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Supporters Hope to Regain Momentum for Trolley

A proposal to build a new trolley line connecting the Inner Harbor and North Baltimore has stalled.

Five years ago, the prospects that there would be a trolley line from the Inner Harbor to University Parkway by 2012 appeared to be gaining traction.

But since then, momentum for a Charles Street Corridor Trolley has slowed to a near halt.

The most significant recent development is an economic impact study that is supposed to be completed this spring. Kristin Speaker, of the Charles Street Development Corp., which has backed the trolley proposal, said the study will show possible benefits of the trolley. But even the report's findings may not generate any renewed push for the project.

“We’re aware that (Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) doesn’t support the project,” Speaker said.

A proposal for a trolley running from the Inner Harbor to University Parkway to help draw tourists to institutions such as the  was introduced several years ago. And in 2007, backers of the trolley began to hold public meetings to discuss possible routes and financing options. Meanwhile, trolley opponents started their own website to push back against the project's expense and the trolley's possible adverse impact on exisitng mass transportation.

A website in support of the trolley line detailed its cost -- $156 million.  Of that amount, $136 million would come from the city and state through various means and $20 million from the federal government. It was also expected that the trolley would cost $4.5 million a year to operate and that would come from the fare box and city funds used to operate Baltimore City Shuttle Service on Charles Street.

However, when the economy tanked in 2008, resulting in major budget constraints on Baltimore and the state, momentum for the project all but evaporated, and the trolley line has been pushed to the backburner. 

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor isn’t against the project, but that its supporters need to show that the project can pay for itself.

“They need to show they can generate independent outside funding,” Brennan said. 

Now that the city is facing another budget deficit — estimated to be —  any new proposal needs to come with its own funding sources.

Even as the prospects for a trolley connecting the Inner Harbor and North Baltimore dim, advocates for the project are trying to create grassroots support.

Mark Counselman, a founder of the independent advocacy group Friends of the Trolley, is confident that the trolley will regain its traction, especially if the group can demonstrate enough local support.

“I think the mayor’s a reasonable person, and we will build momentum and when she sees the community is behind it, she’ll come around,” said Counselman, an Oakenshawe resident.   

He said he understands the bad economy is making things tough for the city and that funding for projects such as the trolley isn't readily available. But he thinks there's a constituency to advocate on behalf of a trolley line as part of Baltimore's transpotation future.

“I think the ball’s in our court to prove the future of cities is great transit networks, and it’s as simple as that,” Counselman said.

ahblid January 21, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Regarding the offer, I'll have to think on that a bit. For starters I'm not a transit expert, although I have done considerable research on it and I'm a fan of it. But I'm actually a computer/network consultant by trade. I also haven't done much of anything in terms of looking at this specific project; my initial comments were simply based upon those reports that at least IMHO you appeared to be using to support your case against the trolley.
ed January 22, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Alan I am not a transit expert either. A discussion at our level could really help educate the public about the pros and cons of the Charles Street Trolley. We can try to set up the discussion out of public view and see how it goes. If you don't like the way it comes out, we will not publish it. I really would like to see the pros and cons laid out in a clear fashion. One comment on your slant on it all: no one pushing the project regards it as a "transportation" project at all; it is regarded as a "development" project. The key argument for the trolley is that it will spur development along the Charles Street corridor--and that it will spur development vastly better than something like the Charm City Emulator. It is those rails in the ground that give it a sense of permanence that draws development--or so the promoters say. I would argue that it is very important to encourage development in Baltimore. Is the trolley the best use of limited funds for this purpose? (The Grand Prix was a bust in my opinion.) ed
ed January 22, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Alan Who are you and what connection, if any, do you have to the trolley project? I am Ed Hopkins. I live in Baltimore City in the Remington area. I got involved in the trolley project years ago when the plans were to finance the trolley by means of a surtax on people who lived close to the line. I would have been hit with the surtax. I have no connection with the Charles Street Development Corporation. I do not work for anyone. I am on the Board of Directors of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance which tries to look after the interests of the residents of the Remington neighborhood. This exchange of ideas stops here if you do not reveal your identity and your interests in the project. ed
ahblid January 24, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Ed, I only quoted ridership numbers because of your mentioning that speed was important to ridership. I honestly have no slant on things, beyond the fact that in circumstances like what is being discussed here, rail is generally superior to the bus both in terms of ridership & costs. As I said to you in an earlier post, I really haven't even looked into this project much at all; therefore it doesn't surprise me at all that the bigger driving force is for development. But I would agree that rail would spur more development than the Charm City Circulator. Both people and business tend to prefer rail over a bus. Not saying that their reasons are always logical, although some are indeed quite logical, but rail always does attract more ridership than a bus does. And while some of what has been said regarding development is indeed questionable, there is no doubt that rail does help to spur it far better than a bus. Yes, it may take some government deals like tax breaks, etc. to bring in a few big players, but then smaller business inevitably follows. And business more and more is starting to see that rail makes a difference. Four big corps up in Seattle have seen it and have put their money where their mouth is. They've ponied up $65 Million to have the City run the South Lake Union Trolley more frequently during rush hour to provide better access for employees. http://mayormcginn.seattle.gov/celebrating-new-private-funding-for-the-seattle-streetcar/
ahblid January 24, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Ed, I have no connection at all to the project; I don't even live in Baltimore. And my computer company specializes in small companies that typically employ less than 100 people. So no company that would be developing anything for this project would ever notice me or seek to use my services. My name is Alan Burden, and beyond that I'm not going to talk much more about myself in such a public forum. As a computer expert I unfortunately know all to well what can be done with too much public info on a forum such as this.

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