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December 30, 2010

Happy New Year! And know thy limit

The best advice to give about drinking and driving is simple: Don't.

But many of us aren't quite up to taking the best advice. Good advice will have to do,

For those of us who are less than perfect advice-takers, Getting There offers the following counsel based on decades of experience:

Know thy limit, and enforce it strictly upon thyself.

Every driver who is not a teetotaler, for whom it is even a remote possibility that a drink could be consumed before driving, needs to have a solid idea of what effect alcohol has on one's blood-alcohol content.

Then, you need a wide buffer between that level and .07 -- the actual legal limit in Maryland. (It might be .08 in other places, but blow an .07 in Maryland and you'll be arrested for driving while impaired.) At the very least that  means staying well under .05 -- the legal limit in many European countries. Besides the safety factor, there are jurisdictions where you can be arrested for being impaired if you are even close to .07. You might get off in court, but just  getting arrested can be a costly ordeal.

A good way to determine your limit  is to go to one of the web sites that offers a blood-alcohol calculator -- before the drinking starts -- and fill in the variables that apply to you. I like the web site known as "The Original BAC  Calculator."

Fill in your weight (be ruthlessly honest) and gender and pick your favorite poison -- beer, wine, martinis, etc. Then experiment with different combinations of numbers of drinks and time spent in imbibing. Click on the button and it will give you a reasonably good estimate of what your BAC would be. (There is one gaping flaw: It  doesn't account for Maryland's .07 law and will tell you a reading between .07 and .08 is "possibly impaired." There's nothing possible about it.)

One thing that  becomes very clear is that BAC readings are not fair. When it comes to alcohol, chemistry discriminates on the basis of sex and weight. If you are a small woman, it might come as a shock how few drinks it takes to brush the limit. Two beers for 195-lb. me in an hour? Not impaired, it says. But for a 110-pound woman, that would be scraping the legal limit at .066. That's far too close to handcuffs for comfort.

And when it comes to martinis, let's just say that even one is too many unless you're a  big, big guy.

There are all kinds of caveats attached to the use of such web sites. Reading the legal disclaimers is a good idea. One big variable is the level of food consumption. Another is how one has paced the drinking. And don't get that limit locked into your head: If you lose 40 pounds, you won't be able to drink what you did in the Fat Old Days.

The Original BAC web site generally advises that one is "possibly impaired" at .04 percent or above. That seems to be a prudent guideline.

Of course, knowing your approximate limit is no good if you start giving yourself permission to have "just one  more." If you don't have good brakes on your drinking, it's best not to start up the engine. And no super-sizing. A beer means 12 ounces, domestic, not 750 milliliters of Belgian ale.

Rather than obsessing over chemistry, people who just want to enjoy themselves this New Year's Eve might want to consider several delightful alternatives to driving such as taxis, hotels, crashing with friends, mass transit and celebrating at home.

Happy New Year from Getting There.

Some sample readings from Original BAC

(Don't take this as legal advice but as an illustration of the range of variation)

200-lb man, 3 beers or 3 wines, two hours = .027 (not impaired)

120-lb woman, 3 beers or 3 wines, two hours = .08 (impaired)

160-lb. man, 2 margaritas, 1 hour = .051 (possibly impaired)

160-lb. woman, 2 margaritas, 1 hour = .059 (possibly impaired)

180-lb man, 3 rum & cokes, 2 hours = .034 (not impaired)

130-lb. woman, 3 rum & cokes, 2 hours = .071 (impaired under Maryland law)

110-lb. woman, 1 martini, 1 hour = .093 (impaired)

200-lb. man, 1 martini, 1 hour = .037 (not impaired)

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:33 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 29, 2010

Truck restrictions in effect for New Year's Eve

The Baltimore Department of Transportation is imposing restrictions on trucks and other commercial vehicles downtown or in the Inner Harbor area for Friday night's New Year's Eve celebration.

According to the city, such vehicles will not be permitted downtown or at the harbor between 4 pp.m. Friday and 3 a.m. Saturday except for local deliveries. Tanker trailers will  not be permitted downtown during  that period for any purpose.

The Inner Harbor is expected to attract thousands of visitors Friday night for the Ports America Chesapeake New Year's Eve Spectacular fireworks show. Parking restrictions will be in effect on Gay, Calvert as Baltimore streets, along with Key Highway,   from 6 p.m. Friday  to 3 a.m. Saturday. Several downtown streets will be closed as of 11 p.m. Friday as the event ends.

For a full list of closings from the city, click below:

 

 

The following streets will be affected by the temporary commercial vehicle restrictions:
• Fayette Street from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (MLK) to President Street
(no commercial vehicles will be allowed to travel on or south of Fayette Street)
• President Street from Aliceanna to Fayette Streets (no commercial vehicles will
be allowed to travel on or west of President Street)
• Light Street from Pratt Street to Key Highway

• Key Highway from Light to McComas Streets
• Hanover Street from McComas to Montgomery Streets (no commercial
vehicles will be allowed north of McComas Street, including Hanover Street)
• Pratt and Lombard Streets from MLK Jr. Boulevard to President Street
• I-395 at the MLK split to Pratt Street (no commercial vehicles will be permitted
on I-395)
• No commercial vehicle traffic east of MLK Jr. Boulevard from the I-395 split to
Fayette Street

The following streets will be closed from 11:00 p.m. December 31, 2010 until event close:
• Pratt Street will be closed at Paca Street - Eastbound Pratt Street traffic will be
diverted north on Paca Street to continue east on Baltimore or Mulberry Streets.
• Pratt Street will be closed at Charles Street – Pratt Street traffic will be diverted
onto northbound Charles Street to continue east on Baltimore Street.
• Lombard Street will be closed at President Street - Westbound Lombard Street
traffic will be diverted at President Street to continue west on Fayette Street.
• Northbound I-395 traffic will be detoured north on Howard Street. No access
will be allowed onto Conway Street.
• Light Street at Lombard Street – southbound Light Street traffic will be diverted
onto Lombard Street to continue south on Sharp or Hanover Streets.
• Northbound Light Street at Lee Street – Northbound Light Street traffic will be
diverted onto Lee Street to continue north on Charles Street.
• Baltimore Street will be closed at Gay Street - Eastbound Baltimore Street traffic
will be diverted north onto Gay Street to continue east on Fayette Street.

The following parking restrictions will be in effect from 6:00 p.m. December 31, 2010 until 3:00 a.m. January 1, 2011:
• West side of Gay Street from Pratt to Fayette Streets
• East side of Calvert Street from Pratt to Fayette Streets
• Both sides of Baltimore Street from Charles to Gay Streets
• South side of Key Highway from Light to William Street

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

MVA: Don't bother standing in line to renew tags

Maryland motorists seeking to renew their soon-to-expire tags will have five options for doing so next year – but standing in line at Motor Vehicle Administration office counters won’t be one of them.

Starting Monday, the MVA plans to direct customers who want routine renewals of tags expiring in February and subsequent months to automated kiosks or to four other choices that don’t involve a queue. One aim of the decision is to cut waiting times for customers who do need to interact with a clerk.

MVA spokesman Buel Young said the agency already provides 70 percent of its “clean” renewals through sources other than office counters. The change is a move to nudge the other 30 percent in a more efficient direction.

“We’re always trying to cut down our wait times,” Young said. “You really and truly  do not need  to come in here, so it is a public service by all means.”

Vehicle owners will not be short of other options. They can go to an MVA office and use one of the kiosks that dispense the super-sticky tags that must be affixed to license plates every other year. Or they can renew the tags online at www.mva.maryland.gov.

They can go to a private tag and title service or renew by mail when they receive their notices. Or they can renew over the phone by calling 1-888-834-7344.

Young said vehicle owners who come to MVA offices Monday or later for a late  renewal of their January tags – perhaps thrown off by the closing of state offices Thursday and Friday – will be served at the windows because they weren’t notified of the change by mail. But he said people whose renewal come due in February have been informed and will not be served at the counters.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

MARC update: Train 428 is moving, but slowly

MARC rider Eric Leubhusen reports that stranded Penn Line Train 428 is moving again:.

We just started again... they sent a tech, and he fixed it... or so we hope. My issue is the email saying a rescue train had been sent. Uh, no. The conductor has kept us informed with better info. I'll pass along any other developments. We are running about half speed, so I'm holding my breath.

MTA provided this update at what it calls 5:41 p.m., though that's about 100 minutes in the future as I type:

Penn Line Update #4--All trains are on the move north. Train 428 is 45 minutes late approaching BWI Marshall Airport.  Train 530 is 60 minutes late approaching New Carrollton.  Train 432 is 40 minutes late also approaching New Carrollton.  Train 450 is at New Carrollton and is on time.  All subsequent trains should be on time.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Uh-oh, trouble on the Penn Line

Just in from the MTA regarding the MARC Penn Line:

Penn Line--Train 428 (4:15pm departure to Penn Station) is disabled north of Union Station.  Trains 530 (4:24pm to Perryville) and 432 (4:40pm to Penn Station) are being delayed as well.  A rescue train is being sent north to transfer train 428's passengers.  Updates will follow.

Update at 5:11 p.m.:

Train 428 (4:15pm departure to Penn Station) is still disabled north of Union Station.  All northbound Penn Line trains are still in Washington and will experience significant delays.  Washington Metro will honor MARC tickets.  MARC has been told that Amtrak is attempting to send a rescue train north to transfer train 428's passengers.  More updates will follow.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 28, 2010

Vallario, other House chairs all expected to return

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., who last year incurred the wrath of  the General Assembly's women's caucus over his panel's treatment of witnesses, will return to his post for the session that starts next month, according to a source close to the Democratic leadership.

Vallario, a Prince George's County Democrat and a defense attorney, has long been viewed as the chief obstacle to passage of tough drunk-driving legislation in Maryland. He was first elected in 1974 and has headed the committee since 1993, earning a reputation as a dogged advocate of defendants' rights on a panel that deals with many tough-on-crime proposals.

According to the source, House Speaker Michael E. Busch has decided to reappoint the veteran legislator along with all other incumbent House committee chairs. But in a gesture toward women legislators, he will name Del. Kathleen M. Dumais of Montgomery County as vice chairwoman of the committee. The former vice chairman, Del. Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore, will move to the No. 2 spot on the Ways and Means Committee under Del. Sheila Hixson of Montgomery  County.

The other returning chairs will be Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, at the Appropriations Committee; Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, at the Environmental Matters Committee; Del. Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George's, at Economic Matters; Del. Pete A. Hammen, D-Baltimore, and Health and Government Operations, and Del.  Hattie Harrrison of Baltimore at Rules and Executive Nominations.

Now heading for his third term as speaker, Busch has made few changes at the top of his leadership team since a reshuffle after he was first elected to the post after the 2002 election.

The Women Legislators of Maryland sent a protest to Busch last March over what it's chairwoman called Vallario's "tyrannical leadership" of the committee. Del. Sue Kullen, D-Calvert, who has since been defeated for re-election, said the committee's "rude behavior" toward witnesses on sensitive topics "relects poorly on all of us."

Vallario hhas also been the subject of criticism from law enforcement offiicials and advocates for drunk driving laws. Last year, he effectively blocked passage of Senate-approved legislation that would have required all convicted drunk drivers to have devvices installed on their vehicles to prevent them from being started if the operators had been drinking alcohol. Vallario held out for a bill that woould have applied to only repeat offenders and those with blood-alcohol readings far above the legal  limit. The so-called ignition interlock bill died without a formal vote in his committee after advocates rejected the compromise.

At the time, some Vallario opponents hoped he would be vulnerable to a challenge iin the Democratic primary. But Vallario won his contest easily.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:45 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Route 24 mess explained -- sort of

Two days before Christmas, hundreds of motorists in Harford County found out that the Grinch has taken up a new career in traffic engineering when they became trapped in strip mall parking lot off Route 24 in Abingdon for involuntary stays of two hours or more.

According to a Maryland State Police duty officer, the lot at the Constant Friendship Shopping center was jammed by a influx of holiday shoppers that overwhelmed the capacity of the single exit onto Tollgate Road just off 24.

Route 24

 Maryland Transportation Authority

A reader in Abingdon thought structural changes to Route 24 could be the problem. Here’s the message:

I think the intersection at Route 24 and Tollgate/Emmorton Road is working well, except for one change they made:
 
- Traffic from Tollgate Road headed south onto Route 24 no longer have their own lane that continues from Tollgate onto Route 24 without stopping.
 
They took away that special lane by expanding Route 24 (heading south) from two to three lanes just before that intersection.  BIG mistake!  I live off Tollgate and even before 7am on workday mornings, it is backed up on Tollgate past Constant Friendship Blvd and up the next hill.  I now go to Singer Road and get on Route 24 heading south to avoid the backups on Tollgate.
 
What I don't understand is they kept the special lane for cars heading north on Route 24 that turn right on Emmorton Road without stopping, so why didn't they keep it on the other side?

I first asked the State Highway Administration for information because 24 is generally under its jurisdiction. But the SHA pointed make to the Maryland Transportation Authority because the road work affecting that area is part of the toll authority's project to improve the interchange at Interstate 95 and 24 to create better traffic flow on northbound I-95. (The interstate in that area is part of the tolled John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway.)

Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss graciously provided a detailed explanation of the project and its affect on traffic in the area:

We thank your reader for the input and apologize for the delay experienced on December 23, which was most likely caused by the additional holiday shopping activity in the area.  Please know that our public outreach efforts since the beginning of the I-95/MD 24 Improvement Project cautioned residents that delays should be anticipated approaching this intersection, especially during this phase of construction and during peak-travel times.  In addition, we have suggested motorists allow extra travel time, especially in the area of adjacent shopping centers that are more congested during the holidays.
As you may be aware, the new temporary intersection and traffic pattern are required for construction of the new interchange and bridge at MD 24 and MD 924 (Emmorton Road) and Tollgate Road.   Although this traffic pattern has resulted in additional delays, the end result will greatly improve traffic flow and increase safety.  
The lane configuration on northbound Tollgate Road prior to MD 24 is as follows:
• Right lane - right turn onto southbound MD 24 and thru to Emmorton Road
• Center lane – thru to Emmorton and left to northbound MD 24
• Left lane – left onto northbound MD 24.
Motorists in the right lane are permitted to turn right on red and traffic engineers have indicated that nearly half of the motorists in the right lane so make the right turn on red.   Also, to maximize traffic thru-put on southbound MD 24, a third lane was added past the intersection.  This configuration addresses the heavy traffic demand on MD 24

As your reader indicates, there is no “special” ramp lane from northbound Tollgate Road to southbound MD 24 as there is a “special” lane from northbound MD 24 to northbound Emmorton Road.   The right turn dedicated lane from northbound Tollgate Road to southbound MD 24 was removed and other lane configurations have been adjusted as needed to allow for the new bridge/interchange construction while maximizing capacity on MD 24.   

Project design has accounted for the amount of pavement width needed to construct the new roadway, as well as the impact of queued traffic on other intersections on MD 24.  If we didn’t maintain adequate thru lanes on southbound MD 24, traffic on Tollgate Road and nearby intersections would be gridlocked by significant back-ups on MD 24. 

The right turn lane to northbound Emmorton Road from northbound MD 24 existed prior to construction.  Construction design did not necessitate the removal of this dedicated lane.

Please note northbound Tollgate Road traffic is heaviest from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. with the majority of motorists turning right during those two hours. The rest of the day, the majority of motorists are either turning left onto northbound MD 24 or heading toward Emmorton Road. 


Once the project is complete (anticipated in late 2011), delays will be minimized as traffic turning right from northbound Tollgate Road to southbound MD 24 will no longer have to compete with MD 24 thru traffic.  Motorists traveling on northbound and southbound MD 24 will utilize the new bridge overpass and bypass the intersection.  The attached rendering shows the future interchange.
Again, we understand motorists’ concerns regarding delays during the project and suggest they allow additional travel time, especially in the morning peak periods, and if possible, to use alternate routes as your reader suggested.   As you are aware, we work to minimize impacts as much as possible and appreciate motorists continued patience.  Information on the project is available at mdta.maryland.gov.

I'm not going to pretend any familiarity with this shopping center because I don't get out to Harford all that often, but from examining a satellite image on Google Maps, it appears to be a traffic nightmare waiting to happen. You have  several big-box stores surrounded by ample parking with only Constant Friendship Boulevard to let people out. It's easy to see  that an exit directly from Constant Friendship would join 24 too close to 24. But why planners didn't insist the developers create a second exit onto Winters Run Road -- at least temporarily -- is beyond me. The core problem here appears to be sprawl run amok. Once that happens, it's difficult to fix.

Anyone up that way want to set me straight?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:31 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: On the roads
        

AAA finds 1 in 10 admit possibly driving drunk

With New Year's Eve approaching, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has uncovered a sobering indicator of the dangers on the nation's roads: One in 10 drivers admits to having driven when drunk or close to the limit during the past year.

According to an AAA survey, more than half of those motorists -- 5.5 percent of the total -- say they have driven while in that condition more  than once over the past 12 months. That means that out of any 20 vehicles you might encounter on the road this weekend, at least one is likely to be driven by a person for whom drinking and driving is more than an aberration.

The same survey found strong national support, 69 percent, for the idea of requiring anyone  found to have been driving under the influence of alcohol to install a device in his or her vehicle that prevents it from being started when its operator has been drinking. Legislation that would have required the so-called  ignition interlock devices for all offenders, including first-time violators, was squelched by the House Judiciary Committee on the last day of last year's Maryland General Assembly session  after having passed the Senate.

The same survey found that nine in 10 drivers would support such a requirement for repeat offenders. The issue is virtually certain too be revived in the legislative  session that begins next month.

 

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

December 27, 2010

At 81, driver decides to hang up the keys

Jim Holechek of Baltimore has a present to offer his fellow drivers this holiday season: his story.

At 81, Holechek says he’s giving up driving. He’s fixed Dec. 31 as his last day behind the wheel.

“That’s the last day that I’ll drive unless there’s an emergency or something comes up,” he said.

His reasoning, his self-awareness, his courage and willingness to share will be a gift to many readers of this column, especially middle-aged people dealing with aging parents and older drivers struggling to come to terms with the limitations closing in on them.

It’s a subject that hits close to home. Next month — if she doesn’t beat me to the punch — I’ll probably have to have “the talk” with a mother who is about the same age as Holechek. His name is likely to come up. Maybe others can piggyback on his example.

Holechek, who said he first learned to drive 65 years ago behind the wheel of his aunt’s 1937 Chevrolet, said he began noticing a decline in his skills around June. He had a sign professionally made and mounted on his dashboard that said “Pay Attention.”

He says it worked, but not well enough. There were a half-dozen near-misses. There were too many times when someone else could have been hurt.

The decisive incident was one in which Holechek was about to turn out of the former Eudowood Shopping Center and saw a car coming. He thought he was hitting the brake but stomped on the gas instead.

“That’s the one thing that gets a lot of the elderly,” said Holechek, a former public relations executive and author who many years ago wrote freelance articles for The Sunday Sun.

The mistake didn’t result in a crash, but he’s aware it could have. “I know I could kill people, and I don’t want to do that,” he said.

That — not the inconvenience of being unable to drive — was the fundamental motivation for his decision, Holechek said.

Unlike many elderly drivers, Holechek has a partner he can rely on to get him around in his wife, Pat.

“My wife is the same age and her brain hasn’t started to affect her yet,” he said.

Holechek said he also plans to look into the Maryland Transit Administration’s Mobility service as an alternative for getting around. He and his wife have eased the decision by choosing to live in Cross Keys, close to services and transit, instead of on some isolated cul-de-sac in the far suburbs.

Holechek said he’s been on the other end of conversations about when to stop driving.

“When I was a young man, I convinced my aunt and mother-in-law to give up their licenses after each had several fender-benders. They were 79,” he said. “I knew when my time came, I wasn’t going to fight it.”

As hard as it is to have such a discussion with an elderly relative, it’s even more difficult to deal with the issue when it’s your own mobility and independence that are at stake. Thinking about the prospect of one’s own slide into dementia is hardly a pleasing prospect, but Holechek said there have been enough moments of confusion and forgetfulness that he has had to consider the possibility.

It would be foolish for the government to set any arbitrary age when a person has to surrender his or her license. Some people might continue to drive safely well into their 90s. The power of the senior lobby makes it unlikely legislators would try to take the keys away from the Baby Boom generation.

But the elderly and those who care from them need to know that the deck is stacked in favor of continued driving even by those who are no longer capable of doing so safely. So individuals, rather than the government, will have to apply the ultimate moral test: the safety of other people.

Deciding the precise time one should hand over the keys is difficult. Once somebody gets to the late 70s, each birthday could be a time for review. Or, as in Holechek’s case, a new year can be a time for making a decisive break. And certainly each health crisis an older person survives should be an occasion for review, for such events can set off an accelerated decline in skills.

There are certain to be some quibbles with Holechek’s decision. Yes, he’s given himself a few extra days to wean himself from the wheel. Maybe that’s not ideal, but it comes close. And he’s left himself the “emergency” out, though I’m sure he realizes that an emergency is precisely when you need a driver with superior skills.

He’s still doing something difficult but right.

When an elderly person listens to the advice of a son, a daughter or a spouse and gives up driving, that is admirable thing. But when a senior comes to that conclusion without forcing others to initiate “the talk,” that’s downright heroic.

So thank you, Jim. Here’s wishing you a happy — and much safer — New Year.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:42 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

BWI gradually returning to normal

Flight operations at BWI Marshall Airport are gradually returning to normal after a weekend of flight cancellations because of conditions in other cities and unrealized fears of a major snowfall in Baltimore.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said New York's airports are  expected to remain closed until about 4 p.m. after that city was struck by a fierce snowstorm. Other hubs on the East Coast, including Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., were also affected, he said.

Dean said Southwest Airlines, BWI's largest carrier, essentially suspended operations in Baltimore Sunday and kept its jets in other cities out of a  concern they could be snowed in here. As it turned out, Baltimore received only minimal snow, and  Southwest began to restore operations here about 9 a.m., he said.

Not all airlines followed Southwest's example, and some kept flying Sunday, Dean said, adding that at no point did the airport shut down.

Dean said there were long lines at some airline ticket counters this morning as passengers waited to rebook flights. But the spokesman said operations should be close to normal by this evening.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:25 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Air travel
        

December 23, 2010

Traffic logjam traps motorists in Harford shopping area

Hundreds of motorists have become trapped in a massive traffic logjam near Abingdon in Harford County after a strip mall parking lot became overwhelmed with vehicles during a late Christmas shopping rush.

Corporal Krysiak (who declined to  give his first name), duty officer at the Maryland State Police barracks in Bel Air, said troopers and Harford County sheriff's deputies were  summoned this afternoon when motorists could not get out of the parking lot at the Constant Friendship Business Park at Route 24 and Tollgate Road because there was too much traffic for the number of entrances. The shopping area has a BJ's, Target Greatland, Lowes and Regal Cinema.

The massive traffic jam was the subject of calls to talk radio programs in which some shoppers said they had been trapped on the lot for up to seven hours. Krysiak said seven hours was "a bit of an exaggeration" but said some drivers might have had to wait for two hours before getting out.

Krysiak said police started to direct traffic to alleviate the logjam but were called back after citizens called in to complain that they were making the situation worse.

"It's really not the police's problem. We've done what we can," Krysiak said. He added that police called the State Highway Administration to see whether they could change the timing on the lights to ease the backup.

A night duty worker at the SHA Operations Center in Hanover, who declined to give his name, said agency crews responded but determined that changing the lights wouldn't have helped with the problem.

"Anything we could have done there would have made things worse," he said. "There's just no physical remedy."

Krysiak said the backup was an apparent result of a road design flaw at the shopping center, which includes a BJ's Warehouse, a Walmart, a Target and a Lowe's.

"There's only one way in and one way out. It's the way it was constructed," Krysiak said. "It's a mess -- especially if  you're at BJ's all the way in the back."

He added that such traffic jams at the center have been a yearly occurrence around Christmas. He could not rule out a repeat on Christmas Eve if more last-minute shoppers flock to the mall.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:52 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: On the roads
        

Slate tale of 'Unbuilt Highways' resonates here

The online Slate magazine is running a fascinating article on the "Unbuilt Highways" that have left lasting marks on major cities in the United States and abroad.

Baltimore is not among the cities named in the article -- which include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and Seoul -- but it easily could have been included. There are certainly few other cities where roads that were planned but not built have had greater community impacts. You can look to the "Highway to Nowhere" as a visible reminder of the scars left on West  Baltimore, while Fells Point and Canton stand are historical monuments to that which might have been lost had highway foes not rallied to their defense.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

National gas price average breaks $3 barrier

Well, it's official. Just in time for Christmas, the U.S. average price of gas is above $3 for the first time since late 2008. It's the highest national average ever for the holiday season. Ho-ho-ho.

The barrier fell overnight as the average price for a gallon of regular crept from $2.997 to $3.013 -- more than a week after the Maryland average price broke the $3 mark. The Maryland average stands at $3.02 today.

If there's a consolation, it's that the rate of increase has moderated from the first half of the month, when prices were increasing more than a penny a day in many markets.

All regions of Maryland except the Eastern Shore have now breached the $3 barrier. The highest  prices are currently being found in the Washington area, while Baltimore lags about a penny behind the state average.

Ragina Averella, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic said the fact that crude oil prices broke the $90 mark yesterday for the first time since October 2008 could portend further increases. She said some analysts fear that if crude oil continues to rise at its current pace, the average price could reach $3.75 by spring.

As a measure of how much potential Christmas money is being pumped out of the economy, Averella said consumers will spend about $34 billion on gas this December, compared with $28 billion the same month a year ago.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:47 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads
        

Signs, cameras on Caton Avenue questioned

Alexander D. Mitchell IV, a fequent contributor to this blog, noticed some issues with the signage along Caton Avenue, near St. Agnes Hospital in Southwest Baltimore.  He was kind enough to bring it to my attention.


Having figured out that a lot of Baltimore's speed cameras are now integrated into the previously existing red light cameras, I'm playing the same cat-and-mouse game as other drivers out there.

One I've discovered is so rigged: the red light cameras at Caton Avenue and Benson Avenue, just north of I-95's exit 50.

There's a problem, however:  Just try and figure out what the speed limit is here at night.  The "Speed Limit 30" signs, both northbound and southbound, are badly placed and badly faded, and their finish downright opaque at night.  Oh, sure, you can see the shiny new "Photo Enforced"
signs just installed beneath the speed limit signs, but not what the speed limit actually is.  Furthermore, there is but ONE sign advising you of the speed limit northbound as you get off of I-95, the faded one, and the speed camera is approximately 150-200 feet (by my estimate) past said sign.  This on a road where the prevailing speed is closer to 50 mph, and not without cause.

Granted, there is good reason to have a reduced speed limit in the area--there's St. Agnes Hospital right up the road, and the entrance to a parochial school (a driveway entrance, mind you, not pedestrian crossings and the like) at the light.  But I have sat there at that intersection at night, just to confirm my hunch, and seen flash after flash nabbing speeders.

Now, I have no objection to the speed cameras in principle, provided we're given fair warning.  (The camera enforcement on the Beltway and the Parkway, with lots of signage on both sides of the highway, is a perfect example--if you're still speeding after multiple signs telling you to slow down or get photo-ticketed, you deserve no mercy.)  But this certainly looks like entrapment of the kind that got several traffic cameras in Arizona firebombed.

Any chance we can get fresh signs erected at this (and other?) speed cameras to at least give the drivers fair warning?

I referred the questions to Adrienne Barnes at the Baltimore Transportation Department, and here's the answer I received:

• Most of City’s roadways have designated speed limits that have been in place for several years if not decades.  In this case as the citizen indicated that motorists are traveling at high speed, (especially in school zones)this is exactly the type of driving behavior that we are trying to modify.


• On Interstate highways multiple advance warning signs are placed because of high posted speed limits (45 MPH to 65 MPH) and multiple lanes in each direction.  In school zones along city streets the maximum speed limit would be 35 MPH.

• The speed limit at night is same as during day time and as acknowledged in the email, speed limit with Photo Enforced signs are quite visible. The school signs are also quite visible.
• The condition and placement of speed limit signs are normal as any other typical signage.  However in view of the concerns about some of the  signs being faded we will investigate their condition & placement and make the  necessary adjustments.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:38 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 22, 2010

Beltway speed signage explained

Rick Sambuco, who spent years before his retirement commuting between Villa Nova in the Liberty Road corridor and Bethesda, had a question about signage on the Beltway.

Traveling north on the inner loop of the Baltimore Beltway just past Exit 17 (Security Blvd.), there is a "SPEED LIMIT 55" sign on a tall wooden post.  Just a few yards beyond the sign hangs the overhead electronic sign.  Sometimes, there is an Amber Alert or a reminder to report suspicious behavior to a tip line.  But most of the time it reads "I-83 10 miles, 10 minutes."  Mentally doing the math, that's 60mph.  A few yards beyond the electronic sign is a sign warning that a work zone lies ahead and that sped cameras enforce the 50mph speed limit.  I find it funny that these three signs are presented one after the other in such close proximity.  If I were a cynic, I would say it is done this way on purpose to increase the chance of getting a speeder on camera.  But I really don't think it was done on purpose.  Still, I find it odd.

For  this I sought  an received answers from two State Highway Administration spokesmen, Charlie  Gischlar and Dave Buck, whose answers will be mashed up below.

 

There are speed limit signs placed at strategic locations throughout the Beltway, particular near interchanges where the speed limits differ (I-70 at I-695 is an example of this).  Motorists driving eastbound along I-70 toward Baltimore travel at 65 MPH, which is the posted speed limit along I-70.  The Beltway's speed limit drops to 55 MPH, so SHA has speed limit signs in close proximity to the interchange to alert motorists of the reduction in the speed limit.
 
First, the speed limit for I-695 (Baltimore Beltway) is 55 MPH.  Speed limits are established using the 85th percentile, which is the speed at which 85 percent of the traffic is travelling.  The real-time traffic time electronic displays are based on real-time traffic data/conditions.  Although 85 percent of traffic is travelling near or at the prescribed speed limit, 15 percent of motorists are traveling at a rate greater than 60 MPH.  The display will never show a time below a prescribed rate of 60 MPH.

SHA reduces speed limits in work zones across the State for the safety of our crews and motorists and their occupants.
 
SHA's number-one priority is safety for all highway users.  Highway work zones are dangerous places for SHA and contractor crews, as well as for motorists who travel through them.  In highway work zones, motorists may encounter lane shifts, slow moving construction equipment or narrowed lanes.  In four out of five cases of a work zone crash, it is the motorist or occupant who are injured or killed by not taking precautions driving in a work zone.   There is also the family of an SHA or contractor work crew that will be minus someone at the dinner table because of aggressive driving through work zones.  SHA's Safe Zones Program of automated speed enforcement is a tool used to change driver behavior to slow down approaching and travelling through a highway work zone.  There are warning signs placed in advance of  the work zone, as well as speed trailers that display travel speeds with the prescribed speed limit below, which enables drivers to know in advance  how fast they are traveling.   There is no excuse for speeding through a work zone.

Each sign at this location has its own purpose.

The speed limit signage is permanent and at placed pre-determined intervals on I-695 (actually, on all roads).  SHA particularly makes sure there are permanent speed limit signs just after major interstate to interstate junctures (i.e. 695 just past I-95, just past I-70, just past I-795, just past I-83 etc...)
 
The work zone signage is temporary and just as the portable speed camera vehicles will be taken away once the project at Liberty Road in completed, so will the temporary signage.
 
As you know, our overhead message signs have displayed a wide range of messages over the years and we continue to hear positive feedback about the estimated travel time messages. 
 
However, a message on the overhead message board saying it takes approximately (not exactly) 10 minutes to go 10 miles in no way infers "Hey, let's speed up because traffic is cruising along..."  It's a snapshot of the current conditions over quite a long stretch of road, where conditions can and do change rapidly.  And, it's an approximation based on conditions at that very second.
 
It's safe to say anyone traveling along I-695 between Security Blvd and I-795 will not get a speed camera violation at 60 mph since the threshold is 62+ and they will arrive 10 miles ahead in about 10 minutes, as long as conditions remain constant.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:34 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

MARC advisory council has attendance problem

A reader who also rides the MARC train pointed out what could be a serious problem with the Maryland Transit Administration's attempts to get input from passengers about the commuter train service: Members of the advisory council that represents the interests of riders haven't been showing up for meetings.

The reader reported:

Upon examination of their meeting notes (found at http://ur.ly/zI0S), however, it looks like they haven't had a quorum at a meeting since April.  I wonder about the purpose and usefulness of the council is if they can't manage to get their members to go to any meetings.  MARC seems to be a surprisingly unreliable method of transportation (after riding it for the past year, I've been on 5 broken trains and had too many delays over an hour to count).  With no effective group looking out for riders' interests, my faith is all but dissolved that service quality will ever improve.

 

I checked out the minutes of those meetings, and the reader is right on the money.

Of the 20 members of the council in April, four missed that meeting and have attended none since. Three others left the council after being consistent no shows and have not been replaced. Another three have attended fewer than half the seven meetings in that span.

Increasingly, it appears the work of the council is being done by a handful of active members. Chairman Rafi Guroian hasn't missed a meeting. Vice Chairman Steve Chan and member Marla Smith, both representing Penn Line riders, have  made  all seven meetings between April and October (the last meeting with posted minutes). Miriam  Schoenbaum (Brunswick Line), Vince Zagorski (Camden) and Christopher Field (Penn) have been near-perfect attendees.

But members Andrea Richardson (Brunswick), Mark Dysart (Brunswick), Makeda Scott (Penn) and Scott Minos (Brunswick) haven't attended a single meeting since March. Paul Matino (Penn), who hadn't shown up since April, recently resigned. I'm sure all of these members sought the position with good intentions, but it's time for them to resign and make way for others who might take a more active role.

Guroian, an active and energetic chairman, acknowledged that the council does have a problem with attendance, though he said some of the no-shows remain in active contact with other council members and participate in other ways.

"We do have a core  contingent that comes quite repeatedly," he said. Guroian said he has been working with the MTA to  explore ways to improve attendance.

If there's some good news about the council's proceedings,  it's  that high-level MTA representatives have been showing up  and taking part. MARC Director John Hovattter is usually  there, and MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells has put in several appearances since June's 'hell train" incident. CSX and Amtrak, the companies that operate the MARC lines, are represented more often than not.

But the MARC Riders Advisory Council will have a hard time retaining its relevance if it dwindles down to a half-dozen active members. The council went out of  business once  before, only to  be revived after a controversy about closing stations.

One obvious response to the reader who reported the problem would be to challenge him to step up and take a role. But that's kind of a cheap shot. He's performed a service just by speaking up, and he has to be the judge of his own availability for such participation.

But it's clear that the council could use a few more members with the time to show up at meetings. Guroian said the council is always looking for MARC riders who  would like to serve. (If you're interested, you can contact Guroian at marccouncil@mtamaryland.com.) 

The quorum issue isn't a big deal for most meetings, Guroian said, because as an advisory council the group doesn't have to regularly make binding votes. The chairman said there was a quorum (half the membership plus one) at the December meeting for presentation of the investigation report on the "hell train" incident.  He added that a quorum will be important in January, when the council must hold an election.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 20, 2010

Bereano doesn't seem to be slowing down at all

In June 2009, the Getting There column recounted the story of lead-foot lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who had amassed a startling number of traffic tickets during his driving career.

At the time, the colorful Bereano had been ticketed 22 times in the state since 1996 -- though the disbarred attorney won not-guilty verdicts in about one-third of those cases.

Since then, Getting There has checked in on Bereano from time to time to see whether the publicity had curtailed his need to speed. Base on a recent check, the answer seems to be no.

The veteran lobbyist, who remains near the top of the Annapolis lobbying heap despite a 1994 conviction on federal fraud charges, has failed to appear in court twice in recent months for traffic tickets he received this year, according to court records.

In one of those cases, Bereano received a speeding ticket in Anne Arundel County in June after he was clocked at 88 mph in a 65-mph zone on Interstate 97. Potential fine: $90. In October, he was handed a citation for going 73 mph in a 55-mph zone in Worcester County.

In both cases, records show he failed to appear for his first scheduled trial -- resulting in a notice of suspension going out. He has since been reinstated in both cases and set new court dates for next year.

The tickets follow an April 30 citation in Queen Anne's County for going 70 mph in a 50-mph zone. Though Bereano frequently contests speeding tickets, in this case he pleaded guilty and the judge knocked the convicted speed down to 59 and let him off with a fine and court costs amounting to $60. Had he paid by mail, the fine would have been $160.

It's puzzling why any judge would give a break to Bereano at that time because he had a guilty finding on another speeding ticket in June 2009 and a probation before judgment on another ticket the previous month.

Bereano remains a formidable lawyer even though he is no longer permitted to represent legal clients other than himself. Last month he beat a $40 rap on an alleged speed camera violation in Towson District Court by challenging evidence the state brought to court. He convinced a judge that the state was short on its documentation and was found not guilty. (Bereano, by the way, is a vocal opponent of speed cameras.)

On one hand, it's pretty funny how this guy keeps getting off or getting slaps on the wrist despite a record of speeding convictions. But all it would take is one crash in which someone is hurt, and the humor would quickly go away.  About a decade ago, in South Dakota, a former governor named Bill Janklow had a reputation for speeding that was good for many yucks in that state. Then he killled someone while speeding and the laughter stopped. Janklow went to jail for manslaughter and had to resign his seat in Congress.

But he didn't have Bereano as a lawyer.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 17, 2010

MARC riders keep benefit in tax bill

MARC riders are among the beneficiaries of the compromise tax bill just passed by Congress.

A key provision extending a benefit for high-cost transit riders, which had been in doubt, was included in the final version. Commuter rail passengers are the big winners under the provision.

 I'll let William Miller, president of the American Public Transportation Association, explain:

On behalf of the millions of Americans who ride public transportation, I applaud the Congress on passage of two critical provisions that advance public transportation that are included in the tax bill that was approved today. 

The extension of the public transit commuter tax benefit and the alternative fuels/natural gas tax credit through 2011 is very welcome news during these challenging economic times for Americans who ride public transportation 35 million times a day and the public transit systems that serve them. 

I would particularly like to recognize the leadership of Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who chaired the Finance Committee as well as Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY),
Thomas Carper (D-DE), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Scott Brown (R-MA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in advocating for the commuter tax benefit.

The commuter tax benefit will remain at $230 a month for public transit and vanpool users, keeping it equal to the parking benefit. The extension of the federal excise tax credit for alternative fuels, including natural gas, is retroactive to January 1, 2010 when it expired.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:50 PM | | Comments (0)
        

AAA projects increase in Md. holiday travel

AAA Mid-Atlantic is projecting that more than 1.8 million Marylanders will travel more than 50 miles from home over the Christmas-New Year''s holiday, a 3.6 percent gain in the face of gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon.

The projection is running slightly ahead of the 3.1 percent gain expected nationwide, likely reflecting a stronger  economy in Maryland than in many other states. AAA defines tthe  holiday period as Dec. 3 through Jan. 2.

Of that 1.8 million, 94 percent are expected to make their trips by road -- a 3.7 percent gain over the same holidays in 2009. About 49,000 Marylanders are expected to fly somewhere for the holidays, a 3.3 percent increase over last year.

The increase would be less dramatic than Marylland saw over Thanksgiving, when the increase was projected in double digits. But AAA spokeswoman Christine Delise said the smaller  increase reflects a rebound in traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2009, rather than weakness this year.

The large number of motorists taking to tthe road is expected to be accompanied by a correspondingly strong number standing alongside  it. AAA Mid-Atlantic is projecting that it will receive aboutt 110,000 service callls in its five-state region including Maryland.

According to  the AAA,, the increase in holiday  travel plans reflects an increasingly positive view of the state of the economy despite a weak November jobs report. AAA said that nationwide, two-thirds of travellers surveyed said their holiday plans had not been affected by the economy.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Ramp to 'Highway to Nowhere' closed

An eastbound ramp leading to U.S. 40 at Smallwood Street will be closed Monday as part of a project to demolish part of what is known as the 'Highway to Nowhere' -- a stretch of interstate-style highway that cuts the ciity in two just west of downtown.

Traffic will be diverted onto Mulberry Street, The project is expected to be completed in June.

The closing is part of a Maryland Trasnit Administration project to expand the parking lot at the West Baltimore MARC station. At the same time, the project  is expected to  add landscaping  and ornamental fencing as part of the city's Pulaski Street streetscaping.

 

The work will involve removal of an abandoned bridge abutment. The project has been under way since September, closing the westbound ramp to U.S. 40, as crews worked on the Franklin Street side of the highway.

According to the MTA, the eastbound ramp will open when the demolition is complete. The agency said access to the current MARC station parking lot willl be mainttained.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

Rider challenges 'hell train' report

Arbutus MARC rider Diane Schmutzler contends that the report on the federally sponsored investigation of the 'hell train' incident aboard a Penn Line train last June was incorrect in a key finding. In fact, she may have a good point. The report doesn't account for an unknown number of passengers -- but cetrainly greater than zero -- who left Train 538 but didn't board a rescue train.

Here's her account:


I was on the "hell train", along with my 2 year old child.  We were on the second  "rescue" train, the broken down 538 (and we sat in the car with the windows pushed out): I refused to board the first rescue because of the absolutely unsafe overcrowded conditions.

I only skimmed the report halfway, I did find some inconsistencies and some interesting word choice.  The statement in the debriefing report:  " At approximately 8:15 p.m. Amtrak CETC stopped northbound MARC Train No. 442 with the intent of boarding the evacuated passengers.  Approximately 1,100 passengers transferred to Train 442, which departed at 8:51 p.m." is blantently incorrect.

 It's true that the broken down train 538 had been full, with approximately 1200 passengers.  Also true is that approximately 100 passengers took the broken down train as their rescue to New Carrolton station (I was on it).  However, stating that 1100 passengers boarded the first rescue train is wrong, and impossible according to the basic laws of science.  First, many passengers utilized (U.S.) 50 for hitch-hiking, called cabs or arranged to be picked up, or some walked and figured out that we were stopped almost immediately next to the Cheverly Metro station (we were just shy of a road bridge crossing from (U.S.) 50 to give access to the Metro).   From the look of the remaining crowd near the train on one hand, and the number of people I saw climb the wooded bank to (U.S.) 50 and start walking or enter cars, I'd say that at least a few hundred passengers found alternate rescue transportation. 

 Second, when the "rescue" train arrived it is my understanding that it already had passengers on it and it had fewer cars than the 538; further evidence that it would have been scientifically impossible to fit the "1100" people onto it.  The next day, one of my fellow regular riders told me that she rode in the locomotive on that train, and there were other horror stories, visible from where I stood on the ground by the rail lines, about the awful, overcrowded, unsafe conditions allowed by MARC/Amtrak on that rescue train.  I just wonder why this obvious, well known piece of information was disregarded in the final report by pretending that MARC/Amtrak accounted for all the original passengers.

In the days following the "hell train" I spoke with a representative from the FRA during one of my rides to work, and I listened to other passengers give him their accounts of the incident, recalling the terrible conditions of the rescue train and the same stories of passengers utilizing (U.S.) 50 for their own rescue - so if FRA knew passengers sought out other transportation, how can they possibly give MARC/Amtrak credit for rescuing all the original passengers?  And WHY do they do so?

Most of the rest of the details about what happened are close enough to the truth as I experienced and witnessed it.  Although, the memo states that Amtrak police arrived 35 minutes after the breakdown (page 5), while the debriefing states police arrived 42 minutes after the breakdown (breakdown at 6:20 on page 1, and police at 7:02 on page 2) - this is just an interesting discrepancy.

 I also find this line somewhat personally concerning: "As the delay continued, it became increasingly difficult for the MARC crew and Amtrak Police Officer to maintain crowd control." because I wonder what would have happened if more police were there?  Many of the passengers stayed aboard the train in the sweltering, unsafe conditions because of the threat of arrest if they were to break the emergency exits/windows for air or for trespassing on Amtrak property by exiting the train.

This is compelling testimony, and  it deserves a reply from the Maryland Transit Administration. We'll try to get one.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 16, 2010

D.C. Metro Police to search bags at stations

The Washington subway system  will conduct random searches of passengers' bags and other carry-on items in order to increase security, the Metro Transit Police said today.

The Metro police said the program, under which it will inspect bags at station entrances, is based on programs now in effect in New York and  Boston.  According to the police, the inspections -- conducted in conjunction with the Trransportation Security Administration, are designed to minimize intrusiveness by using ionization technology and explosives-sniffing dogs.

Nevertheless, the police said the inspections are mandatory for those who are selected and who want to ride the subway. They said Metro customers who refuse the inspection will not be allowed to bring their carry-on items into the station. They said passengers who see a bagage checkpoint at a station entrance and do not want to submit to inspection can leave without entering.

The police said they usually will not conduct a physical inspection of an item unless a less intrusive test shows a  need for greater scrutiny.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:21 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro
        

Frederick Road bridge meeting postponed

The State Highway Administration says tonight's public open house concerning the Frederick Road Bridge replacement project at Hillcrest Elementary School has been postponed because of snow. 
It has been rescheduled for Jan. 6.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

MARC 'hell train' report faults MTA, Amtrak

The management of the Maryland Transit Administration's MARC service and Amtrak both bear responsibility for serious communications and operational lapses that left up to 1,200 commuters sweltering for about two hours near New Carrollton during a June locomotive breakdown on what became known as the "hell train," according to an investigation report released today.

The report,  based on a debriefing held by the Federal Railroad Administration, concluded  the June  21 incident  aboard MARC Penn  Line Train 538 reflected "a series of organizational failures at multiple levels." It also exposed a longstanding problem with  maintaining power to long,  heavy trains in hot weather -- prompting MARC and Amtrak to consider running shorter trains at more frequent intervals.

In a memo to Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley,  MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells identified  what he called "critical factors" in an incident that led to the hospitalization of several MARC passengers and unflattering national publicity about MARC and Amtrak. The stranding of what  Gov. Martin O'Malley called the "hell train" became an issue in this year's gubernatorial  election and  a focal point for dissatisfaction with unreliable MARC service and spotty communication with passengers.

Wells said the critical factor in bringing the train to a stop on its way to Baltimore was  the failure of two critical electronic components on the MARC-owned HHP-8 electric locomotive that was hauling the train.

Once that happened, Wells said, the problem was  compounded by the failure of Amtrak, the MTA's contractor for operations on the Penn Line,to provide  MARC management with "accurate and timely" information about  the breakdown.  In addition,  he said, the Amtrak crew  focused their  efforts on the mechanical problem and failed to pay attention to the well-being of the passengers or to communicate with them.

The report  also criticized MARC management for failing to recognize the seriousness  of the  incident and respond aggressively  to it. Wells said neither MARC nor Amtrak acted quickly enough to call in first responders, leaving it to MARC passengers to summon help with calls to 911.

The report proposes fixes to each of the problems, including a move toward shorter trains that would put less strain on locomotives during hot weather. It said that to make up for the lost capacity on each train, Amtrak and MARC are developing a plan to add four trains each day -- two each in the morning and evening peak travel times.

Other proposals include making greater use of the resources of the state  Transportation Department,  including  State Highway Administration workers, to respond to problems on the MARC lines. Other corrective actions include retraining of Amtrak crews and the earlier dispatch of MARC officials to the scene  of a breakdown.

Swaim-Staley and Wells are expected to meet with members of the MARC Riders Advisory Council in Washington this afternoon to discuss the report.

WERE YOU ON THE HELL TRAIN? If you're willing to be quoted in The Sun, please glance at the report and send your comments to michael.dresser@baltsun.com with full name and hometown. Thank you. Please include phone  number for possible follow-up questions, though it will not be published.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:08 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 15, 2010

Short commutes are relatively rare in Maryland

If you are a Marylander who can get from home to work in less than 15 minutes, consider your self lucky. You are a part of the 19.3 percent of the work force that can -- compared with a national average of 28.7 percent.

We're still crunching the numbers from the U.S. Census American Community Survey released this week, but it appears that Maryland lags most other states in easy commuting times. At the same time,  it's close to the top in the percentage of people that need  more than an hour to get to work -- 13.7 percent, or more than double the national figure of 6.3 percent.

The numbers at the extremes help explain why Maryland, with an average of 31.1 minutes of  travel time to work,  is second to only New York's 31.4 minutes.  New  York achieves that dubious distinction thanks to its high percentage of long-slog commuters, with 16.3 percent taking more than an hour to get to work. But even the Empire State has a significantly higher percentage of its work force with short commutes than Maryland. In New York, 22.7 percent have commutes of less than 15 minutes.

The numbers illustrate just how different Maryland is from other parts of the country. For instance, the state with the population  closest to that of Maryland is Wisconsin. There in the heartland, almost a million Wisconsin residents can leave home and arrive at work in less than 15 minutes. In Maryland slighly more than half a million can do so.

The driving times reflect Marylanders' penchant for seeking employment ooutside the state's borders -- especially in Washington. Census figutes show 17.1 percent of  Marylanders draw their paychecks from an out-of-state workplace -- twice the percentage in Virginia and far greater than in Connecticut or New Jersey in the orbit of New York City. Only tiny Rhode Island and Delaware come remotely close.

If you represent either of the extremes in Maryland -- making a quite jaunt or an ultra-long trek -- we's like to hear from you. Drop a line, with a phone  number where we can contact you, at michael.dresser@baltsun.com.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:51 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: On the roads
        

Charles ranks No. 10 nationally in commuting time

Rapidly growing Charles County, on the far fringe of the Washington metropolitan area, is one of only 11 counties or autonomous cities nationwide where the average travel time to work is more than 40 minutes per day, according to U.S. Census data released this week.

The Southern Maryland County, which has the longest commuting time in Maryland, ranks 10th nationally with an average travel time to work of 40.5 minutes. In Maryland, only neighboring Calvert County comes close, with an average of 39.3 minutes. The only other Washington area jurisdiction to exceed  40 minutes is Manassas Park, an autonomous city in Northern Virginia.

Of the counties with the nation's longest commutes in terms of time, four are in metropolitan New York, with Richmond County (Staten Island) leading the pack. The others are  Kings, Queens and Bronx counties in New York and Pike County in northeastern Pennsylvania. Exurban Denver accounts for two (Elbert and Park).

The close-in Washington suburban county  of Prince George's takes third place in Maryland at an average 35.7 minutes. Queen Anne's County, a bedroom community for both metropolitan Washington and Baltimore, follows at 34.2. In the Baltimore region, Carroll County leads at 34 minutes.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:23 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 14, 2010

MTA operators' union chief gets new term

The president of the union local that represents bus and rail operators for the Maryland Transit Administration has won a second term.

The Baltimore-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300 said David McClure has been re-elected by the union membership for a three-year term as president and business agent. He was first elected in 2007.

The local represents about 3,000 members, primarily MTA employees.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:11 PM |
Categories: MTA
        

Study puts Md. near top in transportation choices

A report issued by two leading environmental advocacy groups ranks Maryland No. 2 among the 50 states in adopting transportation policies that contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions that have been linked to climate change.

The study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Smart Growth America ranked Maryland as one of three states in the top tier along with No. 1 California and No. 3 New Jersey. But overall the report was highly  critical of state efforts, with far more states in the bottom tier than at the top in how they align their transportation spending and policies to anti-pollution goals.

Maryland ranked particularly high for its focus on investing state dollars in transit and in supporting transit-oriented development, former  Gov. Parris N. Glendening, now president of the Smart Growth America Leadership Institute, said during a phone-in news conference.

Glendening said Americans can't affort to sit back and wait for technological solutions to the problem of carbon emissions. "Technology by itself willl not solve the problem," he said. The former governor said states have an important role to pay in setting transportation policies that help achieve environmental goals.

"States will reap the rewards in terms of less pollution," he said. Among the advantages, he said, will be better, more walkable neighborhoods and more vibrant economies.

The report reflects the environmental groups' emphasis on public transportation and other alternatives to traditional highway expansion. It ranked Maryland highly in terms of its anti-pollution spending, its state spending on publiic transportation, its commuter incentives and its policies for channeling growth into already developed areas. It scored less well in such areas as  the emphasis it puts on highway maintenance over new construction and its support for bicycling and other non-motorized transportation.

Glendening, who has remained active on environmental issues since leaving office in 2003, said he briefed Gov. Martin O'Malley on the contents of the report. He said the governor asked for suggestions on how Maryland could rank higher in subsequent updates of the study.

The former governor praised O'Malley's administration for building on the smart growth program that was codified under the Glendening administration.

Dru Dchmidt-Perkins, executive director of environmental group 1,000 Friends of Maryland, said it was "a real pleasure" to see the state ranked higher than its peers. But she said the state still has a long way to go in linking its ttransportation priorities with environmental goals.

"Most of our important projects come up  from local governments without any connection to regional or state goals," she said.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM | | Comments (1)
        

December 13, 2010

Tax break for transit commuters extended in bill

A tax break for MARC and other  transit riders that had been imperiled in earlier versions of the tax bill making its way through appears to have a good chance of staying alive -- at least for another year.

Paul Dean, director of government relations for the American Public Transit Association, said the version of the tax bill the Senate voted on today includes a continuation of the benefit at its current level. Without the provision, the benefit would be cut roughly in half as of Jan. 1.

The benefit allows transit riders to pay up to $230 in transit fares each month with pre-taxed dollars. That amount was raised from $120 in President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill, but that provision had been on the chopping block until House and Senate negotiators agreed to write a one-year extension in the bill continuing the tax cuts implementred under President George W. Bush, Dean said.

 

Dean said the benefit was raised for transit riders to make it equal with a similar provision that applies to workers who pay for parking.

Some early versions of the bill excluded the extension of the benefit. But Dean said a group of senators -- including Maryland Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin -- sent a letter to the negotiators urging retention of the benefit.

The benefit is especiallly important to users of commuter rail, who tend to pay higher monthly fares than users of other forms of transit.  Terry Owens, a spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, said more than half of MARC riders benefit from the break.

For transit customers who pay $230 or more each month in fares, expiration of the provision would mean that $1,320 more of their pay would be taxable each year -- costing them several hundred dollars.

Dean said he hopes transit riders will continue to weigh in with their members of Congress to  support the benefit, noting that the bill could be changed in the House.

Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said his group and other organizations representing users of other commuter railroads are joining forces to press for retention of the tax break.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:57 PM | | Comments (1)
        

BWI sets record for busiest October

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had the busiest October in its history, continuing a six-month string of setting records for passenger traffic, the Maryland Aviation Administration said Monday.

Almost 2 million passengers, 1,994,905, passed through BWI during the month – a 7.2 percent increase over October a year ago, BWI has recorded year-to-year increases in traffic for 16 of the last 17 months, failing to show growth only in February, when two snowstorms closed the airport.

The airport marked its busiest month ever in July.

 More than half the passengers who used BWI in October traveled on Southwest Airlines, which carried 1,085,361 to and from the airport that month – a 9.2 percent increase from the same month in 2009.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:32 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Dastardly deeds in Canton?

A reader named Jeff Hossfeld reports a truly disturbing development in Canton. Getting There certainly understands the impulse to preserve a parking space one has painstakingly shoveled out, but the behavior Hossfeld describes is reprehensible. Here's Hossfeld's account:

Many folks in Canton that own two cars are taking to the habit of driving one car out of a parking spot, and then slightly moving their other car to a position in such a way that it reserves two spots until the first car comes back. This is essentially "saving" a spot. Is there any recourse for this? Could this be called into 311 in order to have these folks ticketed and even so, is there any way to prove it? I don't hear about this problem in other cities with lots of parallel parking, so I don't understand why it's happening here.

Have any other Getting There readers observed this practice? Is it peculiar to Canton or it it being secretly practiced in other corners of the city? Has anyone found a way to combat this menace? Please share.

UPDATE: Kathy Chopper, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation, said that if lines are painted on the street to mark off parking spaces, a motorist whose vehicle doesn't stay within  the lines can receive a $32 ticket. However, she said, is there are no lines, there may be no violation unless the car is otherwise parked illegally.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:42 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 10, 2010

MARC riders warned of cut in tax benefits

MARC riders and users of other transit services face a potentially significant increase in their commuting costs if a federal tax benefit program decreases --- as it now appears it will -- as of Jan. 1, an advocate for the commuter railroad's customers is warning.

Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Tiders Advisory Council, said some commuters could see their costs rise by as much as $1,300 a year if Congress allows the benefits of a program known as SmartBenefits to be cut in half as it considers a bill to expend the tax cuts passed under President  George W. Bush. What is now a subsidy of $230  a month could be cut to $120 a month, Guroian said.

Guroian said that about half of MARC tickets might be purchased with the help of SmartBenefits. He said transit advocates in the Washington and New York areas are joining with the MARC council to try to rally congressional support for the benefit.

We hope to follow up on this issue in greater detail next week. MARC riders and others who use the SmartBenefits program are encouraged to contact michael.dresser@baltsun.com this weekend to describe how they would be affected by expiration of  the program.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:17 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

LIght snows leads to numerous crashes

A surprise snow squall was causing numerous accidents in Central Maryland at mid-day Friday as light accumulations created slippery conditions on some roadways.

"We have dozens of accidents right now," said a state trooper at the Westminster barracks of the Maryland State Police. "Fortunately, right now, it appears everything at this point is property damage."

"We also have numerous disabled vehicles, either getting stuck or skidding into ditches," said the trooper, who identified himself only as Sgt. Eways.

Salt trucks were dispatched around noontime, but Eways said, "We would encourage anybody who doesn't have an absolute need to be driving in Carroll County not to."

The State Highway Administration's CHART system was reporting four collisions on I-70 from Washington County to Howard County. A tractor-trailer overturned on I-270 in Montgomery County. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Vehicles were pulling to the side of the road because of slippery conditions on I-68 in Cumberland.

SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said that in many cases drivers moving at speeds better suited for dry conditions.

"What we're trying to do is get folks to slow down a little for the conditions," he said. "The speed limit is set for ideal conditions, and when they're not ideal, you have to slow down."

Traffic cameras showed clear pavement, but with some snowy patches, at I-70 and U.S. 29 in Howard County, as well as at I-70 and I-270 in Frederick.

State highway officials said salt trucks were sent out, but the roads were not pretreated because the forecast had called only for flurries.

Howard Silverman, a meteorologist at the National Wetaher Service in Sterling, Va., said reports received there indicated no more than a few tenths of an inch of snow.

"It hasn't been a consistent, widespread band of accumulating snow, but there are consistent flurries moving across Virginia and Maryland," he said. "But with temperatures right around freezing, that's not to say it's not capable of creating slippery conditions, and it has been. But it's not a lot of snow."

The possibity of snow today, and its potential impacts, had been discussed by meteorologists, Silverman said. "It was not off the probabilities. But it was not a definite forecast, either."

Temperatures have been well below average in recent days, he noted, and that has probably cooled pavement temperatures and contributed to the traffic problems.

The little storm was expected to pass by after an hour or two, leaving no more than a dusting, Silverman said. "But that's about all it takes."

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

December 9, 2010

SHA to close lanes on southbound I-95

All lanes of southbound Interstate 95 in southwestern Baltimore County will be closed periodically overnight for installation of a large overhead sign for a changed traffic pattern.

The State Highway Administration said it will close the  southbound highway between Caton Avenue  and the Beltway for intervals of up to 15 minutes to install te sign alerting motorists to the addition of a second lane  to the ramp leading from I-95 to the westbound Beltway. The widened ramp is intended  to relieve congestion during peak  travel times.

The SHA said roas crews will close a  single lane at 7 p.m. and another a 9 p.m. Between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., it will from time to time close the remaining lanes. The agency said the southbound I-95 ramps to the Beltway in both directions will be closed  during the sign's installation. It is recommending that drivers use Caton Avenue to either Washington Boulevard or Wilkens Avenue as alternate routes.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Retired officer objects to column on police driving

My most recent Gettting There column in The Sun dealt with the subject of the driving practices of Baltimore police officers. Briefly stated, it suggested that two recent fatal crashes involving city police officers raised questions about the department's training and internal culture whhere driving is concerned.

The column pointed to the deaths this fall of Officers James E. Fowler III and Thomas Portz Jr. in crashes that involved single moving vehicles. It was not written with the expectation that it would be met with  universal approval, though in fact it did not draw a lot of critical email.

One reader who did object, in a detailed and well-though-out way, was retired Lt. Frederick V. Roussey. I certainly don't agree  wiith his criticisms, and I certainly reject his contention that the column "berated" a dead officer, but his comments are well worth sharing.

Sir:

 After retiring from the Baltimore City Police Department I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid Baltimore City and everything connected to it. However, after reading your article of December 06, 2010, “Crashes, not gunshots, biggest threat to officers” and suffering through a very restless night at 5:30 a.m. I find myself responding to your writing.

 It appears to me that you as well as many active and retired Baltimore City Police Officers and probably a few educated citizens of Baltimore City take issue with the rhetoric flowing from the office of King Frederick and the mouth of his puppet Anthony Guglielimi. I too believe that the corrupt actions of any administration need to be exposed. But using the deaths of Officers Fowler and Portz as your catalyst for attack is way out of line. Just because the funerals are over doesn’t mean that everything for those officer’s families are magically back to normal, far from it, their journey into depression and emptiness has just begun. The deaths of these two fine officers are fresh, everything for their families and co-workers are still very much upside down. The last thing they need now is for some reporter who has never sat his ass in a radio car questioning their loved ones final moments on earth.

 In your article you question if Officer Fowler’s crash was “weather related” no there was no ice or snow, but rain and fallen leaves on a roadway can be just as dangerous. I suppose in all of your years of driving you have never experienced something unexpected. Sometimes things just happen. Maybe a deer ran out, maybe another driver distracted him, any number of things could have happened. The only one who knows for sure is dead! What gives you or anyone else for that matter the right to determine this Officer’s death resulted from his lack of concentration.

 You next attack Officer Portz, questioning how officers respond to emergencies. You mention high speed driving. Officer Portz was driving on the highway to nowhere a posted 55 mph zone. Even if he was driving at 70 mph at best this puts him 15 mph above the posted speed limit perfectly acceptable in an emergency situation. Yes emergency! An injured person call can and often is a life threatening situation where even seconds can count. Unfortunately we don’t know if the Fire Department is already on the scene rendering assistance. In any case again none of us knows for sure what happened in Portz’s radio car, only he knows what went wrong! But what I do know is that his children are without their father because he responded in an attempt to help someone else and now he’s being berated by you. If you want to expose Bealefeld for what he is, if you desire to pull the covers off his corrupt administration by all means do it! But not by using the deaths of these two officers. If you want to expose something why not start by examining the hiring, retention, and training practices at the Baltimore City Police Academy.

 In some regard I agree with you far too many officers nationwide are dying as a result of traffic accidents and this needs to stop! However, as we just witnessed last week gunshots are still a major concern especially when you have “Command” sending a lone rookie to confront an armed subject. I also agree that police department’s nationwide need to examine training and culture when it comes to operating motor vehicles. However, has anyone ever bothered to examine or even take a close look at E-Voc (emergency vehicle operation) training. Why hasn’t anyone taken a serious look at the increase of officer related traffic deaths since the introduction of E-Voc compared to before E-Voc.

 I was assigned to the police academy and I can attest to the fact that once trainees start E-Voc training they develop a belief that they are on the same level as a professional race car driver. They have no concept of the fact that out on the E-Voc course if they lose control at high speed  there is nothing substantial to hit. But if they spin out in the city at high speed brick buildings and utility poles don’t move or fall down!

 You also mention “T.V. Tom” also known as “Teflon Tom” Frazier in your article and his “strong message through the ranks.” Let me enlighten you as any officer who served during this regime can. Tom Frazier is the main reason the Baltimore City Police Department is in the condition it is today! Tom Frazier caused more damage and destruction to our department than any criminal enterprise could have ever hoped to do. Frazier’s policies destroyed our department from homicide all the way to the police academy. He was responsible for promoting unqualified individuals based on political correctness, and then removing experienced investigators and trainers and filling their positions with unqualified and inexperienced politically correct replacements. We have never recovered! Frazier’s strong message pertaining to departmental accidents was punishment, making officers pay for damaged radio cars. That really worked!

 Every police commissioner has addressed the issues of safe driving. Commissioner Norris had me produce a roll call video showing the impact of departmental accidents. Commissioners Clark and Hamm addressed these same issues. But crashes continue to increase. I believe that the number one problem pertaining to officers and crashes is as long as we have to recruit from the human race we are never going to find that perfect candidate to become a police officer..

 The last comment I want to make pertains to your comment that an officer’s driving is “scaring people.” I believe the citizens of Baltimore should be more scared of themselves as opposed to the police. What about those thugs that rip and race through city streets and on sidewalks eighty deep driving dirt bikes, four wheelers, and stolen vehicles through red lights and directly at people? The police in Baltimore City are forced to ignore these individuals because of the “no chase policy” and the fear of civil litigation if one of these parasites gets injured because an officer decided to take action.

 Thank you for your time.

 It appears to me that you as well as many active and retired Baltimore City Police Officers and probably a few educated citizens of Baltimore City take issue with the rhetoric flowing from the office of King Frederick and the mouth of his puppet Anthony Guglielimi. I too believe that the corrupt actions of any administration need to be exposed. But using the deaths of Officers Fowler and Portz as your catalyst for attack is way out of line. Just because the funerals are over doesn’t mean that everything for those officer’s families are magically back to normal, far from it, their journey into depression and emptiness has just begun. The deaths of these two fine officers are fresh, everything for their families and co-workers are still very much upside down. The last thing they need now is for some reporter who has never sat his ass in a radio car questioning their loved ones final moments on earth.

 In your article you question if Officer Fowler’s crash was “weather related” no there was no ice or snow, but rain and fallen leaves on a roadway can be just as dangerous. I suppose in all of your years of driving you have never experienced something unexpected. Sometimes things just happen. Maybe a deer ran out, maybe another driver distracted him, any number of things could have happened. The only one who knows for sure is dead! What gives you or anyone else for that matter the right to determine this Officer’s death resulted from his lack of concentration.

 You next attack Officer Portz, questioning how officers respond to emergencies. You mention high speed driving. Officer Portz was driving on the highway to nowhere a posted 55 mph zone. Even if he was driving at 70 mph at best this puts him 15 mph above the posted speed limit perfectly acceptable in an emergency situation. Yes emergency! An injured person call can and often is a life threatening situation where even seconds can count. Unfortunately we don’t know if the Fire Department is already on the scene rendering assistance. In any case again none of us knows for sure what happened in Portz’s radio car, only he knows what went wrong! But what I do know is that his children are without their father because he responded in an attempt to help someone else and now he’s being berated by you. If you want to expose Bealefeld for what he is, if you desire to pull the covers off his corrupt administration by all means do it! But not by using the deaths of these two officers. If you want to expose something why not start by examining the hiring, retention, and training practices at the Baltimore City Police Academy.

 In some regard I agree with you far too many officers nationwide are dying as a result of traffic accidents and this needs to stop! However, as we just witnessed last week gunshots are still a major concern especially when you have “Command” sending a lone rookie to confront an armed subject. I also agree that police department’s nationwide need to examine training and culture when it comes to operating motor vehicles. However, has anyone ever bothered to examine or even take a close look at E-Voc (emergency vehicle operation) training. Why hasn’t anyone taken a serious look at the increase of officer related traffic deaths since the introduction of E-Voc compared to before E-Voc.

 I was assigned to the police academy and I can attest to the fact that once trainees start E-Voc training they develop a belief that they are on the same level as a professional race car driver. They have no concept of the fact that out on the E-Voc course if they lose control at high speed  there is nothing substantial to hit. But if they spin out in the city at high speed brick buildings and utility poles don’t move or fall down!

 You also mention “T.V. Tom” also known as “Teflon Tom” Frazier in your article and his “strong message through the ranks.” Let me enlighten you as any officer who served during this regime can. Tom Frazier is the main reason the Baltimore City Police Department is in the condition it is today! Tom Frazier caused more damage and destruction to our department than any criminal enterprise could have ever hoped to do. Frazier’s policies destroyed our department from homicide all the way to the police academy. He was responsible for promoting unqualified individuals based on political correctness, and then removing experienced investigators and trainers and filling their positions with unqualified and inexperienced politically correct replacements. We have never recovered! Frazier’s strong message pertaining to departmental accidents was punishment, making officers pay for damaged radio cars. That really worked!

 Every police commissioner has addressed the issues of safe driving. Commissioner Norris had me produce a roll call video showing the impact of departmental accidents. Commissioners Clark and Hamm addressed these same issues. But crashes continue to increase. I believe that the number one problem pertaining to officers and crashes is as long as we have to recruit from the human race we are never going to find that perfect candidate to become a police officer..

 The last comment I want to make pertains to your comment that an officer’s driving is “scaring people.” I believe the citizens of Baltimore should be more scared of themselves as opposed to the police. What about those thugs that rip and race through city streets and on sidewalks eighty deep driving dirt bikes, four wheelers, and stolen vehicles through red lights and directly at people? The police in Baltimore City are forced to ignore these individuals because of the “no chase policy” and the fear of civil litigation if one of these parasites gets injured because an officer decided to take action.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:15 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 8, 2010

Amtrak sets Thanksgiving records

Amtrak posted a record this year for the number of passengers it carried over Thanksgiving, as well as the number of riders on a single day, the railroad announced today.

Ridership for the weekend increased 2.7 percent over last year to a record of 704,446 passengers even though travel on the Northeast Corridor showed a slight decline, Amtrak  said. It also reported that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when it carried 134,230  riders, was the  busiest day in its history.

Amtrak said that in spite of the overall decline in the Northeast Corridor, ridership on its high-speed Acela Express trains increased  by 12.9 percent over 2009.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:08 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads
        

MTA operators may be turning away money

Some Maryland Transit Administration bus operators may be taking their fare boxes out of operation and failing to collect fares in an effort to keep up their records for on-time performance, according to a high-ranking MTA official.

According to Deputy Administrator for Operations  Michael S. Davis, these operators are placing orange covers or paper over the fare boxes even when they are operational. Such a move would speed the movement of passengers onto the bus but deny the MTA needed revenue.

In  an email to an MTA customer,  Davis tells a rider that "we take a hard  stand on this." He says the MTA has a procedure operators must follow before a broken fare box is taken out of operation. In an interview, Davis played down the problem.

"We don't have anything to suggest it's a large percentage," he said. Davis added that some operators have been disciplined for violating the  MTA's revenue collection procedures.

Getting There is asking MTA customers and operators to email michael.dresser@baltsun.com with information about this practice for a further follow-up.  

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:00 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: MTA bus system
        

State adds speed camera zone on 295

The Maryland State Highway Administration and the Maryland State Police have added a new speed-camera enforcement zone on Maryland 295 in Anne Arundel County just south of the Beltway.

The new speed camera zone, which was set up this week, covers an area where road crews are working  on a widening of 295 from two lanes to three in each direction. The speed limit through the zone, which extends south to Interstate 195, is  55 mph.

The project is  expected to continue through late next summer, said SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar. As with Maryland's other camera enforcement zones, tickets willl not be issued unless a vehicle is traveling at least 12 mph above the speed limit. The SHA said only warnings would be issued through Dec. 29.

The zone will be the fourth active zone and the fifth to be set up since the program was instituted late last year. The other active zones are the Intercounty Connector work area on Interstate  95 between Route 198 and Route 212  in Prince George’s County; the Beltway bridge replacement projects at Charles Street and at Liberty Road in Baltimore County, and the I-95 Electronic Toll Lane project in Baltimore County. 

The state recently discontinued the speed camera zone on U.S. 15  at Hayward Road in Frederick County after completion of a construction project.

The speed camera program is opposed by many drivers, but state officialls contend  it has been effective in reducing average speeds through the work zones.

According to SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen,  data gathered in the zones shows that motorists in them slow down an average of 5 mph and that there is a 65 percent drop in the number of drivers breaking the speed limit by 10 mph or more.

Like Maryland's other camera-equipped work zones, automated enforcement on 295 is in effect around the clock and applies even when motorists do not see workers present. The SHA said iit has installed numerous signs warning drivers about the work zone. The agency said it has also deployed a portable  trailer with an electric sign displaying mmotorists' sppeds.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:13 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: On the roads
        

Amtrak Northeast Corridor service fully restored

Amtrak has fully restored service on its Northeast Corridor after an electrical problem this morning interrupted service between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

In a 10:30 a.m. announcement, the railroad said repairs to the overhead wire system near Wilmington  had been completed, allowing full service to resume. Amtrak said the service interruption ocurred  at 7 a.m. when a power problem involving the damaged overhead wires forced a temporary suspension of service between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said  there were there were no problems with MARC Penn Line trains, but he said there were delays on two Amtrak morning trains that stop along the Penn Line and honor MARC tickets.

Amtrak said riders can expect residual congestion-related delays of 15-20 minutes through the affected area.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

Charles St. reopened; Baltimore St. still closed

Charles Street and other streets in the Mount Vernon area have reopened after Tuesday's 5-alarm fire at Charles and Madison streets, city Transportation Department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said this morning.

But Barnes said East Baltimore Street remains closed in the vicinity of The Block after Monday's fiire, which also required five alarms. She said she did not know when it would reopen.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 7, 2010

Former officer comments on police driving column

Skip Panowitz of Bel Air, a former Baltimore police officer, has a comment on my Monday Getting There column that was a little long to post. I thought it was worth sharing.

This is not a new situation. I remember clearly as a rookie city cop 40 years ago that we had driver training, including in-vehicle evaluation, while in the academy. The instructor commented that the record was so poor for the city that we would likely be fired if we were "professional" drivers.

 He noted that during the civil disturbances of 1968 police cruisers were almost the only cars on the street and they were still colliding with each other. A few years later we were required to give up a leave day, with pay, to attend a driver training class because the accident experience  was so poor. But officers were disciplined for accident frequency including giving up days off, paying for damages and/or being transferred to less desirable non-driving assignments (i.e foot posts, security details, etc).

I was very surprised to learn a few years ago, when police involved accidents became a news item in the Baltimore Sun and other local media, that little or nothing was being done to discipline officers with accident frequency records, or to improve driving skills in general. It appears things have not changed. Smaller cars have not seemed to help.

One issue that the city grappled with 40 years ago the same as now is that a lot of recruits have little or no driving experience before joining the department, especially those from urban environments. Current officers tell me that driver training does not seem to be a training priority. This is a big issue and a big concern as your article implies. Hopefully priority attention will be given to driver training soon. If not, this trend will not change.

I left the department to pursue a career that included driver training for emergency vehicle operators and others. I know changes can be made that will improve the driving skills of police officers and reduce accident involvement and the related costs -- personal injury and otherwise.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

Regional board seeks ideas for better transportation

A group representing local governments in the metropolitan region is seeking ideas on how to make it easier to get around the Baltimore area -- anything from new roads to transit lines too hiker-biker trails.

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is soliciting suggestions as part of its task of putting together a plan  for improvements in the area between now and 2035. The window is open for ideas between now  and Jan. 6. A form is available  at http://www.planit2035.com.

The board isn't looking for short-term projects or routine maintenance suggestions. No potholes, please. It's seeking ideas for major projects to advvance such goals as congestion, safety, access to the transportation system, movement of goods  and  environmental improvements.

For information contact Terry Freeland at tfreeland@baltometro.com or 410-732-0500, extension 1028, or Monica Haines Benkhedda at mhainesbenkhedda@baltometro.org or 410-732-0500,  extension 1047.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Fire-related street closings continue into tomorrow

All of the street closings that were in effect this morning as a result of the two 5-alarm fires in central Baltimore Monday and Tuesday will remain in effect for this evening's peak travel period  and the Wednesday morning rush hour, according to the Baltimore Department of Transportation. 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City bus service, MTA bus system, On the roads
        

U.S. gas prices hit 777-day high

Three sevens doesn't exactly make for a luck hand for U.S. motorists. AAA reports that the national average price of gas has reached a 777-day high of $2.96 a gallon for regular, the most since 2008.

In Maryland, the price is already higher than that after a 12-cent run-up over the past eight days put the statewide average at $2.98 as of today. In parts of Western Maryland and the Washington suburbs, the average is already more than $3.

The main culprit appears to be the price of crude oil, which has been climbing in recent weeks -- in part because of the weakness of the dollar.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Streets still closed after city fires

Some of Baltimore's most-traveled streets remain closed today after two five-alarm fires within 24 hours disrupted traffic flow and bus service in the center of the city.

City Transportation Department spokeswoman Kathy Chopper said Charles Street remains closed  from Centre to Madison Streets after an overnight fire in a building near Mount Vernon Square. Meanwhile, Madison Street is  closed at St. Paul Street and Cathedral Street is closed at Chase Street.

Baltimore Street remains closed between Holliday and Gay streets  and Holliday has been shut down between  Baltimore and Fayette streets as a result of  yesterday's fire  on The Block. Chopper said  Baltimore Street could  remain closed  for  the next  couple days, but she had no word  from the  Fire Department on how soon Charles might be opened.

The Charm City Circulator Purple Route stop at the Washington Monument  is  closed and the line has been  detoured. Meanwhile , Chopper said, service on the Circulator's Orange Route has been delayed by the  Baltimore Street fire.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Transit Administration is continuing to divert bus routes around the sites of the two fires. The MTA said Routes 3, 11, 61, 64 have been diverted  from Charles to Calvert Street by the Mount Vernon fire.

Routes Routes 5, 8, 20, 23, 40, 48, 91 and the 160 Express Bus have been diverted onto Pratt Street by the fire in the 400 block of East Baltimore Street.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City bus service, On the roads
        

December 6, 2010

Shot Tower Metro Station reopens

The Shot Tower Metro Station, which was evacuated and closed at 4:36 p.m. because of smoke from the nearby five-alarm fire on East Baltimore Street, was reopened at 5:48 p.m., the Maryland Transit Administration said.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA
        

Fire closes Metro station, diverts bus routes

A five-alarm fire in the 400 block of East Baltimore Street has forced the evacuation of the Shot Tower Metro Station and the diversion of seven Maryland Transit Administration bus routes.

 MTA spokesman David Clark said transit agency police shut the Shot Tower station because of a buildup of smoke from the fire. He said there were no injuries, but  trains were running directly from Charles Center to Johns Hopkins Hospital without stoping at the station.

Seven bus routes that normally run on Baltimore Street have been diverted onto Pratt Street. They are Routes No. 5, 8, 19, 20, 23, 40 and 48.

The Downtown Partnership reported that westbound traffic is being diverted down South Street to Lombard Street. Eastbound traffic is being diverted to Pratt Street, and from Pratt Street to President Street.

UPDATE: The Baltimore Department of Transportation provided the following list of fire-related street closings:


S/B South St closed @ Fayette St and detoured W/B on Fayette St.

S/B Guilford Ave Closed @ Fayette and detoured W/B on Fayette St.

E/B Baltimore St Closed @ Light and detoured N/B on Charles St.

N/B Gay closed @ Lombard and detoured W/B on Lombard

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:50 PM | | Comments (0)
        

No ICC in 2010, SHA concedes

For months, the State Highway Administration has intoned the same mantra when asked when the first phase of the Intercounty Connector would open: "late this year or early in 2011."

You can forget that "late this year" part.

SHA spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar said the revised projection is that the section of the toll road between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue will open early next year. Bad construction weather, she said, has ruled out a 2010 debut.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Contracts awarded for ICC bus routes

The Maryland Transit Administration has selected operators for two commuter bus lines that will run on the Inter-county Connector after the first phase of the toll road is opened.

S & L Enterprises of Hagerstown, which does business  as Atlantic Coast Charters, has been awarded a three-year contract to operate a route between Gaithersburg and BWI Marshall Airport with a bid of $4.39 million. Eyre Bus Service of Waldorf submitted a winning $1.28 million bid for a  three-year contract to provide service on a route between Gaithersburg and Fort  Meade.

Both contracts are scheduled  for a Board of Public Works vote Dec. 15. The first phase of the ICC, between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue, is expected to open early next year, and the bus service is scheduled to begin then. The second phase, between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95, is scheduled to open about a year later.

The Gaithersburg-BWI route, Line 201, will provide 28 trips a day -- 14 in each direction. There will be eight in the morning, one at midday and five in the afternoon.  The buses will stop at the park-and-rides in Gaithersburg, Norbeck and Burtonsville and at  the  Shady Grove Metro Station. On the BWI end it will stop at the terminal and  the Amtrak/MARC station.

Line 202, between Gaithersburg and Fort Meade, will offer three morning rides, one at midday and three in the evening. It will make stops at the Gaithersburg and Norbeck park-and-rides, the Shady Grove Metro,  the Odenton MARC station and the National Security Agency.  

As parts of the contracts, the MTA will lease six buses to Atlantic Coast and four to Eyre.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
        

$3 gas is back in parts of Maryland

The price of gasoline in Maryland jumped by a dime a gallon over the past week as the average in parts of the state shot past $3 for the first time in more than a year.

AAA Mid-Atlantic reported that the statewide average for a gallon of regular hit $2.97 today, up 11  cents from a week ago, up from $2.87 a week ago. In Cumberland and Hagerstown, AAA reported, the average price is already more than $3 a gallon.

The gas price increase follows a recent run-up in the price of crude oil, made more expensive by the weakness of the dollar. AAA  reported that crude oil closed Friday at more than $89 a barrel, its highest price in more than two years.

The price in Maryland, which had lagged the national average for much of the year, is now 2 cents more than the U.S. figure of $2.95. The average in Baltimore matches  the statewide average, but some stations in the metropolitan area are already above the $3 mark. A price of $3.09 was spotted this weekend in Columbia -- a notorious center of expensive gas.

 

"I drove by the 7-11 [in White Marsh] and it was $3.05," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

December 3, 2010

Metro platform work at Owings Mills beginning

The Maryland Transit Administration will begin work tonight on repairs to the platform at the Owings Mills Metro Subway station, but scheduled service is not expected to be affected.

The MTA said the work will take place at night between 10 p.m.  and 4 a.m. weekdays and between 10 p.m Friday  and 4 a.m. Monday on weekends. The agency said some section's of the platform's concrete  are showing signs of wear and damage after 27 years of use. The project, which will repair platform sections and replace yellow safety tiles, is expected to be completed in mid-January.

The MTA said that the project will close a single track at the station periodically but that it is not expected to affect scheduled service.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro
        

December 2, 2010

ICC contractor fined for pollution violations

The Maryland Department of the Environment said today that it has fined a contractor that is building part of the Intercounty Connector $25,500 violations of anti-pollution llaw.

MDE said that Intercounty Constructors General Partnership paid the fine to the state's Clean Water Fund Oct. 25 to resolve charges it violated its sediment control and  discharge permit while building the western segment of the toll road nearr Rockville. That section of the highway, between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue, is expected to open late this month or early next year.

MDE said subsequent inspections have found the project to be in compliance.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:16 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

Final stage of Hatem Bridge project to start

The long deck replacement project on the 70-year-old Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge will move into its fourth and final stage next week, bringing new changes in traffic patterns, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Coming to an end is the third stage, which began in January and required the closing of the westbound lanes of the toll bridge, which takes U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna  River at Havre de Grace and Perryville. During this phase, traffic has moved in a single lane in eachh direction on the eastbound part of the span.

Starting next week, the outside lanes of the bridge will be closed and vehicles will use the two outside lanes. While  the inside lanes  are closed,  work crews will install a concrete barrier in the middle of the bridge to separate eastbound and westbound traffic. The work, which started in 2008, is sceduled to be finished by midyear 2011.

While work continues, travel restrictions on the use of the bridge by large trucks will remain in effect between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Circulator's misleading message blindsides rider

Alexander D. Mitchell IV of Baltimore is a rider of  the city's Charm City Circulator, but he wasn't at all charmed by what appeared to him to be a decision too suspend Purple Route service with  little notice.  Here's what he has to say:

Worked at Baltimore Streetcar Museum yesterday (library work), took Circulator Purple Line downtown to a meeting down on the unit block N.
Charles St.  After meeting, stopped off at a place on Pratt Street, wanted to take Circulator back north, have a pint or two at The Brewers Art, then go back to the BSM for a meeting.  Then I see the flashing message sign at the Circulator stop:

"Closed for WORLD AIDS DAY  Dec. 1st----- 5:30 pm - 8 pm."

 

PHOTO BY ALEXANDER D. MITCHELL IV

They're serious?  How come I hadn't heard about this?  Why?  Are all the drivers attending a rally?  Is there going to be a big crowd?  Street closures?  If so, what about the MTA buses?

So I walk.  Heck, I can use the exercise.  No sign of any closures around Mt. Vernon save for set-up for tonight's Washington Monument lighting prep work.  And I get all the way to Chase Street when a Circulator bus whizzes past me.

Now, I don't know what irritates me more: The fact that they said they were "closed" when they weren't, or that I was able to walk 14 blocks in the time an "every 15 minutes" bus would have made it past me.

After only one quick drink at The Brewer's Art, I manage to spot a Circulator bus stopped at Penn Station.  I ask the driver what's up.  He says something about possible closures at Mt. Vernon from 7-8 PM.

So what's up with this?  If it had still been raining last night, I would have been royally peeved at the Charm City Circulator for these shenanigans.

The irony?  I wanted to stop by The Brewer's Art because they were donating a portion of the day's proceeds to AIDS services at Chase Brexton Health Services.

I talked with the city Department of Transportation and here's the deal. Last night the  bus stop at Mount Vernon was closed and the route detoured onto Calvert Street for the event. But it is easy to see how a rider could interpret the sign as indicating the entire Purple Route was closed down.

The same conditions are in effect tonight for the holiday lighting ceremony at the Washington Monument. The same Purple Route bus stop will be  closed between 5:15 p.m. and 8 p.m., and buses will divert off Charles Street onto Calvert. The Orange Route is  not affected.

I know the city is relatively new at the transit business, having launched the Circulator a  little more than a  year ago, but it is doing a subpar job at communicating with riders about diversions to the routes

When I contact the Department of Transportation's public affairs route about the closings, it turned out the people there had been left entirely out of the loop.  Adrienne Barnes, the deparment's spokeswoman, had to sift through several rounds of misinformation before getting what we hope is now the correct story.

"We are looking at doing a better job of advance notification to the public when things are happening," Barnes said.

Good idea,

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:41 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: City bus service
        

Reader to SHA: Use signs for timely rain reminders

John Dusch of Scaggsville has a modest suggestion for the State Highway Administration that I think has some merit:

How about suggesting to the SHA that on days like today (Dec 1), when it is pouring rain, that they change the overhead signs on I-95 from the ever popular "report suspicious activity ..." to something that might actually do some good like "wipers on, lights on".

Judging by the number of cars you see on the road with wipers flapping away and lights off (including mine at times), people could use such a reminder. And, really, are these "report suspicious activity" messages really preventing the next 9/11 or merely keeping fear alive? My guess is that the more mundane but timely reminder does a whole lot more for public safety. Especially when it's raining.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

Signs of change at MTA? What do you think?

The fact that two slot machines in close proximity yield big jackpots at the same time does not show the casino has changed the abysmal odds in favor of the gambler, but it is an occurrence that gets your attention.

So too was it when two readers in one week wrote in to laud what they see as  an improved attitude toward customer service at the Maryland Transit Administration under the leadership of Administrator Ralign T. Wells, who took the helm of the agency about a year ago.

Earlier, Getting There reported on Ada Orie's delight to find Wells taking a  ride on her sometimes-troubled Route 120 bus. Now we hear from Hazel McWeeney of Owings Mills, who also has good things to say about the MTA. Here's how McWeeney puts it:

 

I ride the subway daily from Owings Mills to Hopkins I want to tell you that in the past nine months there has been a huge improvement in service and communications.  I think (Wells)  has accomplished what I believed to be the impossible.

In full disclosure, I sent him an email last week to let him know that I think he is doing a great job.  I suggestd to him that I will write a letter to Gov. O'Malley on his behalf.  I figured that I would give you a shot too.  I am always willing to criticize politicans and appointed personel but I also feel that when they do a good job, they should get credit, especially in this very important area of public transportation.
So here I am.

Thank you for your time,
Hazel McWeeney

OK, I don't want to make too much of this. But there's a certain man-bites-dog thing about people complimenting the MTA. Are other  MTA customers noticing a change that deserves stepped-up coverage? Or is the same old MTA just having a better week than usual?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:55 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MTA
        

December 1, 2010

Part of St. Margaret's Road to close

The State Highway Administration will close a section of St. Margaret's Road near Annapolis this weekend to replace a large water pipe.

Both lanes of ehe road, state Route  179, will be closed between Browns Wood Road and Meadow Valley Drive from Friday through Sunday. Tthe agency said the closing in required for safety because of erosion to the shoulder and limited access to the work site. Detours will be in place.

The SHA had been planning to remove an existing 36-inch corrugated metal pipe and replace it with a 42-inch reinforced concrete pipe next spring. However, the project has been moved up because erosion was creating public safety concerns. The road is expected to reopen Monday.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Christmas parade to affect Hampden traffic

The 39th annual Mayor's Christmas Parade will force temporary street closings and parking restrictions in Hampden this Sunday, according to the city Department of Transportation.

The parade, which kicks off at 2 p.m. at Falls Road and Cold Spriing Lane, will travel south along Falls  to 36th Street, where it will go east to Chestnut Avenue and north to 37th Street, where it will disband.

To prepare, the city will close the Falls Road exiit from the Jones Falls Expressway from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and detour traffic to Northern Parkway.

Starting at 1:30 p.m. Falls Road will close between Hillside Road and 36th and reopen at 5 p.m.

 

The following streets will close between  noon and 5 p.m:

--36th from Falls to Chestnut.

--Chestnut from 36th  and 37th.

--Hillside from Falls to Ivy Road.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:50 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Free weekend parking in Fells Point this month

 Fells Point Main Street Inc. is reporting that the Baltimore Parking Authority will alow the group to offer free street parking in the neighborhood for four weekends in December.

According to Main Street, the free parking will be allowed between 8 p.m. Fridays and 8 p.m. Sundays December 3-5, December 10-12, December 17-19 and December 24-26.  The group said it is wotking with the city to see  that meters and meter boxes in Fells Point are bagged during those times.

The group encpourages anyone who knows of problems with the program to call the Fell's Point Main Street office at 410-675-8900.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Some MARC trains barely crack 50% on-time mark

The on-time performance of the MARC Penn and Camden lines reached an abysmal 85 percent in November as three trains barely cracked 50 percent for the month. 

Those are not figures calculated to make riders happy.

"We consider 85 percent to be below the threshold of what we consider acceptable, and that's 90 percent on average," said Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council.

On the Camden Line, Train 850 (the 5;16 p.m. out of Washington) was at the bottom with 53 percent on-time performance for the month, while only 55  percent  of  the runs of Trains 846 and 852 (4:13 p.m. and 5:51  p.m. from Washngton) were on time.

No trains on the Penn Line  scored in the 50s. But three fell below 70 percent: the 437 (the 4:50 p.m.  from Penn Station) at 60 percent, the 530 (4:24 from Washington) at 65 percent and the 435 (3:45 from Penn) at 68 percent.

The lone bright spot was the performance of the Brunswiick Line, where November's 92 percent  figure was 10 percentage points above its year-to-date record. Both Penn and Camden scored worse in November than their year-to-date records. Through November, the Penn Line was at 89 percent and Camden at 88 percent.

Getting There is awaiting an explanation of these figures from the MTA, which posts a daily MARC service digest on its web site.

Guroian said the poor performance on the Camden Line could have something to do with track work being performed by CSX, which operates the line. He said he was less sure what was  causing the problems on the Penn Line but noted that Amtrak changed its schedule at the beginning of October, while MARC did not.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:58 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA chief pays a call on Route 120 riders

Ada N. Orie is a very persistent woman who just won't give up when she thinks she's receiving bad service -- as the Maryland Transit Administration knows well.

For months, she's been in communication withh the MTA leadership, as well as Getting There, about inconsistent service and poor on-time performance on the Route 120 bus. She's managed to make her name well known in the office of MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells.

This week Orie had what she considered good news to report. I'll let her tell the story:

Mr. Dresser,

How are you doing? I hope you had a great holiday and your 2010 is coming to a peaceful end. It has been a while since I have written you. I want to thank you for being the voice of the commuters in Maryland. I like the fact that you listen and read our letters. Thank you for listening to my concerns over the years. I really appreciate it.

I have been writing the MTA and you for years. I have taken different modes of transportation in Maryland and complained and complimented as needed. I have been asking for a face to face meeting for years. Finally, on November 30, 2010 I got one in an unconventional way. The meeting was beyond my expectations especially since I never thought I would get a meeting. I know I should not be a pessimist but in this situation it seemed hopeless.

So today I was on the 120 bus and it came on time. The difference was there were 3 guests at my bus stop. Three men who I have never seen before on my stop and they introduced themselves while shaking my hand. The three men were Ralign Wells, MTA Administrator, Mr. Morton, MTA Coordinator and Mr. Neal, MTA Manager of Service Quality.  No one knew these three men were coming to our stop including our drivers who have been making a great effort to be on time.

They took the time to talk to the riders. I talked to them for a few minutes since I have been emailing them for months about the 120. They talked to me about how they have been looking into improving the line and future plans for the MTA. They welcome and appreciate all feedback (bad and good) about any mode of transportation. The MTA transports close to 400,000 people daily and since they cannot be at every stop, customers can and should express their opinions. They are working on many things to make the MTA more user friendly including real time information.

As if that was not enough, Mr. Wells rode the 120 with me and the other passengers to his office today. He talked to the passengers and I had more time to talk to him. He let me know his desire to make Maryland’s MTA the premier MTA in the country. He was a bus driver and moved up through the ranks. He takes his job seriously and wants to transport everyone efficiently and safely daily. He can be contacted at RWells@mta.maryland.gov<mailto:RWells@mta.maryland.gov> and he will read and respond to your email. I would know since he rode my bus today.

I think many of us get frustrated because we are not being heard. When someone is listening to you and shows their concern, it means so much. My encouragement to every current and future commuter out there is to contact the MTA about your concerns, fears, ideas and more. They are open to implementing and listening to your concerns. The MTA is a great way to commute and help our environment. So if you are a current MTA customer, you left the MTA or are considering starting to commute in 2011, I would encourage you to go to their website at www.mtamaryland.com<http://www.mtamaryland.com/> or contact Mr. Wells at RWells@mta.maryland.gov<mailto:RWells@mta.maryland.gov> for any concerns you might have and you would be surprised. I suggested Mr. Wells should ride the bus and he took me up on my offer. You should be vocal about your concerns in a nice matter. I am looking forward to the changes in the MTA and Maryland as a whole.

Mr. Dresser thank you for being our voice and you were very essential in making this happen. Thanks to you and your articles, I got my face to face meeting. Thank you again and happy holidays.

Sincerely,
Ada N. Orie

Readers can discount somewhat the nice things Orie has said about me. Her problems with the Route 120 have seldom been dramatic on an individual basis. There's been nothing like the "hell train" incident on MARC -- just a steady drip-drip-drip of late buses and indifferent operators. But she's stuck with it, and it's good to see Wells reach out. Now if he can just get the message through that he wants the route to stay fixed, that would be a real victory.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA bus system
        
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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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