GBC’s Fry: Red Line Red Herrings

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

I’m a strong supporter of Baltimore’s planned east-west light rail Red Line. I also fully acknowledge that citizens have every right to voice opposition to public projects, and some in the Canton and Edmondson Village neighborhoods are objecting to plans to run surface light rail on Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue respectively.

Opponents of the project are certainly entitled to their opinions, but many key points of misinformation are also circulating in discussions regarding the Red Line.

For instance, many argue that a surface light rail will lower property values and, in effect, ruin their neighborhoods.

By contrast, numerous other cities – including Portland, Los Angeles, Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Seattle – currently have modern surface light rail, and their neighborhoods are thriving. Then there’s San Francisco’s Embarcadero, where a streetcar runs down the middle of that area’s famous, and thriving, waterfront thoroughfare.

Recently a well-known Maryland radio commentator said that it is improbable for two light rail projects in Maryland – the Purple Line in the DC suburbs and the Red Line – to receive federal funding at the same time. He told listeners that the federal government has rarely funded two major transit projects simultaneously in the same state.

The facts show otherwise. Currently, 13 states are receiving federal funding for more than one major transit project, according to federal transit funding data.

Finally, a much-voiced red herring of light rail opponents is that the MTA’s existing light rail line from Hunt Valley to Anne Arundel County is responsible for “killing” Howard Street in Baltimore.

The unfortunate truth is that Howard Street’s deterioration as the city’s retail center ended when the street’s four anchor department stores closed, all of which occurred well before 1988, when Governor William Donald Schaefer signed legislation to build the light rail line.

Informed public dialogue is a healthy and necessary exercise but one that is best fueled by facts.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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