Sunday, September 5, 2010


One thing that's great about Baltimore's light rail is that it doesn't stop at the city-county line. Instead it connects BWI and Glen Burnie to the south to Hunt Valley to the north. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that the Baltimore light rail steered clear of the sort of city-county infighting that killed, stalled, or undermined so many regional public transportation initiatives. As I learned on a recent trip to Ruxton, there is an awkward five-mile stretch between the Falls Road and Lutherville stations where the light-rail doesn't stop. As you might expect, this is because a group of "concerned citizens"--in this case, the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association--organized against them for fear they would, in the words of one woman interviewed for a 1992 Baltimore Sun article, "bring the wrong element into our community." Not surprisingly, the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area is one of the wealthiest and whitest in the region.

I don't know why the Maryland Transit Administration bowed to the Improvement Association, but it goes without saying that in addition to being totally racist, it is totally wasteful. You have the track, you have the people (many of whom are commuters), what a missed opportunity it is to not have the stops. (In this sense, it's sort of the inverse of elevated expressways like Brooklyn's Gowanus Expressway, which, when it was built, went through poorer neighborhoods that couldn't access it because there were no exit ramps between Manhattan and Brooklyn's wealthier southern suburbs.)

This sounds like ancient history but it is not: a similar battle is being fought today by Canton, who is fighting Baltimore's new Red Line, presumably for many of the same reasons Ruxton fought the original line when it was being planned in the late 1980s. The argument against light rail in Canton is arguably more nuanced (most opponents claim only to be opposed to a "surface" Red Line), and the racial implications less clear-cut (many residents in the mostly African-American neighborhood of Edmondson Village also oppose a surface Red Line), but parallels can certainly be drawn.


  1. Not entirely fair your accusations of racism. While it is likely that it exists in Ruxton (where doesn't it?) there was a more proximate cause for the resistance. I've never seen a stop that doesn't come with all-night stadium lighting and acres of paved parking. It's all well and good to make accusations of racism; however what's really at issue here is the further degradation of the environment, all in service of the insatiable need of capital to pulse its consumers quickly to market and then, on weekends, to these obscene temples of sports that we have funded.

  2. Yes. Environmental concerns are the true reason we opted to favor thousands of automobile commuters over one rail line.

  3. You've accurately described the effect, but in order to prove the thesis that racism is the cause, you need to provide control data showing a comparable white or asian community with equally high murder rates that was treated differently -- in other words a high-crime white community that was included on the rail line despite the danger they present. Or failing that, show a black community with equally low murder rates that was excluded, despite the lack of any elevated danger.

    Unless such data is found, the obvious factor is murder and crime rates, not race, unless you subscribe to the increasingly absurd theory that modern multi-racial America stubbornly conspires to deliberately hold back a single race while allowing free passage for all the others for no apparent reason. A more plausible explanation is that people don't want to be assaulted or murdered by anyone of any race, and will therefore physically distance themselves from dangerous situations.

    The fact that murder and crime rates sadly tend to fall on racial lines is perhaps a tragic legacy of racial discrimination in earlier times, times when African Americans were denied education, Jews denied professional advancement, and Japanese Americans were interned in prison camps.

    But today in modern multi-racial America, only the crime gap remains as the primary obstacle to resolving the iniquities you've very movingly chronicled. Once this is addressed, you'll see everything else fall into place.