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June 30, 2010

Circulator bus is SRO, but another off schedule

I had the opportunity to use the Charm City Circulator on the way in to The Sun from Camden Station (that's another story), and it was a mix of pleasant surprises and frustration.

It would be nice to think one could come into Camden Yards on MARC or light rail and easilly make a transfer to the east-west Orange Route. It isn't, because of an awkwardly placed stop blocks away. By the time you reach the first station on Pratt Street, you might as well keep walking to the Inner Harbor.

It was good to see an electronic sign  telling riders how long they would have to wait for the next bus. It was dismaying that the signs said the next buses would come in 12 and 23 minutes when they are supposed to come at 10-minute intervals. The headways were actually more stretched out than that because no buses passed me during my walk to the stop from Howard Street.

Heat was certainly not an excuse today, as the weather was so pleasant it was a joy to walk to the Inner Harbor. It would have been a concern on a 95-degree day.

The good news was that when I was able to finally board a Purple Route bus on Light Street, it was standing-room-only (OK, a few large people were occupying multiple seats). That's good because it means the Circulator  is catching on and doing a healthy business -- attracting people from all walks of life.

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

June 29, 2010

MD transportation chief calls for Amtrak review

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley just released the following statement in the aftermath of last night's incident in which an Amtrak-operated MARC Penn Line train overshot the Odenton station:

A message to MARC customers from
Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley

Monday evening, the Amtrak crew in command of MARC Train 538 to Baltimore failed to stop at Odenton Station as scheduled.  I was aboard MARC 538 and experienced first-hand the severe frustration of my fellow passengers at the failure of Amtrak to carry out even this very basic task of stopping at a scheduled station.  Additionally, two trains experienced extended delays because of mechanical problems.  Last night, I contacted the highest levels of Amtrak senior management and demanded a full accounting of these issues.  These fundamental failures come on the heels of last Monday's incident when passengers aboard MARC 538 were stranded for over two hours after the locomotive suffered a power failure.  The inadequate response that evening is under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak and the Maryland Transit Administration.

Amtrak is contracted by the state of Maryland to operate and maintain MARC.  Taxpayer dollars are paid to Amtrak with the full expectation of safe, reliable service in return.  It is understood that machines, and the equipment that supports them, will break down at times.  However, these most recent incidents reflect a failure of Amtrak rather than simply the failure of equipment.  The system Amtrak has in place to operate MARC is proving to be inadequate.  I am asking Amtrak to conduct a top to bottom review of its operation of MARC and to aggressively initiate the changes necessary to see that similar incidents do not
occur again.   The status quo with Amtrak is simply unacceptable.  We
will continue to keep the pressure on Amtrak's senior management team to resolve these issues and improve the reliability of the system.

Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman and MTA Administrator Ralign Wells met passengers at Odenton station early this morning to address last night's incident.  To maintain an open dialogue with our passengers, Mr. Boardman and I will be at Union Station tomorrow evening (June 30) from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., where we will be available to talk directly with customers and receive their input.  MTA Administrator Ralign Wells will also be available at Union Station beginning at 4:30 p.m.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:16 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train

Central section of light rail to close a week

The Maryland Transit Administration will suspend operations on the central section of the light rail line next week for construction along Howard Street.

The MTA said it will not operate trains between the Camden Yards and Cultural Center stations from July 5 to July 11 but will provide shuttle buses to make connections. The agency said the buses will operate during regular light rail hours between and that every third trip will be extended to Penn Station. The shuttle will make stop at all stations except Pratt Street/Convention Center. The MTA recommended that riders use the Camden Yards stop next week.

All cross streets along Howard are expected to remain open.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:54 PM |
Categories: Light rail

Amtrak regrets misleading MARC passengers

An Amtrak spokesman acknowledged today that the crew of a Penn Line MARC train that overshot Odenton station Monday night had given passengers incorrect  information about the cause of the incident when they blamed "track conditions" rather than operator  error for the failure to stop.

“They should not have done that,” said spokesman Steve Kulm. “They should not have provided that reasoning or cause.”He added that the railroad will investigate how the false account came to be given to passengers, as well as the incident itself.

Kulm declined to say whether the engineer was on the job today or whether disciplinary action had been taken. “He is being handled appropriately,” Kulm said.

The spokesman said it is not a common occurrence for a train to skip a scheduled stop.

“It’s not a good event. It should not have happened,” he said. But he added that Amtrak had responded better than it had after last week’s breakdown that left passengers stranded in sweltering conditions on the tracks near Cheverly, making unscheduled stops of its Acela train to pick up riders  at BWI and drop them off at Odenton.

Amtrak operates and supplies crews for the Penn Line under contact with MARC.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

MTA keeps tight grip on information

The first thing I want to make clear is that Terry Owens, the new chief spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, did not put me up too this. I asked some pointed questions and he gave honest answers. I hope that doesn't get him trouble.

What I asked Owens was simply whether he received a log each morning of incidents that occurred over the previous night.  To me, it seems like a no-brainer to provide such information to the public affairs office as a matter of routine. But his  answer was no. Logs of the previous day's performance are shared with "senior managers" but not the person in charge of answering questions from the media and the public. If somebody inquires about an overnight  lapse in service, the public affairs officer has to go dig out the information from the operations managers.

My experience suggests that these worthies are often less than forthcoming when approached by MTA spokespeople.

This pattern of jealously guarding information is hardly unique to the MTA. It is a disease of many bureaucracies. But more  than most agencies, the MTA is in the direct customer service business.  Its every failing is almost immediately known to riders. Only the explanation remains in doubt.

What gets lost when the public affairs people aren't informed about what went wrong and why is the opportunity to take advantage of their expert judgment in crafting a response before an issue blows up in their faces.

There's a simple solution to this problem. Every morning the same log of the previous day's problems that MTA Administrator Ralign Wells and his chief deputies receive should find its way to Owens' desk. If the top public affairs person isn't treated as a senior manager,  there's something seriously wrong with the MTA.

Or better yet, post those logs online so that everyone can get a look at them. What's to hide anyway? It's about time for some radical transparency at the MTA.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:59 AM | | Comments (2)

AAA projects 18.4 percent increase in July 4 travel

AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts that Marylanders' enthusiasm for July 4 weekend travel will rebound robustly after last year's recession doldrums -- forecasting a whopping increase of 18.4 percent.

About 658,700 Marylanders are expected to take a trip more than 50 miles from home over the weekend, with 92 percent of them expected to travel by car, AAA said.

The more ambitious travel plans are a reflection of an improved economy , favorable  gas prices and the fact the holiday falls on a Sunday, creating a three-day weekend, AAA said. The group estimated the avverage gas price at about $2.70 a gallon.

“What a difference a year makes," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella.  "Last year at this time Marylanders, and Americans across the country, were faced with a deteriorating economy, growing joblessness, and sagging personal incomes.  This year, while the economic picture is far from perfect, there is certainly an overall improvement in economic conditions compared to last year, which appears to be the primary motivating factor for the tremendous rebound in July 4th holiday travel."

In addition to an expected 18.9 percent increase in auto travel, AAA projects that 27,000 Marylanders will fly this  weekend, a 9 percent jump over last year's holiday. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:35 AM |
Categories: On the roads

Top officials to meet MARC riders

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells are scheduled to meet Wednesday with members of the MARC Riders Advisory Council in Washington -- a little more than a week after the infamous "hell train" incident left almost 1,000 passengers stranded on the tracks near Cheverly for two hour in sweltering heat.

The meeting is set for 4 p.m. in Room 337 of  the Hall of the States Building, 400 N. Capitol St., near Union Station. 

Council Chairman Rafi Guroian said the group had invited Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is sending  Swaim-Staley to represent him. Guroian said council members plan to press Swaim-Staley to clarify concerns about what happened last week and to address ways MARC can better communicate with riders. Guroian said Amtrak President Joseph Boardman is also expected to attend the meeting, which will be open to the public.

"The meeting will likely be quite lively, given the cast of characters that will be there and some of the first-hand experiences many of our members had on that train," Guroian wrote.

Swaim-Staley and Wells have been regular riders on MARC since last weeks incident and were on board Train 538 Monday night when it skipped its stop at  the Odenton station.

MARC service became an issue in this year's gubernatorial race when former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. issued a statement last week  criticizing O'Malley's appointees, Swaim-Staley and Wells, for not having met with the advisory council since taking their posts last year.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

Amtrak apologizes for missing Odenton station

Amtrak took responsibility today for a lapse Monday night in which a northbound Penn Line MARC train missed its stop at Odenton station in Anne Arundel County -- forcing passengers to continue to the BWI station to catch a southbound train back to their destination.

Maryland Secretary of Transportation  Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit  Administration chief Ralign T. Wells were both aboard the train, MTA spokesman Terry Owens said.

"They were not at all happy," Owens said. "We are extremely disappointed with Amtrak's performance and we have conveyed that to the highest levels of Amtrak management."

Joseph Boardman, chief executive of Amtrak, released a statement in which he apologized to more than 150 passengers who were inconvenienced by the mistake aboard Train 538, the same one that was stranded a week before for two hours in blazing temperatures.

Boardman said the incident is  being reviewed but that the early  indication is that "the engineer began to slow the train too late and as a result continued past the Odenton station by about three car lengths before coming to a stop." By the  time the train came to a stop, he said, it could not back into the station because another train was coming up behind it.

Amtrak said Odenton-bound passengers were transferred to an Acela Express train that  stopped at Odenton to let them off. The railroad, which operates the Penn Line under contract with the Maryland Transit Administration, estimated the delay at 30 minutes. The Amtrak chief and other managers appeared at the Odenton station this morning to apologize to commuters in person.

Several MARC riders reported that the train crew's first reaction was to blame track conditions rather than engineer error. Kevin Cup of Severn, who said he was sitting in the lead passenger car  of the train that overshot the station, said regular passengers noticed that the train was approaching Odenton too fast. 

"Just before we passed the station (at full speed), the train’s brakes were applied sharply and very briefly (as if the engineer tried too late to make the station stop in time)," Culp said.  "The brakes were immediately released and we came to what I can only describe as a stop under 'normal' braking about 1 mile north of the station.  The train sat there idle for about 2-3 minutes until the trip resumed north.  A conductor apologized and indeed blamed the missed stop on 'rail conditions.'"

Culp, like other irders, found the explanation unsatisfactory.

"What makes me apoplectic is the manner in which these things are handled," he wrote.  "Instead of just telling us the truth (the engineer made a mistake; we’re really sorry; please get on the next southbound train) they make up these fantastical stories and treat us with disdain, condescension, and sanctimony."

Some MARC riders were looking for more than an apology.

"The relationship between MARC and AMTRAK needs to be reevaluated," said Penn Line rider Eric Luebehusen. "It needs to be pointed out at the highest level that MARC passengers are not to be treated as second fiddle to their AMTRAK counterparts. AMTRAK needs to stop simply sending trains around disabled MARC trains to maintain its own on-time agenda." 

The Odenton incident was just one of many troubles reported on the MARC system Monday. including malfunctioning  traffic signals and heat-related track problems on the Camden and Brunswick lines. Owens said the two late Penn Line trains were both seriously late -- one by an hour and the other almost two hours -- because of mechanical problems. The last train, No. 446 scheduled to leave Union Station at 10:30 p.m., didn't depart  until nearly 12:30 a.m. because an electric locomotive malfunctioned.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:44 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: MARC train

June 28, 2010

Penn Line train misses Odenton stop

The Penn Line 538 train -- the same one that was stranded in the blazing heat last week -- missed its stop at the heavily used Odenton stop Monday night. Riders who wanted to get off at Odenton had to get off at the BWI Airport station and take a southbound train back to their station.

According to riders who reported this turn of events, the explanation was that "track conditions" prevented the stop at Odenton. Since the train apparently rumbled right through the station, passengers were skeptical of that explanation -- as am I.

Even though this was an action of an Amtrak crew, the MTA owes riders a credible explanation.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train

Light rail fails rider after Orioles game

Every once and a while I get an email about a breakdown in light rail service after an Orioles game. Since serving baseball fans was one of the original justifications for building the system, that strikes me as a serious lapse. Here's one rider's story, as recounted by Jay Sweren of Pikesville.

And here I thought I was the only one who noticed just how clueless Baltimore’s MTA was. I remember thinking when the Light Rail opened that it was a great way to travel to and from Oriole Park. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, that was one of the reasons to make OPACY a major stop and transfer point. Somehow, though, the geniuses at MTA never seemed to get the message. This past Friday I wanted to join my son and grandsons, who were driving in from Ellicott City for the game and invited me to meet them. With a crowd of 40,000 expected I figured light rail was a far better idea than fighting all that traffic and that Light Rail was the perfect solution.

Unfortunately, each time over the years I have tried that logical solution I end up forgetting the prior experiences and then trying it again. Not any more.

First of all, I’ll be damned if I could find the Mount Washington Station, and I know the area. I guess there are signs somewhere but I never saw one. I ended up at the Falls Road location. No big deal, really. No harm, no foul. But then I had a 20 minute wait for a train, added on to the 10 or so minutes others had already been waiting. Didn’t anyone know about the big crowd they expected? And the trip itself took nearly 40 minutes. I could have walked it in less time.

But the worst part was the trip home. Just under an hour wait for the train. Again, didn’t anyone know there was a pretty big crowd? Couldn’t anyone figure out that just about all of the folks who made the trip downtown for the game would probably be making the return voyage after the fireworks that followed? Apparently not. Train after train headed north bound only as far as North Avenue, there to be finished for the night. It finally occurred to someone to send one train all the way to Hunt Valley. I don’t know who actually made that executive decision since there did not appear to be anyone in authority in the neighborhood.

I also had the occasion last week to meet a client in downtown DC at the Library of Congress. Here again the DC Metro seemed to be a better option than driving into town and then paying a king’s ransom to park. The experience couldn’t have been more different than the one in Baltimore. Those folks really have their act together, and it is not surprising that the DC system has been far more utilized, and successful, than ours. I hate to admit that DC bureaucrats seem to be a whole lot smarter than Baltimore bureaucrats. Where is Willie Don when we really need him?
I don't know if the political re-emergence of William Donald Schaefer is the answer, considering that the light rail system was in many ways his gift to the people of  Baltimore.  But the MTA certainly should at least maintain normal train intervals at game times. And when there is a problem, it desperately needs some form of  notification system at Camden Yards.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:08 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Light rail

Circulator marks best day yet

The Charm City Circulator bus system marked its most productive day yet last Friday as its two routes carried more than 6,000 riders, according to the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

The free circulator carried 3,368 riders on the east-west Orange Line and 2,742 on the north-south Purple Line, said Jamie Kendrick for a total of 6,110, deputy director of the department. Kendrick said ridership received a boost from the "Americans for the Arts" summit at the Marriott Harbor East.

Kendrick said Saturday was another strong performance, with 4,427 passengers between the two routes. A 4:05 p.m. Orioles game increased ridership that day, he said.

The response to the circulator has been "beyond our wildest expectations," Kendrick said. "I think we've developed an early kind of brand loyalty." The free shuttle bus service was launched with the Orange Route in January, with the Purple Route joining it earlier this month.

Kendrick said the service's 10-minute intervals between buses took a bit of a beating last week as 95-degree temperatures took a toll on the buses. At worst, he said, headways slipped at 14 minutes. But he said the problems had eased by the end of the week.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:19 PM |
Categories: City bus service

JFX closed near Maryland Avenue

The southbound Jones Falls Expressway has been closed just south of North Avenue because of a crash. Traffic is being directed off the expressway onto North Avenue, while cars that were stuck south of North Avenue are being taken off at Maryland Avenue. So far, no details on the crash are available.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

C&D, for some, means Cruising & Drinking

A look at the Natural Resources Police blotter for the weekend shows a curious pattern of activity on the C&D Canal in Cecil County. This looks like a pretty formidable haul for one weekend on the canal:

Cecil County – On June 25, 2010 at 7 p.m., NRP charged Douglas Thomas Dolphin, age 26 from Elkton, Md., with operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and operating a vessel while impaired by a combination of drugs and alcohol.  The charges originated when Dolphin’s vessel almost struck a marked patrol vessel on the C & D Canal Basin in Chesapeake City.

Cecil County – On June 26, 2010 at 6:25 p.m., NRP charged Eric August Mitana, age 22 from Gibbstown, NJ, with negligent operation of a vessel, operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and operating a vessel while impaired by a combination of drugs and alcohol. Mitana was stopped on the C & D Canal in Chesapeake City for not displaying proper registration numbers on his vessel.

Cecil County – On June 26, 2010 at 7:20 p.m., NRP charged Michael Frederick O’Conner, age 30 from Chesapeake City, Md., with operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and operating a vessel while impaired by a combination of drugs and alcohol. O’Conner was stopped on the C & D Canal in Chesapeake City when he was observed operating a power vessel in an unsafe manner.

Cecil County – On June 25, 2010 at 5 p.m., NRP charged Andrew Philip Garrison with operating an unregistered vessel, operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and operating a vessel while impaired by a combination of drugs and alcohol. Garrison was stopped in the C & D Canal in Chesapeake City for operating a vessel without displaying required registration numbers.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:50 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Afloat

Citizen pleads for traffic enforcement on I-83

Joe Zang of Lutherville has been doing his best to get the attention of authorities concerning a lack of traffic enforcement on Interstate 83 in Baltimore city and county. As one who had a near-terminal experience on the Jones Falls Expressway when a speeding driver spun out in front of me, I can sympathize. Here's Zang's letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley:

Office of the Governor
State House
Annapolis, MD 21401

Re: Virtually no traffic enforcement on lower I83

The Jones Falls Expressway (lower Interstate 83) between the beltway in Towson and the Shot Tower in Baltimore City apparently should have its traffic enforcement shared by Baltimore City in the city portion, by Baltimore County to the north, and in its entirety by the State Police since it is an interstate highway?

However, I am here to tell you that virtually no traffic enforcement has happened on that highway in years! Furthermore, I am inclined to sue the State, the City, the County, and all executives involved to reverse this immediately!

The speed limit for most of the county section is 55mph. It changes to 50mph between the Northern Parkway and Maryland Avenue exits; and I believe it is even less further south in the city.

I am 65 years old & semi-retired; but try to keep busy as a travel consultant with my own agency; (despite the economy). My wife still works full time near the 1st Mariner Arena downtown, and we now have just one car. For the past six years, 50% of the time she will have a company car. When she does not, I take her there at 6:30 am & pick her up at 4:00 pm.

This means, that when I take her, I travel I83 four times each day (down & back twice). Sometimes this is 2 or 3 days a week; others times it is the entire week. Thus, my claim to being very knowledgeable about the conditions: poor safety, pre-meditated aggressive drivers, total lack of police presence.

It is only a matter of time before the weekly fender benders will become a major multiple vehicle catastrophe! Apparently each of the entities: State, County, & City are passing the buck of enforcement to the others?

Several years ago, I spotted the County Police staking out a section in the north area; but that seems to have been discontinued. Now & instead, almost each week, I will spot a police vehicle or an unmarked police vehicle speeding down the fast lane; but apparently that officer is just commuting & breaking the law with the rest of the commuters! He/she never pulls anyone over.

Over the years, the commuters have come to know there is no enforcement ever present. The posted speed limits are not only exceeded by the normal (often acceptable) 3-5mph; they now exceed the limit by 10-25mph EVERY SINGLE DAY! It makes no difference if it is great weather or horrible weather.

When I move from the beltway onto I83 south, I am forced for the most part to maintain the status quo of 3-5mph over until ½ mile north of Northern Parkway. There I begin to do the limit or less (despite intimidation). Then all hell breaks loose. Maryland’s drivers must be re-educated that the speed limit does not mean it is the minimum speed! (As a matter of fact, the hell broke loose at the beltway-on-ramp; not to mention it occurs all over Maryland’s highways.)

There is massive tailgating, cutting others off by partial inches, weaving in & out, and aggressive behavior. It is rampant, and it is attempted homicide; and the police in the State, the County, and the City are responsible by virtue of their absence!

I will not tolerate the excuse that there is no money in the coffers. Find it! I do not care if the raised highway lacks proper places on the shoulder for police to stake out an area; Fix It! I will not tolerate dunning letters in response to this complaint. Own up to it! And, I will not be satisfied with an enforcement program that makes a showing for a week or two!

People are going to die because of this lack of enforcement. The State, the County, and the City; and all of their executives OWN THIS PROBLEM! Re-educate the people.

Signed “Joe Zang”


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:58 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

MTA email account: Return to sender

If the Maryland Transit Administration is really interested in public comments on its proposed bus route changes, perhaps it should set up an email account that works.

Readers have pointed out -- correctly --  that if you send a comment to the MTA's comment forum at, all you get out of it is a "message undeliverable" reply.

"This isn't the first time this has happened," one reader wrote. "This ranks with when you call to complain about a bus failing to show... the MTA hot line will put you on hold. You stay on the phone waiting for a representative to answer only to find you've waited long enough that the next bus has arrived."

UPDATE FROM MTA: Thank you for alerting us to a problem with the MTA Public Hearing comment email address.  In posting information on the MTA website regarding our public hearing process, the old email address from 2008 was inadvertently posted.  The current email address to send in comments regarding the Public Hearing proposals is  As Director of the MTA Office of Customer Information, I encourage our customers to send in comments until July 23, 2010, 5:00 pm.

Elaine Jones



Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:33 AM | | Comments (4)

June 25, 2010

Here's where the city's speed cameras lurk

Last month Baltimore added nearly two dozen locations that will from time to time be equipped with portable speed cameras. Those locations, all in school zones as required by state law, join the city's existing 50 fixed speed camera locations.

Here is the complete list of locations.

Some folks have been surprised by the sudden presence of such cameras, expecting a grace period  such as that offered in Baltimore County. According to Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city Transportation Department, the city's view is that it provided its grace period last year when it launched the program. Now, for reasons of spite no doubt, it's expecting citizens to obey the law.

School zones are defined in law as anywhere within a half-mile of a school, and in a  compact city like Baltimore that means most of its land mass falls within a potential speed camera area. The prudent approach is simply to respect the speed limit -- or at least refrain from exceeding it by  the 12 mph that will trigger a  camera -- anywhere within the city limits. Those who travel, say, 40 on a 25-mph residential street do so at the peril of a well-deserved $40 ticket.

There are those who indulge the paranoid fantasy that this is all being done to raise money and that it has nothing to do with safety. Believe it or not, there's  one sure way of keeping the "gummint" from grabbing your dollars: Drive safely. That's worked in other places, where the  initial haul has dropped dramatically because people do learn to slow sown.

Actually, Barnes said many of the city's speed cameras are deployed at the request of residents of the blocks that are being used as drag strips.  So if you get nailed near your home, you might have your neighbors to thank for it. Barnes said her department is being swamped with requests for the cameras and other traffic-calming devices.

There are still a few areas around  the city where a driver can probably get in a few zoom-zooms without being nailed by a camera. Broening Highway down by  the marine terminals is far from institutes of learning, but you might get to see  the human face of speed enforcement in a Maryland Transportation Authoriity Police uniform. Then there's the industrial Fairfield peninsula, where there are no cameras and few cops but where the roads themselves could cost speeders more than any ticket would.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:09 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

Could MARC backup plan be working?

It's not sure that the Maryland Transit Administration's strategy of using two locomotives on some of its larger Penn Line trains will prevent a long, hot summer of delays. But this email from Pete Smith of Abingdon gives a glimmer of hope:

Maybe this interests only me, but it strikes me that perhaps MARC has taken at least one lesson to heart after the "hell train" debacle, and perhaps those at the MTA responsible for following up would be interested in learning about this.

As MARC #530 (the 4:24 pm departure from Washington en route to Perryville) approached Odenton this evening, the power cut out. We coasted into the Odenton station and passengers detrained as usual.  And then we waited to proceed to Baltimore.  Then we waited some more.  Then the dreaded announcement that in fact the locomotive did breakdown.  Before we could have our moment of deja vu, however, the conductor announced that the engineer was moving to the second, backup locomotive and would try to get us moving shortly.  Sure enough, we were moving again within moments.

As local transit observers and readers of your blog alike noted, it would seem to be a good idea to have some sort of contingency in place to avoid stranding passengers in the future. One of those ideas was to have two locomotives on the trains, you know, just in case.  It's been quite a challenging week for MARC, but I tip my cap to the MTA for what appears to have been the quick enactment of some sensible changes that spared me and my fellow passengers another evening of woe.

Pete Smith

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

June 24, 2010

MTA fesses up to misinformation

I was planning to call the MTA for a response to this blog posting based on reports from Getting There readers about erroneous signs, but deputy administrator Henry Kay must have been reading because he provided this answer without being asked:

Rest assured, MTA agrees that some of the attractions signs recently installed at Light Rail stops are out of place.  The incorrect signs will be removed today.

The attractions signs are part of a project to update and standardize signs at five Light Rail stops along Howard Street. In addition to providing more clarity for regular riders, the new signage includes standard international symbols to help visitors. The attractions signs highlight some of the great destinations that are accessible by Light Rail, and were meant to be installed at the stop closest to the destination. Due to a mix-up in the design process the contractor was given incorrect instructions for a few of them.

MTA maintains thousands of signs at bus stops, rail stations, and park and ride lots throughout the region. For bus stops in particular, our goal is to update route numbers within a few weeks of a schedule change, but we do a miss a sign from time to time so we appreciate hearing from sharp-eyed riders.  We can usually make the correction within a day or two of hearing about it.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:15 PM |

Hot times on the MARC train

With the mercury hitting 100 this afternoon, there was bound to be trouble on MARC. It's already started. Donna DeLeno Neuworth, a passenger on the northbound Penn Line train that left Union Station at 4:15 reports there is no air-conditioning in any of  the cars and that riders were "sweaty, dripping, angry people" as they left BWI Station on the way to Baltimore.

But, hey, it hadn't stalled out, as Monday's "hell train" did. Just think of it as a free mobile sauna for the price of a train ticket.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:56 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train

Friendship anniversary spurs memories

Jim Sweeney of Reisterstown still remembers the day exactly 60 years ago when President Harry S. Truman came to Anne Arundel County to dedicate the new Friendship International Airport, now known to us as BWI. I'll pass along his memories in a a very lightly edited form:

my name is jim sweeney, me and several of my friends rode our bikes from brooklyn, we were all twelve yrs. old.we arrived before the president and stood by our bikes right up front next to a roped off area. after a couple of minutes two big black car arrived and trunk of one was opened and a speakers podium removed and set up right in front of me. the president spoke a very short time and when finished came up to me and (shook) my hand. we talked and i told him that I was a paperboy and he said that he had been also. he then asked if he could ride my bike. he rode it out about fifty feet and circled back and thanked me for the bike ride.

there were very few people to hear the president. i believe there were as many people behind the president as in front. times were very different.

Sweeney also recalled that  "security that day was not more than 4 or 5 people including the drivers. the world has changed -- not for the better."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:53 PM |
Categories: Air travel

June 23, 2010

MTA misinformation abounds, readers say

Recently, some Getting There readers have begun acting as self-appointed, free-lance editors  of  MTA signage, and they appear to have caught some conspicuous boo-boos.

Ricardo Barriera of Halethorpe took the picture at right at the Convention Center light rail station and questioned whether that's  the right place to tell people to get off for the  M&T Bank (Ravens) Stadium. Hmmm, shouldn't that sign be at Hamburg Street?

Meanwhile, Alan  E. Povey of Bolton Hill made the following observations:


Last week, the MTA posted at the Cultural Center light rail stop signs that read, "Penn Station -- At This Stop." Obviously, the stop for Penn Station is Penn Station, not the Cultural Center.

They also posted signs at the Baltimore Street stop reading, "Inner Harbor -- At This Stop." Again, the stop for the Inner Harbor is the Convention Center, not Baltimore Street.

Further, last weekend the MTA's web site informed readers that bus service would be diverted on Charles Street on Sunday, June 20th because of the Gay Pride block party. That event was actually held on Saturday, June 19th.

These bits of misinformation all concerned the small portion of downtown that I frequent. I can only imagine how much misinformation is being spread through the rest of the MTA system. Who is responsible for all of this misinformation? And how much are the taxpayers paying this person each year?

One other thing. On Howard Street northbound, between Lombard and Baltimore, a box is affixed to a pole showing the schedule for the #10 bus to State Center. The number #10 bus has not run up Howard Street to the State Center for several years. Seasoned Baltimore residents probably know enough to ignore all of this misinformation, but it must be very confusing to visitors.

Getting There would love to hear from the MTA on whether the agency wants to stand by any of this signage.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:20 PM | | Comments (6)

Rest stop along I-70 reopens

The State Highway Administration reopened its long-closed South Mountain  rest stops along Interstate 70 near the Frederick-Washington county line today after an $18.3 million renovation project.

The agency  opened a section of the eastbound and westbound rest stops after adding expanding parking area and updated restroom facilities.  The stops,  located  between Exits 35 and 42 in Frederick County, have been provided  with walking trails, picnic areas, parking and restrooms that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

According to the SHA, the reopened rest stops each have 76 parking spaces for passenger vehicles, 26 parking spaces for commercial trucks and six parking spaces for RVs and buses.  The state also added a playground and a pet area.

The new welcome centers  are each approximately 3,940 square feet and the new restrooms  6,180 square feet, compared with a total of 1,250 square feet  in each of  the old facilities.  The SHA said the new buildings have been designed to reduce energy consumption and cut operating costs.

The new facilities replace original restrooms and parking areas that were constructed in 1972. The  welcome centers were added in 1978. 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:06 PM |
Categories: On the roads

O'Malley to ride MARC, talk with riders

Gov. Martin O’Malley is planning to venture into the lion's den - so to  speak.

The governor is planning to ride the MARC Penn Line and talk with rail commuters this morning – three days after a breakdown on the tracks left almost 1,000 commuters sweltering for two hours on a train without air-conditioning.

The governor is scheduled to meet with the media at 8 a.m. at the BWI Station before boarding a MARC train to New Carrollton. After boarding, he is planning to discuss the need for improvement in service with MARC passengers.

Aides said O’Malley considered recent interruptions in service provided by Amtrak, the state’s contractor on the Penn Line, “unacceptable.” Riders on Monday’s Train 538 were stranded outside the New Carrollton station Monday night in rail cars that lost power as temperatures inside soared. Passengers reported that conductors kept doors closed and failed to keep them informed as the repairs dragged on.

The chief executives of both Amtrak and the Maryland Transit Administration apologized to customers after the incident.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:54 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train

June 22, 2010

Yet another account of Train 538 debacle

Here's another account of the MARC Train 538 saga from Monday night, this from a passenger named Jamie who prefers not to have his last name used. THis is one more reason I believe a public hearing about this incident is necessary:

 Jamie wrote:

I was aboard the MARC train 538 that broke down monday night and all of the passengers stories are accurate. It was horrible. We were told by an AMTRACK police officer that if we busted out the windows or got off the train we would be arrested and/ or fined. It was stifling in there.

When the conductors came thru and shut the doors saying the new locomotive was there and then nothing happened, it got so hot a woman in my car started to have an asthma attack. She moved out into the vestibule and the conductor told her to move back in. She was turning bright red and having trouble breathing but the conductor walked away. The woman then laid face down on the floor and tried to get fresh air from the cracks between the two cars.

This was about the time someone in the car in front of us passed out and people then busted out the door. There was no MARC staff around to help people out of the train at any time that I saw. It was other passengers helping each other.

I was also one of the ones left behind because the rescue train was too full. We had to walk back to the disabled 538 and climb from the loose rocks back up - a rather large step. Again, no MARC assistance.

We sat for a while then crawled to New Carrollton. Got off the train and waited. I finally got to Odenton around 10:15.

Tonight I was on the 538. They had it boarding at the same time as a delayed Penn train. it was total chaos on the platform as none of the tracks were labeled. I saw MARC staff on the platform handing out copies of the apology letter with free VIP round trip pass attached. Really? What good is that for the majority of people who have monthly passes?

Once aboard the train, there were maybe 6 passengers on my car and I NEVER saw MARC staff. If they were on the train Tuesday night, they didn't walk thru it. Once at Odenton, they couldn't get the doors to stay open. This system needs a complete overhaul from the top down before we wind up with a mass tragedy like that of last years WMATA redline crash.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:19 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train

MARC update: Tuesday night follies

Here's the report from passenger Aaron Jones on the strange adventure of MARC Train 442 tonight:

7:36 p.m. In an almost comical coincidence, MARC 442 which has 2 trains worth of people on it due to 440 being canceled, is stopped south of bwi due to a downed tree which took down a wire and is laying on the tracks. With a line down I'm sure we won't be going anywhere for a while. The conductors so far are making announcements left and right to make up for last night. 

8:24 p.m. Update: marc 442 reversed, but passed odenton.  Then passed it again. We were just informed that we are reversing again and we will actually stop in odenton this time.  And they tell us that mta is going to provide busses to ALL station stops.

 9:03 p.m. My wife came to pick me up but we gave a ride to some people because it appeared the busses would be a while.  There were none at the station when we arrived.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 PM |
Categories: MARC train

MARC lists 'minor disruptions'

This is the MTA's list of MARC problems tonight as of 8:01 p.m. It appears, as it so often does, under the MTA's favorite description: "Minor disruptions." Does this look minor to you? Oh, it doesn't include Train 442, still wandering around Odenton after 9 p.m. after being blocked by a fallen tree and wires.

The Washington Metro will be honoring MARC tickets this evening

. Penn: MARC 443 (725p BAL Dp) will be operating approximately 15 minutes late from the Baltimore terminal.

Brunswick: MARC 883 (715pWAS Dp) will be departing Washington approximately 60 minutes late due to late arriving equipment.

Penn : Marc train 534 is operating 45 minutes late from Washington to Perryville.

Penn : Train 443 out of Baltimore 7:25 pm is operating 25 - 30minutes late.

Penn line train 538 deprted Washington 25 minutes late.

Penn line train 443 out of Baltimore 7:25 pm will make all stops to Washington.

Brunswick line train 883 out of Washington 7:15 pm is expected to operate 45 minutes late.

CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1:00pm, until 7:00pm. Trains on both lines will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:53 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

MTA chief apologizes for MARC breakdown

Apologies were flying all over today after last night's incident in which MARC Train 538 was stranded for two hours in 90-degree temperature with no air conditioning on the Penn Line. Amtrak chief Joseph Boardman issued statement of regret (next blog post down), and here is one from MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells:


Yesterday evening the locomotive pulling MARC Train 538 failed.  As is typically the case the train was full with more than 900 riders on board.  The train stopped safely but without power and air conditioning, the temperature rose to uncomfortable levels.  It was more than two hours before all the passengers were transferred to other MARC trains.
This circumstance was unacceptable, and on behalf of all MTA employees, I apologize for the inconvenience and discomfort you experienced.


Our understanding of the sequence of events is that the locomotive lost power near New Carrollton which triggered an automatic braking procedure.  A rescue locomotive was dispatched and attempted to connect to Train 538 to pull it back to Union Station.  Although the connection was successful, crews were still not able to release the brakes on the disabled train.  All but 100 passengers were able to transfer to another MARC Train, and the remaining passengers transferred to a southbound train.

Early this morning I spoke with the President of Amtrak, and together we are taking immediate steps to understand the circumstances and modify procedures if necessary.  One option we are considering is to provide a back-up locomotive on every Penn Line train.  To further ensure the comfort and safety of riders we will review with Amtrak our policies for allowing passengers to leave a disabled train, and cars with storage areas stocked with bottled water will be allocated among the trains.

Although Amtrak and MTA personnel worked diligently from the moment the locomotive failed until the last passenger was rescued, I have received many complaints that passengers on the train received inadequate information about the situation.  In addition to understanding the mechanical issues, this is a key issue that I will insist be addressed.

As MARC customers, you deserve safe, reliable service.  MTA failed to deliver this service yesterday for Train 538 riders.  Again, I apologize for the inconvenience you may have experienced, and commit to do better.
Along with other MTA managers, I will be riding Train 538 today to hear comments and answer questions. 


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:10 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

Amtrak apologizes for MARC 538 failure

Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman released this statement today about Monday night's two-hour stranding of MARC Train 538 without air conditioning on the Penn Line tracks south of New Carrollton:


WASHINGTON –Yesterday evening, MARC Train 538 lost power soon after leaving Washington Union Station, resulting in loss of air conditioning and uncomfortable conditions for passengers who waited about two hours for a resolution.

On behalf of Amtrak, I extend my most sincere apologies to the passengers of Train 538 for having to withstand unacceptable conditions and inconveniences during this service disruption. We fell short of providing the service we strive to deliver.

In conjunction with the Maryland Transit Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration we are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident. In addition, we are also evaluating our procedures to identify opportunities to improve our response in similar situations.

We take this matter very seriously and take responsibility for this failure. We will identify the cause or causes of yesterday’s disruption, and we will take corrective action. We value our MARC passengers and we will take steps to improve the service.

Again, I offer my apologies to all of our MARC passengers, as well as to the people of Maryland, for having fallen short of the service you should expect from us. We should do better and we will do better.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train

Baltimore has a stake in Prince George's decision

Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision last week to relocate the Department of Housing and Community Development from Crownsville to Prince George's County. is almost certainly good politics -- and it could turn out to be good policy as well.

When you think about it, it just doesn't make much sense to locate a department that mostly serves urban communities on a leafy suburban campus far from transit routes.  And Prince George's is an important population center with far superior transit connections.

But while the news is undoubtedly good for Prince George's, it could go either way for Baltimore. Certainly it's not like moving a department out of Baltimore to fulfill a pledge to that county -- as former Gov. Bob Ehrlich tried with the Department of Planning. But some Baltimore-area employees of the department could be severely inconvenienced if the  wrong decision is made about where to locate in Prince George's County.

Two of the choices are bad for Baltimore, including the Prince George's government's favored choice of the Naylor Road Metro Station. Like the Branch Road Metro, it is simply too far to ask people to commute from the Baltimore area. To reach  it be Metro, one would have to park at a nearby station and go all the way too downtown Washington to get to either Naylor or Branch. For employees of the department, it would be difficult to get to meetings in Baltimore.

That leaves two other locations identified by the O'Malley administration as potential transit-oriented development sites -- Laurel and New Carrollton. Both would  be excellent choices from a Balto-centric point of view because both are served by MARC.

While Laurel would be great from a Baltimore point of view -- certainly as accessible as Crownsville -- it might not meet the  goal of bringing employment to the core of Prince George's. It's also on the Camden Lines, which has less service than the Penn Line.

New Carrollton, on the other hand, has the best transit connections and most central location of all. Not only is it served by MARC, it has a Metro station and Amtrak connections as well. It's far more reachable by car from Baltimore than Naylor or Branch. A department employee could easily jump  on a Penn Line train for a meeting in Baltimore  and be back in the office by midafternoon. It's also the least inconvenient for the department employees who live in Anne Arundel County or on the Eastern Shore

The city and all of Baltimore's surrounding counties  have a stake in the decision and should weigh in with the governor's office. The key is to see that in the selection process, as much weight as possible is given to MARC connections and accessibility for current department employees. On those counts, New Carrollton is a win for both the Baltimore and Washington regions.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM | | Comments (6)

MARC meltdown deserves hearing, probe

Last night's disastrous performance of MARC Train 538 should make the end of business as usual at the Maryland Transit Administration.

The details are still murky, but what appears clear is that the Penn Line train broke down a few miles  north of Union Station on a blazing hot day. The air condiitioning failed, and it took about two hours to get any relief to the sweltering, information-starved passengers. Here's an excerpt of one of the emails Getting There received:

Many passengers had removed the emergency exit windows in an attempt to get relief.  Those that could walked up Route 50 to the Cheverly Metro station and transportation to New Carrollton where family members could pick them up.  Medical emergencies also occurred due to the extreme heat in the cars and about the same time the TV crew showed up Fire and Rescue vehicles began pulling up.  Frankly if someone left their dog locked up in a car for 1 and 1/12 hours like this they would be arrested

You bet.  And MARC riders deserve both answers and assurances such a fiasco won't happen again. It's one thing to have a breakdown that makes people late. Bad stuff happens. But when a transit agency leaves riders in potentially dangerous heat conditions, that's inexcusable.

This is not the first time MARC passengers have been stranded in extreme weather conditions for long periods. In the past MTA has taken a life-goes-on approach and nothing more is heard of the incident.

There's been far too much of that. This incident deserves an independent investigation, led by somebody from outside the MTA, accompanied by a public hearing  at which  riders can put their experiences on the record in a way that the MTA can't minimize. Maybe, with public input and suggestions, the MTA can come up with a standby rescue plan for the entirely predictable scenario of locomotives breaking down in hot weather.

If the MTA drags its heels, perhaps the General Assembly can provide some motivation in the form of a special legislative performance audit or oversight hearings. There's been far too much business as usual at MARC, and there's  been far too much money invested to accept such results.

And in the short term, can we please see a plan from the MTA and Amtrak to bring relief to stranded passengers within 30 minutes? Is that too much to ask?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:41 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train

June 21, 2010

A miserable night on MARC

I'm getting a load of email from MARC passengers tonight about a meltdown on Train No. 538. This sounds like a bad one. Here's some of the mail. Some of the senders aren't in a position to be identified.

"(My train) died 10 minutes out of Union Station with no power. Approaching 2 hours, and it's about 100 degree on the train. As you see below, it's almost an hour after we allegedly were being hooked to a locomotive. Some folks are getting off in hopes of reaching New Carrollton; others are removing the emergency windows. One fellow started a petition of sweaty passengers to give to MARC. Some have called 911, and a fire truck and ambulance  just pulled up on the nearby shoulder of Rt 50. Just another sterling Marc adventure......"

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:55 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: MARC train

June 18, 2010

It's a congested evening downtown

Just passing this along from the Downtown Partnership:

Special Advisory:

Lombard Street Heavy Delays this Evening

Due to milling work along Lombard Street and the African American Heritage Festival at M&T Bank Stadium today, there is currently heavy congestion in the Downtown area.

To avoid traffic delays, commuters should consider timing commutes to avoid peak rush hours. Consider grabbing some dinner Downtown, or doing some last minute Father's Day shopping before heading home tonight.

The Lombard Street milling and paving work should be completed in about two weeks. At that time, your experience traveling along Lombard will be vastly improved.

Check in with our transportation website for updates and more ideas about alternate routes and different ways to commute into, and around, Downtown.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:27 PM |
Categories: On the roads

June 17, 2010

Expect Calvert Street woes to continue Friday

If you drove into downtown Baltimore via Calvert Street a little after 9 a.m. this morning, you received a rude reception to the city. Two lanes of Calvert were closed between Pratt and Lombard streets for milling work connected with the Lombard Street resurfacing project. The result was a backup that went all the way back to Conway Street.

There could be more of the same Friday. According to city Transportation Department spokeswoman Cathy Chopper, the milling work on Calvert is expected to bleed over into tomorrow but be finished by the close of the day. 

Next week, that block of Calvert will become part of the Lombard Street repaving operation, but that work is expected to take place between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., Chopper said.

No  specific schedule was available, but  Chopper said the repaving work on Calvert won't take nearly as long as that on Lombard, which is expected to continue for about two weeks. There might also be lane closings on Light Street and other intersections with Lombard.

The good news, according to Chopper, is that when the two weeks of repaving starting Monday are done, the entire Lombard Street project will be complete.

Those who want to avoid the milling work on Calvert tomorrow should avoid Conway and take alternate routes such as Martin Luther King Boulevard and Paca, Howard and Charles streets.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM |
Categories: On the roads

June 16, 2010

Lombard Street paving work scheduled

Delays are expected on Lombard Street over the next two weeks as the city launches a round of overnight paving work starting Monday.

Lane closings are expected to affect traffic on Lombard between Calvert and Greene streets for two weeks  starting at 7 p.m. and continuing until 5 a.m. 

Although the city plans to keep at least two lanes of downtown's main westbound artery open, officials are urging motorists to use alternate routes, including Orleans Street for crosstown travel. For southbound  drivers making the connection between Interstate 83 and Interstate 95, the department recommends taking the North Avenue exit to Mount Royal Avenue before bearing right to Cathedral Street and turning onto Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:27 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Meeting to discuss bike-friendly Guilford Ave.

The Baltimore Department of Transportation's bike coordinator, Nate Evans, will host an informational meeting June 30 to discuss plans to make Guilford Avenue between University Parkway and Mount Royal Avenue more bicycle-friendly.

The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Sherwood Room in Levering Hall on the Johns Hopkins University campus. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:00 PM |

Details of Interstate 395 work provided

Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss provided some additional details about plans for preservation work on Interstate 395, the spur leading of Interstate 95 into downtown Baltimore. She wrote:

The 395 project to repair section loss and spot-paint beam ends, as of now, is scheduled to advertise March 1, 2011 with notice to proceed September, 2011.   This project will have minor maintenance of traffic (MOT) requirements. 

I received further clarification.  Another separate project to perform deck-sealing and joint repairs is scheduled for construction in (calendar year) 2013.   Additionally, joint repair work will be performed on various bridges on I-95 south of the tunnel, possibly beginning this fall or winter. 

In reference to the condition, the substructure ratings for all of the bridges south of the tunnel, including the I-395 interchange range from 6 (satisfactory) to 7 (good), with the exception of Gwynn’s Falls which is a 5 (fair) based on a scale of 0-9.  Inspections were completed in this area this spring.

Moss went on to explain that "section loss and spot-paint beam ends" means bolting new steel plates to restore sections of the girders that are rusted due to normal environmental wear" to  prevent deterioration.  Painting beam ends, she said, protects steel from corrosion. 

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

For a second view of MTA event, grab a Brew

It never hurts to have a second view of a public event, and Fern Shen of Baltimore Brew provides another account of MTA Administrator Ralign Wells' appearance before the Transit Riders Action Council earlier this week.

For the most part, Shen's account tracks the one on Getting There. It needs to be pointed out that while Shen put a lot of emphasis on the Red Line controversy, it only came up in the last 15 minutes of a 2-hour presentation, and the discussion was for the most part nonconfrontational.

The members of TRAC are a politically savvy bunch, and they  know Wells was not in a position to back down on the Red Line. The current Red Line light rail plan, after all, represents a decision made by his ultimate boss -- Gov. Martin O'Malley -- as well as the institutional opinion of his agency. To their credit, TRAC members spent most of the time concentrating on matters they could influence. Then they got their requisite licks in on the Red Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM |

June 15, 2010

Work zone speed camera haul: 34,600

As it announced the launch of its fourth work zone to be equipped with speed cameras, the State Highway Administration released a tally of the state's camera-generated tickets under its SafeZone project as of the end of May: 34,600.

At $40 a ticket, that would work out to almost $1.4 million in citations since last fall  if they were all paid -- which we know won't be the case.

The new speed camera zone, which will become active June 24, is on the Beltway at Liberty Road, where the SHA will be replacing a bridge as part of a project expected to last untill late 2012. The three current camera-equipped zones are Interstate 95 at the site of the Intercounty Connector interchange near Beltsville; I-95 north and east of Baltimore, where the state is adding express toll lanes; and the Beltway at Charles Street, where the SHA is replacing another bridge.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:34 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: On the roads

I-95 work to bring lane closings, detours

The Maryland Transportation Authority is launching a road resurfacing project on Interstate 95 south of the Fort McHenry Tunnel that expected to force regular lane closings and detours over the next 18 months.

The $12.4 million project affects a 2-mile stretch of I-95 between the city line and a point just north of Washington Boulevard, as well as the Caton and Joh avenue overpasses. Though the authority plans to keep four travel lanes open on I-95 during peak travel times, it said motorists should expect lane closings on the main roadway at night and on weekends.


Starting this fall, the parallel ramp between Caton Avenue and Russell Street will be closed for about two months. The authority also expects periodic closings and detours at the Caton Avenue (Exit 50) and Washington Boulevard (Exit 51) ramps.

The bridges that take Caton Avenue over I-95 will be narrowed from three lanes in each direction to two during the project, which is expected to be completed in late 2011 or early 2012. The Joh Avenue bridge over I-95 will be reduced from two lanes in each direction to one.

In addition to the resurfacing work, the authority plans to repair the tall light poles between the city line and the southern entrance to the tunnel. Old signage will be replaced, and electronic message signs will be installed in both directions between the southern interchange with the Beltway and Russell Street on I-95.

Also included in the project are drain improvements, safety upgrades and repairs to the Caton and Joh avenue bridges.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

MTA chief outlines priorities

The top official of the Maryland Transit Administration says he's trying to instill a new  culture of individual responsibility and customer service at the often-criticized agency, outlining a series of steps he has taken or plans to take since being appointed to head the MTA last year.

"I'm very frustrated that there's a poor perception of transit,"  said MTA Administrator Ralign Wells. "What I'm trying to do is change the perception of transit."

Wells held a wide-ranging, almost two-hour discussion Monday night with members of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore. But while he found considerable support for his priorities among members of the pro-transit organization, Wells and TRAC politely agreed to disagree on the MTA's most ambitious local project: the proposed east-west Red Line.

Wells, who rose  through the  ranks from bus operator to head of the agency,  presented himself as an unabashed cheerleader for bus and train travel, frequently emphasizing that "I love transit."

Rejecting what he called some legislators' portrayal  of transit as "welfare transportation," Wells argued that the service is vital to society. "Public transit is a public service -- not unlike a police department or a fire department,"  he said. "If you're not using it, it's still benefiting you" -- by keeping other vehicles off the roads.

The Sun/Kenneth Lam

At the same time he outlined some of the cots-cutting measures he has taken to hold down fares and preserve core services during a deep budget slump. For instance, Wells told TRAC that MTA buses might not get the level of deep cleaning they normally would, that the grass on MTA property might not be mowed as often and that light bulbs might not be changed until a bank of them burn out.

But Wells promised to run the MTA as a "lean" organization that gets the most out of the dollars it has.  He said the agency now puts 92 percent of its budget directly into transit services. "We're getting to the point of diminishing returns," he said.
Wells said his priorities include an increased use of statistical measures to improve efficiency, a stronger emphasis on quality control, increased  integration of MTA services with locally operated transit systems and building partnerships with community groups and other stakeholders.

Among the issues Wells addressed were:

BUDGET: Wells  said the MTA expects to get by with a modest 1.6 percent budget increase from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2011, which would bring the agency's operating budget to $617 million.
FARES:  The MTA chief said the agency plans to hold the line on fares this year and that it  would only raise them after a thorough review of its fare structure, including the potential cost savings from introducing its new smart card -- now in development.

REVENUES: Wells described the MTA's fare box recovery -- the percentage of its budget contributed by riders -- as "pretty decent" at about 30 percent. That could be a controversial assessment among rural lawmakers, many of whom contend the MTA should achieve up to a 50 percent recovery.  Wells said he was comparing the MTA's performance to other transit agencies around the country. He said the bus systems recovers 30  percent, the Metro 28 percent and light rail 18 percent -- with the MARC commuter train service in the high 30s. He acknowledged that MARC's fare box recovery had been much higher in the past but said costs have more than doubled while the MTA has held the line on fares.

FARE BOXES: Well said the MTA has formed a task force  to address the perennial problem of malfunctioning fare boxes -- which not only cost the agency revenue but throw off its count of riders. He estimated that 95 percent of fare boxes work at any given time while 5 percent are out of order. He said the condition of the city's streets was a big factor in the wear and tear on fare  boxes and other equipment.

PERCEPTIONS: Addressing what may be the most politically sensitive issue surrounding transit, Wells said some suburban dwellers are uncomfortable with riding with people from the inner city. But he said suburbanites who do use the system can attest that it is safe. Still, he acknowledged "cultural" issues in Baltimore that separate it from other metro areas such as New York and Chicago where transit ridership doesn't carry a stigma. He said the MTA will start doing better marketing of its services.

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE: Wells said the MTA has improved its on-time performance percentages across the board. He said the agency is now scoring 95 percent on time on light rail, 98 percent on Metro, 90 percent on Mobility and 80 percent on the bus system.
 MOBILITY:  Wells told TRAC the he believes Mobility, the MTA's van and bus service for the disabled, is serving close to 5,000 people a day -- but at a hefty cost. He said the service costs the MTA $45-50 a trip, far more than any of the other modes of transit the agency provides. Wells presented data showing that Mobility costs the MTA more to run than either the light rail system (28,152 daily boardings) or the  Metro (45,497). The administrator said he hopes to improve core MTA services -- the city bus  system. light rail and the Metro subway -- to the point where they attract more disabled riders. In many cases, he said, those modes can better serve disabled riders. But he said that in many cases those  riders don't feel comfortable taking buses and trains.  "The issue is that we have to make sure our core service is  reliable," he said.

OPERATORS: Wells said the MTA has upgraded the uniforms the agency's operators wear and in particular has eliminated the former "barber-style" shirts drivers sometimes wore. "We're not  barbers, we're professional operators," he said.

SERVICE QUALITY: The administrator said the MTA has changed supervisors' jobs so that they are not responsible just for one mode of transit but for any agency problems that come to their attention. "You're MTA, you're MTA, you have a problem, you fix it," he said. Wells said a new service quality group is now seeking out "bottlenecks" in the system to improve on-time performance.

MONDAWMIN HUB: Wells said the MTA has undertaken a $3.5 million renovation of its Mondawmin bus hub. When it is completed, he said, each bus terminal will be equipped  with an electronic sign  -- connected to a global-positioning satellite system -- telling riders exactly when the next bus is expected to arrive. He said tithe MTA expects to complete the project in November

ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS: The  MTA has programs in the works that  will  use wireless networks to alert passengers of when to next a bus to arrive as well as to monitor the condition of buses on the streets. He said the MTA will design a system  that will give riders 15 minutes' notice of when their buses are expected to arrive  or allow them to call from their cell phones to get an exact arrival time. He said another planned system would identify buses that are in danger of overheating  so that supervisors could replace them before  they break down.

BUSES: Wells said the MTA wants to add 12 more articulated buses -- the longer vehicles that bend in the middle -- to  its current fleet of 30. He said the agency  has reached a deal under which it will accept 12 that had been ordered from the New Flyer company by a Chicago transit system that later decided not to  go through with the deal. He said the MTA will acquire the longer vehicles for roughly the cost of a regular 40-foot bus. "We're getting a steal," Wells said.

QUICKBUS: Wells said the MTA hopes to expand its QuickBus program based on the success of its No. 40 and No. 48 routes, which make fewer stops than a typical local bus. He said he hopes to do more with the "branding" of the QuickBuses and to put articulated buses on the routes.

LOCAL TRANSIT SYSTEMS: The administrator said he will increase its work with local transit systems such as Connect-a-Ride and Howard Transit to improve interconnections with the MTA system. He said the MTA, which provides much of the funding for the local systems, wants to see the various county systems interconnect with each other -- to the point that a rider could go from Allegany County to Ocean City on public transit. He also said there are plans to include local bus schedule information on the MTA's web site.

SECURITY: In response to a complaint from a woman at the TRAC meeting that her elderly  mother felt threatened  by rowdy youths who refuse to give up seats reserved for the elderly and disabled, Wells said he hopes to eventually have feeds from the cameras installed in city buses available to the MTA police in real time. He also said the MTA plans to launch a cadet program for its police force and to put some of those recruits on the  buses.

Wells urged TRAC members to become active partners with the MTA's efforts to improve transit services, along with other community groups he hopes to enlist to promote the value of transit services. He promised to keep the group informed of MTA initiatives and to seek its input.

"We're  in this together. We love this stuff," he said.

It was only in the last minutes of the session that TRAC members raised the matter that is the big sticking point between TRAC and the MTA -- the agency's plans for a light rail system on the Red Line between Bayview  and Woodlawn.

TRAC is a longtime proponent of  a heavy rail system such as the Metro, but top MTA officials have consistently contended that a subway system could not get federal funding.

TRAC's Christopher Field complained that  MTA officials have repeatedly rebuffed the group's requests to study a potential heavy rail system along the lines that TRAC proposes. "We've never felt that the MTA has been an honest broker in this discussion," Field said.

Wells sidestepped the  issue, noting that the MTA studies and decision to recommend a light rail plan to the governor preceded his appointment as administrator.

But Wells said the reactions he's been hearing from the  public on the Red Line, for which the state has submitted a request to the federal government for funding, are  positive. "The people that talk to me are happy about it," he said.

He urged TRAC members to focus on the benefits  the Red Line could bring.

"Let's not lose an opportunity for transit," he said. "We got to take transit when we can get it."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:46 AM | | Comments (23)

June 14, 2010

MTA chief to speak tonight at TRAC

Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign Wells will appear tonight at the general membership meeting of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore tonight at 6 p.m.

Wells is expected to speak and answer questions at the meeting in the board room of the Maryland Association of Non-Profit Organizations, 190 W. Ostend St. It was nice of TRAC to point out that the location can be reached via the No. 1 and No. 64 buses, as well as light rail. It would have been even  better if the group had pointed out that the location is right on the route of the free (but non-MTA) Charm City Circulator Purple Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM |

Speed cameras coming to Beltway at Liberty

Drivers who take liberties with the speed limit on the Beltway at Liberty Road could soon find themselves on camera -- and on the hook for a $40 fine.

The State Highway Administration plans to make the work zone set up for the replacement of the Liberty Road bridge over the Beltway the fourth the be monitored with speed cameras under the law passed last year authorizing statewide video enforcement. Signs have already been posted warning drivers  of the plan, but the speed cameras will not be activated until June 24, said State Highway Administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski.

The three work zones where cameras are now being used are the Intercounty Connector interchange on Interstate 95, the Beltway at Charles  Street and the I-95 section to the north and east of Baltimore where the state is building express toll lanes.

So far, the state's practice has been to use the cameras only at long-term projects. The Liberty Road bridge project is expected  to continue until late 2012.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

June 11, 2010

I-83 traffic pattern to change

The State Highway Administration plans to  change the traffic pattern at the ramp from southbound  I-83 to the eastbound Beltway about 10 p.m. Sunday night,   removing the traffic split now in effect and shifting both lanes of the two-lane ramp to the left side of the ramp. 

The new traffic pattern is expected to go into effect about 5 a.m. Monday. 

The SHA is warning motorists traveling from southbound I-83 South to the Charles Street interchange that they must stay in the right lane of the two-lane ramp.  Driver getting on the eastbound Beltway may use  either lane.

This change is part of a $932,000 project to  rehabilitate the concrete deck  of the ramp. The first two of three phases of the work are complete, and the project itself is expected to be finished in late summer.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:21 PM |

ICC tolls set at low end of range

The Maryland Transportation Authority has come in on the low end of its proposed range of tolls on the Intercounty Connector as it prepares to open the first segment of the highway sometime about the beginning of next year.

The authority announced Friday that it will charge 25 cents per mile at peak traffic periods for a typical passenger vehicle to use the stretch of the ICC between Interstate 270 corridor and Georgia Avenue. That translates into about $1.45 for the full 5.6-mile trip.

The authority board had previously adopted a policy allowing the agency’s executive secretary to set peak rates in a range of 25-35 cents.

The high end of that range would have translated into a peak toll of roughly $6 for a trip between the I-270 corridor and Interstate 95 when the second segment of the highway is opened in late 2011 or early 2012. Those estimates sparked protests from many residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, who are expected to be the heaviest users of the ICC.

The authority’s most recent decision, if it continues into effect when the second segment opens, would hold the cost of a peak-time, 270-to-95 toll to about $4.

Executive Secretary Ronald Freeland said the authority took the comments from citizens into account when its set the initials rates. However, he acknowledged that if traffic volumes were to build quickly, the authority could raise its peak rate up to 35 cents a mile without a board vote in order to prevent congestion from building.

The ICC was built under the premise that tolls would rise to whatever level it takes to ensure the free flow of traffic on the highway, which is eventually expected to reach U.S. 1 in the east. The final segment between I-95 and U.S. 1 has been delayed because of  costs.

The peak times on the ICC have been set at 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekday. The off-peak tolls, also set at the low end of the possible range, will initially be set at 20 cents a mile, while overnight tolls – from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be fixed at 10 cents a mile.

That would put initial tolls for the 270-Georgia Avenue stretch, which is expected to open late this year or early next, at $1.15 off-peak and 60 cents overnight.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:18 PM | | Comments (3)

MARC experiment to go on despite glitch

MARC's first experiment with combining two new diesel locomotives to pull a nine-car double-decker train didn't turn out so well, but the Maryland Transit Administration isn't giving up on the idea.

On Thursday, the Maryland Transit Administration  for  the first time tried teaming up two of its new MP-36 diesel engines to haul  a fully loaded train on the Penn Line. All went well with the Baltimore-bound train until it hit BWI, where it developed an air pressure problem, said MTA spokesman Terry Owens.

Owens said the mechanical problem took only five minutes to fix, but delays in unloading passengers from the center track took another 10 minutes. By the time it left BWI, the MARC train had lost its place  in Amtrak's orderly rotation and had to chug into Penn Station  at 30 mph. It ended up arriving  at the station about 45 minutes late.

MARC had been trying out the two-engine configuration as a solution for a vexing problem its has been having with its electric locomotives. According to MTA Administrator Ralign Wells, the electric locomotives have difficulty pulling the weight of nine double-decker cars when also trying to keep the air conditioning going in hot weather.

The idea was to add power rather than reduce capacity. Normally, the electrics have more pulling power than the diesel engines, but the idea was to combine the strength of two diesels to haul the maximum load. 

Owens said technicians have determined that the air pressure failure was not related to the weight of the load the diesels were pulling.

"The test was  considered a success," he said.

He said the experiment continued this morning with a successful early morning run (though not, he admitted, under high heat conditions). Owens said the tests of the two-diesel plan will continue next week.

The spokesman said that with the addition of  at least six new diesel engine and the rehabilitation of three of four of MARC's long-disabled AEM-7 electric engines, the railroad service now has the flexibility to experiment with different train configurations.

That's good news, but better news would be temperatures below 85 for the rest of the summer. Keep dreaming.

Meanwhile, the  MTA would do well to keep its passengers in the loop as it works to deal with this problem of electric pulling power. Instead of keeping them in the dark, as is standard practice, why not lay out the facts for them and poll them on their preferences?

For instance, if it's a choice of carrying less seat capacity or taking a chance that the locomotive might die between Washington and Baltimore, why not ask the riders their choice. I suspect most would choose a jam-packed train over one that stalls out, but the feeling they were consulted could make it easier to bear the Third World  conditions.

Treating MARC riders like adult humans rather than sheep: There's a revolutionary thought.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:46 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train, Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

'Sam' fixes city sidewalks

Sun intern Katherine Smith contributed the following item:

If you live in Baltimore and the pavement in front of your house is beginning to look more like a nature trail than a sidewalk, the city Department of Transportation is offering a way to fix it.

The city has put in place what it calls its “Sidewalk Sam” initiative to fix deteriorated, washed out, cracked or uneven sidewalks. Since its start in 2008, the program has repaired over half a million square feet of the city’s 3,600 miles of sidewalks.

Under the program, anyone who notices a  sidewalk problem can report  it to the city, which will either fix the pavement or  issue a notice of violation to the property owner responsible for covering the cost to fix it.  

To report a sidewalk in need of repair, call the Department of Transportation’s Sidewalk and Alley section at (410) 396-6969 or use the city’s 311 system to report the damage. Residents can also e-mail the Department of Transportation at


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:48 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

June 10, 2010

Laurel MARC paving project to start

This just in from the MTA on MARC Laurel station

The parking lots at the Laurel Station will be resurfaced starting Saturday,
June 12, 2010 and continuing until Wednesday, June 30, 2010.

On Lots A and B (Main St. & 2nd St.), NO parking is allowed between the hours
of 7am and 11pm on weekends June 12 & 13, June 19 & 20, and June 26 & 27.

On Lots C and D (Lafayette St. & the American Legion Building), NO parking is
allowed between the hours of 12:01am and 5am on weekdays June 14 thru 18,
June 21 thru 25, and June 28 thru 30.

On Lots C and D, NO parking is allowed between SATURDAY 12am to MONDAY
5am on weekends June 12 thru 14, June 19 thru 21, and June 26 thru 28.

All lots will be open for public use between the hours of 5:00am and 12:01am each

Vehicles left on the MARC Laurel Station parking lots during the above referenced
closure hours that prevent the resurfacing project may be towed.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:55 PM | | Comments (1)

Purple Route has a fender-bender

Well, that didn't take long. On the fourth day in service, a bus on the Purple Route of the Charm City Circulator was sidelined on Calvert Street near Redwood Street about 9:15 a.m. this morning after what appears to have been a collision with a passenger vehicle. Police were at the scene.

Cathy Chopper, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation, confirmed that there had been a collision there  this morning but said there was no damage to the bus  and minor damage to the car. She said there have been several minor accidents on the Orange Route, which started up in June, but nothing previous on the Purple.

It looks like Baltimore drivers might need a refresher course in how to interact with buses on the streets. Rule No. 1: A bus in the curb lane won't necessarily stay in the curb lane. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:51 AM | | Comments (1)

June 9, 2010

MTA launches 'keep off tracks' campaign

The Maryland Transit Administration is launching an advertising campaign to pound home the message that people need to be aware of the dangers of railroad tracks.

 It's a sensitive subject at the MTA, which was rocked by the deaths of two teenagers who wandered onto its light rail tracks last July and were run over by  a train a train that was going in a direction they apparently didn't suspect.

The theme of the campaign is: "Any track, any direction, any time."  Marylanders can expect to see the message in print ads, brochures and on television and  to hear it on radio. The ad campaign goes in hands with other measures MTA took after the fatalities to prevent trespassing on its tracks and to warn of possible intrusions. They include changes in signage, reporting requirements and alert systems.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:20 PM | | Comments (6)

MARC Watch: What do you expect this summer?

Getting There would welcome comments from MARC riders on the commuter rail system's recent performance and expectations for the summer. It  would be even better if commenter were willing to be contacted for an article in The Sun.

Please comment here or send an email to


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:08 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train

Colorado protects wildlife in speed zones

Here's an interesting idea for Maryland legislators: Colorado has just adopted a new law allowing state highway officials to set up wildlife crossing zones with lower speed limits and higher speeding fines -- not unlike school zones for animals. Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. just signed the Wildlife Crossing Zones Traffic Safety Bill into law today.

The bill was supported by Defenders of Wildlife and the Western Environmental Law  Center.

This legislation is obviously an easy target for jokes, but when you consider the damage and human injury a vehicle-animal collision can cause, maybe it's not so ludicrous -- especially for a Western state with a lot of big critters. The bill requires that any such zones be set up in places with a demonstrable record of such crashes, a provision that seems to make sense.

Maybe Maryland drivers aren't willing to slow down for migrating deer, even though a big old buck flying across a windshield is a daunting prospect. But hitting one of those bears out in Allegany and Garrett counties could be even more perilous. It would be great if some intrepid lawmaker would put in a version of the Colorado bill. At least it would make for a lively hearing.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:34 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Metro alert brings compliment to MTA

Usually, communications between customers and the Maryland Transit Administration are a  tale of angst and woe (at least the ones I hear about), but there are exceptions. One is this exchange between Metro rider Alisa Bralove-Scherr and MTA Administrator Ralign Wells regardiing the MTA's pilot project of reviving its once-faulty emmail notification system for the subway.

Wells says the test is going well and that he hopes to relaunch the service for all riders soon.


I wanted to let you know how happy I was to receive my first text message alerting me to a delay on the subway today. That, and the three updates that followed, were very helpful in keeping me informed of the power outage that shut down service between the Old Court and Owings Mills stations.

The best thing of all? The subway was back on line to Owings Mills soon after I boarded for my commute back home. As a state employee whose job it is to handle complaints, I know that it is rare for people to let you know when things are going smoothly. That's why I want to make sure you know how much I appreciate the text alert.


Alisa Bralove-Scherr

Hello Ms. Bralove-Scherr,

Thanks for the kind words.  We are still in the early phases of bringing the system back on line and are still making some minor tweaks.  In a sense we are using our riders who were already signed up for the e-notification as a “test” group before we open it up for others to sign up for the service.  I expect that we will be officially bringing the system on-line very soon.

As always, I appreciate your feedback…especially when it’s good news.  Take care of yourself and thanks again for helping me start my day out in a positive way!




Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

June 8, 2010

MTA seeks input on Red Line station design

The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking community participation in designing the stations for its proposed east-west Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

The Red Line plan submitted to the federal government calls for a light rail system with 20 stations along its 14-mile route. The MTA wants to form committees of stakeholders -- including community organizations, churches, residents and local institutions -- to advise it on the location, design, names, parking facilities and neighborhood planning of each of the station.

The committees, each to be made up of 15-20 members, are expected to include design professionals as well as citizen-advisers. Nominations are open until Aug. 25. Forms can be obtained at the Red Line web site. People and groups can nominate themselves.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:47 PM |
Categories: Red Line

Ramp problem at I-95 to drag into rush hour

There's an update of the following item: The ramp closing is expected to continue into the rush hour. Meanwhile, another ramp -- from northbound Maryland 295 to northbound I-95 -- will also be closed.

The Maryland Transportation Authority said the Exit 52 ramp from northbound Interstate 95 to MD 295 (Russell Street) will be closed to traffic until about 4:30 p.m. while crews repair a barrier wall. Motorists will be detoured onto northbound Interstate 395 (Exit 53) and back to Russell Street.

Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss said the emergency closure came  after workers discovered that the concrete hadn't set properly on part of the Jersey wall after recent utility work. She said crews were putting a temporary fix into place today and would follow it up with a permanent replacement.

About the only good news is that these closures do not affect the lanes going out of town at the evening peak.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:40 PM |

I-95 ramp to Russell Street closed

The Maryland Transportation Authority said the Exit 52 ramp from northbound Interstate 95 to MD 295 (Russell Street) will be closed to traffic until about 4:30 p.m. while crews repair a barrier wall. Motorists will be detoured onto northbound Interstate 395 (Exit 53) and back to Russell Street.

Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss said the emergency closure came  after workers discovered that the concrete hadn't set properly on part of the Jersey wall after recent utility work. She said crews were putting a temporary fix into place today and would follow it up with a permanent replacement.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:14 PM |
Categories: On the roads

June 4, 2010

Transportation police target aggressive driving

The Maryland Transportation Authority Police are planning to focus their resources next week on aggressive driving as part of what they call the first wave of the annual Smooth Operator campaign.

 The multistate campaign, involving many police departments in the region, consists of four weeks between next week and September in which there will be "waves" of stepped-up enforcement.

It's hard to say how much bite is behind this bark, but sane drivers can only wish them well in their effort to nab the tailgaters, lane-weavers, speeders and road-ragers who make life miserable for the rest on the roads.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

ZipCar coming to downtown

This just in from the Downtown Partnership:

ZipCar, the popular car sharing company, is bringing a fleet of vehicles to Downtown later this month. The service is in cities around the country, including Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, and it already has a small presence in Baltimore near the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Charles Village.

It will appeal to visitors and residents who need to take trips that transit can’t accommodate, and it’s particularly useful for companies as a replacement for fleet vehicles. It’s just like having a car but without all the overhead expenses and maintenance.

ZipCar works on a membership basis. Individuals or companies can join and will have access to different types of cars that will be parked throughout Downtown. Where they’re parked depends on you. ZipCar parks its vehicles where there is enough demand, so Downtown Partnership is asking its members to express their interest in ZipCar. Go to our Facebook page, or email us at, and let us know if you or your business would be interested in becoming a ZipCar member.

Visit for more information about the service and its many benefits.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:56 PM |
Categories: On the roads

June 3, 2010

City lists weekend lane, road closings

When it's a spring or summer weekend in Baltimore, you can expect read closings. This one is no different. Here are highlights:

--The right lane of the northbound  Jones Falls Expressway will be closed from President Street to the county line on Saturday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a cleaning project. The city Department of Transportation warns of delays and urges drivers to find other routes.

--On Hilton parkway, the right lane north of Edmondson Avenue will be closed for street lighting repairs Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.

--Several blocks  in Federal  Hill will be closed from Sunday at noon until Monday at 1 a.m. for a jazz and blues festival. South Charles street will be closed between Hamburg and West streets, while Cross Street will be closed between Charles and Light streets.


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

Feds seek public input on transit project criteria

Here's an opportunity for those with strong feelings about the Red Line, Purple Line or other proposed transit projects to weigh in on the criteria the federal government uses to evaluate proposals for such infrastructure investments.

The Federal Transit Administration, which under the Obama administration has altered Bush administration rules subjecting such proposals to a rigid cost-benefit test,  is seeking public comments on changes to its rating system. According to the FTA, it is seeking better ways to reflect the community benefits of transit projects.

The FTA is seeking comments at the federal government's Regulations website as well as holding public meetings -- the first two of which will take place next week:

TRB Environment and Energy Research Conference
Raleigh Convention Center
500 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
Monday, June 7 at 4:30 p.m.
APTA 2010 Rail Conference
Hyatt Regency Vancouver
655 Burrard Street
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6C 2R7
Tuesday, June 8 at 1:30 p.m. (Federal Register reflects 2:30 p.m. start time. It will be corrected.)


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:09 AM |

A view from the right on the MTA

For a view from the right on the Maryland Transit Administration, you need go no farther than the Red Maryland blog, where Brian Griffiths holds forth on the state of the MTA. It came to my attention recently that Griffiths was complaining that because of alleged leftist leanings I wouldn't link to his posts when I was linking to Maryland Politics Watch. In fact he never asked me to do so or even called attention to his work.

This doesn't constitute an endorsement of Griffith views, any more than I endorse those of Maryland Politics Watch. I would note, however, that the MPW article I most recently linked to -- though it had a point of view -- was solidly grounded in hard data.

The Red Maryland article, on the other hand, was almost entirely grounded in ideology. Entitled "Starve the Beast," it contains such gems as: "If I were in charge of the MTA, I would take steps to make the Agency profitable. There are ways to make the system self-sufficient without making the system unsafe or transit fares unaffordable to average riders."

If Griffiths has such unique abilities to do things no transit leaders in the United States have accomplished, one might wonder why the previous Republican administration overlooked those abilities and left mere mortals in charge.

In fact, the people Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed -- especially Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan -- learned many things about running a transit agency, one of which is that it's one of the toughest tasks in state government.

Suffice it to say, the Ehrlich administration did not bring about a Cultural Revolution at the MTA -- largely because the governor and his aides took what might be called a pragmatic Republican approach. Among other things, they negotiated with unions rather than seek to crush them. They also led the move into hybrid buses and improved mobility services -- worthy efforts but hardly money-savers.

The phrase "starve the beast" is a popular one on the far right, but it does pose a question: "What good is a beast that's been starved to death?" It won't be able to transport many low-income workers to the subsistence-level jobs that keep them off welfare. That's the public service aspect of transit that Griffiths misses: It's not a profit-generating business, nor was it ever intended to be.

I hope to call attention to Red Maryland's future writings on transportation when I think they will interest Getting There readers, but I would challenge Griffiths to back up his arguments with more facts and fewer categorical but unverifiable statements.



SHA: Still Hyping Animals?

You can milk a goat and you can milk a sheep, but milking a turtle?

The State Highway Administration is going for all three Thursday as it tries to extract just a little more cute coverage out of its use of goats and sheep to control vegetation around the habitat of those preciously imperiled bog turtles near the site of the Hampden Bypass in Carroll County.

Those clever folks in the SHA's press office -- actually one of the best public information offices in state government -- are pinning their hopes for more ultra-positive, warm and fuzzy publicity on an event at which fourth graders will help name the sheep and goats at the site.

It was just a year ago when the highway agency managed to get a highly favorable Page One story out of The Sun -- and this reporter -- despite weather you wouldn't wish on a sheep or a goat (the  bog turtles probably loved it).  A little later last year, they got more heartwarming coverage out of a story about preserving chestnut trees in the same neighborhood,

Even jaded journalists had to admit the idea of using goats to protect turtles from the ravages of lawn-cutting machinery was innovative. And protecting the American chestnut is a worthy endeavor and quite interesting to readers who care about trees.

But enough is enough, SHA folks. There's only so much cheese you can make from this goat story. I'm sure the fourth-graders are even cuter than the sheep, goats and turtles, but there's only so much magnetism a highway agency can get out of its animals.

This time around, your goat-to guy will save on gas instead of going to Hampstead. The state highway folks get only one bite out of this lamb chop. They need a new species  to save.

But if they'll send us the names of the sheep and goats, we'll post them here. We'll even include the reptiles if they get names. They can be  our blog turtles.

Sun photo/Karl Ferron



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

June 2, 2010

Brown announces guaranteed-ride plan

In his role as the state's coordinator of military base relocation actions, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the state will spend  $200,000 toward creation of Maryland's first "guaranteed ride home" program to provide Fort Meade transit users with an emergency backup plan.

Brown, chairman of the Governor's Subcabinet on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), announced the ride initiative as part of an overall Transportation Demand Management Plan for Fort Meade.

The guaranteed-ride program is based on a 13-year-old program in the  Washington area that ensures rides home during the day for transit riders who need a ride home because of an unexpected emergency  or because they have to work unscheduled overtime.

Under that program, registered participants who use transit  twice a week or more are eligible for up to four free rides home each year. The rides are provided by taxi or rental car, depending on distance. Commuters must work in the Baltimore Metropolitan area and live in a somewhat larger region that includes the metro area plus  parts of the Eastern Shore and southern Pennsylvania.



Brown also announced a plan under which a private developer, BRS/EGGERL LLC, will pay for the State Highway Administration to widen from two to five lanes a part of Route 175 between Maryland 295 and Rockenbach Road near one of the fort entrances as part of the planned mixed-use Parkside Development. Brown's office said that work could begin within months and be finished in fall 2011.

A state BRAC study has recommended that the entire 5-mile stretch of 175 between 295 and Route 170 be widened to five lanes to accommodate the increased traffic flow expected to result from an influx of jobs at the fort.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)

Amtrak extends free Wi-Fi on Acela trains

After a three-month test period, Amtrak has decided to make free WiFi service on its Excela Express trains a standard of the service and is planning to expand it to other trains.

According to Amtrak, almost 40 percent of its passengers have logged on to the service since it was instituted March 1, with three-quarters of those surveyed reporting a favorable experience.

The railroad said it is making the AmtrakConnect service  permanent on all of its high-speed Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington.

Amtrak said it also plans to upgrade the service to handle video files better and to expand it to Northeast Regional trains and other route around the country. It said that work would begin in late fall on California trains and would be followed by the Northeast Regional trains. The railroad said it is now seeking vendors to provide such services.

AmtrakConnect service is also available to all passengers  in the gate areas of major Northeast Corridor stations, including Baltimore's Penn Station.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:37 PM |
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

Expect daytime delays on Beltway at Liberty Road

The State Highway Administration tries to do 95 percent of its roadwork on the Beltway at night, but some of the work on its Liberty Road bridge replacement falls into the other 5 percent, and the result is occasional midday delays on that part of Interstate 695.

Prompted by a question from Brian Robey of Catonsville, I contacted the SHA about the work taking place between exits 17  and 19 on the Beltway  -- that is, the  stretch between Security Boulevard and the Interstate 795 split.

Dave Buck, an SHA spokesman, conformed that the roadwork there is part of the Liberty Road project to replace the existing bridge, built at the time I-695 was originally constructed, with a newer and wider bridge that could accommodate a  widened Beltway. 

Buck said the SHA has had to do some site preparation work in the media during the day between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in order to avoid interfering with some of the work going on at night. He said the  agency has occasionally had to close the left lanes of the roadway  during the day to get heavy equipment into the narrow median area.

Even though the SHA has avoided lane closings during peak travel hours, the midday closings have led to some serious backups, he acknowledged.  Some of the Inner Loop backups have reached as far back as Edmondson Ave. or U.S. 40, he said, while Outer Loop backups have on occasion reached Park Heights Avenue.

Buck said that trying to do the median preparation work at night would delay the completion of the project, which is expected to continue through the  spring of 2012. There may also be an issue with the use of floodlights at night in a section of the Beltway that threads its way through residential areas.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:23 PM |
Categories: On the roads

MARC Halethorpe station machine broken

The Maryland Transit Administration recently posted the following news from Halethorpe. If this is the worst going on with the MARC system these days, that's good news. It was about this time last year I noticed a long stretch of good performance on MARC's part and commented on it. Then service fell apart as locomotives went down left and right. So I won't say anything, Yet.

The ticket machine at Halethorpe is out of service. Technicians have been called but the machine may not be repaired by Tuesday morning. One way and round trip tickets may be purchased on the train without the $3 surcharge, cash only, no bills larger than $20 are accepted. We regret the inconvenience


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:25 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

June 1, 2010

It's big. It's slow. It's coming to Harford



Sun photo/Gene Sweeney

A transformer on its way to Peach Bottom nuclear power plant last July.


By now, folks in Harford County should be getting used to the sight of massively oversize loads of power generating equipment making an oh-so-slow passage along their roads on the way to Pennsylvania.

But in case, folks up that way  missed previous deliveries of transformers to the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant, they'll get another chance to witness  three of the behemoths in motion next week.

Exelon Nuclear will be moving the 481,000-pound units from Havre de Grace to Peach Bottom June  7-11 with the assistance of Maryland transportation officials who are getting used to this drill. With their transporters, the total shipping wight of each unit is 671,000 pounds.

The  journey along Routes 22, 136 and 543 in Maryland is expected to take four days because the huge units will creep along at speeds of 3-5 mph. The trransformers were manufactured in South Korea by Hyundai before being shipped to Philadelphia and then barged to Havre de Grace.

Exelon previously transported one of the transformers to the Delta, Pa., plant last  summer. It arrived safely.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

State offers information on road projects

If getting stuck in backup caused by road construction is your idea of fun, the State Highway Administration is offering a guide to where to go in Maryland to find all the orange barrels and cones you could ever want to see.

 Of course you could  also use it to avoid  such obstructions.

The highway agency is offering an online guide -- called Road Ready 2010--  mapping its projects around the state and giving details of the work. To get such information, go to the SHA web site and click on the Info Center tab and choose Maps and Brochures.

Then just choose the Road Ready option (or click on these links if you want to cut to the chase). You'll  need to know which counties you'll be traveling through to get the relevant information.

I went through these various steps, and I can't say the information is presented in a very useful way. What would be helpful is to be told what the effect will be on the traveler, not just the location and duration of the project. For instance, it's nice to know the Route 231 bridge over the Patuxent River is being cleaned and painted between this spring and next spring. It would be nicer to know what the heck that means for a driver crossing the bridge. One-way traffic? Lane closing? Day work or night work?

Providing information is good. Making it useful is better.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

SHA to hold meeting on U.S. 29 plan

The State Highway Administration will hold a public meeting Wednesday night on its plan to widen a U.S. 29 in Howard County.

The agency will discuss design plans for the stretch of U.S. 29 between the Middle Patuxent River and Little Patuxent Parkway (Route 175, the only remaining two-lane section of the highway between Montgomery County and Interstate 70.

The plan, which the SHA says will improve safety and relieve congestion, includes improved access to Gales Lane, Old Columbia Road and Rivers Edge Road.

The meeting will take place between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Hammond High School, 8800 Guilford Road in Columbia. SHA employees will be there to explain design alternatives and accept public comments.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Are Maryland drivers the most improved?

It might not translate into better behavior on the highways, but a national driving test shows that Maryland's drivers made a remarkable improvement in their knowledge of the rules of the road over the past year.

After lagging in the bottom fifth the past two years, Maryland drivers ranked 20th in the 2010 version of the GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test. Maryland's jump from 41st place in 2009 was the largest improvement of any of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Maryland had ranked 42nd in 2008. The state's average score jumped from from 74.8 in 2009 to 78.2 this year. The top performers were Kansas drivers at 82.3 percent. The lowest were New York's at 70 percent, narrowly beating the infamous New Jersey drivers in the race to the bottom of the barrel.

According to GMAC, 18.4 percent of the drivers tested would not be able to pass a written driver's exam if they were  to take it today.  That would work out to about 38 million motorists nationwide.

The highest-scoring states were concentrated in the Midwest and Northwest; the lowest scores were found in the Northeast and South. 



Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:50 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads
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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

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

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