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June 30, 2009

Fee slows, but doesn't stop, E-ZPass growth

E-ZPass toll lanes

Photo by Daniel Hulzhiser/2003


Despite customer anger over a new $1.50-a-month fee on E-ZPass accounts that just took effect, Maryland will begin July with more subscribers to the electronic toll collection service than it had on Jan. 1, a top official said Tuesday.

 Randy Brown, operations director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said that a loss of about 19,000 subscribers who have dropped their accounts since the beginning of the year has been more than offset by a gain of 27,000 new customers.

 Brown said he expects to have about 544,000 E-ZPass account holders Wednesday — the first day the new fee was in effect — compared with about 535,000 on Jan. 1. That represents a slowing of the rate of growth in recent years, but not the reversal many customers predicted.

Brown said there had been a flurry of about 11,000 cancellations over the past two weeks after notices went out in the mail about the monthly fee and a new $21 charge for new or replacement transponders. The charges, along with a series of toll increases affecting mostly truckers, were announced shortly after New Year’s and formally adopted by the authority’s board in late January.

Authority officials said they proposed the revenue package to raise $60 million to fill a budget gap left by a decline in toll collections. The officials said they decided to impose the fee in order recover a portion of the cost of keeping an account open and billing customers.

According to Brown, the cost per customer of maintaining an account is about $2.25 — regardless of how much is collected in tolls. Brown said that as of the beginning of the year, about 72,000 E-ZPass subscribers had not used their transponders to pay any tolls in the previous 12 months. He said the state had to pay $1.9 million to keep those accounts open.

He defended the decision to impose the fee as “a good business move” even if some infrequentcustomers do cancel.

“It will have a minimal effect on traffic flow because these are not regular users,” Brown said. “The customer is just going to have to make their own business decision: Is the cost worth the benefit?”

 Apparently, some customers were making a late decision that it is not. Many posted comments on a Sun blog saying they would cancel their Maryland E-ZPasses and look for a better deal from another state. Authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem said traffic was high on the agency’s Web site and customer call center but that there were no long lines at its walk-in centers at toll facilities.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:08 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Now Curtis Bay Drawbridge is stuck down

The Curtis Bay Drawbridge, whose inner loop portion got stuck in the up position Monday night and forced the closing of a stretch of the Beltway, is now stuck in the down position.

That's good news for motorists, who were able to use the brdige Tuesday, but maybe not so good foor the Maryland  Transportation Authority, which expects to have to repair the bridge.

Kelly Melhem said there are no scheduled openings of the drawbridge for maritime traffic for the next three weeks -- giving authority engineers some time to diagnose the problem. Melhem said only one leaf of the four-leaf bridge has been affected, allowing some marine trafic to get through.

The engineers haven't  weighed in yet, but it's a good guess that there's going to need to be some serious road work on that relatively lightly traveled stretch of Interstate 695 in the coming months.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

West Baltimore MARC parking to expand

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to begin demolition this fall of part of the infamous "Highway to Nowhere" in West Baltimore as part of a plan to expand the parking lot at the West Baltimore MARC station.

The demolition will be paid for with $3 million in federal stimulus dollars. Henry Kay, deputy administrator of the MTA, said that once the site at  Payson and Pulaski streets is cleared, the agency will use $6-7 million in funds earmarked under the expiring federal transportation bill to pay to construct the new lot.

 For the MTA, the project is one piece of a larger plan for transit-oriented development at the West Baltimore station, which is expected to become a more important transportation hub with the eventual constuction of the Red Line.

For the city, it ties in with the Dixon administration's plans to reclaim the area just west of downtown that has been scarred by the Highway to Nowhere -- an unfinished section of what was to be ann extension of Interstate 70 into the city. It is now designated as part of U.S. 40.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM |
Categories: MARC train

AAA blows smoke on E-ZPass fees

AAA Mid-Atlantic put out a press release that does a good job of explaining the Maryland Transportation Authority's new fees and toll increases that take effect Wednesday. Unfortunately it goes on to blow a little smoke concerning its role.

AAA was actually late to the fight over the $1.50-a-month E-ZPass fee that has so many folks upset. It originally  supported the revenue package. It was AWOL at the meeting of the transportation authority board where the new  charges  were actually voted upon. It only started expressing opposition after hearing from members.

In today's release, it bloviates about its petition  effort to get Gov. Martin O'Malley to overturn the board's action. As AAA knows very well, the governor does not have that power.

 AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella explained that what the AAA meant to say was that it wanted O'Malley to persuade the board to rescind. The problem is, that would be perceived as political pressure. And for the board to be seen as bowing to such pressure carries a big risk.

 You see, the bond market, and bond rating agencies, value the independence of a toll authority's board -- knowing that necessary toll increases will never be popular with elected  officials. If a governor or legislature started to monkey with the actions of an independent board to score political points, the bond rating agencies could decide a downgrade was in order. The increased cost of the authority's borrowing could set back its maintenance efforts for years.

AAA is usually a trusted source of information and a responsible advocate on behalf of motorists. In this case, it put pandering to the masses over the need  to maintain its  credibility.

By the way, authority operations director Randy Brown tells me that Maryland expects to begin July  with more E-ZPass  subscribers than it did on Jan. 1. While about  19,000 subscribers have dropped their accounts, about 27,000 people have opened new accounts. The rate of growth has been slowed but hardly stopped.

Brown also told me that more than 72,000 of the authoriity's 500,000 accounts  as of Jan. 1 hadn't used their transponders in the previous 12 months. He said Maryland -- meaning fellow ratepayers -- paid $1.9 million to keep their accounts open.

"It's going to be a good business move to have customers who don't use their account to close  it," he said.

His statement may not be "sensitive" but it is correct.

Here's the AAA release:



AAA Mid-Atlantic and Over 5,000 Members Voiced Their Opposition To Increases

Towson, MD (June 30, 2009) – Effective July 1, 2009, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) is implementing several toll increases, as well as new fees for Marylanders holding E-ZPass accounts.
The E-ZPass fees effective July 1, 2009 consist of:
• A $1.50 monthly account maintenance charge;
• A charge for the cost of new and replacement transponders ($21 standard, $33 exterior, $40 fusion);
• A charge for a $3 Notice of Toll Due; and
• Toll violation charges increasing from $15 to $25.

Additionally, the MdTA will change the duration of E-ZPass commuter plans from 60 days to 45 days.

Other toll increases include:
• Eliminating toll rates for multi-axle vehicles, including trucks with three or more axles and vehicles towing trailers, to help ensure that costs to preserve Authority roadways are allocated proportionately;
• Eliminating the Class 7 toll-rate schedule; and, in its place, implementing an oversize permit charge to use Authority facilities.
• A $2-$5 toll increase per trip depending on the number of axles at the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels;
• A $4-$5.50 increase per trip at the Bay Bridge;
• A $5-$13 increase per trip at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway and Hatem Bridge; and a $3 increase per trip at the Nice Bridge.  The cost for A-series commercial tickets at the Hatem Bridge would also increase proportionately.

The new fees were part of a cost-recovery initiative approved in January by the MdTA board that is expected to generate approximately $60 million annually for the self-supported agency that owns, operates and maintains Maryland’s seven toll facilities.
According to a letter from the former Maryland Transportation Secretary, John D. Porcari, the MdTA understands the impact of approving the initiative on Maryland motorists, but ultimately found that the cost recovery was necessary to help ensure system preservation and safety projects remain fully funded.  The Agency also believed it was necessary to impose the new E-ZPass fees to help recover processing costs for the electronic toll collection system.
“While AAA Mid-Atlantic certainly recognizes the necessity to generate revenue for the maintenance, preservation and safety of Maryland’s road and bridges and supported the majority of the cost-recovery initiative, we opposed the $1.50 monthly fee for E-ZPass, as well as the transponder fee for new accounts,” said Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public & Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Based on feedback from many of the auto club’s Maryland members, AAA Mid-Atlantic is concerned that some E-ZPass account holders whom are occasional users will cancel their account rather than pay the additional monthly charge, especially during this current economic climate.  “This would be counter-productive at a time when we need drivers to utilize electronic toll collections and should be encouraging more drivers to take advantage of E-ZPass to expedite the flow of traffic,” commented Averella.  “Longer toll lines will slow us all down and are a step backwards in our state’s transportation progress and mobility.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic expressed its opposition of the proposed E-ZPass fees to the Executive Secretary of the MdTA, and contacted Governor Martin O’Malley to request that the Governor overturn the MdTA’s decision.  The auto club encouraged its membership to contact the Governor, as well.  As a result, over 5,000 e-mails were sent to Governor O’Malley.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:55 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

E-ZPass fees about to kick in

If you've been meaning to cancel your E-ZPass account with the Maryland Transportation Authority but just haven't gotten around to it because of the $1.50-a-month fee approved early this year, today is your last chance to do so without paying the charge. The fee, along with a $21 charge for new and replacement transponders, takes effect July 1.

The authority's board adopted the charges, as well as a series of toll increases on trucks, in order to make up for a revenue shortfall and to begin recovering the administrative costs of the E-ZPass program.

For some infrequent users, canceling E-ZPass could make economic sense. At the same time, it makes economic sense for the authority to bid them farewell because they've been costing the state money. As it stands, an account holder has to pay about $25 in tolls each year before the authority makes a dime off their business.

You  should make every effort to act NOW if you fall in that group that has multiple transponders on multiple accounts. You should get to an authority office ASAP and consolidate transponders onto a single account. Make sure the account you close is the one with the oldest transponder. You would get a new transponder free today that would cost you $21 tomorrow.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:32 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

June 29, 2009

Beltway blues: Curtis Creek bridge still stuck up

The problem reported earlier  with the Curtis Bay Drawbridge, stuck in the upright position while closing the inner loop of the Baltimore Beltway near Exits 1 and 2, is proving difficult to resolve.

Teri Moss, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, now says the mechanical problem could last  well into the night. She said the authoriity is trying to use a crane to bring the span back to where it belongs and that officials hope to have the bridge fixed by the morning issue. Meanwhile, traffic continues to be diverted away from the Key Bridge.

So, at least for now, things remain up in the air.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Man killed on D.C. Metro tracks

The Washington Metro system's string of ill fortune continued Monday as a man was struck and killed by a train headed for Shady Grove at the Forest Glen station on the Red Line in Montgomery County.

Just a week ago, nine people were killed in the collision of two trains near the Fort Totten Station, also on the Red Line. Later in the week, cracks in Metro tracks caused delays on at least two lines.

Monday's incident took place about 4:10 p.m. Metro said a preliminary investigation indicated that the victim was on the tracks intentionally. Metro said it is single tracking trains around the site. It warned Red Line riders to expect delays of about 30 minutes for the rest of the evening.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Part of Beltway closed at Curtis Creek

The inner loop of the Baltimore Beltway (Interstate 695) has been closed for emergency repairs just south of the Francis Key Bridge for emergency repairs to the Curtis Creek Drawbridge.

Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss said the authority is making mechanical repairs to the bridge, which was raised to let a ship pass through and became stuck in the up position.

The authority has closed access to the inner loop from Exit 1 (Quarantine Road) and Exit 2 (Route 10). Southbound traffic on the Key Bridge is being turned around at the toll plaza, and no tolls are being charged, Moss said.

The authority suggested that motorists use southbound I-95, the Fort McHenry Tunnel, or southbound I-895, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, as alternate routes.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:18 PM |
Categories: On the roads

AAA: Slight dip in holiday travelers for Maryland

Were you hoping the roads would be a lot less crowded this holiday weekend? Get over it. AAA Mid-Atlantic says that while the number of Marylanders traveling for the Fourth of July holiday will decrease - it will only be a dip of about half of a percent. And that could be made up if gas prices continue to fall throughout the week and lots of folks decide to hit the road at the last minute. So prepare yourself. Wear your cool sunglasses. Fire up a great mix tape. And drink lots of liquids. (Better yet, don't.) Bay Bridge gridlock is only a few days away.
Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 2:18 PM |
Categories: On the roads

JFX becomes weekend raceway

Sidney M. Levy,of Olmstead Green in Baltimore, wrote in to report on a problem I've been hearing a lot about:


"I live near another tragedy-waiting-to-happen. I live in Cross Keys and our back patio is parallel to the stretch of the JFX between Cold Spring Lane and Northern Parkway. Beginning at about 8:00 P.M. on any spring or summer evening, motorcycles race up the highway, passing other vehicles as though standing still. The roar of the bikes continue until the wee hours of the morning.

"These crazies up shift and downshift to make even more noise as the weave in and out of traffic. We reported this to (Councilwoman) Sharon Middleton who offered no assistance other than "call 311". A true, dedicated public servant! At some point lots of blood will spill on the JFX and the hand-wringing will begin. Maybe you ought to look into this situation? The police are missing an opportunity to collect lots of tickets- if they can figure out a way to catch these nuts."

I've been hearing reports of such activity for some time. Apparently the section of the JFX that runs behind the Sun building just to the north of Pleasant Street also becomes the site of motorcycle races on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Cracking down on these racers is no easy task. They seem to enjoy nothing more than leading police on a dangerous high-speed chase. But that's no reason to just let this go on. Here's a challenge for the city police: Devise an execute a strategy for catching these racers and containing them. Take back the JFX.






Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:55 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: On the roads

June 28, 2009

Gas price fever finally breaks

AAA Mid-Atlantic reports that after an unrelenting two-month run-up, gasoline prices finally turned the corner last week and started going down. In Baltimore, the average price of a gallon of unleaded dropped 4 cents -- from $2.60 to $2.56.

Just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. Read the full release below.



The Week

After a 54-day run up in gas prices, motorists welcomed a much-anticipated decrease at the gas pump this week.  Gas prices began their retreat on Monday and continued to fall for five consecutive days through Friday.  The average U.S. retail price for regular grade gasoline dropped to $2.66 a gallon on Friday, down 3 cents from a week ago, but still $1.42 below the record price of $4.114 set last July.

Crude oil fell below $70 early in the week, rose to just under $71 mid-week upon news of Nigeria’s supply disruptions and as equity markets rallied on perceptions the global recession was easing, then fell back below the $70 mark in Friday trading to settle at $69.16 at the market’s close.  Following late week increases, crude oil is on course for a 4% gain this month.  Optimism for potential economic recovery boosting weak oil demand has lifted crude oil prices from below $40 a barrel over the past three months, yet they are still less than half their record peak of $147 a barrel set last July.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported U.S. crude oil stocks fell 3.8 million barrels, while U.S. gasoline stockpiles rose 3.9 million barrels to 208.9 million, exceeding analysts’ predictions.  Stocks of distillates, such as diesel and heating oil, have risen to 10-year highs due to the recession.  The EIA also reported gasoline demand dropped 225,000 barrels a day to 9.129 million.  The one-week slide in gasoline demand suggests that higher prices have tempered motorists’ enthusiasm during the summer driving season.

The Weekend

“After nearly two months of daily gas price increases, we are finally seeing a little relief at the gas pumps, which motorists are welcoming just in time for the holiday weekend,” said Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “Although AAA expects long distance travel will be moderate for this holiday, declining gas prices could prompt more people to make last minute decisions to hit the road.”

The Week Ahead

Although gas prices are about $1.47 below last summer’s record highs, AAA is projecting Fourth of July travel will see a dip this year.  The number of Americans hitting the road for the Independence Day holiday weekend will decrease by about 2.6% from 2008.  AAA forecasts about 37.1 million travelers will travel 50 or more miles from home, compared with about 37.8 million 2008.  The decrease in holiday travel is attributed to uncertainty about the strength of the economy, as well as rising unemployment and sagging household incomes.


Regular Unleaded Gasoline (*indicates record high)

        6/28/09 Week Ago        Year Ago       
 $2.64   $2.69   $4.07  
Maryland        $2.59   $2.78   $4.03  
Baltimore       $2.56   $2.60   $4.01  
Cumberland      $2.65   $2.66   $3.98  
Hagerstown      $2.60   $2.62   $4.00  
Salisbury       $2.49   $2.52   $3.94  
Washington Suburbs (MD only)    $2.61   $2.64   $4.08  
Crude Oil       $69.16 per barrel (close on Friday)     $69.55 per barrel       $141 per barrel

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:09 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 27, 2009

D.C. Metro Red Line back in full operations

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration says the Metro Red Line has resumed full operations for the first time since Monday's fatal train accident that killed nine people.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

June 26, 2009

Closings coming to Bay Bridge

The Maryland Transportation Authority is planning a series of overnight  and midday closings next week for work on the Bay Bridge.

I'll let the folks from the toll authority explain.

• One lane on the westbound span will close Monday through Wednesday from
9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for preservation work.
• One lane of the eastbound span will close Sunday night from 9 p.m. to midnight
for overhead signal work. Two-way traffic will operate on the westbound span as
needed to accommodate traffic volumes.
• The eastbound span will close Monday morning from 12:01 to 5 a.m. for
overhead signal work and parapet repairs. Two-way traffic will operate on the
westbound span.
• The right lane of the eastbound span will closed Monday through Wednesday
from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. for overhead signal work and parapet repairs.
• The eastbound span will close Monday through Wednesday from 10 p.m. to
5 a.m. the following morning for overhead signal work and parapet repairs. Twoway
traffic will operate on the westbound span.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:02 PM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Canton residents dispute MTA official

When MTA deputy administrator Henry Kay gave an interview to Suzanne Collins of Channel 13 Thursday night about the proposed east-west Red Line, he drew a quick and vehement reaction from Canton residents who oppose a surface light rail line on Boston Street.

Kay was talking about one of the alternative plans for building the east-west transit line between Woodlawn and Bayview called 4C. It would involve building a light rail line in a tunnel through downtown and Fells Point, as well as under Cooks Lane in West Baltimore, but on the surface along Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue.

Some in Canton were unhappy with the way Kay characterized the oppposition to the plan. Ben Rosenberg wrote:

Henry - I saw your interview on WJZ this evening. You said that many people who live just one block off of Boston Street want the Red Line. We've been looking for people like that, but haven't located a single soul. Would you please identify them. I'd like to ask them why they feel the way you say they do. Of course, if you don't really know of anyone who lives a block from Boston Street and supports the Red Line, maybe you should correct the record. It's not a good thing for a public official to mislead the public.


Chuck D. of Canton, who preferred not to use his full  name, also  weighed in:

 Mr. Kay, I saw your interview with Suzanne Collins last night I am quite upset that you made such a misleading and untrue statement that only the people living on Boston Street are upset about alternative 4C. I can assure you that it is hard to find a Canton resident that is for the surface rail on Boston Street. I have walked the streets blocks away from Boston Street - Elliott, Streeper, Curley, Potomac, Robinson, Kenwood, just to name a few - and spoken with many, many residents about what the MTA and City are attempting to do. I have yet to speak with someone that supports 4C. The PR firm retained to work against the Canton community position, is canvassing the neighborhood and providing false information while misrepresenting their association. They are obtaining support signatures under false pretenses. In addition, you conveniently left out the fact that there are numerous alternative plans for the Red Line. The least you could do is tell the whole story and give all the facts. You really can't be surprised by the Canton community's reaction to this potential debacle.

And one more from Bill Sohan of Canton:


I was blown away when I saw your interview on WJZ.  You stated that many folks just one block off Boston Street want the Red Line.  I was at a community meeting that Jim Kraft put together 2 months ago.  Their were probably 100 people there.  Only 1 woman stood up and said she was for it. Her name was Jessica and she works for the MTA.  How ironic!!! Where are these people that you spoke about.?? I live in a community with 67 homes and you can be rest assured that NO ONE in my community wants this above ground on Boston St. With the other alternatives that are available I only wish that the next time you speak about this publicly that you tell the TRUE facts.  We would expect nothing less from our elected officials.


I'm not taking a position on this. I have talked with Canton residents -- none on Boston Street -- who have no problems with a surface Red Line. But I'm not sure how numerous they are.

I will say this: On both sides of town, Red Line opponents are underplaying the downside of the so-called "no-build" option. Both East Baltimore and West Baltimore are being slowly strangled by traffic congestion. Both communities have a huge stake in getting cars off the road. Car traffic may be the devil we know, but it's a mean old devil -- and getting bigger all the time.

It's not enough for residents of these communities to show that a surface Red Line wiill be bad for their neighborhoods or themselves personally. They need to show it will be worse for the entire region than the consequences of doing nothing. If the Red Line is a net minus for a certain neighborhood -- and that has yet to be proven -- but a net plus for the region, I don't think the state has a choice but to move  forward.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:28 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Red Line

June 25, 2009

Regional board has $20M to spend, seeks input

The Baltimore Regional Transpportation Board has $20 million in federal stimulus funds to spend on transportation projects in the counties surrounding Baltimore, and it's seeking local residents' views on whiich projects should be funded.

Should transportation officials spend $545,000 to resurface Fairmont Avenue between York Road and Goucher Boullevard in Baltimore County? Or $465,768 on Centennial Lane between Route 108 and U.S. 40?

The decision-making gets that local as the board tries to identify the most worthy and "shovel-ready" projects fromwiish lists submitted by Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties. (Baltimore city's wish list is being considered separately.)

Comments can be submitted to the board until July 20. The address is:

Baltimore Regional Transportation Board

2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310

Baltimore, MD 21224

The email address is

Comments can also be submitted at the board meeting July 28, but the group is expected to vote that day. My guess is that comments submitted earlier will be given more weight.

Details, and a list of the proposed projects, can be found here.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:58 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Bypass blues in Carroll this weekend

Carroll County drivers will pay a price for construction of the long-desired Hampstead Bypass this weekend as the State Highway Administration narrows Route 30 to one lane with alternating traffic ao that crews can repave a section of the northbound highway.

The headaches will begin Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and end by Sunday evening about 7 p.m., accordiing to the State Highway Administration.

The highway agency's full release appears below:


Work Will Occur Along MD 30 as Part of the Hampstead Bypass Project; Two-Way Flagging Operation Will Move Traffic Through the Area 
(June 25, 2009) – This weekend, as part of the Hampstead Bypass (MD 30 Relocated) project in Carroll County, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) will temporarily alternate traffic along MD 30 (Hanover Pike) south of Trenton Mill Road.  This work is necessary to reconstruct and repave a section of northbound MD 30 for the southern tie-in of the Hampstead Bypass.  All lanes will open by Sunday evening, June 28 at approximately 7 p.m.

Beginning Saturday morning, June 27, at 7 a.m., SHA will temporarily close the northbound lane of MD 30.  Crews will alternate northbound and southbound MD 30 traffic in one lane with a two-way flagging operation.  Northbound and southbound MD 30 traffic will be maintained in the southbound lane.

In addition, beginning Thursday, July 2, the northern roundabout will partially open to traffic.  Motorists will not have access to the bypass until it opens later this summer.  Portable intersection lighting and additional temporary signs will be in place to alert travelers of the work zone.  To avoid delays, motorists are encouraged to avoid the area during construction.  The overall Hampstead Bypass project is scheduled to be completed this summer, weather permitting.

During the next several months, there could be more than 350 work zones.  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.

When workers are on the road, THINK ORANGE, which is the color of construction signs, barrels, and warning devices.  Please slow down, stay alert and expect the unexpected.  Choose to make work zone safety your business at

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

Cummings: Stay course on Red Line

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings told a Greater Baltiimore Committee Transportation Committee that he is optimistic that Congress will scrap a rigid federal formula that has complicated the process of planning the Maryland Transit Administration's proposed Red Line.

That might sound to good news to critics of the most likely alternative for the Woodlawn-to-Bayview line, which would run light rails cars on the surface along Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street in order to save money on tunnel construction in order to meet the Federal Transit Administration's cost-benefit formula.

 However, Cummings said Maryland should move ahead with its effort to gain federal funding for the Red Line under the old rules. He rejected calls for the state to delay the project in order to see whhat new rulles Congress and the Obama administration might adopt.

"I think we're going to have to move forward on the schedule that we're on," said the powerful 7th District Democrat, a subcommittee chairman on the House panel that is drafting the new, multi-year transportation authorization bill scheduled to expire this year.

Though many of his constituents in the Edmondson Avenue corridor oppose building the Red Line unless it runs in a tunnel thought their neighborhood, Cummings said it is vital to keep the Red Line planning process on track.

 "Whatever we do, I do not want to hold up the Red Line. I think the Red Line has been held up long enough," Cummings said.

The alternative that has won support from Baltimore, Baltimore County and the GBC is one that would run light raiil in a tunnel under Cooks Lane in West Baltimore, downtown and Fells Point but come out of the ground along Edmondson Avenue and in Canton. The plan has sparked vocal protests in Canton as well as West Baltimore.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:13 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Red Line

More trouble on D.C. Metro

Update from Twitter:

(WMATA_AllRed Line: Trains are sharing the same track between Medical Center & Grosvenor due to a report of a cracked rail outside Medical Center stat.)

As if the Washington Metro system didn't have enough problems with its recovery from the fatal accident on the Red Line Monday, Thursday brought new problems on the Green Line.

Metro inspectors discovered a cracked rail at 12:58 p.m. near the West Hyattsville Metrorail station, causing mid-day delays on the line used by many Baltimore-area residents who park at Greenbelt.

During repairs, Green Line trains are sharing a single track between the Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza Metrorail stations. The Washingtoon Metropolitan Area Transit Administration warned that passengers Riders could run into delays up to 20 minutes.

Metro said that while it expects to complete the repair by later afternoon, however, the evening rush hour period could be affected.

Update from Twitter:

(WMATA_AllRed Line: Trains are sharing the same track between Medical Center & Grosvenor due to a report of a cracked rail outside Medical Center stat.)


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:57 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

June 24, 2009

AAA projects decline in July 4 travel

AAA is projecting that 1.9 percent fewer Americans will travel on vacation this Fourth of July holiday weekend than took similar trips the year before -- a further reflection of the struggling economy.

According to AAA, about 37.1 million travelers plan to take a round trip of 50 or more miles  from home during what is normally the busiest auto travel weekend of the year. That represents a modest decline from last year's  37.8 million traveling  Americans but a dramatic decrease from the 42.3 million travelers who vacationed in 2007 -- before the economic recession took hold.


 “The slight decline in leisure travel projected for this Fourth of July holiday is mainly due to ongoing uncertainty about the strength of the economy; especially rising joblessness and sagging personal incomes. The recent rise in gasoline prices may also be causing some travelers to limit or abbreviate their holiday plans, although its impact on overall vacation costs remains minimal,” said Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public & Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “However, those who do have the means to vacation this summer will find an abundance of attractive discounts and special offers resulting in some outstanding vacation values."

According to AAA's survey, air travel is  likely to increase a healthy 4.9 percent with the help  of lower fares, but that gain will be offset by a projected 2.6 percent decline in auto travel.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:42 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Experts panel urges improvements at toll authority

The experts’ panel assembled after last August’s crash in which a truck plunged through a barrier wall and off the Bay Bridge turned in its report to the board of the Maryland Transportation Authority Wednesday, and it appears the agency has received a relatively clean bill of health.

Among other things, the panel recommended that the authority beef up its procedures for inspecting the state’s toll bridges and tunnels and open the process to more scrutiny from the public. But the panel, made up of seven top transportation engineers from around the country, rejected contentions that the authority should commission an independent inspection of the Bay Bridge. It found that reforms adopted in recent years rotate inspections among different teams, ensuring that different sets of eyes view any problems on the structure.

The panel was set up by Gov. Martin O’Malley after a fatal tractor-trailer crash on the Bay Bridge led to the discovery Aug. 10 that the metal devices that hold in place the Jersey barriers that make up the eastbound span’s wall had been weakened by corrosion. That finding led to weeks of lane-closings and traffic backups as work crews made emergency repairs.

In its report, the peer review panel made no findings of serious lapses by the authority.

"They’ve been doing an adequate job. They meet with federal requirements but like most organizations they can improve their program," said Mary Lou Ralls, a consulting firm executive and former Texas Department of Transportation engineer who chaired the panel.

MY TAKE: This agency was desperately  in need of an overhaul in 2004, when it  had to redo millions of dollars worth of work on the surface of the westbound Bay Bridge. But when that bungle was exposed, then-Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan set a reform process in motion that  continued under his successor, John D. Porcari. The panel found many of  the needed changes to the inspection process are already  in the works.

If anyone wants to wade through 90 or so pages of highly technical stuff, the full report can be found here. 


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:33 PM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Chat with Carol Carmody, former NTSB member

Former National Transportation Safety Board member Carol J. Carmody will discuss Monday's fatal Washington Metro crash Wednesday at noon. Until 11:30, you can submit questions in the comments below; after that, questions can be taken directly in the chat.

Posted by Maryann James at 7:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

June 23, 2009

Ex-NTSB member to discuss Metro crash

Former National Transportation Safety Board member Carol J. Carmody will appear on the  Baltimore Sun's Getting There blog to discuss Monday's fatal Washington Metro crash Wednesday at noon for a live chat.

The discussion with Carmody will last for 45 minutes, but could be extended if  there is sufficient interest. Carmody, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, served  on the board from 2000 to 2005.

Readers  can join in here; questions can be submitted beginning at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:48 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Drag racing on I-70 called frequent occurrence

Skid marks on I-70At Vince Sigismondi’s Baltimore County apartment backing up to Interstate 70 near the city line, the early morning hours on weekends frequently brings the sounds of drag racing.

"I ususally come out between 1 and 4, and smoke a couple cigarettes and exercise my leg a bit. I can sit out there and hear them doing the quarter-mile,” the 51-year-old Army veteran said Monday. “I say God help them if they hit something. . . . They’re finished.”

Early Sunday morning, as Sigismondi was dozing at his aprtment off Ingleside Avenue, two lives came to an end on the lightly traveled stretch of I-70 inside the Beltway when an apparent drag race took a deadly turn.

Mary-Kathryn Michele Abernathy of Columbia, 21, and Jonathan Robert Henderson, 20, of La Plata in Charles County, were killed when a westbound 2009 Chevrolet Impala went out of control and set off a chain reaction crash that killed them and left two others injured.

Donnell Raeburn, 26, of Pikesville, and Paul Alan Duffy, 22, of Elkridge were taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in critical condition.

The Maryland State Police and State Highway Administration say they had already been in contact to discuss ways to prevent racing on that stretch of highway, where I-70 ends at a small park-and-ride just inside the city line. Among the possible solutions mentioned: rumble strips or cameras to monitor activity on that road.

Sun photo/Algerina Perna


Sgt. Arthur Betts, a State Police spokesman, said a final accident report could take months to complete. Police said Monday that they had not yet determined what role Raeburn, the 26-year-old driver of the Impala, played in the incident.

 But out on the highway, physical evidence suggested how the scenario unfolded. Just west of where the ramp from Ingleside Avenue merges into westbound I-70 at milepost 4B, two parallel pairs of recent skid marks blackened the pavement as if made by racers coming out of a starting gate with wheels smoking.

Sigismondi said he frequently hears tires squealing on the interstate. “They do black burnouts and something lights up as they’re taking off,” he said.

About a quarter-mile down the highway, near the I-70 interchange with Interstate 695, another set of skid marks showed where a driver had lost control of his vehicle and left the roadway. Tire tracks showed where at least one vehicle went down a small embankment and crashed into some small trees. Signs could be seen of recent rescue activity, including a discarded neck brace and black latex gloves, and broken windshield glass littered the scene.

Police said the Impala driven by Raeburn struck a 2004 Cavalier owned by Duffy, who was standing outside his vehicle. The Cavalier was pushed into the rear of a 1995 Acura Integria owned by Henderson, who had been standing with Abernathy. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.

The section of I-70 east of the Baltimore Beltway is a vestige of an earlier plan to extend the highway into the heart of Baltimore. That plan was canceled in the 1980s because of environmental concerns and community protests. Besides the park and ride, that leg of I-70 serves Security Boulevard and Cooks Lane.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:25 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

Penn, Camden lines unaffected but Brunswick closed

The MARC Penn and Camden lines, both of which connect Washington and Baltimore, are not affected by Monday's fatal subway crash in Washington, according to the Maryland Transit Administration.

The Brunswick Line, however, was closed for the morning commute and will remain shut down Tuesday evening. That line, which serves riders in Montgomery County, Western Maryland and West Virginia, runs close to the site of the Red Line train crash.

 No word as yet on whether the Brunswick Line will reopen Wednesday.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:30 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train

WMATA breakdown?


WMATA's message breakdown on Twitter


The public affairs office at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration appears to have had a systemic breakdown in the wake of Monday's fatal crash.

At 9:30 a.m. WMATA general manager John Catoe told the Washington Post the death toll in the crash was up to nine. But as of 11:20 a.m., WMATA's web site was still at six and hadn't been updated in hours. Meanwhile, WMATA's use of Twitter has been staggeringly ineffective and not up with the news.

Meanwhile, its press releases are giving the media more spin than background on Metro's safety history.  I can understand that folks there are exhausted, but the media affairs shop is not exactly stepping up in a time of crisis.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:15 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Baltimore Metro has one fatality on record


baltimore metro


 Baltimore Sun file photo / 2005
UPDATE: MTA spoeswoman Jawauna Greene said late Tuesday that she had  learned there had been one fatal accident  involving an MTA employee in the Metro  trainyard in the first few years after the subway opened,

According to the Maryland Transit Administration, there has never been a only one fatal crash involving an employee or a passenger on its Metro subway in nearly 26 years of operation.

That contrasts with the record of Washington's Metro system, which after Monday's crash that killed nine has at least 17 fatalities on its record since opening in 1976. (Both totals exclude suicides by jumping on the tracks.)

 Admittedly, Washington's system is much larger than Baltimore's one-line wonder, but zero one is still zero zero and 17 is still 17.

For those who think the comparison is unfair to DC Metro, consider: Which transit system has the resources and cahet to attract the "best and brightest" in transit? Baltimore's system may be rinky-dink, but safe rinky-dink beats dangerous world-class.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:30 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

WMATA history sanitized

I finally found a once-accessible on-line history of Washington's Metro that is now buried deep on the WMATA web site.

It started off in a reasonably honest way, but in recent years it has played all kinds of games with history. For example, its timeline for 2005 conveniently overlooks the on-the-job death of an employee in October of that year but is careful to note that buus operator Robertt Miles had won his 17th Metrobus Roadeo.

In 2006,  the "history" notes the deaths of two employees struck by a train in November. but overlooks the death of another employee in a similar incident that May.

It does note the deaths of two  Metro transit officers over the years, If you were to count their deaths along with the crash fatalities, the toll on the Mtero system would stand at 19.

Funny, the timeline ignores any mention of NTSB reports on its past actions.

The timeline ends after April 17, 2008 -- marking the end of history, at least for WMATA.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Hey, WMATA! Stop spinning already

In the initial hours after the worst tragedy in its history, you could understand that the public relations shop at the Washington Metro wouldn't take the time to recount the full history of its fatal accidents over the years.

 But now it's the next morning -- and it's getting a little tiresome to read press releases pointing out that Monday's horrific collision was only the second fatal PASSENGER accident in Metro's history.

 "The only other time in Metrorail’s 33-year history that there were customer fatalities was in January 1982, when three people died as a result of a derailment between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian Metrorail stations. The only other time that Metrorail had a collision was in 2004 when two trains collided at the Woodley Park/Zoo-Adams Morgan Metrorail station, in which there were some minor injuries," reads this morning's release.

Excuse me, what about the four incidents in which five WMATA employees were killed? One took place in 1996, one in 2005 and two others in 2006. With the nine people killed in Monday's crash -- an employee and eight passengers -- that brings the death toll on Metro since it opened to at least 17.

Trying to put forward any lesser number is pure spin -- maybe appropriate for a political campaign but appalling in the midst of tragedy.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:25 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

June 22, 2009

Answer to Friday bonus quiz

A recent Maryland governor proposed slapping a $50 surcharge on traffic fines and using the extra money to pay transportation projects? Which one was it?

a.) William Donald Schaefer

b.) Parris N. Glendening

c.) Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

d.) Martin O’Malley

Answer: c.) Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. proposed raising $40 million for the transportation trust fund in 2004 by adding a $50 surcharge to traffic ticket convictions for some moving violations. He proposed raising another $11 million with a $200 surcharge foor those found guilty of drunken driving. The ideas died in a General Assembly committee.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:25 PM | | Comments (4)

Road work could delay trips from Shore

 Tuesday and Wednesday  are normally days when the trip back from the beach across the Bay Bridge is hassle-free, but it may not be so this week.

The State Highway Administration will be closing one of the lanes on the flyover ramp on westbound U.S. 50 where  it meets U.S. 301 near  Queenstown. Crews will be patching the concrete on a section of the bridge deck  between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The agency said beachbound  traffic will not be affected. Commuters from the Eastern Shore to  Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington should get an early start Tuesday. Wednesday morning could be a particularly favorable day for telecommuting from Shore points east of Kent Narrows.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:06 PM |
Categories: On the roads

June 21, 2009

Deer run amok on Eastern Shore

The good roads and level highways of the Eastern Shore sometimes seem to beckon drivers to throw caution to the winds and put the pedal to the metal, but there's a very good reason to restrain this impulse: deer, lots of deer, all over the place.

My wife and I  just returned from a four-day jaunt through the Maryland Eastern Shore from Ocean City to Somerset County to Elkton, and I can tell you I've never seen so many of the critters. They are especially thick off the main highways, but travelers on U.S. 50 and other main roads shouldn't get complacent. We saw plenty of them grazing in the fields beside the main route to O.C.

Fortunately we had just one near-venison experience -- south of Salisbury in the hamlet of Eden. If we had been speeding we could easily have ended up with Bambi in our laps.

Motorists all over Maryland need to keep in mind the possibility of a deer jumping out of the woods or fields and in to their paths. These deer-vehicle encounters can be deadly -- and not just to the animal. A relative of one of my wife's close friends recently ended up in Shock-Trauma as a result of a deer crashing through the windshield in which she was driving. It happened on the Shore.

I know many drivers think nothing of letting it all hang out once they get over the Bay Bridge and cruising along U.S. 50 at 80 mph or more. But it's a deadly gamble, and the deer infestation is just one of the reasons.

From a public policy perspective, i think state officials need to consider whether the deer population has become so huge on the Shore that measures should be taken to thin the herd. An occasional sighting of deer is a beautiful and inspirational sight, but when a entire region is crawling with them, it strikes me as unsafe.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:17 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

June 19, 2009

Bonus quiz: Test your Maryland moxie

A recent Maryland governor proposed slapping a $50 surcharge on traffic fines and using the extra money to pay  transportation projects? Which one was it?

a.) William Donald Schaefer

 b.) Parris N. Glendening

 c.) Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

 d.) Martin O’Malley

The answer will be posted here Monday.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:18 AM | | Comments (2)

June 18, 2009

Safety council targets 'death by cell phone'

                                                          Photo/National Safety Council


Talking on a cell phone while driving is the ultimate do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do of American culture. About 80 percent of us say we sometimes do it, and about 80 percent of us are annoyed at other drivers that do it. 

The National Safety Council is taking aim at that double standard in billboards it has put up in 67 markets around the country that it expects to reach more than 1 million people daily. The title: Death By Cell Phone."

The billboards, sponsored by Nationwide Insurance Co. and Lamar Advertising, show pictures of Linda, a 61-year-old wife, mother and grandmother from Oklahoma, and Joe, a 12-year-old boy from Michigan, both of whom were killed in car crashes caused by drivers who were chatting away on cell phones.

According to the safety council, the title comes from Linda’s daughter, Jennifer Smith, speaking about the young man who hit her mother: “He ran a red light and T-boned her car at 45 to 50 miles per hour, which was the posted speed limit. My mother died within a couple of hours from blunt force trauma to the head, neck and chest. I just call it death by cell phone.”

In addition to photos of Linda and Joe, the billboards display  the address of a Web site where viewers can watch a short video  about their deaths. Appearing in the video along with Smith is Joe’s father, David Teater.

After his son’s death, David Teater took a  jobs as the council's  senior director of  transportation strategic initiatives, concentrating on reducing distracted driving and teen driving fatalities.

Teater hopes to see the day when driving while using a cell phone goes the way of smoking while flying in jetliners.

“I can close my eyes and envision, maybe it is five years from now, maybe it is 10 years, when we can all look back and say ‘Hey, remember when we all used to talk on cell phones when we drove? What idiots we were to do that,’” he said.

The ads are being shown on billboard  space donated by the Lamar company. None of the locations are in Maryland -- the closest are in Harrisburg and Richmond -- but safety council spokeswoman Meredith Morris said her group would be happy to talk with anyone with billboard space to spare.

In January, the safety council called  for a nationwide ban on all forms of cell phone use -- whether hand-held or wireless -- while driving. Information about the dangers of the practice is available on the National Safety Council  web site.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

June 17, 2009

GBC plans transportation funding summit

The national transportation funding crisis will be at the top of the agenda as the Greater Baltimore Committee holds its 2009 Regional Transportation Summit Thursday, June 25, from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the  Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel.

Among the speakers at the conference will be U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-7th); Johns Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and  former Pittsburgh Mayor Thomas Murphy.

Regional leaders will discuss the implications for Maryland and Baltimore as Congress takes up a new multi-year transportation funding bill at a time when the gas tax is  an increasingly unreliable source of revenue.

The charge is $50 per person for GBC members and $85 for non-members. Register by calling Mickie Gray at 410-727-2820, ext. 28



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:20 PM |

D.C. panel supports new transit line

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board voted unanimously Wednesday to support a new light rail lane between New Carrollton and Bethesda.

The board, made up of representatives from the District of Columbia and  Virginia as well as Maryland, gave its approval after hearing from opponents and proponents of the so-called Purple Line. The transit line had strong support from both Prince George's and Montgomery county governments, but faced resistance from some in the town of Chevy Chase.

The Purple Line's approval by the metropolitan planning group retains a rough symmetry between Maryland's transit plans for the Washington region and Baltimore. The state is moving forward with plans for both the Purple Line and Baltimore's east-west Red Line, striking a rough political balance between the needs of the two regions.

See the board's full release below.



Washington, D.C. – In a crucial step for the project’s future, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted unanimously today to advance the light rail Purple Line for inclusion in the 2009 Constrained Long Range Transportation Plan (CLRP).

At its May meeting, the TPB was briefed on the inclusion, and the proposal was then released for a public comment period ending on June 13. At today’s meeting, the Board was briefed on the comments received during the comment period and heard remarks from attendees. A number of people, both for and against the 16-mile light rail project between Bethesda and New Carrollton in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, voiced their opinion at the meeting. 

Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large) addressed the TPB, enumerating the strong support that the light rail option has received by the Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties’ Councils and Executive branches. “We will encounter problems wherever else we try to move this transitway,” Leventhal noted. “This is the best solution.”

Maryland Delegate William Bronrott (D-16th), Maryland Senator Jennie Forehand (D-17th), and Prince George’s County Council Member Tony Knotts (D-8th) echoed Leventhal’s comments on the widespread support that the project has among elected officials in the area.

The Board’s approval for the project’s inclusion in the air quality conformity assessment for an amendment to the 2009 CLRP and FY 2010-2015 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) is a prerequisite for the project to complete the environmental review process and move forward for construction.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:44 PM | | Comments (1)

Physician warns about letting kids pump gas

The picture that appeared Tuesday on Page A1 of The Sun alongside my article on rising gas prices was a great shot by Barbara Haddock Taylor: an adorable 4-year-old girl helping her mother  pump gas. It was an image that told a  mini-story of the relationship between mother and daughter and a child's desire to act grown-up.

Mother and  daughter pump gas

Sun photo/Barbara Haddock Taylor

But that picture also depicted an activity that could be hazardous to children, as Dr. William D. Hakkarinen pointed out.

If I had the camera, I would have taken the same shot -- if not quite as well. A photographer's job is to portray life as it is, not as it should be. But the doctor raises a good question about whether displaying such an image on the top of the front page was a good decision on The Sun's part.

The doctor does a better job of explaining the hazards than I could, so I'll let him do so in his own words:

Dear Mr. Dresser,
The photo illustrating your story on rising gasoline prices, SUN, June 16, 2009, has a happy look: the 4-year old is helping mom pump the gas. It does illustrate, however, how so many people are unaware of the significant risks for children in such activity. This child is in a dangerous position.

As a Family Physician, I am well aware of the problem of asthma and other respiratory issues in childhood. Gasoline emissions and fumes from refueling are a major contributor to our air pollution. I do not think the average person is aware of the extreme toxic irritation of gasoline vapors.


Unleaded gasoline uses Methyl tert-butyl ether as an additive to increase octane levels and reduce emissions. As the Environmental Protection Agency notes on its Web Site: Acute inhalation has resulted in Central Nervous System effects including ataxia and abnormal gait. Motorists and gas station attendants have also reported symptoms of coughing, burning, headache, dizziness, and other complaints after exposure. The substance damages the brain and nervous system.

Another of the many noxious fumes in gasoline is benzene. This substance is a well-known cancer-causing agent. It also has the potential to cause anemia and other blood diseases including leukemia. The highest concentration of all these fumes is right at the gas tank level, the level of a small child's face. It is clearly unwise for a child to be placed in a position to inhale the fumes.

There is also the risk of splash-back. With a small child's face near the hose, any splash is more likely to damage eyes, nose, and mucous membranes of the mouth. Even the best of automatic shut-offs will spit back on occasion. In case of gasoline contact with the eyes, they should be immediately flushed with clean, low-pressure water for at least 15 minutes. Medical attention should be obtained.

Although fortunately rare, explosions are a possibility. Static electricity is usually the cause. Static can happen if one slides back into the car seat before filling is complete, and then returns to the pump and touches the hose or car. One such event happened in February this year in the Richmond, VA, area, when a mother handed the hose to her 10-year old son to replace in the pump. Both were burned severely in the explosion caused by a static spark.

Do not get back in your vehicle when refueling or allow others to do so; re-entry could cause a static spark.

Warning labels and instructions for safe practices are on each self-service gasoline pump, but they are small and many people are unaware of them. Pumping gasoline is generally safe, but not for children. As the rules on the warning labels say, Don't allow those under license age to use the pump.

William D. Hakkarinen, MD
Past-President, Maryland Academy of Family Physicians

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:32 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

June 16, 2009

Where has all the road rage gone?

Whatever happened to Bodymore, Murderland? When did we change from Harm City to Charm City? Did we collectively take an anger management class? How did we get so nice all of a sudden?

According to a survey by the car care club AutoVantage, Baltimore has gone from No. 4 in its annual road rage ranking to being the region with the third-fewest angry drivers within the course of one year.

That's right. Baltimore has gone from being the City that Bellowed in 2008 to the City that Mellowed in 2009, according to  the fourth annual Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey of 24 metropolitan areas.

The only possible explanation is that people have been reading my Getting There columns on auto safety. 

The survey found that the least courteous city -- that is, the one with the most road rage this year -- was New York, which moved from No. 3 in 2008 to dethrone Miami. The city with the least road rage, according to AutoVantage, was Portland, Ore., followed by Cleveland and then -- I kid you not -- Baltimore.


Some of the individual survey findings that led to Baltimore' ranking could raise some eyebrows in these parts. According to the report, Baltimore and Sacramento tied as the cities where drivers are least likely to text, email or use a Blackberry while driving. This comes even before the new law banning the practice could go into effect Oct. 1.

Baltimore also ranked second, tied with Washington, as the city whhere drivers were least likely to  be eating or drinking behind the wheel. (The Nation's Capital showed almost as dramatic an improvement as Baltimore, going from the 5th-worst in 2008 to the 6th-best this year. That's change we can marvel at, if not quite believe in.)

Meanwhile, the region that discovered its inner Viking was Minneapolis/St. Paul, which slipped from 4th-best last year to 5th-worst this year. Musta been a bad  winter. You betcha.

The telephone survey found that the most frequent explanations for  road rage were:

      --Careless driving, cutting others off, speeding, tailgating, giving the one-finger salute and failing to signal.

      --People who were angry or stressed or were having a bad day.

      --People  in a hurry.

      --Traffic problems such as accidents and construction.

      --Inconsiderate or disrespectful drivers.

Among thebehaviors that annoy us most when people other than ourselves do it:  talking on cell phones (84 percent), speeding (58 percent), tailgating (53 percent), eating and drinking behind the wheel (48 Percent) and texting or emailing while  driving (37 percent).

The survey, based on 2,518 interviews, was conducted between Jan. 8  and March 24.









Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:19 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: On the roads

Trucker's family sues driver in Bay Bridge plunge


 Sun photo

The family of the truck driver who was killed last August when his tractor-trailer crashed through the side of the Bay Bridge filed a $7 million lawsuit Tuesday against the young woman whose vehicle was found to have crossed the center line and to have set off the chain of events that led to the fatal plunge.

The widow, children and father of truc ker John R. Short Sr. allege that Candy Lynn Baldwin, who was 19 at the time of the crash, had been drinking illegally before attempting to drive from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore early in the morning of August 10.

According to the suit filed in Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court, the 1997 Cheverollet Camaro driven by Baldwin crossed the center line of the eastbound span, which at the time was in two-way operation. The suit states that Short swerved to avoid a head-on collision but was sideswiped by the Camaro and slid across the bridge and through the concrete barrier.

The tractor-trailer fell about 30 feet into the Chesapeake Bay, and Short drowned in the cab of his vehicle.

 Short’s truck was the first vehicle to crash through one of the safety barriers in the 56-year history of the bridge. The images of the truck in the water made national news, and traffic on the bridge was tied up most of that day.

After an investigation, Baldwin was charged with crossing the center line, negligent driving and violating a restric tion on her drivers’ license against underage drinking. Court records show that in January she paid fines totaling $470 on the three charges without appearing in court.

 Baldwin was spared facing more serious charges such as vehicular manslaughter or driving while intoxicated, but a lawyer for Short’s survivors said the family believes alcohol was a factor in the crash.

 “Our experts believe she was impaired by alcohol,” said Keith S. Franz of the firm of Azrael, Gann & Franz. The lawsuit seeks $5 million in compensatory and $2 million in punitive damages. Franz said

Short family members have put the Maryland Transportation Authority on notice that they intend to sue it for damages because of the failure of its Jersey barriers to keep the truck on the bridge.

An investigation by the authority after the crash found that corrosion had weakened the metal bars that fastened the concrete barriers to the bridge deck. The barriers have since been reinforced.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM |

Speed cameras called a poor substitute for moms

A comment by Mark Adams of Fells Point on the Bill of Rights in Monday's Getting There column brought a detailed rebuttal by reader Robert Condlin of Baltimore, which I posted to this blog Monday.

Now comes an extended comment by Adams, and it only seems fair  to give him his say. For what it's worth, I think Condlin has the facts on his side, but Adams makes his case well. Let the debate continue (but get those speed cameras installed).

D.C. speed cameras
Sun photo

Says Adams:

1.  The whole camera issue is an outgrowth of a huge and largely unnoticed change in society.  Sometime after the 1950s, the largest supervisory and regulatory force in our world disappeared without being replaced.  Women used to stay home and supervise kids and their neighborhoods.  The housewife of old served a very important supervisory function in the world.  They were largely stationary enforcers of social order.  Now, they are mobile and they are producers of labor, not enforcers of order.  It is no coincidence that crime, teenage pregnancy, drug use, and all sorts of things spiraled when women entered the workforce in large numbers.  No one replaced them in the homes and neighborhoods.

When housewives entered the workforce, it created a deficit in supervision of society as a whole and an increase in the numbers of mobile people who needed supervision.  Neighborhoods like mine used to be full of people during daylight hours.  Now they are virtually empty.  The wholesale entry of women into the workforce improved productivity, but nothing was done to address the loss of people who created a sense of order in the community during the day.

This has, of course, had an impact on traffic and commuting.  There are more people commuting with the same number of people supervising and regulating them.   Government has not recognized this basic phenomenon and responded appropriately.   As a society, we need more cops.  They don't have to be better cops, but we need more warm bodies to watch the portions of our life that used to be supervised by housewives.  We need people who can show up in less than 90 minutes to take a report.  The growing trend is to use cameras, burglar alarms, and electronics to do the job of supervising our society.  During daylight hours there are more burglar alarms working than there are people.  (I work from home, so I am a departure from the norm.)  All this electronic monitoring amounts to policing on the cheap.  As much as they try to make the cameras sophisticated, they still cannot replace human judgment. 

2.  Here's a second thought about commuting and congestion.  What impact has the popularity of larger vehicles had on the demand for roads?

I would guess that the length of the average car on the streets has increased about 10 inches from the 1980s to the present.  If you multiply that by the total number of cars on the street, you need a lot more asphalt to accommodate the total national fleet.  If the vehicles are moving, we need more surfaces for them to move on.  If they are stationary, we need more parking space.  I'd love to see a supply/demand study on the need for asphalt and concrete, with need defined by the total length of vehicles.

So even if the number of commuters had remained static over the last 20 years, the demand for road surface would have increased.  It would be reasonable to assign some of these costs to the owners of the bigger cars.  Why should I (first generation Scion  xB) have to subsidize some guy who drives a bigger car?  I don't mind paying for my own asphalt, but why should I pay for Martin (the environmentalist who rides in a Ford Expedition) O'Malley's?

I'm not one of these enviro-nuts who thinks that everyone should commute by bicycle.  If people want big cars and they can afford them, I have no problem with them buying them and using them.  But I just don't want to be forced to pay for someone else's excess. 

3.  Why do cops all drive Crown Vics or Impalas?  If they are transporting prisoners, the big cars make sense.  But in the city, they use paddy wagons for transport.  Why can't they make do with a Honda Civic?   My favorite example of cops being in love with their big cars can be found at the University of Baltimore.  They use big, traditional police cars to patrol their campus, all 3 blocks of it.  This is completely absurd.  If they ever tried a high speed chase, they probably would drive through the windows on one of their buildings.   They should have cars like mine, which was cheap to buy, is cheap to run, and actually is big enough to transport a prisoner.

Last word goes to the Blogmaster: Me. Sorry, that's how it goes.

1. More cops would be great, but more cops means more spending and more taxes. One of the main reasons we've lost control of our roads is that we don't have enough police officers to enforce the rules. The solution: Automated enforcement of some of  the most easily measured violations, such as speeding. In other words, cameras. They shouldn't be seen as a replacement for human enforcement but as a supplement. Adams is right that cameras cannot exercise human judgment, but that's not what we're asking them to do.

2. Larger vehicles do take up more space on the roads and create more wear and tear than small cars. But we have a way to make them pay more, even if it's only an approximation: the gas tax. Generally, the bigger the vehicle, the more fuel it uses, the more tax its user pays. Now that starts to fall apart when you start getting into big vehicles with superior fuel economy, such as the hybrid SUVs favored by Governor O'Malley and other politicians, but maybe those vehicles deserve a break for polluting less. To get to a more finely calibrated measure of  a vehicle's impact on the road system would probably require a GPS-based system. But something like that raises a lot of sticky questions about privacy. Are we ready to go there?

3. Here's where I'd like to get some input from the pros. Do police still rely on those big old Crown Vics? Are the big cars really necessary? I can see the need for state or county police to be able to pursue from time to time, though it's risky business. But a campus police force? Does Adams have a point here?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:04 AM |
Categories: On the roads

June 15, 2009

Reader reponds to Bill of Rights claim

Robert Condlin of Baltimore was so provoked by one reader comment in Monday's Getting There column that he wrote a lengthy, well-reasoned response. The column was a summary of reader response to a previous article describing the multiple speeding offenses of speed camera opponent and Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano.

Here's what Condlin had to say:

Your story today has a quotation from a letter in it that I’d like to respond to.  Here’s the quotation.

"Ever since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, citizens have had the right to confront their accusers with cross-examination and they have had the presumption of innocence. This goes out the window with speed cameras, red light cameras, etc. The state does this with a fictitious process that converts a minor criminal penalty into a 'civil fine.' By making the fine a civil matter, rather than criminal, the state throws the Bill of Rights out the window."

There are two arguments in this paragraph, though the writer seems to treat them as one, and both are bogus. 

First, take the "confrontation" point.  It is true that there is a constitutional right to confront one’s accusers and another to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but speed cameras do not deny either of these rights.  Speed cameras collect evidence of speeding, that evidence is introduced against the defendant (at trial if the defendant chooses to contest the charge), and if the defendant is not able to discredit or overcome the evidence he or she is found guilty (or liable).  That’s the way all trials work, civil and criminal alike, speed camera proceedings are no different.

Defendants are entitled to "confront" speed camera evidence by cross examining technicians to show that the camera was malfunctioning, improperly set, or the like, and they (the defendants) are presumed innocent until they are unable to do this.  But as with any trial, if the evidence goes against you, you lose.  What people don’t like about speed camera evidence is that it is strong evidence and difficult to rebut.  But there is no constitutional right to have only weak evidence introduced against you.  That’s like saying it’s unfair for the state to have an eyewitness to a crime because eyewitness testimony (at least some of it) is difficult to discredit.  No one would buy that argument for murder, why would they buy it for speeding?

This ersatz "confrontation clause" claim sounds like the kind of argument someone would make if he or she had never studied law.  It’s silly.

The second point, that there is something disreputable about "convert[ing] a minor criminal penalty into a ‘civil fine’" is both incoherent and vacuous.  A "fine" is a "minor criminal penalty" by definition.  Most minor criminal offenses are punished first with a fine and jail time only if a defendant is a repeat offender.  There is no illicit "conversion" of any kind going on in the speed camera situation: "fine" and "minor criminal penalty" are synonyms.

The second part of the point, that making an offense civil rather than criminal somehow "throws the Bill of Rights out the window" is even more difficult to make sense of.  Is the person arguing that there is a constitutional right to jail time for every criminal offense no matter how minor, that a state somehow offends the Constitution when it imposes a lesser penalty for certain types of offenses?  If so, this "unqualified right to the most severe form of punishment in every case" argument is a completely novel point in constitutional law scholarship; the letter writer ought to put it in an article and submit it to law journals.  He or she has an insight that escaped Holmes, Cardozo, Brandeis and the boys (and now girls).  Of course there is always the problem of getting it published, law journals have standards, but then that’s what blogs are for.

Sorry to go on for so long, but I have seen these silly arguments trotted out again and again in letters about speed cameras and have just gotten tired of hearing them. 

I understand that discrediting the arguments will have no lasting effect on opponents of speed cameras; they will come up with something equally bogus as substitutes, but one fights only one battle at a time. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:04 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads

Readers see no need for leadfoot lobbyist's speed

By Michael Dresser


Last week this column explored the colorful driving record of Bruce C. Bereano, super-lobbyist, mail fraudster and chronic speeder. It recounted how Bereano has amassed 22 traffic tickets over the past 13 years — nine of them for racing along at 80 mph or more.

Readers were not amused. Not at Bereano. Not at the judges who handed him probation before judgment (PBJ) in spite of an abysmal driving record.

 “Bruce Bereano has been getting away with antics that the common man or woman would be in jail for,” writes Lois Raimondi Munchel of Forest Hill. “I for one would like to see published the names of the judges who viewed these offenses as not worth protecting the driving public from. ... One day, he, as others who drive with such disregard for the law, will kill a family.”


Reader James Scholl wondered how it is that Bereano is permitted to keep his driver’s license. But he saw an upside for the lobbyist in the speed camera legislation Bereano so resolutely and unsuccessfully opposed.

“Bereano is way off base in opposing speed cameras; now he will be able to just pay his fines without court costs, attorney fees, and lost time. No more worrying about points, PBJ’s, or getting the ‘right’ judge,” Scholl wrote. “I clock a lot of miles around our town, and I see so much dangerous driving that I would like to see the cameras everywhere.”

Irwin E. Weiss, a Baltimore lawyer, expressed astonishment that Bereano is still permitted to drive and is still treated with deference in Annapolis.

 “Here is a guy whose craft is to influence the making of and repealing of laws, and his behavior shows what complete disrespect he has for laws,” Weiss wrote. “Here is a guy who was convicted of mail fraud. He was disbarred. Why in God’s name would any self-respecting state legislator listen to what he says on behalf of his clients? Oh, I guess the folks in the legislature are not ‘self-respecting.’”

 It was also good to hear from Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a legislator known for his immunity to Bereano’s charms.

“Bereano came [to my committee] to testify against a red light camera bill a couple of years ago,” the Montgomery County Democrat wrote. “He talked about how simple it is to beat the rap if one knows how to do it. I asked him how many tickets he’d received. Answer: dozens.”

While most of the reaction I received was favorable, some thought the column missed the point.

Mark Adams of Fells Point wrote that “everyone knows that Bruce Bereano skirts the rules. But now, the state can skirt the rules with the speed cameras. “Ever since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, citizens have had the right to confront their accusers with cross-examination and they have had the presumption of innocence. This goes out the window with speed cameras, red light cameras, etc. The state does this with a fictitious process that converts a minor criminal penalty into a ‘civil fine.’ By making the fine a civil matter, rather than criminal, the state throws the Bill of Rights out the window.”

Jason Stewart of Baltimore didn’t like my theory that the drive to petition the speed cameras law to referendum failed because enough people said “no” to make the difference.

 “I personally collected over 300 signatures and only had 3 people tell me they were for the cameras. I had at least 5 Baltimore County Police Officers sign my petition and all said ... these cameras had nothing to do with safety, just revenue.”

Brian Holmes, president of the Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association, found my criticism of the court system unfair.

“The number of speeding (and like) cases would swamp the judicial system if all were heard. Accordingly, the courts use PBJ to clear their calendars, so they can provide criminal defendants with speedy trials as the constitution requires and reasonable timeliness for civil litigants.”

In a subsequent email, however, Holmes stated: “Frequent speeders ought to be singled out for ineligibility for PBJs.”

 I concur wholeheartedly, and would hope to see the General Assembly give some guidance to the judiciary on the promiscuous use of PBJs. We could start with curbing such breaks for repeat offenders and those clocked at 80 mph and up.

 Let’s call it Bruce’s Bill.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:56 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

Gas prices continue upward climb


Woman at gas pump


 Sun photo/Jed Kirschbaum

There was one day last week when it looked as if Baltimore consumers might get a break on gas prices -- one day when the price of gasoline stayed the same as the day before. It was a  glimmer of hope because, after all, the first thing prices have to do in order to go down is to stop going up,

That day proved to be a mirage, however, as gas prices resumed their upward march at the pace of about a penny a day.  AAA Mid-Atlantic put the statewide average price Monday at $2.58, up a penny from the day before and up 7 cents from a week ago.

 Now AAA is talking about a steady but slow increase through the Fourth of July.

“As the summer driving season ramps up, motorists are feeling a pinch at the pump,” said AAA spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella.  "We expect to see small gas price increases through the 4th of July.   We do not expect dramatic price swings like we saw last summer.  But, when people spend more money to fill up their gas tanks, they have less money in their pockets to spend on everything else and that doesn’t help economic recovery.”


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:08 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads

June 13, 2009

Escaping Harbor East

My travels don't usually take me into the Harbor East area on weekdays at rush hour, but I happened to be down that way Thursday and Friday. That's quite a traffic mess down there -- especially for folks trying to get to the west side or Interstate 95 south.

 On Thursday about 6 p.m. I tried to do it the logical, shortest-distance route: up President Street and west on Lombard Street. It was about a half-hour crawl just to get to Light Street.

On Friday, I got free about the same time but I wasn't about to try that again. I remembered what city highway officials had recommended and backtacked to Central Avenue, headed north to Orleans Street, crossed the Orleans Street bridge onto Franklin and continued to Martin Luther King Blvd. south. It was a much longer, more circuitous route with lots of lights, but it must have taken 15 minutes off the trip.

So if you're trying to get out of Harbor East or anywhere in Southeast at the evenings rush hour, remember. The shortest (temporal) distance between two points isn't a straight line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:32 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

June 11, 2009

New Red Line proposal floated

Robert Keith, a member of the Red Line Advisory Council and a resident of Fells Point, is an outspoken opponent of what is now considered to be the leading alternative for construction of the east-west Red Line.

That alternative would run light rail from Westview ro Bayview, with tunneling under downtown, Fells Point and West Baltimore's Cooks Lane but with tracks on the surface allong Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street. The  roughly $1.6 billion plan has the support of business leaders and the Dixon administration but is opposed by many residents of Canton and West Baltimore.

Also on the table is an alternative that includes tunneling under Edmondson and Boston, but the Maryland Transit Administration said that plan would be too costly to meet the standards for federal funding.

Keith is planning to submit an alternative plan to the advisory council tonight calling for maximum tunneling, but with construction in two phases. It's an interesting idea, though the $2.3 billion price tag is daunting. Nor is it certain that the first phase of his plan would attract enough ridership to qualify.

 I'm not at all convinced by Keith's insistence that the line should run under Fayette Street downtown rather than Lombard Street. That plan would take the line two blocks farther from the waterfront, likely costing it a lot of ridership. Keith seems to believe a 600-foot underground passageway between the Red Line at the Metro's Charles Center station is an onerous imposition. To me, it sounds reasonable.

If you're interested in poring through a rather long, proposal, it's attached below. My caveat is that it is the work of an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional with extensive qualifications in the field. I pass it along without endorsing it.



A Proposal for Alternative 4D Modified;
Funding the Red Line in Two Phases


By Robert Keith

Widespread demands for tunneling, rather than surface rail, from resident organizations along Edmonson Avenue on the West Side and Boston Street on the East Side, necessitate a full rethinking of the funding approach to the Red Line project, especially in a year when the federal New Starts program expires in September and new rules and criteria are likely to emerge under the Obama Administration.


The only practical way to keep initial costs in line with present dollar expectations, and yet serve the tunneling requirements of the neighborhood groups, is to fund the project in two or more phases, known in transportation lingo as Minimum Operating Segments (MOS).


Phase One would consist of, or certainly include, the downtown core, defined for purposes of this proposal as West Baltimore MARC station on the West Side to the Harbor East / Harbor Point area on Central Avenue. Both of these end destinations would be included in the ridership calculations.


Phase Two would consist of the West Side alignments from the MARC Station to Social Security and CMS, and the East Side alignments from Harbor East/Harbor Point to Canton Crossing and Bayview Medical Center.


With MTA assistance, I have compiled on the following page the approximate costs of these alignments, based on 2009 dollars: I have used a Fayette Street tunnel alignment downtown, rather than the Lombard Street alignment of Alternative 4C, for reasons given below.

Phase One
Calverton (West Baltimore MARC) to MLK portal (surface)
MLK portal to Central Avenue in Fells Point (tunnel)
Underground stations at Greene, Howard, St. Paul, City Hall,
Harbor East/Harbor Point
Approximate cost............................................................................$705,000,000


Phase Two


West Side
CMS to I-70 Park & ride (surface)
I-70 Park & Ride to Calverton (tunnel)
Underground stations near Edmonson Village,
Allendale and Rosemont
Approximate cost:...........................................................................$841,500,000


East Side
Central Avenue to Clinton St. (tunnel)
Underground stations at Fells Point (Fleet Street) and Canton (Boston Street)
Clinton Street to Bayview Park & Ride (surface & aerial).
Approximate cost............................................................................$520,500,000


Total Phase Two...........................................................................$1,362,000,000

Add for yard & shop, vehicles, right of ways, other.....................$294,000,000


Grand Total..................................................................................: $2,309,000,000



Another possibility is to include the West Side alignments with downtown as part of Phase One. The combined cost of that would be $1,546,500,000, leaving the East Side alignments for Phase Two at $520,000,000.


At a June 9, 2009 meeting of the Waterfront Coalition, an East Side advocacy group representing 22 neighborhood organizations, representatives agreed unanimously that if it comes to a choice, they would be happy to see the West Side sector accomodated first in the funding priorities, so long as no surface Red Line is constructed on Boston Street in the meantime. Better to have it done right on both sides of the city even if the east side tunneling needs to wait.


Improvements Downtown:
Shift tunnel from Lombard Street to Fayette Street
The Red Line tunnel should be shifted from Lombard Street (Alternative 4C) to Fayette Street where it will far better serve the general public in access and convenience. A Fayette Street tunnel would continue to Southeast and Fleet Street on the same alignment shown now for a Lombard Street tunnel.


The Lombard Street tunnel of alternative 4C forces the worst connection between the Red Line and the existing Green Line Metro Subway of any Red Line Alternative proposed by the MTA. It requires a 600’ undergound pedestrian passage--the length of two football fields--under St. Paul Street to connect the Red Line with the Metro at Charles Center. This is greater than the distance today between the Metro and Central Light Rail at their closest at point at Lexington Market.


A Fayette Street tunnel would require only a 300’ passage under St. Paul Street, which would be the platform of the future Yellow Line. In addition, it would offer an underground station near City Hall, bringing the high-public-use City Hall/Court complex into the rail transit system. Alternative 4C’s Lombard Street alignment fails to serve City Hall. Both alignments, Fayette Street and Lombard Street, have underground stations at Howard Street and Greene Street (VA Hospital, University of Maryland) on the west side of downtown.


A streetcar line on Pratt Street


A Pratt Street streetcar, with the westbound tracks running on Lombard Street, would nicely complement the more northerly Fayette Street light rail service, when the City moves forward with its planned Pratt Street reconstruction. The line would run from the B&O Railroad Museum on the west to Eastern and Central Avenues and the waterfront on the east, replacing portions of the City shuttlebus service that opens this year. The federal Small Starts program provides assistance, and relatively fast approval, for streetcar projects costing up to $250 milion.


Bring in the Yellow Line
The 2002 Rail Plan shows the Yellow Line running North/South in the St. Paul-Light Street corridor, crossing under the Metro Subway at Charles Center and tieing together the Red Line, Metro, Charles Center, Harborplace and the various trip-generating activities at Camden Yards, including the MARC Camden Line, Central Light Rail, the baseball and football stadiums, Convention Center and new hotel.


The connecting role of the Yellow Line was acknowledged by the Red Line engineering coordinator at the April 10, 2009 meeting of the Red Line Citizen’s Advisory Council, but with the sad prediction that the actual construction of the Yellow Line ‘will be many years down the road.” Until the Yellow Line is built, the Red Line will fail to make all the key connections downtown, and the rail system will lack the synergy that comes when the lines are closely linked. At that point, all the destinations of each line become destinations for the other lines, and ridership rises with the tide, as is the case wiith the Metro system in Washington, D.C., Boston and elsewhere. The Yellow Line sector between Penn Station and Camden Yards needs to be fast tracked, perhaps as part of Phase Two of the funding.
Remedy A Deception in the DEIS
The Executive Summary of the Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) (the only part many people read) makes this soothing statement about the Red Line on page 5-5:


“The Red Line will connect directly to the Central Light Rail line and the Metro Subway, making combined east-west/north-south trips seamless.”


In transit parlance, “connect directly” and “seamless” suggest the kind of escalator connection between intersecting lines that contributes so much to the success of the Metro system in Washington, D.C.


As noted on the previous page, the connection between the Red Line and Metro made by Alternative 4C consists of a 600’ pedestrian tunnel. Moreover, there is no narrative description of this pedestrian walkway to be found anywhere in the DEIS. The Stations technical report describes other stations in some detail. It includes a drawing of the underground walkway, but the description, if ever written, is omitted.


It is difficult to conclude that the misleading statement in the Executive Summary and the omission of any discussion in the technical report is somehow inadvertant. Intentional or not, the description in the Executive Summary pollutes the information available to the public in voicing their support of Alternative C. o serve taxpayer interest and confirm the credibility of the agency, the MTA Administrator should take these steps:


1. Conduct an internal review of how this happened.
2. Ask staff to:
--Revise the language in the Executive Summary relating to “directly connect” and “seamless, with regard to the link to the Subway,
--Provide a written description of the pedestrian tunnel connection,
--Communicate thls information as a courtesy to all groups and individuals known to support Alternatve C.
East Side Concerns:
Possible Tunneling to Highlandtown
The stiff opposition of Canton neighborhood groups to surface Red Line trains on Boston Street is well known to the City and the MTA. Some residents have also raised concerns about building a tunnel under Boston Street, on the edge of the flood plain. The concerns relate to the mixed nature of the soil, high water table, and the need to build an underground station at Canton and exit portal at Clinton Street with walls high enough to guard against extreme hurricane tides and the current slowly rising sea level accelerated by global warming.


These residents have suggested shifting the Red Line to Eastern Avenue, to serve larger neighborhoods. An Eastern Ave. alignment is shown in the DEIS.


Another possible alignment that should be studied is a simple eastward extension of the Red Line tunnel under Fleet Street from its Harbor East and Fell’s Point stations directly to Highlandtown. A portal location acceptable to the community would need to be identified west of Haven Street so that the line could merge into the north/south Norfolk Southern right of way on the alignment already proposed by the MTA .


One advantage of a Fleet Street alignment is that it would join the Norfolk Southern right of way at a point south of the Eastern Avenue surface station, thus fitting well with the visions for this area reached in a recent charette conducted by the Southeast Development Corp. The Eastern Avenue tunnel shown in the DEIS would exit from a portal well north of Eastern Avenue, at a site much less convenient to patrons from Highlandtown and Greerktown. Also it would be longer than a Fleet Street tunnel, and thus costlier.


A streetcar line for the East Side


A streetcar line should be considered as a localized feeder service in coordination with the Red Line, to best bring Canton, Canton Crossing, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown, Greektown, the Bayivew campus, O’Donnell Heights and Travel Plaza into the rail system, with bus shuttle extension to Dundalk and Turners Station. The circular streetcar line would share the Red Line tracks alongside Haven Street.


A streetcar may be the best way to serve the Bayview campus, The site chosen by the MTA for the terminal Red Line station at Bayview, near the entrance to the main hospital building, has been obliterated by new construction. A new alignment should be designed, in consultation with hospital officials, so that the streetcar tracks can continue to Eastern and Dundalk Avenues for the streetcar line.
Surface Extension of Green Line Metro
Community groups in Southeast Baltimore have long called for an eastward surface extension of the Green Line Metro to the Bayview Medical Center and beyond, utilizing in part the existing Amtrak/MARC corridor. This would not only link the two hospitals but provide premium Metro service to “choice” ridership at Bayview, including Park & Ride commuters. Feeder bus connections could perhaps be accomodated at a surface station in Orangeville, in coordination with private development that is at an early planning stage for the Orangeville area now, including remediation of a contaminated industrial site.


The present terminus in the heart of the Johns Hopkins Medical Center is a terrible place to end a subway line. There’s no place for feeder buses to come in and lay over, and no place for Park & Ride other than the hospital garages.


The 2002 Rail Plan projected an extension northward, up Broadway and Harford Road to Morgan State University and beyond. The MTA has quietly shelved this plan after initial scoping which indicated the the cost effectiveness potential falls far short of federal requirements for funding.


Any Green Line extension eastward will need to be coordinated with the Amtrak and MARC rail plans for the corridor, which could include widening of the present embankments. The Maryland Department of Transportation should prepare a status report as a guide to future Green Line planning, including the Green Line’s appropriate place in the long-range visions of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board which sets the parameters for federal funding.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:47 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Red Line

Do legislators get tickets?

A woman who wishes to remain anonymous sent me an interesting email after reading my June 8 column of the driving record of speed-camera arch-foe and General Assembly super-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano. Her story had nothing to do with Bereano but involved some people he knows well.

Many years ago, this woman writes, she was a lawly temp worker for the union of the Maryland State Police. A young probationary trooper was brought into the office of a union leader. It seems the novice trooper had landed himself in hot water when he stopped a state senator for speeding (my correspondent recalls hearing something about 95 mph). Apparently, this idealistic young officer of the law refused to be bullied by the legislator's claim of important business in Annapolis and had the temerity to issue a ticket.

It seems the state senator complained to the governor, who then complained to the superintendent of state police, who landed with both feet on the neck of the young trooper. The officer was apparently on the verge of losing his job, but the union leader intervened and talked management into reducing the punishment to a "note" in the officer's file.

According to my correspondent, the union leader sat down with the young trooper and explained the facts of life: The state police do not issue tickets to state senators and delagates no matter how fast the're going.

Now this reportedly occurred back in the glory days of the "culture of corruption." The governor is long out of office, as is the superintendent. The allegedly lead-footed legislator no longer sits in the Senate of Maryland.

If there was  a time when legislators could expect a break from Maryland State Police at traffic stops, a spokesman Greg Shipley assured me that is not the case now.

"They certainly are to be treated like everybody else," he said.

Shipley said the only immunity legislators have is from arrest when involved in debate in the Senate or House of Delegates.

Shipley said new officers are trained to apply the law equally. "There 's no special class in the police academies saying let the senators and the delegates go," he said.

I've dealt with Shipley a long time and consider him a straight shooter. Would it be naive to think the bad old days are over? If you have information about this question, please send it to

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 10, 2009

It's going to be a traffic mess, hon

Baltimore's annual Hon Fest this weekend may be fun for the hons but it can also be a traffic nightmare for those traveling around Hampden.

The Baltimore Department of Transportation said it will close West 36th St. from Falls Road to Chestnut Avenue and Chestnut Avenue from Wellington Avenue to West 37th Street staring Friday night at midnight and continuing through 10 p.m. Sunday.

Those who want to avoid the traffic and parking problems can take the light rail to the Woodberry station and walk about six uphill blocks to the Avenue in Hampden. But be warned: Those in full hon regalia have been known to frighten unsuspecting tourists.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:00 PM |
Categories: On the roads

MTA officials to meet MARC passengers

Managers from the Maryland Transit Administration will be at the West Baltimore MARC station from 4:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. to meet with Penn Line passengers if weather permits.

After what  happened Monday, that's pretty brave of them. (A whole lot of people were left sweltering aboard a stalled train.)


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:56 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

Baltimore gas price levels off

After several werks of steady increases, gasoline prices in the Baltimore area have leveled off.

AAA Mid-Atlantic reported early Wednesday that the average price of a gallon of regular in Maryland stands at $2.506 -- exactly the same as Tuesday.

The statewide average continued to increase, but at a much slower pace than Maryland motorists have been seeing. It inched up three-tenths of a cent to $2.523, reflecting a continued climb in the Washington area and Western Maryland.

It's hard to say whether prices have just paused to catch their breath before resuming the ascent or whether they're ready to head downhill. The pattern ove the last two tears has been for prices to peak in May or June, to remain high in July and to ease in August.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 9, 2009

Some quick gas price tips for Maryland travel

If you live in Baltimore and are driving to lower Montgomery County (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), gas up at home and don't get caught with the needle near E down there. The close-in D.C. suburbs in Montgomery typically have the highest prices in the state -- running about 30 cents above the prevailing price per gallon of regular gasoline in the Baltimore area.

But if you're going to the beach, try to hit the Bay Bridge with about a quarter tank (don't cut it too close) and get your next fill-up around Salisbury. Eastern Shore prices are typically the lowest in the state, though certain stations in Laurel and Edgewater can give it a run for the money.

There is typically about a 50-cent swing between Maryland's highest and lowest prices. The lowest Tuesday on was $2.37 in Ocean City; the highest was $2.88 in Cabin John, near Potomac in Montgomery County. The average in Baltimore was just above $2.50. That's not an atypical spread.

East Baltimore and the Perry Hall area tend to be someof the better places to buy in the Baltimore area. In South Baltimore, at Patapsco Avenue and Potee St., you have a very comptetive corner. If in Howard County, never fill up in Columbia and shy away from Ellicott City. The U.S. 1 corridor in Elkridge is the place to go.

In Montgomery County, there can be a vast spread between the cheaper north county (Olney-Germantown-Gaithersburg) and down-county. Tuesday it was more than 40 cents.

Just a few ideas. I'm sure readers can point out some other high and low spots.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

Trucking industry backs tough safety agenda

The American Trucking Associations released a remarkably tough, forward-looking highway safety agenda Tuesday.

Among other things, the trade group is calling for strict new rules governing truck speed. It is calling for speed governors that would keep the speeds of the big rigs no higher than 65 mph.

The ATA is also backing such common-sense proposals as the greater use of speed cameras, tougher laws governing drunk divers and tougher licensing and training requirements for young drivers.

If you're interested in such matters, the group's report is worth taking a look at.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:13 PM |
Categories: On the roads

D.C. launches construction of new trail

The District of Columbia has begun construction of a new 8-mile Metropolitan Branch Trail between Silver Spring and Union Station.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:58 PM |
Categories: Off the roads

MTA apologizes for MARC debacle

             The Maryland Transit Administration issued a remarkable and unusually detailed apology Tuesday to passengers on Monday's Penn Line Train 530 -- along with a plea not to take actions that could make matters worse.

             The emailed apology, brought to you courtesy of passenger Jeff Quinton, is noteworthy for the detail of the explanation. It is especially interesting that the MTA made no effort to conceal its own frustration with the performance of Amtrak in keeping passengers informed while they sweltered in cars with no air conditioning.

While chastising Amtrak, the MTA also issued pleas to passengers not to respond to such conditions by removing windows or trying to leave the train. It said window removal can keep the train from getting under way once repairs are completed, while trying to leave the train between stations is just plain dangerous.

           The full text is well worth reading. It also indicates the MTA can't get its new locomotives on the tracks soon enough.



To Our Penn Line Passengers:

We sincerely apologize for yesterday’s mechanical breakdown on train 530 near the Seabrook station. As those of you on the train know all too well, train 530 became disabled shortly after departing New Carrollton. Not only was the train unable to move, but the train lost all lighting and air conditioning. As soon as the problem with Train 530 was reported, Amtrak sent a mechanical technician out on the next train to attempt to repair the train. The locomotive involved has been removed from service pending a thorough investigation and repairs.

The MTA contracts with Amtrak to operate the Penn Line MARC trains.

The MARC operations center was notified of Train 530’s problems by Amtrak just before 5:00pm. We sent a text and email message out to all Penn Line riders at 5:01pm, with updates following.

We understand that the temperature and conditions on board train 530 quickly became unbearable. Many of you expressed frustration that several MARC trains passed train 530 without stopping. The challenge of rush hour operations is that these trains themselves are already filled to capacity themselves and cannot take on additional passengers. While the train stopped agonizingly short of the platform at Seabrook, it is not possible to unload passengers at a location that is not a station stop.

When it became clear that train 530 was not going to be able to move for a significant period of time, trains 439 and 440 were cancelled and its equipment sent non-stop from Baltimore to Seabrook to transfer passengers. While 439 was en route, the technician was able to get 530’s locomotive working, lights and air conditioning restored, and the train departed Seabrook. MARC then “uncancelled” train 440, the 6:40pm departure from Washington.

Today, MARC management has been reviewing this incident with Amtrak.

One of our primary concerns is, based upon on your e-mails to us, that the train crew did not provide updates to passengers. This is unacceptable and we have told Amtrak that we expect their employees to provide regular updates to our passengers, even when there is no new information to report. MARC’s mechanical department will also be meeting with Amtrak mechanical personnel to determine what went wrong with the locomotive.

While yesterday’s incident was, to say the least, frustrating and the temperature uncomfortable, we do need to ask one thing of our passengers. Please do not ever remove windows from a train, unless directed by a member of the train crew. Doing this makes an already difficult situation worse—once windows are removed, a train cannot proceed until the car(s) in which the windows have been removed are unoccupied and even then the train can only proceed at a significantly reduced speed. It is also extremely dangerous to exit a train through the emergency windows. In addition to the potential injury you may incur falling from the train, trains pass on parallel tracks at speeds of up to 135 miles per hour. These trains approach very quickly and quietly. Again, while we understand the conditions on board train 530, removal of windows and exiting the train is extremely dangerous and should never be done unless directed by a uniformed Amtrak/MARC employee.

We appreciate your understanding of this matter.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:23 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train

A welcome reminder on a rainy day

It was nasty out there this morning. In rain like this, I generally avoid Interstate 95 because of all the kamikaze drivers out there who won't take 5 mph off their travel speed as a concession to a  steady rain. I figure it might take me five more minutes on U.S. 1 -- or I may miss  a  half hour of being stuck behind a tractor-trailer crash.

Anyway, it was a pleasure  to be greeted this morning with an email from Morton Weiner of Baltimore, a man  of uncommon good sense. Weiner made the following points, which I pass along unedited:

 1) During inclement weather the electronic signs over the beltway should flash reminders for drivers to turn on headlights. There are so many drivers that neglect to do so. And it is the law!

2) Since most auto sales persons do not know that vehicles with running lights do not include having rear lights on at the same time, could you include that in one of your articles? I am certain that lots of drivers are not aware of that. Another reason for headlights during inclement weather. Since that includes turning on rear lights.

3) Headlight alignment! Have the electronic signs occasionally flash a reminder "have you had your headlights alignment checked recently?" There are so many vehicles that blind you with that problem. Since we no longer have annual auto inspections a reminder might be a good idea.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:37 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 8, 2009

Blog gives road map to Maryland earmark requests

Maryland Politics Watch has compiled a useful list of earmark requests by various members of the Maryland congressional delegation. It also includes all the right caveats about asking not being the same as receiving.

What we can give you that MPW hasn't are  easy-to-click links below.

The one member whose requests MPW didn't find were those of Rep. John Sarbanes, whose web folks need to work a little harder at transparency. Says MPW's Marc Korman:  "John Sarbanes-Unable to identify appropriations from website. Press reports indicate it is buried within a grants announcement page, but I could not identity it."


Getting There found Sarbanes' transportation requests and other funding, but the congressman made it a struggle. See if you can find your way there from the home page.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski

Sen. Ben Cardin

Rep. Frank Kratovil

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger

Rep. Donna Edwards

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Rep. Chris Van Hollen


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:12 PM | | Comments (1)

Authority to hold meetings on I-95 toll plaza

The Maryland Transportation Authority will hold two public meetings this month to answer questions and receive comments on the placement of a new toll plaza along Interstate 95 in Cecil County.

The meetings, both from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., will be held June 16 at Elkton High School  and June 18 at Perryville High.

The meetings are part of a study that began last spring to study traffic patterns in the I-95 corridor and to determine the best locations at which to collect tolls on the Kennedy Memorial Highway. The study will also look at the best ways to collect the tolls.

 The authority said there will be no formal presentation at the meetings but said staff members will be present to answer questions and take comments. The study, which is described in detail at the authority's web site, is expected to be completed  this fall.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:43 PM | | Comments (1)

Leading camera foe is repeat speed offender

In the lost cause of reversing Maryland's recently adopted speed camera law, few soldiers stormed the barricades with more gusto than Annapolis super-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Bereano claimed to have collected more than 1,500 signatures in the failed effort by hauling petitions to political fundraisers and other events.

"I just feel personally very strongly about this," Bereano told The Sun. "The state presumes guilt, which is contrary to American tenets of law; ... it's making a mockery of justice."

There may be another explanation for Bereano's vehemence than a passion for justice. The felonious lobbyist - he was convicted on federal mail fraud charges in 1994 - is a chronic speeder who has collected traffic tickets at the rate of almost two a year since 1996.

Since 1996, the earliest year for which the District Court of Maryland keeps electronic records, Bereano has been ticketed 22 times in the state. Eighteen of those citations have been for speeding. In nine of those cases, court records show, the officer who issued the ticket clocked Bereano at speeds of 80 mph and above - the highest a whopping 90 mph in Caroline County in 2007.

Though he was disbarred after his conviction, Bereano has a pretty good record as an advocate for himself. On his 22 moving violation citations in Maryland, he's been found not guilty seven times - three times in speeding cases, including that one in Caroline.

Bereano was also the beneficiary of multiple acts of mercy by tender-hearted Maryland judges - many of whom have an abiding faith in the power of the break known as probation before judgment to nudge a sinner toward redemption. The lobbyist received two PBJs in his home county of Anne Arundel - in 1997 and 1999 - even though he had several speeding convictions over the previous years.

Most of Bereano's citations and convictions took place on the Eastern Shore, the personal NASCAR track where he's racked up 14 tickets over the past 13 years - including nine for which he has had to pay fines. Just last week in Dorchester County, he was found guilty of going 73 in a 55-mph zone in January. He received that speeding ticket six days after getting another one in Queen Anne's County, for which he got a PBJ. Isn't it about time the Eastern Shore delegation to the General Assembly staged an intervention? It's their constituents whose lives he's putting at risk.

Bereano is due back in court this week to face a charge of going 85 mph in a 55-mph-zone - worth $290 and 5 points - in Montgomery County. That doesn't mean he'll show up. He failed to appear for trial on that charge on Jan. 22 - the seventh time he's been a no-show since 1997. If past is prologue, he'll probably get a break. After his previous convictions, he has seldom been hit with a maximum fine.

Given this history, it seems pretty clear by now why Bereano is such a dedicated opponent of speed cameras.

(Disclosure: Bereano stopped talking to me long ago. Our history goes back to my days covering Annapolis, when he was unhappy with my reporting on his lobbying activities. He did not change his policy for this column: "I have no comment for you whatsoever.")

The real point here is not Bereano and the way he tools around the state in his Mercedes-Benz. He's just one scofflaw among many on our roads. What's more worrisome is his legion of enablers: the judges who have given him break after unwarranted break, the lawmakers who have given him the time of day when he blathered to them on issues of highway safety, and the General Assembly that has long tolerated a body of law too weak to get chronic speeders off the road.

But public opinion may be getting ahead of them.

When the opponents of speed cameras failed in their petition drive, they were quick to whine about how Maryland's referendum laws were stacked against them. But here's another theory: The reason the petition effort failed was that a sufficient number of Marylanders, when asked to sign, said "hell, no" because they realized that speeding is a menace and that their families need to be protected near schools and in work zones from drivers like Bruce C. Bereano.

The upshot? Smile, Bruce, you're on candid camera.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:29 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: On the roads

June 7, 2009

New hybrid bus gets rave review

I saw one of those new hybrid buses in the Howard Transit fleet at Columbia Mall this weekend, so I decided to have a chat with the driver about the new vehicles. He told me the new buses, which began to arrive in Howard County about the beginning of March, are a pleasure to drive. They handle, he said,  "like a Cadillac."

That's quite a contrast with Howard Transit's old buses, which bounced their passengers around like basketballs and rode, the driver said, "like a buckboard."







Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:29 AM |

June 5, 2009

Changes promised for Beltway Exit 1

Reader Chris Haffer wrote in to ask what the heck's happening at the interchange of the Beltway, Quarantine Road and Hawkins Point Road.

Every morning on my way to the office I pass by at least ½ mile of backed up traffic at Exit 1.  Most people who are in line are on the shoulder.  Every now and again some genius will decide to stop in the right lane of traffic – causing all traffic to essentially stop -  and butt into the line nearer the ramp.  This is happening on both sides of the Beltway.

A few years ago I heard that SHA was well aware of the problem and that the entire exit was due for a major overhaul.

What’s happening?

When I asked the State Highway Administration that question, the agency directed me to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which is responsible for that stretch of the Beltway.

 Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss wrote back to say the agency has plans to upgrade that interchange. Details follow:

Here's what Moss had to say on the authority's behalf:

There is a project currently scheduled to begin in 2010 which involves improvements to the I-695/Quarantine Road interchange.  It will include the following:

  • Widening three of the existing interchange ramps to add capacity.
  • Removing the ramp from Quarantine Road to eastbound I-695 (traffic will be directed to use the Fort Armistead Ramp to access eastbound I-695).
  • Widening the approach roadways to the Quarantine Road Bridge.
  • Adding a new traffic signal at the end of the ramp from eastbound I-695 to Quarantine Road.
  • Removing three existing traffic signals and replacing them with new signals that are timed to reduce delays during peak-traffic periods.

In the meantime, know that that Baltimore City Transportation continues to watch and modify the operation of the traffic signal at Quarantine and Hawkins Point Road.  Being aware of the queues, our traffic manager routinely monitors the situation and has noted that delays routinely occur during peak traffic times and are a result of high traffic volumes partly from area businesses.  She has often times noticed disabled vehicles contributing to the situation.   

In addition, there are cameras in the area monitored by MDTA’s operations center for back ups, disabled vehicles and incidents.  As with any traffic impediment, operators take appropriate action such as dispatching emergency response units or activating highway signs.    

As you know, with the current fiscal situation, we must continue to examine and prioritize projects based on system preservation needs as well as public safety. 



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:57 PM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

MTA to upgrade Falls Road light rail station

It looks like the Maryland Transit Administration is getting the state's share of federal stimulus money out on the street. The latest of several MTA station upgrades being funded by the feds is an expansion  of the undersized parking lot and other improvements at the Falls Road light rais station.

The cost of the project is $2.3 million. The project will expand the lot from 97 spaces to 197. Construction is expected to be completed next spring.

 Click below to read what  the MTA had top say about the project:


BALTIMORE, MD (June 5, 2009) Today, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA)

announced the start of $2.3 million dollars in upgrades at the Falls Road Light Rail Stop.

These important transit improvements were funded by President Barack Obama’s

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The improvements to the Falls

Road facility follow the completion of conceptual engineering designs that were

developed and approved with community input received during a series of public

workshop meetings conducted by the MTA.

“These transit investment projects also help put local people to work and further

Maryland’s economic recovery,” said Governor O’Malley. “The public process leading

to this point has kept the local community engaged, so citizens have a direct say on

transit development projects that impact their communities. These improvements will

allow more of those citizens to choose transit as a smart, environmentally-friendly way to

travel throughout their neighborhoods.”

The Falls Road project has been designed to meet the increased need for parking at the

station. The $2.3 million project design elements and station improvements include:

Increasing parking capacity from 97 spaces to 197 spaces

New lighted pedestrian path from Old Falls Road.

New lighting, landscaping and signs

New fencing between the station and Railroad Avenue

New bike racks.

Upgraded stormwater management facilities that reduce run-off to the Jones Falls

Bus access improvements

“This project represents real and immediate progress as we continue to identify ways

MTA can accommodate increased ridership,” said MTA Administrator Paul Wiedefeld.

“The existing parking lot has been over capacity for several years, resulting in Light Rail

riders being forced to parking along access roads and on unpaved surfaces,” he added.

Construction is expected to be complete in spring 2010. The MTA is assuring customers

that commuter vehicle parking and the station’s walkup access will be maintained at all

times during construction.

Average daily ridership at the Falls Road stop is 381. Total daily Light Rail ridership is


Since ARRA funding became available earlier this spring, Governor O’Malley has

announced a series of transit improvement projects made possible with ARRA dollars.

These include: the purchase of new hybrid replacement buses for the MTA; the purchase

of buses for locally operated transit systems around the state; customer information

system improvements at Baltimore Metro Subway and MARC stations, and infrastructure

improvements at a variety of MARC stations. All totaled, Maryland will receive

$135 million in ARRA funding for transit improvements.

For general information on MTA service, visit the MTA website at Customers can also call the MTA Transit Information Center

Monday through Friday from 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. at 410-539-5000 (TTY 410-539-3497) or

866-RIDE-MTA. To sign-up to receive email about service modifications and delays, go

to and click “Email Notification.”

# # #

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

No two-way on Bay Bridge today

The weather is expected to be pretty rotten again today, so the Maryland Transportation Authority has decided not to try two-way operations on the westbound span. That's the prudent call, but it also means there may be some serious backups in the eastbound direction -- especially this afternoon and evening.

Baltimore-area folks who are heading for the beach this P.M. should give serious thought to taking the northern route. People who are doubly smart will avoid the Delaware Toll Plaza -- scene of many a backup -- and cut over on Route 272 to U.S. 40 east at North East, cross the state line and take a right on Wrangle Hill  Road to Delaware Route 1 south.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:40 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

June 4, 2009

Bad day for the MTA

The Maryland Transit Administration has faced a triple-whammy today as trouble struck on three of its modes of travel.

 The biggest disruption was on the light rail line, where bad weather and downed trees shut down the soouthern end of the line. Here's the update from the MTA:

 Last updated: June 04, 6:00 PM Due to downed wires, Light Rail is experiencing major delays on the southern end between Camden Yards and North Linthicum. MTA is in the process of implementing shuttle bus service between locations. We ask for your patience and cooperation.

Meanwhile, the MTA warned commuters on the Camden Line of potential flooding at the Laurel station.

Then, there are preliminary reports that a car hit a bus on the No. 20 route at Baltimore and Carey streets, sending at least 24 people to the hospital.

After weeks of relative quiet at the MTA, it's getting ugly out there.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:46 PM | | Comments (1)

Obama names former MVA chief to high post

President Obama turned to Maryland again for a top appointment in the transportation field as he named Anne S. Ferro to head the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates the interstate bus industry.

Ferro won praise from lawmakers for the job she did as head of Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration during the Glendening administration. She lost that job when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich took office, but quickly resurfaced as head of the trucking industry's Maryland trade association.

This is what the White House had to say about her background:

Anne S. Ferro served as Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administrator between 1997 and 2003 where she established a strong record in highway safety, regulatory compliance and agency leadership. She has extensive experience in driver and vehicle safety having led the agency’s efforts to establish a graduated licensing program for new drivers in Maryland as well as a model for older driver research. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Cote d’Ivoire, Ferro is currently President of the Maryland Motor Truck Association and serves on several regional advisory committees relating to freight planning, highway safety and transportation funding. In 2008 she was selected as Maryland’s Port Woman of the Year. Ferro earned a Masters degree in Public Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis.

Previously, President Obama named Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari as deputy U.S. secretary of transportation, the No.  2 official after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Porcari was confirmed by the Senate and was sworn in June 1.

Ferro faces Senate confirmation.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:27 PM | | Comments (1)

MARC warns of Laurel flooding

It looks like a tough time for MARC  Camden Line commuters. The Maryland Transit Administration sent out this advisory this afternoon:

Floodgates further up the Patuxent River were released at 4:00am today. It is anticipated that the floodgates in Laurel will have to be released later today or this evening. When this occurs, the Legion lot will be under as much as two feet of water.

Commuters should also be aware that several adjacent roads, including the Main Street underpass below the train tracks, Lafayette Avenue, Laurel Racetrack Road, Whiskey Bottom Road, and Brock Bridge Road may flood. The American Legion lot on the east side of the station will be closed again tomorrow and may be closed Monday. The one small lot closest to the station platform is open, however, the Laurel Police Department recommends that only SUV's and trucks park in this lot due to potential flooding of the driveway that leads into the lot (not the lot itself).

 MARC appreciates that this is a frustrating situation and that, as of this morning, there was no evidence of flooding. However, based on past experience, when it does flood, the Patuxent River overflows its banks quickly and provides little opportunity to remove cars before they are flooded and damaged. We appreciate your continued patience and understanding. We will provide an update on Monday morning when we receive an update from WSCC and the City of Laurel.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:04 PM |
Categories: MARC train

Light rail service disrupted

This just in from the Maryland Transit Administration:

Last updated: June 04, 5:00 PM 


Due to downed wires, Light Rail is experiencing major delays on the southern end between Camden Yards and North Linthicum. MTA is in the process of implementing shuttle bus service between locations. We ask for your patience and cooperation.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the problems are the result of heavy rains and falling trees. She said the bus bridge is up and running and that repair crews are att the scene.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM |
Categories: Light rail

What the feds really say about speeding

I have found that the most reliable way to ensure that someone calls me an idiot is to point out that speeding is a dangerous and anti-social behavior. There is no easier way to attract the epithet of fascist than to support strong traffic law enforcement -- both by police officers and by electronic means.

That doesn't bother me. Sticks and stones, you know. What does bug me is when folks cite such authorities as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the effect that speeding is just fine and the problem is all those people on the road who are going too slow.

For the record, NHTSA spokesman Eric Bolton said he knows of no data collected by the agency that woulod support tthe proposition that slow drivers are more dangerous than speeders.

Here is a small excerpt of what NHTSA has to say about speeding in its publication Traffic Safety Facts:

Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. The economic cost to society of speeding-related crashes is estimated by NHTSA to be $40.4 billion per year. In 2007, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and 13,040 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes.

The total economic cost of crashes was estimated at $230.6 billion in 2000. Motor vehicle crashes cost society an estimated $7,300 per second. In 2000, the cost of speeding-related crashes was estimated to be $40.4 billion — $76,865 per minute or $1,281 per second.

Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway, extends the distance necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases the distance a vehicle travels while the driver reacts to a dangerous situation.

So if any folks want to make the case that speeding is safe, I recommend a good round of name-calling. That really is the best they got.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

June 3, 2009

Police scarce on I-95

Tonight was a complete contrast to Tuesday night: not a police officer in sight in the Caton Avenue-to-Beltway stretch of Interstate 95.

Sgt. Jonathan Green, spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said Tuesday's show of force was part of the Operation Smooth Operator campaign against aggressive driving. I hope the transportation authority cops took their crackdown to another stretch of I-95.

Come back to the south part of town any time. There's no lack of maniacs.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:41 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

MARC train running late

MARC train 432 out of DC was running 25-30 minutes late out of DC tonight because of mechanical problems. Can't get those new locomotives all on line fast enough.

Too bad, the MTA had seemed to be doing better lately.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:22 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train

Getting it right in Northern Virginia

Yglesias Think Progress blog has a good post on transit-oriented development and how it has worked in Arlington, Va.

Meanwhile, GreaterGreaterWashington reports on planning for a new Metro station in Alexandria.

Why does Maryland seem to be so far behind Northern Virginia on transit matters?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:37 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Two regional events for trail devotees

Saturday brings two events to the region that could interest folks who like nothing better than a good trail.

One is at Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Va., just south of Mount Vernon. It's the American Hiking Society's National Trail Day from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.  Information can be found at the society's website.

The other is the opening of the hiking and biking lanes on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail, crossing the Potomac River between Prince George's County and Alexandria, Va. That trail opens to the public at 1 p.m.

More information follows:



“Pedals and Pedestrians”
Opening the New Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail and
Potomac River Waterfront Community Park on National Trails Day
WHAT:                 Dedication of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge bike/pedestrian trail and the Potomac River Waterfront Community Park on National Trails Day.  Great visuals include:
·         VIP bike riders breaking through a “finish line” race tape at end of the maiden voyage across the bridge trail. 
·         First media access on the just-completed Maryland deckover, which offers attractions on Potomac River history and environment.   
·         Remarks and interview opportunities with elected officials, secretaries of transportation and other dignitaries.
WHO:                    “First-riders” of the bridge trail include:
·         Alexandria Mayor William Euille
·         Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson
·         Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer
·         Maryland Acting Secretary of Transportation Beverley Swaim-Staley
·         District of Columbia Director of Transportation Gabe Klein
·         Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards, Maryland’s Fourth Congressional District
·         M-NCPPC Chairman Samuel J. Parker, Jr.
·         Washington Area Bicyclist Association Executive Director Eric Gilliland
WHEN:                 Saturday, June 6, 2009
·         9:30 am Media Arrival (NOTE:  3/4 MILE WALK TO SITE.  GOLF CARTS AVAILABLE) 
·         10:00a.m. Two-Wheeled Arrival of “First Riders” and Dedication Ceremony
·         1:00p.m.  Trail Open to the Public
WHERE:              Maryland deckover directly east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge near National Harbor.  Follow signs and flaggers to designated event parking area at National Harbor.  See map.
                                                Take I-495 E/I-95 N (Use LOCAL LANES); take Exit 2A for National Harbor; keep right to get on National Harbor Blvd.; merge to left lane.
                                                From DC:
                                                Take the SE Fwy exit from I-395 S; take the ramp onto I-295 S; take Exit 1B toward National Harbor Blvd.; keep left at the fork and merge onto National Harbor Blvd.; merge to left lane.
From MD:
Take Exit 3, MD 210 (Indian Head Hwy) from I-95/I-495;

left at traffic signal at foot of exit ramp; travel 1/10 of a mile to the right exit for Oxon Hill Road W; turn left onto Oxon Hill Road West; take first right at National Harbor Blvd.; follow signs for National Harbor Blvd.; merge to left lane after loop ramp.
Take MD 210 N to Oxon Hill Road exit; turn left onto Oxon Hill Road; take second right at National Harbor Blvd.; follow signs for National Harbor Blvd.; merge to left lane after loop ramp.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:17 PM |
Categories: Off the roads

Ramp to Harford Road to close

The State Highway Administration will close a ramp from the Beltway to Harford Road Monday as part of its $9 million Parkville Streetscape project, which includes a realignment of the ramp to allow safer merging.

The ramp from eastbound Interstate 695 to southbound Harford Road (Route 147) will close Monday at 10 a.m. and remain shut down for two weeks. Motorists will be diverted to northbound Harford Road in order to loop back to the south.

The streetscape project is intended to improve the appearance, operations and safety of the 2-mile stretch of Harford between Joppa Road and the city line. The highway agency said the project is expected to be completed in late summer.

State highway officials plan a community meeting on the streetscape project June 15 at 6:30 p.m. at The Parkville Senior Center, 8601 Harford Road.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:18 PM |
Categories: On the roads

The speeding debate goes on

Excessive speed on the highways is dangerous -- to the speeder and to others. That's not Maryland law. That's the law of physics.

Nevertheless, there are some who continue to argue against speed enforcement, such as that praised on this blog Tuesday night, with all the vehemence of the "birthers" who continue to argue that President Obama is not a citizen.

Anyway, I enjoyed the outpouring of response to my approval of the tough enforcement being cariied out on Interstate 95 -- even if much of it consisted of negative evaluations of my intellect.

But let me clarify a few issues:

--The primary traffic law enforcement agency on that stretch of I-95 around Caton Avenue is, as several readers pointed out, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. It's a full-fledged, armed, professional police force with a wide range of responsibilities. Transportation authority police officers do not have jurisdiction over the city streets in Baltimore, so when they "flood the zone" on Interstate 95, it subtracts nothing from the safety of Baltimore.

--Good, strict traffic enforcement is good, strict law enforcement. Period. Traffic stops have proven to be extremely effective in interdicting shipments of illegal guns and drugs. Each traffic stop creates an opportunity to see whether there is an outstanding warrant against the driver. Certainly abusive traffic stops have been made, but that's a reason to eliminate the abuse, not the legitimate stops where there is probable cause.

--Maryland does not have a law requiring motorists to drive on the right, pass on the left. The General Assembly regularly considers such proposals and rejects them. So the police can't enforce a law that isn't on the books.

--Motorists who drive far below the posted speed limit on an interstate highway are indeed a menace. They should be pulled over, ticketed and admonished to use non-interstates if they can't keep up  the speeds there. However, the person driving at the speed limit is not a menace simply because they offend some lead-footed driver's notion of what the speed limit should be.

--There are far fewer slow menaces on the road than there are fast menaces. I'd put the ratio at about 50-1 on the too-fast side.

--When the United States adopts the strict driver's licensing and training imposed by Germany, then we can start talking about how safe the Autobahn is. The main reason the Autobahn is  relatively safe is not the high speeds; it's the lack of American drivers.

-- It would be great to see just as many flashing lights out there tonight. You don't like traffic stops, don't speed.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:43 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

Reader misses MTA service to games

Tom Marcinak of Abingdon sends this lament, with an inquiry as to whether relief is in sight. Short answer: no.

 Mr. Dresser, do you know if there are any discussions concerning changing the express busses for Oriole's and Raven's games back to the way they were two years ago? It is very expensive and much less convenient to use the private charter services. Where I once could take my daughter to a Raven's game from the Whitemarsh park n ride to Camden yards for under $ 20.00, now cost more then $ 40.00 and takes over an hour or more to get back to the park n ride due to the location the charter busses must park. I know of the federal regulation changing the rule for public transportation to be used, but I don't think anyone is happy about the situation. The bus drivers hate it, and the passengers are disgusted. There are other cites that are still using public transportation, provided the private companies aren't interested or can't provide the service. I'm sure it isn't helping the attendance at baseball games either, with all the parking hassles. Any news?

Long answer: As far as I know, the only ones happy about the situation are the charter bus companies. The rule was put in place for their benefit under the Bush administration, which took the view that public  dollars were being used to subsidize competition with private enterprises. I know of no efforts in the works to undo the ruling. As far as I know, other public transit agencies must follow the same rules as the MTA.

This in from MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene: No new news. Riders essentially need to lobby Congressional folks. As a transit agency,our hands are tied. We try our best to promote the other transit options, this really is a federal football.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:56 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 2, 2009

Speeding crackdown on I-95

The police were putting on quite a show Tuesday evening on Interstate 95 south of Baltimore between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The stretch of about 2 miles between Caton Avenue and the Beltway was lit up like a Christmas tree with flashing police lights. There were four police cars or motorcycles within that short stretch that had pulled over motorists. Another two officers of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police were lying in wait.

When I was younger I might have thought "pigs." At my advanced age, I have to say I was gratified to see the traffic laws actually being enforced.

For a few miles drivers seemed to actually drive in a relatively subdued manner. But by the time we hit the Patapsco River bridge, it was back to the races. It was good to have a few minutes' break from the insanity though. Thanks, officers.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:22 PM | | Comments (33)
Categories: On the roads

Gas price in Md. up 55% this year

AAA Mid-Atlantic is reporting that the price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Maryland has risen 55.1 percent between Jan. 1 and June 1.

The Maryland average ticked up another cent Tuesday to $2.46. The good news, if you can call it that, is that Maryland prices have not passed the $2.50 mark, as they have in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

As of Monday, the national average stood at $2.51.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:47 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

SHA to evaluate U.S. 1 safety at flea market

On Saturday I posted an item to this blog about the safety of U.S. 1 at the site of the weekend flea market in Jessup. I suggested that the State Highway Administration take a look at the traffiic patterns there because it struck me as a pedestrian safety hazard.

The SHA folks didn't take long to get back to me. Here's the reply from spokesman Dave Buck:


Following up on your blog about pedestrians along US 1 near the flea market in Howard County - SHA's traffic engineers will be on site this weekend (and again over the next few weekends) to gain additional observations about pedestrian activity on Saturday and Sunday along US 1 between Kit Kat Road and Montevideo Road in the area of the flea market.  Following our on-site observations, our traffic engineers for Howard County will discuss with Tom Hicks and staff in SHA's Office of Traffic and Safety.

As we have discussed a few times over the past couple years, a mid-block pedestrian crossing in the middle of US 1 without sidewalks or a traffic signal may cause significant safety issues. 

Our engineers must weigh all aspects when considering the placement of any traffic control device - whether a traffic signal, a crosswalk, a sidewalk, flashing lights or any other SHA approved traffic safety device.  Safety for all users will continue to be our highest priority.

We will be back in touch in the next several weeks following our engineer's review and subsequent discussion to determine a course of action.

David Buck

MDOT - State Highway Administration

Office of Communications

I couldn't ask for more than that.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:01 PM |
Categories: On the roads

New MTA "smart" card to work on D.C. metro

According to Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman Jawauna Greene, the MTA has worked out an agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration that would let holders of the soon-to-be-introduced MTA "smart cards" use them on the Washington Metro system and WMATA-operated buses.

WMATA users would also be able to use their SmarTrip cards on MTA buses, the Baltimore Mettro and the light rail (not MARC).

This makes so much sense it's a surprise it could actually happen.

These smart cards, which store value added in advance, make the experience of riding public transit much smoother. Users can eliminate much of the fumbling for change that complicates a simple bus or rail trip.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:00 PM | | Comments (5)

A lesson learned on the Baltimore Metro

I expected a lot of horror stories in response to my posing noting a curious absence of bad news out of the Maryland Transit Administration in recent weeks.

So far, not much, except for this account of a robbery on the subway from Alisa Bralove-Scherr of Owins Mills. I thought it was worth passing on as a cautionary tale.

For the record, people I trust have told me that crime on the Metro subway is  not all running rampant because tthere is extensive surveillance camera coverage. But, unlike in DC, there are times when you don't feel the comfort of being in a crowd in the Baltimore Metro.

I'm a state employee and I take the subway from Owings Mills to Charles Center everyday. On Wednesday I left early to go to a doctor's appointment.
It was about 3:30 in the afternoon when the train pulled into the Rogers Ave. station. The doors opened and the kid sitting in front of my grabbed my iPod out of my hand and took off.
I sprung up and immediately started chasing him and yelling for the police. I followed him down the escalator. He jumped the turnstyle; I didn't.
There was an MTA police officer standing there as he ran out of the station. She was very nice in taking the report but kept repeating that I should never use a cell phone or an iPod on the subway because this happens every day. The MTA employee working in the booth told me the same thing.
The officer also noted that she didn't even pay any attention when she heard me running and screaming after the kid because the kids do that all of the time.

It was strange because I had a funny feeling a little before the kid made his move. He and two boys who sat behind me had gotten on after I did. The two behind me were clearly trying to shock or upset me. They kept screaming at random trying to scare me. I wanted to make it look like it didn't bother me so I didn't do anything. I thought about putting the iPod away and even squeezed it a little tighter, but I didn't want to show fear.
I guess I should have.

The officer did say they would check the videotape from the train and from the station. Whether the cameras were actually working is a different story.
It's so frustrating sometimes to ride public transit in Baltimore. The DC metro is so different. I was down there on Sunday night and felt completely safe, even at 10 something at night. Yet I don't feel safe at all on the Baltimore subway in broad daylight

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:28 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

June 1, 2009

Dogs not barking at MTA

There's something very strange going on at the Maryland Transit Administration: Nothing.

That's nothing as in no news. And there's no place where the axiom that no news is good news applies as much as at a public transit agency.

It's been about a month since I've received an email from a disgruntled MARC rider. If anybody's been getting beat up on city buses, it's certainly been kept quiet. When I've ridden the light rail, the ticket machines have been working. The Metro subway just  keeps rolling along with its usual boring efficiency. The MTA personnel I've dealt with have been courteous and professional.

What's going on here anyway? Is this turning into the Stepford Transit System? Whatever happened to the font of horror stories where Sun reporters have slaked their news thirst at for years? Is this a fluke or could it be that this agency isn't as screwed up as it used to be?

Weather, of course, could be part of the explanation. We haven't had many really hot days this spring. And cool weather is good for tracks, locomotives, bus brakes and tempers. A few days of  high humidity and 95-degree temperatures, and all could return to normal, which in this case is the second letter of SNAFU.

I asked MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene about this recent absence of news. She had noticed it too.

"The hills are alive with the sound of music," she said. Really.

Getting somewhat more serious, she added: "I've noticed that people are a little bit more tolerant of things because they see we're making progress."

Surely not that much progress? I'm going to need readers' help here. Are there wheels coming off the buses that I'm missing. Have space aliens taken over the Penn Line? Or could it be that the MTA actually is doing a better job?

Help me out, folks. I haven't seen anything like this before.

(Photo by Kenneth K. Lam / Sun photographer)

Reader bugged by city's poor traffic light timing

Alfred Loizeaux is a man on a mission when it comes to the city's stoplights. I thought his email was worth sharing.

 Henry Barnes came to Baltimore in 1953 for a one-month job as consultant traffic engineer and was hired by Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro, Jr. as Traffic Commissioner. Barnes installed in Baltimore, a traffic-control computer that was, in 1957, the largest of its kind in the world. (Wikepedia) His major improvements were one-way streets and synchronized traffic lights. That was the 50's but the traffic light sync system has been malfunctioning for decades.

 In that regard: Stephen Kiehl, Baltimore Sun transportation reporter answers readers' questions on traffic bottlenecks in the area on April 27, 2004

 Kiehl: I know your pain. It often takes me 10 minutes or more to get up President Street from Little Italy to where I-83 begins. Part of the problem seems to be the generally terrible signal timing. The city transportation department is in the midst of a several-years project that will replace all the signal boxes and upgrade the city's signal system, allowing for greater coordination. That should help. And it should be done in a couple years.

 A "couple" is two. Two and a half years later. Nov 20, 2006 the wrote:

Along these lines, Alexander writes: “It’s been my conclusion, after years of driving around Baltimore, that: (1) fully 40 percent of Baltimore’s traffic lights could be removed with no discernible negative effect on traffic, save for irate elderly pedestrians who feel a need to cross at a long light — and most of those have died off anyway, replaced by people who ignore traffic signals and persist in stepping in front of my car just as I get a green light; and (2) the $10 million system to synchronize/streamline Baltimore’s traffic light system is an utter rip-off, with no discernible change to Baltimore traffic. (If anything, the lights have been getting worse, not better.) I want a refund of my share.”

Another year and a half later, WJZ's Pat Warren reported on May 5, 2008 The cure for the rush hour headache may have arrived. Baltimore's transportation experts unveiled a system designed to better synchronize downtown traffic. Pat Warren reports it's an improvement with the potential to benefit everyone behind the wheel. There's a description used for downtown Baltimore traffic, drive-a-block and stop, which leaves plenty of time to talk to drivers at red lights. "It's very hectic," said one driver. "It's pretty bad...can't really get anywhere," said another driver. "When I was city council president, the number one complaint on Wednesday morning was, what the heck is wrong with these lights," said Mayor Sheila Dixon.

The timing of traffic lights is a familiar irritant to drivers throughout the city. On Monday, Congressman Elijah Cummings, a senior member of the House Transportation Committee, joined Mayor Dixon and state and local transportation officials to open Baltimore's new Transportation Center. The 24-7 computer center will give controllers the power to synchronize traffic signals as volume, traffic patterns and special situations demand. It's designed to monitor traffic throughout the city, and for now the focus is on downtown. According to Congressman Cummings, more than $18 million in federal funds went into the center in addition to the city-state partnership.

 Yet another year has passed. Still no improvement. When is this thing going on-line? The traffic light system is a failure! I questioned the "Supervisor of Traffic Lights" to complain and he responded very politely with no discernable effect. He claimed he had no jurisdiction over timing of traffic lights (!?) and directed my concerns to the "Director of Traffic Lights" who ignored both (the supervisor's) and my e-mails.

Perhaps you can discover what is wrong.

Al, I'll see what I  can find out.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:37 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads

Mayor Dixon talks transportation

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Sheila Dixon to talk about transportation issues, It's a topic very close to the heart of the mayor, an avid  bicyclist who uses her rides around the city to get an up-close look at Baltimore infrastructure.

Some topics:

Speed cameras: Dixon expressed relief that a petition drive aimed at invalidating a law passed  by the General Assembly expandig the use of speed cameras failed. She said the city has a serious problem with speeding and not enough officers to enforce traffic laws.

Roundabouts: The mayor said she, too, finds the Towson rounabout confusing, even though her administration is looking at creating six of them to replace busy interchanges. She said she got a good look at the possible benefits of such traffic circles during a trip to Chicago. Dixon said she especially likes the opportunity to create green space in the  center  of the roundabouts.

Red Line: Dixon restated her backing for Red Line Alternative 4C -- a light rail system running in a tunnel under Cooks Lane and through downtown and Fells Point  but on the surface in Canton and Edmondson Village. But she said she understands the concerns of residents of the affected neighborhoods. She said the existing north-south light rail system down Howard Street -- built with the state-of-the-art technology of the early 1990s -- has colored people's opinions about the Red Line.

"People look at it like it's the light rail and it's not not," she  said. Dixon said  newer light rail technology is much quieter and will blend in better with the communities it serves. "People can't vision it the way we plan it to be."

The City that Paves: Despite severe recession-related budget cuts, the mayor said the city is still on track to repave 220 lane-miles this year. 

Stimulus money: Dixon said it's out on the street right now, paying for the resurfacing of Northern Parkway and Orleans Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                




Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bicycles, For policy wonks only, Light rail, On the roads, Red Line

Look for changes at I-95 & U.S. 40 East

If you use the Interstate 95 at U.S. 40 (Pulaski Highway) on the east side of town, stay alert for a shift in the traffic patterns, the Maryland Transportation Authority warns.

Starting Thursday at 5 a.m., and continuing for about three weeks, the existing right lane will be shifted to the right and a Jersey wall barrier will separate the right from the left lanes for roughly a mile.

 It's all part of the never-ending project to add express toll lanes to  I-95.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:33 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Delaware strikes again

As if exorbitant tolls and long waits at toll plazas aren't enough of a provocation, Delaware is now treating visitors to watered-down gasoline, Delaware Online reports.

Mobilize the Maryland National Guard.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:26 AM |
Categories: On the roads

Gas prices still edging up

It's getting a little ugly at the gas pump. Not summer-of-2008 ugly, with gas prices soaring past $4 a gallon, but far from attractive.

As of today the average price for a gallon of regular stood at $2.45, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic's gas price survey, and the market momentum seemks to be propelling it toward $2.50 on a hurry. The price of gas has increased about 40 cents in a month's time, and crude oil prices are on the rise.

Ragina Avarella, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, managed to put a positive spin on the numbers.

“Demand for oil and gasoline is expected to strengthen somewhat during the summer driving season,” she said.  “As motorists take to the roads, gas prices are expected to peak between now and Labor Day.  When exactly that short-term peak will come remains to be seem, however, some analysts believe gas prices could revert back down to near $2.00 a gallon by summer’s end.”

 Let's hope those analysts are correct.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:31 AM |
Categories: On the roads
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About Michael Dresser
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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