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November 30, 2010

City to install traffic light near Penn Station

The Baltimore Department of Transportation will install a long-sought  traffic signal and crosswalk next year on Charles Street near Penn Station to help pedestrians cross the busy northbound street, the city's traffic chief said today.

Traffic division chief Randall Scott said the new signal at Charles and Oliver streets will remain green to northbound Charles Street traffic until a pedestrian pushes a button indicating a desire to cross. The new signal, which will be installed north of Mount Royal Avenue and south of the entrance ramp to Interstate 83, is expected to be in operation as early as February but no later than May, Scott said. He said the city will also add a pedestrian crosswalk there.

Scott said city officials became aware that many pedestrians were crossing near that ramp because of construction of a new University of Baltimore Law School  at Mount Royal and Charles had made crossing there more difficult.

"We don't want to wait for a tragedy to occur given the need for pedestrian safety," he said.

The crossing conditions near the station have been the subject of complaints such as this one to Getting There  for several months.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

State to brief public on Frederick Road bridge

The State Highway Administration will hold an open house Dec. 16 to amswer questions about its impending project to replace the again bridge that carries Frederick Road over the Beltway in Catonsville.

The meeting will be held that evening between 5 :30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Hillcrest Elementary School, 1500 Frederick Road, if weather permits. In the event of snow, the date could be postponed until Jan. 6.

The SHA plans to begin replaciing the 53-year-old span in the spring as part of a series of bridge replacement projects on the Beltway. Like the current projects at Charles Street and Liberty Road, it will replace a roughly half-century-old bridge with a longer and wider one designed to accommodate a widened Beltway. The new bridge will also include widened sidewalks, turn lanes, bicycle lanes and realigned ramps.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Overnight closings planned for Maryland 295

The State Highway Administration will close Maryland 295 near BWI Marshall Airport intermittently tomorrow night to permit the removal of two steel beams from the Ridge Road overpass.

The closings, each expected to last about 15 minutes, will occur between midnight and 4 a.m. Thursday south of the I-195 exit for BWI. The closures will be preceded by a reduction of the 295 roadway to one lane in each direction starting at 9 p.m., Wednesday. Access to the airport via 295 may be delayed after midnight. The SHA is encouraging motorists to use such alternate routes as Interstate 95, U.S. 1 and Interstate 97.

The beam removal is part of a project to replace the aging Ridge Road bridge with a span that will be longer to accommodate a possible future widening of 295. As part of the project, the SHA will also close the current bridge to traffic between 9 p.m. Wednesday and 5 a.m. Thursday.

If bad weather forces a postponement, the SHA plans to perform the work the following night. The agency expects to repeat the procedure in a few weeks to remove the two steel beams that will remain.

Just south of the I-195 exit for Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, access to and from the airport via MD 295 may be delayed after midnight. 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

November 26, 2010

So how did that Thanksgiving travel go?

Now that the turkey has been digested, it's time to reflect on the success or failures or various strategies for getting home and back for Thanksgiving.

Readers are invited to share intelligence about which travel approaches got them caught in hourlong backups and which let them coast around the congestion. How did the trip through Delaware go before and after authorities there waived tolls Wednesday? Were the alternate routes crowded? When did traffic move briskly on the  New Jersey Turnpike and when was it a stop-and-go mess?

We're always looking for ways to help readers avoid the worst of traffic hell for that next holiday. Don't worry. Getting There and Baltimore Sun readers are a select, elite group, and while they're avoiding the traffic jams there will still be plenty of other to keep them fully staffed.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:19 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads

November 24, 2010

Delaware waives northbound tolls to ease delays

The Delaware of Department of Transportation has waived collection of tolls on the Delaware Turnpike in order to ease mounting congestion at its Newark Toll Plaza.

Michael Williams, a spokesman for the department, said the decision was made at about 3:15 p.m. to waive northbound tolls until 11 p.m. He said it was the first time in his 15 years with the agency that tolls had been waived.

Shortly before the decision was made, the Maryland Department of Transportation reported that traffic had  backed up for about 5.8  miles before the toll plaza, where a construction project  has closed three of its usual nine northbound lanes.

The southbound lanes of the plaza were not affected by the waiver.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:12 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

Delaware toll plaza backed up well past 279

The state's live traffic camera at Route 279 in Cecil County is showing the trafiic backed up well south of that interchange because of traffic coongestion at The Delaware toll plaza. Motorists used to using 279 as a toll plaza bypass should get off Interstate 95 earllier and use Maryland Route 272 south to U.S. 40 east.

As of about 3 p.m. the Delaware Department of Transportation was estimating the delay getting through the tolls at 30 minutes -- and you''ll still pay $4 to wait in line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:58 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads

Delaware backup reaches 5.8 miles

The Maryland Transportation Authority  reports that as of about 1:45 p.m., the northbound traffic backup on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway at the Delaware Turnpike toll plaza had reached 5.8 miles and is building. Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss said the travel time estimate  to the Delaware line from Milepost 96 -- 14 miles away -- was 35 minutes.

Massive trraffic backups have been predicted as a result of heavy holiday ttraffic and construction at the toll plaza.

State highway officials said this afternoon that northbound traffic was being diverted to U.S. 40 via Route 272. Drivers who can should consider exiting Interstate 95 at Route 272 and using U.S. 40 east until they reach Delaware 896, where they can cut over to I-95 past the toll plaza.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:47 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

November 23, 2010

BWI rail station platform to reopen

The northbound platform at the BWI MARC/Amtrak railroad station, which has been partially closed for construction in recent months, will fully reopen in time for the busiest travel day of the year, the Maryland Transit Administrattion says.

The MTA said the barriers will be removed  and the platform opened to passengers by 5 a.m. Wednesday. The platform renovation is part  of a larger project to replace the aging station, which opened 30 years ago and has seen a steady growth in ridership.

According to the MTA, the renovation project has lengthened the sttation's northbound  and southbound platforms from 350 feet to 1,050 feet -- allowing all of the ccars on nine car trains to open their doors for passengers.

The station serves both Amtrak trains and the MARC system's Penn Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train

Over-height vehicle strikes bridge, delays expected

The State Highway Administration reports an over-height vehicle has struck a shield below a bridge at Forestville Road on northbound I-95/I-495 (Capital Beltway). As a result, two lanes are closed while the metal structure undergoes repairs for safety. The shield was in place to protect cars from debris as construction takes place on a bridge rehabilitation project. SHA says major backups are possible during tonight's evening commute through Prince George's County.
Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 4:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

November 19, 2010

Light rail station's ticket machines broken

This just in from the MTA:

Light Rail Customers are advised that the Ticket Vending Machines at Falls Road Light Rail will be out of order from November 19 until the evening of Monday, November 22. We recommend that our riders purchase and board at an alternate location. Otherwise, you may board at Falls Road and then purchase ticket at the next stop. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This is nonsense and the MTA ought to know better. Fare inspectors should be instructed that if they encounter a passenger wiithout a  ticket, to ask where the rider boarded. If the rider says Falls Road, the MTA should concede the free ride. No passenger who boarded in good faith  should be expected to get off at the next stop, purchase a ticket while the train leaves, and wait for the next train.

It's the MTA that's responsible for the condition of the machines -- not the riders.







Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:46 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Light rail

MARC's problem is stalled Acela train

MTA spokesman Terry Owens says the reason three trains have been canceled and others subjected to delays of up to 80 minutes on the Penn Line is that an Amtrak Acela train stalled out about 4 minutes south of Baltimore.

Something like that isn't the fault of MTA or MARC. It's  just a fact of life on the Amtrak-owned Penn Line. What is a lapse on the  MTA's  part is  that the Acela  stalled out  at 12:25  p.m., according to Owens, and as of 3:10 p.m.  the main MTA web site was reporting service on schedule. (See below.)

Meanwhile MARC Tracker was giving more  accurate information. Too bad there's such an inconvenient, well-hidden, multi-step link between the two web sites.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

MARC can't get the story straight

Tim Manicom of Baltimore noticed that the information he's getting from one MTA web site is entirely different from the information on another. People going to one web site are told MARC is on time; those who visit the other learn that trains on the Penn Line are running as much as 80 minutes late.

The one reporting the delays is MARC Tracker. The one saying evrything is hunky-dory is the MTA's main web site.

"Obviously one hand isn’t communicating with the other," Maricom notes. (His statement checks out for accuracy now, but by the time you read this, the information may have changed.)

This is a serious screw-up. There are many things that occur on the MARC lines that are beyond the MTA's  control. CSX and Amtrak own the tracks, operate the trains and  do the dispatching. But communicating accurately with riders  is the  MTA's  responsibility. The MTA's spokesmen weren't available when I called a few minutes ago.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

AAA projects big jump in Maryland travelers

AAA Mid-Atlantic is predicting a big jump in the number of Marylanders who will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend this year, with state residents taking to the road at a rate slightly higher than the national average.

The group projects  that almost 850,000 Marylanders will  travel 50 miles or more between next Wednesday and the following Sunday. That represents an 11.8 percent increase over 2009, compared with an expected national average  of 11.4 percent. The difference apparently reflects the employment market, which has been more robust in Maryland than most other states.

Holiday travel has plunged nationwide over the past two years because of the recession, which has cut deeply into families' disposable income.

AAA said 95  percent of Maryland's holiday travelers, or 811,000 of them, will take to the roads. That represents a 12.2 percent increase last year. The organization said the price of gasoline is about 26 cents higher than a year ago, but below the levels where it would discourage travel.

Meanwhile, the Maryland  Transportation Authority predicted a 2 percent increase in the amount of traffic on the state's toll facilities  this weekend over last  year's count. The Fort McHenry Tunnel is expected to be  the busiest, carrying a projected 780,000 vehicles between Tuesday and Sunday.

The next busiest is expected to be the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore), with 700,000. The Bay Bridge is projected to come in third with 460,000 vehicles.

Wednesday is expected to be the busiest  travel day on the Bay Bridge, and the authority is  urging motorists to travel before noon or after 7 p.m. On Sunday, the authority predicts steady westbound traffic  all day.

On Thanksgiving Day and the day after, the agency recommends that motorists use the bridge before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m. to avoid delays.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Grand Prix road work slated to end before Feb.

The  downtown Grand Prix road preparations that have been giving headaches to commuters and city residents for months is scheduled to wind up before February, city officials say.

The last of the work, which will be performed by the Department of Public Works, is expected to end by late January at the latest, said spokesman Kurt Kocher.

For now, according to  the Baltimore Department of Transportation, Grand Prix-related construction is continuing on northbound Russell Street from Lee Street to Pratt Street.  Other work is still in progress on Pratt Street from Greene Street to Calvert Street, on southbound Light Street from Pratt Street to Key Highway, and on Lee Street from Russell Street to the off-ramp from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, according to Transportation Department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes.

The department's road work is expected to be finished in mid-December, Barnes said. After that, the public works crews take over to perform utility work. With a little luck, that will be all the work needed until the weeks leading up to the Labor Day weekend Indy Car event.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:22 AM | | Comments (4)

Delaware officials expect toll plaza troubles

The Delaware Department of Transportation has joined the Maryland Transportation Authority in warning Thanksgiving holiday travelers about potentially long backups at the Interstate 95 toll plaza in Newark.

Lanes have been reduced this year because of a construction projected intended to eventually ease the persistent congestion, which frequently turns the Delaware Turnpike's steep $4 toll into a time-wasting ripoff.  As you can read below, the Delaware Department of Transportation expects the project to be complete next summer, making traffic flow better than ever. We'll see.

Below you'll find the full Delaware DOT release:


Major Thanksgiving Week Traffic Delays Expected
at I-95 Toll Plaza in Delaware
Reconstruction Project Underway to Modernize Plaza

Newark – The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) warns motorists to expect major traffic delays throughout the Thanksgiving Holiday Week at the I-95 Newark Toll Plaza. The predicted impacts are expected to be greater than in recent years and could stretch for miles and take hours to clear.

Newark – The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) warns motorists to expect major traffic delays throughout the Thanksgiving Holiday Week at the I-95 Newark Toll Plaza. The predicted impacts are expected to be greater than in recent years and could stretch for miles and take hours to clear.

Due to the on-going I-95 Newark Toll Plaza Reconstruction, reduced toll lane access and altered traffic patterns will greatly impact Thanksgiving Holiday travelers. These factors, combined with the anticipated increase of holiday traffic, will result in serious backups and travel delays, starting as early as Tuesday morning, November 23 and lasting through Monday evening, November 29. Travelers should consider using alternative routes, using alternative modes of travel or traveling during hours with lower traffic volumes.

DelDOT’s Traffic Management Center (TMC) will be monitoring the Plaza area closely to assist any stranded motorists and to help expedite the clearing of any accidents that may occur. Motorists travelling through the area can get updates by following Twitter @DelawareDOT, or by tuning to WTMC 1380AM radio.

Those at home can check delays by viewing
Available northbound and southbound toll lanes have been reduced as part of the construction. This reduction impacts both the manual cash lanes as well as the dedicated E-ZPass lanes. Additionally, due to the construction, the three open northbound E-ZPass lanes merge into a single lane just beyond the toll plaza
creating a reduction in available lane space.

The I-95 Newark Toll Plaza Reconstruction Project will include significant improvements to the 47 year-old 47 year-old site, with an expected completion of summer 2011. The changes will result in much better plaza operations
when two non-stop, highway-speed E-ZPass lanes plus seven manual cash-lanes will be open in each direction.

This $32 million modernization project is fully funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and was awarded to A-Del Construction Company of Newark, Delaware. Some of the additional improvements include:

• Widening of the approach lanes for the northbound plaza to create more vehicle storage space
• Installation of new roadway signing and pavement markings
• Upgrades to the plaza lighting systems
• Reduction of fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by reducing congestion
• Improvement of mobility for interstate truck traffic
• Improving safety of traveling public by reducing queues and need for lane changes
• Toll worker safety is addressed by creating an overhead passageway, new crash attenuators, and a dedicated equipment maintenance gantry

For more information, visit DelDOT’s project Web page (, or tune to WTMC-AM 1380.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

November 18, 2010

Accuweather: Rain but no snow for holiday travel

Twice today I heard rumors of snow in Baltimore for the Thanksgiving weekend. Accuweather says it ain't so.

Brian Edwards, a meteorologist with the State College, Pa.-based forecasting service, said most of Maryland is not expected to  see anything more disruptive than rain through the Thanksgiving weekend. He said there could be Great Lakes-effect snow to the north and west but that temperatures ii Maryland are not expected to drop to a level where snow or ice can form.

Edwards said  the good news for travelers extends all the way up the Interstate 95 corridor at least as far as northern New England.  Travel along alternate routes through Northeast Pennsylvania should also be clear except  for rain, he said. Nor should travelers along Interstate 81 in Virginia encounter snow, he said.

Travelers to Pittsburgh and other western Pennsylvania destinations should probably have a snow-free trip to their destination, he said. But Accuweather predicts they could run into wintry weather on the way home, particularly in the Laurel Highlands.

And surprise of surprises, Garrett County could have snow by late that weekend.

Edwards notes that this is a long-range prediction and that conditions could change. But for now, the rumors of snow remain nothing more than that.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Md. toll authority warns of Delaware delays

The Maryland Transportation Authority is warning motorists on Interstate 95 that they could face long lines at Delaware's Newark Toll Plaza this Tuesday and Wednesday because of work the the Delaware Department is doing at the toll collection point.

Meanwhile, the Maryland agency is also warning the U.S. 40 bridge over the Susquehanna River will not be a good alternative for holiday traffic because it is operating with only one lane open in each direction during preservattion work.

According to the authority, the northbound lines at the Delaware toll plaza  could extend as far as Harford County -- about a 20-mile stretch. Motorists can contact the Delaware  Department of  Transportation for information on conditions at the plaza.  

The prospects for the holiday are so poor that even Delaware is urging travelers to avoid paying $4 for a one-way ride on its toll roads. Here's what the Delaware department has to say:

Due to the on-going I-95 Newark Toll Plaza Reconstruction, reduced toll lane access and altered traffic patterns will greatly impact Thanksgiving Holiday travelers. These factors, combined with the anticipated increase of holiday traffic, will result in serious backups and travel delays, starting as early as Tuesday morning, Nov. 23 and lasting through Monday evening, Nov. 29. Travelers should consider using alternative routes, using alternative modes of travel or traveling during hours with lower traffic volumes.

If traffic is backed up to Harford there are few good alternatives if your destination is New Jersey or New York. If you are heading for the Philadelphia area, it would make sense to take Routes 155 and 161 to pick up U.S. 1 south of the Conowingo Dam (thus avoiding the Maryland  I-95 toll as well) and  take it northeast into Pennsylvania. If you cross the Susquehanna on I-95 and then run into a backup, consider bailing out at southbound 222 or 272 and picking up eastbound U.S. 40 until you're back in Delaware. Then you can get back on the Delaware Turnpike if you choose, without paying a toll for the privilege of being delayed.

With traffic potentially this bad, it might not pay to wait until you come to Route 279 to take one of  the popular Delaware bypasses. You might end up waiting a long time just to reach  the off ramp.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:13 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

Holiday travel, transportation issues chat at 1 p.m.

Michael Dresser will be conducting a live chat on transportation issues at 1 p.m. He'll be discussing holiday travel, airport security screening, Baltimore Grand Prix roadwork, the ICC and anything else readers are curious about.

While Michael won't be responding to questions until the chat begins, you can submit questions now in the comments or by using the widget below.

Posted by Steve Earley at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Holiday travel

November 17, 2010

O'Malley applauds WMATA task force report

Gov. Martin O'Malley commended the task force that released a report Wednesday on the governance of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (see below), but his statement falls short of full agreement with its conclusions. Here's what the governor said:

We appreciate the effort of the task force, the Board of Trade and WashCOG to examine WMATA’s current governance structure and to develop a series of recommendations aimed at improving that structure. Maryland agrees with the conclusion that changes in the way WMATA is governed could produce a more effective organization.  We look forward to working with the leadership in our fellow jurisdictions and with other stakeholders as, together, we move toward the common goal of making Metro a better, safer system for citizens throughout the region.

Artful dodge, no?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Task force urges change in Metro board structure

A task force launched by a leading Washington business groups and council of local elected officials is recommending a sweeping change in the governance of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority -- giving added clout to the governors of Maryland and Virginia and to the mayor of Washington.

Contending that flaws in Metro's governance structure are "contributing to its decline," the panel issued a report  Wednesday  in which it urged creation of a new  WMATA Governance Commission to hold the Metro board itself accountable.

The task force, set up by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, recommended that the commission include the two governors and the District of Columbia's mayor but conspicuously omitted any role for the governments of the counties surrounding Washington. Other commission members would be the chairs of the Washington Suburban Transiit Commission, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the District of Columbia Council, as well as the chief of the federal General Services Administration.


Among other changes the task force recommended:

--Elimination of the position of alternate board members.

--Letting the three jurisdictions and federal government choose the most qualified board members, whether or not they are elected offciaials

--Alllowing the commission to choose a chairman who isn't a board member, set up a compensation structure for that official, and to increase the chairman's term to four years. Currently the board chairman is selected by other board members for a one-year term.

On one  of the most sensitive aspects of WMATA's governance, the task force punted. It left the decision on whether to keep the ability of any one jurisdiction to  veto WMATA to the three jurisdictions, urging only that they "give serious consideration to eliminating it entirely."

WMATA critics have long contended that the ability of board members from either state or the District to veto policies hampers the system's flexibility.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., praised the task force's work, saying it made "several commonsense recommendations to improve the management of Metro’s operations.'

A less generous observer might wonder whether the task force's recommendations would leave WMATA in an even greater muddle than already exists -- with both a board and a "super board" for the professional staff to answer to. The enhanced role for the chairman seems to have the potential to institutionalize rivalry with the general manager.

One could also wonder whether the governors and the mayor  have sufficient time in their schedules to function as commission members  or whether they would have to operate through surrogates. 

Since the governor of Maryland and the mayor of Washington are Democrats and the governor of Virginia is a Republican, it is difficult to imagine circumstances under which the Commonwealth would give up the veto.  A copy  of the fulll board report can be found here.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Phoenix Road bridge to close Friday

The Phoenix Road bridge in northern Baltimore County will close to vehicle traffic  for an unspecified period for emergency repair work, according to the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.

The bridge, which crosses Gunpowder Falls and the NCR Trail east of York Road, will close between York and Carroll roads at 6 a.m. Friday until  new  traffic  control devices have been installed as part of a realignment of the traffic pattern. Detours will be in effect.

While the bridge is located in the county, it is owned by the city, which owns the reservoirs in the  vicinity and operates the regional water system. The city said it will maintain access for local  residents.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:55 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Circulator records millionth passenger

The Charm City Circulator has given a ride to its millionth passenger, reaching the seven-figure mark in less than a year since its launch last January, the Baltimore Department of Transportation said.

According to the department, the free shuttle bus service reached that  milestone  Tuesday -- far earlier than projected. The city said ridership over  the past month has averaged more than 4,840 a day on the Circulator's two lines -- the east-west Orange Route and the north-south Purple Route.

Service on the Orange Route began Jan. 11, while the Purple Route was introduced June 7.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:22 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: City bus service

Riders rate 4 bus routes particularly low

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, which is surveying Maryland Transit Administration customers on the quality of service they receive, said it has identified four bus routes with a higher level of complaints than others.

With 1,450  responses to the Rate Yor Ride survey tabulated, the association said Routes 5, 15, 19 and 77 stand out with a high volume of negative comments. The association said lateness was the primary complaint,  along with missed stops and buses too crowded too pick up passengers waiting at stops.

The alliance said it met with  the MTA to discuss the preliminary findings. It said the survey so far shows the highest level of satisfaction on Routes 1, 46, 22 and 91.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:09 PM | | Comments (24)

Nurses' group ranks Md. high-middle on safety laws

The Emergency Nurses Association ranks Maryland on the high side of middle-of-the-road in the strength of its traffic safety laws, having adopted 11 or its 14 legislative recommendations.

The nurses group put Washington and Oregon at the top of its rankings, with perfect scores of 14, with Tennessee right behind at 13. North Dakota ranked the lowest, with 4 of 14. South Dakota, Iowa and Idaho ranked close  to the basement with 5.

The association has develpoed a series of criteria on which it scores the  50 states and the District of Columbia. They include seat belt laws, motorcycle  helmet laws, child booster seat requirements, enhanced requirements for young drivers to obtain a license, texting bans, drunk driving laws and establishment of a state trauma system.


Maryland was marked down for not requiring seat belt use for all car passengers, for allowing motorcycle  helmets that don't meet  federal specifications and for not having a strict  enough limit on  the number of young passengers a teen-age driver can transport. Studies have shown the number of fatal crashes increases dramatically when 16- and 17- year old drivers have  multiple young passengers in the car with  them.

The association said 38 states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws since the 2008 version of  the report that have improved their scores. Twelve states, including Virginia  and Pennsylvania, have not.

The Emergency Nurses Association calls itself a professional association with 35,000 members dedicated to advocacy for emergency care.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

November 16, 2010

Study finds U.S. lags in traffic safety

Despite recent decreases in traffic deaths, the United States trails behind virtually every other industrialized nation in improving highway safety, according to a new federal report.

The Transportation Research Board reported that fatality rates per vehicle kilometer traveled were much higher in the United States that in other high-income countries -- including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and much of Northern Europe.

It's not that highway safety in the United States has deteriorated. The annual number of deaths on American roads has declined by more than 9 percent in each of the last two years to a modern low of 34,000 in 2009. The problem, the report says, is that other countries have cut their level of fatalities so much more by adopting stricter traffic laws and enforcing them more diligently.








The report found that 10 countries where road traffic rates were much higher than in the United States 15 years ago have reduced their fatality rates to a lower level than found on U.S roads. It noted that traffic deaths had declined 50 percent in 15 high-income countries between 1995 and 2009, while U.S. fatalities had declined only 19 percent. The board said the recent decreases in U.S. traffic deaths are probably more attributable than cutbacks in driving for economic reasons than to improved driving behavior.

It's no mystery what these countries are doing that the U.S. is not to saves lives on the roads. They're strictly enforcing speed limits and drunken-driving laws -- including the use of cameras and roadside sobriety checks. They're investing in improved road design. They're requiring seat belt use for drivers and helmet use for motorcyclists. They're addressing the specific issues raised by yoinger drivers and older drivers. And their governments are adopting specific management plans with definite goals.

In other words, other countries are taking this seriously -- and we're not. It's not just a governmental issue. It's cultural. Americans are simply much more likely to complain about getting a $40 speeding ticket from a camera -- even when those cameras give them a 12-mph cushion -- than they are about thousands of their fellow citizens dying on the road. Americans profess to oppose drunk driving but shy away from measures that would really crack down on offenders -- finding it too "harsh" to permanently revoke  the license of a repeat offender.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

AAA projects jump in Thanksgiving travel

It might not be showing in the unemployment numbers, but AAA Mid-Atlantic is seeing signs of a recovery in its projections of Thanksgiving travel.

The organizations is predicting an 11.4 percent jump in the numbers of Americans planning to travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday weekend, which AAA defines as lasting from next Wednesday to the following Sunday. AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella said the increase reflects a modest  improvement in Americans' financial position over a year ago.

 The rebound does not suggest a full recovery from the depths of the recession, however. The 42.2 million Americans expected to travel are 30 percent fewer than the record 58.6 million set in 2005. Averella said the planned increase reflects modest gains in income and a stabilization of the employment market compared with the heavy losses seen in the previous two years.

AAA predicts the vast majority of travelers, 39.7 million, will travel by car -- up 12 percent from a year ago. It projects a 3.5 percent increase in the number of travelers flying.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

November 15, 2010

$3.4 billion I-270 project slated for long-term plan

The Washington area's Transportation Planning Board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a long-term spending plan that includes a $3.4 billion project to widen Interstate 270 between Shady Grove and Frederick.

The planned inclusion of the I-270 project, which would be the most expensive in Maryland's history, has  drawn a protest from the Action Committee for Transit, which calls the proposed widening "a waste of money" that would  not reduce congestion.

Ronald F. Kirby, director of the board's department of  transportation planning, said the inclusion of the mega-project  in the 30-year plan for metropolitan Washington does not commit the Maryland Department of Transportation to funding the expansion. But he said its inclusion formally designates the project as something "we want to do."


Under the proposal, two lanes would be added to I-270 in each direction between Interstate 370 and Frederick, while U.S. 15 in Frederick would be widened one northbound and one southbound lane.

Kirby said the plan envisions a project that would be financed through conventional transportation revenues, with the traditional 80 percent federal and 20 percent state split of the costs. Unlike some proposals for the project, the plan the board will vote on doesn't depend on toll financing, he said. He said the state could pay for the project by extending the completion time to 2030.

The I-270 corridor in Montgomery and Frederick counties is plagued by some of the  worst traffic jams in Maryland. Many local officials there are pushing for the road to be widened as a way of relieving the congestion.

But Ben Ross, president of ACT, said the project would waste money that could better be used for transit projects that would take  cars  off the roads. He said that when the stretch of I-270 south of Shady Grove was widened, the new lanes quickly filled up and became as congested as they were before.

"It's just going to dump more cars into Montgomery County and  tie up all the roads in Montgomery County," he said.

Ross' group is supporting what it calls an "all-transit" alternative that includes MARC improvements and the extension  of the Metro Red Line to Germantown.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said the board has to include the project in its  plan so that the state's environmental study of the corridor's needs can continue. She said that study includes the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed light rail or rapid bus line between Shady Grove and Clarksburg in northern Montgomery.

Swaim-Staley said the transit project is the state's priority and that  it can later be separated from the proposed highway widening.  She insisted that the project's inclusion in the Washington-area plan does not commit the  state to building it.

The project would have little direct impact on Baltimore or its nearby suburbs because it involves a commuting corridor used  mostly by Washington-area residents  and workers. But the cost of the project is enormous, as are the potential environmental effects. It is not something the state can undertake without having an impact on its entire transportation program. Baltimore-area policy makers would be well-advised to stay on top of the debate over a project that has the potential to becomes as controversial as the Intercounty Connector.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:05 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads

Pratt Street stretch to close overnight

The city Department of Transportation will close part of Pratt Street overnight for the next two weeks, forcing downtown drivers to take a detour.

According to the city, Pratt will close between Hopkins Place and Howard Street on weeknights starting tonight  for utility work. Until the work is done, those  blocks of the east-running one-way street will close at 8 p.m. and reopen at 5 a.m. the following day.

Detours will be posted  for the work, which will take place when weather permits.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Bidding for MARC train contract canceled

Maryland has pulled the plug on the bidding for a contract to take over the operations of the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines from CSX -- saying its bid solicitation had failed to generate  sufficient competition for  the work.

"We were not happy with the competition or lack of competition,"  said state Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley.

Swaim-Staley said the Maryland Transit Administration would revise its request for proposals in an effort to make it more attractive for bidders.  She said it would take  "a couple of months" to put the contract back on the market.

The MARC Camden and  Brunswick lines are now owned and operated by CSX, which has expressed an intent to get out of the passenger operations  side of  the business. The Camden Line runs  between Baltimore and Washington, while the  Brunswick Line extends from  Washington to Martinsburg, W.Va.

 A third MARC route, the Perryville-to-Washington Penn Line, is operated by Amtrak and was not involved in the bid solicitation.




Swaim-Staley said CSX has agreed to extend its role as  operator of the two lines. She said the railroad had expressed a  willingness to work  with the state to  determine why the first round of bidding did not attract as  much interest as anticipated.

"We did have  interest but we did not have the interest we were contemplating," Swaim-Staley said.

The MARC contract was the second high-profile bid solicitation that the Maryland Department  of Transportation has canceled this month. Last week the department decided to call off bidding for a contract to redevelop the Maryland Transportation Authority's two travel plazas along Interstate 95 in Northeast Maryland.

The solicitation for that contract was withdrawn before bids were opened. Swaim-Staley said the MARC contract, which was first put out for bidding in May 2009, was even further along and that a bid or bids had been received before the state decided the  level of competition was insufficient.


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

November 12, 2010

Howard County to add cutting-edge electric buses

Howard County will add three electric buses that use an advanced technology -- the first of its kind in an American public transit system -- that lets the vehicles be recharged without pluggiing them in to an outlet.

County Executive Ken Ulman announced that Howarrd Transit has received federal funding to acquire the full-size, lightweight buses for use on routes in and around Columbia. The buses use what is called an inductive charger that repowers the bus batteries without a physical connection.

According to Howard County, the technology has been used successfully in Europe but has not been used on an American transit system. The $4.7 million acquisition is being financed primarily by a $3.7 million Federal Transit Administration grant authorized under the federal economic stimulus program. The buses  are slated for use on Howard Transit's busy Green Route serving the Mall in Columbia, Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:43 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local bus lines

SHA to start 2 Harford road projects

The State Highway Administration will begin two pavement repair projects in Harford County as early as Monday, forcing lane closures that could require extra travel time.

The more expensive of the projects is the $269,000 pavement fix on Route 7 (Philadelphia Road) in Belcamp. That project, which could begin Monday or shortly after, will result in lane closings between U.S. 40 and a point east of Seven Trails Drive between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday-Friday and between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays for the next several weeks.

The other is the $145,000 repair of Route 24 (Rock Spring Rooad) between Red Pump Road and the U.S. 1 Bypass overpass in Bel Air. That will require lane closings at  the same times as the Belcamp project. Both projects are financed  with federal stimulus dollars.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Bay Bridge lanes to close for inspections

The Bay Bridge is now undergoing its annual inspection, and motorists may encounter lane closings during off-peak hours on weekdays.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says drivers on the bridge might spot equipment such as "Snooper" trucks on the bridge, as well as inspectors climbing on the twin spans. Among other things, inspectors will be looking at the condition of the cables that support the suspension part of the bridge. The inspections will continue through next spring.

If weather permits, the authority will close one lane of the three-lane westbound span next Monday-Thursday for the inspection and for maintenance work. It will close the eastbound span entirely Monday-Thursday from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. the following mornings and Friday night from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. Saturday for preservation work. Two-way traffic will  be in effect on the westbound bridge during those periods.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

MTA invites public to stuff a bus

The Maryland Transit Administration and two partners are inviting the public to stuff MTA buses with non-perishable foods for the Maryland Food bank this weekend in Baltimore and Howard counties.

The MTA, in partnership with Giant Food and MIX 106.5 FM, will station buses at the Giant stores at 7944 Honeygo Boulevard in White Marsh and 9200 Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City. The buses will be open for stuffing Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Donations  will be used to stock the food bank and to help families in need.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 AM | | Comments (1)

November 10, 2010

Mount Washington traffic pattern to shift

Residents, workers and visitors to Mount Washington will encounter a changed traffic pattern and some over night closings in connection with a city project to rehabilitate a bridge in the neighborhood's commercial district.

Traffic on the one-way, two-lane Newbury Street bridge, which has been restricted to the right side of the northbound street, will shift to the left starting Thursday, according to the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

The bridge, which was built in the early 1970s, has been undergoing rehabilitation since late August, with work concentrated on the left-hand lane. For the  remainder of the project, which is expected to be completed in December, crews will concentrate thair efforts on the right lane.

In addition, the city will close the bridge entirely between Sulgrave and Smith Avenues  next  Monday and Tuesday night between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. the following mornings for construction work. Flagging operations and alternate traffic patterns will be in effect so the city can maintain access to the light rail and municipal parking lots as well as to local businesses.

As is usually the case with highway projects, these could be postponed for bad weather.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Travel plaza: State was concerned few would bid

Maryland transporation officials pulled the plug on the bid process for redevelopment of two travel plazas on Interstate 95 largely because they were concerned that their solicitation of proposals had become so muddled that few prospective contractors would have made offers.

Although the Maryland Transportation Authority has been making plans to seek a private partner to redevelop and operate the aging  Maryland House and Chesapeake House for more than four years, the request for proposals the agency issued early this year had undergone at least seven revisions and several deadline extensions.

In an interview, Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said state officials ultimately decider it would be wiser  to cancel the RFP, go back to the start and draft a clean document with the help of a consultant familiar with the arcane world of public-private partnerships. Sometime early next year, the state expects to start seeking bids again.

Swaim-Staley was constrained from getting into too much detail by state procurement law, but she outlined as much as she believed she could about the state's reasoning.

"It  was just a feeling that maybe we'd  best start over," she said. "After you've patched so many times over, then maybe it would be better to start from whole cloth."

Swaim-Staley said the travel plaza deal would involve hundreds of millions of dollars and a term that is expected to be 30 years.  "There's certainly no need to rush this. The goal should  be to get it right," she said.

The cancellation, coming just a week before bid were due, does have a downside. For a contract this complex, involving multiple specialties, companies generally need to band together and form a consortium to bid. Preparing a bid, only one of which would prevail, can be a costly enterprise in itself. By the time the deadline is a week away, some of the potential bidders are likely to  have already sent proposals to the printer. The state's stop-and-start procurement process could very well discourage teams from competing.

Swaim-Staley acknowledged the costs to potential bidders but said there were concerns that the bid process that was in the works would have yielded too few bidders because of "so many changes" to the original solicitation.

One other reason the state might have pulled back from the solicitation may have been a desire to beef  up the inducements for bidders to include minority businesses as team members and subcontractors. Swaim-Staley said the  original solicitation did not have a  minority business enterprise provision because the deal was considered a revenue-producing contract for the state -- and thus exempt from the usual requirements for  contracts in which the state is buying goods or services. She said the state would take a look at whether there was a way to promote the participation of minority- and  women-owned businesses.

"There are certainly ways to encourage it," she said.

MY TAKE: It would have been better, of course,  to get it right the first time. But if the  state had doubts it was on the right track, pulling the plug was probably the right call. Public-private partnerships are complex matters because it's important that the state provides an adequate return to the contractor but  not a sweetheart deal. And this is a deal the state will have to live with a long time.

There is  also likely a sensitivity about bringing any big deal to the  Board of Public Works that does not  have multiple qualified bidders. There  have been a couple of big state contracts recently that were awarded to the sole bidder, and at least one board member -- Comptroller Peter Franchot -- has been outspokenly displeased.

Now the pressure is on the Maryland Department of Transportation to craft a bid solicitation that protects the state's interests, attracts multiple bidders and doesn't require extensive patchwork  when it goes back out on the street.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:29 PM | | Comments (1)

Stretch of Old Frederick Road to close

The city Department of Transportation is planning to close a two-block stretch of Old Frederick Road in West Baltimore for a construction project that is expected to last for about two years.

The city will close the road between Swann Avenue  and Dunland Road starting 9 a.m. Monday. Detours will be posted.

City Transportation Department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said the extended closure is connected with the Uplands development project.  Barnes said the project requires "60 acres of grading and construction of the roadways and other infrastructure for the  development. She said the road closing is necessary to move 27,000 truckloads of dirt from one side of the project to the other.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Veteran's Day Parade could tie up traffic

Government employees who have the day off have nothing to worry about, but downtown workers who have to report on Veterans Day could find the trip to work a challenge because of the city's parade plans.

The Downtown Partnership reports that the city's 8 a.m. Veterans Day Parade will close several busy downtown streets tomorrow between 7 a.m. and noon. They are:

•         Charles Street from Fayette Street to Monument Street
•         Lexington Street from Charles Street to Frederick Street
•         Gay Street from Fayette Street to the Fallsway
•         Saratoga Street from Gay Street to Holiday Street.

Parking restrictions will also be in effect on streets in the area of the parade route between 6 a.m. and noon. They are:

· Charles Street from Lexington to Madison Streets
· Lexington Street from Charles to Saratoga Streets
· Gay Street from Fayette Street to Fallsway
· Saratoga Street from Gay to Holliday Streets


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:24 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: On the roads

November 9, 2010

Mrs. Smith gets her CharmCard fixed

Yesterday we recounted the  story of Bernard and Maria Smith and the hoops they had to jump through at the Maryland Transit Administration to resolve a problem of a defective CharmCard.

Today we can report that the problem has been resolved, though it took the Smiths three trips downtown to accomplish that. Here's the word from MTA spokesman Terry Owens:

Thank you for the opportunity to investigate and respond to a complaint about an inoperative CharmCard and MTA’s response.  Since hearing from you we did confirm that Mrs. Smith’s CharmCard is defective, and today she picked up a new card with its full value along with an apology for her wasted time.  Interestingly, there are currently 4,000 cards in operation and this is the very first report we have received about a defective card.

CharmCard customer service is handled under contract by a regional service center that supports both CharmCards and WMATA SmarTrip cards.  The MTA station attendant followed our procedures by advising the Smiths to call the customer service center to report their problem, but the customer service representative should have taken a report and initiated an investigation. Transit Store employees do not have information about individual CharmCards and cannot issue refunds without prior authorization.  We have been assured by the customer service center that this will not happen again.  Given the scope and complexity of the CharmCard program we expected a few bumps along the way, and overall the cards are receiving good reviews from customers.  Thanks again for the opportunity to respond.

Terry Owens
MTA Media Relations

Not a bad response but it could have been better. The MTA should make it crystal clear to its employees at the store that when a customer comes in with a problem, their job is to see that it's resolved, not to send that person home with instructions to come back later.

"We will do everything we can to prevent these kinds of issue from occurring," Owens told me. It's a noble sentiment but too general.

Bernard Smith said he's happy that his wide received a refund for her accumuated fare, plus a credit for the price of the card.

"It shouldn't have got that far," he said. "They need  to get a different system."




Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM | | Comments (4)

Transit savings in Baltimore put at $9,549 a year

The American Publiic Transit Association estimates that a typical commuter to downtown Baltimore could save $9,549 a year by taking bus or rail to work and jettisoning a car.

Now APTA is a trade group and lobbying arm of the nation's transit agencies, so the fact the organization has come up with a large number for Baltimore and other cities is hardly a surprise. (New York tops that list at $13,962 a year.) But for certain commuters who would like to cut household expenses, the Baltimore number might be worth considering. That's $796 a month, if APTA's calaculations are valid.

Here's APTA's explanation of its methodology:



APTA calculates the average cost of taking public transit by determining the average monthly transit pass of local public transit agencies across the country.  This information is based on the annual APTA fare collection survey and is weighted based on ridership (unlinked passenger trips).  The assumption is that a person making a switch to public transportation would likely purchase an unlimited pass on the local transit agency, typically available on a monthly basis.

APTA then compares the average monthly transit fare to the average cost of driving.  The cost of driving is calculated using the 2010 AAA average cost of driving formula.  AAA cost of driving formula is based on variable costs and fixed costs.  The variable costs include the cost of gas, maintenance and tires.  The fixed costs include insurance, license registration, depreciation and finance charges.  The comparison also uses the average mileage of a mid-size auto at 23.4 miles per gallon and the price for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline as recorded by AAA on November 8, 2010 at $2.85 per gallon.  The analysis also assumes that a person will drive an average of 15,000 miles per year.  The savings assume a person in two-person household lives with one less car.

In determining the cost of parking, APTA uses the data from the 2010 Colliers International Parking Rate Study for monthly unreserved parking rates for the United States.

The flawed assumption in this calculation, as I see it, is that a two-car family would be likely to give up one of its cars. There are probably families that do so, especially in urban neighborhoods, but as people get out to the suburbs, the demands for weekend mobility increase. It's a challenge to be a one-car couple in America today.

However, it is no doubt true that many families could save a bundle on parking, gas, maintenance and depreciation by leaving a car home five days a week. Why don't more people take advantage of the transit  option? Well, there's inconvenient stops, long waiting times, inconsistencies in staying on schedule, cultural aversion to shared transit, poor customer service and fear of crime among other reasons.

So even with these attractive savings being dangled,  transit is still a tough sell. But the numbers point to the potential for working families if  agencies like the MTA were to get it right.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (7)

November 8, 2010

State cancels contract solicitation for travel plazas

The Maryland Transportation Authority has canceled its bid solicitation for a contract to redevelop and manage its two travel plazas along the toll stretch of Interstate 95 in Northeast Maryland.

For more than four years, the authority has been planning to seek a private vendor to redevelop the aging Maryland House and Chesapeake House on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway. But earlier today, the  state abruptly canceled its request for proposals,

"The Maryland Tranportation Authority has determined that it is in the best interest of the State to cancel this solicitation" was the only explanation.

A call to the authority seeking additional information was not immediately returned.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:24 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

MTA rider finds card defective, service more so

When MTA customers Bernard and Maria Smith found that their new CharmCard wasn't working, they reported the problem to MTA customer service. That's when they really encountered a defective system.

Bernard Smiith gave this account:

On Thursday evening, he and his wife were going to their church, where  she was to  sing with the  choir. But when the got to the Charles  Street Metro station, they found that her Charm Card would  not work to open any oof the gates. Bernard Smith then went to the ticket machine and tapped the card, which showed there was a monthly pass on it with almost a month of value.

They sought help from the  attendant, who was apparently no help. Mr. Smith described her as "clueless." A supervisor was summoned, but by the time he got there Mrs. Smith had missed her choir time.

That night, the Smiths called the 800 number on the card and reported the problem. Mr. Smith said  he was told that the would have  to go downtown to the MTA Store to resolve the problem


So on Friday, Smith heads downtown to 6 St. Paul Street from his Southwest Baltimore home. When he gets there, an MTA manager tells  him that the report on the defective card had yet  to come in and that he would have to come back.

So today, Smith returns to the MTA Store and is told the report still isn't in and that he should come  back later in the week. So this afternoon, Mrs.  Smith calls the 800 number again and finds that the person who took the original report got the facts wrong. Mrs. Smith was told she would have to file a new report.

That's when Mr. Smith called The Sun.

Now I find it interesting that there could  be some CharmCards on the street with defective chips. That would certainly be a problem, and a bit of a black eye for the MTA, which took years getting the system up and running.

But  it is an even greater concern that the MTA would require a rider to come all the way downtown to get a problem resolved and then fail to resolve it. A trip downtown takes a considerable bite out  of a customer's time, and the rider who makes that trip ought to be treated with appropriate concern. To send a customer home again and again because some paper work hasn't come through strikes me as Soviet-era service.

So here's the question for MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells: Is this official policy? Are managers at the MTA Store permitted to tell people to go home and come back later? Is there any limit on the number of trips the  MTA will require its riders to take to solve a simple problem? Does the MTA presume its riders are liars until they prove otherwise?

This question has been posed  to the MTA. We'll let you know what the response is. And if you know of other instances of  defective CharmCards, drop an email to



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MTA

City Council to vote on 'Cyclists' Bill of Rights'

The Baltimore City Council is scheduled to vote tonight -- and almost certainly approve -- a non-binding resolution expressing support for improved conditions for bicycling,

 Called 'the Cyclists' Bill of Rights," the resolution would state the council's support for equal access to city streets and safe travel for bicyclists. The resolution, sponsored by Counciilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, also calls for greater involvement of bicyclists in the planning process, improved bike parking and more awareness of bicyclists rights in accident cases.

The resolution is part of a package of pro-bicycling legislation sponsored by Clarke. Other bills, which would be binding, require the city  Transportation Departmment to include bicycling concerns in planning project and require major employers to provide bike lockers or racks  for employees. Those bills are  up for preliminary approval tonight, Clarke said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:36 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bicycles

Study finds 40% have been asleep at the wheel

More than 40 percent of U.S. drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel, according to a study just released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The study calls attention to one of the leading causes of fatal crashes -- driving  while drowsy. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures indicate that one in six fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver, AAA says.

The AAA study found that one in 10 motorists surveyed said they had fallen asleep at the wheel sometime in the past year. Over the  course of their driving careers, 41 perecet reported an incident of falling asleep.

The study found  that one-quarter of drivers admitted to driving while having difficulty keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month. Despite that, 85 percent said it was "completely  unacceptable" to drive while struggling to remain awake.


AAA recommends  that drivers get at least six hours of sleep before a long trip and take breaks every two hours  or 100 miles. The group also urges drivers to travel at times when they are used to being awake and to make an overnight stay rather that attempting to drive to a faraway destination  without resting.

According to AAA, the problem of sleep deprivation while driving becomes especially common wiith the end of daylight savings time because of the earlier onset of  darkness.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Toll authority names chief engineer

The Maryland Transportation Authority has named Douglas M. Hutcheson its chief engineer, handing him responsibility for maintaining the state's seven current toll facilities as well as the new Intercounty Connector.

Hutcheson, a resident of Bel Air, has been acting chief engineer since March, when Geoffrey Kolberg retired. He previously served as the authority's director of engineering. He came to the agency after more than 20  years at the State Highway Administration.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

AAA warns of gas price pressure

AAA Mid-Atlantic is sounding a warning that the price of crude oil is getting ominously close to $90 a barrel and that gasoline prices could soon be on the rise.

The price of gasoline crept up 2 cents over the past week to reach $2.81 today, but AAA noted that crude oil hit a 2010 high of $86.65 a barrel Friday. Crude oil prices are the single most importatnt factor in the cost of gasoline.

Gas prices have been remarkably steady this year. AAA noted that price have held below $2.90 for 25 consecutive weeks. But a 6.7 increase in crude oil  prices last week provided an unwelcome reminder of the run-up in 2007 that led to $4-a-gallon gas.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

November 5, 2010

Amtrak riders face delays too; 7 hurt in crash

An Amtrak spokesman said train delays are expected to persist into the evening peak travel period as a result of this morning's low-speed collision of two trains and resulting derailment at Union Station in Washington.

Spokesman Steve Kulm said Amtrak long-distance trains could be delayed 1-2 hours, while MARC and VRE commuter trains could leave up to 30 minutes late. He said Acela trains, as well as Northeast Regionals that are stopping at Washington, will not be affected.

Kulm also updated the injury count from five to seven and said six of those hurt were Amtrak employees. All six were taken to local hospitals, he said, while an injured passenger who had been aboard a private car declined hospital treatment.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train

Delays expected for MARC passengers

This morning's collision and derailment of two trains in the Union Station railyard in Washington is apparently causing continuing headaches for MARC riders this afternoon.

A little  before 4 p.m., the Maryland Transit Administration posted this statement on its MARC website:

Due to congestion in the Union Station area due to a derailment in the storage yard earlier today, all trains may be delayed 10-20 minutes departing Union Station.  It is possible that trains will leave on time; do not assume that trains will be late.  Please remain inside Union Station in the passenger waiting area until your train is announced and posted for boarding, this will allow Amtrak and MARC staff to keep you notified on the public address system.   Washington Metrorail will honor MARC tickets today.  We thank you in advance for your patience this afternoon.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train

Streets to close in heart of town

The continuing effort to prepare city streets for next year's downtown Grand Prix race will bring road closings to some of Baltimore's main roadways next week, forcing overnight detours.

On Monday and Tuesday nights, Pratt Street will be closed between Charles and Calvert streets starting at 7 p.m. and continuing through 5 a.m. the following mornings. On Wednesday evening, the closings will move to Charles Street, where the block between Pratt and Lombard will close starting at 7 p.m. and continuing through 5 a.m. Thursday.

The shutdowns come on top of continuing lane closures on Pratt Street between Greene and Calvert streets and on Lee Street from Russell Street to the off ramp from Martin Luther King Boulevard.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Blogger slams columnist on speed cameras

One of Washington's fiercest (and best) bloggers has ripped a Washington Post writer over a column that all but condoned arson when directed against speed cameras.

David Alpert of  Greater Greater Washington does a pithy job of taking apart the Post's Petula Dvorak for her obsession with the sheer injustice of being caught breaking the law by one of those "horrid contraptions" in a column today. Instead, Alpert refocuses the debate where it belongs: the threat to human lives from speeding drivers.

Dvorak dwells on the persistent canard that the speed cameras are only put up for the purposes of extracting a "speed tax" from innocent motorist victims. Her column comes about as close to  applauding the commission of crimes -- vandalism, arson, malicious destruction of property -- as anything I've ever seen in a respected daily newspaper.

At first I thought Alpert had crossed over a line by calling Dvorak someone "who clearly likes to speed herself." But a second look at her column shows a passing reference to the church benefits "where I'm always going when I get one."

So maybe Alpert wasn't being unfair after all. Dvorak didn't exactly come out and offer her readers full disclosure of how many times she has been caught speeding by the cameras. That's something readers really have a right to know so they can judge the degree to which she has a conflict of interest. They should know whether her obvious passion arises from a concern for justice or simple petulance over getting caught.

Then that becomes a question for the newspaper itself. If you're an editor and your columnist has collected a bunch of camera-generated tickets, do you then let that person use that platform to advocate for a position in which she clearly has a vested interest? Especially when she pushed it to the point of asking people to report camera sites for the purpose of publicizing them?

I can only tell readers that if I ever use the platform of the column or the blog to denounce a law enforcement practice, I will fully disclose whether I have ever been accused as a result of that  practice. If I ever come to the defense of U-turns in defiance of clear signs, you'll know about the ticket I received for that violation in 1997. (I was acquitted but only because the officer was late for court.) Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I believe readers have a right to know.

By the way, I'm not sure a "speed  tax" is such a bad idea. Speeders are by definition bad drivers and bad drivers impose more costs on the public than responsible ones. Why shouldn't they pay an additional "tax."

Can you name the Maryland governor who proposed just such a system to raise revenue?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:10 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Road safety

Election provides mixed news for transit projects

This week's election provided mixed news for supporters of expansion of Maryland's transit system -- positive at the local level but foreboding on the national scene.

The big local story was Gov. Martin O'Malley defeat of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich  Jr. in a contest that pitted two very different views of public transit.  Ehrlich prmoised to scuttle Baltimore's Red Line and the Washington suburban Purple Line as light rail projects if elected. His stance in favor of a bus alternative was a turn-off to influential players in Montgomery and Prince Georges' counties -- as reflected in the Greater Washington Board of Trade's endorsement of O'Malley. His numbers in the Washington suburbs would have been anemic anyway, but his stance on the Purple Line deepened his problems. 

Ehrlich's Red Line position might have won him a few stray votes in Canton, but there are no signs it helped him much in the Baltimore area.


The election results ensure that the plug will not be pulled on the two projects and that O'Malley's pro-transit spending priorities will not be reversed. But the national results could complicate efforts to finance the project.

Among the casualties of the Repiblican sweep was Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, a powerful committee chairman with jurisdiction over transportation. With him gone, the House loses one of its  most fervent advocates of transit investment.

Traditionally, the parties manage to put theiir differences behind them when it comes to pasiing the six-year transportation reauthorization bill, which the Democrats didn't get around to when they controlled the House. It remains to be seen whether the new, more ideological Republican majority has much appetite for infrastructure spending. Even if they do, they can be expected to show the GOP''s traditional emphasis on roads over transit, which is heavily identified with cities and lower-income users. It's doubtful that federal formulas will change in a way that benefits transit.

So the best Maryland can hope for really is that the current formulas remain unchanged until the federal government can rule on its Red Line and Purple Line applications. If Maryland gets the green light, that would mean it would have to come up with its 50 percent  share, which could exceed $1 billion if both projects were approved.

With the state budget still in woeful shape and no consensus in favor of  higher transportation revenues, Maryland could need a Harry Potter to conjure up a financing plan. That decision could be a ways  down the road, however, and until then the projects can  continue the engineering process that Ehrlich would probably have defunded. By 2013, who knows what the economic and political conditions will be?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:42 AM | | Comments (1)

Amtrak says 5 hurt in derailment in D.C.

Five people sustained minor injuries this morning when two trains collided in the rail yard at Union Station in Washington, derailing five cars, Amtrak says.

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said both Amtrak and MARC trains were operating but that delays could  be expected on some trains throughout the day. He said Amtrak hopes to have normal service restored by the evening peak travel period  but could not be sure.

According  to Kulm, a train pulling  private passengers cars collided with a MARC Penn Line train shortly before 9:20 a.m. in the Washington rail yard. He said three Amtrak employees and two persons aboard the other train were injured.

Kulm said the MARC train had already discharged its passengers and that only crew was aboard. The crash occurred after most morning MARC commuters had already arrived at Union Station, according to Maryland Transit Administration spokesman David Clark.

According to Kulm, the five derailed cars remained upright. He urged MARC and Amtrak passengers to check the Amtrak website for service updates.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

Penn Line service restored

Service on the Penn Line was restored about 10:15 a.m. after a crash and derailment this morning at Union Station, according to MTA spokesman David Clark. Delays are expected to continue.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:22 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

MARC service coming back after collision

Service on the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines has been restored, but remain suspended on the busy Penn Line, after a low-speed collision this morning led to a derailment in Union Station in Washington.

Maryland Transit Administration spokesman David Clark said a train pulling private cars collided with a MARC train that had no passengers aboard a little before 9:20 a.m. Some cars derailed and some  crew members suffered minor injuries, he said. Clark said  the collision occurred after the majority of MARC's morning commuters had already arrived in Washington.

 Clark said Amtrak briefly suspended service on all lines but quickly reopened the station to Brunswick and Camden line trains, which are operated by CSX.

The TBD blog quoted an Amtrak spokesman as saying five of its employees were taken to local hospitals.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train

MARC service suspended due to derailment

This just in from the MTA:

Due to a derailment in Washington Union Station, all train service is suspended until further notice to accommodate emergency responce personnel and vechiles. Washington Metro will honor MARC tickets.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train

November 4, 2010

Section of U.S. 1 to close this weekend

Emergency pipe repairs will force the temporary closing this wekend of a stretch of U.S. 1 in the White Marsh-Perry Hall area, the State Highway Administration says.

The SHA will close the section of 1 (Belair Road) from RidgelyNecker roads to Old  Forge Lane between 9 p.m. Friday untii 11 a.m. Saturday and again from 6 p.m. Sunday until  early Monday morning. The southbound road is expected to reopen by 5 a.m. Monday and the nortbound lanes at 7 a.m.

Crews will repair a 30-inch drainage pipe underneath U.S. 1. Detours will be  in place. Residents will have access to their driveways through the weekend, the agency says.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Conway Street work to bring 2 weeks of detours

Preparations for next year's Grand Prix race downtown will bring two weeks of detours for southbound commuters and other travelers as the Baltimore Department of Transportation closes a key block of Conway Street for road work.

The city will close the block of westbound Conway between Light and Charles streets starting Monday, altering the commuting pattern for many drivers connecting wiith southbound Interstate 95 from downtown.

Officials are urging drivers to  use westbound Lombard Street to either Sharp or Howard streets to reach  Conway before it empties into Interstate 395 at Camden Yards. The city is estimating  the work will take two weeks.

In addition to closing that block of Conway, the city will also restrict traffic on Lee  Street near the stadiums. Starting Monday, Lee will be closed to eastbound  vehicles between Russell Street and the off ramp from Martin Luther King Bouleverd. That closing is  also expected to last two weeks.

The construction  work being done for the Indy car race next September has also forced continuing closings of lanes on Pratt streets and Light streets.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

State transportation official honored for port deal

A Maryland transportation official has received a prestigious national award from a national organization of his peers for his work on a pioneering public-private partnership for improvements to the Seagirt Marine terminal.

Frederick Rappe Jr., special assistant to  former  Secretary of Transportation John Porcari and current Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley, was selected for a 2010 President's Transportation Award in the intermodal cataegory by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).  A 29-year veteran of state  service, Rappe was nominatted for the awrd by Swaim-Staley.

According to the association, "Rappe spearheaded the complex infrastructure finance work needed to execute one of the largest public/private partnerships agreements in the Northeast to build a new 50-foot-deep berth at the Port of Baltimore. His troubleshooting of key financial-management issues related to this project has created a new standard in the development of public/private partnerships."

The partnership is the key part of  Maryland's strategy  for preparing for the completion in 2014  of the widening of the Panama Canal. The deal is expected to allow the port of Baltimore to capture a significant share of the new ship traffic that will then be able  to travel to the East Coast  directly from Asia rather than having to depend on West Coast ports and rail shipments.

Political junkies may recall that the employment produced by the deal became the subject of  campaign advertising for Gov. Martin O'Malley, who used it to tout his job-creation efforts  at a time of high national unemployment. Acording to O'Malley the partnership is expected to creatte or support 5,700 jobs.

While AASHTO may not be well known to the public, within the world of transportation it is one of the most respected voices. In addition to advocating for investment in transportation infrastructure, it is the industry standard-setter for the nation's highway system.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:04 PM | | Comments (0)

November 3, 2010

Article explores bike-car-pedestrian relations

Reuters has an interesting article on the sometimes toxic relations among motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. Felix Salmon writes from a New York bicyclist's point of view, but he's not at all sparing of his fellow bikers who trample all over the traffic laws. And most of his points are equally applicable in the streets of Baltimore.

The arrticle is especially recommended  to bicyclists who think they should be exempt from the traffic laws that govern sidewalk use and one-way  streets. Salmon explains, clearly  and from a bicyclists' point of view, why this is dangerous folly.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:01 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bicycles, On the roads

Lombard Street closing planned

If you're driving in central Baltimore this weekend, you may have to get along without the downtown's prime westbound artery. Lombard Street will be closed for contruction between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Greene Street between 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.

According to the city Department of Transportation, detours will be in effect.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

MVA to close for Veterans Day

All Motor Vehicle Administration offices, as well as Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program locations, will be closed next Thursday for Veterans Day. The MVA says offices may be especially busy the Wednesday before and Friday after the holiday.

The agency is urging customers to complete such transactions as vehicle registration renewals on line at the MVA web site to save time.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:03 PM | | Comments (0)

SHA to close part of Falls Road this weekend

The State Highway Administration will close a section of Fallls Road in Butler this weekend to repair pipes under the pavement.

The road wil be closed to all traffic  between Butler  Road and Black Rock Road between 8 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Monday.  It will be closed to all but local traffic between a point south of Stringtown Road  and to north of the Butler Volunteer Fire Department. At some points, motorists will not be able to cross Falls Road and  will have to use the detours. Detours will be in place. If rain is expected, the work could be postponed until the following weekend.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

November 2, 2010

WTOP: Speed camera burned in Gaithersburg

WTOP is reporting on the recent burning of a speed camera in Gaithersburg. Some will no doubt cheer this action as a political protest. But it is really nothing more than a crime. These events tend  to be reported in a fairly jocular tone, but it's doubtful the courts would see much humor in attempts to negate the law through fire and vandalism.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Bicyclist urges hikers: Stay right

Monte Schwarzwalder of Columbia wrote in to say he "couldn't agree more" with Monday's Getting There column stressing that bicyclists owe pedestrians in crosswalks as much deference as we require motorists to show (though we're often disappointed by both groups).

A bicyclist himself, Schwarzwalder offerd some suggestions to hikers on sharing hiker/biker trails with bikes. It would be easy to dismiss this as a representative of one group lecturing another, but his suggestions make good sense from both points of view. (I've been in both roles.)

When I ride on paths I always give out a lusty "Passing on the LEFT" as often
as needed.  If I don't get their attention I try to be careful.  Extra careful
around kids and strollers.

That said, pedestrians should:
1) ALWAYS move to the RIGHT, NOT the LEFT.  This is where I'm supposed to pass you.
If you go to the left, you may get hit.
2) There is absolutely *no reason* to go OFF the trail.  There is room for everyone.
Going off the trail is dangerous, unnecessary and often against the rules of the trail.
Please please please just move to the right.
3) When on a trail, some low level of awareness about what is around you isn't
asking too much, i.e. there is no reason to be all over the trail, whether
you are a pedestrian, a group of pedestrians or pedestrians with canines.
4) There is absolutely *no reason* for you to stop.  I'm not impressed and do not care that your
dog will stand obediently at your side. Keep moving.  Just *MOVE TO THE RIGHT*.
5) If you are wearing ear buds and cannot hear me yell 'ON YOUR LEFT' I have no
sympathy for you if you are startled.

A 'Thank you' when someone moves out of your way (even if they do it wrong) is a nice gesture and will spread goodwill and 'trail comraderie'.

As I said, I agree with Schwarzwalder's advice with one big caveat: On a trail, the bicycle is the larger, faster moving object  than the person on foot. It is the bicyclist's task to avoid crashing into pedestrians even when they're lurching all over the place. Bicyclists simply have to slow down enough to react to unexpected or  inappropriate movements by people on foot.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:44 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Off the roads

November 1, 2010

Earth to north county: Bikes aren't going away

It never fails. If the Getting There Monday column deals with bicycles, it inevitably inspires emails lamenting the fact that bicyclists have the gall to actually use the roads. For some reason, it seems that about 99 percent of these messages emanate from northern Baltimore County, where the peculiar notion has taken hold that the roads are for the use of motor vehicles only.

There's one little flaw with this premise: It's not true. From the time Maryland roads were first paved, they have been open to bicycles, farm equipment, buggies and all manner of slow-moving vehicles (except for interstates  and a limited number of other limited-access highways).

The variation I hear most on this theme is that bicyclists should not be permitted to use narrow roads without shoulders. Why? Because motorists have to slow down and are dreadfully inconvenienced.

Here's one that came in today:

"Bicyclists should not be allowed to bike on a road that does not have a bike path or shoulder to the road.  In Sparks, we have to be on the alert at all times for deer on the road, and there have been innumerable accidents when the deer and a car can't both fit on the road. The deer don't know any better - the bicyclists do.  Bicyclists should be limited to bike paths."

I'm sure there isn't a bicyclist in Maryland who wouldn't love to have a wide, debris-free shoulder or parallel bike path along every  country road in the state. But it's not going to happen. The cost would be enormous. In many cases these are low-traffic roads where there is no need to add pavement just so a few impatient drivers never experience a delay. Sure, when a road is rebuilt, it makes sense to add a bicycle lane, but retrofitting the entire highway system is a non-starter.

The same correspondent wrote that bikes should be banned from the roads because they surprise her when she comes around a curve or over a hill. Sorry, but drivers are expected  to cope  with life's little surprises -- not that the presence of a  bicycle in Baltimore County is exactly headline news. If a driver is startled by the sight of a bicyclist riding along the road in a legal manner, chances are the driver is going to fast for road conditions. It's  not the bicyclist's fault that the driver is surprised.

Sharing the road with bicyclists is a basic driving skill and a legal duty for motorists. People who can't cope with that reality shouldn't be driving. Because bicycles aren't going away. It's a fantasy. You might as  well propose banning rain on weekends.

One of the better things about this country is  that it's very difficult to take rights away from people. They have a way of fighting back.

So for all those people who harbor the fantasy that bicycles can be banned from their local roads, here's a suggestion: Contact your local legislator and  ask that person to introduce a bill curtailing the rights of bicyclists to use whichever class of roads you are tired of sharing.

If you find a politician foolish  enough  to put in such a bill, head down to Annapolis and sign up  to testify at  the hearing. It would be great theater, but you'd better get an early start because the capital city would be choked with bikes. Annapolis would be a sea of Spandex. The committee room would be overflowing with irate bicyclists reminding lawmakers thet they pay taxes too. You might even get a chance to meet Lance Armstrong.

Or those folks in the north county could just get a grip, slow down a little and pass bicyclists with care. It's a beautiful part of Maryland, and folks on two wheels have a  right to enjoy it too.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:05 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bicycles, On the roads

BWI ranked among airports with cheapest fares

Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport ranked 84th among 100 American airports in terms of average fares during the second quarter of this year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The average fare for the second quarter at BWI was $289.25, up 13.7 percent from the year before. That increase, only a little more than the national average of 13.1 percent, reflects increased demand and lower capacity compared with the depths of the recession in 2009.

The ranking reflects BWI's status as busy location for low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines and Air Tran, the No. 1 and No. 2  carriers at the airport.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Air travel
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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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