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Group Aims to Make Baltimore More Livable Through Better Transit Options

The grassroots group Transit Choices will go to City Hall in January with a list of low-cost, high-impact improvements to transit projects that it would like to see happen in 2014.

Baltimore’s streetcar system ended in part because of the rise of automobiles but some people want to bring the streetcars back. Capital News Service Photo by Ethan Barton
Baltimore’s streetcar system ended in part because of the rise of automobiles but some people want to bring the streetcars back. Capital News Service Photo by Ethan Barton

By TAZEEN AHMAD

Capital News Service
It all started with streetcars.

Jimmy Rouse, president of the Baltimore Streetcar Campaign, and its executive director, Robin Budish, were campaigning to bring back trolleys when they realized they were meeting people who were interested in more than streetcars -- people who wanted to see many changes in transportation around the city.

“People kept saying that we really need to look at Baltimore transportation system as a whole,” Budish said. “And although streetcars are a component, there are many other improvements that need to be made, because the systems don’t really connect to one another.”

Last December, Budish and Rouse, along with some colleagues, organized a transportation symposium aimed at making Baltimore more liveable by improving rail, buses, water taxis and bicycles as well as adding streetcars.  

What emerged from the discussions was Transit Choices, a grassroots group that now includes government officials, business leaders, and community activists --  all of whom wanted to change and improve mass transportation in Baltimore.

One year later, Transit Choices is getting ready to go to City Hall in January with a list of “quick hits” -- low-cost, high-impact improvements to transit projects that it would like to see happen in 2014.

The rail work group’s preliminary list includes: making light rail faster by giving the train signal priority over traffic; updating MTA bus shelters and stops; installing next-stop displays inside trains; adding bike hooks inside trains; and making the first door of trains accessible for wheelchairs without needing the intervention of an operator, as is now required.

The main objective of all the work groups: to create a system that would let commuters move effortlessly around the city, even when using more than one transit line.

Klaus Philipsen, president of ArchPlan, Inc., an architecture company, says that kind of integration would give Baltimore “a real system.”

“What makes a real system,” Philipsen said, “is that a user can get from point A to point B and seamlessly transfer from one mode to another, ideally with one ticket and with one set of information, and doesn’t care what is run by the city and what is run by the MTA and whether it is a bus or a train or a Circulator bus or an express bus.”

Transit Choices has about 90 members with representation from the MTA, City Hall, the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, and many private and public organizations and community activists.

The group has no board and no voting. It is a collaborative effort in which the consensus of the group prevails.

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