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July 31, 2009

State to repave stretch of Capital Beltway

Baltimore drivers heading to or through the Tysons Corner-Fairfax areas of Northern Virginia outside peak hours are likely to encounter lane closings on the Capital Beltway starting next week.

The State Highway Administration said it will begin resurfacing work on the 4-mile stretch of Interstate 495 between Interstate 270 and the American Legion Bridge. The $7.4 million project, which the agency said is being financed with federal stimulus funds, is expected to be completed next summer.

The roadwork wil bring with it single lane closures on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays. Double and triple lane closings are  possible between 10 p.m.  and 5 p.m.

The full SHA news release follows:


Four-Mile Resurfacing Project Made Possible Through Stimulus Funding 

July 31, 2009) – Next week, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) will begin a $7.4 million safety and resurfacing project along nearly four miles of I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and I-270  in Montgomery County.  Weather permitting, the project should be complete summer 2010.

The project includes milling the existing pavement and resurfacing all six lanes of I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and I-270.  Other work includes resurfacing the ramps at the MD 190    (River Road) and Clara Barton Parkway interchanges, drainage improvements, pavement markings, curb and gutter replacement, and repair and replacement of the concrete median barrier along I-495.  Mainline work will be completed first, followed later this year or early next year with the interchange ramps at River Road and Clara Barton Parkway.

The 3.7-mile section of the Capital Beltway carries approximately 226,000 motorists per day.  This project will resurface the six-to-eight lane roadway in both directions, along with resurfacing the   MD 190 (River Road) and Clara Barton Parkway interchange ramps from both the Inner and Outer loops.  This section of I-495 was last resurfaced in 1991.  

During construction, motorists can expect single lane and shoulder closures along I-495 Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and overnight Sunday through Thursday evenings between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.  There will also be double and triple lane (in some sections) closures possible overnight Sunday through Thursday between 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., as well as overnight Friday and Saturday between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.   Motorists should also expect closures on the ramps to and from MD 190 (River Road) and the Clara Barton Parkway overnight Sunday through Thursday between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.  Detours will be posted when ramps are closed.

SHA awarded the contract to F.O. Day Co., Inc.  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 safety for life and to make work zone safety your business at

Anyone with questions about traffic operations on I-495, MD 190 or other State numbered routes in Montgomery County may call SHA’s District 3 Office at 301-513-7300 or toll free at 1-800-749-0737. 

This project is made possible through Governor Martin O’Malley’s aggressive management of the requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, bringing critically needed transportation investments to Maryland.  Projects such as these are stimulating Maryland’s economy by supporting hundreds of jobs.  Follow the delivery of these projects at, which tracks every category of ARRA spending and provides contract-level details to the public in an effort to achieve new levels of government transparency and efficiency.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

July 30, 2009

N.Y. tow truck driver texts, talks, crashes

Here's one more reminder why the Maryland General Assembly enacted a law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, banning text-messaging while driving:

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (AP) — Police say a Buffalo-area tow truck driver was juggling two cell phones — texting on one and talking on another — when he slammed into a car and crashed into a swimming pool.
    Niagara County sheriff's deputies say 25-year-old Nicholas Sparks of Burt admitted he was texting and talking when his flatbed truck hit the car Wednesday morning in Lockport.
    The truck then crashed through a fence and sideswiped a house before rolling front-end first into an in-ground pool.
    The 68-year-old woman driving the car suffered head injuries and was in good condition. Her 8-year-old niece suffered minor injuries.
    Sparks was charged with reckless driving, talking on a cell phone and following too closely. It couldn't be determined Thursday morning if he has a lawyer.

It is illegal in New York to drive while talking on a  hand-held cell phone. Earllier this week, A Virginia Tech study issued this week found that truck drivers who were texting while driving were 23 times more likely than other truckers to have a crash or near-miss. A group of U.S. senators proposed a bill this week that would require states to adopt texting bans.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:14 PM |
Categories: Off the roads

Is WMATA serious about cell phone policy?

The blog UnSuckDCMetro raises the question of whether the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration is serious about its ballyhooed zero-tolerance policy for operators chatting on cell phones. And WMATA actually responds!
Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:19 AM |

D.C. Metro expects weekend delays

If you're traveling to Washington this weekend and are planning to ride the Metro, be warned: There will be maintenance work taking place on all five lines requiring inbound and outbound trains to share a single track at various times. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration is urging passengers to build  an extra 30 minutes into their travel plans.

The work will begin Friday at 10 p.m. and continue until closing Sunday night.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:50 AM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

July 29, 2009

SHA to reconfigure I-70 to thwart racing

Skid marks found on Interstate 70 near site of fatal June 21 crash.
Sun photo/Algerina Perna

The State Highway Administration has announced plans to reconfigure travel patterns between the park-and-ride at the eastern terminus of Interstate 70 and the Beltway in an effort to slow traffic and deter illegal street racing on that stretch of highway.

The decision to rework that section of I-70, where low traffic volumes at night often attract racers and spectators, follows the June 21 crash in which two people were killed and two critically injured after a vehicle that had apparently been in a speed contest went out of control.

Killed were spectators Mary-Kathryn Michele Abernathy, 21, of Columbia, and Jonathan Robert Henderson, 20, of La Plata, Charles County

State highway officials will begin work Thursday to close one lane on the westbound stretch between the parking lot and the Beltway, where the crash took place. After that morning's rush hour crews will move barriers so that motorists entering from Ingleside Avenue will no longer have a clear lane but will have to  merge into the westbound lane leading from the park-and-ride. Workers will also change pavement markings and install reflective barriers.

Officials said the change will significantly reduce the attractiveness of the site for street racing without impeding normal traffic flow. State highway officials said they worked closely with the Maryland State Police to decide which changes to make.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:13 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: On the roads

July 28, 2009

Master of Montgomery doesn't get Baltimore Guy

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch does a great job of covering Montgomery County, but his reply  to Monday's Getting There  column -- in which my cranky  Baltimore Guy alter ego took over and went on a rant -- shows that he just doesn't understand the Mobtown mentality.

Basically, Pagnucco's premise is that Baltimore benefits from a $4.6 billion widening of Interstate 270 more than Montgomery because Montgomery County generates so much tax revenue that it generously shares with dependent jurisdiction such as Baltimore. Much of his article is taken up with statistically proving how grateful Baltimore should be for the largesse Montgomery bestows on its client city.

(Pagnucco also goes to lengthy extremes to show that Montgomery went through years of angst before demanding that the state build it the $2.6 billion Inter-county Connector. Irrelevant. By 2002, county government -- led firmly by its business community and its dollars -- came down decisively on the side of the ICC. That's what matters, not the years of dithering that preceded it.)

But about this premise that Montgomery deserves to get its precious $4.6 billion  project  because it currently foots so much of the bils, I think Pagnucco misses the point. I'll let Baltimore Guy explain:


What is this Montgomery tofu-head trying to put over on me, anyway? Has all that brie rotted his brain? Does he think Baltimore wants to keep feeding on crumbs from Montgomery's table? Shove that! We want more of the feast. We  can take all the growth that comes our way without whining about traffic.

And if we don't get high-tech jobs in Baltimore, we want them a  lot closer than freaking Montgomery County. My kid, who just graduated from UM with a computer sciences degree, doesn't want to commute to Gaithersburg even with the ICC because the tolls will cost an arm and a leg. He'd rather get a job somewhere on Interstate 95 where people won't look down on him because he drinks Natty Boh instead of Cos-mo-pol-i-tans.

 And why does this guy keep going on about Baltimore city?  Doesn't he realize he's up against Baltimore County and Howard County and Harford and Anne Arundel too? None of us get squat from new jobs along I-270. We want them on the   eastern end of their precious ICC. And it just so happens we have pals in Prince George's and Southern Maryland and on Kent island who feel the same way. So why don't we all have a meeting in Annapolis and let these Montgomery County folks explain to us all again how much we owe themand how only Montgomery is worthy to be a job creator and how they're generously offering to absorb more traffic for the good of the state? We'll show them gratitude.

OK, Baltimore Guy, back in your box. We want to keep it civil here.

Sorry, Adam, Baltimore Guy's been a little touchy since his industrial base went away.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:08 AM | | Comments (4)

July 26, 2009

Baltimore Guy feels cranky about I-270 plan

Here, for loyal blog readers, is a sneak preview of Monday's Getting There column:

Most days I try to play the role of neutral Maryland reporter, but every once in a while an alter ego named Baltimore Guy breaks out.

Baltimore Guy isn’t worried about what’s good for the whole state. When you talk about spending public money, he wants to know what’s in it for Baltimore.

Anyway, news about a proposal to spend $4.6 billion to widen a road between Montgomery and Frederick counties got Baltimore Guy’s attention. He has a few questions for the folks who want to spend a record amount on a project few Baltimoreans are likely to use.

It’s not like Baltimore Guy resents every roundabout built in Montgomery or traffic light installed in Frederick, but money like that – even if it’s partly provided by tolls — could fill all the potholes on Patapsco Avenue and have change left over.

Baltimore Guy was struck by some of the reasons being given for spending all those simoleons. One quote that caught his eye was from Montgomery County Council President Phil Andrews, who said: “The argument will be made that the I-270 corridor is the economic engine of the state and the state has an interest in continuing to see that’s the case.”

Here’s what Baltimore Guy wants to know:

What interest does Baltimore have in the I-270 corridor remaining the economic engine of the state forever? If it’s going to cost $4.6 billion to keep that engine purring, should Maryland be looking for a trade-in somewhere else? Maybe Baltimore?

Read the rest of my column (and background on the I-270 project) and then come back here. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Baltimore Guy?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:26 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads

Greens must learn to love the ICC


                                                                         AP Photo/2008


ICC under construction near Derwood.        

For many decades, the Maryland environmental movement has hated the Inter-county Connector with a blinding passion. It was their worst nightmare, and the symbol of all that was short-sighted, backward and crassly commercial. They fought it in the county councils at the polls and in the General Assembly and the courts. They almost had it killed in the 1990s, but like some horror story zombie it wouldn't stay dead. The opponents finally lost on all counts, and the ICC is now well on its way to completion.

So now it's time for the greens to fall in love with what they once hated.

Ridiculous, you think? Consider: The ICC is now, for all intents and purposes, existing infrastructure. And one of the central tenets of smart growth is that existing infrastructure is to be cherished. It should be put to maximum possible use so you don't have to build more new infrastructure. That means true environmentalists should stop moping about The Lost Cause and fight to get best use out of the ICC that they can.

But there's more. The ICC is a potential ally in the next big environment-vs.-roads fight in Maryland -- the one over a $4.6 billion plan to add two new lanes in each direction to Interstate 270 between Shady Grove and Frederick.

That plan is being pushed by Montgomery County business and political interests as a way of continuing to concentrate high-tech growth in the I-270 corridor. That made a certain sense when the corridor was arguably isolated from the I-95 corridor by congestion and stop-and-go traffic.

But once the ICC opens in 2010-2012 -- next week in transportation project terms --  the I-270 corridor  will be just a hop, skip and a jump  from Interstate 95 and U.S. 1. How do we know? That's what the ICC's proponents assured us.

The greens would have a strong argument that the ICC now provides an opportunity to spread the growth around -- especially to the I-95/U.S. 1 corridor.  After all, the I-270 corridor is saturated with traffic. Why not ease it by diverting some of that growth to Beltsville, Laurel, Columbia and BWI?

It's an argument that would fall on receptive ears in most parts of the state. A wider I-270 would serve only the interest of Montgomery and arguably vote-poor Western Maryland. (Though those counties are hardly going to be unanimous in support.)

But added  high-tech jobs in the I-95 corridor would be much more accessible to people who live in the Baltimore region, Prince George's County, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland. Even much of eastern Montgomery County would find it easier to get to Laurel than Gaithersburg.

And which area can make the better argument that it would broaden the diveristy of Maryland's high-tech work force? Frederick County or the melting-pot that is I-95? The answer is obvious.

And it's all thanks to that lovely ICC, which by all rights should become the most active transit corridor in Maryland. (If the greens can stop moping and push for intensive bus service.)

I feel free to make this suggestion to my green friends because I doubt they will have the good  sense to adopt it.  Most seem to want to re-fight old ICC battles like an unreconstructed Confederate trying decades later to turn Pickett's Charge into a victory.

So what do you think: Will they get over it before or after they've lost the Battle of I-270?







Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:27 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

July 24, 2009

It's huge; it's slow; it's coming to Harford

Drivers in Harford County may soon encounter a strange sight. Starting Monday night, a mammoth transport vehicle -- much bigger than your typical truck -- will begin hauling an almost 250-ton 25-ton power transformer to Exelon Nuclear's Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Delta, Pa, just across the state line

This 16-foot-wide vehicle will be traveling at the breakneck pace of 3-5 mph, which will stretch the trip from Havre de Grace for six nights. The nocturnal creature will travel only between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and will rest up in a previously chosen staging area each say.

The transformer will be hauled along a route including Route 155, Interstate 95, Route 22, Route 136 and Route 165. It will travel under police escort. Two bridges will be shut down for two days so they can be reinforced to carry the enormous load.

The State Highway Administration provides details in the release below:

Multi-Night Move to Affect I-95 and Several State Highways in Northeastern Harford County

(July 23, 2009) – The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) are assisting Exelon Nuclear with a major oversized vehicle transport through northeastern Harford County scheduled to begin 9 p.m. Monday night, July 27.  The specially designed oversized vehicle will haul a new half-million pound power transformer for Exelon’s Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Delta, Pa.  

The oversized vehicle, which is 16 feet wide, and moves 3-5 miles per hour, will travel from Havre de Grace to the Maryland State Line on six nights, between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. each night.  The vehicle will be escorted by Maryland State Police (MSP), SHA and Exelon’s private hauling contractor (Hake Rigging of Lester, Pa.).  The vehicle will move to a pre-determined staging location each night. 

The transformer hauling route includes MD 155 (Level Road), I-95 (John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway), MD 22 (Churchville Road), MD 136 (Priestford/Whiteford Road), and MD 165              (Pylesville Road).   Access to homes and businesses will be maintained each night on the hauling route as the slow-moving vehicle proceeds through the route.  However, the Deer Creek and Broad Creek bridges will be closed for two days each to assemble and disassemble temporary bridge structures that will carry the vehicle and its heavy load (total weight 831, 724 pounds).  

Through traffic along MD 136 will be detoured during both two-day bridge closures.  Preparation work for the move, including tree trimming and temporary relocation of utility poles, is underway.  All costs associated with the transformer move will be paid by Exelon.  During the transport, traffic control personnel will accompany the vehicle as overhead traffic signal poles will be temporarily turned off and moved to provide clearance for the 27-foot high transformer.     

Beginning on or about 9 p.m. Monday, July 27, the vehicle will leave the staging area off Baker Road and enter the hauling route along MD 155 north of downtown Havre de Grace.  The following is the schedule of dates, road closures and official detour routes in Maryland (all dates and times are approximate, weather and unforeseen events permitting):
7 p.m. Monday, July 27 – 5 a.m. Tuesday July 28: I-95/MD 155 Interchange (exit 89)

The left lane of northbound and southbound I-95 approaching Exit 89 will be closed.  From approximately 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. the ramp from MD 155 to northbound I-95 will be closed.  Traffic will be detoured to eastbound US 40 (Pulaski Highway) to the Hatem Bridge to US 222 (Perryville Road) back to I-95 northbound. 

10 p.m. Monday, July 27 - 5 a.m. Tuesday, July 28: I-95 and MD 155 to Fox Ridge Drive

The westbound lanes of MD 155 north of Baker Road will be closed while the vehicle proceeds along the route towards the I-95 interchange. Traffic will be directed around the rolling operation and motorists may be stopped for short periods of time.  Posted Detour: Ramp traffic from MD 155 to northbound I-95 will be detoured to the Hatem Bridge north.
At approximately 12 a.m., MSP will conduct a 30-40 minute traffic drag along all lanes of northbound and southbound I-95 to allow the vehicle to cross the median and travel lanes of I-95 and resume travel on     MD 155.  The vehicle will then proceed along MD 155 to Fox Ridge Drive.   Detours: Overnight traffic shifts and temporary traffic control or detours may occur along MD 155.  Fox Ridge Drive traffic will be detoured onto Paradise Road overnight until 5 a.m.

Night Two - 11 p.m. Tuesday, July 28 until 5 a.m. Wednesday July 29: MD 155 from Fox Ridge Drive to Glenville Road The vehicle will proceed along westbound MD 155 to Glenville Road and through traffic will be detoured.  Detours: Westbound MD 155 will be detoured onto MD 156 (Aldino Road) to MD 22 back to MD 155.  Eastbound MD 155 will be detoured onto MD 22 to MD 156 back to MD 155. 
10 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 until Midnight Friday July 31: Two-Day MD 136 Deer Creek Bridge Closure
Northbound and southbound MD 136 will be closed to through traffic at the Deer Creek Bridge during this time.  All through traffic along MD 136 between MD 22 and US 1 (Conowingo Road) will be detoured during that time.  Detours: Northbound MD 136 will be detoured onto MD 22 to MD 543 to US 1 back to MD 136.  Southbound MD 136 will be detoured onto US 1 to MD 543 to MD 22 back to MD 136.    
Night Three - 11 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 until 5 a.m. Thursday July 30: MD 155 from Glenville Road to MD 22 to MD 136 (Priestford Road) to Deer Creek Bridge
The vehicle will continue along westbound MD 155 and will briefly travel one-tenth of a mile along MD 22 in Churchville to connect to northbound MD 136.   Detours: MD 155 traffic will be detoured at MD 22 until the vehicle turns onto MD 22.  Westbound MD 155 will be detoured at MD 136 to MD 156 to MD 22 back to MD 155.  Eastbound MD 155 will be detoured at MD 22 to MD 156 to MD 156 back to MD 155.  Personnel will temporarily stop all traffic along MD 22 between MD 136 and MD 155 while the vehicle is moving along MD 22 through Churchville late at night.  The vehicle will then proceed along northbound MD 136 to the Deer Creek Bridge (bridge closed until midnight Friday, July 31 with detours in effect for through traffic.)

Night Four - 11 p.m. Thursday, July 30 until 5 a.m. Friday, July 31:  MD 136 (Priestford Road) from Deer Creek Bridge to Hollands Branch Court
The vehicle will cross over the Deer Creek Bridge and proceed along MD 136 to Hollands Branch Court.  (The Deer Creek Bridge will remain closed until midnight Friday, July 31 with detours still in effect for through traffic.)   

10 p.m. Friday, July 31 until 6 p.m. Sunday, August 2: Two-Day Broad Creek Bridge Closure

Northbound and southbound MD 136 will be closed to through traffic at the Broad Creek Bridge during this period.  All through traffic on MD 136 between MD 440 (Dublin Road) and MD 165 will be detoured during that time.  Posted Detour: Southbound MD 136 will be detoured onto MD 165 to MD 543 to MD 440 back to MD 136.    Northbound MD 136 traffic will be detoured onto MD 440 to MD 543 to MD 165 back to MD 136. 

Night Five – 11 p.m. Friday, July 31 until 5 a.m. Saturday, August 1: MD 136 from Hollands Branch Road to Broad Creek
The vehicle will resume travel along MD 136 beginning at 11 p.m. Friday.  The Deer Creek Bridge will re-open at midnight.  The Broad Creek Bridge will remain closed until 6 p.m. Sunday.  During the night, once the vehicle crosses US 1, traffic on MD 136 will be detoured as the vehicle moves north along MD 136 to Broad Creek.  Southbound MD 136 will be detoured onto MD 440 to US 1 back to MD 136 and northbound MD 136 will be detoured onto US 1 to MD 440 back to MD 136.  
Once the vehicle crosses MD 440, southbound MD 136 will be detoured onto MD 165 to MD 543 to      MD 440 back to MD 136.  Northbound MD 136 will be detoured onto MD 440 to MD 543 to MD 165 back to MD 136.  

Night Six and Day Seven: 11 p.m. Saturday, August 1 until 5 a.m. Sunday August 2: MD 136 from Broad Creek to MD 165 to the Maryland/Pennsylvania State Line The vehicle will cross over the Broad Creek Bridge, continue along MD 136, and proceed to northbound MD 165 towards its final stop in Maryland along MD 165 at the Maryland/Pennsylvania State Line.  Note: The Broad Creek Bridge will remain closed after the crossing until 6 p.m. Sunday with detours still in effect for through traffic.
Day Eight – 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday, August 3 – Transfer vehicle from MD 165 to PA 74 (Delta Bypass). 
The vehicle will travel along PA 74 to PA 851 to Lay Road to Flintville Road to Papermill Road to Lay Road, ending its journey at Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.  Detour routes will be in effect in Pennsylvania.

This oversized vehicle transport contains the first of six new transformers to be hauled from Havre de Grace to Delta, Pa.  For more information about the transformers, Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, or future transports, please contact Exelon’s Bernadette Lauer at 717-456-4818 or Rachelle Benson at 610-765-5325.  A map of the transformer hauling route and other information about Peach Bottom is available on Exelon’s website,

For more information about state roads within Harford County, citizens may contact SHA’s District 4 Office at 410-229-2300 or toll free at 1-866-998-0367.  For more information about detours along PA 74 or other Pennsylvania state highways, citizens may call PennDOT’s District 8 Office at 717-787-6653.

For your safety, SHA strongly advises motorists to avoid the hauling route, especially at night, and to plan ahead for temporary road and bridge closures, detours and extra travel time along MD 155, MD 22, MD 136, MD 165 and other State highways in eastern Harford County during the week of July 27 –  August 3. 

This hauling route is considered a rolling work zone.  Please slow down, stay alert and expect the unexpected.  Choose to make work zone safety your business at

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:14 PM | | Comments (6)

Reminder: Bypass the stadium if heading south

Here's a reminder to downtown workers that the evening rush hour today is expected to be an ordeal for motorists attempting to escape downtown as big-time soccer comes to M&T Bank Stadium.

The Maryland Transportation Authority warned that a sellout crowd of 72,000 is expected to attend the World Football Challenge - not the kind of football the Ravens play. The parking lots open at 4 p.m. and the stadium gates at 6:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. event -- perfectly times to tie traffic on Interstate 395, parts Interstate 95 and Russell Street into knots.

The authority, predicting congestion, is urging motorists who aren't going to the game to use alternate routes -- not that there are many good choices for folks attempting to head south on Interstate 95 or Russell Street.

Getting There readers can share my two backdoor routes:
For those heading south on I-95 or U.S. 1, take U.S. 40 west to Hilton Street south, to Wilkens Street west to Caton Avenue south and then connecting with southbound I-95 Alternate U.S. 1.

For those who want to get to southbound Route 295, take Hanover Street south through South Baltimore and over the bridge. Take a right on Waterview and curl around the Middle Branch to 295.

The authority also notes that it would be a good day to use light rail to get into and out of downtown. That's not a bad recommendation. If you're not familiar with the light rail system, and you live south of town, try parking at North Linthicum and catching a train from there. It's right off the Beltway at Camp Meade Road, and it's well-signed.

Of course, you could also just leave work. Now.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:38 PM |

Man hit by train on D.C. Red Line

The Washington Metro is reporting that a  man has been struck by a subway train at the Van Ness station on the Red Line. According to Metro, a train headed toward Shady Grove hit the person around 12:30 p.m. The victim was transported to a local hospital but his  condition is not yet known. Major delay are expected on the Red Line.

According to Metro, witnesses said the man intentionally placed himself of the track.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:16 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Some in MontCo hungry to eat Baltimore's lunch

Adam Pagnucco does a terrific job of covering transportation for Maryland Politics  Watch  with a distinctly Montgomery County slant. So Getting There is proud to have him picking up some of its material. What he makes of it provides an interesting illustration of the how  projects in Baltimore and those in Washington are connected.

Essenhtially, Pagnucco's point in an article about Baltimore's Red Line  is that supporters of the proposed Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's County, as well as  the Montgomery-only Corridor Cities Transitway,  stand to gain from the contention over surface light rail in Canton and West Baltimore. He muses that fierce opposition to that plan might force Gov. Martin O'Malley to propose expensive tunneling on the Red Line that would put the project outside federal funding guidelines. That, he speculates, could give the Purple Line and the Transitway, which aren't burdened with the challenge of going through city neighborfoods, a leg up in the competition for federal dollars.

Pagnucco's theory is that such a move would be a win-win for the governor, placating Baltimore opponents of the Red Line while pleasing Washington area transit advocates. I respectfully disagree. Such a move would be too cute by half.  O'Malley's got to make a choice one way or another.

But the article  is a welcome reminder that some folks in Montgomery, behind their best One Maryland smiles, are always on the alert to profit from a divided Baltimore. Thanks for tipping your hand, Adam.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:01 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Red Line

Views sought on Shawan intersection

The Baltimore County Department of Public Works will hold a public forum Tuesday to seek opinions about proposed improvements to the congested intersection of Shawan Road and Cuba Road in Hunt Valley.

The meeting is set for 6  p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Sequoia Room in the Park Lodge at Oregon Ridge Park.

According to the department, the intersection is "a perennial  traffic headache"  with long delays. It said the meeting is one of a series at which it will seek community views on a new road design. Those who can't make the meeting can send comments to

Hmmm. Could there be a roundabout in Hunt Valley's  future?



Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:29 AM |
Categories: On the roads

July 23, 2009

All quiet of the MARC front. G'night.

It's past 7 p.m. and I haven't heard a peep from MARC riders tonight. It looks like the only "minor" disruptions are on the Brunswick Line, where folks don't know Baltimore from baloney.

I'm taking off. Have a smooth morning commute.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:04 PM |

Deluge complicates morning commute -- a bit

That was quite a gully-washer that swept through Baltimore during the morning commute today. Upon getting to work I heard a number of complaints about how terrible conditions were on the roads this morning.

I guess I missed it. I was on U.S. 1 this morning to gas up, so missed the usualy I-95 follies. When the deluge struck,  I was getting on I-95 on Caton Avenue. The interstate seemed no worse than usual except for the pickup truck stalled out at I-395 just before Conway Street. But the drivers in the left lane showed atypical courtesy and I got by just fine.

So did Dave Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration, whom I turn to for the official word on whether it's been a really bad morning in traffic terms.

It turns out that in terms of collisions, it wasn't that bad at all. "We didn't  have that  many coming though this morning," he said. Nor was there an unusual amount of congestion, he said.

Buck saiid it was fortunate that the rains came at a time when many people are on vacation. He said traffic levels are typically down 8-10 percent between July 4 and Labor Day -- easing the pressure when a "weather event" occurs.

Maybe it was different on county roads.

A reader who goes by the handle TW gives an account indicating it might have been worse for those coming south.

The Inner-Outer loops in the north end and the JFX were a mess. The cloud seemed to hang over the City/County line. A 25-minute commute turned into an hour and five minutes. . . Two disabled vehicles southbound and an ambulance on the northbound JFX didn't help matters. I've always known Baltimoreans can't drive in the snow, but now I'm learning that rain is challenging.

My usual complaint with Baltimore drivers in the rain is that a significant percentage of them ignore the weather completely and keep to the same breakneck speeds at which they drive when it's  dry and sunny. Then you inevitably have a rash of collisions, leading to lane closings and backups.

I'm impressed that Baltimore drivers slowed down enough this morning to avoid that. And thanks to the truck drivers who didn't jack-knife their tractor-trailers  this morning. It seems that weather like this morning's usually brings at least one of those. Bottom line, we're  not meant to get to our destinations as fast in a heavy rain. Just get there in one piece.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:09 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

NTSB finds Metro circuit failures at rush hour

Press releases from the National Transportation Safety Board can be masterpieces of the buried lead. The following is no exception. I think the news here is that the NTSB has found that the type of circuit failures that apparently led to the fatal crash June 22 occur more frequently at rush hour than at other times of day.




The National Transportation Safety Board continues to make
progress in its investigation of the June 22, 2009,
collision of two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Authority (WMATA) trains on the Red Line in Washington, D.C.
The Board has developed the following factual information:

Two signal companies, Ansaldo STS USA (US&S) and Alstom
Signaling Inc. (GRS), that designed and manufactured the
automatic train control components for the WMATA system, are
providing technical assistance to the NTSB investigation.

As previously reported, an impedance bond (#15) for the
track circuit where the accident occurred was replaced on
June 17th, 2009, five days before the accident. Continued
review of the maintenance logs has identified that the
impedance bond (#14), located on the other end of the same
circuit, was replaced in December 2007. WMATA records reveal
that this track circuit's train occupancy signal has been
intermittently fluctuating since the replacement was
installed in December 2007. 

The NTSB has requested trouble tickets for the last 18
months to see if these problems had been reported, and
seeking records to see if any operators reported problems on
this circuit.

The investigation is identifying possible sources of
interference affecting the automatic train control (ATC)
operation. These potential sources include Electromagnetic
Interference (EMI), traction power harmonics and signal
crosstalk, communication lines, and system upgrades and

Following the accident, WMATA began to review operations
data and identified some problems at other circuits. These
anomalies are being examined by NTSB and WMATA to determine
if they are the same kinds of problems as were found in the
location of the accident site.

Testing has identified that the circuit problems are
occurring more frequently during the rush hour time period.
As a result, the NTSB and WMATA testing at the accident
location on the Red Line is continuing. These tests may
result in occasional delays on the Red Line in the Fort
Totten area. All testing in the Fort Totten area is closely
coordinated with WMATA and is scheduled to minimize delays
on that area of track during rush hour.

On Saturday, July 18, the NTSB conducted a sight distance
test at the accident location. Information collected from
the test will be correlated with rail markings documented
after the accident, the braking characteristics of the
striking train, and the speed information gleaned from the
WMATA Operations Control Center records.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:39 AM |

$2.29 a gallon in Elkridge

The statewide average price of regular gasoline leveled off at $2.414, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, but this morning (Thursday), the three stations at the highly competitive corner of Montgomery Road and U.S. 1 in Elkridge all stood at $2.29.

It was a year ago today that prices finally fell below $4 to register a  statewide average of $3.999. Wasn't that a glorious day?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:20 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

July 22, 2009

Major angst over 'minor'

The Maryland Transit Administration ignored my sage advice about the provocative use of the word "minor" to describe MARC customers' long delays in getting home when something goes wrong.

Maybe they'll listen to a MARC rider, Jeff Quinton, who described his experience tonight and his reaction to that provocative word on the insidecharmcity blog. 

 And maybe pigs will fly.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

Rider: MARC train broken down in West Baltimore

Message from aboard MARC:

6 p.m. Wednesday: Broken down train at West Baltimore--so all MARC train activity is "stopping." What's new?

UPDATE from another reader:

Penn: An Amtrak train is stopped S of Penn Station with a mechanical problem, MARC trns 450, 432 and 534 are blocked at this time.

That wouldn't be the MTA's fault. Describing the disruptions as "minor" on its web site is. When will they ever  learn that drives  riders nuts?



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:03 PM |

Pipe pops on Pratt, pushing people to President

An inquisitive reader wants to know:

Why is Pratt Street closed, east of President Street? Since this morning, all traffic going east on Pratt has been forced to go either north or south on President Street, and not allowed to continue on. I asked the traffic officers, and they didn’t know and/or wouldn’t say.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the city public works department, said it was an emergency repair to a broken pipe affecting 30 customers in the 1000 block East Pratt Street. He said the work should be wrapped up by 5 p.m.

In other words: Everything's fine. Please move along, sir. Don't block the sidewalk.

Update from our correspondent:

(C)ity traffic enforcement officers are standing there, giving tickets to people who are taking illegal U-turns from southbound President Street.  A great scene outside my window.

Somebody needs some work to do.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:21 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Suppressed federal study having ripple effect in Md.

The report this week that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been sitting on research it conducted in 2002-2003 on the safety implications of cell phone use while driving is prompting a leading Maryland advocacy group to reconsider its stance on the issue.

The Maryland Highway Safety Foundation had previously urged the Maryland  General Assembly to adopt a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones. But according to co-chairman David Nevins, the news of NHTSA's long  suppressed findings will put the question of a total ban on cell phone use behind the wheel on the foundation board's agenda.

In a draft report that was not released for fear of offending Congress, NHTSA researchers wrote: "We recommend that drivers not use these devices when driving, except in an emergency. Moreover, we are convinced that legislation forbidding the use of handheld cell phones while driving may not be effective in improving highway safety since it will not address the problem. In fact, such legislation may erroneously imply that hands-free phones are safe to use while driving,”

They based  their recommendation on  findings that there is "little, if any, difference between the use of hand-held and hands-free phones in contributing to the risk of a crash while driving distracted. Hands-free or hand-held, we have found that the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver's performance."

The research found that about 25 percent of crashes reported  to police were the result of driver distraction.

For many years, the General Assembly has regularly defeated any form of cell phone  ban for adult drivers, though it did pass a law this year banning texting while driving.

Nevins said he is not sure what the foundation board will decide to put on its legislative agenda.

"We want to advocate for that which we can achieve," he said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

July 21, 2009

Big number of the day: $4.6 billion

The State Highway Administration has released a new estimate of the cost of a proposed project to widen Interstate 270 in Montgomery and Frederick counties: $4.6 billion. It had previously estimated the project at $3.9 billion -- a price tag opponents of the project had already described as exorbitant.

The new figure -- almost twice the cost of the $2.6 billion Inter-county Connector -- is likely to raise eyebrows among Baltimore-area transit advocates. The Maryland Transit Administration is scrimping and saving and making painful cuts just to bring its proposed Red Line project within federal guidelines. It's not true that money can be moved from a highway project to a transit project with the snap of a finger, but Baltimoreans can't be blamed for asking what's going on here. This would be yet another highway mega-project for Montgomery County, coming on the heels of the yet-to-be-completed ICC.

This blog would never suggest that Baltimore-area politicians stir up regional resentments or demagogue the issue. But a reasonable observer could foresee the possibility it could happen. At the very least, advocates of the project need to explain how this enormous expenditure would benefit the state as opposed to one corridor.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:56 PM | | Comments (12)

Signs of the times



Photo by Bob Shilling

Bob Shilling of Mays Chapel spotted this sign combination on Chatterton Road just east of Jenifer Road. He found it "perplexing" I think it says something about the human condition.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:18 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Drivers get penalty kick as soccer comes to city

The Friday evening rush hour is expected to be an ordeal for motorists attempting to escape downtown as big-time soccer comes to M&T Bank Stadium.

The Maryland Transportation Authority warned that a sellout crowd of 72,000  is expected to attend the  World Football Challenge - not the kind of football the Ravens play. The parking lots open at 4 p.m. and the stadium gates at 6:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. event -- perfectly times to tie traffic on Interstate 395, parts Interstate 95 and Russell Street into knots.

The authority, predicting congestion, is urging motorists who aren't going to the game to use alternate routes -- not that there are many good choices for folks attempting to head south on Interstate 95 or Russell Street. (Getting There readers can share my backdoor route of U.S. 40 west to Hilton Street south, to Wilkens Street west to Caton Avenue south and then connecting with southbound I-95.)

The authority also notes that it would be a  good day to use light rail to get into and out of downtown. That's not a bad recommendation. If you're not familiar with the light rail system, and you live south of town, try parking at North Linthicum and catching a train from there. It's right off the Beltway at Camp Meade Road, and it's well-signed.

Of course, leaving work about 3 p.m. on a Friday is not at all uncommon -- as I've found from calling many government offices at that time.

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

July 20, 2009

Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea

By Michael Dresser

Maryland’s acting transportation chief, citing concerns about privacy, has pulled back an internal proposal to use listening devices on its buses and trains for recording conversations of passengers and employees.

The Maryland Transit Administration had been considering adopting a system that would allow it to conduct audio surveillance similar to that in several other large American cities.

The idea was first reported late last week by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, which reported that the MTA’s top official had requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on the legality of such surveillance.

After inquiries from The Sun Monday, acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley ordered the request withdrawn.

 "It certainly should have been vetted at the department level and it was not," she said. "We have not weighed the issues we should weigh before making a decision like this."

Swaim-Staley said she would review whether the state would move forward with such a program.

"Any privacy matters are of the ultimate importance," said Swaim-Staley. "They’re the ultimate test of people’s trust in government."

 The request to the attorney general had sought legal guidance on whether using such equipment would violate Maryland’s anti-wiretapping law.

In a July 10 letter, MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld noted that the MTA already uses video cameras for security aboard its vehicles.

 "As part of MTA’s ongoing efforts to deter criminal activity and mitigate other dangerous situations on board its vehicles, Agency management has considered adding audio recording equipment to the video recording technology now in use throughout its fleet," Wiedefeld wrote.

According to the administrator, the MTA staff decided the idea raised legal issues and sent a letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general on whether such electronic eavesdropping would be legal and, if so, under which circumstances.

The MTA asked the attorney general to clarify whether the Maryland’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act would require the MTA to obtain the consent of passengers before recording their conversations. If consent is required, the MTA asked whether posting a sign informing riders they were under audio surveillance would be sufficient notice.

 Swaim-Staley, who is filling the vacancy left when John D. Porcari resigned to join the Obama administration, said the legal question was posed prematurely, before the issue could be reviewed from a policy perspective.

The acting secretary said she had not seen the letter as of last evening. "I have not even had the time to sit down and discuss it with Paul," she said.

 Swaim-Staley said her decision should not be interpreted as a rebuke of Wiedefeld. "I think he’s a terrific administrator and I think he’s been doing a good job under very difficult circumstances."

By backing off the proposal, Swaim-Staley may avert a confrontation with the General Assembly. Legislators who were contacted, reacting to the contents of the letter, said any audio surveillance program would likely have prompted lawmakers to introduce legislation to prohibit the practice.

"Do we really need to stoop that low in order to keep order?" said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "It’s that 1984 question ultimately: Do you want government delving that closely into everybody’s personal life to maintain our safety?"

Senate Minority Whip Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, said there would have been bipartisan resistance to the idea. "I imagine most of the Republicans would feel it was another government intrusion," she said.

Dave Rocah, a staff attorney with the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, reviewed the letter at the request of The Sun. He noted that nothing in it indicated the MTA would not be able to listen in to the conversation of two people sitting together in the back seat of a bus.

 "The government shouldn’t be snooping on that conversation absent an adequate individualized need," Rocah said. He said that would involve obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.

In an interview before Swaim-Staley’s decision, Wiedefeld said the agency had no intention of monitoring private conversations. He said the agency was considering using audio only as an after-the-fact investigative tool in the event of a criminal incident or crash.

According to the administrator, the decision to seek the legal opinion was prompted by the fact that many of the video security cameras now in use come equipped with the capability of recording sound. He said that a number of large transit agencies such as those in Cleveland, Denver and Chicago have decided to use the audio.

 "It’s something that’s becoming the standard of the industry," he said.

 Wiedefeld said the MTA was simply trying to determine whether it would be legal to, in effect, flip the "on" switch for the audio in the some of cameras it employs now. Even before the acting secretary’s move, he stressed that no decision had been made that the MTA would use audio surveillance even if given the green light by the attorney general.

While some large transit agencies may be moving in the direction of audio surveillance, the two closest to Maryland say they are not.

To my knowledge, that's not ever come up at all in any conversations, said Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration.

Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, said the Philadelphia agency would not consider such taping because it would be illegal under Pennsylvania law.

"At this time audio-taping is not under consideration," Williams said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:39 PM | | Comments (1)

MTA thinking of listening in? Never mind

Update: Maryland Transportation Administration Acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said Monday evening that she has withdrawn the following request to the attorney general for a legal opinion, saying the matter should have been reviewed at the department  level before the MTA sought legal advice.

Swaim-Staley took the action after the following was reported here early Monday.

The MTA is considering installing audio surveillance equipment on its buses and trains to record conversations of passengers and employees, according to a letter sent by the MTA's top official to the state Attorney General's Office.

The letter, reported by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, seeks legal guidance on whether installing such equipment would violate Maryland's anti-wiretapping law. In his letter, MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld notes that the MTA already uses video cameras for security aboard its vehicles.

"As part of MTA's ongoing efforts to deter criminal activity and mitigate other dangerous situations on board its vehicles, Agency management has considered adding audio recording equipment to the video recording technology now  in use throughout its fleet," Wiedefeld wrote.

According to the administrator, the MTA staff decided the idea raised legal issues and decided to send a letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general on whether such electronic eavesdropping  would be legal and, if so, under which circumstances.

Whether legal or not, the notion didn't play well with Paul Gordon, who broke the story on the Montgomery County-based blog.

"Personally, I find the idea of the state recording people’s conversations on public transportation creepy, something I would expect from the old Soviet Union," Gordon wrote.

I was reminded this weekend during a trip to Artscape on light rail that  one of the chief sources of amusement aboard public transit are the too-loud and uninhibited conversations of fellow passengers. It would be a shame if riders were cowed into silence by the fear that someone in authority was recording their descriptions of their wild weekends.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:57 AM | | Comments (6)

Gas prices continue to fall

The price of gasoline, which so recently appeared to be on track to hit $3 a gallon again, continued to fall last week as the price of crude oil on world markets dropped.

In Maryland, the average price of a gallon of regular fell by 6 cents since last Monday to settle in at $2.42, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The Dunkirk area of northern Calvert County continued to offer the state's cheapest gas, with pump prices  as low as $2.09 reported by Laurel and Beltsville also showed a cluster of low prices, with many stations in the $2.25-$2.29 range.

It's quite a change from this time last year, when the statewide average stood at $4.02.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:02 AM | | Comments (1)

More MARC follies on the Penn Line

Eric Luebehusen, a regular Penn Line  rider and a faithful correspondent on all matters MARC-related, provides  this account of the morning's Penn Line follies. The event two weeks ago was a fiasco in which one train ended up taking a journey of at least 3 1/2 hours between Baltimore and Washington.

Thought I'd pass along my experience from this morning.  It was almost a carbon copy of the fiasco from 2 weeks ago, except this time I was on my regular train.

Train #407 (6:30 Halethorpe) apparently broke down at Odenton this morning... this is the same train that broke down last time.

Train #509 (6:38 Halethorpe) was instructed to couple with and push the disabled 407.  Last time, I managed to get on board this one.  Today, I missed it.

Train #411 (7:13 Halethorpe) arrived to Halethorpe on time, and I got on.  We were held up for 20 minutes or so as the 2 trains in front of us sorted out what needed to be done.

The net result for me, was only a 20-30 minute delay... while the trains in front were delayed a bit more (I think 50 minutes or so).  Not a good start to the week mind you - and certainly highlights the need for new equipment yesterday - but with a plan (and the right cables), no one was forced to arrive at work at lunchtime.

Anyway... seems like they more or less got this one right.

By the  way, the Maryland Transit Administration still classifies this morning's MARC operations as having "minor" disruptions. Jeff Quinton of was kind enough to pass along a log of what "minor" means to the MTA. See it below:

July 20, 2009 5:54 AM
Brunswick Line: Train 890 approaching Dickerson operating 13 minutes late due to switch problems

6:49 AM
Brunswick: Train 892 approaching Barnesville operating 18 minutes late due to switch problems

7:03 AM
Penn Line: Train 407 holding at Odenton with mechanical problems Updates to follow

7:15 AM
Penn: Train 509 at Odenton Station assisting disabled 407 expect delays Updates to follow

7:21 AM
Penn: Train 506 and 406 holding in Washington until further notice Updates to follow

7:31 AM
Update:Train 506 canceled Train 406 departed Washington making all 506 stops to Baltimore

7:33 AM
Penn: Train 521 canceled from Perryville to Baltimore Amtrak trying to make arrangement

7:39 AM
Update:Train 407 departed Odenton 50 minutes late Train 509 departed Odenton Station 40 minutes late

7:45 AM
Brunswick: Train 894 approaching Barnesville operating 15 minutes late due to mechanical problems

7:55 AM
Penn: Train 417 8:10am departure expect delays updates to follow

7:57 AM
Penn: Train 408 expect 30 minutes or more delay out of Washington Updates to follow

8:12 AM
Penn Line Commuters Amtrak 183 will make stops at Perryville, Aberdeen, Edgewood and Martins Airport en route to Baltimore

8:31 AM
Update:Train 417 departed Baltimore 12-15 minutes late

8:34 AM
Update:Train 408 departed Washington 44 minutes late as an express making a stop at BWI

9:13 AM
Train 410 approaching Odenton operating 15 minutes late

9:28 AM
Train 419 approaching West Baltimore operating 15 minutes late

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:29 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train

July 17, 2009

Stop by and say hello at Artscape

Readers of this blog are invited to drop by The Sun's booth at Artscape, located on the northwest corner of Charles and Mount Royal, to talk traffic, transit and other topics with me from 3 p.m. to 4. p.m. Saturday.

I don't know about you, but there's no way I'm going to bring a car into that parking mess. I'll be boarding the light rail -- probably at North Linthicum -- and riding to Mount Royal station. If you recognize me from my mug shot, introduce yourself.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:14 PM | | Comments (1)

State to try again on traffic pattern switch

The Maryland Transportation Authority is going to take a second stab at shifting the traffic pattern at the Interstate 95-895 split Sunday. If you remember last week's comic turn of events, the authority canceled the planned July 12 change-over because of forecasts of bad weather. Naturally the weather turned out to be sunny and bright.

The change, part of the state's project of adding express toll lanes to I-95 between the Beltway and White Marsh, will eliminate the need to exit the main roadway to stay on southbound I-95 toward the Fort McHenry Tunnel. After the change, it will be travelers who want to head for the half-as-busy Harbor Tunnel who will have to use the exit ramp.

As always, the authority cautions that the change will take place weather permitting. Let's just hope it isn't again forecast-permitting.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Commuter water taxi? Great, but collect a fare

The Dixon administration scored a coup this week when it scored a federal grant to expand its pilot commuter water taxi  that now serves Fells Point and Locust Point to Canton.

It's a great idea on some levels. The Locust Point peninsula presents a difficult challenge for surface mass transit. The population isn't sufficient to sustain a rail transit line, and the No. 1 bus  line doesn't have the ridership to secure frequent bus service. Except for the caveats mentioned below, water is the most efficient way to get people to  and  from there to East Baltimore.

But I'm not sure it's a good idea to make it free. You see, free isn't really free. It's fully subsidized. The money has to come from somewhere. But once you call something free, people expect it to remain so and become mightily offended when -- inevitably -- the 100 percent  subsidy is withdrawn. Consider what happened when the Maryland Transportation Authority stopped fully subsidizing people's E-ZPass accounts. Many subscribers reacted as if their first-born child had been confiscated. Perks quickly become viewed as entitlements.

It would put the water taxi on a plane of greater equivalency with other forms of mass transit if the city charged a modest fare once the service expands. It wouldn't have to be a 100 percent recovery of costs. We don't ask any form to  mass transit to do that. But a modest fare -- say $1 to Fells Point and $2 to Canton  -- establishes that the city is providing people with something of real value. It also seems a little unseemly to be providing this service to relatively affluent neighborhoods free when  residents of poorer areas pay $1.60 for a bus ride.

A point for users of the service: Once you pay a fare, you've earned the right to complain. As long as it's free, it's hard to  work up much sympathy with any gripes that  may arise.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:07 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Afloat

Monorails: Disney vs. urban reality


Monorail at Walt Disney World
                                                                                 AP photo
Monorail passes Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center
From time to time, a participant in the Red Line suggests that a good alternative to tunneling would be to run at least part of the system as an elevated monorail. It's an attractive idea -- particularly to the millions of people who have seen it work so well at Walt Disney World ( except for that matter of a recent fatal crash).


Reader Jed Weeks points to a recent article on the blog the transport politic that gives a cogent explanation of why Disney-style monorails may not be a practical solution for an urban setting such as Baltimore. The discussion that folllows Yonah Freemark's article is worth reading too.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:58 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Red Line

New web site fights surface light rail in Canton

Opponents of surface light rail along the path of the proposed Red Line have set up a new web site,,  to fight the city administration's preferred plan for a  transit line from Bayview to Woodlawn.

The choice of a specific transit line is now a huge hot potato that has landed  in the lap of Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is scheduled to make a decision this summer.

The new web site's color scheme, infernal red on hellish black, is an accurate reflection of the heated opposition expressed  there.

While the site --  registered July 9 -- is billed as the "Home of the West-East Coalition Against Red Line Alternative 4C," so far the content seems to be all about Canton.  It includes a letter sent in June to O"Malley by three of the legislators who represent that neighborhood -- Sen. George Della and Dels. Brian McHale and Peter Hammen.

Click below for a sampling of the rhetorical  battle.



From the coalition we site:

The 5 big Lies about the Red Line on Boston Street:
1. It’s too expensive to go underground/your taxes will go up.
The MTA has never seriously looked at underground alternatives that can reduce costs. For example, if the light rail surfaces at Du Burns Arena with a Canton surface station there, the Canton tunnel extension could be cut by half.
2. Property values will go up.
Sure, around the country generally property values do go up when commuter rail lines go in. But few have had the negative impact that the Surface Red Line will have in Canton. And ask yourself, have property values along Howard Street gone up?
3. It will ease traffic congestion.
The MTA’s own studies show commuter trips will be lengthened by more than 15 minutes a day. Boston Street will be a continual bottleneck with daily jams forcing traffic onto side streets.
4. Boston Street can easily accommodate surface light rail.
The facts – all trees west of Lakewood will come down. Traffic lanes will be narrowed or eliminated. Sidewalks will be narrowed. Much of the parking will be eliminated. A maze of cables will be strung overhead and the double tracks and tunnel entrance will act as a barrier making access to the waterfront for residents far more limited and dangerous.
5. Canton residents want surface light rail.
Paid solicitors with misleading information were only able to gather 700 “in favor” signatures with no addresses. Every Canton community group and the vast majority of residents say “Put it underground or don’t put it here at all.”

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Red Line

More problems on MARC

Jeff Quinton's Inside Charm City blog examines the gory details of MARC's mechanical problems on the Penn Line last night. Does "80 minutes late" feel any bettter than an hour, 20 minutes late?
Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:50 AM |
Categories: MARC train

A fine mess on Interstate 95

Backups on Interstate  95 between Baltimore and Washington are an everyday occurrence, but  this morning's  jam-up on southbound I-95 was off the charts. A two-car crash just south of Route 100 in Howard County  just before  8 a.m. closed lanes and had traffic backed up all the way past the Interstate 195 interchange in Baltimore  County.

It was a bit of a guilty pleasure to be in the  uncongested northbound lanes. No word on the severity of the crash.

9:04 a.m.: This just in from Dave Buck of State Highway Administration:

Injury crash occurred at 7:45 a.m.  SHA arrived at 7:52 a.m. Additional SHA units on scene at 8:20 a.m.  Two vehicles involved.  One passenger car, one SUV overturned. Three left lanes blocked on SB I-95.  One left lane blocked on NB I-95.
At 8:35 a.m. only the left lane remained blocked along SB I-95 between MD 100 and MD 175. 
All lanes were open at 8:45 a.m.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:28 AM |
Categories: On the roads

July 16, 2009

Is Detroit crash a warning for Maryland bridges?

Detroit tanker

                                                                                  AP Photo

Collapsed overpass blocks Interstate  75 after tanker fire brought it down outside Detroit.

We tend to think of our highway infrastructure as being permanent and impervious to the idiocy of the people that use it, but an incident that took place near Detroit Wednesday shows just how vulnerable it could be.

In that crash, an overpass on Interstate 75 collapsed after a  three-vehicle crash involving a tanker truct, a tractor-trailer and a passenger car. It seems the 27-year-old driver of the car lost control of the vehicle while going about 70 mph on a curve with a speed limit of 50 mph. According to news reports, thhe vehicle swerve into a tanker and broke the connection between the cab and trailer to come apart. The fuel in the tanker caught fire and the bridge was soon history.

The incident reminded me of a well-known local bridge with a pronounced curve where drivers are often inclined to race across at speeds of 70 mph or  more. If you guessed the Bay Bridge, you're on the money.

I asked Lesli Leath, a  spokeswoman for the Maryland Transortation Authority, if there were any restrictions on fuel trucks on the Bay Bridge or other toll bridges in the state. The answer: No. (There are restrictions on bringing hazardous cargo throough the harbor tunnels.)

Certainly the chances of a catastrophic crash severely damaging a bridge are extremely small, but it would be worth examining whether its makes sense to take the slightest chance with the Bay Bridge in particular. It's arguably Maryland's most valuable transportation asset, and the disruption that would folllow from long-term damage to either span would be enormous.

The northern routes around the top of the bay are now far more robust than they were  in decades past. Wouldn't it make sense to route fuel trucks up that way? Or at least require police escorts, as the authority does now for high-grade explosives and radioactive material. At least these are policies the authority board should consider. Let the engineers war-game some worst-case scenarios and examine what the consequences would be.

It would also be refreshing if the board were to grow a spine and  ask the General Assembly to authorize the use of speed cameras on its bridges and in its tunnels. I've also long advocated enhanced fines for traffic violations at these facilities. It's a  matter of protecting the crown jewels of Maryland transportation. That's all the rationale that's needed.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:49 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

SHA launches resurfacing projects

The State Highway Administration is keeping quite busy these days with various road projects around the state. In fact, they're paving faster than I can blog. But let's catch up with some highlights:

--Starting Sunday night and lasting into late fall, the SHA will be resurfacing both the Inner and Outer loops on the Beltway between Edmondson Avenue and Security Boulevard as well as  some of the ramps  in that 3-mile stretch of Interstate 695. The $5.5 million project will involve a series of nigh-time and weekend lane and ramp closings.

--Northern Baltimore County will get its share of roadwork as highway officials begin a resurfacing project on the 3-mile stretch of Interstate 83 from the Pennsylvania line to a spot just south of Downes Road. The $3.9 million project is being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal stimulus bill. The repaving work will involve daytime, off-peak and overnight lane closures as well as occasional detours around ramps that are pasrt of the project.

--Like it or not, federal stimulus money  is flowing into staunchly conservative Carroll County, where the SHA has begun a $2.3  million, stimulus-financed project to  resurface about 10 miles of state  highways. The state has already begun work on 2 miles of Route 31 south of New Windsor and will soon begin resurfacing 3.5 miles of Route 31 east of New Windsor and 2.7 miles of Route 496 west of Manchester. Wouldn't it be a hoot if Vice President Biden showed up for a news conference?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:52 PM |

MARC blasted over engines that still can't

The news that the Maryland Transit Administration has yet to deploy its new commuter train locomotives inspired veteran MARC rider Jeff Quinton to issue an impassioned rant on the Inside Charm City blog.

Quinton's manifesto wraps up many of the complaints I've heard from MARC riders over the months. An example: "The customer service issues boil down to one thing that I’ve heard echoed by numerous customers (some of who work in transportation or know a lot about trains): everytime something goes wrong, MARC acts like it is the first time it has ever happened."

That one sure sounds familiar.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:15 AM |
Categories: MARC train

Edmondson, Boston no strangers to rails

Edmondson Avenue, 1950

 Sun file photo

A coalition of opponents of surface light rail in Canton and West Baltimore recently fired off a letter to elected officials urging them to abandon the city administration's preferred alternative for building the proposed Red Line.

One part of that letter read:

3. Neither Edmondson Avenue nor Boston Street were ever intended to carry a double-tracked surface light rail system and they are inadequate for that purpose.  

A couple of readers challenged that statement, noting that Edmondson Avenue was served by a trolley line -- the light rail of a previous generation -- before the automobile  crowded out other forms  of transportation.

The picture of Edmondson Village above, dated 1950, seems to support their position.  I don't suggest the opponents of surface light rail abandon their  fight, but I would recommend they find another way to phrase that argument. L

Some readers also noted that  Boston Street accommodated rail traffic in the days before the gentrification of Canton. I couldn't find any similar pictures in the Sun library, but reader Jon T. Merryman pointed the way to a gallery of photos from Canton's railroading past.    Lee Weldon, the photographer who took the shots, which show the last Conrail train to operate on Boston Street, believes they were taken in the spring of 1987.


Lee Weldon/The Conrail Historical Society


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:17 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Red Line

July 15, 2009

County police seek witness in light rail deaths

The Baltimore County police are trying to identify a potential witness in the July 5 deaths of two Lutherville teenagers on the light rail tracks outside that station. Police say a video inside the cabin of a train that is believed to have hit the two 17-year-olds about 2:57 that Sunday captured an image of the possible witness.

Police described the witness as a young man, in his teens or early twenties, with brown skin, a light-colored shirt and dark-colored shorts, who was carrying some items while he was on the train. Police are asking people who have information about the witness to call them at 410-307-2020.

The full release is attached.


Baltimore County Police are seeking to identify a witness who may have information about the deaths that occurred on the light rail tracks on Sunday, July 5, at approximately 2:57 p.m. A video inside the train cabin captured the witness’ image.

Police were called to the tracks near the Lutherville light rail station where two victims were found seriously injured after being struck by a light rail train. Jarrett Connor Peterson, 17, was pronounced deceased after arriving at St. Joseph Medical Center. Kyle Wankmiller, 17, was transported to Shock Trauma by helicopter. He died Monday, July 6, as a result of his injuries.

The Mass Transit Administration (MTA) police began an investigation into the deaths, and on July 8, requested for the Baltimore County Police Department to assume the investigation. As a result of County detectives reviewing an internal train video, they identified the image of a passenger on the train who may have information.

The witness is described as a brown-skinned male in his late teens to early 20s in age. He was wearing a light-colored shirt with writing and a logo on the front and back of the shirt, and long dark-colored shorts. The man was also carrying some item while on the train.

Investigators are asking the man, or anyone who knows his identity, to contact Baltimore County Police at 410-307-2020.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:11 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

Water taxi service requires honest disclosure

water taxiBaltimore's new -- and soon-to-be-expanded -- water taxi service for commuters is a very attractive idea in many respects. I rode it from Fells Point to Locust Point Tuesday evening and it was a perfect crossing that too less than five minutes each way. This fall it is expected to start offering an eight-minute passage between Locust Point and Canton.

 But reader Mark Adams introduced a note of reality in an email. He wrote: "The late Ed Kane used to tell me that he NEVER wanted to have commuter service because of the problems that come when you deliver someone to work in the morning and can't take them home in the evening because of a thunderstorm."

Mr. Adams, channeling the late water taxi entrepreneur, makes a great point. Tuesday evening might have been a perfect day for a crossing, but there will be many imperfect days. The city, the water taxi and the commuters themselves must all understand that safety trumps schedule and convenience on every occasion. The fact that a rider gets a free, convenient trip to Locust Point in the morning doesn't mean that person is entitled to a ride back that evening. If storms are in the area, the boats must not leave the dock. There can never be another Lady D incident in Baltimore harbor.

Inevitably, there will be folks who won't understand that principle -- who will shout and scream and bluster at the boat operators when they shut down the service. The city needs to back up the operators -- and to level with users of the service -- by mounting clear signage at each of its piers warning commuters that the service will not operate under dangerous weather conditions. It should further advise passengers that it is their obligation to have a Plan B and to cheerfully use it when storm clouds gather.

The city could help here by distributing brochures to riders outlining the various transit routes they can use to make their way around the harbor when the service is down. The passengers themselves would be wise to channel some of the money they are saving on this free service into a Taxi Fund. With a spare $30  or $40 in a hidden compartment of one's wallet there will always be a way to get home -- even on those rare occasions where a water taxi passenger can't find someone to share the fare.

With those understandings in case, it could be a great service. The Locust Point peninsula poses a unique transit challenge, and the best solutions are to be found on the water -- but not every day.

Photo by Michael Dresser/Baltimore Sun

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:54 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Afloat

July 14, 2009

Grant to help city expand water taxi service

The mystery of that $1.59 million federal stimulus grant for a Baltimore ferry project has been solved. It's actually going to pay for an expansion of the city's commuter water taxi service.

Since May, Baltimore has been offering a free commuter service from Fells Point to Locust Point. According to Jamie Kendrick, the deputy director of the Baltimore Transportation Department, the grant money will allow the city to buy three new boats and add a second route from Canton to Locust Point.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:37 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Afloat

U.S. awards $1.6 million for Inner Harbor ferry

The Federal Highway Administration just announced a $1.6 million award for a ferry project in Baltimore called the Inner Harbor Connector.  This project hasn't been on my radar at all, so any information anyone wants to share would be appreciated.

It's part of a distribution on $60 million in federal stimulus funds for ferry projects around the country, announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. According to the department, the Maryland  grant will go toward pier improvements and purchase of a new ferry.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Afloat

Triple whammy for downtown traffic this weekend

If you're planning to go downtown this weekend, be warned that it's likely to be a traffic nightmare. You might want to drive to the nearest transit station and leave your car there.

Central Baltimore will be in the grips of a triple whammy of traffic nightmaress. First, starting tomorrow, much of Lombard Street will close for a  resurfacfing project. Then there's Artscape, which willl close streets and generally tie up traffic Friday through Sunday in the Mount Royal-University of Baltimore area. Meanwhile, downtown will host a conference known as Otakon, whose participants dress up in comic-inspired costumes and wander the streets inspiring rear-end collisions as drivers become distracted.

The Downtown Partnership has spelled out the gory details of street closings below. But rather than trying to negotiate around  the closings, you might want to consider taking Maryland Transit Administration  light rail, Metro subway or even a city bus.

Here's the Downtown Partnership news release:

CONGESTION ALERT: Artscape, Otakon, and Lombard Street
In addition to the start of the Lombard Street repaving on Wednesday, July 15, two large events this weekend are expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors to Downtown.
Artscape begins Friday, July 17 through Sunday, July 19, and roads near Penn Station are already closed as organizers prepare for the event.  More closures are expected during this week as event set up progresses.  (See details below.)
Meanwhile, Otakon, a conference for colorfully-dressed fans of anime and comic books, will be at the Baltimore Convention Center this weekend.  
In addition to traffic modifications, there will be on-street parking restrictions associated with Artscape and the Lombard Street repaving.  Be sure to follow posted parking restrictions as they will be aggressively enforced.
This will be a fun weekend Downtown and we encourage everyone to take advantage of all the events.  Whenever possible, use public or alternative transportation to these events.  Transit options and schedules can be found at
Lombard Street – Alternate Route Update
In yesterday’s email about Lombard Street, officials suggested exiting the JFX at Mount Royal Avenue as an alternate route into Downtown.  However, this is not possible because it’s closed for Artscape.  Instead, we suggest taking the JFX exits for St. Paul Street, Guilford Street, or Fayette Street.  Alternatively, another possibility is using Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard northbound on the Westside to reach your destination.
For alternative routes, traffic cameras, and updated information, please visit
Street closures and traffic modifications and recommended detours for Artscape
The following streets are already closed or limited to traffic and will remain so until Tuesday, July 21:
• Dolphin Street from Mt. Royal Avenue to Howard Street
• Mt. Royal Avenue closed from North Avenue to Charles Street, curb lane closures both north and southbound
• Cathedral Street closed north of Preston Street to Mt. Royal Avenue
• Preston Street closed between Cathedral and Howard Streets
• Oliver Street closed between Maryland Avenue and Mt. Royal Avenue
The following streets will closed beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, July 15 beginning at 10 am through Monday, July 20 at 6 am:
• South side curb lane closed on Preston Street from Mace Street to Cathedral Street
• North side curb lane closed on Lanvale Street from Mt. Royal Avenue to Rutter Street
• The following streets will be closed on Thursday, July 16 from 10 am through Monday, July 20 at 6 am (impact begins on Charles Street):
• North Charles Street closed from Mt. Royal Avenue to Lafayette Avenue. (I-83 RAMP WILL CLOSE AT THIS TIME)
• North side of E. Mt. Royal Avenue closed from St. Paul Street to Charles Street (South side E. Mt Royal Avenue from Charles Street to St. Paul Street will remain open for detoured traffic)
• W. Lanvale Street closed from Maryland Avenue to Charles Street
• E. Lanvale Street closed from Charles Street to Lovegrove Street
The following modifications will go into effect Friday, July 17 at 9 am until Monday, July 20 at 6 am:
• Both sides of Maryland Avenue closed from North Avenue to Preston Street
• Southbound JFX ramp to Maryland Avenue will be closed
• South side of E. Lafayette Avenue closed from Charles Street to St. Paul Street
• W. Lafayette Avenue from Charles Street to Falls Road will be made two-way to allow access to City Yards and Potts & Callahan
• W. Preston Street closed from Maryland Avenue to Cathedral Street (Access will be granted to Meyerhoff Garage patrons only)
• Two-way traffic will be installed on Park Avenue (next to the Meyerhoff) from Cathedral Street to the Symphony Center garage to allow festival parking
• Both sides of W. Lanvale Street closed from Mt. Royal Avenue to Rutter Street
• Both sides of W .Lafayette Ave closed form Mt. Royal Avenue to Rutter Street
Special Penn Drive Traffic Chute:
• Once Charles Street closes a traffic chute will be created, using traffic cones, during non festival hours to allow vehicles from Penn Drive to gain access to the I- 83 ramp. The right turn onto N. Charles Street will still be prohibited during these times.
Special Traffic Patterns:
• Special one-way traffic patterns will be implemented along various roadways in the vicinity of the festival to provide local access for area residents throughout the event. Note that on Sunday, July 19 from 9 am until 12 noon, Maryland Avenue will be converted to two-way traffic from Preston Street to Mt. Royal Avenue for morning church services. Congregational members trying to access the church should follow St. Paul Street to Preston Street, then Maryland Avenue to the parking lot.
Drivers will be detoured as follows:
• Southbound Mt. Royal Avenue traffic will be detoured east on North Avenue, south on St. Paul Street and back to Mt. Royal Avenue.
• Westbound Preston Street traffic will be detoured south on Maryland Avenue, to west on Chase Street, to north on Howard Street and back to Preston and Dolphin Streets.
• Southbound Maryland Avenue traffic will be detoured east on Biddle Street, to north on Calvert Street, to west on North Avenue and back to Mt. Royal Avenue.
• Northbound Mt. Royal Avenue traffic will be detoured east on Biddle Street, to north on Calvert Street, to west on North Avenue and back to Mt. Royal Avenue. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:17 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

July 13, 2009

D.C. Metro replies to NTSB

Washington Metro officials say they can't immediately comply with a  recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board that they add another layer of safety precautions to the subway system because such a technology is  not commercially available.

The NTSB issued an emergency  recommendation Monday that the Metro incorporate a new backup system into its crash-protection measures in the wake of the  June 22 collision of two trains. Nine people died in that ccrash -- the worst in the history of the Washington Metro.

The NTSB investigation has reached a preliminary finding that a circuit failure in Metro's current crash avoidance system failed, leaving the operator of a following train unaware that another train had stopped  on the tracks ahead. The board said the crash showed the Metro "is susceptible to a single-point failure" and should add a level of redundancy to its protections.

However, in its reply, the Metro board said its system is not compatible with any other existing transit system and  that any new protection technology would have to be  invented.

The Metro system's full reply follows:


Metro’s Board of Directors and General Manager appreciate the recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board to Metro and the Federal Transit Administration. This has implications that reach far beyond Metro, and extend to the entire transit industry.

In spite of the issuance of this recommendation, the NTSB still has not determined the root cause of the accident. Every component of that circuit has been replaced, but the problem still persists. This is not a simple problem as is evidenced by the NTSB’s statement that “investigators are continuing to examine the train control system circuitry and recorded data to better understand how the train control system functioned prior to the accident."

It is important to know that there are currently no systems available commercially that could provide the Metro system with the kind of alerts that the NTSB has recommended, and that such a system must be invented. San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system for example, would not meet our unique needs. We believe the NTSB acknowledged this much in its letter today, stating, “The NTSB believes that software algorithms or additional circuitry could be developed to continuously evaluate the validity of real-time track occupancy data and alert operations personnel when problems are detected.” As a result, we will be developing a new system that will be specifically tailored to Metro. Metro is in the process of contacting vendors who have the expertise needed to help us develop this service, and we are preparing cost estimates on this application.

Metro is also pleased that NTSB has now agreed to allow us to move forward with our plan to initiate an independent panel of experts in signal systems through the American Public Transportation Association before the NTSB investigation has been completed.

The safety of our customers and our employees continues to be our prime concern. As a result of the accident of June 22, 2009, we immediately returned control of all trains to manual mode. We will continue to operate in manual mode until a suitable backup, designed specifically for our rail system is developed. For more than 30 years, the current rail system has operated without a failure like the one we experienced on June 22, but we will devote all of our resources to implementing NTSB’s recommendation as soon as possible

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

Rumblings against Red Line get louder

With a final decision on the Maryland Transit Administration's proposed Red Line either in the hands  of Gov. Martin O'Malley or very close, opponents of the leading alternative -- known as 4C -- have ratcheted up their opposition.

Opponents from West Baltimore and  Canton  share a strong aversion to surface light rail in their neighborhoods -- whether along Edmondson Avenue or Boston Street. The following letter went out today to O'Malley, leading 4C backer Mayor Sheila Dixon and other elected officials saying no to 4C.

You can read it below:


July 13, 2009
The Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski,
United States Senate
Hart Senate Office Building, Suite 503
Washington, DC  20510
The Honorable Benjamin L. Cardin,
United States Senate
Hart Senate Office Building, Suite 509
Washington, DC  20510
The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings
Seventh Congressional District
2235 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC  20515
The Honorable John P. Sarbanes
Third Congressional District
426 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC  20515
The Honorable Martin O’Malley,
Office of the Governor
State House
Annapolis, Maryland  21401
The Honorable Sheila Dixon,
Mayor of the City of Baltimore
City Hall, Second Floor
100 North Holliday Street
Baltimore, Maryland  21202
            Re:       West-East Coalition Against Red Line Alterative 4-C
Dear Senators Mikulski and Cardin, Congressmen Cummings and Sarbanes, Governor O’Malley and Mayor Dixon:
            This letter is written on behalf of the thousands of members of the community and religious organizations, homeowners’ associations and business groups that are listed below our signatures.  These organizations represent a broad-based coalition of residents and businesses on the West Side of Baltimore City and Canton on the East Side.
            The Coalition strongly supports improved, intelligent and efficient mass transit for the people of Baltimore.  But we are absolutely opposed to surface light rail on Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street as contemplated by the MTA’s Red Line Alternative 4-C. Among the reasons for our opposition are:
            1.         The destructive effect that a double-tracked railroad will have on our neighborhoods.  Both Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street serve as major arteries for east-west traffic and are already congested.
2.         A double-tracked surface light rail system with the required portals will make these heavily-travelled residential streets even more hazardous for our children and their families than they already are. 
3.         Neither Edmondson Avenue nor Boston Street were ever intended to carry a double-tracked surface light rail system and they are inadequate for that purpose. 
            We urge you to reject the MTA’s recommendation of 4-C insofar as it calls for surface light rail on Edmondson Avenue and Boston Street.  The citizens of Baltimore deserve a better mass transit system than the one recommended by the MTA.
Warren Smith                                                                      Benjamin Rosenberg                                                
      Ten Hills Community Association                                         Canton Community Association
     Rognel Heights Community Association                                Canton Cove
      Mulberry-Lyndhurst Community Association             Canton Square
      Greater West Hills Community Association                           The Moorings
      Mt. Holly-Saratoga Community Association                          Anchorage Tower
      Allendale Community Association, Inc.                                 Anchorage Townhomes
                                                                                                The Shipyard
                                                                                                Cambridge Walk
                                                                                                North Shore at Canton
                                                                                                St. Casimir’s Church
                                                                                                O’Donnell Square Business Association
cc:        The Honorable Lisa Gladden
The Honorable George Della
The Honorable Jill P. Carter
The Honorable Nathaniel T. Oaks
The Honorable Samuel I. (“Sandy”) Rosenberg
            The Honorable Brian McHale
            The Honorable Pete Hammen
            The Honorable Helen Holton
            The Honorable James Kraft
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:03 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Red Line

NHTSA: Fewer drunks on road, but lots get high

Here's a classic good news-bad news study  from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

It appears that more than three decades of strong anti-drunk driving messages and stronger enforcement are having some impact. In a 2007 survey, NHTSA found that the percentage of drivers on weekend nights who have a blood-alcohol level higher than the prevailing national limit of .08 percent has fallen to 2.2 percent. (Shown in NHTSA graphic at right.) It's still pretty scary that one in 50 drivers on the road is drunk at those times, but that's an improvement from the downright terrifying 7.5 percent that prevailed in 1973, when the first such survey was taken.

During the daytime, the roadside survey found  that only 0.1 percent of the drivers on the road were legally drunk. But what your mama told you about being on the road when the bars let out  is true: 4.8 percent of drivers were found  to exceed .08 between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. on weekends. That's nearly  one in 20. (NHTSA doesn't  measure this, but if it's 2 a.m. Sunday down the road from a biker bar, you can figure it's more than one in 10.)

The news was less encouraging when it comes to drugs, screening for which was included in in the surveys for the first time in the 2007 survey. The survey, based on oral fluid samples and blood samples, found that 16.3 percent of the drivers on the road on weekend nights tested positive for drugs. That dooesn't mean they were actively high while driving, because some of the tests -- such as those for marijuana -- can yield positive findings  weeks after actual use. Still, that's a lot of Cheeches and Chongs with whom to be sharing the highways.

The most popular drugs among nighttime drivers in the voluntary, anonymous survey: marijuana, 8.6 percent; cocaine, 3.9 percent, and methamphetamine, 1.3 percent.

One other finding from the survey that should raise a few eyebrows: Motorcyclists, who are much more vulnerable to injury than "cagers," are also more than twice as likely to be drunk on the road late at night on the weekend. The survey found that 5.6 pecent of  bikers  had illegal blood-alcohol levels at those times, compared with 2.3 percent of those in passenger  cars. No wonder motorcycle deaths continue to rise as fatalities iin other vehicles are dropping.

The survey didn't exactly debunk stereotypes: It found 0.3 percent of drivers of minivans were drunk on weekend nights, compared with 3.3 percent of drivers of pickup trucks.

As in about any survey of anything having to do with common sense, men fared less well than women. Males were found to  have illegal levels  of alcohol in 2.6 percent of cases; females, 1.5 percent.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:12 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

More signs of gas price drop

The $2.41-a-gallon gasoline along U.S. 1 in Elkridge was tempting this morning, but I decided to hold out and see what Halethorpe and Lansdowne would bring. Patience paid off as the Royal Farm stores there each were selling regular at $2.39 -- well below the statewide average of $2.48 reported by AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The best prices in Maryland, according to, can be found in northern Calvert County, where what appears to be a gas war in the Dunkirk area has driven prices down as far as $2.21. If you're heading to lower Montgomery County, gas  up before you go  because some stations are  still charging as  high as $3.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

July 12, 2009

MD toll authority spoils next weekend

Based on forecasts of miserable weather, the Maryland Transportation Authority postponed its plans to make its big traffic pattern change at the  Interstate 95-Interstate 895 split Sunday morning for one week.

Naturally the weather Sunday morning proved to be near-perfect -- sunny and dry (unless the weather was way different from in Howard County). The way I figure it, the authority has just about guaranteed that next weekend will be a washout. Thanks, guys, and stop watching the Weather Channel.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Gas prices dip below $2.50

The average price of regular gas in Maryland dipped below $2.50 as plummeting crude oil prices on world markets held out the promise of further declines between now and Labor Day.

The Maryland average, as reported Sunday by AAA Mid-Atlantic, is $2.49, down from $2.55 last week. Gas prices have been falling steadily for almost three weeks.

“After weeks of speculation-driven increases, crude oil has surrendered to basic market fundamentals: too much supply and too little demand,” said Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Down more than 10% this week, crude oil is following the recent gas price decline, a trend welcomed by motorists planning to take to the road this summer. Looking ahead, gas prices typically track crude oil prices, therefore we should be looking to continued gas price declines in the coming weeks.”

My bet: You won't see much of an economic uptick before the August economic numbers come out in September. The bulk of the stimulus-related spending on transportation projects won't really get flowing until the late summer and early fall. So don't be surprised if prices get close to $2 long before they challenge $3 again.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:45 PM |

July 10, 2009

Answers for sore knees at Halethorpe MARC


Sun photo/Amy Davis 

MARC rider Suzanne Lurie’s knees were hurting her, so of course she wrote her local transportation columnist. Who would you consult – an orthopedist? Lurie had some questions about the MARC station in Halethorpe.

 She thought I could get some answers out of the Maryland Transit Administration. As it turns out, tormenting the MTA is one of my specialties. But let’s let Lurie tell her (lightly edited) story:

 I began working in DC a little over 3 years ago. I live in Owings Mills so, all things considered, Halethorpe is the best choice MARC train station for me. As you probably are aware, in order to access the southbound side of the tracks from the northbound side, a person must ascend about 50 steps to an overpass, cross the tracks via the overpass, then descend at least another 50 steps on the other side. I’ve done this every work day since I’ve been commuting and chalked it up to being good exercise.

Problem is, I’ve begun having pain in my knees going up any stairs, so unless the doctor I’ll be seeing can come up with a solution for me, I won’t be able to do Halethorpe much longer. That means I’ll have to start taking the train from BWI. You could say I’m less than thrilled about that because it will mean leaving the house earlier and getting home later, extra expense to get a “pass” for the parking garage, more money for the extra gasoline the extra miles will require, and, since imany morning trains are full by the time they get to BWI, I’ll probably end up standing a lot more on my way in to work in the mornings - another just-great-for-the-knees situation.

What I’d like to know is - how does the MTA get by with not having to provide access for the physically disabled at the Halethorpe station (and at the West Baltimore, station while I’m asking)? Did they leave Halethorpe off the list of “key stations” so they wouldn’t have to deal with it? Yup, They have parking spaces for the “handicapped” - but, seriously - you can handle the stairs but you can’t walk an extra hundred or so feet on a flat surface?

I’ve been on trains back to Halethorpe at various times in the afternoon, and I’ve seen how many people get off at Halethorpe. It’s got to serve at least as many riders in a day as BWI does. So how does MTA justify this situation? Not that it will be soon enough to help me out at this point, but do they have any plans to improve things there?

I referred to the question to MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene, who provided a detailed and prompt reply — again lightly edited — during a most challenging week for the MTA.

 “Concerning whether Halethorpe was left off of the list of “key stations” so MTA would not have to deal with it? No, the U.S. Department of Transportation established criteria by which public transit agencies were to define their “key stations.”

 For instance, end-of-the-line stations, transfer stations, and major interchange points were part of the criteria to be considered in order to provide an accessible system. The MTA had extensive public participation, including heavy participation by the disability community, in the selection of “key stations.” As your reader notes, the BWI Station was a “close by” key station that provided full access for riders in the service area she uses.

The good news for your reader is that the MTA has completed the design for a new Halethorpe Station, to be built adjacent to the existing facility. It will have high-level platforms which will allow customers to board our MARC trains without climbing steps from the platform on to the car. There will also be a pedestrian overpass with elevators on both sides of the tracks – making the station fully accessible. We expect to begin construction on the $18 million project in the spring of 2010 and hope to have the new station in operation by 2012.

Concerning your reader’s concern with the use of accessible parking spaces by individuals who may not be entitled, we share the same concern. Those individuals are using spaces that a person with genuine need may be denied because those spaces fill very quickly. To help resolve this issue, our transit police will soon be implementing a program to randomly request individuals parking in accessible spaces to provide written verification of their right to park in those spaces.?

It is also important to note that the MTA often adds accessible spaces, over and above those required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, when we ascertain that there are more spaces needed in a particular lot.

Concerning your reader’s question about the level of MARC ridership at Halethorpe versus BWI, Halethorpe has average daily boardings of approximately 1,200 and BWI has average daily boardings of approximately 3,200, of which approximately half are Amtrak’s customers.”

 There you have it. Easiest blogpost I ever wrote.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:23 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train

Forget Red Line tunnels, Montco blogger warns

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch in Montgomery County has been watching the Red Line debate from afar because his own county is in the midst of contentious debates over two proposed transit lines -- the so-called Purple Line from Cheverly to  Bethesda and the  Corridor Cities Transitway along Interstate 270.

He writes:

Mike, I know that some of the people in Baltimore oppose surface rail, but there is no way they are getting a tunnel. Here are the cost effectiveness numbers for the Red Line, CCT and Purple Line. Read his article.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Red Line

Lane shift at I-95 & I-895 postponed a week

Because of the likelihood of bad weather this weekend, the Maryland Transportation Authority has pushed back the planned change in the traffic pattern at the junction of Interstate 95 and Interstate 895 on Baltimore's  east side.

Originally planned for this Sunday, the lane shift is now scheduled for Sunday,  July 19. The change will eliminate the need to merge right and exit for southbound travelers on I-95 who are heading toward the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

The full news release appears below.


BALTIMORE, MD – Due to the probability of inclement weather on Saturday,
July 11 and Sunday, July 12, crews will be unable to institute the major traffic
pattern change on southbound Interstate 95 at Interstate 895 on Sunday, July 12
as previously scheduled.
The new traffic pattern is now scheduled to go into effect by 8 a.m. Sunday,
July 19, weather permitting.
Work such as applying pavement markings, removing and installing concrete
barriers and modifying overhead signs is impacted by rain and wet pavement
conditions. The decision to reschedule was made today so motorists are
informed of the schedule change in advance of Monday morning’s rush hour.
Once the new pattern goes into effect at the I-95/I-895 split, I-95 traffic will stay
in the left lanes, while I-895 traffic will move to the right lanes. Note: all
southbound I-895 and I-95 exits south of the split will not change.
The new configuration allows for construction of the new Express Toll LanesSM.
In addition, it will help improve safety for the approximately 100,000 daily
motorists who travel this portion of southbound I-95 and I-895 – the majority of
drivers will utilize the higher-speed left lanes and not need to merge to the right
as they have in the past.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:18 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Lombard Street project to begin -- finally

The city just announced that the Lombard Street rebuilding project, which will tie up downtown traffic for a long time, is on again after having been delayed by a water main break.  Originally scheduled to go forward in the spring, the project is now expected to begin Wednesday.

 Here's the city's press release:

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation today announced the launch of
the Lombard Street Improvement Project, a project that was originally scheduled to
begin in early spring, but was delayed until July 15, 2009 because of an
unexpected water main break. Since then, most of the infrastructure repairs have
been completed and we are now ready to embark on the next phases of the project.
The project is expected to be completed by late fall. On Wednesday, July 15, 2009
improvements such as milling, resurfacing and sidewalk repairs will get underway.
Motorists should expect delays and pay strict attention to all parking restrictions
and new traffic patterns in the vicinity. Special Traffic Enforcement Officers
(STEOs), Variable Message Signs (VMS) and traffic signal optimization will help
assist with the flow of traffic.
Phase I of milling and resurfacing begins on Lombard Street from east of Light
Street to President Street temporarily closing several lanes of traffic. At least three
lanes of traffic on Lombard Street will remain open at all times. When Phase II of
the milling and resurfacing occurs on Lombard Street from west of Light Street to
MLK Boulevard at least two lanes of traffic will remain open at all times. Several
parking restrictions will be implemented periodically on Fayette Street during
construction to minimize possible congestion in the area.
Business and community leaders have been briefed on the merits of the project.
Various precautions will be taken to minimize disruptions to businesses and
pedestrians during the construction period. Contractors working on the Lombard
Street Improvement Project will often work extended hours to expedite the
project. Access to local area businesses will be maintained at all times.
Contractors will also give consideration to noise levels around area hospitals and
hotels and have agreed to keep noise to a minimum during late night and early
morning hours.
Traffic delays are inevitable. Leave early to allow extra travel time. Use alternative
transportation choices to commute downtown if possible such as MTA bus service,
the Charm City Circulator, water taxi, car pooling, biking and walking.
To plan your travel routes ahead of time or to learn more about the Lombard
Street Improvement Project you may go to the following websites: (to view traffic cameras live) (to view traffic cameras live) (to view traffic cameras live) (to view traffic cameras live)
Alternate Routes:
 Traffic traveling downtown from the east (Fells Point and Canton) areas etc.
should use Central Avenue north, to west on Orleans Street. Follow Orleans
Street west, to south on Martin Luther King Boulevard (MLK) or Greene
Street to go to University of Maryland, stadium events, Baltimore-
Washington Parkway (295) or I-95.
 Traffic traveling southbound I-83 going to I-95/I-395, Exit off I-83 at North
Avenue towards Mount Royal Avenue, to Martin Luther King Boulevard to
Congestion Zone for the Lombard Street Improvement Project
(boundaries include):
 East and west between President Street and Martin Luther King
 North and south between Pratt Street and Lexington Street

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Red Line rumblings

I wasn't at the meeting of the Red Line Citizens Advisory Council last night, but I understand there were some fireworks. I'm not sure how important these matters are in the great scheme of things regarding the proposed east-west transit line, but they do reflect the depth of the opposition in some quarters to surface light rail through Canton and the Edmondson Avenue corridor -- the controversial aspects of the alternative favored by the Dixon administration and city business leaders.

One caveat about the Citizens Advisory Council: It isn't as big a deal as some of its members think it is. The relevant word here is "advisory." It's not a decision-making body. But its views are significant enough that  proponents of the leading alternative took comfort in their vote  in December in favor  of the alternative known as 4C. Opponents have a right to see a glimmer of hope in the apparent weakening of support shown that alternative.

In the absence of an unbiased report, here is the account of the proceedings from Ben Rosenberg, a Canton resident and fierce opponent of 4C:

Warren Smith, one of the Council members, moved to rescind the CAC's December 11 recommendation of 4-C. At the December 11 meeting, 9 members of the CAC were present. Of those 9, 2 abstained, 2 voted against 4-C and 5 voted in favor. I believe there are 14 members of the CAC. Tonight, 11 members were present. A majority of 6 voted to rescind the recommendation on account of the very strong east/west opposition to surface light rail. The Chair, Ms Bethea-Spearman, ruled that the moton to rescind failed because it required a 2/3 majority. She was wrong because the motion was on the CAC's agenda and under Robert's Rules of Order, only a simple majority is required to rescind a previous vote if there is prior notice of the motion. But that's not really the point which is that more members of the CAC voted to rescind the 4-C recommendation than voted for it.

Personally, I'm not impressed by either vote, but I'm passing it along for all you Red Line news junkies.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:45 AM |
Categories: Red Line

July 9, 2009

Senator, you had your turn; now the E-ZPass facts

e-z passLast week Getting There published a letter from Sen. E. J. Pipkin on the subject of the Maryland Transportation Authority's recently imposed E-ZPass fees and other revenue-raising measures. We gave the senator a few days to air his views unmolested while we checked some facts. The grace period is now over. Here's his letter, with our take in italics:


Senator, I hate to break it to you, but a large part of your district hardly ever uses the Bay Bridge. But your constituents in Cecil County, for instance, are very much affected by what happens on the Hatem Bridge and Kennedy Highway, both also operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority. You shouldn't make them feel left out.

Dear Sir,

In January, when the MdTA announced that it would impose higher fees and new costs on Bay Bridge commuters who use E-ZPass customers, I voiced my objections.   Starved as the State is for revenue, I did not really expect the State to retreat from grabbing $60 million from Marylanders.  In this instance, it would be Marylanders who use the Bay Bridge and other state toll facilities.

The Bay Bridge has always been a cash cow for the MdTA’s highway projects.  The Bridge raises over $30 million in toll revenue each year and costs less than $8 to operate. 

Ahem. I'm  going to assume you meant $8 million. Even if you did, you're passing along bad information. I checked with MdTA spokeswoman Cheryl Sparks and got the accurate figures. Here's what she had to say:

"The state senator’s statement asserts that the Bay Bridge is fully paid for and generates annual net operating income.  The policy of the Maryland Transportation Authority is to pool revenues from all facilities, to assure that every facility is properly maintained.  The Authority staff has analyzed all costs for financing the Bay Bridge, including bridge maintenance, operations, and capital expenditures, as well as interest on debt service, for both spans since their construction.  This analysis required certain estimates and some assumptions.  When all these costs are considered, the Bay Bridge is not completely paid for.  Additionally, the Authority issued debt in 2004 and 2008, a portion of which helps finance $200 million Bay Bridge preservation projects.  Interest on this debt service will be paid until at least the year 2042. 

The annual revenue and expenses indicated by the state senator are not accurate.  For example, in FY 2008 revenues were $33.5 million, operating & maintenance expenses were approximately $14.0 million, capital expenditures were $20.2 million, and debt service interest was $2.3 million.

On July 1, the new fees and costs became effective.  E-ZPass users will now have to pay for transponders, more for toll violations and a new charge of $1.50 a month to

cover some of the costs of processing the program.  According to then-Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari, the new charges would help recover costs and maintenance of the state’s toll facilities.   Pocari said that he was taking this action “reluctantly” and called it a “last resort.”

As I see it, the State of Maryland has never shied away from bleeding its citizens with new and inventive taxes and fees.  That it does so, in this faltering economy, is unconscionable.

The cost of a Bay Bridge round trip hasn't changed since the 1970s. The state's gas tax hasn't gone up since the early 1990s. Some tolls on passenger vehicles went up under the previous governor -- largely to help pay for projects such as the Inter-county Connector and express toll lanes on Interstate 95. The current administration stuck it to truckers because it was too shy to impose a more broad-based toll increase.

Maryland, like all other states, has been pushing people to use electronic toll collections, which expedite the flow of traffic.   Making the cost of using electronic toll collections higher and adding fees makes no sense.  It is counter-productive. Those higher costs and that additional monthly $1.50 fee could push people and commercial users away from electronic toll collections.   Let’s face it, toll facility users could very well decide to not to use E-ZPass.

They could. And if they're among the 72,000 subscribers who didn't use the passes once during the course of a year, they darn well should. How does it help the flow of  traffic to subsidize drivers who aren't even on the roads you want to de-congest? And how exactly has Maryland "pushed" people to use E-ZPass? By taking money out of the pockets of cash toll-payers and handing them free transponders. By setting up accounts for them and shouldering the costs whether they pay tolls or not. Senator, that's socialism.

It is the worst type of folly for government to grab the money and run without giving significant weight to negative unintended consequences.   In its eagerness to grab the $60 million, the State could be stymieing or sabotaging Maryland’s transportation progress.  The purpose of E-ZPass is to alleviate traffic congestion. Bay Bridge traffic increases between 2% and 3% each year. If the higher cost of using E-ZPass reduces the number of users, Maryland will have taken an unfortunate step backward from transportation progress.

So you think the authority should make do without $60 million in revenue? Where do you want them to start deferring maintenance? The Bay Bridge? The Cecil County part of the Kennedy Highway? How about keeping the old deck on the Hatem Bridge? Wouldn't any of those options sabotage a little progress? And really, senator, how many frequent E-ZPass users are going to give up that convenience over a matter of $1.50 a month? Maybe enough to cause a traffic jam at the Bellevue-Oxford ferry.


E.J. Pipkin

Your sincerity, senator, is never in  doubt.


Michael Dresser

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 2:51 PM | | Comments (5)

MTA chief does the right thing

Paul J. Wiedefeld had a difficult decision to make Wednesday. The Maryland Transit Administration chief took about a half hour to think it over and then he did the right thing.

Confronted with the reality that the family of the two boys killed in Sunday's accident had lost confidence in the the MTA Police, he decided to turn over control of the investigation to the Baltimore County police. It was a good call -- and one many government officials would have resisted out of a reflexive urge to protect their turf and defend their agency.

My take is that Wiedefeld understood that no investigation could be successful without the cooperation of the dead boys' parents. The MTA police, for whatever reason, got off on the wrong foot with them. It was a no-win situation for the MTA, and Wiedefeld recognized that. There was no need for a prolonged public struggle with the bereaved parents, and Wiedefeld headed off a problem that could have ended up on the desk of the acting transportation secretary or the governor.

That's called earning your pay.

I'm sure this is a disappointment for the MTA police. Most folks haven't heard about it, but it is a real police department with sworn officers who carry guns and go through training much like that the state police have to pass. But many in the public, when they learn the MTA has a police force, see a conflict of interest. It may not be real, but the perception is that they will act to protect the MTA first and worry about the facts later. In a hot-potato case like this, a pragmatic, professional MTA head who recognizes the problem serves the state well.

In a high-profile case such as this, it's also good to have the experienced, professional public affairs team at the Baltimore County Police Department on the job. The MTA public affairs staff does a fine job with transit issues, but it has become clear there was a disconnect between the MTA police and the people at the MTA whose job is to keep the public informed.

Wiedefeld, an experienced public administrator with a strong track record from his time as BWI chief,  clearly has a challenge on his plate getting these two parts of his organization working in tandem.

Long term, it would seem to make sense to re-examine whether it makes sense to have separate police departments for the Maryland Transportation Authority and the MTA. And the legislature should ask whether these forces should report to the secretary of transportation or the superintendent of state police.

I'm not making a judgment here, but it's a debate worth having.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail

Baltimore drivers rank 2nd from worst -- out of 193

Allstate's ranking of drivers in 193 metropolitan areas puts Baltimore motorists as second from worst -- behind only Washington.

The insurance giant found that Baltimore drivers had an 80 percent greater likelihood of ending up in a collision than the typical American driver in the study. Washington's drivers had an 95  percent greater likelihood.

In No. 1 Sioux Falls, S.D., drivers were 26 percent less likely to be in an accident than the the typical driver.

In Sioux Falls, drivers went an average of 13.5 years between collisions. In Baltimore, the average was 5.6 years; in Washington, 5.1 years. For Baltimore, that represents a significantly worse performance than in 2005,  when the typical Baltimore driver could  expect to go 6.5 years between collisions.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:49 AM | | Comments (13)

MTA falls in line with WMATA cell/text policy


The Maryland Transit Administration has adopted a zero-tolerance policy under which any operator found to have been using a cell phone or text-messaging device on the job will be fired even if it is a first offense.
The MTA took the action shortly after the Washington Metro system announced a similar change Thursday morning in which it scrapped a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy and said it would fire violators outright.
The decision by Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld came about an hour after The Sun inquired about the MTA’s policy in light of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration’s announcement. At first, the MTA said it was sticking by its policy that it “can” fire violators. Under the new policy, the MTA says it  “will”fire operators who text or use cell phones while at the controls.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the agency will inform its operators’ union of the change but will not bargain over it.
“There is no negotiation when it comes to public safety,” she said.
Greene said that because MTA and WMATA serve many of the same customers, it is important to maintain a consistency in the agencies’ safety policies.
Both transit agencies are currently dealing with the aftermath of fatal accidents in which operator performance is a subject of investigation.
Nine people were killed June 22 in the collision of two trains on the Washington Metro’s Red Line. According to WMATA, preliminary results of the investigation indicate the operator of the train that stuck the other was not using her cell phone at the time of the crash. That operator was killed.
On Sunday, two 17-year-old boys were killed when they were struck by an MTA light rail train near Lutherville. That crash is currently under investigation.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, Light rail, Local bus lines, MTA bus system

MTA: 'Can' fire texting operators, not 'will fire'

In response to Washington Metro announcement noted below, I asked Maryland Transit Administration Jawauna Greene what is the MTA's policy on cell phone use or texting by operators.

According to Greene, while the MTA forbids cell phone use or text-messaging while operating one of its vehicles, it does not have a "zero-tolerance" policy. Noting that the MTA has a union contract to consider, Greene said the MTA's policy is that if an investigation shows an operator did use a cell  phone or text-messaging device while in charge of a vehicle, management "can" terminate that employee.

There's a world of difference between "can fire" and "will fire," and if texting or cell phone use is found to have any connection with Sunday's fatal light rail accident, I suspect that will change in a hurry.


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

WMATA stiffens cell-text ban for operators

WMATA general manager John Catoe has just announced a strict no-tolerance policy for operators using cell phones and text messaging devices on the job. One strike and you're out -- as in fired. The new policy replaces a three-strikes-and-you're out approach that prevailed before.

WMATA says the preliminary indication is that cell phones use was not involved in the June 22 Red Line crash that killed 9, but a You Tube video has emerged purporting to show a WMATA operator texting.

D.. Metro operators have become unwitting stars at You Tube lately. Another video (shown above) making the rounds appears to show a Green Line driver sleeping on the job.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:41 AM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Unsolicited advice for the MTA

Here's a little unsolicited advice for the Maryland Transit Administration: Ban the word "minor" from your web site and communications with customers.

 No "minor" delays. No "minor" disruptions. No "minor" trouble. To the customers affected by delays, disruptions and other troubles, noting is more infuriating than to hear their problems dismissed as minor.

The word also often turns out to be wrong, as it did on the MARC Penn Line Wednesday morning. It was bad enough that one of the trains took 3 1/2 hours to get from Baltimore to Washington. Riders found it especially galling to see that the MTA was characterizing the delays as "minor."

So let the edict go out: The MTA may have delays, disruptions and troubles, but the minors are in Salisbury, Bowie and Frederick.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:57 AM | | Comments (3)

Expect D.C. Metro delays this weekend

Travelers to the Washington area this weekend could encounter delays on the Metro as a result of track maintenance work Friday through Sunday on four of its lines.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration urged riders to allow an extra 30 minutes into their travel plans if they will be using the  Red, Orange Blue of Yellow  lines.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:44 AM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

July 8, 2009

Gas leak cuts Penn Line service north of city

A natural gas leak at North Point has forced the Maryland Transit Administration to halt northbound Penn Line service at Penn Station during this evening's commute,

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said. Greene said a bus bridge would be set up to deliver passengers to Perryville and to stops in between there and Baltimore. She said the gas leaki was not on MTA property.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

MTA explains MARC woes

The Maryland Transit Administration, still tied up with the aftermath of Sunday's fatal  light rail accident in Lutherville, finally got back to me about its troubles on the MARC Penn Line the past two days.

The MTA's assistant deputy administrator, Simon Taylor, confirmed that passengers aboard Train 509, which was scheduled to get to Washington's Union Station at 7:25, limped into D.C. about 10 a.m. So it was actually 2 1/2 hours late, not three,  but that's small consolation for the hundreds aboard.

Train 509 was one of three Penn Lines delayed when a compressor blew out aboard Train 407 on the southbound Penn Line between Halethorpe and BWI. Train 509 was  brought up behind  it to push it into Washington, Taylor said, but that required the use of a cable that was supposed to be on board. For some reason, Taylor said, neither train had that cable so the two trains were stuck there until a cable could be brought there.

Having the cable, Taylor said, is Amtrak's responsibilitty.

Before it was known that 407 and 509 were missing the cable, Taylor said, Train 411 whizzed by -- no doubt perturbing the stranded passengers, In any  case, Taylor said, it was packed.

A little later, with the cable problem known, Train 513 came alongside the stalled trains. Taylor said all of the Train 407 passengers who wanted to were transferred to 513, along with some of  those on 509.

Taylor said priority was given to those on 407 because they had  been waiting longer and the air conditioning was not functioning on that train. He said that not all passengers who  wanted to transfer from 509 could be accommodated.

Finally, a cable was brought to the scene and train 509 was able to push the 14 cars of it and 407 into Washington at a maximum speed  of about 40 mph, Taylor said.

So by the time the drama ended, passengers on 509 had enjoyed a 3 1/2-hour trip to Washington. Passengers who transferred from 407  to 513 were delayed about an hour and a half, and those on 513 were about  a half hour late.

And that's what can happen when once compressor blows. Taylor said the troubled locomotive was not one of the three much-ballyhooed new ones tha MTA recently acquired. Those, he said, are still  undergoing additional safety testing. He said  the one that  broke doen was an electric locomotive, about seven years old.

There is some good news: Because there have been so few really  hot days this summer, there have been few heat alerts on the Camden and  Brunswick  lines. When you ride MMARC, you  have to take your good news where you can find it.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:31 PM | | Comments (10)

Gilligan's train? MARC commute is '3 hour tour'

Penn Line commuters are reporting Train 509 is running  hours late. We're checking on what's happening and why the MTA web site is  calling it a "minor" problem.

10:55: Still haven't heard back from the MTA, but a reader sends  the following account of this morning's Penn Line commute:

This was no "minor" disruption.  Train 407 (Penn Station 6:17am departure) lost power to the motor between Halethorpe and BWI.  Train 509 behind it (Penn Station 6:25am departure) came behind and linked up with train 407.

The trains sat there on the tracks for 2 hours.  A few passengers were able to transfer to another passing train before it had to clear the tracks.

The remaining passengers sat on the tracks until about 8:45am, when the two attached trains reached BWI.  The 407/509 combined train then proceeded forward slowly and made all local stops, before arriving at Union Station at 9:59am, almost 3 hours behind schedule.

More from another MARC rider:

This is getting ridiculous. I've now been on three broken down trains and had at least a 30-40 minute delay every other day for the past month.
Yesterday the air compressor broke down at Union Station, halting all trains for the commute home.

Yet another voice from the train:

An earlier MARC train was disabled north of BWI (I was on the following train which was packed to the gills picking up passengers stranded by this disabled train). I don't know if this had anything to do with the 509 or not.

WHERE ARE THE NEW ENGINES O'Malley made a big to-do about and played engineer on awhile back? Now its summer, when engines tend to fail (and have been failing recently), and there seems to be no relief in sight.

My other question (for which I have never received a straight anwswer from the MTA): When do trains cross the line from 'serious overcrowding' to 'dangerous overcrowding'? This morning we clearly couldn't hold anymore passengers, yet continued to be further delayed making stops where passengers attempted to board. Standees in the vestibule is a regular occurrence and supposed to be prohibited. It's only a matter of time before this kind of overcrowding becomes dangerous or even deadly.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:02 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

July 7, 2009

MTA double fatality called an accident

The Maryland Transit Administration has determined that the two teenagers who were fatally struck by a train Sunday near the Lutherville light rail station were struck from behind as they walked in the middle of the tracks with their backs to a train, an MTA spokeswoman said Tuesday.

MTA police arrived at the judgment that the deaths were accidental after viewing video from the train that struck the pair about 2:55 p.m. Sunday, spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said.

The MTA said earlier Tuesday that they believed that Connor Peterson and Kyle Patrick Wankmiller, both 17, had been lying on the tracks while two trains passed over them. But Green said the video evidence shows the two were walking north on tracks that are usually used for southbound travel when they were run over.


At the time, the light rail system was in two-way operations on one track because another train had been damaged after it ran into a highway guardrail that apparently had been left on the northbound tracks.

Greene said the boys apparently thought the approaching train was using the other track.

"When you hear a train coming from the southern direction you expect it to be on (the northbound track)," Greene said. "It cal lull you into a false sense of security."

 Greene noted that members of the public are not allowed to walk on the tracks except at designated crossing points. To walk along the tracks is considered trespassing, she said.

Still unexplained was how the operator of the train that struck the pair could have missed seeing them. Greene said the investigation is continuing.

The two teens were discovered severely injured about 3:10 p.m. after the operator and fare inspector aboard another train noticed something on the tracks and the inspector walked back to determine what it was. Wankmiller died Sunday at St. Joseph Medical Center. Peterson died Monday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:30 PM |
Categories: Light rail

Big change coming on east side interstates

A detailed announcement is expected Wednesday, but here's an early heads up that the Maryland Transportation Authority will implemet an important change to the traffic  patterns on Interstate 95 and Interstate 895 starting Sunday iif weather  permits,

Where in the past people heading for the Fort McHenry Tunnel had to take a ramp to stay on southbound I-95, after Sunday they will be able to do so by simply going straight, As of that day, travelers  heading for the Harbor Tunnel via Interstate 895 will have to uuse an exit ramp.

The Harbor Tunnel carrries about half as much traffic as the McHenry Tunnel. The change is part of the overall reconstruction of I-95 to allow the addition of express toll lanes between the Beltway and White Marsh.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:17 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Video to show other cities' transit lines

A group of mostly pro-Red Line sponsors will show a film Wednesday evening at the downtown Enoch Pratt Free Library intended to show Baltimoreans what other cities have been doing to integrate transit lines into their communities.

While this presentation will likely play up the virtues of surface light rail, it could be useful information for folks whose only exposure to light rail has been the circa 1991 north-south light rail line along Howard Street. 

Whatever decision is made on the Red Line, it shouldn't be based on a notion that the current line is the state of the art.

 The release follows below.


What can Baltimoreans learn from other cities building light rail transit lines? Are there lessons from Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles that can help increase public involvement in building the east-west Red Line, mitigate disruptions and respond to community concerns?

A film screening and panel discussion will explore those possibilities on Wednesday, July 8 at the Enoch Pratt Central Library at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free.

The 16-minute film, “Transit Around the Nation,” is an outgrowth of trips last fall by 60 neighborhood activists, elected leaders, developers and government officials to four cities building light rail lines. The travelers reunited a few weeks later to talk about what they saw, heard and learned that could improve communication with neighborhoods and businesses during the Red Line’s planning and construction.

The idea of the 2008 trips was “to expose people to the reality beyond Baltimore City and Baltimore County” in taking on a light-rail project that holds much potential but also prompts reminders of unhappy past experiences, says Otis Rolley III, President and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, which sponsored the transit trips along with the Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA), Baltimore City, and the Maryland Transit Administration.

The four transit tours allowed participants to understand more about economic opportunities, transit-oriented development and construction mitigation techniques. They spoke with community activists, housing officials, neighborhood outreach leaders, government officials and people living near the light rail lines.

During the tours, participants posted real-time updates on Twitter, a social networking service, and pictures on Flickrs, a photo sharing service. The Megaphone Project interviewed participants during these trips and afterward and produced the 16-minute documentary.

The film screening will be followed by a panel discussion in Wheeler Auditorium at the Enoch Pratt Central Library, 400 Cathedral Street in downtown Baltimore. The July 8 event begins at 5:30 p.m. and is expected to run until 7 p.m.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Red Line

MTA police seek public's help

The Maryland Transit Administration Police are  asking members of the public to come forward with any information they might have concerning a fatal incident near the Lutherville light rail station that left two teenagers dead.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene appealed to anyone who saw anything connected with the incident to call the MTA Police at 410-454-7720.

"We still need a lot of help in ferreting out what happened," she said.

Greene said investigators have reached no conclusions about what led to the deaths of Kyle Wankmiller and Connor Peterson, both 17, of Lutherville. She said police were still interviewing witnesses and verifying reports that people had been seen standing in a nearby wooded area
shortly before the incident.

Greene said the two were found lying between the rails of the southbound track just south of the Lutherville station. Evidence indicated that two trains struck them while passing over them while they were prone, but there were no signs they had been knocked over by a train, Greene said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:48 PM |
Categories: Light rail

MARC alert: Part of Halethorpe station closed

This just in from the Maryland  Transit Administration for MARC Pen Line riders:

Attention Halethorpe Riders: Due to road construction, the north end station entrance has been closed off and will remain closed until Monday, July 13, 2009.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:35 PM |
Categories: MARC train

July 6, 2009

D.C. Metro sets July 4 record

Just two weeks after the most catastrophic accident in its history, the Washington Metro set a record for Fourth of July ridership -- 631,206 trips, an increase of 32,308 from the previous year.

On June 22, nine people were killed in the collission of two trains on the Red Line near Fort Totten station. The National Transportation Safety Baord is continuing its investigation of that crash.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:35 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

E-ZPass subsidy lingered too long

As of last week, it costs $1.50 a month to maintain an EZ-Pass account with the state of Maryland. That's a scandal.

Not the fee. That's chump change. What's appalling is that it took the Maryland Transportation Authority so long to impose it. Not until there was a severe revenue shortfall did the authority's board muster the political courage to partially plug a leak that's been costing the state millions of dollars a year. The money could have gone toward repaving a section of the Kennedy Highway or enforcing traffic laws at the Fort McHenry Tunnel or planning the replacement of antiquated bridges.

It's money that's been squandered.

That's my conclusion after learning last week from Randy Brown, the authority's operations director, that about 72,000 of the state's roughly 535,000 E-ZPass account holders hadn't used their transponders to pay a toll in the past year. He put the annual cost of maintaining those dormant accounts at $1.9 million a year. That doesn't include the $21 cost of the units that were given free to people who don't use them.

I don't think there are a lot of people out there who share my outrage at that. Most of the reaction I've heard is from people who object to the state's attempt to recover its costs. Quite a few boasted that they've closed their Maryland E-Zpass accounts and opened them in states that charge little or nothing.

Many of these folks seemed to think that their collective action could bring the state of Maryland to its knees and paralyze the flow of traffic though its toll plazas. Think again. According to Brown, the state has about 8,000 more E-ZPass subscribers in July than it did in January, before the fee was first proposed.

For those who moved their accounts to another state, the satisfaction will likely be short-lived. Every toll authority in the country is experiencing the same revenue pressure as Maryland. They're all looking for ways to raise money. The obvious first step is to cut waste. And nothing's more wasteful than subsidizing E-ZPass accounts that aren't being used.

These authorities all watch one another, and folks in New Jersey and Virginia and at the Peace Bridge Authority ( New York-Ontario) will see that Maryland imposed a fee and the sky didn't fall. They'll follow suit - especially when they realize they're carrying a bunch of Maryland subscribers who rarely pay tolls to them but whose accounts are a drain on finances.

You can't really blame folks who feel betrayed by the imposition of the fee. For a long time, the state was peddling the Myth of the Free Lunch. Here, Dave, have a free transponder. No, Sally, there's no charge for the service. You're doing the planet a service, Jamal. You'll never sit in a tollbooth line again, Maria.

I don't get a free pass here. I didn't blow the whistle on the proliferation of transponders that were going unused. When the former governor and former comptroller were holding cheery press conferences, exhorting everybody to sign up for E-ZPass so we could all reach the beach faster, I didn't ask them the right questions. It wasn't until the authority blew the whistle on itself that I realized I'd missed a darn good story.

(Hint to fellow reporters in other E-ZPass states: Ask your local toll authorities how many of their E-ZPass subscribers have gone a year without using their transponders to pay a toll. Ask how much money they've been wasting as a result. Ask how many Marylanders have signed up in their state over the past six months. It'll be the easiest front page story you ever had.)

There was a sound reason for making E-ZPass available free in the beginning. It is a more efficient way of moving traffic, and it should save costs in the long run, despite heavy, upfront capital costs. And it probably did require a sweetener to get the system to the point where it could stand on its own.

But E-ZPass is been well-established here and through most of the East Coast. The free-lunch offer long outlived its rationale. But because people had been fed a line to get them to adopt the technology, they saw the reduction of a subsidy as an onerous new tax.

As a government entity, the authority feels its has to sugarcoat everything it says. I don't.

If you're not using your E-ZPass enough to justify the cost, ditch the transponder. It's not a tax. You don't have to keep paying $1.50 a month. You won't miss it much and you won't be missed as a customer. Traffic will flow just fine. You'll get part of your windshield back.

And the next time someone offers you something for "free," keep walking.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:43 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

July 5, 2009

AAA reports gas prices falling

AAA is reporting that gas prices are continuing to fall across the country. Maryland's average price of a gallon of regular has fallen 4 cents in the past week to $2.55. That's well below the national average of $2.62.

In recent years the trend has been for prices to peak in June of July and then to fall steadily as we get closer to Labor Day. There's no guarantee this year will be the same, but a return to $3 gas this summer is looking increasingly unlikely.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:26 PM |

July 3, 2009

Sen. Pipkin denounces E-ZPass charges

Every once and a while the Getting There blog will host opposing views -- just for the fun of it. No views could be more opposed than Sen. E. J. Pipkin, a Republican who represents the Upper Eastern Shore. He copied me on a letter to the editor he's been circulating in response to the July 1 effective date of a new $1.50-a-month fee on E-ZPass accounts, as well as other revenue-raiising measures to make up a $60 million revenue shortfall at the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The good senator can have the rest of this blog post to himself. Those who want to read a response will have to wait for a few  days while I sharpen my pen.


Dear Sir,

In January, when the MdTA announced that it would impose higher fees and new costs on Bay Bridge commuters who use E-ZPass customers, I voiced my objections.   Starved as the State is for revenue, I did not really expect the State to retreat from grabbing $60 million from Marylanders.  In this instance, it would be Marylanders who use the Bay Bridge and other state toll facilities.

The Bay Bridge has always been a cash cow for the MdTA’s highway projects.  The Bridge raises over $30 million in toll revenue each year and costs less than $8 to operate. 

On July 1, the new fees and costs became effective.  E-ZPass users will now have to pay for transponders, more for toll violations and a new charge of $1.50 a month to cover some of the costs of processing the program.  According to then-Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari, the new charges would help recover costs and maintenance of the state’s toll facilities.   Pocari said that he was taking this action “reluctantly” and called it a “last resort.”

As I see it, the State of Maryland has never shied away from bleeding its citizens with new and inventive taxes and fees.  That it does so, in this faltering economy, is unconscionable.

Maryland, like all other states, has been pushing people to use electronic toll collections, which expedite the flow of traffic.   Making the cost of using electronic toll collections higher and adding fees makes no sense.  It is counter-productive. Those higher costs and that additional monthly $1.50 fee could push people and commercial users away from electronic toll collections.   Let’s face it, toll facility users could very well decide to not to use E-ZPass.

It is the worst type of folly for government to grab the money and run without giving significant weight to negative unintended consequences.   In its eagerness to grab the $60 million, the State could be stymieing or sabotaging Maryland’s transportation progress.  The purpose of E-ZPass is to alleviate traffic congestion. Bay Bridge traffic increases between 2% and 3% each year. If the higher cost of using
E-ZPass reduces the number of users, Maryland will have taken an unfortunate step backward from transportation progress.


E.J. Pipkin

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Test finds DWT more dangerous than DWI

Jim Cumbie of Baltimore send along an interesting article  from Car and Driver in which the magazine conducts a test of the relative levels of driving impairment from texting behind the wheel and having a blood-alcohol content of .08.

The short version: Better drunk than ROFL. Check it out.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:18 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads

July 2, 2009

Traffic deaths at 47-year low; thank the recession

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported good news Thuesday: The death rate  on the  nation's roads fell to the lowest point since 1961 last year.

The agency tabulated 37,261 highway deaths in 2008, a drop of 9.7 percent from 2007. According to NHTSA, the fatality rate last year was 1.27 persons per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled, down about 7 percent from  the 2007 rate of 1.36. Motorcycle fatalities  bucked the trend, rising for the 11th straight year.

That's encouraging, but the best explanation is  not.


Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway Safety. warned that excessive sellf-congratulation is not warrantted.

This is no great surprise, given the economic recession the entire nation was, and is experiencing," Stone said.   "In previous recessions – the early 1980s and early 1990s – a similar dramatic drop in car crash fatalities was evident, due to greatly reduced exposure and many fewer discretionary trips taken by motorists.

“Although it is always heartening to know fewer people died and suffered injuries in motor vehicle crashes, we cannot rely on poor economic conditions to ensure major progress in traffic safety, especially because historical trends tell us the numbers will reverse as the economy improves.  There are still nearly 40,000 people dying on the nation’s roads, and hundreds of thousands more sustain life-changing and debilitating injuries on an annual basis."

Stone went on to recommend that Congress act on a series of measures intended to keep the trend lline going down even as the economy recovers.

The list is just a click away:


● H.R.1895, Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STANDUP) Act, sponsored by Reps. Tim Bishop (D-NY), Michael Castle (R-DE) and Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-MD).  The 2007 FARS data shows that at least 7,500 people died in teen-related crashes, the majority of them teens.  These tragedies often happen one or two at a time, so the outrage about the public epidemic these numbers represent is muted.  Every death, especially of a child, is a terrible waste, particularly when we know that there are proven solutions in comprehensive graduated driver licensing programs that can prevent many of these tragedies.  H.R. 1895 would go a long way toward reducing these staggering figures that represent incalculable harm in the lives of very real people.

● Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Laws in Every State.  The Surface Transportation Assistance Act  (STAA) of 2009, currently proceeding through the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, wisely includes a provision that would encourage every state to pass a primary enforcement seat belt use law, allowing police enforcement officials to stop motorists for not using a seat belt without first having to ticket them for another violation.  These laws have proven effective in raising seat belt use rates and saving lives.  States that do not enact such a law in three years would be sanctioned a portion of their federal-aid highway funds until they enact the belt law upgrade.  30 states and DC currently have primary enforcement authority in their laws; this provision would result in all 50 states enforcing optimal safety belt laws and higher use rates across the nation.  Advocates worked for adoption of this key safety measure in the STAA of 2009 and strongly urges the full committee to keep it in the bill.

● Electronic On-Board Recorders in All Commercial Vehicles in Interstate Commerce.  The STAA of 2009 also requires that interstate trucks (at or above 10,000 pounds) and buses (that carry eight or more passengers for compensation)  be equipped with electronic on-board recorders  that will reduce driver fatigue by improving enforcement of the current lax hours-of-service reporting system.  This is a crucial reform that Advocates and other safety groups have petitioned the Department of Transportation to implement for many years.

● Stronger State Ignition Interlock Impaired Driving Laws.  The STAA 2009 also provides that states adopt impaired driving laws that require the use of ignition interlock devices on vehicles of drivers convicted of impaired driving, upon first offense and thereafter.  This provision will accelerate the pace of adoption of important laws that will deter drunk and drugged driving in every state, reducing the toll of nearly 12,000 people who die annually in alcohol-involved auto crashes.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:04 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Reader warns of irrational transit-phobia

Every once and a while I get an email that displays uncommon good sense in the face of nonsense. This, from Terry Shepard of Baltimore, is one of them. After passing  along some compliments that are too extravagant to inflict on readers, Shepard writes concerning the June 22 Metro crash that killed nine in Washington:

The Sun and other papers continue to run follow-up stories on it and that is understandable.  What is less explicable is the employment of this accident by some to spread fear of and opposition to public transit.  Auto commuters say "See, that's why I don't ride transit" and even the Sun ran one of its reader polls on whether this would make people less likely to do so. 

Meanwhile, a June 30 story in the Sun reports on "a tractor-trailer that plowed into stalled cars in a turnpike accident that killed 10 people" and no one is running polls or saying "See, that's why I don't drive on the highway."  (I realize that crash was in Oklahoma, but you get the point.)

This despite the fact, reported in a June 24 story in the Sun, that:  "According to the National Safety Council, the number of accident fatalities per vehicle miles traveled is about 14 times worse for passenger cars than trains and subways. Only transit buses are considered safer."

Perhaps you could repeat those statistics and interview a psychologist who works on transportation as to why people refuse to accept this (beyond the obvious answer that many Americans reject facts that suggest they should get out of their cars and ride on public transit with people they don't know.)

As you know and have argued, more and better mass transit are both possible and absolutely vital if we are to avoid killing our environment, our cities and ourselves.  Americans must get past their unreasoning fear of transit and you can help them do it:

I have to disagree, Terry. If anyone, you are the one that can help them do it. And just have. Thanks.

I don't think you need a psychologist to explain what's at  work: Transit is unfamiliar to most middle-class, auto-oriented Americans. Cars are something they encounter every day. That  which is unfamiliar is more scary than what is familiar, even when the familiar is demonstrably more dangerous. Transit also involves contact with unfamiliar people.

The point on the poll is well-taken. It should be noted that it comes with the disclaimer: "results not scientific." Still, it is encouraging that only 17 percent answered yes. And I'm going to venture an unscientific guess that those most of those folks don't ride transit now.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:32 PM | | Comments (1)

UM surveys Marylanders on traffic safety

What do you believe are the most important issues in traffic safety in Maryland? You can weigh in on that topic by taking part in the University of Maryland School of Public Health's  Maryland Driver Survey, which just went up on line Wednesday.

The anonymous, on-line survery can be completed in about 10-15 minutes. It was  developed by UM School of Public Health for the Maryland Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration's Safety Office. The survey will remain open through Aug. 12.

I took the survey and can see where the research could be useful to transportation planners, but it coould  be a lot better. If you take it, feel free to leave your comments on how it could be improved here.






Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Beltway/I-95 ramp opening delayed

The Maryland Transportation Authority postponed today's  expected opening of a new ramp from the westbound Outer Loop of the Baltimore Beltway to southbound Interstate 95 because of poor  weather and pavement conditions -- putting off the opening until after the July 4 holiday.

The authority now than to open the new ramp -- part of the I-95 express toll lanes project -- next Tuesday at 5 a.m. The ramp opening will involve significant changes to the traffic pattern at the interchange, so allow extra time for confused commuters to get their bearings. But be patient: The change will eliminate an awkward left-lane exit and entrance -- likely improving long-term traffic flow and safety.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:05 AM |
Categories: On the roads

July 1, 2009

Baltimore subway passes safety test

Baltimore subway

A Maryland Transit Administration official said early Wednesday morning that Baltimore's Metro subway had passed reliability tests on its control and collision prevention system.

Conducted in the aftermath of the fatal June 22 crash of two Washington Metro trains, MTA testing engineer John Forbes said a third night of so-called "integrity tests" was completed about 3:30 a.m. and the examination had found "no anomalies whatsoever" in the speed controls on one of the two tracks from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Owings Mills.

Forbes said the other track was found to have no speed control problems the previous night, while a test of the Metro's collision avoidance system last week also uncovered no malfunctions.

Posted by Maryann James at 8:53 AM |
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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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