It’s like, okay. We know how–we’ve heard this mayor say over and over again, we know how to handle homicides. We know how to deal with spikes in homicides. Well, clearly we don’t. And we’ve been doing the same thing for years, for decades. And it doesn’t–and it doesn’t work.
And I think that that same mentality of, we know how to handle this, just let us–we know how to do this, it’s kind of the same thing that trickles into, when you talk about the issues of not just mass transit, but just infrastructure. I mean, we have a lousy mass transit system, but we have a lack of, our infrastructure is one of the worst probably in the United States as well. I mean, infrastructures around the country are bad and crumbling. But in Baltimore if you look at the roads, if you look at the sewage system, all of–I mean, these are major issues for the residents of Baltimore. And I think the mentality of we know what we’re doing, let’s just try this or let’s just try that, it hasn’t worked, and we need to be able to step back and look at all these issues that we have as a city, and apply a more viable plan or strategy. And it’s not, it just hasn’t happened yet.
JANIS: Just final question. Did you think, did you get any indication that the Rawlings-Blake administration has any alternatives, if they’re working on something that they want to bring back to the Hogan administration?
BROADWATER: I haven’t to date. No. And she said again today, we asked her this question again this morning, and she said you can’t come up with plans if there’s no money available. I mean, how are you going to bring in all these people from different communities to have meetings and [charettes] about stuff, and talk about–when there’s zero dollars to fund anything with?
So really, they need to get in a small room and really talk about things frankly and say how much money is possible and what can we do with that type of money? All the, the political theater, I don’t know if it’s necessarily helping anything.
JANIS: So final thought, what has to happen for Baltimore City to have a viable mass transit? Like, politically, in your estimation? New Mayor?
YOES: Business as usual just isn’t going to get it. I mean, that applies to a myriad of problems that we have in the city. I mean, I feel like, and not just me, but I think there are a lot of people that feel like we almost have to deconstruct how business is done in Baltimore and apply new thoughts, new tactics, and new–just a totally different way of looking at things in the city. Because the city is broken in a lot of different ways. Not just as mass transit is concerned, but it’s broken in many, many areas. And till we come to grips with that reality, we’re going to continue to go down the path that we’re going down.
JANIS: Luke Broadwater, investigative reporter for the Baltimore Sun, thank you for joining me, I appreciate it.
BROADWATER: Thank you.
JANIS: And Sean Yoes, host of First Edition from 5:00-7:00 every day. Make sure you listen. Thanks for joining us, appreciate it.
YOES: Thank you.
JANIS: My name is Stephen Janis. I’m a reporter for the Real News Network in Baltimore.
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