Monday, December 27, 2010

Get on the bus, Gus

The #40 QuickBus has been an effective addition to rapid transit in Baltimore.

For whatever reason, the bus gets a bad rap in Baltimore.

Maybe the beating of a white passenger, Sarah Kreager, in 2007 by nine black school children is still fresh in everyone's mind. But what I've come to find in my experience with the bus in Baltimore has been nothing but pleasant.

Coming from Frederick County, I've long been waiting for work on the red line to begin so I am able to get to Baltimore without having to drive on 695 to catch the light rail or metro subway. But since the red line has been held up in red tape for the last few years, I got antsy and wanted to find a different way to get downtown.

After looking at the MTA bus schedule, I quickly learned of a couple of routes called "QuickBus". These bus routes don't act like most other buses, in that they stop at key transfer points and major landmarks, whereas the local bus can stop every block or two, making for a very long bus ride.

Currently, there are only two full-time QuickBus routes, the #40, which runs from Woodlawn to Dundalk and the #48, which runs from downtown Baltimore to Towson.

So I investigated the #40 a little more, seeing that it could satisfy my fix for a mass transit option into the city from the west. When I found out that the bus ran right by the park and ride located at the end of route 70, I pulled up Google Maps and found that I would need to walk on the shoulder of the entrance ramp to route 70 in order to catch the bus at the Forest Park stop.

So therein lies the one catch with the QuickBus -- it doesn't take advantage of any park and ride lots to allow commuters who don't live on the immediate bus route to take the bus downtown. Had the MTA built a walkway from the park and ride lot to the Forest Park stop, they could advertise the QuickBus as an alternative to the light rail and metro subway as a way to get to work or other events in the city. For now, adventurous riders, like me, can park at the park and ride and hoof it down the entrance ramp to the Forest Park Avenue bus stop.

The #40 QuickBus has 15 minute headways all day, meaning that buses are scheduled to arrive at any stop every 15 minutes. So far in my experience, this has been pretty accurate with a few instances of having to wait longer, but on average, I've waited 5-10 minutes for a bus.

From Forest Park Avenue, the ride downtown takes about 25 minutes. It travels down Cooks Lane, makes a left on Edmonson Avenue and then takes a right on Franklin Street before taking the two mile stretch of the "Highway to Nowhere" before entering downtown Baltimore. The route is very similar to the route planned for the red line, so getting downtown is a cinch. The Baltimore and Paca Street stop is close to the stadiums and the Charm Bus route is just a block away if riders want to head to the Inner Harbor, Harbor East, Fells Point or Federal Hill.

Another major issue with the QuickBus is that it's currently designed for work-day commuters only. The bus stops running around 10 p.m., which means it's not a good option for Oriole games that commonly run later than 10 p.m. or other nighttime events downtown. For that, the MTA feels that the light rail and metro subway should suffice, since both run until midnight.

So while the QuickBus may not be the answer to your east/west transit blues in Baltimore, it could be a start, and hopefully it's a preview for what is to come with the red line.

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