« August 2010 | Main | October 2010 »

September 30, 2010

Conway Street lane closings could tie up traffic

Commuters from south of Baltimore who drive to downtown on Interstate 95 could face serious delays next week when the city Department of Transportation shuts down two lanes of eastbound Conway Street between Charles and Light streets.

The work will affect traffic between 6 a.m. Tuesday and 6 p.m. Thursday. Part of the city's preparations for next year's downtown Grand Prix race, the project will leave only the right-hand lane of three-lane Conway open. That lane will remain open only for traffic headed south on Light. Northbound traffic will be detoured onto Charles Street.

The diversion comes on top of a continuing double-lane closing on Pratt Street between Greene and Calvert  streets. As the work continues, the city is urging motorists to avoid causing gridlock blocking intersections.

Drivers coming to the city on Interstate 395 might want to avoid Conway Street by continuing straight onto Howard Street. For others, it could be advantageous to take the Martin Luther King Boulevard exit and take a right turn on Baltimore, Saratoga or Mulberry streets or Druid Hill Avenue. Another alternate route is to take Russell Street into Paca Street and to turn on the appropriate  eastbound strreet.

Construction work to prepare  for the Grand Prix, scheduled next September, is expected to continue for nine monthhs. According to the city, much of the work would have had to have been completed over the next few years even without the race.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:27 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

Fells Point residents urged to move cars

Residents of the Fells Point waterfront are being urged to move their cars to high ground as a result of heavy rains that threaten to cause flooding in the area. The city Department of Transportation says it will soon begin towing vehicles remaining in the flood plan to other locations.

The Downtown Partnership advises residents whose vehicles are parked below Fleet Street between Central and Avenue and Chester Street to move them.  The group said residents can move their cars from the potential flood zone to parking garages at 501 S. Eden St. or the Little Italy garage at 400 S. Central Ave. Businesses are also  being urged to have their employees move their  cars. Parking will be free until 8 a.m. Friday.

Fells Point  residents are also being warned to look out for basement flooding in the area, which received heavy damage in the storm surge following Hurricane Isabel in 2003. According to  the National Weather Service, high tide at 12:44 a.m. in the area is expected to be about 3 feet above normal.

Owners who find their cars have been moved should call 311 to find the locations to which they have been towed.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:01 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

D.C. Board of Trade backs O'Malley

The Greater Washington Board of Trade, which endorsed Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2002 and 2006, has abandoned him this year and thrown its support behind Gov. Martin O'Malley in a move related to Ehrlich's opposition to building the proposed Purple Line in suburban Washington as a light rail line.

The board's statement explicitly mentions  transportation issues as being major factor's in its endorsement of O'Malley, who has proposed a $1.6 billion light rail project for the Purple Line.

“As demonstrated by his unwavering support of light rail for the Purple Line and his dedicated follow-through on the soon-to-open Inter-County Connector, Governor O’Malley has focused on improving the region’s transportation infrastructure,” said Jim Dinegar, president and CEO of the Board of Trade.

The business group has signaled an estrangement from Ehrlich since the former governor appeared in Montgomery County this summer and said he would pull the plug on current light rail plans for the Purple Line, along with the Red Line in Baltimore. At the time, Dinegar wondered aloud whether Ehrlich had come to the county to win votes or lose them.

The endorsement is reflective of a wider breach between Ehrlich and the state's business establishment. The Greater  Baltimore Committee, which plays a similar role to the Board of Trade in its region but doesn't endorse candidates, has been a vocal supporter of O'Malley's $1.8 billion Red Line plan.

Ehrlich has said the state cannot afford to build the Purple and Red lines as light rail but has suggested he could support their construction as bus rapid transit lines. But Dinegar has said that a bus line would not provide the type of permanence that would give  developers confidence to build around stations that rail would.

Ehrlich has retained the support of other business groups. He  announced today that he has received the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Andy Barth, an Ehrlich spokesman, suggested a reporter ask whether O'Malley has made any promises regarding a gas tax increase, which the board supports. The reply from O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese: "Absolutely not."


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:27 PM | | Comments (9)

Bay Bridge suspends 2-way operations -- for now

The Maryland Transportation Authority has suspended two-way operations on the Bay Bridge this afternoon because of rainy weather -- creating the likelihood of eastbound delays during peak travel hours.

The authority normally opens one lane to  the westbound span to eastbound traffic to ease the evening commute for  residents of the Eastern Shore. But in bad weather, it generally does not permit two-way traffic on that span, restricting eastbound traffic to the two lanes of the original bridge.

The authority said it could reverse the decision if the weather improves. Officials also warned eastbound travelers to exercise caution at exits 28 (Cape Ste. Claire Road) and 29 (Bay Dale Drive) because of standing water in the roadway.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:41 PM | | Comments (3)

Weather closes Arundel roads

Justin Mulcahy, spokesman for the Anne Arundel County police, sends along the following advisory:

Good Morning,
Below are some weather-related closures in the county this morning.
We have road closures at:
Furnace Branch Road at the Rt. 97 overpass due to flooding (Barricades in place and County Roads on scene)
Nursery Road at Rt. 648 due to flooding (Barricades and 1 officer in place waiting on State Roads)
5255 Sands Road closed due to tree across road and pole down..undetermined time for road opening
RT 450 closed at Huntwood Road and at St. Stephens Church Road for high standing water..undetermined time for road opening
Andover Road @ White Avenue closed and County Roads on scene
Justin Mulcahy
Public Information Officer
Anne Arundel County Police Department

Meanwhile, the State Highways Administration reports that MD 253 (South River Road) at MD 214 has  been closed for high water in Edgewater.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:56 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

September 29, 2010

No 2-way traffic on Bay Bridge this P.M.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it will not shift into two-way operations on the Bay Bridge this afternoon because of bad weather. The agency warned there could be delays in eastbound traffic.

On a normal weekday, the authority opens up one lane of the westbound span to eastbound traffic for the peak evening travel time. But in rainy weather, the agency considers it too dangerous to allow two-way traffic, so travelers to the Kent Island side must get by in the two lanes of the eastbound span.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:08 PM | | Comments (0)

Walk/run scheduled for ICC route

Motorists won't be able to drive on the Intercounty Connector until late this year or early in 2011, but on Oct. 17 runners and walkers will be free to use it as part of a fundraising event for the Special Olympics Maryland.

The  state will open part of the first  phase of the ICC -- between Shady Grove and Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County -- for a 5-kilometer walk-run that Sunday starting at 9 a.m. According to the State Highway Administration, nearly 200 people have registered so far, bringing $6,000 in pledges. Gov. Martin O"Malley and Special Olympics  athletes are among those expected to take part in the race,  which will begin near the ICC bridge over Shady Grove Road and continue on a part of the roadway where paving has been completed.

The entry fee is $25 for pre-registration and $30 for those who show up on race day. People can sign up to participate or to sponsor a runner or walker  at


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

September 28, 2010

Razzberry withdrawn

In Monday's Getting There column in The Sun, I delivered a razzberry to the Maryland Department of Transportation for making the draft of its Comprehensive Transportation Program for 2011-2016 difficult to find on its web site.

Department spokesman Jack Cahalan pointed out that the CTP can be downloaded by clicking a tab placed prominently at the top of the website's home page. Obviously the department was hiding it in plain sight.  I can only plead advancing age and deteriorating eyesight.

Razzberry withdrawn -- or rather, redirected to the razzer.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only

Student's safety ad to run on cable TV

A prize-winning public service announcement created by two recent graduates of Pikesville High School will run through Oct. 8 on Baltimore-area Comcast cable stations -- calling attention to Maryland's new law prohibiting driving while using hend-held cell phones and other electronic devices.

The ad produced by Leah Shenfield of Owings Millas and Shawn Markow of Pikesville recently received the National Grand Prize Award for video PSAs  in AAA's annual traffic safety and video competition. The two students created the video with the help of teacher Tedd Wilson.

The video previously won a local contest sponsored by AAA Mid-Atlantic. It then won the national award in a competition involving hundreds of high school student videos. The ad will run on such cable channels as BET, Comedy Central, TNT and the Weather Channel.

The spot was unveiled Tuesday at a news conference about the new cell phone law, which takes effect Friday.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Funding panel meets, but key topics evaded

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding, set up by the General Assembly this year in an effort to do something about a glaring problem without upsetting anyone in an election year, kicked off its efforts Monday with a briefing by transportation leaders. What was most interesting was not what they said, but the topics officials glided over.

The largely news-free meeting was primarily a briefing of the commission members, who represent a broad swath of  stakeholders in the state, about the basic structure and condition of the transportation system in Maryland. As a primer, it was a good one, and certainly necessary to bring panel members up to speed on a complex topic.

What was striking, however, was  how lightly officials touched on the main topic of the panel's study. Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said nothing about the department's former arguments in favor of indexing the gasoline tax  to inflation. Harold Bartlett, acting chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said nothing about the agency's plans for future toll increases to keep up with maintenance of the system. Maryland Transit Administration head Ralign T. Wells  didn't talk about the O'Malley administration's four  years  without raising fares.


Maybe these topics were just too unpleasant for a first meeting, but they go to the heart of the commission's work -- unless this is going to turn out to be yet another sterile exercise in buck-passing. Fares, taxes and tolls all need to be  on the table if the panel's report is to have  any credibility.

One bright spot: Attendance at the organizational meeting was very good, with almost every seat filled. The panel is very diverse -- representing the General Assembly, the  counties, municipalities, labor, industry, environmentalists, railroads and the disabled -- among others. If given the unvarnished faccts, there's a good chance they can come up with solid  recommendations.

As it was, the most useful information was  probably imparted by Motor Vehicle Administrator John Kuo, who explained why it isn't necessary to join  the scrum at an MVA office at the end of each month just because you've let your registration renewal come down to the last day. Kuo explained that drivers can renew on line, print out a receipt and put it in the rear window -- alerting police that the fee  has been paid. The actual sticker comes  by mail and can be affixed later.

Very useful information, but hardly likely to  solve the state's transportation funding problems.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:17 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only

September 24, 2010

Dirty dozen dinged for handicap hijinks

Twelve able-bodied motorists were ticketed in Howard County this week for using handicapped-parking tags issued to relative to grab prime parking spaces to which they were not entitled.

The state Motor Vehicle Administration and the Howard County police teamed up on  a sting operation aimed at putting some bite into the usually toothless laws restricting the use of handicapped tags to people with actual disabilities.

On Wednesday, MVA investigators approached 42 motorists at several county locations who had parked in handicapped-only spaces and asked them to display their disability identification cards. In 12 of those  cases, according to the MTA, the drivers turned out to be family members of people who had been issued disability placards.

Police then issued the "dirty dozen" parking tickets that carry a fine $130. The citations  were  given out in downtown Ellicott Ciity, at Wal-Marts in Columbia and Ellicott City, at the Wilde Lake  Village Center and at the Mall in Columbia.

The police department said it looks forward to teaming up with the MVA for future enforcement actions to fight illegal use of handicap parking spaces. For their efforts, the two agencies will be honored next month by the Howard County Commission on Disability Issues.

EDITORIAL COMMENT FROM BLOGMEISTER: Way to go, MVA chief John Kuo and Chief William McMahon. One can only hope police agencies in other jurisdictions follow your lead.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:55 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: On the roads

Transportation funding panel to meet Monday

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, established by legislation that passed the General Assembly this spring, will hold its first meeting Monday in Annapolis.

The panel will meet from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Miller Senate Office Building, Rooms 1 and 2 West. The commission was set up to recommend long-term strategies for paying for the state's transportation needs.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:18 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only

State receives $1.9 million impaired-driving grant

The State Highway Administration has been awarded a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for efforts to fight driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin announced.

The Democratic senators noted  that while Maryland's total road  fatalities  declined from 2008 to 2009, the number of deaths attributed to impaired drivers rose from 145 to 162.

The highway agency will distribute the funds, intended for enforcement and education, to agencies around the state.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

September 23, 2010

Virgin concert to tie up Columbia traffic Saturday

The Howard County police are warning motorist to expect traffic congestion and delays in Columbia Saturday, when the Virgin Mobile FreeFest is expected to draw more than 30,000 fans to Merriweather Post Pavilion and the Mall in Columbia.

According to the police, officers will begin directing traffic on Little Patuxent Parkway, Brooken Land  parkway, South Entrance Road  and HHickory  Ridge Road at 10  a.m. Backups and delays  are also expected on U.S. 29 in Columbia. Little Patuxent, Broken Land and South Entrance may  be closed at times  for traffic control.

According to police, full access will be maintained to businesses in Columbia's Town Center, including the mall. But  Getting There suggests there may be better days to go shopping in Columbia and other branches of the county library to visit other than the central facility.

Another suggestion for which the police can't be blamed: Whether going to Merriweather  or the mall or anywhere nearby, it would be a great day to get acquainted with Howard County Transit, which offers regular Saturday bus service to the mall parking lot near Sears -- an easy walk to the concert site. Route and schedule information can be  obtained by clicking here. If you're coming from Baltimore, you  can take light rail and connect with the Howard Transit Silver Route  at the BWI Business Center station. It's an especially good alternative if you're planning to have a beer or three at the concert.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Oversized load stuck at tunnel toll plaza

Photo by Sam Sessa

The Sun's Sam Sessa reports that a piece of heavy equipment (oversize load) has become stuck in a toll plaza lane on northbound Interstate 95 at the Fort McHenry Tunnel. He reports that officials are to figure out what to do with the equipment -- apparently a backhoe.

Sgt. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said a crew was working to extricate the vehicle from lane No. 3 at the toll plaza but said they will apparently have to remove a crash barrier to do so.

Green said  the driver had a permit to transport an oversized load but apparently violated its instructions  in  multiple ways. The driver tried to take the vehicle through a wrong lane  for oversized loads and was  traveling without a required escort vehicle during peak traffic hours when the permit was  invalid, Green said. In addition, the driver failed to notify  authorities an hour in advance of attempting to go through the tunnel -- another traffic offense.

Green said the there was no injury or collision in the incident, but he added that the driver would receive multple citations  for oversized-load permit violations.

If you're planning to haul an oversize load  anytime soon and wat to avoid a similar fate, click  here to read the rules.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:33 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Hopkins study author: Helmets save lives

Dr. Adil Haider, the lead researcher on a Hopkins study that found black motorcyclists were more likely to did in a crash than their white counterparts even when wearing a helmet, says there's nothing in the report that discredits the effectiveness of helmets.

Haider, an assistant professor of surgey at Hopkins, weighed in after reading an earlier article on this blog about the study.

The study found that an African-American, helmeted motorcyclist was 55 percent more likely to die in a than a helmeted white motorcyclist. He said that suggested that highway safety advocates may need to look beyond  promoting helmets in their efforts to lower motorcycle fatalities.


Lest anyone try to spin  that statement into an argument for the repeal of motorcycle helmet laws, Haider emphasized that the study actually bolsters the case that such headgear saves lives.

The researcher said that when white helmeted riders were  compared with white un-helmeted riders, those without protective headgear died in 34 percent more cases than their brain-bucketed peers. When black, un-helmeted riders were compared with white helmeted riders,  the study found a 127 percent higher rate of  death among the African-Americans.

The study did not compare black helmeted riders against African-Americans who didn't wear headgear.

The study found that the average black motorcyclist involved in a crash is much younger than white counterparts -- 33  years old compared with 40. But Haider said the racial disparity held up even when researchers adjusted the data to account for  age, severity of  injury and health insurance status.

The  Hopkins physician said the next step will be to "drill down" in the data and try to determine why the disparities exist. "It has to be a host  of factors," he said.

From that he hopes to identify factors that can be changed though targeted injury prevention. He said he hopes his team will be able to conduct such research but indicated that depends on funding.

Haider said his study was financed by the American College  of Surgeons and the National Institutes of Health.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Study finds black bikers more likely to die in crashes

A study by Johns Hopkins researchers shows that African-Americans who were involved in motorcycle crashes were 50 percent more likely to die from their injuries than white riders even though black bikers were more likely to be wearing helmets.

The study of 68,840 people involved in such crashes between 2002 and 2006, led by  Dr. Adil Haider  of the School of Medicine,  found the higher death rate among blacks  even though African-Americans were  30 percent more likely to be wearing helmets when they crashed than white riders. The study found that whites who weren't wearing helmets were less  likely to  be killed in crashes than blacks who wore protective headgear.

Haider, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Surgiical  Trials and Outcomes Research, said  the study shows  that helmet laws such as Maryland's may not be enough to protect all riders equally.

The researcher, an assistant professor of surgery, said he suspects several factors may account for the disparity between black and white deaths on motorcycles. He pointed to  a lack  of health insurance, reduced access to health care and pre-existing illnesses or injuries as possible  reasons for the gap.

Haider said it is possible that there may be differences between the races in the types of motorcycles they driive and way they use them. He said more research may be needed to answer these questions.

In other studies, helmets have been shown to reduce traumatic brain injuries  and reduce the cost of hospital stays brought on by motorcycle crashes. However, the study appears likely to be used to raise questions about the efficacy of state motorcycle helmet laws.

The answer might lie in the demographics of the motorcycle-riding populations and their respective behaviors. For instance, future research could ask whether one group or the other is more likely to operate the lower-weight, higher-speed bikes known as "crotch rockets." Such vehicles could be getting into higher-speed  crashes. Another question could involve the relative length of experience aboard motorcycles.

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

Franchot blasts report, reaffirms transit support

State Comptroller Peter Franchot reaffirmed his support for construction of two light rail lines as he accused a Washington newspaper of distorting his position after he questioned the costs of a contract for engineering on the projects.

Franchot released a statement Thuesday in which he said he felt compelled to respond to a Washington Examiner that he called a "gross misrepresentation of my longtime position" on the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. The comptroller said he fully supports construction of the 16-mile light rail lline from New Carrollton to Bethesda, as well as the east-west Red Line in Baltimore.

The Examiner, in an stricle that bore  the online headline "Franchot swings at Purple Line," interpreted the comptroller's remarks as a criticism of the cost of the projects themselves.

The dispute centers on Franchot's comments  about a $160 million engineering contract  that came before the state Board of Publlic Works -- on which he sits -- Wednesday. Franchot had asked a  series of questions about the cost of the contracts, which involve work on both of the proposed  transit lines, as well as a third line in northern Montgomery County known as  the Corridor Cities Transitway.

"Franchot said the contracts are a poor use of money when the state's existing transportation system is ailing," the conservative-leaning Examiner reported.

In his statement, Franchot said he said no such thing. The comptroller said he was merely asking "substantive questions" about the cost and term of the contracts in his role as taxpayer advocate. He said that after hearing "thoughful and detailed" responses from the Maryland Department of Transportation, he joined Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp in approving the contracts.

The Purple and Red lines are senitive topics because their future is a central issue in the governor's race. While O'Malley has said he will move forward with the two lines as light rail projects, Republican nominee Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.  has said he would pull the plug on them -- contending the state does not have enough money to build them as light rail lines. He has said he would consider building them as rapid  bus routes.

Franchot, a Democrat who is supporting O'Malley's re-election, rejected any implication that he is leaning toward Ehrlich's point of view.

"This article does a disservice to the Purple Line project, as well as the Red Line and Corridor Cities Transitway projects, by unfairly questioning the unity and resolve of our state’s leaders at a time when the State of Maryland is preparing to compete for federal funding support," Franchot said.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:26 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: For policy wonks only, Light rail, MTA, Red Line

I-95 ramps to Beltway to be closed

The State Highway Administration will close temporarily the northbound and southbound Interstate 95 ramps onto the Inner Loop of the Beltway south of Baltimore as part of its project to improve the flow of traffic at one of the region's  busiest and most congested interchanges.

Both ramps will be closed Sunday and Monday nights at 11 p.m. and will reopen by 5 a.m. the following day. A detour, using the eastbound Beltway  to Hollins Ferry  Road,  will be in place.

The highway agency said  its contractor is expected  to complete its widening of the current singtle-lane ramps to westbound Interstate 695 by late October.  Currently the left-lane ramp from northbound I-95 and the right-lane ramp from the southbound highway merge into a single lane -- causing traffic to  back up into the travel lanes during peak travel hours.

The $3 million interchange improvement project will add a second lane lanes feeding into the Beltway traffic at the merger point. Meanwhile, engineers are reconfiguring westbound Beltway traffic so that it goes from three lanes into two before vehicles reach the interchange, making it easier for the I-95 traffic  to merge.

The SHA said that Monday  at about 7 p.m. it will permanently close one westbound Beltway lane approaching the interchange in order to give motorists time to adjust to the new traffic pattern. The newly  configured ramp lanes are expected to open in late October.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:32 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads

September 22, 2010

Rendell extols virtues of infrastructure spending

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell disn't break any new ground with his sermon to the Greatter Baltimore Committee this morning on the need for massive spending on infrastructure projects, but he certainly got the crowd of business and civic leaders energized.

Rendell was one of five speakers this morning at the GBC transportation event at the  Hyatt Regency, but he was certainly the most entertaining as he spelled out his reasons why the United States should spend billions in infrastructure projects in the coming years.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I wast to spend more money. I want to spend more money on American infrastructure because when you sepnd more money, you make money," he told the gathering of several hundred.

The two-term Democratic governor's call for spending may bbe flying in the face of a political headwind, but Rendell didn't seem to mind. He cited studies by engineering groups tthat the nation has trillions of dollars of unmet transportation needs.

Rendell made the case that the government actually saves money when it keeps its infrastructure in good repair. He said it would have cost U.S. taxpayers $748 million to fix the New Orleans levees before Hurriicane Katrina, while the bill for repairing them afterward was about $15 billion.

The governor spared neither party, accusing the Republicans of irresponsibly opposing investmentents in the nation's future and labeling members of his party who won't stand up to them as "scared rabbits."

Not even President Obama was spared, even though Rendell praised the administration's plan for $50 billion in up-front infrastructure spending in the  next federal transportation bill. Rendell said Obama "may be the only reasonable person" who opposes an increase in the federal gasoline tax.

Rendell urged GBC members to put pressure on elected officials who won't support aggressive investment in transportation. "You've got to beat up these guys," he said. "You've got to stop giving them campaign contributions."

Rendell was joined on the platform by Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, a former Maryland transportation chief who was making a homecoming appearance.

Porcari delievered a somewhat milder version of Rendell's exhortation to invest, saying tthat previous generations of Americans invested heavily in the infrastructure we are using today.

"We're not leaving the same legacy to our children and grandchildren," he said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: For policy wonks only

Book fair to divert MTA, Circulator buses

The Baltimore Book Festival will take over Mount Vernon Place Friday through Sunday, and one the events will be the traditional Rerouting of the Buses.

This year the Baltimore Department of Transportation will join the Maryland Transit Administration in the annual diversion as the fledgling Purple Route of the Charm City Circulator encouinters its first book fair. Riders can only hope it copes better than it did during Artscape.

The MTA announced that starting Thursday at 8 a.m. its northbound bus Routes No. 3, 11, 64 and 61 will be diverted  off Charles Street onto Centre Street and then Chase Street before rejoining Charles.  The southbound buses, which run on St. Paul Street, will need  no detour.

A ciity spokeswoman said the Purple Route, which also uses Charles  Street for its northbound run, will use  the same detour as the MTA. The MTA detour will be in effect until 6 a.m. Monday; the  Circulator diversions will continue through Sunday night.

Festival-goers who want to avoid parking hassles can reach the fair by using those MTA routes (Friday only for the 61), the Purple Route or by taking the light rail to the  Centre Street station. It's a great opportunity to see if that new CharmCard works.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City bus service, MTA, MTA bus system, On the roads

MTA electronic fare system shows new glitch

Today is Day No. 2 of the Maryland Transit Administration's full-fledge venture into the brave new world of electronic fare collection -- and as far as this occasional rider is concerned the results have been mixed.

One day after my SmartTrip card  -- the Washington Metro card that's now supposed  to be interchangeable with Baltimore' CharmCard -- was rejected at the Lexington Market Metro Station, it failed to work  again today at the North Linthicum light rail station.

When I touched the card to the screen on the ticket vending machine, up came the same old light rail ticket menu giving the option of  cash or credit card. It did not seem to want to debit a round-trip fare.

After puzzling it over a bit, I heard a train come chugging into the station. I would  have made a credit card purchase, but that would have caused me too miss the train and be late for an appointment. (The immutable law  of light rail seems to be that the train always comes into the station just as you're fumbling with the ticket machine.)

I must admit that rather than be late for an event, I jumped on the train without having my payment accepted --  figuring that if a fare inspector came by I would explain the failure of the system to read my SmartTrip card. Perhaps fortunately, no  inspector came by before I got off at Camden Yards.

Once there, I tried again at the ticket machine there and the screen gave me the option of activating my  card, which I did. It then allowed me to purchase a one-way ticket, but didn't give the option of a round-trip or a day pass.

So, MTA, I'm keeping the $1.60 I saved. You want your money, put in a system that lives up to its billing. I'm just hoping that it recognizes the full-fare paperless ticket I bought when I go home tonight.

Now there is the possibility that through my own ineptness, I failed to follow the proper procedures for using the card. But if that's the case, the MTA is guilty  of a  failure to idiot-proof the system. There are a lot of us idiots out there, so a system that isn't self-explanatory is about as good as no system at all. It's not good enough that it works. It has to work before the rider misses a train.

An MTA official I spoke with afterward said the agency's inspectors will be taking a forgiving view of those who have CharmCards or SmartTrip cars that have failed to registter a payment. They certainly should -- at  least untiil the bugs are ironed out.

In any  case, if any MTA riders are given a hard time after a failed attempt to us the electronic fare system, please feel free to contact Getting There.

Here's a tip for MTA: Install readers right on the platform that will deduct a one-way fare automatically when the card is flashed, with no buttons to push or decisions to  make. There's nothing riders of the light rail want more than to catch the train that's in the station rather than the one coming in 15 minutes.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:35 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Light rail

September 21, 2010

Bus driver could be fired over Kindle on the dash

A Portland, Ore., bus driver has been suspended and could be fired by the local transit agency after a passenger recorded him on celll phone video in a way that suggests he was glancing at his Kindle while driving in morning traffic on Interstate 5.

Shortly after the video came to the attention of TriMet management, driver Lahcen Qouchbane was pulled off his route and place on administrative leave.

Quochbane's lawyer contends the riders were  mistaken and that the driver was not reading anything on the Kindle unit he had left on the dash after a layover. He accused TriMet of overreacting.

The video, posted on YouTube, clearlly shows  the Kindle on the dash but iappears inconclusive as to whether there was actually reading matter on the screen. However, the video clearly shows the operator driving the bus with one hand -- and at one point one elbow -- and at one point he appears to reach down and adust the unit. His lawyer says he  could have been reaching for the heat or windshield wiper  controls. 

One of the most common  complaints to public transit agencies is that drivers are operating vehicles while distracted by electronic devices. I can attest to how disconcerting that can be: Duuring a  recent trip to a small island off the coast of Sicily, my wife and I were taking a bus that follows a sharply winding route along cliffs overlooking the sea. While we were on the bus, and in the middle of a steady rain, the driver pulled out his cell phone and engaged in a lengthy conversation while guiding the bus around hairpin turns with one hand.

Obviously, we survived, and because we don't speak Italian we might never know whether the subject of the conversation was so compelling it justified the fright factor. Somehow I don't think so. But if the Portland driver loses his job, we know where he can apply  for a new one.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Bike lane work coming to President Street

City work crews will be applying bike lane markings to the roadway on President Street in Harbor East for the next three weeks, requiring parking restrictions and possibly delaying motoriists.

The work will begin Wednesday and will affect both northbound and  southbound President from the Aliceanna Street traffiic circle to Fleet Street. The marking crews will be working weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the weather permits.

The city Department of Transportation is urging motorists to use alternate routes.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:31 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says

The chief of the Maryland Transit Administration says the launch Tuesday of the system's new CharmCard electronic payment system is just the first step in an effort to streamline the use of transportation services in the Baltimore region.

MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells said at a news conference at the Charles Center Metro Station that  “nothing is  off the table” in terms of future applications of the new “smart cards, which now can be used to pay fares on local buses, the Metro and the light rail system.

“We’re open to anything that will allow more accessibility to various transportation modes,” Wells said at the long-awaited CharmCard, which has been more  than a decade in development.


The card is designed to be compatible with the Washington Metro system’s SmartTrip card and is usable on all of the systems that accept that form of payment, including suburban bus routes in the suburbs of the District of Columbia. MTA officials expect the system to reduce delays by making it unnecessary for customers to fumble for exact change.

For now, the  cards can’t be used on MARC trains or MTA commuter passes, but Wells indicated that the agency hopes to add  that capability in the coming years. He said the MTA is also interested in other suggested uses, such as payment of parking garage fees in downtown lots.
“This is a first step but it is a major step forward,” Wells said.

The MTA has been moving in fits and starts toward adopting smart card technology since 1999. The technology is increasingly becoming the standard in the U.S. transit industry.

The CharmCard will let MTA customers store value on a chip embedded in the card and to debit their accounts each time they board a bus or pass through a Metro or light rail station. Value can be added to the cards at the same locations, using either cash or credit cards.

The MTA cards went on sale Tuesday for $2.50 at CVS and Giant stores, as well as the MTA’s downtown transit store and web site. The agency is also setting up tables at various transit sites around the region at which riders can purchase a card with $5 in fare value, with no charge for the  card itself.

According to the MTA, the system has been tested by hundreds of volunteers since November.
As of Tuesday, the MTA was also scheduled to begin accepting the Washington Metro’s SmartTrip cards on the transit systems that use  the CharmCard.

The launch wasn’t exactly seamless as a turnstile at the Lexington Market Metro Station wouldn’t recognize one of the Washington-issued cards. About an hour later, however, the same card worked for the reverse journey.

“It’s  all new technology. There’s  going to be glitches,” Wells said.

MTA officials said the smart cards are now compatible with the use of two-way tickets, day passes and 7- and 30-day passes at the current rates. However such special passes  as those used by seniors have yet to be integrated into the system.

Officials said the current passes can still be used on MTA transit systems. Wells said he hopes  the senior passes will be integrated into the CharmCard system early next year.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:20 PM | | Comments (2)

September 20, 2010

How Charm Card will work on light rail

The Maryland Transit Administration will trot out all the details of its new CharmCard, an electronic fare payment system, at a news conference Tuesday morning. But MTA spokesman gave Getting There readers a preview by explaining how it will work on the light rail system.

According to Owens, it will be a paper-less system for card users. You get to the fare machine, flash your card for the electronic reader, it debits your fare and you board the train. Fare inspectors will be equipped with electronic devices that can tell whether you have paid by scanning your CharmCard (or SmartTrip card, for those who elect to use the version issued by the Washington Metro system). Just show your card, instead of your ticket, to the inspector.

Owens  also said MTA buses, the  Metro and light rail will start accepting SmartTrip  cards Tuesday -- the same day the MTA's  long-awaited CharmCards go on sale.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:50 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail

Tour du Port set Oct. 3

A fix-a-flat contest that will seek to reveal Baltimore's best at repairing a bicycle tire is one of the new features at this year's Tour du Port on Oct. 3.

The annual bicycle event, sponsored by One Less Car, will include rides of from 12 to 63 miles. The starting point is the Canton Waterfront Park.

Music will be provided by Everyman. The Whole Foods Market Harbor East and Mount Washington stores  will supply lunch. Discounted registration for the ciity's largest bicycle-related gathering is available through Wednesday at the One Less Car website.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bicycles

Circulator rethinking schedule strategy

Last week Charm City Circulator riider Tim Patterson raised some concerns about two issues affecting the free city bus  service: the practice of interrupting normal pickups to get back on schedule and the tendency of certain street people  to take up temporary residence aboard the vehicles in a  most  un-fragrant way.


Sarah Husain,  transit coordinator for the Circulator, provided the following responses:

1. We’ve been experimenting with different ways to improve our evening peak headway times by trying new ideas in refueling the buses in the afternoons, but the “drop off” method that Mr. Patterson mentioned isn’t working well, so we’re changing that approach.

2. We have Downtown and Waterfront Partnership guides helping out to add an extra measure of safety and security on the Circulator on Friday and Saturday evenings, but if another passenger is causing an issue on the Circulator during other times, please let the driver know, who can then radio to dispatch that s/he needs assistance.

Suhain adds that the city is conducting a survey at its website in Circulator service and urges rider to sign on and give city officials some feedback on problems such as these.

My take on her answers:

1. It's good that the Circulator folks see the error of trying to adjust schedules midway through the run. The time and place to do that is at the end of the route. In the case of the Purple Route, if a bus must pause to alleviate bunching-up, it would seem the ideal place to do it would be on Lanvale Avenue between the drop-off point on Charles and the pick-up stop on St. Paul. On the Orange Route, Central Avenue could serve the same function.

2. Some riders  might not want to be  seen raising objections to the bus driver because they could be subjected to abuse by the people they complain about. But quite a few might prefer to notify authorities by text message. The city should look into what it would take to allow riders to report problems directly to supervisors that way.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:52 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City bus service

September 17, 2010

Reader raises concerns about Circulator service

Tim Patterson, an employee at the University of Maryland, Baltimore who rides the Charm City  Circulator from the BioPark Parking Garage to campus every day, raised some  concerns about the city's new free shuttle bus service:

1)  The other day, I inquired of a driver why so many buses seemed to switch to "Not In Service" just as they approached the stop I was waiting at.  The answer:  Veolia has been getting fined for the un-even spacing, so what they will do is switch to a "drop off" only mode to space things out. Unfortunately, neither the LCD display on the front of the bus, or the online tracking tools differentiate between "Out of Service" or "Drop Off Only" mode.  It's pretty misleading.  They should really fix that (especially on the online tools) since many of us use the tracker to determine when to leave work and head to the stop... only to see the bus go by with "Out of Service" on it.


2)  There have been an increasing number of people on the west-bound leg of the Orange Route who seem drunk, or high, or at least "sailing".  They often are passed out or passing out, and frankly, REEK.  And this isn't at night, it's between 3 and 6 in the afternoon.  The Circulator bus drivers aren't cops, and have their hands full enough.  I would be interested to know what can be done to keep this service clean and hop-head free?

These are two valid concerns. I'm sure readers of this blog will be interested in what the city Department of Transportation has to say.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City bus service

MTA smart card coming Tuesday

After more than a decade of development, the Maryland Transit Administration plans to launch its often-delayed electronic fare payment system Tuesday -- giving rider the option of using a plastic card to use the Metro, light rail and local buses.

MTA spokesman Terrry Owens called the introduction of what will be known as the CharmCard a "huge step forward" for the agency. He said it will be "one of the largest integrated transit  fare payment systems in the  nation."

The system is similar to the electronic SmartTrip card that has been in use for many years on Washington's Metro subway and Metrobus systems, with which it willl be compatible. The CharmCards, which will cost $2.50 up front, can then be used to store monetary value and pay fares as needed. The cards are also expected to reflect the cost of reduced-cost passes for frequent users.

"We are going to have a safe, more secure system," Owens said. "Passengers won't have to worry  about paper tickets any more."

The MTA plans to unveil the new card at a news conference Tuesday at the Charles Center Metro Station. Its debut hasn't come easily. Owens said the process of developing such a system started in 1999. Since then, it has met with many setbacks and delays as officials have struggled with the challenges of making it usable across the MTA's different modes of transportation.

Over the past year, the cards have been undergoing beta testing in the hands of volunteer passengers. MTA officials have said the response has been highly positive.

Owens said the cards will be available at the MTA Transit Store, 6 St.  Paul St., and at  selected CVS Pharmacy and Giant Food stores in the metropolitan area. The cards cannot be used on the MARC commuter train system or MTA commuter buses.

Information about the CharmCard is available by clicking here.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:21 PM | | Comments (5)

September 16, 2010

Hopkins incident shows haze in official statements

A shooting incident at Johns Hopkins Hospital today provided a vivid illustration of the difficulty officilals have in putting out a consistent message at a time when events are unfolding quickly.

Shortly after the shooting of a physician at the medical complex just before noon, the city police and Hopkins administration were putting out seemlingly contradictory staements about access to the complex.

The police statement, delivered on Twitter, said the incident had been contained and encouraged those with business at Hopkins to come to the medical center. At about the same time, the Hopkins administration was urging people to stay away because of traffic problems caused by the incident.

"Please note that traffic in the area is very congested. If you don’t need to go to East Baltimore, don’t," the statement said. Hopkins urged people to stay away from the main hospital building and the School  of Nursing but said the public health and medical schools were open. 

After the shooting, the suspect barricaded himself  on the eighth floor of the Nelson Building. Shortly before 2  p.m., police reported the suspect had been shot and killed.

Before the man's death, police shut down numerous roads in the vicinity, trying up traffic and forcing the Maryland Transit Administration to reroute buses on its No. 13 route.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said an underground gate leading  from the Hopkins Metro Station to the hospital was closed. However, he said Metro service had not been interrupted and that passengers can still leave the station via an aboveground exit.

A Sun staff member at the scene said traffic remained open on Orleans and Madison streets but that east-west streets between them, including Monument, had been closed. She said Broadway apparently remained open but that Wolfe Street was closed between Madison and Orleans.






Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:58 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, MTA bus system, On the roads

Police say Hopkins Hospital open despite incident

Baltimore police issued a statement encouraging people with business at Johns Hopkins Hospital to travel to the medical complex, saying a shooting incident that erupted shortly before noon has been contained to a relatively small part of the campus. However,  officers at the scene were urging visitors to stay away because several major streets are shut down.

The Hopkins administration gave advice  that seemingly contradicted the official police statement on Twitter, urging people to stay away because of traffic problems. "Please note that traffic in the area is very congested. If you don’t need to go to East Baltimore, don’t," the statement said. Hopkins urged people to stay away from the main hospital building and the School  of  Nursing but said the public health  school was open. 

After the shooting, a man  barricaded himself  on the eighth floor of the Nelson Building after having apparently  shot a physician. Shortly bbefore 2  p.m., police reported the suspect had been shot and killed.

Before the man's death, police shut down numerous roads in the vicinity, trying up traffic and forcing the Maryland Transit Administration to reroute buses on its No. 13 route.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said an underground gate leading  from the Hopkins Metro Station to the hospital has been closed. However, he said Metro service had not been interrupted and that passengers can still leave the station via an aboveground exit.

A Sun staff member at the scene said traffic remains open on Orleans and Madison streets but that east-west streets between them, including Monument, are closed. She said Broadway apparently remains open for now but could be shut down. Wolfe Street has been closed between Madison and Orleans, she said.






Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, MTA bus system, On the roads

MTA defends light rail handling of Ravens crowds

In a previous posting, readers questioned why the MTA's light rail system takes so long to move crowds out of Camden Yards after Ravens games. We put that question to MTA spokesman Terry Owens, who provided the following reply:

MTA records show no problems with service August 28th. Our passengers should know that extra measures are taken to handle the 8-10,000 customers who use light rail for Ravens games.  Depending on the availability of cars we try to make every train a three car train, and add fill in trains when possible.

Despite the limits imposed by the number of available tracks and cars, light rail platforms are usually clear in less than an hour following Ravens games. 
Large crowds can affect schedules. That?s because it takes longer to fill the train and off load passengers when large crowds are involved. Our goal is always to move passengers as quickly and safely as possible.  Like everyone we look forward to a great season with the Ravens.

What we have here is a clear disconnect of expectations. Riders look at a 45-minute delay in getting a train after a game and think "it took forever to get a train." The MTA sees the platforms cleared within an hour and pats itself oon the back for doing a good job.

Let's face it: There are inherent capacity limits to the light rail system. You can't expect to come out of a crowded NFL stadium and walk right on to a waiting train and settle down comfortably into a seat. Fans who use light rail should reflect on the plight of the folks trying to get out of the parking lots, which can take a while too. (Ravens fans: You tell me how long it takes to get out of the lots and past the congestion.)

At the same time,  the MTA needs to do more to explain how the light rail system works so that riders can form a reasonable set of expectations. Communications, much more than than operations, has always been the MTA's weak spot.

As to Nate Payer's point that light rail systems inherently lack the capacity to handle crowds, I think he needs to make his case based on evidence other than Baltimore's antiquated Central Light Rail line. But the MTA ought to explain what  kind of crowd-moving performance we can expect from a modern light rail system on the Red Line. But there's also a cost  factor: It makes no sense to build a gold-plated system just to avoid any delay whatsoever after football games and other downtown events.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:31 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

September 15, 2010

Larry's Ride to remember bicyclist

Friends of Larry Bensky have organized an event they call Larry's Ride to commemorate the life of the bicyclist killed in a collision with a car in April in northern Baltimore County.

The Sept. 25 event includes rides of three distances -- 10 miles, 20 miles and 42 miles -- as well as activities for non-riders. Activities begin at 9 a.m. with the 42-mile ride at Spring Meadow Farms, 15513 Hanover Pike in Upperco, and continue until 3 p.m. with a cookout following the rides.

Bensky, 43,  was killed when he was struck by a vehicle on Butler Road near Falls Road. He left behind a wife and two daughters.  His death became a rallying point for advocates of bicycle safety and helped give impetus to legislation creating a 3-foot buffer rule that will take effect Oct. 1. Money from the event, admission for which ranges from $15 to $30, will go toward the education of Bensky's daughters.

For information and online registration, click here.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bicycles

Orioles losing stretch is heavy burden for light rail

Alexander Pyles, a student in former Sun editor Sandy Banisky's class at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism in College Park. has written a perceptive article about how the Orioles' 13-year slide into perennial loser status has affected the Maryland Transit  Administration's light rail system.

The article, part of a 12-part project on the effects the Orioles' decline has had on Baltimore, reports that the system has fallen well short of expectations as the crowds that flooded Camden Yards in its early years have waned. It's a very readable series --  and well worth a couple of clicks.

The article does leave one key question unanswered: Is it asking too much of manager Buck Showalter to expect him to turn around the light rail system as well as the team?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

Why can't light rail handle Ravens crowds?

After nearly three weeks of total detachment from Maryland transportation issues, I returned from a European vacation today to be greeted by an Aug. 30 email from readers Sean Jester and Stuart Grey raising some very good questions about the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail system. Here's what Jester and Grey had to say:

I try to use the MTA to get downtown whenever possible. I've purchased the MTA season pass for all Ravens home games and overall I enjoy the freedom from having to drive downtown for sporting events and paying to park. I support the MTA in building the red line and hope that someday the LR and metro subway will be expanded to give Baltimore the comprehensive mass transit system it deserves.

But this last Saturday during the Ravens game two overall minor setbacks just reinforced my belief that the MTA still cannot provide efficient transportation to and from Ravens games.


Usually, getting to a Ravens game on the LR from the Nursery Road station is cinch. Trains are scattered close enough together that I usually never wait longer than 10 mins for a train. The trains may be crowded, but it doesn't bother me. I just want to get down to the game as fast as possible so squeezing onto a crowded train with hundreds of other Ravens fans is a minor inconvenience.

However, last Saturday (Aug. 28), the train I boarded was on the heels of another train, which meant my train had to wait at each station longer than usual to create space between the two trains. Overall, it was a 10 minute delay, which got me to the game later than I would have liked, but in the grand scheme of things it was a minor delay.

But getting home from Ravens games has proved to be a time-wasting and frustrating experience time and time again.

In order to avoid the massive crowds at the Hamburg Station following Ravens games, I walk up to the Camden Yards station where the crowds are smaller and you are guaranteed a spot on the next train. And on very rare occurrences, I am able to run to catch a train as it pulls to the CY station, and make it back to my car in as little as 15 mins. But when I miss that train, it's always 20-30 mins until the next one arrives.

This is exactly what happened last Saturday night. I missed the train as it pulled out of the Camden Yards station at 9:52. The MTA LR schedule says the next train was to arrive at 10:08 p.m. It either never arrived or was delayed to 10:23, which is when the next train was scheduled. So all said and done, the wait was 30 mins and I got to my car an the Nursery Road station about an hour after I left the game. And that to me is just unacceptable.

Now I know this is a small inconvenience compared to some of the delays the MARC trains have been having this summer and the LR troubles that happened during Artscape, but I still don't understand why the MTA cannot get a better grasp on Ravens games. The team has been in downtown Baltimore since 1998, and still the MTA forces fans to wait for 20 and 30 mins for the next train.

What I also don't understand is why the police directing traffic at Howard and Conway force the LR to wait for pedestrians and cars. Is it just me or should mass transit always get the right of way over everything?

So that's it. Sorry for the rant. I know my frustrations are minor compared to some of the other issues the MTA is having, but when you take into account the amount of years the Ravens have been in Baltimore, you'd think that the MTA would have this down to an exact science by now, and they are still light years away from that.

Until I hear they seriously address these issues, I will be taking my chances with the #40 QuickBus.

Well, MTA, it's  your turn: Why, after all these years of practice, can't the light rail system deliver better service to Ravens fans? We look forward to hearing the answer.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:46 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail

September 14, 2010

SHA to hold meeting on Rolling Road concerns

The State Highway Administration will hold a public meeting to present the results of a traffic study of MD166 (South Rolling Road) between Frederick Road and Blooomsbury Avenue in Catonsville. The meeting is set for 7:30 pm on Sept. 29 at Hillcrest Elementary School (cafeteria).

SHA says that residents have expressed concerns about speeding, aggressive driving and pedestrian safety along MD166. In response, traffic engineers have studied options to modify driver behavior. Those options will be presented and citizens will have the opportunity to comment.

Those who can't make the meeting or who want more information in advance can contact asst. district engineer Erin Kuhn or traffic team leader Eric Tombs at 410-229-2380.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Road safety

September 10, 2010

Accident causing 4-mile backup on U.S. 50 east

An accident involving two vehicles is causing heavy delays along US 50 eastbound, prior to the Severn River. The incident, at Landing Neck Road in Talbot County, was causing as much as a 4-mile backup as of 4:37 p.m., with delays beginning past MD 665. Officials expected to reopen affected lanes shortly. Welcome to the weekend.

UPDATE: As of 5:30, all lanes were open. The backup is down to less than 3 miles.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 4:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

September 9, 2010

Report: Traffic deaths at lowest levels since 1950

Traffic deaths

Well, Tom Brady may have started out his day with a two-car wreck in Boston - a minivan ran a red light and smashed into his Audi sedan, according to reports - but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today that traffic fatalities are at their lowest levels in 60 years.

In 2009, the number of Americans dying on U.S highways fell to 33,808, down 9.7 percent from the previous year and the lowest tally since 1950.

Forty one states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, saw a decline in fatalities, led by Florida. Maryland had 547 traffic fatalities in 2009, compared with 591 in 2008, a decrease of 7.4 percent.

“At the Department of Transportation, we are laser-focused on our top priority: safety,” said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.  “Today’s announcement shows that America’s roads are the safest they’ve ever been.  But they must be safer.  And we will not rest until they are.”

The report said traffic fatalities declined nationally across all categories of vehicles, including motorcycles. Motorcycle deaths fell for the first time in 11 years.

In addition to the drop in fatalities, the number of injuries decreased as did the number of alcohol-related fatalities. However, in Maryland, the number of alcohol-related fatalities actually increased by 12 percent - from 145 to 162. Other states that saw increases in alcohol related highway deaths included Vermont, Kansas, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Washington.

The nine states that saw an increase in highway traffic fatalities overall were Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 11:44 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Road safety

September 3, 2010

Hurricane Earl takes aim at Amtrak

Not really. But Amtrak has suspended service between New York and Boston until sometime tomorrow. The rail line had planned to suspend service beginning this afternoon, but a tree fell across electrical lines in New London, Conn., and that was the end of that. From Amtrak's press release:

Overhead electrical system damage from a tree which fell from outside Amtrak property in Connecticut and more severe weather forecasted this evening has led Amtrak to suspend all through service between New York and Boston (South Station).

Those passengers currently on Amtrak trains in the affected area are being returned to their stations.

While tooling around their website, I also noticed that as of Sept. 1, Amtrak is no longer accepting money orders or travelers checks as payment. Probably not a big deal. The days of travelers checks seem of a bygone era. I do think money orders are still somewhat popular in some communities, though. Soon we'll all have an embedded strip in our bodies to pay for everything. I look forward to that.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 4:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

Bay Bridge travel reminder for holiday weekends

If you were planning on heading over to Ocean City early today, but decided to delay your holiday trip because of Hurricane Earl, unfortunately you're not alone. Lots of people are probably waiting - and not just because Mayor Rick Meehan encouraged folks to come later. Tropical force winds and rain today will give way to a beautiful weekend.

That said, if everyone leaves for the beach at the same time, crossing the Bay Bridge won't be fun. As usual the State Highway Administration says beachgoers should travel the Bay Bridge during off-peak hours: Friday after 10 p.m., Saturday before 7 a.m. or between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., Sunday between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m. and Monday before 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Not sure that will help this weekend. But remember, you can always take Mike Dresser's advice and skip the Bay Bridge.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 12:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Safest driving cities in America? Hint, not Baltimore

This week Allstate Insurance Co. released its annual "Best Drivers" report, naming the cities with the fewest car collisions and therefore - perhaps - the safest drivers. Needless to say, Baltimore did not make the list. Neither did Washington. In fact, most of the states in the Top 10 are in the Midwest and the West. Colorado had two cities in the top, as did Tennessee, which was one of only two states - the other is Alabama - east of the Mississippi to make the Top 10. The places on the list either have better drivers or more room to swerve.
Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 11:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Road safety

September 2, 2010

JFX getting a little curb appeal

The State Highway Administration is planning a makeover for the Jones Falls Expressway that doesn't involve paving or striping. Nope, this project is purely curb appeal. A new landscaping plan to remove invasive plants and replace them with native trees and grasses is in the works, according to a report today by my colleague Tim Wheeler. The agency is spending a little more than half a million to clear up the jungle along the JFX and expects the project to be completed by spring.
Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 9:28 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Off the roads

September 1, 2010

Le Mans series added to Baltimore Grand Prix

From the Associated Press:

Baltimore officials say the American Le Mans Series will also be part of the IZOD IndyCar Series next year on Labor Day weekend.

The Baltimore Grand Prix will have its inaugural event in 2011. It will take place on a temporary street circuit around the city's downtown Inner Harbor area and is called the “Festival of Speed.”

The American Le Mans Series includes different classes of cars — Prototype and Grand Touring — which race on the track at the same time.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 4:47 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Overnight work on bridge to close lanes on I-695

Beginning tonight at 10 p.m. and again on Thursday night, the State Highway Administration will be doing repair work on an I-695 overpass near Park Heights Avenue that will close two lanes of the Beltway's inner loop until about 5 a.m.

The Park Heights Avenue bridge was struck last week by an overheight vehicle, which damaged the beam. Although the overpass was inspected and determined to be safe for traffic, some repairs are necessary.

SHA says motorists who plan on traveling at night tonight or Thursday should expect delays and consider alternate routes such as MD 130 (Greenspring Valley Road), which runs parallel to the Beltway to the north or MD 133 (Old Court Road), which runs parallel south of the Beltway. Motorists can then use Greenspring Avenue to reach I-695.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
Keep reading
Recent entries
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.

Live traffic updates
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Traffic and commuting news Subscribe to this feed
Michael Dresser's Getting There column Subscribe to this feed
Michael Dresser How-Tos

How to avoid Delaware traveling north
Obscure third route between Baltimore, D.C.
Better routes for I-95 north
How to avoid the Bay Bridge
Find cheaper gas
Check prices at area gas stations by ZIP code and find the lowest rates in the region with our new interactive gas map.

Baltimore-area lowest gas prices
Historical gas price charts
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Breaking News newsletter
When a big news event breaks, we'll e-mail you the basics with links to up-to-date details.
Sign up

Charm City Current
Traffic Resources
Baltimore Metropolitan Council (Regional transportation planning)
Maryland Department of Transportation (State transportation policy)
Maryland Transit Administration (Buses, light rail, Metro, Mobility)
State Highway Administration (Maintains numbered routes)
Motor Vehicle Administration (Licenses, permits, rules of the road)
Maryland Transportation Authority (Toll bridges, tunnels and highways)
Maryland Aviation Administration (BWI and Martin Airport)
AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report (Track Maryland average gas prices.) (Find the lowest and highest prices.)
SafeRoadMaps (Find out where the crashes happen.)
Roads to the Future (Scott M. Kozel on Mid-Atlantic infrastructure.)
WMATA (Washington metropolitan buses and Metro)
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (D.C. regional planning)
U.S. Department of Transportation (federal transportation policy)
Stay connected