A packed room met at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council at McHenry Row to gather information and voice ideas about the Charm City Circulator’s new route, the Banner Route. Named after the Star Spangled Banner, the Banner Route will be a straight back-and-forth shot from Light and Pratt St., Baltimore’s downtown center point, to Fort McHenry. Along the way the route will pass by Harbor View, the Visionary Arts Museum and the Museum of Industry along Key Highway and connect to Fort Ave via Lawrence St. and through Locust Point on Fort Ave. The route will return essentially on the same track.
The new route will open in May of this year, in time for the 200 year anniversary of the War of 1812 and the Star Spangled Banner. Maryland has tabbed this event, the Star-Spangled Sailabration 2012.
As usual, this wasn’t a packed meeting of people who wanted to tell the Charm City Circulator management team how great of a job they did on the new route – they had concerns about who exactly this route was going to help. The most popular question was, “How does this help the businesses and residents in SBNA and Riverside?” The general consensus was that it doesn’t. Many in attendance including community presidents and business leaders were curious why the route couldn’t ride Fort Avenue through Riverside and SoBo for at least one direction. The answer – not enough money!
This is the fourth route for the Circulator and the other three routes are paid for by a parking tax that generates the city between 5.25 and 5.35 million dollars per year. This new route will be paid for by grants, including the Paul Sarbanes Grant, which is specifically designed to benefit transportation to national parks. In this case, the grant will provide passengers access to Fort McHenry National Park. Grants will also pay for the four new buses. So essentially the answer from the Circulator management team was that they only have enough money to go the Fort McHenry and back and that going down Fort Ave. would take more time and equate to more overhead.
With that said, the concerns were heard and hopefully noted when more money comes available in the future. As a SoBo resident myself, I think it is essential to extend the Purple Route farther into the neighborhood, maybe to Wells St., or let have the Banner Route go down Fort Ave. Riverside and SoBo are neighborhoods that fit the Circulator’s purpose to a tee as they offer tons of residents who have a good amount of disposable income to spend at city businesses and they struggle mightily with a lack of parking.
I did some quick research and found that the excluded portion of Fort Ave., between Hanover St. and Lawrence St., includes 36 business (and another 15 within 1 block) and approximately ten vacant store fronts. That is essentially 61 businesses who will miss an opportunity to benefit from the Circulator.
They quoted that for every four riders on the Circulator, it takes one car off the road. Using the same formula, I’m not sure how that would directly relate to SoBo residents and families, but anything that would make families consider one less car, or individuals to live without a car, could be a life-saver for the neighborhood and its businesses.
Another great point presented by Councilman William Cole was the lack of connectivity with Tide Point and the many current and future employees at Under Armour. Parking has become a big concern for the Locust Point community in relation to Tide Point. The closing of the Fort Ave. bridge has also created gridlock on Key Highway and Hull Street has practically become a highway.
Charm City Circulator is currently conducting a survey to distinguish what percentage of their passengers ride for work, play or as a tourist. While those results are not yet published, they did say that tourists make up a very strong percentage. I know when I am a tourist, I ‘d rather see every city’s Delia Foley’s and Bar Fly, as opposed to their Cheesecake Factory.
We’ll see if the Charm City Circulator makes any changes as they are pursuing additional grants to sustain and improve the Banner Route. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake said in her State of the City Address today that she’d also like to see the Purple Route extended to 33rd St near JHU. After tonight’s meeting I know that money does not yet exist, but luckily Mayor Rawlings Blake has at least four years to find it.