For last week’s holiday multimodal adventure, I decided to try and replicate Josh Kucera’s account of getting from D.C. to NYC solely via local public transit. The Pennsy’s Northeast Corridor is the only corridor in the USA which features local (commuter), rapid (Northeast Regional), and express (Acela) services. It’s not Japan, where some lines feature five service levels, but it’s better than zero.
In particular, I hadn’t yet traversed local routes on Baltimore-to-Philadelphia leg; it’s the most thinly settled part of the corridor, one of the two rail service holes in the corridor (the other is from New London, Conn. to Providence, R.I.), a leg currently served only by Amtrak, Megabus, and Greyhound, since Philly’s Chinatown buses were recently shuttered. Long ago, mostly in the pre-Chiantown bus era, I’d done the local route via SEPTA and NJT from Philadelphia to NYC, which is common enough that the transfer at Trenton is timed and noted on the respective schedules.
My planned route took WMATA’s Red Line to WAS Union, MARC to Perryville, Cecil Transit to Elkton, DART First State bus 65 to Newark, and then SEPTA Regional Rail to 30th Street. The first few legs went off without a hitch; I feared for the tight connection at Perryville, but MARC was a bit early and Cecil Transit probably would have held the bus anyways, as we were the only customers on board.
Where things went awry was near Elkton: DART’s bus map indicates that a transfer is available in downtown Elkton, but the Cecil bus doesn’t actually go into Elkton, sticking instead to the US 40 highway strip. Its last stop is at the Maryland DMV office, just shy of the Delaware border. You’ll have to walk 1.4 miles — there’s a sidewalk most of the way — across the border (pictured above) to the first DART bus stop, in front of a Kohl’s. Once I got there (crusty with sweat), I turned around to see the last DART 55 bus roaring past, several minutes ahead of schedule. With an hour to meet SEPTA, I called in a cab from Newark for the 5-mile, $30 trip to the Newark train station. Had I brought my folding bike aboard MARC, I probably would have been fine skipping Cecil, DART, or both: US 40 seems pretty okay for bicycling, with ample shoulders and even side path signage on the sidewalk in Delaware.
I also pondered routes for biking between Baltimore and Philadelphia, where the most substantial natural obstacle involves crossing the broad Susquehanna River. The Northeast Corridor (no bikes, unless folded or Amtrak-checked), I-95, and the East Coast Greenway all do this just inland from its mouth at Havre de Grace & Perryville. That route has four downsides: MARC would be simplest but doesn’t (yet) run on weekends and doesn’t accept bikes, the Greenway relies on a shuttle service operated by a bike shop in HdG (closed on holidays), MTA’s local buses to Baltimore’s northeast operate only as far as White Marsh Mall, and heavy traffic follows US-40 and I-95. The only other crossing in Maryland, US 1 across the Conowingo Dam, allows bikes but is very narrow, with high-speed traffic. On last year’s Climate Ride, I found the Susquehanna crossing at Holtwood, Penna. to be only slightly frightening.
Since I feel lost when I’m outside the reach of transit, I thus plotted a bikes-and-transit route that heads 40 miles north through Baltimore County (thanks to the UGB set up in the Plan for the Valleys, the light rail terminus at Hunt Valley is at the edge of suburbia) via the Torrey Brown Rail-Trail and York County Heritage Trail to York, Penna., then east through Lancaster to SEPTA’s Main Line terminus at Thorndale. The rail-trail has an accessible grade, and once in Pennsylvania the route runs parallel to the east-west ridges. The transit backup plan exists on Saturdays, when city buses ply much of the east-west mileage from York: across the Susquehanna at Columbia, through Lancaster, east to Cains or Kinzer in Amish country, leaving just 20 miles to Thorndale. On Sundays, Lancaster’s buses still run, but York’s don’t, and SEPTA cuts the Main Line back to Malvern.
Combine that route with a ride back via Holtwood, a trip back via Amtrak or Greyhound (alas, bike-friendlier Chinatown buses and Bolt don’t serve the route), or a tag-on ride to NYC (where you can catch a Bolt back to DC) for a nice weekend adventure.