Red Line MYTHS

We've heard 'em all.

There are so many half-truths, exaggerations, and urban legends about the Red Line, you could be forgiven for thinking it howls at the moon.

Just as there was opposition to Harborplace, Charles Center, the Beltway, the Bay Bridge, and many other important projects throughout Baltimore's history, there are some area residents who are intent on killing the Red Line at all costs, and will say anything to accomplish this goal.

This is unfortunate, because if such an effort were to succeed, it would squander the ten years of planning and millions of dollars that have already been invested in the Red Line. Worse, it would set back Baltimore's public transportation system for many decades, if not permanently.

Read on to see why these misleading claims miss the mark:

Phoenix light rail
The light rail system in Phoenix — PHOENIX, of all places! — has surpassed ridership projections, and is carrying 22,000 more passengers per day than originally projected.

MYTH #1:

"Baltimore doesn't need the Red Line."

REALITY: If Baltimore is to be a dynamic 21st century city that lives up to its potential, it needs to dramatically improve its transit, starting with the Red Line.

People want to be in in cities that are growing — places that have the confidence to invest in their citizens and their future. And they're moving to the cities with the most walkable neighborhoods and the best public transit.

Baltimore has all the makings of a dynamic, modern metropolis. With the addition of a robust transit network that connects people of all walks of life to the places they need to go, it can truly be a city that encourages investment, innovation, commerce, and culture.

Make No Small Plans

At Red Line Now, we want to live in a confident, forward-looking Baltimore. One that embraces the 21st century, welcomes new residents, and regains it position as one of the nation's leading cities. In order to do this, we expect our leaders and our residents to think big and embrace change.

The Red Line is a transformative infrastructure project which will require focus and partnership to ensure its ultimate success. We know Baltimore is ready for the challenge, and the step forward it represents.

Phoenix light rail
We want to live in a forward-looking, modern and inclusive city that connects people to the places and people that are important in their lives.
The grass is always greener
The grass is always greener...or is it?

MYTH #2:

"We all want better transit here in Baltimore, and if we would just abandon the Red Line as proposed, we could design and build a much better system!"

REALITY: "Pro-transit" Red Line opponents ignore more than a decade of money and time that have gone into research, planning and engineering. They also have yet to suggest an alternative that makes sense.

The Red Line should be... streetcars! It should be all above-ground! It should be all underground! It should be a free bus! It should be a Lexington Market transit hub! (This is making us hungry for some Faidley's crabcakes.) And so on...

In other words: pick a Red Line — any Red Line — as long as it's not the actual Red Line.

Project opponents who claim to be pro-transit suggest that planners are ignoring better options for the Red Line, but have yet to identify one reasonable alternative.

The Red Line has been undergoing intensive planning, route and ridership analysis, community input, environmental review, preliminary engineering, and more for better than a decade. It is the most pragmatic plan to serve the most congested transit corridor in the Baltimore region.

Baltimore Can't Afford to Pass On the Red Line

Starting over would jeopardize federal funding, set back major transit upgrades for a generation or more, and exponentially increase costs associated with the project. Baltimore cannot afford to pass on the Red Line — especially as our competitor cities have built out or are building out their transit networks.

This is why we support the actual Red Line, not a pie-in-the-sky version.

Red Line corridor map - downtown Baltimore
The Red Line will have several transfer points with other rail lines, and will connect to the bus network across our region.

MYTH #3:

"The Red Line doesn't connect to the rest of Baltimore's transit network."

REALITY: The Red Line connects directly to the light rail, and to the Metro subway via a sheltered underground walkway.

Light Rail

The Red Line will have a stop directly beneath the light rail on Howard Street, allowing for quick and easy access between the two lines.

Metro

The Red Line stop under Lombard Street will connect to the Metro subway at Charles Center via an underground walkway that will speed transfers and protect riders from the elements. It will only take a few minutes minutes to transfer between trains.

Many other connections

The Red Line stations are strategically positioned to connect with the city's existing and planned transportation network, including MARC, buses, the Circulator, water taxis, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

In cities known for excellent transit such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco, transferring from one line to another usually requires a bit of walking. This is due to any number of factors, including the different eras in which each of the lines were built, engineering issues such as the technology used for each type of line, and the fact that different lines serve different areas of the city. Nonetheless, these cities have successful transit networks, and the Red Line will be no different.

square peg in round hole
The Red Line in the Metro tunnel is a square peg in a round hole.

MYTH #4:

"The Red Line should be built inside the Metro subway's existing tunnel. "

REALITY: This makes no sense from an engineering, transit planning, or financial standpoint.

The Red Line will not be placed inside the Metro tunnel for two main reasons:

1. The Red Line is light rail. That's a completely different technology than heavy rail, which is used by the Metro subway. Running light rail in the existing tunnel would require: 1) massive retrofit of the shared portion of the tunnel and shared stations, to accommodate new technology (extremely expensive), or 2) changing the Red Line to a different technology, heavy rail (even more expensive).

2. The Red Line goes to different parts of the city than the Metro. The Red Line is supposed to serve the neighborhoods of Southeast Baltimore, which are some of the most congested and heavily populated in the entire region. Shoehorning the Red Line into a tunnel that runs through a different part of the city would defeat this purpose.

Congestion in downtown Baltimore
The Red Line will help get folks to work in some of the most congested parts of the Baltimore area.

MYTH #5:

"The Red Line will bring crime."

REALITY: This myth ignores the benefits of infrastructure investment while unfairly stereotyping transit riders

An Unfortunate Myth

The unfortunate perception of a link between crime and transit, while rarely appearing as an "official" argument against the Red Line, has been repeatedly advanced by some opponents in unofficial forums such as on Facebook, in meetings and in one-on-one conversations with supporters of the project.

We've heard the Red Line derisively referred to as the "crime line", the "loot rail", and various other creative terms. These words are destructive and prevent meaningful debate.

Although the idea of a mustachioed bad guy waiting on a train platform with your stolen flatscreen sounds pretty scary, the evidence has not shown a correlation between transit and crime.

We're Better Than This

We transit users come from all walks of life. Our differences make our city strong and give Baltimore its unique culture.

Urban crime is an ill that is the result of many forces, including poor access to educational opportunities, lack of employment, poor housing policy, generational poverty, and persistent segregation. But it is not the result of transit.

On the other hand, transportation investments can bring about economic development, neighborhood revitalization, and population growth. These are all things we want, but we still must lay the groundwork. In order to reach our potential, we need to strengthen our transit system, and the Red Line is the most important piece required.

One Final Thought...

We believe that the argument that the Red Line should be opposed because transit "brings crime" has the effect — whether intentional or not — of implying that Baltimore's transportation system should be segregated by class, income, and even race. In a city that remains deeply segregated, we reject this argument. Our fellow Baltimoreans should do the same.

Baltimore's Metro subway
$246 million has been earmarked to replace the rail cars and signaling system on Baltimore's Metro subway.

MYTH #6:

"The Red Line will devour funds for all future transit improvements."

REALITY: This myth is arrived at by taking information out-of-context from a regional planning document. (Besides: have you noticed all the transit improvements happening anyway ?)

This claim is a favorite claim of anti-RL-ers: The Red Line will cost so much money that our hands will be tied, and we will never be able to invest in transit again. (Cue the violins.)

It's Taken Out of Context

This claim takes information out of context from a regional planning document which shows most regional transportation improvement funds between 2016 and 2021 going towards construction of the Red Line.

Here's the thing:   That money is there in the first place because of the Red Line. This money became available because the Red Line was identified as one of the most pressing infrastructure needs in our region.

It's a bit like complaining that you've set aside a bunch of money to go to college, but now you'll never be able to do anything else with the money because you're going to use it to go to college. That was the point of the money in the first place. Besides...

Transit Improvements Are Already Happening

  • $246 million has been earmarked to completely replace all the rail cars and the signaling system on the Metro subway.
  • MARC's new expanded service to D.C. on weekends is a runaway hit (and it's paid for with $100 million from one of the same pots of money that is funding construction of the Red Line).
  • The popular Charm City Circulator continues to expand, with new stops coming soon to Charles Village.
  • Real-time vehicle tracking technology has been implemented on the light rail, and is coming to MTA's bus network and Metro subway this fall.
  • MTA's bus fleet has been getting updated with newer, more comfortable and energy-efficient buses.
  • Major transit-oriented land use projects are in the works, including the major overhaul of State Center and the planned residential high-rise tower atop the Charles Center Metro. Creating more transit-oriented developments such as these will stengthen our transit network.
  • Don't forget the Charm Card transit debit system, which has made using public transportation much easier in both Baltimore and Washington since it debuted a few years ago.

As Baltimore transit riders, we cannot imagine a more useful and badly needed transit improvement than the Red Line, but we are glad that there are more useful transit improvements on the way nonetheless.

apples and oranges

MYTH #7:

"The Red Line is over budget by a billion dollars, and we haven't even started to build it yet!""

REALITY: This claim takes two very different types of estimates and compares them as if they're the same thing.

Base Year Estimate

The initial 2008 estimate of $1.62 billion is what's called a "base year estimate" — that is, it tallies up labor hours and material costs and comes up with a flat number entirely in 2008 dollars — the base year in which the estimate was made. This is common in the initial planning for large infrastructure projects.

Year-Of-Expenditure Estimate

On the other hand, the second estimate, $2.65 billion, is what's referred to as a "year of expenditure estimate." This type of estimate includes cost increases for inflation according to the project timeline, which will call for certain expenditures to be made in certain years.

This means that the $2.65 billion allocates project costs by year all the way to 2021, and estimates based on inflation the amount by which costs will increase.

Some of the $2.65 million figure has already been allocated and spent, because preliminary engineering work started in earnest in 2011 and has continued to the present day.

MYTH #8:

"The City will be forced to raise property taxes."

REALITY: There is no plan to raise property taxes to pay for the Red Line. In fact, Baltimore is in the middle of a concerted and ongoing campaign to lower property taxes.

There are several problems with this argument.

"In-Kind" Donations

A good portion of the City's obligation for the Red Line will be contributed "in kind". For instance, MTA is working with Baltimore City on a number of joint infrastructure projects: water/wastewater, electrical conduits, bridge reconstruction, and environmental projects, all of which would otherwise be performed solely by MTA.

When conducted jointly, these joint projects reduce MTA's scope of work and costs, and use funds already budgeted by the City.

Tax Hikes Not On Table

Second, in its negotiations with MTA, the City has never indicated any intention of raising property taxes to contribute its share of Red Line costs. In all of these discussions, this possibility has never been raised as even a consideration. The City has suggested no general fund contributions at all.

Should some cash be required, there are any number of ways the city can up with additional money. For example, consider the city's upcoming sale of public parking garages, which is expected to yield $84 million. In fact, Baltimore's solid financial health has been reflected in the recent upgrade of its bond rating to its highest level in years.

Any assertion of raising taxes is without fact or basis. This was recently confirmed by Mayor Rawlings-Blake, whose administration is in the middle of an ongoing effort to reduce property taxes.

Purple Line rendering
The proposed Purple Line, in the suburbs of Washington D.C., will use a public-private partnership funding model for its construction.

MYTH #9:

"The Red Line public-private partnership is just a creative form of public debt."

REALITY: Public-private partnerships are a standard way to pay for large infrastructure projects that help shift some of the cost burdens away from the state.

$250 million is earmarked for private funding through the private partnership ('P3') program. Under this program, a private party will finance a part of the project (the part that it is providing — for example, the rail system and train cars). To do so, the private party will put up some equity money and borrow the balance.

The borrowed money will not be public debt because the private party — not the State — will be liable for the repayment. The private party will repay this debt from the profit it makes on the initial contract and on subsequent operating and/or maintenance contracts.

MYTH #10:

"The state is trying to create a special transit benefits district tax that will force residents to pay additional money for the Red Line."

REALITY: There is no serious effort to create a transit district tax, nor is it politically feasible.

The Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 required that a task force make recommendations on regional transit financing entities.

The task force concluded that creation of a regional financing authority should come at the request of the local governments involved, and noted, with approval, the long, successful track record of centralized transportation investment through MDOT.

The bill that was introduced last session had only one sponsor — a legislator from the Eastern Shore.

This idea is going nowhere, particularly if being introduced by folks from jurisdictions outside the Baltimore area.

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