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March 31, 2010

Antilock brakes said to prevent motorcycle deaths

The Insurance Institute for Highway safety reports that antilock brakes have proven effective in reducing crashes by motorcycle riders, raising hopes for curbing an alarming increase in the rate of fatalities on two wheels in recent years.

According to the IIHS, a new study shows that antilock-equipped motorcycles are 37 percent less likely to be involved in fatal crashes  than non-equipped bikes. The safety group also cited a report by the Highway Loss Data Institute showing that motorcycles with antilocks have 22 percent  fewer damage claims per insured vehicle-year than bikes with conventional brakes.

The reports come at a time when motorcycle deaths are increasing, largely because of more registrations,  and other vehicle deaths have been fallling.

Antilock brakes are an option on most motorcycle models, but the safety institute says they are growing in popularity, with more than half of riders surveyed saying they would get them on their next bikes.

In another report that might not be as well received by motorcycle riders, the highway loss institute found that motorcyclists in states that require  helmets for all riders -- such as Maryland --  are less likely to file insurance claims than those in states with no laws or weaker laws. Its conclusion: helmets are effective in reducing head injuries -- which it called the leading cause of  motorcycle deaths.

The same group surveyed rider and found that 73 percent  say they always ride a helmet, 9 percent says they often wear one while 5 said they never do. The survey found that 57 percent who say they don't always wear helmets said they would if state law required it.

According to the survey, about half of motorcyclists oppose universal helmet laws but 76 percent agree that helmets make riding safer.

Another sobering finding: 43 percent of riders said they had been in at least one crash. But in spite of a tendency among some riders to emphasize the role of other vehicles in those crashes, two-thirds of those reported  involved the motorcycle alone.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:12 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: On the roads
        

ICC delay could avert mid-campaign encounter

When  Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. jumped into the race against Gov. Martin O'Malley this week, it raised the intriguing prospect that the election campaign could intersect with the opening of the first phase of the Intercounty  Connector -- a project associated much more with the former governor than the incumbent.

Wouldn't that  make for an interesting October ribbon-cutting?

Alas, such a ceremony is unlikely to happen before Election Day. Because  rainy conditions last year and three major snowstorms over the winter have caused construction delays, the State Highway Administration has revised its estimate of the likely opening date of the section of the ICC between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue (Route 97) in Montgomery County.

Where previously the had talked about opening the section this fall, now ICC project spokeswoman Fran Counihan says it expects the opening to occur before the end of the year.

Counihan would not rule out an October surprise if the weather is ideal for  construction during the spring and summer, but added that it is very unlikely. With normal weather, the likely opening would occur in late November or December, she said. Another rainy year like 2009  could push it into next year.

Whether the ceremony takes place before or after the election, it still raises interesting questions of who will be invited -- whichever  candidate wins. While the O'Malley administration has  overseen the project since 2007, the Republican Ehrlich truly is the Godfather of the ICC --  whether you love it or hate it. He's the one who moved mountains to win federal approval of the project before he was ousted by his Democratic rival in 2006.

But it's the incumbent governor -- whether still campaigning, triumphantly elected or wallowing in lame-duckery -- who controls the guest list.

In other circumstances, one could envision a coming-together of rivals in a ceremony marked by graciousness and  respect. But this is O"Malley vs. Ehrlich, and every sign is that the two detest each other. A smart bet would be a Trifecta of Mutual Recriminations, Petty Sniping and Yesterday's Whine.

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

March 30, 2010

MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card

The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking volunteers to help test its planned "smart" electronic fare card, which is now scheduled to roll  out this fall.

The new card will allow passengers to pay the exact amount of their fare out of pre-established accounts by tapping the card against a sensor or the gate or  farebox.

The test of the unfortunately named CharmCard -- aren't you all sick of this Charm City this, Charm Ciity that? -- will include local buses and the Metro subway as well as bus and rail transit services in the Washhington area.

The wallet-sized card has an implanted computer chip that stores cash value and account information -- whether the passenger is paying a daily fare or using a weekly or monthly pass. The test is expected  to last through the spring, with deployment of the final software this summer and rollout in the fall.

The test, which follows a previous one that was limited to the subway, does not include the light raiil system because the MTA is still wrestling with the question of how inspectors can verify fare payment. Nor does it include MARC or Virginia Railway  Express.

Riders who would like to volunteer are being asked to resister on line at www.mtacharmcard.com or to call at 1-888-762-7874.

Those who don't give a hoot about volunteering but who want to suggest a less charm-laden name for the card can simply post to this blog.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:42 AM | | Comments (11)
        

March 29, 2010

MTA chief weighs in on communication issues

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells plans to disable some of the agency's less reliable email notification services and go back to the drawing board.

Wells says he's been disappointed with the performance of the services that are supposed to notify passengers of problems on the Metro subway and bus lines. He plans to discontinue them until they can be done right.

The MTA chief called to follow up on a complaint registered recently by Alisa Bralove-Scherr about a problem she had with the Metro in which the email notification service failed her. Bralove-Scherr had arrived at the Owings Mills station anout 9:30 one morning only to be told the station was closed and that she would have to go to Old Court to catch a train. None of the MTA employees she encountered could explain what happened.

A later explanation that a crew was doing maintenance at Owings Mills raised the question of why maintenance would be scheduled for the middle of the morning. Wells explained that the maintenance work  wasn't supposed to result in a service interruption but that somehow the power was cut.

As seems to often happen with the MTA, the operations people set to work to fix the problem but didn't think of notifying the traveling public. Wells said that's an issue he plans to address. He's planning to consolidate operations in a new control center that will also handle the communications end of the business. It can't happen too soon.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:28 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Light rail repairs could take a week

The Maryland Transit Administration says the light rail system could  remain closed north of Timonium for another week because of damage caused last Tuesday when a tractor-trailer collided with a train at Gilroy Road, damaging the track and the overhead power system.

According to the MTA, the repairs to the system will be completed by next Monday, April 5. The MTA will continue to offer shuttle bus service between Timonium and Hunt Valley until service is restored.

An MTA operator was seriously injured, and the train extensively damaged, March 23 when a truck apparently turned onto the track and collided with the train. The truck driver faces traffic charges in the incident. Among other work, the MTA said it has had to replace a pole broken in the crash, as well as its foundation.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:21 PM | | Comments (3)
        

MTA increases security after Moscow bombings

The Maryland Transit Administration is conducting random sweeps of its trains and stations after today's subway bombings in Moscow.

Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the MTA police, urged riders to report anything that appears suspicious at 1-800-492-TIPS.

The MTA joins the Washington Metro system in going to a heightened level of security in the aftermath of the attacks in Russia.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:42 PM | | Comments (3)
        

March 25, 2010

Metro customer's plight explained (lamely)

Remember the plight of Alisa Bralove-Scherr, who wrote Getting There to describe how she was turned away from Owings Mills station the other morning with no reason being given? She was wondering why, when she moved on to Old Court station to pick up her train, an MTA employee had no idea what was going on.

Well, the MTA now has an explanation -- albeit a  lame one.

According to the MTA's  Angela White, the MTA was conducting maintenance for 40 minutes Tuesday morning -- just as Bralove-Scherr arrived  at Owings Mills for her train. She said the service was restored before 10 a.m. -- but that was too late to help Bralove-Scherr.

White said the station manager and train operator had been informed of the decision to temporarily close the Owings Mills station. She did not know why that information was not passed on to customers.

So why would the MTA be doing maintenance work that would close a station down on a weekday morning? No word as yet.

Anyway, Bralove-Scherr had a very amaiable chat with MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells, who called her after receiving her letter about the problem.

"He was very nice, apologetic. It sounds like he's really interested in improving things, but he's inherited a system that just doesn't think to communicate," she said.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:09 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore Metro
        

McIntosh to push Senate cell phone bill

Sun photo2008

The Sun's Annie Linskey reports that Del. Maggie McIntosh (right) plans to bring the Senate language on a proposed hands-held cell phone ban out of committee and to the House floor next week -- the most likely strategy for final passage of the bill.

McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who runs her committee with a strong hand, says she's charting that course because she "really wants this." She said she plans to confer with the Senate bill's sponsor and her vice chairman, Baltimore County Democrats Sen. Norman Stone and Del. James Malone, before taking action.

The Senate bill would allow a police officer to ticket a motorist for driving while chatting on a hand-held cell phone only if the driver were observed committing some other offense -- such as speeding. If talking on a cell phone is all the driver is doing wrong, there would not be probable cause for a traffic stop.

By adopting the Senate language in its entirety, the House would sidestep any need to ask the Senate to concur in any changes it made. Because the bill squeaked through the Senate by a 24-23 vote, any changes that returned it to that chamber  would give opponents another opportunity to kill the bill outright or simply run out the clock before the session ends.

If the House passes the Senate  bill, it would go directly to Gov. Martin O"Malley, who has already issued an executive order banning the on-the-job use of hand-held cell phones by state employees, for his signature. The crucial test could come when the Senate bill comes to the House floor for possible amendment. If McIntosh can beat back the flurry of amendments opponents are likely to throw at the bill, chances for final passage would be good.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:23 AM | | Comments (1)
        

March 24, 2010

Pennsylvania potholes could delay drivers

If you're heading north into Pennsylvania on Interstate 83 Thursday, you might want to leave yourself some extra time.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation plans to close the right northbound lane between the state line and Exit 8 in southern York County for pothole-patching operations between 9 a.m. and  2 p.m. if the weather allows. Expect slow going.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:28 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

House rejects Senate cut of transportation funds

A House of Delegates subcommittee has rejected the Senate's move to divert millions of dollars a year in sales tax revenue from the Transportation Trust Fund to the general state treasury, setting up a showdown over the money in a conference committee.

Del. Tawauna Gaines, chairwoman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, said her panel voted against the diversion Tuesday -- one day before the measure passed as part of the Senate's budget reconciliation act. The Senate move would cost the transportation fund an estimated $57-$59 million a year.

If state law were left as is, the percentage of the state's sale tax dedicated to transportation would rise from 5.3 percent to 6.5 percent in the 2014 budget year. The Senate action would cancel that change, which would restore the transportation funding level adopted in a  2007 revenue package. That percentage was reduced in 2008 to make up for an unpopular computer services tax the General Assembly decided to abolish, with the understanding that the money would eventually go back to the transportation fund.

But with budget shortfalls looming in the years ahead, and a constitutional mandate to balance the general fund budget, legislative analysts recommended the diversion.

Gaines, Prince George's County Democrat, said she believed the money should be restored to its original purpose. Among those opposing the move is the Greater Baltimore Committee.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:28 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Cell phone ban passes in a squeaker

The Maryland Senate has passed by the narrowest of possible margins a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving -- sending the bill to the House for what could be final action.

The long-proposed but never-before-enacted bill squeaked by on a 24-23 vote, rejecting an impassioned plea by Republican Sen. E. J. Pipkin that rejecting the ban would be a "liberty issue."

Two Republicans, Sen. Brian Simonaire of Anne Arundel County and Sen. Larry Haines of Carroll County, joined 22 Democrats in supporting the bill. Twelve Republicans and 11 Democrats voted nay.

The bill would bar the use of hand-held cell phones behind the wheel in most circumstances, but would make the violation a "secondary offense" -- preventing a law enforcement officer from pulling over a motorist unless some other infraction was observed.

Pipkin quoted his daughter say saying the measure seemed like something out of George Orwell's novel "1984."

"I think we'll be giving up something with this law we won't be able to get back," the Upper Shore senator said.

Sen. Norman Stone, a Baltimore County Democrat who is that chamber's longest-serving member, defended the measure as a matter of common sense. Stone, the measure's sponsor, christened the measure "The Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic safety Act of 2010" in honor or his late legislative colleague, who sponsored the first cell phone bill a decade ago.

"Delegate Arnick was way before his time. He recognized the problem with cell phone use long before anyone else," Stone said after the vote.

Stone said he hopes the House will simply adopt the Senate bill, which would send the measure to the governor. Noting the razor-thin the razor-thin margin in the Senate, he said any disagreement over details would only give opponents another chance to derail the bill.

"You can never tell what'll come out of a conference committee, and that conference committee (report) has to be adopted by the floor," he said.

Backers of the measure got a late scare when Simonaire sponsored a motion to reconsider passage, but that measure was rejected 19-28 after President Thomas V. Mike Miller informed senators that the bill had already been sent to the House.

Simonaire said he stands by his support of the bill but offered the motion as a courtesy to fellow senators who wanted to continue the debate. He said that after opposing the measure in past years he had been swayed by the testimony of family members of distracted-driving victims.

"When liberty starts impacting safety, I think that's where we have to draw the line," he said.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Traffic court bill passes Senate

A bill to shift the burden of seeking a traffic court trial to the person who received a traffic ticket passed the Senate unanimously. The bill, which has the strong support of law enforcement, goes to the House, where it is pending in committee.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:48 AM |
        

Bill to study transportation funding passes

The House of Delegates passed a bill to set up a blue ribbon commission to study funding of the state's transportation funding needs. The preliminary vote was 119-21, with most of the nays coming from Republicans.

The bill has already passed the bill, but with a slight variations in amendments. The differences don't appear to be all that stark, so the legislation appears to be all but done. Such a commission could lay the groundwork for an expected -- and most concede much-needed -- increase in transportation revenue after the 2010 election. That also helps explain the GOP votes gainst it.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:50 AM |
        

March 23, 2010

Traffic court bill advances in Senate

A bill that would shift the burden for seeking a court date on a traffic ticket to the motorist who receives the citation has received preliminary approval after a misunderstanding over a suggested amendment was cleared up.

The Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Robert Zirkin after he  wiithdrew an earlier version that contained language that the bill's proponents took as an attempt to gut the bill.

Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, insisted he supported the intent of the bill but but wanted to clarify the procedures that would be followed if a ticketed motorist didn't respond 15 days with a fine payment or request for trial. But police chiefs, who are seeking the bill in order  to reduce the number of wasted hours their officers spend in court for trials at which defendants don't appear, objected to Zirkin's original language.

When he learned of the objections, Zirkin agreed that the original language of his amendment might have included drafting errors. The new version that he substituted passed muster with law enforcement and was adopted as a floor amendment.

Still to be determined is the fate of the bill in the House, where it is waiting for a vote in the Judiciary Committee. The legislation has the support of the O'Malley administration as well as top local governments and police chiefs from around the state.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

MTA Metro customer turned aside, left in dark

To be fair to the Maryland Transit Administration. I don't get many complaints about the Baltimore Metro subway. It imploded a bit after the recent snowstorms, which put the aboveground part of the system out of commission for aboutt a week, but most of the time it performs wiith boring efficiency -- even if it's not the most beautiful or versatile transit line on the planet.

This morning, however, brought a heartfelt complaint from  an aggrieved custoemr, Alisa Bralove-Scherr,  who  shared with Getting There a copy of the letter she wrote to MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells. Here's what she had to say:

 

Dear Mr. Wells,
 
I was excited when, after last month's blizzards, you vowed to improve communication between the MTA and its passengers. Unfortunately, today showed me that the subway system is still business as usual.
 
I was turned away from the Owings Mills station this morning and told the train was only running to Old Court. I arrived at Old Court to find dozens of people on the platform. The MTA employee working in the booth said he hadn't been told anything and didn't know when we should expect the next train.
 

Meanwhile, my husband called the MTA hotline and the person who answered said they hadn't heard anything about problems with the subway.
 
I'm signed up to receive text alerts whenever there is an issue with the subway. I have never received a single message.
 
As usual, the MTA website doesn't indicate any delays on the subway.
 
What is the point of all of these modes of communication if they're not actually used? I have no idea what to expect for my commute home, nor any idea of where to go to find accurate information.
 
I've dealt with a lot over the years that I've ridden the subway. I've been robbed. I've been subject to inappropriate sexual behavior. I keep hearing that you'll do better next time but next time has come and gone too many times.

The communication issue is the easiest of the subway's problems to address. The tools are already in place. They simply need to be utilized.

Thanks for listening,
Alisa Bralove-Scherr

So far, I haven't been able to reach an MTA representative to inquire about what happened this morning on the Metro. I'll be glad  to pass along the answer when I can get it.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:27 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore Metro
        

Operator injured in light rail crash (updated)

A Maryland Transit Administration operator was seriously injured this morning as a light rail train collided with a tractor-trailer near Hunt Valley, disrupting service on the northern end of the line.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the light rail train was heading south through a winding stretch in an industrial area when it collided with the truck at the crossing at Gilroy Road. Greene said a third vehicle, a Honda, also became involved in the crash.

According to Greene, there were seven passengers and three fare inspectors aboard the train. She said some of them were transported to Greater Baltimore Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries, while the operator was taken to Maryland Shock-Trauma Center with serious injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. She said the MTA is withholding the operator's identity until her family can be notified.

The drivers of the tractor-trailer and Honda were unharmed, she said.

Greene said the lead car of the train is believed to be a total loss. She said trains on the line would be turned around at Timonium and that the MTA had set up a bus bridge between there and Hunt Valley.  She said service is not expected to return to normal until late in the day.

(UPDATE: MTA spokeswoman Angela White said that as of 3 p.m. the MTA still had heavy equipment at the scene working to pull the truck from the tracks. She said the bus bridge will remain in operation until further notice.)

The crash is under investigation by the MTA police, the Baltimore County police and the agency's safety office, Greene said. She said it was too early to say what had led to the collision.

"We're just really thankful that the operator is alive and OK," she said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:53 AM |
Categories: Light rail
        

March 22, 2010

Maryland ranked 4th safest for young drivers

U.S. News and World Report has ranked Maryland as the fourth safest state for teenage drivers. Only the District of Columbia, California and Colorado were ranked higher.

The ranking by the news magazine is based on 11 factors, including road quality, the number of fatal road crashes involving teens, driver's license requirements  and state traffic laws. Among the factors weighing in Maryland's favor were its laws requiring motorcycle helmet and seat belt use and permitting the use of red light and speed cameras.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:28 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Senate raids transportation fund for future budgets

There's something about the Transportation Trust Fund that the Maryland General Assembly finds irresistable. Whenever budgets get tight, lawmakers just can't seem to keep their hands off the fund -- no matter how depleted it is.

This year, it's the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that's leading the raid -- adopting a proposal that would steer money that had been intended for transportation into the general fund starting in fiscal 2014, which starts July 1, 2013.

It seems the percentage of the state sales tax that gets put aside for transportation is scheduled to increase from 5.3 percent to 6.5 percent starting that year.  The Department of Legislative Services recommended that lawmakers cap that percentage at 5.3 percent, shifting millions of dollars out of transportation. Despite opposition from transportation advocates such as the Greater Baltimore Committee, the committee agreed.

"By making a change now, the department has sufficient time to make changes to the capital program to account for the loss of revenue," the analysts reasoned.

The Senate is generally hesitant to tinker much with the  committee's budget, so the most likely place for opponents of the move to make their stand is in the House.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:31 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

403 arrested for drunken St. Patrick's week driving

More than 400 sorry individuals were busted for driving under the influence in Maryland during the week leading up to St. Patrick's Day, the State Highway Administration reports.

According to the SHA, 403 drivers were arrested on DUI and related charges as part of enforcement operations between March 12 and St. Patrick's Day. Police used a combination of checkpoints and saturation patrols to target drunk driving during that period.

When are folks going to learn that when one has been drinking, a taxi is about the best investment there is?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

D.C. Metro board to vote on plan to replace rail cars

The board of Washington's Metro system is expected to vote Thursday on a staff recommendation for the purchase of a new generation of rail cars that is expected to push its oldest cars into retirement.

Under the $2 billion program, Metro plans to eventually buy 648 new rail cars and rebuild 100 others. The identity of the vendor selected for the program is expected  to be announced at the meeting, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel,

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority does not have the money to finance the entire purchase now but does have the funding to buy 64 cars to launch service on its planned Silver Line to Dulles International Airport, Taubenkibel said.

The spokesman said the rail car replacement program will allow Metro to retire its 1970s-era Series 1000 cars. The transit agency has come under pressure from the National Transportation Safety Board to replace the cars, six of which were in use on the train the slammed into a stopped tarin last June, killing nine.

The board contends the old cars are not built strongly enough to resist crumpling in a collision.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:19 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro
        

March 19, 2010

Keep travel time messages up, readers say

Gov. Martin O'Malley would be wise to tune out the loud voices complaining about the State Highway Administration's decision to display projected travel time information, according to a survey of Getting There readers.

As of noon, the tally on the admittedly unscientific survey was 100 for keeping the messages and 18 for taking them down.  The prevailing view seems to be that drivers wiill get used to the messages on the SHA's electric sign boards if they give them enough time.

In this case, I suspect the majority of my readers have it right. There's always going to be a vocal minority that resists change. And those are the folks that are first to complain and the loudest in doing so. If the SHA sticks by its guns, and the governor doesn't get cold feet, my guess is that this will be a non-issue by mid-April. Most folks can absord a simple message like "15-17 minutes to I-695" without missing a beat. The rest will catch up.

And the next time you see that go to "20-22 minutes," you'll have the option of cutting over to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 18, 2010

Circulator exceeds expectations, city says

The Charm City Circulator, the free shuttle bus service inaugurated by Mayor of Christmas Past Sheila Dixon as one of her last acts in office, has exceeded the city's ridership expectations, a city official reports.

Barry Robinson, transit and marine chief in the Department of Transportation, said ridership on the Circulator's initial route has grown from about 1,200 a day when it began service to 1,500-1,700 a day nine weeks later.

"It's doing great," says Robinson. "The ridership has overshot the estimates we had."

Robinson said he expects further growth on the east-west Orange Route, which runs from Hollins Market to Harbor East/Corned Beef Row, as the weather gets warmer and tourist traffic picks up.

 

Robinson said the remaining two routes will be launched in mid-spring to early summer as the city takes delivery of more of its clean-energy buses.

He said the city has not determined which of those lines will begin service first -- the Purple Route between Federal Hill and Penn Station or the Green Route connecting Johns Hopkins Hospital, Fells Point, Harbor East and City Hall.

When those two routes begin service, the opportunities to use public transit to reach locations in downtown and nearby city neighborhoods wiill expand dramatically -- especially for those willing to make creative connections using light rail, Metro and water taxi.

When those routes are up and running, creative minds ought to get together and organize some transit-oriented, weekend afternoon pub crawls taking in such neighborhoods as Mount Washington, Hampden, Fells Point, Harbor East, Market Place, the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill, Hollins Market, Canton and Locust Point. Highlandtown and Greektown will have to wait for the Red Line -- if it's ever built.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:46 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Peeling paint curbs bus lane enforcement

The bus lanes launched with considerable ballyhoo on Pratt and Lombard streets by Baltimore city late last year have reverted to their former all-purpose use after the paint used to designate them peeled off during snow removal efforts, a city official acknowledges.

Barry Robinson, chief of transit and marine services in the Baltimore Department of Transportation, said the city has put enforcement of the bus lane regulations on the back burner until it can reapply the paint marking the right lanes of those downtown streets for buses only.

The bus lanes were set up, with fines for other vehicles encroaching on them, as part of the preparation for the launch of the Charm City Circulator -- a free shuttle bus serving downtown. The Circulator's first route made its debut in January with the bus lanes in place, but by the time the last residue of February's two snowstorms was removed, so was much of the paint.

"Snow removal operations -- that has all  served to eradicate the striping on the bus lanes," Robinson reports.

Some perceptive readers have speculated that the city must not have used top-quality paint when it originally marked out the bus lanes. Robinson says that's absolutely true -- that the city decided not to use expensive, long-lasting paint because it has plans to soon  repave Pratt and Lombard. Under those circumstances, long-lasting paint might not be the best use of city dollars.

Robinson says the city has been waiting to reapply the (less expensive) paint until it can count on a stretch of nights  when it can count on temperatures above 50 degrees. After that happens, he says, the city will intensify its enforcement of the bus-only rule.

 

SHA to keep travel time signs up, will review them

The State Highway Administration will not pull the plug on the estimated-travel-time messages it has been flashing on its electronic highway signs despite misgivings expressed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley has told WTOP Radio in Washington that he had concerns about the messages after hearing complaints from motorists that they were slowing traffic and causing backups.

Dave Buck, an SHA spokesman, said the agency would continue to display the travel time messages but will monitor them closesly to make sure they  were not causing delays. He said the messages, which tell motorists how long the trip is expected to take to a point such as a major  interchange, were discontinued at one location on the Capital Beltway near Lanham.

Buck said the SHA, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the governor's office agree on the plan for the signs. "We're all on the same page in terms of moving forward cautiously with this," he said.

 

The spokesman said the agency had received few complaints and a lot of "positive feedback" when it tested the travel messages on Interstate 95 between the Baltimore and Capital beltways. However, he said, complaints increased once the program expanded to the beltways and other highway locations.

Buck said the electronic signs are place near "decision points" where traffic normally slows down, perhaps causing motorists to conclude the signs are the cause. He said there's "always a transition" when the signs change.

"Historically any time we've put something different on our messages, we've got a mixed reaction," Buck said. He said the agency would monitor the signs "extremely closely" for signs they might be holding up traffic. The agency has cameras deployed at locations around the state that  can quickly detect slowdowns on the highways.

O'Malley had told WTOP the program should be discontinued if the messages were creating a distraction on the road.

"I think those boards should be used only for essential messages with regard to safety or traffic re-routing, or things of that nature," the governor told the radio audience.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:45 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

City roads to close for Greek parade

Having just recovered from a  green spell, Baltimore is about to turn blue and white.

The city Transportation Department will close two important streets in East Baltimore Sunday to make way for the Greek Independence Day Parade.

Eastern Avenue will be closed between Haven and Ponca streets, and Ponca between Eastern and Oldham Street, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The parade itself kicks off at 2 p.m. and is expected to last about three hours. Traffic on cross streets will be restricted during the road closures. The parade will start forming about 11 a.m. and will continue along Eastern and Ponca before disbanding two blocks past St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Fait Avenue.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:09 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

O'Malley not sold on new highway messages

Gov. Martin O'Malley hinted he might pull the rug out from under the State Highway Administration on its plans to flash expected travel times on message boards along major highways.

After hearing that commuters ere complaining that the messages were slowing traffic, O'Malley told WTOP radio  said Wednesday that the messages should be stopped if they are causing a distraction.

The SHA recently announced plans to expand the program to the Baltimore and Capital beltways and other highways after what it called a successful test along Interstate 95, where signs deliver  such  messages as "15-17 minutes to I-695."

I've been traveling under the signs for months and never noticed any traffic slowdowns as a result. Nor do I find the messages distracting. But there's apparently a small but vocal percentage of motorists who object to them over real or perceived delays.  O'Malley indicated the boards might be restricted to informing motorists of emergencies.

We're checking on the SHA's reaction and will let you know.

So what do you think? Useful service or needless distraction? Take our poll.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:59 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 17, 2010

Top cop calls traffic court bill 'common sense'

TThe Sun's Justin Fenton passes along this dicussion of a pending bill with Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld on WEAA's Marc Steiner Show. It follows a Getting There column that criticized House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario's response to the bill and apparent disdain for the testimony of police witnesses including Bealefeld.

The bill would put the  burden on drivers who receive traffic tickets to request a trial if they want a day in court. Right now, Maryland automatically assigns a court date and many defendants fail to show up for trial -- a system that wastes police resources, chiefs say. 

I don't have any personal animus for Chairman Vallario. he's consistent in the manner he runs his committees. So I don't have an axe to grind. I am a little put back about and was a little put back about this particular law that we were trying to get a change in, because it just seemed frankly for lack of a better word, a layup. This seemed like a common sense fix to something that's going to save taxpayers a lot of money throughout the state and make the process so much easier.

.  . . .  48 other states in this country do it the way we're proposing to do it. How can they be wrong? I don’t propose that Maryland just jump on the bandwagon, but 48 do it. I heard delegates, and not Chairman Vallario, say we should study it and submit recommendations. Come on, i dont know what there is to study there.

Bealefeld is no doubt correct that he doesn't bear animus for Vallario, but neither does he appear  to hold the veteran legislator in high regard. I was outside the hearing room when the commissioner came out and expresed frustration with his treatment. And he had  every right to be frustrated. Vallario was discounting everything Bealefeld and every other police chief was saying. One can only hope that in the two weeks since that hearing, Vallario has had an epiphany. It wouldn't be the first time a committee chairman has seen the light about a bill he hated at first. Such conversions generally follow a chat with the presiding officer of the chamber. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:54 PM |
        

Penn Station signs stop, urinals gush

Jon Morgan, a former Sun colleague who occasionally acts as one of my spies on the MARC system, reports the following deficiencies in his inspection of Penn Station this morning:

Penn Station’s big board listing arrivals and departures was taken down some months ago as part of the renovations of the station, and a new one put up maybe a month or so. But it has never been turned on or operated. There are small signs saying it’s being tested. But how much testing does a board like that need? Meanwhile, the mens room was threatening to create a cholera epidemic this morning (with) all three urinals overflowing at the same time. It’s a great way to start the day.

To which, Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell replied:

 


1. The new board is in a testing phase and should be fully operational the first week of April. (It)
is in test mode to make sure all components are working correctly and all personnel responsible for its use are properly trained. There is a temporary board at the Information Booth that shows all arrival and departure information.
 
2. BAL Penn Station employees are responsible for cleaning the restroom and there are plans for them to be power washed in the next week or two. There are also talks for a project to completely rehab the rest rooms but no timeline on that yet.

So there you have it. What else is wrong at Penn Station (not counting late MARC trains)?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:56 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train
        

AAA responds on Tipsy? Taxi!

One of the problems with email is that legitimate mail can get lost in a sea of spam. This comment from AAA's Ragina Averella was overlooked for about a day. It's been posted as a comment, but I thought it was worth highlighting before the drinking gets started in earnest tonight:

 Thank you, as always, Mike for helping us spread the word about Tipsy?Taxi!
We agree that Tipsy?Taxi! is a wonderful service, which has provided more than 1,700 free cab rides to would-be drunk drivers since 2006.  AAA Mid-Atlantic and our partners the Maryland Department of Transportation?s State Highway Administration (SHA) and Yellow Cab are very proud of the success of this program.

Since the program?s inception on the 4th of July in 2006, we have expanded this service to include New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, Labor Day and Halloween.  While we have heard an occasional complaint regarding wait times, by and large, we receive comments and compliments from patrons who have used the service repeatedly and tell us how important the service is and how appreciative they are that it is offered.

Clearly, some holidays are busier than others and quite frankly St.
Patrick?s Day and New Year?s Eve are among the busiest, particularly when we have good weather, which is predicted for tomorrow. The demand for taxi cabs in general is particularly high on these holidays, and the demand for a FREE cab is even greater.  If you call and the phone lines are busy, please call back.  The average hold time is usually 20 seconds, but during peak times the wait could be longer. While an average wait time for a taxi cab is usually approximately 15 minutes, we know that demand increases greatly when the bars are closing and wait times for a cab at the end of the night may be as long as 45 minutes. 

That said, we want to remind everyone that because this is a free service you can imagine how busy Yellow Cab is. We do not, however want people to be discouraged from using the service, but want them to be mindful that longer wait times should be expected if they wait until the bars are closing and they should be patient. We encourage impatient patrons to consider cutting their partying short so that they may obtain a cab earlier in the evening with less wait time or to designate a sober driver in their party before they even step out of their homes for the festivities. 

Thank you again for using Tipsy?Taxi! and Happy St. Patrick?s Day!

Ragina C. Averella
Public and Government Affairs Manager
AAA Mid-Atlantic

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:41 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

MTA operator not fond of hybrids

Sun photo/2006

The Maryland Transit Administration has had nothing but laudatory things to say about its new hybrid buses. It has publicly praised them for their fuel efficiency, relative quiet and superior maintenance record.

But not every bus operator is a fan. During a recent ride on one of the MTA's busiest routes (which I'll omit for the driver's protection), the operator told me the hybrids aren't all they're cracked up to be in a number of ways.

According to the driver, the rear doors of the bus  are prone to closing automatically after three passengers have disembarked, even if it means they close on Passenger No. 4. He also said the front doors close too slowly, causing him to miss green lights.

His other gripes include the venicles' performance. He said the hybrids are too quick to accelerate  and too slow to stop.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the operator's complaints contradict what she has heard from MTA drivers. She said the feedback the MTA has received has been strongly positive and that there have been no complaints from passengers about injuries from doors. And as a passenger, I thought the ride was smoother and quieter than on the conventional bus I'd taken minutes earlier.

So what's the real deal here? MTA operators and passengers are invited to weigh in -- not that it will change anything. The MTA has committed to eventually replace all of its conventional diesel buses with the hybrids, which are partially fueled by an electric battery.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:33 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MTA bus system
        

March 16, 2010

LaHood elevates biking, walking to parity with cars

Call it sacrilege. Call it radical. But U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has actually elevated the  bicycle and  the human foot to parity with the automobile in federal transportation policy.

On Monday, LaHood announced what could be -- if it is backed with actual dollars-and-cents policy -- a sea change from the auto-centric bias that has prevailed in federal transportation policy since World War II.

"People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized," he said. "We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities."

As part of this policy, LaHood said, the federal government will urge state departments of transportation to "treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes."

The WashCycle blog is calling LaHood's statement "simply the strongest statement of support for prioritizing bicycling and walking ever to come from a sitting secretary of transportation."

Thanks to Greater Greater Washington for iits coverage of what could be a landmark decision.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:41 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bicycles
        

Baltimore Metro compares well on speed

The Greater Greater Washington blog is running a chart that provides an interesting comparison ofr heavy rail subway systems in the United States. It turns out that Baltimore's Metro is one of the speedier in that category. It may not get many places, but where it does it gets there fast.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:33 PM | | Comments (3)
        

AAA responds to Tipsy? Taxi! gripes

The Tipsy? Taxi! program, which will offer taxi rides for Baltimore bar patrons this St. Patrick's Day, is free but not necessarily immediate  for folks who wait until last call to summon a cab, a spokeswoman for one of the sponsors says.

Ragina Averella, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the normal response  time for the service is "less than 15 minutes" but admitted it can stretch to 45 minutes if the prospective customer waits until the city's 2 a.m. closing time.

"Free is good but free sometimes means waiting," she said.

Averellla said Yellow Cab, a partner in the effort to keep drunk drivers off the road, give priority to calls that come in on the Tipsy? Taxi! line on holidays when the service is being offered. This week the program, which is also sponsored by the State Highway Administration, will offer free riders from Baltimore city bars and restaurants between 4 pm. Wednesday and 4 a.m. Thursday. The number to call is 877-963-TAXI.

 

Some commenters on this blog have complained in response  to past notices of the service that they have had a hard time getting through the phone line. But Averella said she personally checks the line on holidays when the service has been offered and has not had significant problems getting through.

Averella said AAA has had stronly positive feedback about the program, which will provide a free ride up to a $50 fare. Riders are responsible for any fare above $50.

The spokeswoman counseled patience at the busiest times. "It's only one cab company providing a free service on selected holidays," she said. "The slight inconvenience of waiting is certainly outweighed by the risk."

That is, no doubt, 100 percent true. But alcohol is not always known to improve people's patience.

Averella  suggested that those who don't want to wait should wrap up the revelry at 12:30  a.m. or 1 a.m. rather than waitiing for  the bitter end. She said the weather forecast for St. Patrick's night is looking favorable, so she expects a busy night.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

Tipsy? Taxi! offers St. Patrick's Day rides

On the face of it the Tipsy? Taxi! program seems a wonderful service. On popular holidays, when the booze tends to flow freely, folks who have had a little too much to drink can call a taxi and get a free ride home without having to worry about field sobriety tests, blood-alcohol levels or any of the other depressing details surrounding a drunk driving arrest.

The program is swinging back into action this week for St. Patrick's Day -- co-sponsored, as before, by AAA Mid-Atlantic, the State Highway Administration and Yellow Cab.

But after past postings on this blog to alert people to the availability of the service, Gettting There has received complaints from potential riders who say they've had difficulty getting through on its telephone line. This, of course, is a serious matter for anyone who was counting on Tipsy? Taxi! being there in the event of overindulgence.

So with no guarantees of the reliability of the service, here are the particulars: The service will be available between 4 p.m. Wednesday and 4 a.m. Thursday to people who have been drinking at a Baltimore city restaurant or bar. Rides are free up to $50, though generous tips from  mellow riders are encouraged. Riders must pay any balance over $50.

The number to call for a ride is 1-877-963-TAXI, or 877-963-8294.

 

 

Certainly, St. Patrick's Day is a worthy date for the service. According to AAA, there were 134 U.S. traffic deaths on that day in 2008 -- significantly above the daily average for  that year. According to the federal  government, at least 37 percent of the  drivers and motorcyclists killed on that day were legally drunk.

The greatest value of this program may not be the relatively paltry number of rides it provides -- 120 last year -- but  in its promotion of the idea of taking a cab home from a night of revelry. Even when the rider pays, the cost of a cab ride is an excellent investment when compared with the thousands of dollars and far-reaching consequences of  a DUI arrest.

The best strategy if you're going to an establishment where you suspect -- or know -- you'll be drinking heavily is to leave your car home and find another way there. That way, you  won't have the option of fooling yourself into thinking you're OK to drive a few hours later when your judgment leaves something to be desired.

Use Tipsy? Taxi! by all means, but keep a stash of taxi fare on hand just in case.

Readers are encouraged to provide feedback about Tipsy? Taxi! and any other services that promise safe rides home for those who have been drinking.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:59 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 15, 2010

Gas prices climbing toward $3 a gallon

After months of relative stability, gasoline prices now appear to be on their way up, with forecasts calling for $3-a-gallon fuel by this summer.

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, the average price of a gallon of regular gas reached $2.78 Friday but leveled off over the weekend. Today's price -- the highest in a year and a half-- is 6 cents more than a  week ago and are up 13 cents over the past month.

Rising crude oil prices and a recovering economy are propelling the increase, and with the summer travel season approaching, the Oil Price Information Service is projecting that gasoline will hit the $3 mark between April and June.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:17 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Traffic court bill passes Senate test

A bill in Annapolis that would put the burden on the recipient of a traffic ticket to request a trial rather than pay the fine has been approved by a Senate committee and is headed for the floor. Meanwhile, there are signs it might not be doomed in the House despite the open skepticism of a powerful committee chairman.

The bill, ardently supported by police chiefs around the state for its potential savings on officers' overtime, got an OK from the Judicial Proceeding Committee Thursday. Meanwhile, its Senate sponsor, Sen. Jennie Forehand, said she had a cordial conversation about the bill with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario.

Vallario, who gave supporters of the legislation a chilly reception during its hearing in his committee, has reportedly been lobbied by Gov. Martin O'Malley to let the bill out of committee. He has also come under pressure from the General Assembly's women's caucus over the treatment of witnesses before his panel, including police chiefs who showed up to support the traffic  court bill.

Supporters say the legislation, which would  bring Maryland's traffic court practices into line with the  vast majority of other states, would reduce the number of ticket recipients who are scheduled for trial but fail to show up.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:26 AM |
        

March 11, 2010

SHA readies for Western Maryland flooding

The State Highway Administration says it is preparing for heavy rains and possible floods this weekend in Allegany and Garrett counties, where up to 2 feet of snow remains on the ground in many places.

The agency said its crews are working proactively to clear drainage facilities such as inlets, pipes and culverts. They will also be ready to erect signs warning of high water and to remove downed trees.

The SHA reminded motorists to expect flooding in low-lying areas and never to attempt to drive through standing water, where cars can be swept off  the roadway. It directed travelers to its web site, www.roads.maryland.gov,  for information on road conditions.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

AAA, others back negligent-killing-by-auto bill

AAA Mid-Atlantic will join other supporters at a noon new conference in Annapolis to rally support for a pending bill that would create a new charge of "negligent homicide by motor vehicle" that could be applied in cases where a personn's bad driving leads to the death of another.

The legislation would fill a gap between the traffic offense of negligent driving and the felony of vehicular manslaughter -- a charge that is difficult to prove without evidence of extreme negligence such a drunk driving. The new charge would be a misdemeanor punishable by a  three-year prison term and a $5,000 fine.

AAA's Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson will be joined by family members of crash victims and by General Assembly  sponsors of House Bill 388 and Senate Bill 870.

Advocates contend the current law often lets drivers "get away with murder" and get only a traffic ticker. There's some merit to that, particularly because Maryland  law allows someone charged wiith negligent driving to pay the fine by mail and not appear in court to face the survivors of the victim. But the three-year term for what is essentially the unfortunate result of bad driving, could be seen as disproportionate.

The law make clear that simple negligence is not enough to merit the charge. It defines thhe offense as a "failure to perceive" a risk that "consitutes a substantial deviation from the standard of care that would be exercised by a reasonable person."

That offense sounds worthy of a hefty fine, significant driver's license sanctions and community service -- penalties not available under the negligent driving statute. But three years in jail? That could end up punishing the result rather then the conduct that led to it. Somewhere there ought to be a middle ground.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:24 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

U.S. traffic deaths hit 55-year low

Highway fatalities on U.S. roads hit a 55-year low last year as 3,228 fewer people -- more than  were killed on 9/11 -- died in traffic crashes than in 2008.

The death toll of 33,963, an 8.9 percent decrease  from the previous year, was the lowest total since 1954. And while  a recession-related drop in the amount of total miles driven contributed to the decline, economic factors alone do not account for the dramatic drop.

The agency reported that the traffic fatality rate on the basis of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fell from 1.25 million per 100 million miles  in 2008 to  a record low of 1.16 million in 2009.

In addition to economic factors, NHTSA attributed the drop to multiple factors, including high-visibility campaigns against drunk and distracted driving, increased seat belt use, better-engineered roads and safer vehicles.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:13 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

March 10, 2010

I-95 ramps to be closed for inspection

The Maryland Transportation Authority will  temporarily close the ramp from northbound Interstate 95 to Boston and O’Donnell streets (Exit 57), as well as the ramp from Interstate Avenue to southbound I-95,  at times this  weekend for  an annual inspection

Detours will be in place during the closings, which will take place Saturday and Sunday  from about 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.   

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:04 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

City to curb parking, traffic for copter survey (update)

(UPDATE: The city Department of Transportation has postponed the following event for a week because of a forecast of heavy winds Saturday.)

Baltimore authorities will restrict parking and periodically stop traffic at midday Saturday so a helicopter can conduct a survey of a possible route for a proposed high-speed Grand Prix auto race through downtown.

Parking will be prohibited on certain downtown streets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the aerial survey of the 2.44-mile route through parts of the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. A contractor-operated helicopter will be measuring the course and identifying necessary repairs.

Mike Evitts, a spokesman for the Downttown Partnership, said the proposed race could take place as early as this summer. He said any inconvenience would be outweighed by the potential benefits.

"The potential economic value is in the tens of millions in the city if this moves forward," he said. Among the roads affected are Pratt, Light, Conway and Paca streets.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:43 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

Maryland leads nation in GPS use rate

Maryland ranks No. 1 among the states in frequency of global positioning satellite use, the GPS information firm TeleNav reports.

The company ranked cities in states in several categories, from the serious to the frivolous, and found Maryland atop the heap in putting the navigational technology to work. TeleNav said Maryland drivers used GPS at twice  the national rate. The company did not venture answers on why Maryland would top the list, but the state's relative affluence and robust high-tech and defense industries could be factors.

No. 2 on the list is the District of Columbia, followed by Massachusetts, North Carolina and California. Rhode Island, Virginia, Georgia, New Jersey and Tennessee round out the top 10.

Maryland ranked ninth in terms of the likelihood of drivers to use GPS to get around a backup. The leader in that category was -- no surprise -- Los Angeles, where there are so many backups to get around. Los Angeles also led in total GPS-guided trips, a category in which Baltimore ranked 15th.

Other findings included the nuggets that Wal-Mart  is the No. 1 business sought in GPS searches and pizza the most likely food to be sought by satellite.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 9, 2010

Maryland rolls out travel time message signs

As it deploys 23 electronic message signs on major highways in the state, Maryland is attempting to answer to answer a question that’s been around almost as long as the automobile itself: "How much longer before we get there?"

The State Highway Administration said this week that it has expanded and made permanent its use of variable message signs to keep motorists informed of how long it will take them to reach important interchanges or landmarks in their travels.

For instance, travelers on the southbound Beltway at Park Heights Avenue were informed as Tuesday’s evening rush hour began that it would take them 7-8 minutes to get to Interstate 70 and 12-15 minutes to reach Interstate 95.

Similar messages are now being displayed for travelers in five other locations along the Beltway, eight along I-95, seven on the Capital Beltway and two on Maryland 295.

The rollout of the messages follows a pilot program that began in January along I-95 between Baltimore and Washington that involved three signs in each direction.

State highway spokesman Dave Buck said the agency had received a "very positive" response to that trial. He said the agency intends to further expand the program to other locations such as Interstate 83, Interstate 70 near Frederick, Interstate 270 between there and Washington and Interstate 97 on the way to Annapolis.

Buck acknowledged that the electronic signage isn’t universally appreciated. Some motorists complain that traffic slows as drivers pause to read the messages. Such complaints, he said, have been heard for as long as the signs have been around.

But the more the state uses electronic signs, Buck said, the more people get used to them. He said the predominant feedback has been that "people are getting value out of it."

"State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said the technology allows the agency to provide real-time information to drivers. "Motorists can in turn make informed decisions about alternate routes of travel plans," he said.

Buck said the travel time messages will be posted most of the time but will be pre-empted for emergency news such as a crash that closes lanes. He said that travel time information would automatically come down from the screens if the estimates reach a level three times normal.

The signs are carefully spaced apart to be most effective, Buck said.

He said the messages cause "maybe a little" slowing but not enough to have a significant impact on traffic flow.

"If you’re going the speed limit, you should be able to read the sign without any problem," he said.

The messages that are on display at the variable message signs around the state can be monitored by viewing the Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) web site at www.traffic.md.gov.

Information for the system is gathered using GPS devices installed in corporate fleet vehicles.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:44 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads
        

MTA trip planner is up and running

The Maryland Transit Administration got some grief on this blog last week for the dysfuctional state of the trip planner on its web site -- and the fact the agency wasn't telling its customers the service was out of order.

But now the planner is back on line and dispensing useful information about which buses and rail lines will get you where. The MTA is to be commended for its timely recovery.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:26 PM | | Comments (4)
        

March 7, 2010

Westbound Bay Bridge a mess

Westbound U.S. 50 leading to the Bay Bridge is a virtual parking lot to a point well east of Route 8. I know. I'm sitting in it. Lane closing in effect.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:54 PM |
        

March 5, 2010

Future toll rate increases projected

The Department of Legislative Services projects that the Maryland Transportation Authority will need toll increases in 2011 and 2013 to meet its obligations -- whether customers like it or not.

Legislators and citizens can holler all they want, but the bondholders are in the driver's seat. And the numbers do really add up to a much-needed increase. That''s not new. Both the authority and the analysts have been saying for some time that the piper will have to be paid in 2011 and again in 2013 -- no matter who wins this year's gubernatorial election.

But in their annual report to lawmakers this year, legislative analysts outlined how the system’s need for revenue could affect individual facilities’ tolls for two-axle vehicles.

The following chart does not represent authority policy: That agency, which would have to decide how the need for revenue translates into actual tolls, has not weighed in. But the analysts are pretty good at what they do, so the following chart of past and projected future toll rates is probably not too far from what will be reality in a few years.

Facility                                              2001                       2003                         2011                   2013

Baltimore Harbor crossings *   $1.00                       $2.00                 $3.00             $4.00

Nice (U.S. 301) Bridge                 $3.00                      $3.00                 $5.00              $5.00

Bay Bridge (U.S.50/301)             $2.50                      $2.50                  $4.00              $5.00

I-95, Hatem (U.S. 40) Bridge   $4.00                        $5.00                $6.00               $6.00

*Key Bridge, Fort McHenry Tunnel, Harbor Tunnel

SOURCE: Department of Legislative Services

If these toll increases look ugly, consider the alternatives. One is that the authority  seriously skimps on maintenance, likely leading to greater costs, safety hazards and traffic disruptions in the future. Or, if politics intervene, the bond rating agencies could decide Maryland's toll-backed bonds aren't such a great risk any more. That would mean the authority would have to pay higher interest rates for its borrowing.

Look at it this way: You always have the opportunity to take an alternate free route. You might not like it, but it exists. If you're starting in Annapolis, the Bay Bridge crossing is certainly a bargain at $5 compared wiith the alternate routes to the Eastern Shore. It's been $2.50 since thhe 1970s,  but what the heck. Nothing lasts forever.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:43 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

U.S. announces transit grants for Maryland

Maryland willl receive an additional $26.3 milllion in federal stimulus money for transit improvements ranging from buses in rural areas to better speakers at MARC sttations, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Friday.

According to the U.S. Transportation Department, the Maryland Transit Administration will receive these grants:

• $17.1 million toward rebuilding the  bus loop at the MTA’s Mondawmin Transit Center; heating and ventilation upgrades; light rail yard switches upgrades and replacement or overhaul of 24 rail substation circuit breakers.


• $4.3 million for facility renovations, preventative maintenance, shop equipment and parking lot construction.


• $2.9 million to improve MARC public address systems.


• $2 million to purchase nine buses for transit systems in rural areas of the state.

The money is part of the $48.1 billion available nationwide  under last  year's stimulus legislation for highway and bridge,  transit, shipyard and airport construction an repairs.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:36 PM | | Comments (4)
        

March 4, 2010

State to close Beltway ramp at Security Blvd.

This just in from SHA:

STATE HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION TO TEMPORARILY CLOSE RAMP AT I-695/SECURITY BOULEVARD INTERCHANGE

Motorists Advised to Plan for Extra Travel Time and Look for Ramp Detour This Sunday

(March 4, 2010) – The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) will temporarily close the ramp from northbound I-695 (Baltimore Beltway Inner Loop) to MD 122 (Security Boulevard) at I-695 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, March 7 for ramp repair work.

 

Motorists on northbound I-695 going to eastbound and westbound Security Boulevard should plan ahead for extra travel time, as motorists will be detoured to Exit 18, the Liberty Road (MD 26) interchange to southbound I-695 back to Security Boulevard.

Alternatively, motorists traveling from northbound I-695 to Security Boulevard may use Exit 16, the I-70 interchange, to I-70 East to the Park and Ride lot to I-70 West to reach Security Boulevard. Motorists traveling on southbound I-695 should plan ahead for heavier traffic volumes between Exits 17 and 18.

The ramp repair work is part of SHA’s $5.5 million project to resurface the Inner and Outer Loops of I-695 (Baltimore Beltway) between Exit 17 (MD 122-Security Boulevard) and south of Exit 14 (Edmondson Avenue). The three-mile project, which began in summer 2009, is almost complete. The project includes mainline I-695 pavement repairs, milling and resurfacing; ramp repairs, milling and resurfacing at the Security Boulevard and Edmondson Avenue interchanges; drainage system repairs, curb and gutter replacement, installation of new guardrail; and installation of new reflective pavement markings.

SHA’s contractor for the I-695 project is American Infrastructure, Inc. of Fallston, and the entire roadway resurfacing project is slated for completion early spring, weather permitting.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Bealefeld shows flag for traffic court bill

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld underscored how strongly the state's law enforcement agencies feel about a bill that would put the burden on ticketed motorists who want a trial to request one by making a personal plea to the House Judiciary Committee to OK the legislation, which he estimated at $1 million a year.

 Like many other high-ranking police officers from around the state, Bealefeld cooled his heels for hours waiting to testify on the bill, which came up for hearing after 6 p.m. -- long after many witnesses had to leave. Vallario, clearly no fan of the bill, barely concealed his disdain for the legislation and disputed many of the police chiefs' contention that their officers' time was being wasted showing up for trials at which the defendants fail to appear.

Bealefeld resisted the impulse to engage with Vallario, but another witness -- Phil Hinkle, a Calvert County attorney representing the sheriff's department there -- did not. He took a court docket sheet Vallario had passed around to support his contention that officers' time isn't being wasted because they would have to be in court anyway -- and publicly demonstrated how the docket proved the very opposite by enumerating the many cases in which police are summoned to traffic court for only a few cases.

Hinkle clearly won the debate, but Vallario holds the gavel. Despite the contention of local governments throughout the state that the bill would save them millions and help put officers on the street, this bill is clearly going down in the House without the personal intervention of Speaker Michael E. Busch -- the only person in Annapolis Vallario has to listen to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 3, 2010

State's snow cost exceeds $110 million

According to Harold M. Bartlett, deputy secretary of transportation, the costs to the department from this year's snow season has now exceeded $110 million -- far more than the $26 million it budgeted or any of its worst-case scenarios.

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said the public can expect to see visible evidence of the budget impact this year as his agency cuts back on lawn-mowing, tree-trimming and other maintenance items. Also likely to be deferred are many capital projects.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

Work zone cameras a success, SHA chief says

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen told a General Assembly committee today that the speed cameras posted in three highway work zones under a law that took effect last year have been a success during their first three months.

Pedersen said the agency's speed measures in the zones, as well as anecdotal accounts from contractors show speeds are down in the work zones.

"They have definitely noticed a decrease in speed," he said.

In response to concerns that the cameras' purpose was mainly to raise revenue, Pedersen said that so far the cost of the camera program has exceeded collections on fines -- an outcome he said he's happy with as long as speeds are decreased.

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

GA staff urges $30 million cut in city highway funds

The General Assembly's budget analysts are recommending a decrease in Baltimore's share of highway use revenues by $30 million of the $131 million it currently receives annually so that it can be redistributed to the counties and other municipalities. The cuts would take effect in the budget set to start this July.

Staff members said the change in the formula for distribution of highway user revenue funds are needed to help alleviate distribution problems that emerged in 2010, when many counties took a severe hit in terms of their share of user funds.

Historically, local payments account for 30 percent of state highway user revenues. Without changes to the 2011 budget, Baltimore would get 40 percent of that 30 percent. Traditionally, Baltimore gets a larger share of these funds because it maintains state roads within the city boundaries.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:58 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

State takes hit in road maintenance

I'm sitting here in one of those boring budget subcommittee hearings in Annapolis, but like many of these boring budget events it has provided a few nuggests of insight into why the roads are looking so beat-up.

One of the charts from the State Highway Administration shows the amount the state is spending per lane-mile of road has dropped from above $56 to about $49 in the 2010 and 2011 budget years. This comes at a time when the price of steel and cement have been steadily increasing.

It's all a reflection of the spending cuts forced by the recession-related decline in transportation revenues.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly's budget analysts are recommending a decrease in Baltimore's share of highway use revenues by $30 million of the $131 million it currently receives annually.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:24 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Crash victims' families day in court advances

The Maryland Senate gave its preliminary approval today to a bill that would require people charged with traffic violations in connection with a crash that killed another person to appear in court to face the charges.

The bill is a response to the frustration of the survivors of such crashes who are denied their day in court when the defendant simply mails in payment for a traffic fine -- as is permitted now.

 One of the prime movers behind the bill has been Weida Stoecker, whose husband died in a crash that was the fault of a teenager driver who was later charged with negligent driving but never appeared in court.

By emerging from the Judicial Proceedings Committee, S.B. 343 has gone a step farther than a similar bill that died in the panel last year and now needs only a favorable floor vote to pass the Senate. Still unclear are its prospects in the House.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:07 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

March 2, 2010

Jessamy backs interlock bill

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy has thrown her support behind legislation that would make installation of an ignition interlock device mandatory for all those found to have been driving drunk -- even on a first offense.

But she's also raised a few interesting questions that could presumaly be dealt with in the form of amendments or separate legislation. Let's let her explain:

Bill Number: House Bill 743

Title: Vehicle Laws - Mandatory Use of Ignition Interlock System Program

POSITION: SUPPORT

Dear Chairman Vallario and Members of the House Judiciary Committee:

I am writing to you today in support of House Bill 743, which requires individuals convicted of, or granted probation for DUI/DWI’s to participate in the Ignition Interlock Program. The legislation also creates a mandatory minimum jail sentence for individuals caught driving while their driver’s license is suspended for alcohol-related violations.

Studies by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving have shown that alcohol ignition interlocks are up to 90 percent effective in keeping both first-time and repeat offenders from reoffending as long as the interlock is installed on the vehicle. Furthermore, those same studies have shown that first time offenders, on average, have driven drunk 88 times prior to being stopped by law enforcement.

Although the Maryland General Assembly has passed legislation to prevent deaths and injuries due to drunk driving and punish those found guilty of drunk and drugged driving, more can be done. In addition to the pending legislation I hope that you will examine the following issues:

  Presently if an individual is interlock restricted and they are stopped by law enforcement while driving a car without interlock they face a maximum penalty of only a $500 fine.

 The punishment for a person who circumvents interlock for another driver is 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine (compare TA 16-113(h) with TA 27-107(d, e, f, & g)).

 The punishment for driving a car while interlock restricted without an interlock device on the car should be at least 60 days in jail and/or $500 fine.

Despite the small issue outlined above, House Bill 743 goes a long way to protecting the public and preventing drunken driving fatalities and reducing recidivist rates for drunken driving offenders. Ignition Interlock works and has been proven in other states effective in preventing deaths, accidents, and keeping recidivist offenders off the road. I, therefore, urge your careful review and favorable report of House Bill 743.

Sincerely,

 Patricia C. Jessamy

 State’s Attorney for Baltimore City

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:18 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Swaim-Staley confirmed as transportation chief

After about a week's delay, the Maryland Senate has confirmed the nomination of Beverly Swaim-Staley as secretary of transportation.

Swaim-Staley, the former deputy secretary, was named to the top spot in the department last year after her boss, John D. Porcari, took the No. 2 job in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Her nomination, which was unanimous, had been briefly held up by Sen. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Gov. Martin O'Malley released a statement praising her confirmation:

With nearly 12 years of experience as Deputy Transportation Secretary and Chief Financial Officer for MDOT, Beverley Swaim-Staley has the deep knowledge of transportation, along with the management and financial expertise that are necessary for us to move forward.  Our transportation program remains in excellent hands under her leadership.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:17 AM |
        

The best (unlikely to pass) bill in Annapolis

Last summer, after the tragic death of 20-year-old Johns Hopkins student Miriam Frankl in a hit-and-run crash in which a man with nine previous drunken-driving convictions was charged, I made a modest suggestion in a Getting There column: that Maryland, at some point, say enough is enough and permanently take away a chronic drunk driver's right to own and operate a motor vehicle.

Little did I expect a member of the General Assembly to actually act on the idea, but Del. William J. Frank did just that.

The Baltimore County Republican introduced H.B. 1367, which would instruct the Motor Vehicle Administration to refuse to grant a drivers' license to or register a vehicle in the name of any person who has been convicted of drunk driving at least three times.

Obviously, this is a brilliant idea and Delegate Frank is a most enlightened statesman. His bill comes up for a hearing Wednesday afternoon in the House Judiciary Committee, a notorious graveyard of tough drunk driving legislation.

All the signs are that chances of passage are slim. The bill has no co-sponsors, and  Frank is a junior member of the minority party. And Maryland legislators are extremely solicitous of what they perceive as a person's right  to drive no matter what -- as if it were enshrined in some hidden clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Still, Frank is doing the state a service by putting on the table the proposition that the safety of others can at some point trump this supposed right. Many of the best laws passed in Maryland have started out as a bill unceremoniously killed in committee. Sometimes it takes years.

Here's one confident prediction: No legislator who supports this idea will pay a price politically. Can those who might help kill it feel as comfortable?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

How will I-95 ramp closing affect you?

With the northbound Interstate 95 ramp to Russell Street about to close for two weeks, commuters into downtown Baltimore from the south can expect 10 working days of mind-numbing backups as two exits worth of traffic squeezes onto Interstate 395.

The Maryland Transportation Authority is closing the ramp starting Saturday and continuing through March 20 so that BGE can perform maintenance work on a natural gas pipeline.

If you will be affected by the closure and would like to talk to a Sun reporter about how you plan to cope with it, please send an email with phone number to michael.dresser@baltsun.com or call 410-332-6175 Tuesday morning.

 

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

March 1, 2010

Maryland OK unless bill delay drags on

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley says the one-man delay by Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of congressional action to extend unemployment benefits and a host of other federal spending won't affects state highway projects unless it drags on.

"We'll be OK if this is short-term," Swaim-Staley said after a briefing by federal officials in Washington. She said her understanding is that the bill, which includes transportation spending measures, could pass as early as Tuesday.

The secretary said the delay wouldn't affect curent projects but could block new projects from going out for bid. However, she said, the State Highway Administration has no projects slated to go out for bidding until next week.

Bunning has said he is blocking unanimous consent to move the  measure because it does not include offsetting measures to keep it from increasing the federal deficit.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:20 PM |
        

Two weeks of commuting nightmares coming

Commuters who drive to downtown Baltimore from the south face two weeks of serious backups as maintenance work on a pipeline forces the closing of one of the two main ramps leading from Interstate 95 to the central business district.

The Maryland Transportation Authority will close the Exit 52 ramp to Russell Street from northbound I-95 from about 9 p.m. this Saturday through 6 a.m. Saturday, March 20. The effect will be that most commuters who normally use that ramp will be diverted onto the already busy Exit 53 ramp to Interstate 395.

"We are anticipating major delays, especially during the morning rush," said authority spokeswoman Teri Moss. I-95 withiin the city, as well as I-395, falls into the jurisdiction of that agency, which also operates the state's toll facilities, rather than the State Highway Administration. "It is a major closure."

The authority said the ramp must  be closed so BGE crews can do maintenance work on the  natural gas transmission pipeline that runs underneath the Russell Street ramp. Moss said the round-the-clock closure will let the utility finish the work more quickly than it otherwise could. Moss said the work was scheduled  for this month so that it would not interfere with stadium events such as the Orioles season that begins in April.

Moss urged motorists to seek alternate routes, travel before or after peak periods or to leave extra time for their commute.

In addition to the Russell Street ramp, the authority willl also close the right lane of I-95 between the Caton Avenue entrance ramp and Russell Street.

Linda Foy, a spokeswoman for BGE, said the utility regrets the inconvenience to drivers.

"Detours  never make for happy motoring, but we certainly had to do this work," she said. "There's work we have to do to comply with the (federal) Pipeline Integrity Act."

Foy said there was nothing unusual about the work except that it is occurring in such a busy location.

The BGE spokeswoman said the company will be conducting a hands-on, visual inspection of a 125-foot section of a 24-inch gas transmission pipeline that feeds into a series of smaller distribution pipelines.

Foy said the company believes March is the least disruptive  time to complete the work.

"We believe the time we selected, working with the state and the ciity, minimizes the impact," she said.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:21 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

MTA hopes to have trip planner restored soon

The out-of-order trip planner on the Maryland Transit Administration web site will be back in operation soon, MTA spokeswoman Angela White says.

White said the service stopped working because of a snow-related lapse in recertifying the schedule information used to generate the trip plans. Google Transit, which provides the platform for the service, requires participating transit agencies to periodically certify that their information is correct.

White said the MTA was in the process of recertifying the data when the first of two snowstorms hit Feb. 5. She noted work at the agency was disrupted for about a week when state government was shut down and when many employees couldn't make it to work. She initally said it would be restored by late this week or early next week, but later said the service could be fixed even sooner.

The spokeswoman said she did not know why the MTA initially failed to post on its web site the fact that the trip planner was out of order. Before late Monday, when the MTA put up a notice in response to a call from Getting There, users of the service did not learn it wasn't working until they had filled out their address information.

 

It's a sad commentary on the state of the MTA that the first thought upon learning the system was out of order was not: How can we alert our customers? The MTA might also want to reconsider the policy of cutting it so close on deadlines that a surprise event like a snowstorm in winter can shut down a valuable service.

UPDATE: White told me the MTA initially did not post a notice on the web site that the service was down because they expected they might be able to have it restored by late Monday. In a way, that's an even sadder commentary because it means someone in its web operation figured it was OK to mislead and inconvenience a few customers for a little while rather than write a few lines of code. Here's hoping the new administrator, Ralign Wells, sets a fire under whoever takes such a nonchalant view of treating even one customer that way.

By the way, even with the notice that's been added, it is still easy for a user of the web site to miss it and simply click on the trip planner -- leading to an exercise in futility. Why not have the button for the trip planner direct people to the notice? Somebody at MTA  isn't thinking like a customer using the system. (UPDATE: This  problem, though not the trip planner itself, has been fixed as of Tuesday morning.)

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Westbound Hatem Bridge to be closed at night

The westbound Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, carrying U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River, will be closed several nights over this week and next for deck replacement work.

The Maryland Transportation Authority will shut down the westbound bridge (which one could also consider southbound) Thursday, Friday, Sunday and next  Tuesday, March 9, from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. the following mornings. Traffic will be diverted onto southbound Interstate 95.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:21 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Gas prices creeping back up

The price of gasoline, which had been unusually stable in recent months, took a turn upward over the past week and could go even higher, AAA Mid-Atlantic reports.

The national average price of a gallon of regular gas hit $2.705 Moday, up 6 cents from a week ago. The Maryland average lagged the national figure by 3 cents, at $2.675.

With the price of crude oil on world markets close to $80 a barrel, AAA is warning that prices could be on the way up.

Even with the recent uptick, gas prices remain remarkably stable. The Maryland average has remained between $2.47 and $2.72 since June -- a big break from the wild swings of previous years.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:34 AM | | Comments (1)
        

MTA trip planner isn't working

The Google Transit-powered trip planner on the Maryland Transit Administration's web site isn't working. According to a reader, it's been out of operation for several weeks.

These things happen, but why wouldn't the MTA put a notice on its web site informing customers the service is out of order? This appears to be part of a pattern with the MTA of treating its web site as an afterthought instead of using it as a powerful tool to communicate with riders.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM | | Comments (3)
        
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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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