Published: September 4, 2013
Baltimore infamously lacks an integrated, comprehensive mass transit system connecting all neighborhoods with the tourist areas and larger interstate transit hubs. Fifty years of poor planning and general stupidity have left the city with a mishmash of buses and trains, and the need for car-less folks to learn a lot of science in order to get where they’re going efficiently. But still, it can be done. Here’s a primer on how.
Charm City Circulator: What Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wanted to call “The Downtown Get Around” (back when she was just a City Council president and, thank goodness, couldn’t get her way on everything) has grown over its five-year lifespan into the city’s best single mass transit option. Free, clean, and most importantly, efficient and timely—with only the occasional phone-snatching or other crime—the Circulator is far and away the easiest way to make one’s way from Station North to the harbor (Purple Route), or from Fells Point to the west side attractions (Orange Route). There’s even a new app to keep you in tune with the buses’ changing routes and occasional delays. In the summer, the Circulator runs Monday-Thursday: 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday: 6:30 a.m.-midnight, Saturday: 9 a.m.-midnight, and Sunday: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Winter hours are an hour shorter on weekdays and Sundays, with service ending at 8 p.m. (more info at charmcitycirculator.com).
There are drawbacks. You can’t bring your bike (or a stroller or scooter) unless it’s foldable. The Banner Route out to Fort McHenry is a little weaker in the off months, and there are all kinds of temporary stop closings and detours while the roads get torn up for new water mains and such. But you can’t avoid that sort of thing without a jetpack anyway.
Then there are the Harbor Connector boats between Maritime Park and Tide Point, and Canton Waterfront Park and Tide Point, extending the Orange Route from Fells Point East in a way that should delight tourists and locals alike, at least from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays during the three non-winter seasons. The Harbor Connector is operated in conjunction with the Baltimore Water Taxi, which for our money is by far the coolest way to get around in summertime.
Water Taxi: The water taxi runs from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday during the summer. The hours are scaled back the rest of the year, but, weather permitting, the boats will run. A one-way ticket costs $7 (not including the optional 50 cents insurance), but an all-day adult pass is $12, and the two commuter routes to and from Tide Point are free as part of the Circulator routes. Get route maps and schedules at baltimorewatertaxi.com.
Local Bus: For $1.60 per trip or $3.50 for a day pass, you can always take MTA buses. There are 57 routes, including 47 local buses, four limited stop routes (known as QuickBus), and four express bus routes (which operate from various suburbs to downtown Baltimore). They generally run from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m. and, though the MTA is still subject to complaints about on-time service—particularly the ole’ No. 27 bus (Cromwell Street to Reisterstown Plaza) and the No. 3 (Cromwell Bridge Rd. to Inner Harbor)—the system is by far the city’s most comprehensive, with route information available at mta.maryland.gov/local-bus. Still, if you’re heading to the ballpark or the airport, the Light Rail is the easiest and most convenient, while east-west in-city commuters have the Metro subway.
Light Rail: Running from Hunt Valley in the north to BWI Airport, the Light Rail (mta.maryland.gov/light-rail) is often your best north-south option. It runs from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Cars are usually not too crowded nor too empty. Perfect for commuting from points north and south to downtown attractions like the stadiums, the convention center, and the harbor. Many stations outside of the downtown area have parking lots.
Metro Subway: The east-west Light Rail route in Baltimore (well, mostly just west) is the subway (mta.maryland.gov/metro-subway), which a lot of people don’t seem to know is there. Running from Johns Hopkins hospital on the east, all the way out to Owings Mills in the west, the subway stops at the Charles Center, State Center, Lexington Market, Mondawmin Mall, and other places you might want to get to. But it does not connect to the Light Rail at all—or to the MARC or Amtrak trains at Penn Station. Just because.
Trains: If you are heading to D.C. or points north, there is the MARC (mta.maryland.gov/marc-train), which runs two lines out of Baltimore, and Amtrak (amtrak.com), whose Acela has reached new ridership levels despite its spendiness. Pretty much everything leaves out of Penn Station in midtown. MARC’s long-dreamed-about expansion to include weekend service was announced in May, but we at Baltimore’s Most Skeptical Alt-Weekly aren’t holding our breath.
Interstate Bus: Greyhound (greyhound.com) serves Baltimore from 2110 Haines St., a couple miles south of downtown at a relatively isolated location off Russell Street (greyhound.com). Cheaper and frequently more reliable alternatives for getting to New York are Bolt Bus (boltbus.com), which leaves from Penn Station, and Megabus (us.megabus.com), with service from White Marsh. These are the higher-quality successors to the Fung Wah Chinatown buses, most of which were shut down for safety violations a couple years ago.
Taxi cabs: Baltimore is not as well-taxied as New York or other mega-cities, but you can usually get a car from a bar or hotel, even if you have to wait 20 or 30 minutes for it to show up, and you can flag them down if you’re in a busy area. From most to least reliable, there is Yellow, Checker, Baltimore City Taxi (baltimorecitytaxi.com), Arrow (arrowcabmd.com), and Jimmy’s. Rates are high and regulated. If you see a meter moving real fast, call the Public Service Commission.
By Car: Baltimore is not such a bad town for driving a car, if you have one, and the zipcar option (zipcar.com/baltimore) is one some savvy people are taking. The company has depots all around the central city, out toward the east side and in Arbutus. Parking can be tricky though: Read the signs and the arrows—all of them, including any street-sweeping-related restrictions. The sweeper may or may not come; the ticket almost always will. Parking rates in Baltimore are reasonable, even in the downtown garages, but if you’re heading to one of the popular or touristy areas—Canton, Federal Hill, or Fells Point—do your best to leave the car home, or at least somewhere outside the neighborhoods where street parking isn’t so rare. Parking in midtown and taking the Circulator downtown is a pretty easy way to do that. If you’re out late, you can always cab it back.
By bike: This is not a bike city. The roads are rough, there are few dedicated bike lanes, and there are neighborhoods that are dangerous. And most car drivers here are dangerous to two-wheelers. Still, things have been improving for the past half-decade, with new signage, “sharrows,” and even a city ordinance requiring street drainage grates to be turned so bike tires won’t fall in them. Consultants are looking at allowing bikes all along the waterfront promenade (they’re banned now on most of it). Fort Avenue has a new bike lane from Jackson out to Fort McHenry; Penn and Camden stations now have bike racks and a pump station (flats being a common thing on city roads).
The advent of the Baltimore Bike Party means, well, the occasional party on bikes, which should help to raise awareness that large groups of bicyclists can pretty much overwhelm car drivers and other users of the road, if only for a couple hours on a Friday night.
By Foot: Walking is also very possible in most of the city. Sober, daylight walkers are seldom accosted criminally, and the scenery—in terms of architecture, smells, and even music and other entertainment—will improve your day.
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