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May 30, 2009

Flea market site poses hazard

I stopped by the flea market on U.S. 1 in Jessup  for a pupusa and a taco con carne asada, washed down by a  cold horchata Saturday before coming in to work.

If you've never been there, it's an interesting place -- a kind  of poor man's foreign vacation. The predominant language there is Spanish and the food is mostly Mexican and Salvadoran. It draws big crowds on weekends -- particularly when the weather is fine.

It's also a traffic mess. The State Highway Administration did a good job recently of posting no-parking signs where vehicles had been creating a safety hazard along busy U.S. 1. But you still have complicated traffic movements, a dangerous left turn into the parking lot there and pedestrians -- including small children -- darting across the highway as vehicles pass at unsafe  speeds. It's a good place to get yourself killed.

Would it be too much to ask the highway administration to send a few of its sharp traffic engineers out to the site on a  weekend and observe the interplay of pedestrians and traffic on weekends? The site poses no special problems on weekdays when the shopping center that houses the flea market is virtually deserted, but that all changes on Saturdays and Sundays.

Maybe what's needed are yellow flashing lights in both directions on Saturday and Sunday only during peak market hours. Maybe set a lower speed limit when the market is open -- kind of like a school or work zone -- and put in a pedestrian crosswalk.

Maybe then the folks could shop at the mercado and eat at the pupuseria a little more safely.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:52 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

May 29, 2009

Expect Russell Street blues this summer

The Baltimore Department of Transportation says it expects "minor inconveniences" to motorists as its undertakes a series of lane closings on Russell Street this summer. Somehow, it sounds like it could be a little more than that.

The city announced late Friday that atarting Tuesday and lasting through late summer it will close lanes in the bridge carrying Russell from Hamburg to Bush Street. There will be both singtle-lane and double-lane closings on Russell depending on the time of day and whether the Orioles are in town at Camden Yards.

The purpose of the closings is to allow the department to  repair bridge joints worn down by the heavy traffic on Russell, one of the major gateways into Baltimore.

 

Transportation department spokeman David Brown said city officials are adopted an aggressive schedule of closings because "they're trying to get finished as quickly as possible."

A copy of the city press release with details of  the closings is attached.

 

Traffic Advisory

Russell Street Bridge Temporary Lane Closures

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation today announced temporary

lanes closures on the Russell Street Bridge from Bush to Hamburg Streets

beginning on Tuesday, June 2, 2009 through late summer 2009 for bridge joint

repairs.

Motorists traveling in the vicinity will experience a minor inconvenience.

The following temporary lane closures will be in effect during Non-Stadium

Events:

Two lanes northbound and southbound will be closed between 8:00 p.m. and

5:00 a.m.

One lane will be temporarily closed southbound between 5:00 a.m. and 2:00

p.m.

The following temporary lane closures will be in effect during Stadium Events:

Two lanes will be closed northbound between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and

5:00 a.m.

Two lanes will be closed southbound between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and

2:00 p.m.

One lane will be closed northbound between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 2:00

p.m.

###

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:30 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

No one hurt in I-95 crash at Caton

        If you were caught up in that 35-minute backup on Interstate 95 at Caton Avenue, you might be wondering what it was all about.

        According to Sgt. Jonathan Green of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, it was a four vehicle collision involving a tractor-trailer, a schoolbus and two passenger vehicles. That sounds like a recipe for disaster but Green said there were no injuries and the scene was cleared and all lanes reopened just  before 4 p.m.

        It could have been a lot worse.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

GBC reports suggests gas tax alternative

The Greater Baltimore Committee has long been a supporter of a higher gas tax to pay for critical maryland Transportation projects. However, the General Assembly has not raised that 23.5-cent-a-gallon tax since the early 1990s, and the last three governors haven't dared to touch that political third rail.

On the federal level, the gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents since early in the Clinton administration.

Reading the political handwriting on the wall, the GBC has issued a report on another proposed method of financing transportation. The business group is intrigued by the idea of taxing vehicles based on the number of miles they have traveled on each type of road through a GPS-vased system.

It all boils down to a matter of picking your poison. Infrastructure isn't cheap.

When all the alternatives are hashed out -- a miles-traveled tax, higher tolls, registration fees, nuisance fees, selling infrastructure off to investors for the right to raise tolls -- maybe the humble motor fuel tax won't look so bad. It's simple, it's understandable, it doesn't put a large bill in your face. The burden falls on those who guzzle the most gas. And there's a system in place to collect it.

Could it be the worst alternative except for all the others?

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Heat on at State Highway Administration? UPDATED!

Is there a problem with the air conditioning at State Highway Administration headquarters?

That is the implication of a sign in some employee's fourth-floor, south-facing office in the building at 701 N. Calvert St. saying "Sauna Room."

The sign seems to be a cry for help because it is most visible to those on the second floor of the parking garage in the 600 block of North Calvert. That just happens to be where many reporters for The Sun -- including this one -- park.

So would someone over there please call a good HVAC contractor so our hard-working state employees aren't ruining their clothes with sweat stains? Or is there a more metaphorical explanation for the sign?

The mystery deepens.

AND HERE'S A REPLY:

Hi Mike

Just a quick follow up to your blog entry regarding the sign located on the 3rd floor of SHA's 707 headquarters.

As with many old buildings and with temps in the 60's one day and the 90's the next day, there can be issues regulating consistent temperatures in a six-story 60+ year-old building.

Our maintenance folks do a great job keeping the majority of the building a consistent, comfortable temperature.  We currently are working toward installing new updated HVAC equipment in 2010, which should help as well.

In the meanwhile, please keep us abreast of any other signs facing the Baltimore Sun garage.

Dave

David Buck

MDOT - State Highway Administration

Office of Communications

----------------------------

I'll be watching your windows.

Mike

---------------------------------------------------

Mike - I just wanted to add the funding for the HVAC improvements is pending.  If $$ is available in 2010, only then will (we) move forward. 

David Buck
Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:23 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

May 28, 2009

Salaries could affect transportation chief choice

When Gov. Martin O'Malley sifts through the local talent pool in search of a new transportation secretary to replace John D. Porcari, who is going on to better things with the Obama administration, he could finds his choices constrained by matters of salary. Some of the most logical candidates would have to take a pay cut to get a promotion.

There's no problem if the governor goes with the most obvious choice: promoting Deputy Secretary (and newly named acting secretary) Beverly Swaim-Staley to succeed Porcari. She now makes $140,460 a year, compared with Porcari's $162,825.

In an interview, Swain-Staley left no doubt she is a candidate for the top post. If named, she would be the first woman transportation secretary in Maryland.

"I would be interested. Obviously, that decision is up to the governor," she said.

But if O'Malley was looking to move up one of the current administrators of the agencies within the Maryland Department of Transportation, he could find himself trying to persuade a highly paid professional to become a less highly paid political appointee.

For instance, Maryland Transit Administration chief Paul J. Wiedefeld, who also has experience  running BWI, now makes $179,500 for performing one of the most difficult jobs in the state, according to the Office of the Comptroller. The current BWI chief and head of the Maryland Aviation Administration, Timothy Campbell, makes $256,428 in his current role. Maryland Port Administrator James J. White's salary is $252,000. Not much incentive to climb the ladder there.

Some of their peers, on the other hand, could earn more with a promotion to secretary. Neal J. Pedersen receives pay of $156,723 for running the State Highway Administration -- a huge agency with thousands of employees. Ronald Freeland, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, makes $140,405 for running the agency that manages Maryand toll facilities. John T. Kuo receives a paltry $137,470 for running the Motor Vehicle Administration.

This may seem a bit confusing but there is a logic to it. Competition is stiff for top executives with the specialized skills to run airports and seaports. The same applies to a lesser degree with transit administrators. Pedersen and Kuo are guys who worked their way up through the ranks in state government through administrations of both parties.

Whether the governor chooses one of these individuals or goes to the outside for a new secretary, he'll have a hard time finding someone who's as skilled at explaining the administration's policies to legislators, the media, the federal government, business and the public as Porcari. The departing secretary was fully comfortable in those roles and was a consummate diplomat. He could field the dumbest questions from a legislator and answer them as if the lawmaker had spoken words of genius. It's a trait that will serve him well in Washington. 

Anyway, if you're interested in the job, it's listed on the state Department of Budget and Management website. The deadline to apply is Wednesday. The salary range is listed as $124,175 to $166,082.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:21 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Cardin discloses transportation earmarks

U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin calls them priority budget appropriations requests. Others call them earmarks. Regardless of terminology Maryland's junior senator has posted the complete list of his fiscal 2010 requests for federal spending in Maryland on his Senate web site as required.

Several of the big-ticket requests deal with transportation, and there are no "bridges to nowhere" in his requests as far as I can see.

"I have carefully vetted every request for Fiscal Year 2010 to ensure that they reflect our regional and national priorities and will help Maryland meet the challenges of the future,”  Cardin said is a news release.


Transportation requests include:

--$22.5 milion for dredging of Baltimore harbor.

--$10 million for Baltimore's proposed Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

--$15 million for the Maryland Transit Administration to replace aging buses and bus facilities.

--$5 million for intersection improvements around Fort Meade related to an influx of workers due to military base relocation.

 --$2.6 million for Howard County to replace its gas-powered buses with hybrid models.

--$2.47 million for port security projects.

  All of these projects appear to be in line with the priorities of the Maryland Department of Transportation.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:24 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Transportation board seeks public comments

What would you  do with $1.4 billion?

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is inviting public comments about how to spend that amount in transportation funds through 2013.

While the board might not  be a household name, it plays a vital role in the region's transportation future  as the conduit for federal  transportation dollars in Baltimore and surrounding counties.

Attached is a press release.

 

BRTB SEEKS PUBLIC COMMENTS ON
$1.4 BILLION TRANSPORTATION IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM

BALTIMORE (May 28, 2009) –  Nearly $1.4 billion dollars will be invested in the region’s transportation system through 2013 in a new draft transportation program released for public review by the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board.  The BRTB is the organization which serves as a conduit for federal transportation dollars in the Baltimore region.
The draft of the 2010-2013 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for the Baltimore region is a list of transportation priorities and projects for which federal funding will be requested over the next 4 years. Projects are drawn from recommendations in Transportation Outlook 2035, the long-range transportation plan for the Baltimore region.
The proposed projects will protect and enhance our current transportation investments by providing for maintenance and system expansion. Transportation projects benefit the community by providing jobs, and also make our system safer, reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide more alternatives for moving people and goods.
Proposed new projects include Lexington Market transit improvements, Mobility bus implementation, deck replacement of the Abingdon Road bridge, and the overhaul of Metro cars.
Other proposals include:
  • Hybrid replacement buses for MTA
  • Repaving area roads
  • Bridge repairs and painting
  • Sections of the Jones Falls and Herring Run trails
  • Beltway widening
  • Improved traffic lights and coordinated signal systems
  • Planning for the proposed Red Line
  • Additionally, an air quality report looking at the potential impact transportation projects could have on the region's air quality has also been released for public review. The draft Air Quality Conformity Determination concludes that implementation of the projects in the 2010- 2013 TIP does not worsen the region's air quality or delay the timely attainment of the national ambient air quality standards. The pollutants addressed in the conformity determination include ozone, fine particulate matter, and carbon monoxide.
    The draft TIP and air quality report are available online in PDF format at www.baltometro.org.  Print versions are also available at the Regional Information Center, as well as select local libraries and planning offices in the region.         
    Both the TIP and draft Air Quality Conformity Determination will be open for public review through Friday, June 26. Public participation is extremely beneficial in making sound decisions. The public is encouraged to review the draft reports and submit comments.
    The public is invited to review and comment on the draft list of projects included in the TIP. Submit comments in writing to:
                Baltimore Regional Transportation Board
                2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310
                Baltimore, MD  21224
                Fax: 410-732-8248
                E-mail: comments@baltometro.org
                Web: Public comment form at www.baltometro.org/bboard
    A public meeting on the Final Draft of the 2010-2013 TIP and draft Air Quality Conformity Determination will be held on Wednesday, June 17, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council (2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310, Baltimore, MD 21224). Lighthouse Point is located on the waterfront side of the 2700 block of Boston Street. Presentations will be made at 4 and 5:30 p.m.
    Written comments may also be submitted at the BRTB meeting at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council on Tuesday, June 23, at 9 a.m.
    Comments postmarked by June 26 will be accepted no later than 3 days after the end of the comment period.
    For more information on the TIP or the Air Quality report, contact Regina Aris at raris@baltometro.org or 410-732-9572.
    # # #
    The Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) is the organization of the region’s elected executives who are committed to identifying regional interests and developing collaborative strategies, plans and programs which will improve the quality of life and economic vitality throughout the region.  The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) is the federally-recognized Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for transportation in the Baltimore region.  BMC provides technical and staff support to the BRTB.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:54 AM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

O'Malley names Swaim-Staley acting secretary

Gov. Martin O'Malley named Deputy Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley as acting secretary of transportation Thursday to stand in for John D. Porcari, whose nomination  by President Obama  as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation was confirmed last week.


Swain-Staley, a veteran Maryland transportation official, will take over Monday, when Porcari will be sworn in as the No. 2 official in the federal department. Swaim-Staley became deputy in 2007 after Porcari was named to the secretary post for his second go-round. Swaim-Staley served a previous term as No. 2 in the Maryland department when Porcari was secretary in the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.


Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for O’Malley, said the administration is conducting a nationwide search  for a permanent successor to Porcari. “A job of this magnitude would warrant such  a search,” Adamec said.


The spokesman said he could not say how long Swaim-Staley might serve in an acting capacity but said the governor is confident she can handle  the job “as long as it takes.” Adamec said Swaim-Staley would be among those considered for the post.

   In an afternoon interview, Swaim-Staley, 52, said she is a candidate for the top spot -- which would make her the first woman to hold that job in Maryland.

"I would be interested. Obviously that would be up to the governor," she said.

   Swaim-Staley has previously served in interim roles as head of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and the Maryland Transit  Administration. She previously served five years as the transportation department’s chief financial  officer.

 

Here's the news release:

 

 

GOVERNOR O’MALLEY ANNOUNCES BEVERLEY SWAIM-STALEY TO SERVE AS ACTING TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY

 

Current Secretary John D. Porcari to Become Deputy Secretary for Transportation in the Obama Administration Effective Monday

 

ANNAPOLIS, MD (May 28, 2009) – Governor Martin O’Malley today announced that Deputy Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley will serve as Acting Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.  She will assume the role on Monday, June 1, 2009, when John D. Porcari is sworn in as Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the administration of President Barack Obama. 

 

“The challenges and opportunities before us to improve Maryland’s transportation system are many. A smooth transition is important as we continue to implement our transportation vision,” said Governor O’Malley.  “With nearly 12 years of experience as Deputy Transportation Secretary and Chief Financial Officer for MDOT, Beverley Swaim-Staley has the deep knowledge of transportation, along with the management and financial expertise that are necessary for us to move forward.  Our transportation program remains in excellent hands.”

 

Ms. Swaim-Staley has more than twenty years of service to the state of Maryland.  She was appointed by Governor O’Malley as Deputy Transportation Secretary in 2007.  She served a prior tour of duty as Deputy Transportation Secretary from 1999 through 2003.  During that period, Ms. Swaim-Staley also served in interim capacities directing BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and the Maryland Transit Administration.  In 1993, after ten years as a legislative analyst where she staffed budget committees and focused on transportation issues, Ms. Swaim-Staley was selected to be Chief Financial Officer for MDOT, a position that she held for five years.  

 

“Keeping our economic stimulus projects moving and preparing for important decisions regarding Maryland’s next generation of transit will be among the priorities for MDOT in the days ahead,” said Ms. Swaim-Staley.  “My goal, and the goal of the transportation professionals at MDOT, is to continue the implementation of Governor O’Malley’s vision for transportation.  It is important to our state, our citizens and our future.” 

 

John D. Porcari was appointed by Governor O’Malley in 2007 to serve as Maryland’s Transportation Secretary.  His nomination to be Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 21, 2009.  He will assume his new duties when he is sworn in on Monday, June 1.

 

“President Obama has made a wise choice,” added Governor O’Malley.  “John Porcari is one of the finest, most talented public servants I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  He will do a great job for our country and I look forward to working with John in his new federal capacity.”

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:46 AM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Brew critiques roundabout plan

Gerald Neily gives his assessment of the Dixon administration's proposals for six roundabouts at busy city intersections at BaltimoreBrew. With one exception, he's not impressed.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Politics blog shows where state ranks on gas tax

Maryland Politics Watch, one of the best of our local blogs, is running a map showing how Maryland ranks against other states in terms of its gas tax. It's not near the bottom, but it's not quite up in tax hell territory either.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:57 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

May 27, 2009

Kennedy Highway ran smoothly, authority says

While motorists who returned from the beach Monday via the Bay Bridge faced hours-long back-ups, traffic ran smoothly on the Kennedy Highway, Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Lesli Leath reports.

According to Leath the toll portion of Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore carries 107,000 travelers without significant problems.

The performance of the Kennedy Highway in handling these traffic volumes is additional evidence that many Baltimore-area residents would cut their travel time to nearby beach resorts -- especially those in Delaware -- by choosing a route that takes them north of the Chesapeake Bay.

This blog is doing what it can to tell drivers about their choice of routes to the beach, but it would be helpful if the transportation authority did more to inform Baltimore travelers that the Bay Bridge is not necessarily their best choice. I've done random surveys of my colleagues here at The Sun and have found that many were under the false impression that a trip around the head of the bay would take five or six hours to Ocean City. I'm sure that many Baltimoreans are in the same boat.

At the very least, couldn't the authority work with the State Highway Administration and the Delaware  transportation authorities to use variable message signs to warn departing weekenders of Bay Bridge backups and steer them to I-95?

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:55 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Wilson Bridge biker-hiker trail to open

A 1.1-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail crossing the Potomac River between Prince George's County and Alexandria, Va., is scheduled to open on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Saturday, June 6, at 1 p.m. Registration is required, and there's no jumping the gun.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association, City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club and Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission are turning it into an organized free event, with bicyclists taking off in convoys. It sounds as if it could interest some Baltimore-area folks.

Click here for the details.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:13 AM |
Categories: Bicycles
        

Traveling around D.C.? Avoid 14th Street Bridge

Baltimoreans who visit Washington and Northern Virginia should seek alternatives to the 14th Street Bridge -- now and for the next two years.

 A massive rehabilitation project will tie up traffic and lead to periodic lane closings on the bridge both on weekdays and weekends, an article in the Washington Examiner explains. Work on the bridge is now under way after a reprieve for the Memorial Day holiday.

Good alternatives include the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which can be used to reach Alexandria, Va. and southbound Interstate 95. If your destination is near a Metro station, consider parking at Greenbelt (Green Line) or Glenmont (Red Line) and taking the subway.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

O's game could muddle downtown traffic

It's one of those days that comes around each season when the Orioles play a day game during the week, complicating the evening exodus as departing ballgame traffic mixes with folks getting out of work.

Fortunately, from the transportation point of view, it's the Toronto Blue Jays in town and not the New York Yankees. That could mean an attendance difference of 30,000-40,000 people. The creepy weather is also likely to keep the crowds down. It might still be a good evening to work a little late or otherwise delay a southbound departure from downtown.

There will be a series of street closing and parking restrictions in effect, listed in the city's news release below.

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation today announced the implementation of traffic modifications and parking restrictions that will be in effect on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 as the Baltimore Orioles take on the Toronto Blue Jays at 1:35 p.m. at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

If you do not possess a parking permit for any of the stadium lots, we strongly encourage the use of Mass Transit, Metro Subway, Light Rail, MARC Train, Park & Ride Express Bus Service or other forms of public transportation.

 All parking restrictions and neighborhood permit parking regulations will be aggressively and strictly enforced throughout the season. Violators will be ticketed and towed to our Fallsway Impound Lot. If you plan to drive, leave early to allow for extra travel time, plan to use the public parking facilities located north of the stadium and avoid parking in area neighborhoods.

The Department of Transportation's Special Traffic Enforcement Officers (STEO's) will assist Baltimore City Police with the flow of traffic in the central downtown business area.

 

 The following parking restrictions will be in effect from 10:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. • Both sides of Pratt Street from Greene to Paca Streets

• East side of Greene Street from Lombard Street to Washington Boulevard

 • East side of Eutaw Street from Pratt to Lombard Streets

• North side of Conway Street from Charles Street to Sharp Street

The following streets will be closed or modified beginning at 12:30 p.m.:

 • Camden Street between Howard and Russell Streets.

• Lee Street from Ramp D to Russell Street

• Hamburg Street from Russell Street to Leadenhall Street will be made oneway eastbound before the game and one-way westbound after the game

• Hamburg Street west of Russell Street will be closed to control the flow of traffic around the stadium.

 Variable Message Sign will be posted at the following location:

• In the median on Russell Street South of Camden Street

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:02 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Wilson Bridge project passes milestone

The massive Woodrow Wilson Bridge project continues, long after the old bridge is gone and the new double-span is open, with the expected opening Saturday of two new ramps at Telegraph Road in Northern Virginia.

 The elevated ramps will allow drivers on the Outer Loop to soar above Telegraph road and to connect with Huntington Avenue and North Kings Highway without sitting at stoplights. The new configuration will also let those traveling south on Telegraph Road get to Huntington via a ramp rather than a left turn lane.

Telegraph Road is the first  interchange to the west of  U.S. 1 in Alexandria and is a gateway to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County.

For the many Marylanders who do business in Northern Virginia, any milestone in the Telegraph Road interchange project is a welcome development. With the opening of this phase, officials say work at the site is 28 percent done and on its was to completion in 2012-2013.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:57 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

May 26, 2009

So what did we learn?

If you saw Andrea Walker's article in Tuesday morning's Sun, by now you have absorbed a moral lesson on the folly of everybody at the beach departing for home on the same time on the Monday of a three-day weekend.

 Too often we let these experiences drift away quickly into collective amnesia. But by doing a bit of post-mortem, we could perhaps learn to avoid some unpleasant experiences in the future.

For instance, if you wait to depart for home until a civilized hour on the Monday of a holiday weekend the question is not whether you will hit a backup on the way to the Bay Bridge but how many hours it will last. Getting an early start doesn't mean 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. It means something like 7 a.m.

 Sadly, Walker's story made it painfully obvious that some folks don't know their Bay Bridge tipping point = the geographical spot at which it becomes more advantageous to go north around the head of the bay rather than use the Bay Bridge. She cited the example of one couple who live in Pikesville and were vacationing in Bethany Beach. They used the Bay Bridge and got caught up in an hours-long jam.

For Pikesville residents, even at the most traffic-free times, the Bay Bridge offers only a 10-minute advantage over the northern route in getting to Bethany. At times of peak travel, that advantage becomes a big deficit.

Let me be explicit: If you live in Baltimore, Towson, Pikesville, Essex, Catonsville or any of the nearby suburbs and you're heading to the Delaware beaches, you should probably forget the Bay Bridge ever existed.

Unless you're traveling a 3 a.m or at midday on a Tuesday. And perhaps not even then because anything can happen on that narrow bottleneck. You're much better off on Interstate 95 north.

(Click here for more details on when and how to reach the beach via the northern route.)

 If any readers have reports on where the bad backups were during Memorial Day week travel, I'd be happy to hear about them and share them with others. I don't have much to report. I stayed home.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:22 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

May 22, 2009

Oops--Dixon was there first

My story on the front page of The Sun Friday reporting Gov. Martin O'Malley's decison to issue an executive order telling executive branch employees not to use cell phones while driving state-owned cars wasn't exactly wrong. It would have been better, however, had it given Mayor Sheila Dixon a nod for getting there first.

Last September, in a story that received  far less conspicuous play than mine, The Sun's Annie Linskey reported that Dixon has issued an even more sweeping order telling city employees to lay off using any kind of cell phone -- hend-held or hands-free -- while behind the wheel of a municipal vehicle.

Once again, the mayor was a woman ahead of her time.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:54 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Gas price rises as holiday nears

Uh-oh. Here they go again.

As we head into the Memorial Say holiday, Maryland gasoline prices are creeping steadily upward. AAA Mid-Atlantic reports that as of Friday, the price of the average gallon of regular was up 12 cents over the previous week at $2.36.  That figure represents a rise of 33 cents in the last month.

If you're heading for the beach, hold up on filling up if you can. The price of gas in the Salisbury area is running about 15 cents a gallon below the statewide average.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:51 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Maryland's third-worst rating is an honor

The Free State can take pride in its ranking as the third-worst  state in the nation in terms of its traffic  laws and enforcement by the National Motorists Association.

Why? Because the NMA is a fringe group that opposes just about any sensible highway safety  measure ever enacted  into law. The organization is fervently dedicated to speeders' rights and does all it  can to discredit legitimate law enforcement.

This is a little bit like being ranked near the worst in health laws by the nation's tobacco companies.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:28 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

State enlists goats to protect turtles

 

 

 Baltimore Sun file photo /1999

The State Highway Administration has come up with a creative solution to the question of how to cut the grass in the vicinity of its Hampstead Bypass project without imperiling the already-threatened bog turtle (above) and its Carroll County habitat: goats.

The agency is using a local farmer's herd of 40 goats to act as four-legged lawnmowers in the construction zone. It said traditional mechanical lawnmoers posed a danger to both the boggy wetlands and the reptiles themselves.

According to the SHA, it considered using cattle but decided they were too big to interact safely with the 4-inch bog turtle. The goats are scheduled to be on the job this month through September. Then, presumably, they go back to school.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:01 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Relations between controllers and FAA thawing

Could it be that peace may be breaking out in the nation's air traffic control towers?

For the entire eight years of the Bush administration, relations between the managment of the Federal Aviation Administration and the union representing air traffic controllers could be described -- without exaggeration -- as toxic.

FAA managers and union leaders engaged in public hostilities. Negotiations went nowhere, and management imposed work rules unilaterally. Controllers voted with their feet, retiring at much faster rates than projected and leaving control towers understaffed.

 It was a mess along the lines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, minus only Hurricane Katrina.

Now there are signs the breach is being mended. Instead of recrimination, the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association are in mediation. President Obama has nominated a new head of the agency, Randy Babbitt, who has been well received by controllers.

 Babbitt's confirmation for a five-year term Thursday night brought a statement of congratulations from  union President Patrick Forrey that would have been unimaginable just a few months ago.

I don't think it matters if you're a Democrat, a Republican or an independent: An end to civil war in the FAA is good news for the flying public. I want the people guiding my plane to a landing to be happy, well-rested and at peace with their bosses.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:13 AM |
Categories: Air travel
        

Dixon administration embraces roundabouts

The Dixon administration is making plans to replace five conventional  city intersections with "modern urban roundabouts" -- adopting a traffic management strategy that has become increasingly familiar to drivers in Baltimore's suburbs.

Mayor Sheila Dixon recently asked the U.S. Congress for $22.8 million to help pay for  the  new traffic circles  in some of the city’s most heavily traveled corridors.

The city’s plans signal an important change in Baltimore’s strategy for keeping traffic flowing.

“It’s a new way of thinking in the city,” said Jessica Keller, chief of planning for the city Department of Transportation. “It’s going to take a lot of education with the public.”

The intersections where the city wants to install roundabouts are at some of the most visible, high-traffic locations in Baltimore. One is at Key and Light streets – the gateway to Federal Hill, Locust Point and the rest of South Baltimore. Two are proposed for 33rd Street, where the city wants to build traffic circles near Lake Montebello and at University Parkway.

 A roundabout at Park Circle would replace one of the city’s most troubled intersections, where Reisterstown Road, Druid Park Drive and Park Heights Avenue come together. Another, in Seton Hill, would reconfigure the junction of Druid Hill Avenue and Paca and Centre Streets.

Baltimore is estimating the total cost of the projects at $28.5 million.

Highway engineers say such roundabouts have proven highly successful  on state highways  and in Maryland counties.

According to the State Highway Administration, it has never had a fatal accident at an intersection that has been replaced with a roundabout. The agency said serious injuries have been reduced by 85 percent at such locations, while total crashes are down by 60 percent.

“We can’t say enough good about them,” said state highway spokesman Dave Buck. “The experience has been nothing but positive.”

 Such traffic circles have become common in Maryland’s counties since the state’s first was built in the small western Howard County town of Lisbon in 1993, but the city has been slower to jump on the bandwagon.

There are currently two in the city – one on Wilkens Avenue in Southwest Baltimore and one at Inner Harbor East -- but neither is in a heavily traveled corridor that carries a high volume of traffic.

The type of roundabout the city wants to install are different from New Jersey-style rotaries or from the signal-controlled traffic circles common in Washington. Maryland’s roundabouts, which have proliferated throughout the state, operate on the principle that traffic entering the roundabout yields to vehicles  already in the circle.

Highway engineers say the roundabouts’ design makes it virtually impossible to have a deadly head-on or T-bone crash. Most of the collisions that do occur cause nothing more than property damage, Buck said.

 “We will take fender-benders any day,” he said.

MY TAKE: Living in Howard County, I pass through roundabouts several times each day. Once you get used to them, they're great. Not only are the safety advantages obvious, but the keep traffic flowing much more smoothly -- if more slowly -- than at signalized intersections.

Besides, when you install a roundabout, in most cases you get rid of several stoplights. What's not to like about that?

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:41 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: On the roads
        

May 21, 2009

Do you know your Bay Bridge tipping point?

If you're planning to travel from the Baltimore area to the beach this weekend, it would be wise to take a little time to calculate your Bay Bridge tipping point.

What's that, you wonder?

The Bay Bridge tipping point (BBTP) is the geographical point at which a driver would be better off heading north and going around the top of the bay than he or she would be using the Bay Bridge.


A little history: For decades, the only roads to Ocean City or the Delaware Shore were those that took the route via Elkton in Cecil County. It was a slow trip over many two-lane country roads. The only practical alternative was a ferry across the bay.

Then in 1952 came the Bay Bridge -- or what is now the two-lane eastbound span. Suddenly, hours were lopped off the trip to the ocean -- leading to booming growth in Ocean City and the Delaware resorts. The Bay Bridge quickly became the default route for everyone in the Baltimore area. Its primacy was reconfirmed in th 1970s when the three-lane westbound span opened.

But the equation has changed in recent years. Congestion on the Bay Bridge has grown, and traffic jams can add an hour or more to travel time at peak hours. Any kind of accident or incident can tie up the bridge for hours. Then you have another potential choke point at the Bay Bridge's Mini-Me at Kent Narrows.

 Meanwhile the trip around the top of the bay has improved. U.S. 40 gave way to Interstate 95 in the 1960s, and the main routes through the Delmarva Peninsula have been widened and improved. Delaware completed its Route 1 as an interstate-quality toll road. Traveling to the Shore via Elkton has become viable again.

Each individual's BBTP is different based on starting point, ending point, time of travel and personal preferences. If you have a low tolerance for long backups, your tipping point may be farther south than a more laid-back individual's BBTP.

The first step is to calculate your raw BBTP. You can do this using Mapquest or Google Maps  or any other mapping program that may be available.

First you need the address of your starting point and that of your beach destination. The tipping point can change depending on destination. If you're heading to Rehoboth, your BBTP will be far different than if you're heading to Ocean City. Whether you're headed  to downtown O.C. or the north end of the barrier island can tip the decision of routes.

Then do a rough plotting of the course. If it takes you around the north of the bay, it's almost certain that will be the better route for you. That means your tipping point is to the south. Generally, the raw BBTP for central Ocean City is right around Putty Hill. Anywhere north of that, you should go north; anywhere south, use the Bay Bridge.

But the raw BBTP isn't the important one -- except if you're traveling at a time when you can expect the roads to be congestion free. What you need to know is the Adjusted BBTP.

To get that, you need to know approximately how long it will take to travel using both routes. Mapquest and Google both allow for override strategies that will let you calculate approximate time of traveling via each route. The difference between the two is crucial to calculating your BBTP.

Mapquest, for instance, estimates the time it will take to get from The Sun building at 501 N. Calvert St. to a hotel at 9100 Coastal Highway at 2 hours, 52 minutes. To go via the northern route would take you 3 hours, 16 minutes. But its default northern route takes you through tthe Delaware Toll Plaza, which must be avoided at all costs. (Besides being a rip-off, the Delaware Toll Road can back you up for an hour just so it can overcharge you.) A simple avoidance strategy, using Pulaski Highway and N. Mauldin Ave. in the town of North East as an interim destination, turns that into a 3 hour, 18 minute estimate. (There is a method to this madness. That's the exact point that will give you an accurate estimate on the best route to the beach. I've tested it.)

So now your difference is 26 minutes in favor of the Bay Bridge. Here's where science hands off the ball to art.

Now you need to use your experience, any information you can gather  and a dollop of common sense to arrive at your Adjusted BBTP. Considering your time of departure, you need to estimate the level of congestion you would encounter on either route.

Let's say you're leaving at 4 p.m. on the Friday before a major beach holiday. You know you can anticipate some delay on Interstate 95 around White Marsh, but you also know it's a time of peak congestion on the Bay Bridge and its approaches. At such times the traffic on U.S. 50 can back up to Interstate 97 and lead to delays of 30 minutes to an hour.

So let's estimate backups will add 15 minutes to the trip up Interstate 95 and 45 minutes to get to and across the Bay Bridge. That 30-minute difference wipes out the Bay Bridge's advantage in the raw BBTP by 4 minutes and places The Sun building just north of the tipping point.

Now let's say you've called  1-877-BAYSPAN or signed on to baybridge.com and determined that high winds have prevented two-way operations on the bridge. You're looking at a full-blown mess on the bridge, with all that beach-bound traffic confined to two lanes. The delay could be an hour or more. The adjusted tipping point could go as south as Ellicott City or Glen Burnie. (For Annapolis and Washington, it would probably take a catastrophic crash to bring the tipping point into play.)

You can further adjust the BBTP to reflect your own tolerance level for backups. If you can sit out  an hour's backup without batting an eye, leave the adjusted BBTP where it is. If sitting in traffic drives your blood pressure up to dangerous levels, add extra minutes to your Bay Bridge congestion assumption.

There are no guarantees this approach will work on every trip. Sometimes traffic flows freely across the Bay Bridge at the most busy  times; a traffic crash could always turn I-95 into a parking lot. Delaware Route 1 can back up at toll plaza. (Using U.S. 13 as far as Delaware Route 42, then cutting over to 1 to avoid Dover, might be a smart move.)

Much of Baltimore and Baltimore County lie very close to the tipping point for Ocean City at peak times. Rehoboth Beach can be on the edge at other times. My suggestion is that close calls be resolved  in favor of the northern route. The tolls are higher, but the chances of a really bad trip are far less. If I-95 gets jammed you can bail out and use U.S. 40 or Maryland Route 7. If the Bay Bridge is frozen, you're out of luck.

P.S. I am skeptical about Mapquest's notion of going to Fenwick Island, Del.,  or north Ocean City using the coastal Delaware 1 during times  of heavy travel. I would stay on U.S. 113 and then use less-traveled Delaware Route 20 to Route 54 and connect with Fenwick at Delaware 1. And if you go the Bay Bridge route, resist Mapquest's effort to send you on Maryland Route 2, instead of Interstate 97, unless it's the dead of night or you're  starting from Glen Burnie or Severna Park.

As always, the smart driver travels with a good map. You  can trust it when GPS, Mapquest and Google let  you down.

(Photo by Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

MTA gives MARC riders bad advice -- and why

On the Inside Charm City blog, Jeff Quinton describes an incident Wednesday night in which the 7:30 p.m. MARC train out of Union Station was delayed because of equipment problems.

Quinton's article is worth a read, but the short version is that a Maryland Transit Administration employee -- trying to be helpful to a degree that surprises me -- gave passengers trying to get to BWI to catch flights some very bad advice.

The employee suggested that MARC Penn riders switch to the Camden Line, ride to Baltimore and backtrack to BWI on the light raiil.

You can do that, and it will get you there, but as Quinton noted, riders would likely get to BWI at about 9:30 p.m. That's pretty late for folks trying to catch a flight.

Quinton wrote that if the Penn Line train left 20 minutes late, it would have arrived at BWI station at 8:30 p.m. Figuring 15 minutes for a shuttle ride, he estimated that staying on the Penn Line would have got the  rider to BWI about 8:45 -- 45 minutes earlier than the Camden Line solution.

 But waiting for the Penn Line train was not the correct choice, as Quinton's article implies.

What the MTA employee should have done was have advised BWI riders that they could catch the Washington Metro Red Line, connect to the Green Line at Fort Totten and catch the B30 bus at Greenbelt. Based on the time Quinton was informed of the delay, reasonably mobile riders could have caught the 7:20 Red Line train and made the connection to the 8:00 p.m. B30. BWI terminal arrival: 8:31. (Times courtesy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration  trip planner.)

I disagree with Quinton's diagnosis of employee incompetence. What this suggests is not that the MTA employee was incompetent but that he was thinking within the MTA box and not considering all transit solutions. This is a matter of training and planning by MARC managers, not front-line employees.

Here's what  the MTA needs to do:

Short term:

1. Thoroughly brief MARC customer service employees on the B30 bus and its utility as an emergency backup. Train them to use the WMATA trip planner to plot out alternatives for riders when a train breaks down.

2. Plan for the next delay. Print out instructions in advance for delays on each train to BWI. Copy them in bulk and have them ready to distribute to passengers hurrying to catch a flight. The time spent giving verbal instructions can cause riders to miss the subway that makes a timely bus connection.

Long term:

1. Integrate the MTA data base with WMATA's (and those of other local transit agencies) so riders get the best transit information, not the best MTA-only information.

2. Work with WMATA to get the B30 running at 20-minute intervals, rather than 40 minutes, so missing one bus isn't a big problem.

The same advice from a consultant would cost the MTA thousands of dollars. Here, we'll take whatever change Administrator Paul Wiedefeld can spare.

UPDATE: Quinton emailed me back to say that according to a friend, after one such delay, MTA officials put MARC riders with flight reservations on an Amtrak train. That's probably the best solution for riders when the MTA can do so. When it can't, the B30 is there.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:38 AM |
Categories: MARC train
        

May 20, 2009

Confessions of a gephyrophobic

OK, I have to confess up front that I have a mild case of gephyrophobia -- an irrational fear of driving on long, high bridges. It's not that I'm paralyzed on them, but they make me distinctly uncomfortable. I tend to respond to them by driving at or around -- forgive me -- the speed limit.

This is intensely frustrating to some drivers, including the person in the monstrous Dodge Ram who tailgated me most of the way across the westbound Bay Bridge this afternoon. But with traffic going two ways on the western span, I found the 45 mph posted limit quite enough. OK, maybe I slipped down to 40, but two-way traffic on that narrow ribbon of pavement gives me the willies. Perhaps I've written too many stories about Bay Bridge mayhem.

(Memo to Bay Bridge drivers: Tailgating a gephyrophobic will not make him or her pick up speed. If anything, they'll slow down even more.)

Here's the good news: It's pavement all the way now. The steel plates used during the now-suspended deck replacement on the westbound span have been removed. One less reason for paranoia.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

Maryland drivers' test score astounds

Here's a news item:

 

According to the results of the GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test, Maryland ranked 40th in the nation (tied with South Carolina) with an average score of 74.8. Last year, the state ranked 42nd, with an average score of 76.8 (scores were down across the board this year).

Idaho and Wisconsin tied for first with an average score of 80.6, while the bottom state, New York, had an average score of 70.5.

Overall, results show that 20.1 percent of licensed Americans roughly 41 million drivers would not pass a written drivers test exam if taken today.

MY TAKE: I'm shocked, shocked at Maryland drivers' performance on this test.  Who would ever have expected us to place as high as 40th?  Musta been rigged.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:02 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

AAA frustrated by road project cut

On an otherwise glorious day on Kent Island, AAA government affairs chief Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson found something to be gloomy about.

After a press conference on Memorial Day travel, Anderson wanted to talk about a report in the Washington Post  that Gov. Martin O'Malley has decided to defer two major Washington-area road projects so that the state would have the  money to pay for the Purple Line, a transit line between New Carrollton and Bethesda.

The state recently increased its estimates of the cost of that line by $330 million -- to $1.68 billion.

In order to keep the Purple Line project going despite grim state finances, the Post reports,  O'Malley has decided to delay the widening of Routes 28 and 198 in northern Montgomery County and of Route 3 between U.S. 50 and the Anne Arundel County line.

Anderson expressed dismay that the state is once again being forced to choose between roads and mass transit. While Anderson said he supports mass transit in particular and the Purple Line specifically, he questioned O'Malley's choice of priorities.

"Highways still carry in excess of 92-93 percent of personal traffic in the state," he said.

As we talked, it became clear that the real source of Anderson's frustration was not so much the governor's choice but the lack of transportation funding to address the needs of both transit and highways. He noted that AAA supported O'Malley proposal to index the state gas tax too inflation -- an effort that went down in flames in the General Assembly.

While O'Malley has not ruled out raising the gas tax someday, he passed on an opportunity to propose an increase in 2007. The chances of his seeking such an increase in an election year are somewhere been none and laughable.

Anderson said the national AAA has lobbied Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for an increased gas tax to pay for transportation infrastructure but had been told the Obama administration would not support any measure that raises taxes on the middle class.

Neither the state nor the federal gas tax has increased since the early 1990s despite the increased cost of just about anything connected with transportation.

This is what happens when one party swears opposition to any tax increase of any kind for any purpose and the other is afraid of being hammered by its opponents. You get gridlock: literal and political.

For the record, O'Malley made a good choice in picking the Route 28/198 project for deferral. Those roads essentially parallel the Inter-county Connector, now  under construction. The ICC should bring enough capacity to that corridor for the time being.

The deferral of the work on Route 3, Crain Highway, is more disturbing. That is a heavily traveled, extremely congested stretch of road that makes it a nightmare to reach U.S. 301, the main route from the Baltimore area to Southern Maryland.

The Purple Line is certainly needed to relieve congestion in the Washington suburbs, but it's unlikely that more than a handful of Baltimore commuters will ride it. Its main importance in Baltimore is that it provides a  measure of political balance for the proposed Red Line through the city.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

E-ZPass policy made wonderfully clear (I hope)

Mike Korczynski of Bel Air wrote to seek a clarification of the Maryland Transportation Authority's policy on transponder replacements before July 1, when it will begin imposing a $1.50-a-month service fee and a $21 charge for new and replacement transponders.

It seemed like a good opportunity to shed a little light on the issue.

Mike wrote:

I may be wrong but I believe you once wrote a column wherein you suggested that an EZ Pass customer could exchange their transponder free of charge before 7/1 to avoid the $21 replacement fee that will be charged once the new rate structure goes into effect 7/1. I had planned to do an exchange tomorrow, and to avoid wasting a trip to Havre de Grace from Bel Air, I called ahead to the Hatem Bridge service center and spoke with an EZ Pass rep. who told me that her supervisor would not allow them to exchange a working transponder. She also told me they would not charge for replacement of a defective unit even though that point appears to be contradicted in their own press release. Is there a way you can (if you haven’t already) confirm what the MdTA’s position is on exchanges before and after 7/1?

Mike:

I'm sorry if there was  a misunderstanding, but I never suggested that an E-ZPass subscriber could turn in a working transponder for a new one free of charge. What I wrote is that someone with multiple transponders on multiple accounts can and should consolidate them on one account because the fee is per-account not per-transponder. The bonus is that one can close the account(s) with the older transponder(s), turn those in, keep the newest units and get replacements free of charge before July 1.

The authority’s policy is to replace transponders that have crapped out free of charge before July 1. If they give up the ghost after that, the $21 replacement cost applies. If you take an old but still working transponder to an authority office before July 1, the will decline to replace it for free.

The transponders have an expected battery life of seven years but are under warranty for four because that’s the manufacturer’s policy.

I hope this brings some clarity to a murky situation. Congratulations for getting a state employee on the phone who understood the policy and explained it correctly. Others haven’t been so lucky.

Michael Dresser

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:00 AM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Report shows congestion around D.C. eased

If your travels regularly take you to the Washington region, there may be some rare good news about the roads. An aerial survey for the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board shows congestion in the D.C. area has actually eased a bit since 2005.

This probably has more to do with the wretched state of the national economy -- reflected in a significant decline in vehicle miles traveled -- rather than road improvements or a mass switch to public transit. Still, it's good to see some relief in what is one of the country's most congested metro areas.

Of course, many of the most congested choke points got even worse. But if you're from Maryland you can take comfort in the fact that only two of the top 10 chokepoints is in the Free State. Both are stretches of the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County.

Click here for the full report.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:01 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

May 19, 2009

Porcari gets a hearing

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari had his hearing Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on his nomination to be deputy U.S. secretary of transportation.

Sample quote from Porcari's statement  "Safety has been, and must continue to be, the top priority of the Department. In addition, virtually every element of our transportation system faces daunting capacity constraints. Our transportation system is essential to the long-term prosperity of the United States and must also play a key role in advancing important policy goals such as livable communities, energy conservation and climate change."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:53 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Are MARC gains for real or just choo-choo smoke?

Barry Rascovar, the former deputy editorial page editor of this paper, has in interesting -- if rather one-sided -- view of the recent improvements to the MARC system in his column in the Gazette newspapers.

In brief, it takes a glass-half-empty view of Gov. Martin O'Malley's recent investments in the commuter train system -- the purchase of 26 new diesel locomotives and 13 double-deck passenger cars. In Rascovar's view, the acquisitions are an improvement but fall far short of the system's needs. Taking a relatively easy shot, he derides O'Malley's recent photo-op calling attention to the arrival of the first of the locomotives, which are desperately needed to replace aging equipment that has led to frequent service breakdowns.

"These are significant steps in upgrading a chronically ignored mass transit system that never has been allowed to tap into its enormous potential," Rascovar writes.  "Yet this $122 million package barely makes a dent in MARC's overall needs, despite O'Malley's hyped choo-choo ride."

If Rascovar were interested in context, he might have mentioned that these are particularly significant investments in a system that the previous two governors treated with a form of benign neglect. Neither Parris Glendening nor Bob Ehrlich tried to dismantle the system, but it wasn't a top priority for them.

Whether you like or dislike O'Malley or share his other priorities, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he's put his money where his mouth  is on MARC -- even at a time of severe budget constraints. Just as you can't take away Ehrlich's achievement in winning federal approval of the Inter-county Connector -- whether you love or hate the road, you can't deny that Ehrlich delivered on that promise -- O'Malley's commitment to MARC is clear. It's not just the money or the fact his administration has developed a long-term plan for MARC; it's that the governor has put capable people in charge. The top position at the Maryland Transit Administration is held by an experienced transportation executive  who is in unquestioned charge of his agency, not a figurehead. The top position in MARC is now held by a longtime CSX executive; time was it was left in charge of a minimally qualified former state legislator.

Rascovar decries the administration's 25-year, $3.9 billion plan for expanding MARC as "pie in the sky" and suggests the governor come up with a more achievable short-term plan. I would suggest the worthy columnist re-read the plan produced by MTA Administrator Paul Wiedefeld. In addition to the long-term strategy, there is a series of more achievable short- and medium-term objectives. As for the long view, since when is "vision" a bad thing?

There's no question BRAC is looming as a daunting transportation challenge and that MARC is part of the solution. And Rascovar is correct in observing that O'Malley is  fallling short of his own goals in preparing for the influx.

But BRAC, as important as it is, is not the only game in town. Baltimore's buses have to be kept running and the roads and bridges still need fixing. One could make a case that O'Malley is putting too much emphasis on MARC, which serves only about 33,000 riders a day, at the expense of those priorities.

As Rascovar has noticed, the current recession and accompanying plunge in travel-related revenue have bled the Transportation Trust Fund white. He concludes with an exhortation that the governor should find "the political will to quickly steer more resources into the Baltimore-Washington region's commuter rail system."

In other words, O'Malley should raise  taxes or divert money from other transportation priorities. Somehow Rascovar didn't get around to mentioning which taxes to increase or which priorities to  cut.

And let's say O'Malley did muster the will to seek an increase in, say, the gas tax in an  election year. Could the governor count on Rascovar to have his back as he stormed the political  barricades?

If I were O'Malley, I know which way I'd bet.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:53 AM |
Categories: MARC train
        

Memorial Day tips for toll facilities

          The Maryland Transportation Authority has issued its Memorial Day travel advisory, and it has plenty of good advice for motorists willing to pay attention.

           So before you venture across the Bay Bridge or the Harbor crossings (preferably at off-peak hours), monitor your gas level, inspect your tires and especially double-check your trailer hitches. Do not venture onto the bridge or into the harbor tunnels if tipsy, angry or sleepy. It take only one invididual's screw-up to turn a leisurely crossing into a traffic nighmare for thousands.

           As we head into the first of the year's vacation travel holidays, I'd be interested in knowing about any strategies readers plan to adopt to avoid congestion and bottlenecks iin Maryland or anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard.

          Good luck and bon voyage.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:04 AM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

May 18, 2009

Governor to sign drunk driving bills

Gov. Martin O’Malley will sign a package of bills on Tuesday morning that his administration sponsored to tighten Maryland’s drunk driving laws.

The General Assembly passed the legislation this spring, acting on the recommendations of a task force it established the year before.

The bills O’Malley will sign include one that left some advocates of a crackdown on underage drinking disappointed because it had been watered down by legislators. But spokesman Shaun Adamec said the governor has decided to sign the legislation, which retains a provision making it a criminal offense for adults to supply minors with alcohol.

The other bills O’Malley will sign include measures that will:

-- Allow fines and jail terms for those who violate alcohol restrictions on their driver’s licenses imposed by the Motor Vehicle Administration. The bill brings the penalties into line with those for violating court-ordered restrictions.

-- Requie yearlong driver’s license suspensions for people who have been convicted twice within five years of either driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The bill was weakened by the legislators who stripped out a provision that would have applied the sannction to anyone convicted of any two violations of drunk-driving laws, including the lesser offense of driving while impaired.

-- Increase from five years to 10 years the period in which a driver can received a second finding of probation before judgment in a drunk-driving case.

Some anti-drunk-driving activists publicly expressed disapointment over the underaged-drinking bill because of an amendent they contended would make it more difficult to enforce its provision forbidding minors to consume alcohol. As it passed, the bill bans consumption of alcohol by those under 21 but requires the arresting officer to have been observed in possession of the beverage.

“While it’s unfortunate that Maryland lawmakers discounted if not dismissed the legislative recommendations made by the very task force they asked for said recommendations, Governor O’Malley should be commended for his leadership on this public health and public safety issue,”  said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

Another bill in the O’Malley-endorsed package – requiring blood-alcohol tests of all drivers involved in fatal or serious-injury crashes – failed in committee.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

New bike trails to open in Talbot

Getting There blog reader Nancy Carr of ADG Creative writes to point out that Talbot County will be opening several new bike trails (in a part of the state where hills are gentle). Six new themed trails will take bicyclists through some of the most scenic stretches of this Eastern Shore County.

Here are the details from Talbot County. Thanks to Nancy for pointing this out.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:25 AM |
        

Cool resource for hikers and bicyclists

The Rails to Trails Conservancy bills itself as a "nonprofit organization working with communities to preserve unused rail corridors by transforming them into trails, enhancing the health of America's environment, economy, neighborhoods and people."

The group's mission is to promote the conversion of unused railroad right of way into trails for hiking, biking and other uses. The web site includes a useful guide to trails all over the United States. It's worth checking out.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:15 AM |
Categories: Off the roads
        

Dumbing down the debate

Transportation for America is a serious group with a serious agenda of promoting infrastructure investment in the United States.

But its recent venture into public organzing, the launch of a web site called MyCommuteSucks.com, seems as juvenile as it is crude.

It's one thing to "spread the rage," as one of its prominent tabs reads, but channeling that anger into actual policy is far more difficult. Rage is essentially mindless, and it can easily be hijacked to support a policy of disinvestment -- such as a counterproductive but oh-so-appealing gas tax holiday.

If you're going to win support for a program of focused and smart investment -- with the necessary revenue to support it -- you need appeals to reason rather than rage. But look at this nonsense petition on MyCommuteSucks.com:

Dear Congress,

My commute sucks and it's not getting any better. Stop pouring billions into a broken system.

Transportation shouldn't be an expensive, dirty burden. Fix it, clean it, make it work!

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

So how is a member of Congress supposed to interpret such a communication? Does Mr. or Mrs. Undersigned support more transportation spending or less? Would the petitioner support higher gas taxes or not? Does this citizen want a shift from emphasizing roads to transit or not?

At some level, I understand what Transportation for America is trying to do. But this seems to be more about catharsis than solutions. Or is it just a way of building up a big email list for future fund-raising? I'm doubtful it will be effective on that level either.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:30 AM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

MARC managers at Aberdeen

Managers of the Maryland Transit Administration's MARC system will be available to talk with riders at Aberdeen station Tuesday morning from 5:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:37 AM |
Categories: MARC train
        

Gas prices keep creeping up

Gas prices continue to rise steadily this spring, and while they are not yet at alarming levels, any continuation of the current trend could put a damper on summer travel.

The average price of regular gasoline in Maryland rose 9 cents over the past week -- from $2.19 to $2.28 as crude oil continued to hover around the $60-a-barrel mark. Nevertheless, AAA Mid-Atlantic continues to predict robust Memorial Day weekend travel because even with recent increases, gas prices are still far below last year's level of $3.78.

“Motorists will undoubtedly see gas prices continue their uptick through the Memorial Day weekend,” said Ragina C. Averella, Manger of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “However, despite increases at the pump, 32.4 million people (a 1.5% increase over last year’s dismal travel season) are expected to take to the highways this Memorial Day weekend for the official start of the summer driving season."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:13 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

May 15, 2009

State seeks $4 billion in transportation earmarks

Maryland is seeking more than $3.6 billion in congressional earmarks for transit projects, along with an additional $327 million for highway work, according to a document released Friday by the state Department of Transportation.

The request is part of process leading up to congressional action on a new six-year surface transportation spending reauthorization bill. The current law expires this year. States typically request many dollars for each one that ends up in the legislation.

Jack Cahalan, a department spokesman, said the wish list reflects the state’s priorities of transit, preparations for military base realignment, safety and bridge rehabilitation. The transit requests include $1.3 billion for the proposed east-west Red Line in Baltimore as well as $1.8 million for two transit lines in the Washington suburbs. The request also includes $188 million for the extension of Baltimore’s Metro subway line in the direction of Morgan State University.

All in all, the list brings few surprises. Most of the requests are for projects that have long been high priorities of the O'Malley administration and, in many cases, the Ehrlich administration as well.

On the transit side, the state is also seeking $100 million for the Baltimore bus system, $60 million for local bus systems, $60 million to study Amtrak tunnel replacement and $126  million for a new BWI railroad station.

Highway request include $30 million each for BRAC-related projects around Andrews Air Force Base, Aberdeen Proving Ground, For Meade and the Bethesda National Naval Center. Money is also being sought for improvements on Interstate 70, 695 and 81.

 

 

D.C. bridge work to start May 26

If you travel in the Washington-Northern Virginia area with any frequency, there may be a two-year headache in your future. The 14th Street Bridge, a heavily traveled Potomac River crossing, is scheduled to begin a major rehabilitation project May 26. (It's just been pushed back from next Monday so as not to complicate the Memorial Day holiday.)

The bridge, which carries an estimated 200,000 vehicles a day has been rated the Washington area's worst bottleneck.

The District's Department of Transportation plans major repairs, including deck replacement, on the northbound bridge, and less extensive repairs to the southbound span.

You can find details about the project and lane closings here

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:45 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Baltimore's vision for transportation released

Baltimore has just released a 53-page outline of its requests for federal funding in the massive, multi-year transportation spending reauthorization bill Congress is taking up this year.  This is more than just a $294.8 million wish list. It's a blueprint of the city's vision for transportation for the next six years or more.

There are many important initiatives proposed here -- not all of which are likely to receive funding. But if you're interested in understanding the Dixon administration's long-range plan for transforming Baltimore, there's a lot here. It's not narrowly focused on transportation.

You'll be reading more about this report in the coming days and weeks here, on baltimoresun.com and in the pages of The Baltimore Sun. If you see something particularly noteworthy, feel free to drop us an email.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:27 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Roundabout we go in Carroll County

Drivers in the Hampstead area will have to be ready to go around in circles next week as the State Highway Administration partially opens its new southern roundabout along the Hampstead Bypass.

The new roundabout, located where Maryland Route 30 (Hanover Pike) meets the bypass near Wolf Hill Drive, will change the traffic pattern on Route 30 beginning Thursday about 8 p.m., weather permitting.

Initially, the highway administration will open the roundabout to northbound and southbound driving only. The $41 million bypass itself will not open until summer. As part of next week's change, the current direct access from Wolf Hill Drive to Route 30 will be permanently closed.

While roundabouts frequently prompt grumbling from motorists, the highway administration contends they are a proven lifesaver that all but eliminates dangerous T-bone crashes at intersections where the traffic circles are installed.

Just remember: Yield to traffic already in the circle. It's easy once you get the hang of it.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:08 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

Bay Bridge takes a summer break

In a manner of speaking, the Bay Bridge is taking a summer vacation.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it is suspending its deck replacement project for the summer peak travel season -- freeing up all five lanes for travel. Work on the project, which involves a complete replacement of the driving surface of the westbound span, will resume in the fall.

Contractors have completed work on the suspension part of the span and will spend the summer preparing to replace the deck panels of the through truss part of the bridge. (That's where drivers can see structural steel overhead.)

While heavy construction will be suspended, the authority is warning that other preservation work may be taking place during off-peak hours. The authority expects the deck replacement project to be completed in the fall of 2010.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:13 AM |
        

May 14, 2009

Traffic alert for downtown Friday night

The Downtown Partnership has issued an alert about traffic conditions Friday night for the city's Preakness parade. Check it out here.

The short version is that motorists would be well advised to leave their vehicles outside the central city and take public transportation to downtown events that night.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:16 PM |
        

Going without seat belt: Not a smart night move

Thanks to the State Highway Administration for passing along these factoids as part of the May 18-31 Click It or Ticket campaign:

* Seat belt use at night drops by as much as 31 percent compared with daytime hours.

* In 2007, some 14,500 people were killed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Nearly two-thirds of them were NOT wearing seat belts.

* Young drivers and passengers are are among those least likely to buckle up at night. Roughly 66 percent of Maryland drivers killed while not wearing seat belts at night were between 19 and 34 years old.

* In 2007, more than 70 percent of male passenger vehicle occupants aged 18-34 who were killed in crashes were not using seat belts.

My take: I suspect teens are more likely to leave the seat belts off when they're traveling at night in groups of like-minded teens who reinforce each others' disdain for safety precautions.

Instead of just lecturing young people about seat belt use, vigilant parents should clamp down on their teens' late-night ride-arounds with their peers. Federal statistics provide more than enough evidence that even apart from the seat belt issue, letting multiple teens take to the road greatly increases the risk of a fatal outcome. The goofing around and the risk increases with each added teen in the vehicle.

The mistake parents often make is thinking their own kids are different. They're not.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:30 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Getting There: The Preakness

The city Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration have weighed in with information on Preakness road closings and transit services.
The elimination of the service provided in the past from Mondawmin Mall and Poly/Western is the result of the same federal ruling that deep-sixed shuttle service to Orioles and Ravens games. The MTA is blameless in this case.


Transit

Metro: The Maryland Transit Administration will offer shuttle service between the West Rogers Avenue Metro station and Pimlico.

Light rail: The MTA will offer shuttle service between the West Cold Spring Lane light rail station and Pimlico.

Bus: The MTA will run additional buses as needed on Routes No. 27, 44, 91 and 54 serving Pimlico.

Park and ride: Under new federal rules, the MTA will not offer shuttle service between park-and-ride lots at Mondawmin and Poly/Western and Pimlico. Those who park at Mondawmin can take the Metro to Rogers Avenue and take the shuttle. Those who park at Poly/Western can walk to the Cold Spring light rail station and catch the shuttle.

Roads

The Baltimore Department of Transportation issued the following list of street closings and restrictions:

The following streets will be closed to through traffic:

• Saturday, May 16, 2009 – 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Southbound Jones Falls Expressway exit ramp to eastbound Northern
Parkway (Motorists will be redirected to the Cold Spring Lane exits)

• Cylburn Avenue from Northern Parkway to Greenspring Avenue

• Saturday, May 16, 2009 – 5:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Southbound Jones Falls Expressway exit ramp to westbound Northern
Parkway (Motorists will be redirected to the Cold Spring Lane exits)

• Westbound Northern Parkway will be closed from Falls Road to
Greenspring Avenue

The following special traffic modifications will be in effect:

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 10:00 p.m. until Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 8:00
p.m.
Rogers Avenue – One-way westbound from Winner Avenue to Park Heights
Avenue
Winner Avenue – One-way northbound from Hayward Avenue to Rogers Ave

Manhattan Avenue – One-way eastbound from Winner Avenue to Pimlico Road

Whitney Avenue – One-way westbound from Pimlico Road to Key Avenue

Sulgrave Avenue – One-way westbound from Stuart Avenue to Highgate Avenue

Rockwood Avenue – One-way eastbound from Key Avenue to Berkeley Avenue

Simmonds Avenue – One-way southbound from Rockwood Avenue to Manhattan Avenue

Woodcrest Avenue – One-way northbound from Northern Parkway to Rockwood
Avenue

Merville Avenue – One-way southbound from Glen Avenue to Northern Parkway

Berkeley Avenue – One-way northbound from Whitney Avenue to Glen Avenue

Stuart Avenue – One-way northbound from Northern Parkway to Sulgrave
Avenue

Rusk Avenue – One-way southbound from Whitney Avenue to Northern Parkway

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 10:00 p.m. until Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 9:00
p.m.

Rogers Avenue – Will be closed to vehicular traffic from Winner Avenue to
Northern Parkway

Saturday, May 16, 2009 from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Hayward Avenue – One-way eastbound from Park Heights Avenue to Winner
Avenue

Saturday, May 16, 2009 from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Pimlico Road – One-way northbound from Northern Parkway to Ken Oak Road

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:19 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Ex-mayor weighs in on infrastructure

You may remember William H. Hudnut III as the Republican mayor of Indianapolis who helped engineer the hijacking of the Colts in collusion with Robert Irsay.

You probably don't recall his later stint as the mayor of Chevy Chase.

But Hudnut, regardless of what he's done in the past, has written a perceptive article about the nation's infrastructure needs. You can find it here.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:15 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Study: Seat belts could save more than 1,000 a year

A study issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 1,652 additional lives could be saved if all 50 states were to achieve the 90 percent level of seat belt use. The study also estimates that more than 22,000 serious injuries could be prevented at that level of seat belt use.

The release of the report comes as federal, state and local authorities kick off the annual "Click It or Ticket" campaign to enforce seat belt laws in states where such statutes have been adopted. The campaign runs May 18-31.

The study, based on 2007 data, also estimates that more than 15,000 lives were saved by seat belt use that year.

Maryland, which has a seat belt law, is one of the dozen states that have achieved 90 percent compliance, according to NHTSA.

Two states -- Arizona and Florida -- have recently adopted primary seat belt laws, which allow an officer to make a traffic stop for that offense alone. There are still 22 states that have not adopted such laws, according to  the Governore Highway Safety Association.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM |
        

May 13, 2009

Summary of MTA Red Line comments posted

The Maryland Transit Administration has just posted a summary of public comments on its proposed Red Line here.

 This is part of the draft environmental impact study process for the proposed transit line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

Here are some quick highlights:

--Sttrong support for east-west transit improvements.

-Little interest in bus rapid transit alternatives.

--Strong support for Alternative 4C, the one preferred by the Diixon administration and business leaders, but also strong opposition to that alternative's plans for surface light rail on Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street. Alternative 4C got 146 positive comments, compared with 131 for not building the Red Line at all. (Alternative 4C would run light rail in tunnels under downtown, Fells Point and Cooks Lane  but on surface otherwise.)

--Business and labor groups are strongly on board the 4C option. --Common objections include concerns about a loss of parking and that surface light rail could create congestion and complicate travel patterns.

--Most of the objections raised are of  the NIMBY variety and don't deal with the kind  of broader concerns state and regional authoriities need to consider.

 --Unlike most opponents, the Transit Riders Action Council has raised serious systemic concerns, bbut its push for heavy rail has not won broad support. Only  3 organizations and 17 indiviiduals  weighed in for heavy rail.

--My quick take: The  4C alternative is gaining momentum  and will be difficult to block as the locally preferred alternative. 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:51 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Red Line
        

New ramp to open where Beltway meets I-95

The Maryland Transportation Authority announces a change to the configuration of the Interstate 95-Interstate 695  interchange  northeast of Baltimore as a new ramp from the eastbound Beltway to southbound 95 opens. It's scheduled  to happen Friday morning unless the weather says no.

This is just one more step toward the creation of an amazing "spaghetti bowl" that will result from the state's decision to add express toll lanes to I-95. Even bigger changes to traffic patterns  are expected in July.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:32 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Bike to Work registration

Bike-to-Work is Friday, and participants can register with the local sponsor, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, here to be eligible for giveaways, T-shirts refreshments and other perks.

If you're going to ride to work on two wheels, you might as well collect your swag. Sorry, the council's out of tire gauges, but there are plenty of flashing safety lights.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bicycles
        

Ramp reopens at Hagerstown

State Highway Administration will reopen the ramp from southbound Interstate 81 to eastbound Interstate 70 in Hagerstown Thursday.

The agency temporarily closed the ramp April 14 to carry $3.4 million in safety improvements at the interchange, which carries 55,000 vehicles per day -- 34 percent of which is truck traffic.

According to the SHA, the ramp had to be closed to allow crews to improved the elevation of the curve to make the ramp safer. The reopening comes one week ahead of schedule. The administration said the entire safety project will be finished this summer.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:03 AM |
        

Westbound Hatem bridge closing Friday night

I'm going to just pass along the following news release from the Maryland Transportation Authority, with one  question: Does it make sense to set up a detour that puts more cars on Interstate 95 the night before the Preakness?

Teri Moss, an authority spoeswoman, said it wouldn't be a problem. She said the administrator for that region assured her that all lanes on the U.S. 40 bridge will be open by 5 a.m. so the work shouldn’t affect people heading to Baltimore for the Preakness.  She said people heading to Baltimore before 5 a.m. won't have much impact because the traffic counts are low during those hours.

Let's hope that's right.

 

 

WESTBOUND HATEM BRIDGE TRAFFIC TO BE DETOURED TEMPORARILY OVERNIGHT

WHAT: Weather permitting, the westbound lane of the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge (US 40) will be closed to westbound traffic and utilized for eastbound travelers.

WHEN: Friday, May 15, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, May 16, crews will close the westbound direction of the bridge and detour westbound traffic. The detour route will direct motorists to northbound MD 222, to southbound Interstate 95, to eastbound MD 155, to westbound US 40. Eastbound traffic may be held at approximately 8:30 p.m. for 30 minutes to set barrier walls that will separate traffic from the work area. At approximately 9 p.m., the bridge will be open to eastbound traffic. Westbound traffic will continue to be detoured.

While eastbound traffic is being held, eastbound motorists may wish to take MD 155, to northbound I-95, to southbound MD 222, to eastbound US 40. At approximately 4:30 a.m. Saturday, crews may again hold traffic to remove and reset barrier walls. All lanes are anticipated to be open by 5 a.m. Please note there is no toll on southbound I-95.

WHY: Crews will be repairing the bridge deck.

 For Hatem Bridge traffic conditions 24/7, call 1-888-MDTA-411 (638-2411). For information on the Hatem Bridge Preservation Project and to sign up for email alerts, visit hatembridge.com. The Authority appreciates motorists’ patience and reminds them to Stay Alert So No One Gets Hurt!

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:54 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

May 12, 2009

AAA issues reminder on train crossings

You would think it wouldn't be necessary to remind motorists not to drive onto railroad tracks unless they're sure they can fully cross them.

But a couple of recent incidents outside Washington persuaded AAA Mid-Atlantic  to issue such a warning anyway. According to AAA, there have been two recent crashes in which a train hit a vehicle stopped on the tracks by congestion up ahead. Fortunately neither resulted in death, even though collisions with trains are 40 times more deadly than crashing into another passenger vehicle, according to AAA.

“Motorists should only proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing if they are sure they can completely clear the crossing without stopping,” said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella. “Given the volume of traffic that might be hard to judge.”

The association urged motorists to keep a buffer zone of 10-50 feet between their vehicles and at-grade railroad tracks when stopped nearby -- especially in rush hour.

AAA had some simple advice for  motorists whose vehicles do get stalled out on railroad tracks: Get out. Contact law enforcement. If a train is coming, move in the direction the train is coming from so that if it hits the car, flying  pieces  are less likely to cause injuries.

I would add  a nugget of advice for which AAA is not to blame: If you get stuck behind traffic on a railroad track and live to tell the tale, quickly enroll yourself in a driver improvement course. You need it.

      Here's the full AAA news release:

 

RECENT SPATE OF TRAIN-VEHICLE COLLISIONS
IN CAPITAL AREA RAISE SAFETY CONCERNS
Motorists 40 Times More Likely To Die In A Crash With A Train
Than With Another Vehicle

TOWSON, MD (May 12, 2009) – An expectant mother is still counting her blessings after narrowly escaping death and severe injuries during a collision with a MARC train at a railroad crossing in Rockville.  Recent vehicle-train crashes in the national capital area have alarmed some motorists and neighbors living near busy railroad crossings and raised concerns about highway-rail grade crossing safety. As gridlock increases in the area, rail crossings blocked by traffic might become a recurring nightmare, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“Motorists are 40 times more likely to die from injuries sustained in a crash with a train than in a collision with another motor vehicle,” said Ragina C. Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “We are concerned that this vehicle - and a bus in an earlier incident -was reportedly caught on the train tracks with no way of escape as the train approached.  Apparently, they were trapped by traffic congestion.”

Because the Washington metro area suffers from the second worst gridlock in the entire nation, AAA Mid-Atlantic is advising motorists to keep a safe distance of 10 to 50 feet from railroad crossings, especially during rush hour.  “Motorists should only proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing if they are sure they can completely clear the crossing without stopping,” Averella said. “Given the volume of traffic that might be hard to judge.”

These occurrences are reminders that a vehicle and train collide about every 90 minutes in the United States, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Roughly 300-400 deaths have occurred annually at an intersection where a roadway crosses railroad tracks. “Many motorists have lost sight of the importance of the old safety rule when approaching a rail crossing,” said Averella. “At all points, we must be prepared to stop, look, and listen. And live.”

Fortunately, no loss of life occurred in the recent incidents in the capital area.  However, studies show that each year in this country hundreds of people are killed in collisions at highway-rail grade crossings. What is more, thousands of others are seriously injured in such collisions. For example, 2,746 collisions occurred at railroad crossings in 2007, resulting in 338 deaths and 817 injuries, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

In an earlier incident a MARC train and a Metrobus collided at a railroad crossing at an intersection in Riverdale Park, Maryland in late March. Several passengers sustained minor injuries and were taken to the hospital. The bus was reportedly attempting to cross the railroad tracks when it was delayed by another Metrobus attempting to make a left turn. The bus was unable to move off the tracks when the train approached the highway-rail crossing at Queensbury Road and Lafayette Avenue in Riverdale, Maryland, according to local authorities.

“All unsafe conditions at or near grade crossings of the railroad right-of-way should be corrected with particular attention to line of sight visibility adjacent to the right-of-way to traffic signals which stop traffic near tracks,” said Averella.

AAA Mid-Atlantic provides the following safety tips:

o   If your vehicle stops or stalls on a crossing, immediately get everyone out and far away from the tracks. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
o   If a train is coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction the train is coming from.
o   If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris.
o   Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That’s 18 football fields!

Residents living near the site have raised concerns about safety at the rail crossing in at the busy Rockville intersection. AAA advocates greater use of automatic train approach warning systems at railroad grade crossings when studies indicate an immediate need to provide protection to highway traffic.

To reduce the number of grade crossing crashes, AAA calls upon:

o   Police departments to enforce traffic regulations at all grade crossings;

o   Railroads to inspect and correct all unsafe conditions at grade crossings for which they have jurisdiction, with emphasis on the installation of reflectorized signs, control signals, lights, bells, or gates, wherever appropriate to indicate the approach or presence of trains;

o   Public authorities to inspect and install or replace missing or damaged reflectorized advance warning signs and/or pavement markings;

o   Public authorities to investigate the use of overhead lighting at grade crossings to better show the presence of railroad cars during nighttime hours or under conditions of limited visibility;

o   Public authorities to consider new, lost-cost technology applications that include human factors in addressing grade crossing safety;

o   School and administrators of local safety programs to promote and teach grade crossing safety; and

o   The U.S. Department of Transportation to issue regulations providing for improvements in the conspicuity of railroad cars.

According to estimates, there are approximately, 228,000 public and private highway-rail grade crossings across the nation. The number of train-vehicle collisions at grade crossings has been reduced by 80 percent from a high of 13,557 incidents in 1978 to 2,746 in 2007 despite significant increases in both highway and train traffic, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. “ Likewise, the number of persons killed as a result of grade crossing collisions has decreased by 70 percent from a high of 1,115 in 1976 to 338 in 2007,” according to the agency.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is based in Wilmington, Del., and serves nearly four million members in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey with personal insurance, financial, automotive and travel services through 53 retail branches, regional operations centers and the Internet, at www.aaa.com/community.
###
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:32 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

Monumental traffic woes persist

The city Department of Transportation says East Monument Street will remain closed between Collington and Patterson Park avenues through Tuesday's evening rush and Wednesday's morning rush as crews repait a 20-inch storm drain and 8-inch sewer line that collapsed Monday.

Oh, the joys of aged infrastructure.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:41 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

AAA forecasts rebound in holiday travel

AAA is projecting a rebound in traveling this Memorial Day weekend after a deep drop last year -- thanks largely to lower gasoline prices.

Despite the lingering recession, AAA estimates that 32.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over this year's holiday weekend compared with 31.9 million last year.

That 1.5 percent increase would not bring the level of travel close to the 35.3 million recorded  in 2007, before the sagging economy and soaring fuel prices put a damper on mobility. AAA is projecting a 2.5 percent increase in road trips this Memorial Day weekend but a 1 percent decrease in air travel. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Maryland stands at $2.21 compared with $3.71 a year ago.

Next week, AAA Mid-Atlantic will release its projections for travel in Maryland and the region.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:46 AM |
        

Monument still closed

The 2200 block of East Monument Street remains closed Tuesday as a contractor for the city makes repairs after the collapse Monday of what the Baltimore Department of Public Works calls a 20-inch storm drain.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:01 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

AirTran offers WiFi

AirTran Airways, one of the leading carriers serving BWI, said today that it will become the first large airline to provide wireless, broadband Internet access on every flight.

AirTran said it will join with Aircell, a top player in airborne communications, to offer passengers full inflight Internet service across its entire fleet of Boeing 737 and 717 aircraft.

According to the airline, all 136 of its jets will be fully wired for Internet service by mid-summer. AirTran will charge what it called a "small" fee for Web access, e-mail and instant messaging through laptops, smartphones and personal digital assistants.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:16 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Air travel
        

May 11, 2009

More on Monument

The city Department of Transportation blames the collapse of a 15-inch storm drain and an 8-inch sewer, in the southwest corner of the block. It now says the closing is on Monument between Patterson Park Ave. and Collington St.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:52 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Monument Street collapse update

The city Department of Transportation just put out this advisory:

 The Baltimore City Department of Transportation today announced the temporary closure of East Monument Street between Chester Street and Patterson Park Avenue until further notice for emergency road repairs.

Work crews are on the scene at this time. Authorities report a 6-8 foot deep undermined area in the southwest corner of the 2200 of East Monument Street.

Special Traffic Enforcement Officers are on the scene to assist with the movement of traffic. Motorists should be prepared for a shift in traffic patterns and exercise caution when traveling in the vicinity.

Detour:

 • Monument Street – to Washington Avenue to left on Ashland Avenue to left on Patterson Park and back to monument Street.

• Use Orleans and Baltimore Streets as alternates.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:31 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Monument Street closed by collapse

An apparent sewer line collapse has closed down Monument Street in East Baltimore.

 Kurt Kocher, a spokesman with the Baltimore Department of Public Works, said the roadway buckled Monday in the 2200 block of East Monument between Patterson Park Avenue and Collington Street.

 Kocher, who said he was heading to the scene, had few other details of the collapse, which occurred in a busy commercial strip near the Northeast Market.

“It looks like a sewer issue,” Kocher said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:04 PM |
        

Bus riders: Here's something cool

Here's something interesting from Howard Transit: a web site that'll tell your cell phone or Blackberry when the next bus is coming. All transit agencies should have something like  this.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:37 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local bus lines, MTA bus system
        

Parade to complicate traffic Friday

      If you work downtown, or if your evening commute takes you through downtown, Friday may be a good day to leave work a little earlier than usual.

     That's the night of the annual Preakness Parade of Lights, and while the event starts at 8:30 p.m., the traffic disruptions will start hours earlier.

      The Baltimore Department of Transportation  is predicting that 2,000 participants and 10,000 spectators will turn out for the event, which will take about an hour and a half. The parade route stretches along Pratt Street  from Eutaw Street to Market Place.

        The city released the following list of closings:

 

  

Closures for the Preakness Parade of Lights

 The following Streets will be closed to traffic on Friday, May 15, 2009 parking restricted:

 6:00 p.m. to12:00 Midnight. (Formation Area)

 ● Camden Street from Paca to Howard Streets

● Eutaw Street from Lombard to Camden Streets (Access to hotel driveway only)

● Pratt Street Curb Lane (south lane) from Paca to Howard Streets

 6:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. (Disband Area)

● Market Place from Pratt to Lombard Streets

● Pratt Street (curb lanes) from Market Place to President Street

 8:15 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Parade Route)

 ● Pratt Street from Eutaw to President Streets Detours

• Northbound Paca Street traffic destined for Pratt Street will be detoured right (east) on Baltimore Street, to right (south) on President Street to return to Pratt Street.

 • Southbound Eutaw Street traffic destined for I-395 will be detoured right (west) on Lombard Street, to left (south) on Greene Street, to right (west) on Washington Boulevard/Camden Street, to left on Howard Street to I-395.

 

 ###

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:15 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Virginia offers road construction news on web

If you have plans to travel to the south of Maryland, you might find a useful planning resource in the new online interactive road construction map launched by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

   The online service makes a lot more sense than distributing such information through printed brochures. It won't alert drivers to backups caused by crashes, but it could help them plot a course around major construcyion projects.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:08 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Bizarre driving move gains popularity

I must have missed the driver's ed class where the instructors taught you how to recover from missing an exit by veering onto the shoulder and backing to the interchange.

Apparently this must be an approved practice because I saw three drivers around Baltimore perform this same maneuver over the weekend. What would you call it? The motorist's mulligan?

Perhaps a new chapter needs to be added to the driving curriculm on living with one's mistakes. How many extra minutes can it take to safely proceed to the next exiit up the road and turn around?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

Gas prices tick up after stable spell

AAA Mid-Atlantic is reporting that the national average price of gasoline jumped 12 cents, or 6 percent last week, after several weeks of relative stability.

In Maryland, the average price for a gallon of unleaded was $2.19 as of Sundday, up from $2.03 a week earlier -- in part because crude oil was approaching $60 a barrel.

 “Due in part to signs that the economic recession may be turning around, slightly higher gas prices may be a sign that the summer driving season will bring increased demand as motorists take to the roads," said Ragina C. Averella, Manger of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "Time will tell as Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, approaches in two weeks.”

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:09 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

City police called out

Unpleasant experiences seem to abound when the Yankees come to town and reader Sarah Chenoweth had one of them.

It's ten PM on a Friday night and an O's vs. Yankees game has just let out. This explains why I sat on Lombard Street in between Charles and Eutaw for forty minutes; it doesn't explain the complete lack of traffic police at downtown intersections.

 I watched cars block the passage of light rail trains down Howard Street and Rescue Co. 1's equipment from Steadman Station because a handful of intoxicated Yankees fans decided to deliberately block two lanes of Lombard Street in front of the Holiday Inn. Since when does the out-of-control traffic after a Friday night prime ball game not warrant a police presence at major intersections?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

May 8, 2009

Transportation policy outline leaks

The Infrastructurist is carrying a must-read article for serious federal transportation policy wonks. It isn't sexy. It isn't local. But it's important.

Read it here.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:13 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Camden trains canceled for track work

Camden Line riders who normally catch the 8:15 a.m. MARC train out of Baltimore may have to get up earlier for the next three weeks.

That train, along with the one departing Washington's Union Station for Baltimore at 8:05 a.m., will be canceled Mondays through Thursdays May 11-28 for track work on the CSX-owned line. The trains, No. 844 and No. 851, will operate on Fridays.

The Maryland Transit Administration is recommending that Washington-bound riders out of Baltimore catch the 7:20 AM out of Camden Station, which will make all stops normally made by the later train, or to switch to the Penn Line, which has trains departing Penn Station at 7:40 and 8:10 a.m.

Riders can also catch the 8:18 a.m. light rail to BWI and switch to the 8:53 a.m. B30 bus to the Greenbelt Metro Station, where riders can board the Green Line. That ride takes roughly 30-40 minutes longer to reach Union Station than the Camden Line train usually does.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:01 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Fast times at Dorsey

There's something a bit disconcerting about a big old station clock reading 8:02 a.m. when you're waiting for a 7:49 a.m. train.

That was the case this morning at the Dorsey MARC station, where the clock built into the station's modest tower was running 15 minutes fast.

Hey, MTA, don't scare me like that.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:40 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

May 7, 2009

Patapsco Street floods

Trraffic was snarled in South Baltimore Thursday afternooon after the the 600 block of West Patapsco Ave. flooded. Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said.

Kocher said the flooding was the result of a "perfect storm" of problems, including heavy rainfall, saturated ground, clogged storm drains and tidal action in a block about six blocks west of Potee Street at Park Drive. He said the road was partially blocked, with some traffic coming through.

 It still sounds like a good place to avoid for the next few hbours.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:48 PM |
        

Arbutus bridge going into rehab

This just in from the State Highway Administration. Spokesman Dave Buck says this bridge was built in 1947 and last rehabbed in 1978. This project involve a full deck replacement, but not a rebuilding of the supporting piers.--MTD

 

STATE HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION TO REHABILITATE US 1 BRIDGE OVER SULPHUR SPRING ROAD IN BALTIMORE COUNTY

 SHA to Temporarily Reduce US 1 Bridge from Four Lanes to Two Lanes; Motorists and MARC Riders Advised to Plan for Extra Travel Time or Use Alternate Routes Summer 2009

 (May 7, 2009) – The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) is beginning a major project to rehabilitate the bridge carrying US 1 over Sulphur Spring Road in Arbutus as part of the State’s ongoing bridge preservation program.

 The State’s contractor for this $1.3 million project is the Joseph B. Fay Co. Construction work will begin in mid-May and should be completed spring 2010, weather permitting. The project includes rehabilitation work including: removal and replacement of the concrete deck, sidewalks and parapets; removal and replacement of two bridge beams; replacement of bridge expansion bearings, diaphragms, and connection plates; cleaning and painting work; and removal and replacement of the chain link safety fence at each end of the bridge.

The 24-hour lane closure and traffic shift will begin in early June to create a safer work zone while parts of the bridge are under construction and closed to traffic this summer. The bridge will be reduced to two lanes of traffic, with one lane in each direction. Two-way traffic on the bridge will be shifted to one side of the bridge while the other side is under construction.

 Area residents and commuters using the MARC Halethorpe station south of the project are advised to plan for extra travel time. During construction work, temporary lane closures on the bridge and its approaches may occur daily between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and nightly between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. No temporary lane closures will occur between 3 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Sunday.

For more information about highway construction activities along US 1 in Arbutus, citizens may contact SHA’s District 4 Office – Construction Division at 410-321-2820, toll free at 1-800-962-3077 or by email at shadistrict4@sha.state.md.us.

 During the next several months, there could be more than 350 work zones along Maryland’s highways. Remember that work zones are not only large construction projects possibly taking years to complete, but include smaller, mobile operations such as mowing, pothole repair and litter pick ups.

Choose to make work zone safety your business at www.choosesafetyforlife.com.

# # #

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:53 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Weekend downtown traffic snarls predicted

This just in from the Downtown Partnership. It looks like a good weekend to use Light Rail or the Metro to get downtown.

 

 CONGESTION ALERT: Large events at First Mariner Arena and Camden Yards this Friday and Saturda

 Concurrent events at the First Mariner Arena and Camden Yards are expected to cause congestion Downtown on the evening of Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9. Acquire the Fire, a national tour for Christian youth, is expected to draw over 15,000 attendees to the First Mariner Arena on Friday night at 7 pm and Saturday at 9 am. There are also Orioles vs. Yankees games at Camden Yards on both Friday and Saturday evening starting at 7:05 pm.

 Expect heavy traffic Downtown Friday evening as well as throughout the day on Saturday. If you are planning on attending Acquire on Fire or the Orioles game, we highly encourage taking public transportation.

To avoid the congestion Downtown, please visit our alternative routes webpage at http://www.GetAroundDowntown.com for suggestions to Get Around Downtown.

When planning out your route, it should be noted that Lombard Street has been reopened to traffic. As always, visit http://www.GetAroundDowntown.com for updates and to sign up for congestion alerts.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, Light rail, MTA bus system, On the roads
        

O'Malley signing no-texting bill this morning

Gov. Martin O'Malley will sign legislation banning text-messaging while driving this morning in Annapolis. His office confirmed that House Bill 72, sponsored by Del. Frank Turner, D-Howard, is on the Thursday morning signing list.

The signing cermeony began at 10 a.m. The Maryland Highway Safety Foundation, which lobbied in favor of the measure, released a stament from its co-chairman, David H. Nevins.

 "We are very excited about the passage of the texting ban in Maryland and Governor Martin O'Malley's commitment to signing this bill into law. This is a huge victory for the Maryland Highway Safety Foundation and other committed safety organizations. We hope this will help reduce the number of senseless deaths on our roads," Nevins said.

 

The bill takes effect October 1.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:19 AM | | Comments (2)
        

May 6, 2009

MTA chief to meet with city residents on Red Line

Council woman Helen Holton called to say that MTA Administrator Paul Wiedefeld will attend a meeting May 19 meeting at Edmondson/Westside High School to hear the views of West Baltimore residents about the various alternatives for building the east-west Red Line.

Holton said Wiedefeld has been invited to listen rather than to make a presentation on behalf of the transit line. The meeting will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the school, 501 Athol Ave.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:35 PM |
Categories: Red Line
        

The MTA steps up in a pinch

I love finding creative solutions to travel problems. Sometime you find the answer in new old ways.

I was invited this morning to ride with Gov. Martin O'Malley and transportation officials on a short jaunt from Locust Point to Camden Station aboard a new MARC locomotive. That was cool, but they weren't offering a return ride to the CSX yard in Locust Point to pick up my car.

Obviously, I could take a taxi back to Locust Point, but that seemed like the easy but expensive way out. And it would have delayed my return to The Sun at 501 N. Calvert Street to file my report to the web site.

The solution: Leave the car in The Sun garage, walk one block at St. Paul, catch the No. 64 bus to Light Street and Redwood Street and transfer to the No. 1 bus, which runs out Fort Avenue to Fort McHenry -- making it one of the most historically significant bus lines in the country.

Getting to the point -- there is a point -- it was a fine ride. I hear a lot of complaints about surly drivers for the Maryland Transit Administration, but the ones I dealt with were courteous, friendly and alerted riders to transfer points in a loud and clear manner. Especially helpful was the driver with Badge No. 159 on the No. 64 line. I didn't get the badge number of the equally capable operator of the No. 1 bus -- for which I apologize. It was nice of her to wake me out of my trance and let me know I'd passed my stop.

After the news conference at Camden Station, it was an easy matter to jump on the Light Rail to Centre Street. A five-block walk and I was back at The Sun.

This is such a car-oriented society that it's easy to overlook the fact that public transit is a great resource in many situations. In a big advance from olden times, comprehensive information on MTA routes and schedules is available on line. So is a trip planner that does just fine if not challenged with an overly complex problem.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA bus system
        

Road work in the Catoctins

If you're planning a pleasant drive in the Catoctin region, heading north out of Thurmont on Maryland Route 550 toward Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., look out for road work, as this release from the State Highway Administration explains:

STATE HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION TO RESURFACE US 15 NORTHBOUND NEAR THURMONT, FREDERICK COUNTY

Motorists Should Expect Single-Lane Closures through late June

(May 6, 2009) – Next week, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) will begin a $652,000 project to resurface approximately three miles along northbound US 15 (Catoctin Mountain Highway) from north of MD 550 (Sabillasville Road) to Orndorff Road, near Thurmont, Frederick County.

SHA will begin the project on Monday, May 11 and anticipates project completion by the end of June, weather permitting. Motorists should expect single-lane closures along northbound US 15 Monday through Friday, anytime except 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Variable message signs, barrels, and arrow boards will guide motorists through the work zone.

More than 27, 600 vehicles travel along this section of US 15 each day. Motorists should allow for extra travel time and consider alternate routes. During the next several months, there could be more than 350 work zones across Maryland. Remember that work zones are not only large construction projects possibly taking years to complete, but smaller, mobile operations such as mowing, pothole repair and litter pick ups. Choose Safety for Life in work zones; learn more at www.choosesafetyforlife.com.

SHA awarded the contract to C.J. Miller, of Hampstead. Citizens who have questions about traffic operations along US 15 or other State numbered routes in Frederick County may call SHA’s District 7 Office at 301-624-8100 or toll free at 1-800-635-5119.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:45 AM |
        

Getting down on Delaware

The Getting There column has long been the place to go at The Sun for Delaware-bashing -- thanks to the Parasite State's leech-like turnpike tolls and mind-numbing delays.

But today it appears the column is getting some competition from The Sun's editorial page, which stomps on the Delaware Department of Transportation over a particularly moronic attempt at cultural sensitivity.

Give it a read here, and remember: Friends don't let friends drive the Delaware Turnpike.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:27 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

May 5, 2009

Bridge replacement, detours coming to West Baltimore

Jim Falter, who runs a business on Caton Avenue in Southwest Baltimore, wrote in after hearing about the city’s plans to replace the Frederick Avenue bridge over the Gwynns Falls and the CSX railroad tracks. Falter wrote that he is concerned that the project, which could take 2 1/2 years to complete, will force the city to reroute traffic onto Caton Avenue.

"Why was this project kept so quiet?" he wrote "Any info on this project that you can provide will be appreciated."

Here’s the word from Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city Department of
Transportation: The bridge, built about 1930, shows signs of "significant deterioration" and must be replaced for safety reasons.

Barnes said that the bridge is approaching a condition where it would pose a danger to pedestrians, motorists and the CSX trains that pass below. Among the problems: cracked concrete, collision damage to parapets and guard rails, clogged drainage inlets, corroded metal reinforcement and erosion of the piers and abutments that support the structure.

"Once we see these things we have to do some repairs," she said. Barnes said demolition of the existing bridge is expected to begin this fall. She said the city hopes to speed construction so that Frederick Avenue can be reopened in two years rather than the official estimate of 2 1/2.

Barnes said the city hasn’t been trying to keep the work under wraps and has been trying to inform the community about the urgency of the project. She noted that city officials were meeting with local residents Tuesday night at the Southwestern Police District Station and were planning a meeting with the West Side merchants’ association.

The spokeswoman acknowledged that the project will inconvenience local residents and commuters who use Frederick Avenue. But she pledged that "all customers will have access to everybody’s business."

For Falter, the news is not good. Traffic will indeed be detoured onto Caton Avenue, Wilkens Avenue, Fulton Avenue and Monroe Streets.

A quick look at the map shows no better alternatives. This kind of project, unfortunately, is as disruptive as it is necessary. When a bridge gets to a certain age, it has to go. There's no other choice.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:34 PM |
        

Fuel efficiency progress stalls, Michigan study says

The following press release comes from the University of Michigan. I had nothing to do with the reporting and can't vouch for its findings, but the source is credible and I think it's worth sharing.--MTD

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Vehicles on America's roads today get only about three miles more per gallon than vehicles back in 1923, University of Michigan researchers say.

A new study in the journal Energy Policy by Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni of the U-M Transportation Research Institute shows that overall fuel efficiency for vehicles in the United States was 14 miles per gallon in 1923 and 17.2 mpg in 2006.

The researchers documented and analyzed the annual changes in actual fuel efficiency of vehicles on U.S. roads from 1923 to 2006 by using information about distances driven and fuel consumed to calculate fuel efficiency of the overall fleet and of different classes of vehicles. They found that overall fleet fuel efficiency actually decreased from 14 mpg in 1923 to a low of 11.9 mpg in 1973, but then rapidly increased to 16.9 mpg by 1991.

 "After the 1973 oil embargo, vehicle manufacturers achieved major improvements in the on-road fuel economy of vehicles," said Sivak, research professor and head of UMTRI's Human Factors Division. "However, the slope of the improvement has decreased substantially since 1991."

From 1991 to 2006, fuel efficiency increased by less than 2 percent, compared with a 42 percent increase in mpg between 1973 and 1991. According to the study, fuel efficiency for cars improved from 13.4 mpg in 1973 to 21.2 mpg in 1991, but reached only 22.4 mpg by 2006. For light trucks, the numbers were 9.7 mpg in 1966, 17 mpg in 1991 and 18 mpg in 2006. Medium and heavy trucks showed modest improvement from 5.6 mpg in 1966 to 5.9 mpg in 2006.

"Future improvements in fuel economy of vehicles are needed across the board, for both passenger and commercial vehicles," Sivak said. "Some of the improvements in effective fuel efficiency will come from the ongoing partial shift from using light trucks to cars for personal transportation. "Given the differences in the fuel efficiency of light trucks and cars, a 25 percent shift would result in about a 2 percent reduction in the total consumption of fuel for all vehicles."

But the researchers say the focus should not necessarily be on classes of vehicles with the lowest fuel efficiency, such as heavy trucks and buses, which have alternative societal measures that are relevant (e.g., miles per pound of freight or passenger miles per gallon). Instead, the focus should be on the least-efficient vehicles within each class.

 For example, an improvement from 40 mpg to 41 mpg for a vehicle driven 12,000 miles per year saves 7 gallons of fuel a year. However, an improvement from 15 mpg to 16 mpg for a vehicle driven the same amount of miles saves 50 gallons of fuel a year.

"In other words, society has much more to gain from improving vehicles that get lower gas mileage," Sivak said. "Such improvements could be fostered by tax policies that assist the development and introduction of new relevant technologies and encourage scrapping older vehicles."

For more information on UMRI, visit: http://www.umtri.umich.edu/news.php

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:34 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

May 4, 2009

Highlandtown war-games the Red Line (revised)

The Southeast Community Development Corp. and its Greektown counterpart are asking Highlandtown arrea resients to take part in a strategy session this week to plan for the possibility of a new light rail station at the Eastern Avenue underpass.

The station would be part of the Maryland Transit Administration's proposed Red Line - a 14-mile rail or bus line between Woodlawn and Bayview.

The session is called a charette -- an intense design workshop bringing together citizens, planners and architects. The first public session is Monday night between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School at 231 S. Eaton St.. Subsequent public sessions will be held at the same time and place Wednesday and Friday nights. There is also a series of daytime meetings during the week for such stakeholder froups as local merchants, property owners and government agencies. A full schedule is available here.

The charette is intended to allow the neighborhood to have a say in such matters as the design of the station and surrounding development. The community will try to reach a consensus by Friday night and present it to the MTA and the city Department of Transportation.

Chris Ryer, president of the Southeast association, said the sentiment about the Red Line is far different than in Canton, where the front-running plan it has run into determined community opposition because it involves surface light rail on Boston Street.

In Highlandtown, Ryer said, "we're looking at how to take advantage of it." He said neighborhood residents are looking at ways to maximize rather than minimize the Red Line's impact.

"We've got tons of young people here who can't wait to use it," he said.

Ryer stands ready to provide information at 410-342-3234, extension 33, or at chris@southeastcdc.org.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:39 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Highlandtown war-games the Red Line

The Southeast Community Development Corp. and its Greektown counterpart are asking Highlandtown arrea resients to take part in a strategy session this week to plan for the possibility of a new light rail station at the Eastern Avenue underpass.

The station would be part of the Maryland Transit Administration's proposed Red Line - a 14-mile rail or bus line between Woodlawn and Bayview.

 The session is called a charette -- an intense design workshop bringing together citizens, planners and architects. The first public session is Monday night between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School at 231 S. Eaton St.. Subsequent public sessions will be held at the same time and place Wednesday and Friday nights. There is also a series of daytime meetings during the week for such stakeholder froups as local merchants, property owners and government agencies. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Red Line
        

Veteran cop laments demise of crash reports

Larry Harmel, executive director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, wonders what has happened to the old-fashioned accident investigation report -- with subsequent charging of the driver who is at fault.

Harmel, a former chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and a four-decade law enforcement veteran, told me in an interview today that the oldtime emphasis on traffic accidents has "really gone by the wayside" in the modern era.

In the past, he said, officers were expected to gather the facts about what led to a crash -- even if there was not a serious injury -- and to file the appropriate charges such as failure to yield. unlawful lane change or following too close. If an officer didn't thoroughly investigate crashes, he or she would hear about it from the sergeant.

Now, he said, an officer is more likely to see that the roads are cleared and that insurance information is exchanged and then be on his or her way. Investigating routine crashes is seen as a waste of scarce resources, he said.

"Somebody needs to be charged in most of these accidents out there," Harmel said. "It just angers me that the whole profession has gotten away from writing accident reports."

He contended that it's important for highway safety to create a paper trail showing who the worst drivers are. And if that leads to higher insurance rates for bad drivers, he can live wiith that.

 "If it causes more safe driving, so be it," he said.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Streetcars finding more desire

There's an interesting article -- and even more facsinating chart -- about the national revival of streetcar lines at The Infrastructurist: America Under Construction.

The chart notes that Baltimore is among the cities with a line in the preliminary planning stage -- connecting Johns Hopkins University with downtown.

There is a certain irony in seeing the U.S. auto industry on the ropes and streetcars on the rebound. The postwar American love affair with the auto has more than a little to do with the demise of an earlier generation of streetcars.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Streetcars & trolleys
        

Lombard Street water main break update

Downtown travelers will continue to experience many of the same headaches they dealt with last week as the city struggles to recover from that water main break under Lombard Street.

Savvy crosstown travelers should continue to use U.S. 40 via the Orleans Street bridge to bypass the worst tie-ups. Travelers from the south should consider using Martin Luther King Boulevard rather than Interstate 395.

Folks coming south on the Jones Falls Expressway should consider getting off before Fayette Street. Use St. Paul Street or Maryland Avenue to get downtown. Taking Guilford Avenue to Monument can get JFX travelers to East and Southeast Baltimore without getting caught up in the mess around President Street.

The water main break is also a good excuse to get acquainted with the Maryland Transit Administration's bus, light rail and Metro systems. Information on bus route changes forced by the road work can be found here.

Here's the city's press release with details of the closings:

 The Baltimore City Department of Transportation today announced the continued closure of Lombard Street at President Street for an emergency water main repair that occurred last week.

Repairs will continue this week to Lombard Street as work crews try to restore the water damaged intersection at Gay Street. Special Traffic Enforcement Officers (STEO’s) have been deployed around the area of the water main break. Motorists are encouraged to stay clear of the area if possible, expect delays and exercise caution when traveling in the area.

The following lane closures are in effect at this time.

• Right lane closed on southbound President Street past Lombard Street

• Right lane closed northbound on President Street at Fawn Street

• Two left lanes closed on Pratt Street east of South Street

• Far left turn lane closed on Pratt Street to northbound President Street Detours:

• Westbound Lombard Street should travel right (north) on President Street, to left (west) on Fayette Street.

• Northbound Jones Falls Expressway traffic from Eastbound Pratt Street will be diverted to left (north) on Calvert Street to help ease congestion at Pratt and President Streets.

 • Variable Message Signs (VMS) have been posted on Pratt Street encouraging motorists to take Calvert Street.

 • Variable Message Signs have been posted on the JFX alerting motorists to take exits 4 and 5 to get into downtown. Parking has been restricted in the following locations through Friday, May 8, 2009:

• Fayette Street between President and Charles Streets

• Gay Street between Fayette and Baltimore Streets

• Baltimore Street between President and Charles Streets.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:15 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Ride your bike to work? Most audacious

Justin Schaberg, program associate at the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, urges local residents to get out of their cars and bicycle to work in a newly posted article at Audacious Ideas.

Schaberg reports that while Baltimore bicycle riders face considerable traffic challenges, the city has actually made considerable progress toward becoming a more bike-friendly place. Baltimore, he reports, is two years into the implementation of its master plan for bicycles.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:44 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Rural driving remains more dangerous

 

(Photo in Eastern Shore by LeafsHockeyFan @ flickr)
 

It's dangerous driving out on the farm.

Although the U.S. Census classifies less than 20 percent of Maryland's population as living in rural areas, the pastoral parts of the state account for about 40 percent of the traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The statistics in Maryland reflect a national trend that shows 56 percent of fatal crashes nationwide occurring in rural areas, which are home to 23 percent of the population. Urban crashes accounted for 44 percent of the fatal crashes.

The trend shows the gap narrowing, however. From 1998 to 2007, according to NHTSA, rural fatalities dropped 9 percent while they increased 8 percent  in urban America.

Rural roads remain significantly more dangerous, however. The 2007 fatality rate per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled was 2.5 times higher in far country than in and around cities.


NHTSA classifies about one-third of fatal crashes as being speeding-related. In rural areas, it puts the figure at 33 percent, compared with 31 percent in urban areas. Fatal crashes in rural areas were also more likely to be alcohol-related (57 percent) than in and around cities (43 percent). Rural drivers and passengers have also been found to be less likely to use seat belts than their urban counterparts.

Fatal crashes in rural areas were significantly more likely to involve roll-over -- 40 percent versus 27 percent. Rural drivers were also more likely to have died en route to the hospital -- an indication that the distance to a trauma center can be a vital determinant of outcomes.

NHTSA's figures concentrate more on the what than the why, but certain factors seem to be likely  suspects. Based on the rollover numbers, I'd put the deadly combination of winding roads and high speeds high on the list.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:10 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Lexington Market Metro station woes drag on

Mitchell Walk, who works for Constellation Global Commodities Group, has had enough of long walks in the dark in a rather uninviting part of town.

He writes:

Since I've had absolutely zero luck in getting an answer from MTA, I hope you can help me out. I travel the Metro daily for my commute, which two nights a week has me taking the train back to Owings Mills from graduate school classes after 10:00 pm. Those nights I walk to the Lexington Market station from the south, meaning that I have to walk right past the long under construction "station enhancement" project blocking the south entrance to the station. This creates an extra block of walking in what is not exactly the best neighborhood in the city, and I'm anxious for the entrance to reopen.

Since little progress is ever visible, I've sent numerous emails to the MTA trying to get an idea of when the work is (or more likely, was) scheduled to be completed. Per usual for my questions to the MTA, I've received no response and was hoping that you could track down an answer for us Metro riders. Thanks!

Mitch is apparently going to have to run the gauntlet a few more months. That station entrance was originally scheduled to reopen in July, but construction problems have pushed that date back to late August or early September, according to Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman Jawauna Greene. The station entrance has been closed since last May.

Can we at least agree that it would make sense for the city and the MTA to see that this vital transit link is well-lit, well-signed and well-patrolled? The last time I was over that way, it was anything but. It would also be nice if the MTA were to post updates on the project on its Web site so Metro riders could track its progress.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:30 AM |
Categories: Baltimore Metro
        

May 1, 2009

SHA responds to son-in-law's plea

I ran a letter on this blog yesterday from Jason Paul Eisenhuth, whose mother-in-law was killed in a crash along U.S. 222 in Cecil County in January. He was urging the State Highway Administration to make changes to  the intersection where the crash occurred.

Here is the reply from SHA spokesman David Buck:


We are truly sorry for Mr. Eisenhuth's loss in this tragic crash. It is not lost on SHA, there are long-term emotional losses after every crash and we sincerely wish there were zero fatal crashes so people do not have to go through the pain and suffering.

SHA did recently receive the fatal crash report regarding the crash along US 222 at Ragan Road. In that February fatal crash, according to the official police report, a vehicle ran a clearly marked stop sign on the side road, Old Conowingo Road, causing the tragic fatal crash. Driver error is the cause of more than 93% of all crashes in MD.

Based on police crash reports since 2005, for the three an one-half year period covering 2005 through the first four months of 2008, there were a total of four policed-reported crashes at this intersection (zero fatalities). And while we wish the number was zero, over a 40 month period, that is a low incidence of crashes. SHA must base our decisions on sound engineering principles.

Additionally, as Mr. Eisenhuth's mentions, there is a flashing beacon on the NB side of US 222 warning motorists of the intersection ahead. This was put in place several years ago as there is a slight sight distance issue on the NB side of US 222 approaching the intersection. Conversely, there is no flashing warning sign on the SB side as the sight distance is excellent approaching the intersection.

With that said, SHA engineers will conduct a thorough analysis of the intersection within the next 45-60 days. However, an initial review by engineers indicate this is not a likely location where engineers would consider certain traffic control devices including: 

 -- a traffic signal (very low traffic volumes on the side roads among other factors);

 -- a four-way stop (US 222 is the main road and should remain free flow; stopping traffic along the main road of US 222 would likely cause an increase in high-speed rear-end crashes) or;

-- a roundabout (an effective solution in many instances, but there is no crash pattern or trend that would support a roundabout).

This does not mean SHA will not consider other improvements -- just that based on the facts of the US 222 fatal crash in February, coupled with our engineers decades of experience, the above improvements would be unlikely.

SHA appreciates Mr. Eisenhuth's letter and we ask motorists to continue to Choose Safety for Life by adhering to the B-Safe principle (Buckle Up, Slow Down, Always Drive Sober, Focus, Everyone Share the Road) I hope this helps.

David Buck

MDOT - State Highway Administration

Office of Communications

This may not be the answer Eisenhuth wanted, but it tells me the SHA is taking his concerns seriously.

On one hand, the fact that something  bad happens at an intersection doesn't make it a bad intersection. Even the best road design can't overcome some driver errors.

On the other hand, the best outcomes come when the engineers listen to the public and the public listens back. We civilians are pretty good at sensing that there's something wrong about an intersection. But  it takes a professional to evaluate the proposed solutions and to predict the results of each. Ultimately they have to weigh whether any changes to an intersection would be  worth the cost in our dollars.

I hope Eisenhuth will stay on top of this and keep up a continuing discussion with the SHA. He's raised thoughtful questions and deserves a full explanation -- perhaps at the site -- from a professional.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:38 PM | | Comments (1)
        
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Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.
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Michael Dresser How-Tos

How to avoid Delaware traveling north
Obscure third route between Baltimore, D.C.
Better routes for I-95 north
How to avoid the Bay Bridge
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Baltimore Metropolitan Council (Regional transportation planning)
Maryland Department of Transportation (State transportation policy)
Maryland Transit Administration (Buses, light rail, Metro, Mobility)
State Highway Administration (Maintains numbered routes)
Motor Vehicle Administration (Licenses, permits, rules of the road)
Maryland Transportation Authority (Toll bridges, tunnels and highways)
Maryland Aviation Administration (BWI and Martin Airport)
AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report (Track Maryland average gas prices.)
MarylandGasPrices.com (Find the lowest and highest prices.)
SafeRoadMaps (Find out where the crashes happen.)
Roads to the Future (Scott M. Kozel on Mid-Atlantic infrastructure.)
WMATA (Washington metropolitan buses and Metro)
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (D.C. regional planning)
U.S. Department of Transportation (federal transportation policy)
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