Sunday, August 30, 2015

The End Of The Line For The Red Line, And For Baltimore?

Baltimore enjoys many distinctions and, as we know, not all of them are good ones.  Here, however, is one of the worst, one that directly and indirectly feeds many of the city's most persistent problems: Baltimore is the largest city on the Northeastern seaboard without a comprehensive mass rail system for public transportation.  All of the regions' other large cities--Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.--have comprehensive rail systems that are the backbone of their economies, helping to make each of them not only national, but international powerhouses.

But not Charm City.  It pokes along with a single subway line, a single light-rail line, a bus system and a handful of "circulators," none of which connect to each other in the seamless, powerful manner that the various rail lines and bus routes connect in the region's other major cities.  And, with each passing year, its population and tax base shrinks, and the city is more and more an economic basket case, as well as a sociological tinder box.

How did all of this happen?  Well, institutional racism, for one.  The early city fathers of Baltimore found it convenient to use the city planning process to isolate whites and blacks in separate communities.  That use--or misuse--sowed seeds of division and resentment that led to the riots of 1968, as well as the riots of the past year.  And it explains why public transportation has always faced an uphill battle here, as opposed to elsewhere.  After all, why go to all the trouble of engaging in divide-and-conquer city planning, and then create a mass transit system that would effectively undo all of your evil work?

And, of course, cost is always the other weapon aimed at mass transit by its foes.  No one doubts that building rail systems is expensive.  That is why public spending needs to be involved--and, in fact, has been involved, ever since the westward expansion of the United States.  It's very easy for politicians with anti-public agendas to look at the short-term price tag and say "Meh, we can't afford this."  It's easy to engage in short-term thinking generally; it avoids having to think about the long-term consequences of short-term solutions.

For example, if the construction of the Washington, D.C. Metrorail system had been "derailed" (pun intended) by its admittedly enormous cost, Washington, D.C. would not be the city it is today.  For most of its history, and well into the 1960s, the nation's capital was little better off than Baltimore is today.  The building of the Metrorail system changed all of that.  It turned the city into an economic powerhouse, and a world-class center of cosmopolitan culture.  That is not to say that Washington is free of racism.  But it is to say that public transportation has helped to map out an alternative future not only for Washington, but for the entire region as well.  The money spent on Metro has more than repaid itself, and continues to help build a bright future not only for the District, but also for the two states that adjoin it, Virginia and Maryland.  Without the explosive growth of the Washington metropolitan region, thanks to Metro, both states would be economic basket cases.

Which, in an admittedly roundabout way, brings me to the tragedy of Governor Hogan's ill-informed, short-sighted decision to cancel the Red Line rail transportation project.  The Red Line, which would have created an east-west public transportation rail line through Baltimore, and connected the city's eastern and western suburbs.  It had the potential to be connected with the subway and light-rail systems, and form the backbone of a truly metropolitan rail system.  It had the potential to destroy the racism embedded in the city's history, and to have the impact on the local economy that Washington's Metro had on the District's region.  Even while the Red Line was in its planning stages, there has been evidence that the project was already beginning to have an economic impact. Take a look here. And here.

But the governor ignored all of this.  The governor who pledged to be the governor of all the people, who pledged to put Maryland ahead of party identification, the governor who pledged to be the governor of the whole state, has proved by virtue (or vice) to be a carbon copy of his mentor, Chris Christie:  a divide-and-conquer politician willing to strip funding from jurisdictions that won't vote for him and move it to jurisdictions that will.  Never mind that, in the process, he diminishes the long-term economic future of the entire state--including the regions that vote for him.  His short-term thinking is impeccable:  he understands that he stumbled into office on the back of a weak opponent, and the path to re-election depends on buying votes.

The story, however, does not have to end here.

All it would take is a gubernatorial candidate in the next election who embraced the concept of a green economy for the state, someone who could show that what Maryland, and the rest of the nation, desperately needs is an economy based upon renewable resources, such as solar and wind power, as well as a focus on renovation of private property and investment in public works such as mass transportation.  Such an economy could allow Baltimore, and Maryland, to break the cycle of racial division and economic shrinkage, and could actually raise enough revenue to pay for itself. And, ultimately, to not only pay for the Red Line, but to pay for what Baltimore ultimately really needs. Which is something like this:

(Click here for original link).

There's no reason we can't have this.  All we need to do is to reject the politics of fear.  Will we do it? We can hope and pray that we will.  And then, we can get out and work.

And, above all, vote.

No comments: