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Good news for anyone who lives or works in South Baltimore: this coming Monday, June 4th, there will be two changes that will expand circulator service:

1.) The existing Purple Route will be extended about one quarter mile farther south to Fort Avenue. This long overdue connection will serve many of the smaller, local businesses that operate on and around Fort Avenue.

2.) The Banner Route begins service and, despite the contested path the Banner Route will take, there will only be about half a mile between the two routes that serve Fort avenue. Basically, no business on Fort Avenue will be more than one quarter of a mile from a Charm City Circulator Stop.

With the addition of the Banner Route and the extension of the purple route, the Circulator will actually begin to resemble its own small transit network.

The new Banner Route and the addition to the existing Purple Route figure to attract even more riders to Baltimore’s fledgling transit system. Even without any changes, ridership climbed again between March and April. In fact, as of April 18th, the Circulator celebrated its five millionth rider. The system notched its four millionth rider in mid-January. So, over the past three months, the Circulator has transported 1 million riders. Not too bad for a system paid for by a parking tax and some grant money.

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The Charm City Circulator‘s ridership numbers have been increasing steadily for over a year. This should come as no surprise to those who live or work near its routes. What may come as a surprise is that Baltimore City is actually responsible for a successful transit program. As of March 2012, the Circulator transported about 350,000 per month. This may not seem like a huge number of riders but consider that in March of 2011, the Circulator transported only 188,000 riders per month. Transit use is increasing rapidly across the U.S., but very few municipalities can boast an 83% ridership increase over the course of one year*.

Total Monthly Ridership on the Charm City Circulator

There are many causes of this downtown Baltimore transit renaissance. First, the bus service is free, eliminating almost every disincentive to ride. Second, the service is local, not regional, making it highly functional for people making short trips within the Circulators target area. Third, two of the three routes serve the 401, the City’s central business district, currently the fastest growing in terms of residential population. Perhaps most importantly, the Circulator serves people going to and from jobs, stores, businesses, homes and apartments, not parking lots in the suburbs. Every Circulator stop serves a neighborhood, not a park and ride. And, the Circulator is expanding, serving even more neighborhoods and job centers, including Fells Point and Hopkins Hospital. As a result, one can expect ridership to increase even more. In fact, since the Green Route, the newest Circulator route, first began operating in November of 2011, overall circulator ridership has been increasing even more rapidly.

A map showing all three Charm City Circulator Routes

The Circulator is also a small operation. The Circulator is able to run efficiently because its routes are short and the Baltimore City Department of Transportation isn’t trying to do too much. Fewer routes in this case means higher performing routes and, in this case, consistent growth in ridership numbers. It also means that the Baltimore City Department of Transportation can spend time finding funding sources to add new routes to the Circulator. The Banner Route, for example, was made possible, in part, by a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, even if the MTA were able to get such a grant from the Federal Government, $1.6 million would probably not be enough money to fund a new route.

Courtesy of Baltimore City, a map showing the new Banner Route in blue.

The Circulator isn’t just one new bus route though: it has grown from one route carrying about 1,200 passengers a day into a three-route system carrying over 11,000 in under two and a half years. With the opening of the Banner route this June, expect ridership to continue to grow rapidly as residents, commuters and tourists gain access to Locust Point and Fort McHenry.

Even though the Circulator doesn’t cover nearly the area that the MTA does, its ability to make the most of very little is impressive and begs the question: isn’t it time Baltimore had its own centralized transit authority? Baltimore is currently the largest city in the U.S to have a state-run transit agency. The effects of the bureaucracy and thinly spread resources can be seen in the piece-meal way that Baltimore’s transit system was built, in the lack of comprehensive planning and in the lack of regional cohesion around a transit-oriented vision.

A map of the MARC Train system: The State of Maryland currently operates MARC Service in 12 counties within Maryland and 2 separate jurisdictions including the District of Columbia and West Virginia. MARC, similar to NJ Transit, is a perfect example of the sort of regional transportation resource a state should provide. The Light Rail, however, which operates much more locally within Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties and Baltimore City serves a different purpose entirely, one more consistent with the goals of a regional transit authority.

*If anyone is interested in taking a look at the data set or the data sources, as always, feel free to comment below and I’ll put it up.

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An Entirely New Route:

Great News! The Charm City Circulator is expanding its service. In addition to the three existing routes, there will now be an additional route serving Locust Point. The new route, the Banner Route, will provide free access to attractions such as The Inner Harbor, Federal Hill, The American Visionary Art Museum, The Baltimore Museum of Industry and Fort McHenry.

Courtesy of Baltimore City, a map showing the new Banner Route in blue.

The new route will celebrate the bicentennial of the successful defense of Baltimore’s Harbor from the British during the War of 1812. Apart from providing access to tourist attractions, the route will also link the downtown job market and shops along Fort Avenue to several thousand neighborhood residents. The route could, however, take greater advantage of the urban fabric: it currently follows the waterfront rather than serving the busy Fort Avenue corridor. The route also misses the opportunity to connect with the circulator’s free water taxi route connecting Fells Point and Canton.

A map showing the location of Tide Point and the water taxi connections available

Unfortunately, the Under Armour Headquarters at Tide Point, home to around 1,200 employees, will not be directly served by the circulator’s new route.

A view of Tide Point, the former factory for Tide and current headquarters of Under Armour, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun

Despite the lack of direct connectivity and apparent missed opportunities, the new route will still make many businesses walkable. As the primary purpose the Banner Route is to provide access to Fort McHenry, the route follows the quickest route to its end point. However, there is always the possibility that if the route can get more funding, it will be adjusted to include larger sections of Fort Avenue or to connect with Tide Point.

An Expanded Purple Route:

In the State of the City address, delivered on February 13th 2012, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made an exciting proposal to expand upon the existing Purple Route. She proposed extending service up to Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Campus at 33rd Street.

The Purple Route currently connects Penn Station, Mt. Vernon, Downtown Baltimore and Federal Hill

This proposal fits in perfectly with one of Bmore Urban’s core goals for the City: make its academic institutions, particularly Colleges and Universities, more accessible to restaurants, shopping and nightlife. It would be a great way to get the students currently living in the City to take greater advantage of the City’s resources, provide a boost to local businesses and, hopefully, get people new to Baltimore out to experience all the City has to offer. Johns Hopkins already has a shuttle running between its Homewood Campus, Peabody Conservatory and East Baltimore Campuses. However, the circulator would offer additional connections south of Centre Street, where the Johns Hopskins Shuttle turns east, and expand the options available to students leaving campus for extracurricular reasons.

A map of route that the Johns Hopkins' Shuttle takes: at the point where the shuttle's route turns East, the Purple Route would continue south

Expanded service would also make the incredible art collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art more accesible to tourists and City residents alike.

The BMA boasts 90,000 works of art including the "largest holding of works by Henri Matisse in the world, as well as masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh". The museum is also free to visitors.

Access to the fresh food available year round at the Waverly Farmers Market is also especially important due to the large number City residents without it. The Farmers Market takes place on Saturday mornings and would be only a few blocks away from the Purple Route.

Fresh food being sold at the Waverly Farmers Market

Charles Village, the neighborhood east and south of Hopkins’ Homewood Campus, is also home a to a sizable population unaffiliated with Hopkins. Providing access to this fairly densely populated corridor could help bring even more people and jobs downtown.

Looking North from the corner of St. Paul Street and 31st Street: St. Paul Street is the main commercial street in Charles Village and southbound thoroughfare connecting the area to Downtown Baltimore.

The Circulator already does a great job moving people around. As of January 2012, the three existing lines of the Circulator carried almost 10,000 people a day, removing thousands of automotive trips from local roads. With expanded service, that number will likely rise by several thousand riders a day.

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