Baltimore’s next rapid transit line will shorten commutes and increase access to the region’s jobs, particularly for lower-income households, a new report from researchers at the Johns Hopkins University said.

About one in five people living in the service area of the future Red Line who are working in low- to mid-income jobs will see a 50% increase in job accessibility, “enhancing economic mobility and living standards for these individuals in Baltimore,” the report states. The Red Line will extend from West to East Baltimore County through downtown. The western terminus of the line near Woodlawn, as well as neighborhoods such as Edmondson Village and Clifton Park, stands to benefit the most, it says.

The working group consisted of a variety of national and local academics, including two professors in Hopkins’ Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics. Researchers relied on real-time transit information, maps and jobs data to create the hypothetical model.

“The numbers we found surprised us, not just how many jobs would become more accessible but how it specifically could help many of the people in the city who need it the most,” said Fadil Santosa, an applied mathematician and the lead researcher for the team.

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The future Red Line, once promised and funded by state and federal officials but then canceled by former Gov. Larry Hogan, who is now a U.S. Senate candidate, was revived by Gov. Wes Moore last year. State officials are set to announce if the transit line, the first major expansion to public transportation in the region in decades, will be a light rail or rapid bus system any day now.

On Thursday, Maryland’s Board of Public Works approved an eight-year, $100 million contract with Pennsylvania engineering firm Gannett Fleming Inc. to advance Red Line project design, schedule development and environmental reviews.

Maryland Transit Administrator Holly Arnold said in a news release it was “another major step” toward building the transit project.

Ashley “Christian” Holmes, 16, chants as part of a Feb. 20, 2024, rally calling on the state to build the Red Line as a light rail. (Julia Reihs/The Baltimore Banner)

Baltimore lags behind most peer cities with only 8.5% of the region’s jobs accessible by a public transit ride of an hour or less, according to the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. It also has a higher percentage of residents who rely on transit to get to work than the national average, the Hopkins report says. Roughly one-third of all Baltimoreans does not own a car, according to the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance.

The Red Line could help those relying on east-west transit save up to 21 minutes on their commutes, the Hopkins report states. It provides theoretical scenarios of commuters moving from one part of the region to another and compares their commutes before and after Red Line service would begin.

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The model has its limitations, though. It assumes an average vehicle speed of 20 mph, a number based on data from similar transit lines in cities such as Minneapolis and Portland, Santosa said. Maryland has not selected which of three potential routes the Red Line will take — travel times vary significantly across those options.

The Hopkins study did not account for variations across alignments.

The potential route that includes building a tunnel underneath downtown Baltimore would remove transit vehicles from on-street traffic, meaning faster travel times, according to the MTA’s own data modeling presented at open houses last year.

On-surface options, such as the one that P. David Bramble alluded to in renderings of the future Harborplace, would compete with car traffic at intersections. Officials have said new traffic signaling technology would help all vehicles move smoothly but conceded it wouldn’t preclude the occasional red light.

This rendering of the potential future Harborplace included train cars moving along East Pratt Street, one option the Maryland Transit Administration is considering for the Red Line. (MCB Real Estate)
A board explaining the measures of effectiveness results matrix at the Maryland Transit Administration’s Red Line open house at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s SMC Campus Center in November. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The Hopkins report echoes much of the MTA’s findings for each of the three proposed alignments. Citing the agency’s findings, Arnold has said the Red Line will be transformative for the region.

Moore, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and a slew of other officials and advocates have long touted the need for the Red Line and the potential economic benefits. Hopkins itself stands to benefit, too, as all three potential alignments would end at the hospital system’s Bayview Medical Center.