Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Canton hates public transportation

Canton, which The Baltimore Sun describes as a “model of urban chic where million-dollar townhouses overlook the harbor and destination night spots surround O'Donnell Square,” is opposed to an “east-west transit line” because it will mar the neighborhood.

The MTA-sponsored line in a notoriously transit unfriendly city is planned to run from Woodlawn to Bayview. The Light Rail currently has two lines. The primary line runs North to South from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie (the line splits at the Linthicum stop—separating to either Glen Burnie or BWI airport). A second “line” splits off the main line, running from Penn Station to Camden Yards. All stop on this “line” are on the main line with the exclusion of Penn Station. Trains run the following “routes”: Hunt Vallet to BWI Marshall, Timonium to Cromwell, Penn Station to Camden Yards.

MTA’s bus routes and subway stations cover travel from the suburbs to the city, but the routes are flawed, sometimes confusing, and largely inconvenient. Though I’ve given MTA and light rail a serious beatdown since starting The Perils of Public Transportation, my love for the light rail is no secret. That it seems to cover a larger area with greater ease than the subway and bus through just one, sad line proves both its efficiency and MTA’s dire need to provide more service to the city.

Residents (and visitors) can’t take light rail to destinations east and west. I took cabs when responsibility called—and it wasn’t without desperately trying to make the trip work taking the bus or subway. MTA once advised I take a cab, because I might wait “a very long time” for my return trip. The best option using MTA for that trip included three connections.

There are a bevy of options for a general project, and nothing for this—which is considered the red line—is official. But something is necessary, so the for the purpose of the following content, the plan is an underground rail with additional above ground rail in Canton and other neighborhoods. This argument is not assuming that the plan is the best, flawless plan ever, but recognizing that the city needs better transit, and mildly flawed, expensive transit is better than no transit.

But that doesn’t matter to Canton. “In fact, Canton would simply rather Baltimore not improve its mass transit at all rather than face a light rail in their neighborhood,” Mobtown Shank wrote. According to The Baltimore Sun, Canton worries that the line will “cut off Canton from the water, drag down property values and compound the area's already serious traffic and parking problems.”

If I were motivated to visit Canton (unlikely) I’d rather take light rail than drive. So would others, and the presence of public transit in general would help alleviate traffic problems. There would be less fools trying to park, because there would be less fools trying to drive.

Traffic is, unfortunately, the side effect of living in a city. It’s not that I want to marginalize the “struggle” a motorist faces in Canton, but I want to highlight dumbassery in Houston (via How We Drive):

Ever since the city of Houston allowed the partial closure of a neighboring street — against the wishes of more than 1,200 nearby residents, school administrators and a growing cadre of state representatives — she has lived in fear.

…Neighbors in Rivercrest, who lived for years on a long, straight street with no curbs, sidewalks or stop signs that had turned into something of a racetrack for cars trying to avoid rush-hour traffic on Westheimer. They had tried for more than a decade to get some help from the city, only to continually bump up against the will of their neighbors and a bureaucratic morass at City Hall.

The neighborhood had a street partial street closed to traffic and in turn, funneled the traffic to neighboring streets, causing chaos to everyone else. How We Drive’s Tom Vanderbilt summarized the situation, “Everyone wants a.) to drive, and b.) wants quick access to fast roads, but no one wants traffic on their street. But you can’t have one without the other, unless, of course, as in the story above, you redistribute inequitably.”

What’s noticeable about Houston’s flabbergasting mistake and Canton’s position against the new line is the attitude shared between the two neighborhoods. The Houston residents wanted quieter streets. Canton’s opposition is represented by lawyer and waterfront property owner Ben Rosenberg. He told The Baltimore Sun, "I have yet to find somebody [in Canton] who says they're in favor of this thing," he said. "The feeling in Canton is whatever you do, do it underground. ... If that breaks the bank, wait till the bank fills up."

Rosenberg means he hasn’t overheard anyone and probably wouldn’t socialize with someone in favor of the line. I doubt Rosenberg is knocking on any doors with answers he hasn’t prepared for. I love that Rosenberg sees a bank like a reservoir. Next time it rains, the bank will be flush with cash. In this economy? In this city? Rosenberg, do you really live in Baltimore? (Also, the property value argument makes me laugh. Like Canton is worth so much money, and the deteriorating housing market hasn’t impacted the value already, and the million dollar homes aren’t overvalued.)

Canton, why can’t you swallow your tomfoolery and deal with it? You’re party central for residents in their 20s, you have more bars than you know what to do with, and you have almost no way to get there. (Now that the buses have been re-routed it’s marginally easier to reach the neighborhood if you come from areas north of the city.)

Is this because you’re white and affluent, Canton? The Baltimore Sun pointed to deep racial tension—the other end of the line is in a less affluent area of the city, and if the line goes underground for Canton, it has to go underground for West Baltimore, too. Because a decision can’t be made just because white, affluent yuppies want it that way. (Or it has to be hidden better, and people have to get paid appropriately, which is what Houston did.)

And I doubt the only problem with Rosenberg’s “go underground” suggestion is failproof. Constructing underground rail is likely to tear up Canton’s streets, which will doubtlessly hinder—gasp!—traffic and parking. And for the sake of angering a few Cantonians (Cantonites?) subway construction in the Bronx in the 1970s was (and still is) to blame for a rash of violence over the summer of the construction. (And in a snowball effect, the angst led to the rise of hip hop!) And, Cantonites, the neighborhoods were targeted because they were poor, non-white people. Or, as Yonah Freemark said nicely on The Transport Politic: “But anyone who’s seen the relatively minimal impact of light rail trains along streets in Portland, Dallas, or Minneapolis knows that there’s really nothing to fear.”

If the line isn’t built traffic will worsen citywide and specifically in the eastern neighborhoods. It will negatively impact and irritate Canton. The red line can help traffic and tourism and shouldn’t be dumped, ignored, or prevented.

Mobtown Shank says it best in Sunday’s introduction to the quagmire: “It's heartening to know that there are plans to update our transit. But it's also disheartening to see that in this era of global warming, one neighborhood's prejudices can disrupt better mass transit plans.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And then we start a moshpit on the streets of Reykjavík!

Have you read the Vanity Fair article about Iceland? It's long, and the writer's tone is grating (the superior tourism paired with the "let me dumb this down for ignorant Americans" made my skin crawl) and the emphasis that Icelandic men are brutes straddled the line between offensive and ignorant until this part:

The best way to see any city is to walk it, but everywhere I walk Icelandic men plow into me without so much as a by-your-leave. Just for fun I march up and down the main shopping drag, playing chicken, to see if any Icelandic male would rather divert his stride than bang shoulders. Nope.

I have to have a little love for a writer who eschewed a cab for the full trip and admitted to playing chicken on the sidewalk. Michael Lewis, you wanna go to Target on a Saturday afternoon? You take every demographic but old people and the yoga ladies, and stand on my left side, I've only got one shoulder to work with.

I've always wanted to see Iceland, even though it's frigid and a little dark. I'll have to work on my drinking tolerance before I go, at the very least because one drink would do me in.