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February 25, 2011

High winds disrupt transportation

Heavy winds across central Maryland have caused severe disruptions of transportation in the region, prompting the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to urge travelers to take extra precautions.

MEMA urged motorists to delay unnecessary travel to let State Highway Administration and other road crews clear roadways of downed limbs and power lines and to and fix malfunctioning traffic signals. The agency urged drivers to check wind restrictions before traveling on bridges.

The wind's effects were felt on mass transit as well as the highways. The Maryland Transit Administration's light rail lane was shut down for a period on both the north and south ends, As of 5 p.m., the light rail was not running between Falls Road and Lutherville because of downed wire. A bus bridge was in place to take passengers between those stations.

At  the Bay Bridge, high winds forced the Maryland Transportation Authority to suspend the two-way traffic that is usually in effect on the westbound bridge at peak eastbound travel times. Delays were expected.





MEMA suggested travelers check with the MTA at for transit travel plans or to  log into the Maryland Department of Transportation  web site or the SHA's and click on the CHART icon.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:58 PM | | Comments (0)

State ready to piggyback on pothole request

Getting There's search for the state's worst potholes has drawn the attention of the State Highway Administration, which stands ready to fill in cavities on the roads it maintains.

SHA spokesman Dave Buck said the agency would like to know about any potholes Marylanders spot on numbered routes outside Baltimore city. The city maintains all roads -- except for Interstates 95, 395  and 895 -- within its borders. The  counties, generally, maintain roads with names but no numerical routes. (Something like First Street doesn't count as a  numerical route.)

Here's the SHA message:

We'll be keeping an eye out for any responses to your "worst pothole" request on your blog and will forward immediately to our maintenance folks.  If on an SHA maintained road (numbered routes statewide not including Baltimore City), people can always go onto our website at and there is a link at the bottom for pothole requests.

There's no reason you can't let us both know about your "favorite" pothole. Send pictures.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:33 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

February 24, 2011

Where are worst potholes? Nominations are open

Maryland's worst pot holesAfter several years during which the state has withheld the local jurisdictions' share of highway revenues, Maryland's local roads are sprouting a bumper crop of potholes. As we come to the end of winter, there must be some real craters out there.

We're asking Getting There readers to help us locate some of the biggest, deepest and most treacherously placed potholes in the state. Please nominate the most impressive potholes you have come across, with precise locations and photos if available. Lurid descriptions and tall tales encouraged.

To nominate candidates for "Maryland's Worst Pothole," click on the following link.

Baltimore Sun Photo

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:00 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: On the roads

February 23, 2011

ICC tally for first day: 24,375 by 5 p.m.

The Maryland Transportation Authority said 24,375 vehicles entered the Intercounty Connector by 5 p.m. on its first day of operation.

The authority said 13,318 vehicles took the eastbound journey on the stretch between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 370 Wednesday while 11,057 traveled west.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:54 PM | | Comments (2)

Auto manslaughter bill draws emotional testimony

 Widows and parents of Marylanders who were killed on the state’s roads pleaded with state lawmakers yesterday to give the victims of future traffic  crashes a measure of justice they believe was denied their family members under the state’s difficult standard for holding drivers criminally accountable for fatalities.

In an emotionally charged hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, survivors of crash victims urged passage of a bill that would create an intermediate offense between traffic charges a defendant can pay be mail and a full-blown prosecution for felony manslaughter.

The bill under consideration would create a misdemeanor offense known as “manslaughter by vehicle or vessel – criminal negligence” – with a potential penalty of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.


Though the support from more than 20 witnesses was virtually unanimous, the bill’s sponsor was far from optimistic about its prospects. He noted that for many years virtually identical bills have been brought before the committee only to die without a vote in the drawer of Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr.

That history brought the most dramatic moment of the hearing as Ed Kohls, a Reisterstown man who lost his 15-year-old son Connor  in a crash that resulted in a $1,200 fine for the reckless driver who killed him, expressed his anger directly to an impassive Vallario, a Prince George’s County Democrat.

“We are furious that this bill has not been allowed to come to a vote,” Kohls said. “It seems that you are telling us that Connor’s life is worth noting more than $1,200.”

Kohls was joined in supporting the bill by grieving survivors including Weida Stoecker, a northern Baltimore County woman whose husband was killed by a negligent 17-year-old driver in 2007, and Lori  Moser, widow of a State Highway Administration worker whose husband was killed at a work zone near Fredrick that same year.

The drivers found to be at fault in both cases resolved their cases by paying traffic fines.

Also testifying were Tamara  Bensky of Owings Mills and Kenniss Henry of Prince Georges County, whose husband and daughter respectively were killed by motorists while bicycling.

Bensky choked back tears as she told lawmakers about her final, routine goodbye to her husband, Larry Bensky,  last April 6, the day he was hit and killed while bicycling along Butler Road in Baltimore County.

"Never in a million years did I think I would end that day as a widow -- a mother alone with two little girls," she said. Bensky told the panel the driver of the vehicle that killed her husband paid a fine of $507.50 for traffic charges and received three points.

Also supporting the bill are prosecutors, bicyclists’ advocates and AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The challenge for lawmakers has been to find a formulation that gives prosecutors a tool to go after drivers whose driving lapses are more serious than typical traffic offenses but that do not rise to the level of “wanton and willful disregard for human life” – a standard that courts have restricted to cases involving drunk driving or extreme speeding.

“This is an impossibly high standard to meet in many prosecutions,” said Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons, the bill’s lead  sponsor and a Montgomery County Democrat.

Simmons said his legislation explicitly states that common negligence alone would not be grounds for prosecution under the proposed statute. He said his bill would create a standard he called “substantial negligence” – defined in the bill as “a substantial deviation from the standard of care that would be exercised by a reasonable person.”

Simmons said Maryland’s current law is more lenient on drivers at fault in fatal cases than all but a handful of states. He said the language he is proposing has been in the books in 27 other states – including New York, Texas and Connecticut – for many years without being abused by prosecutors.

Despite the overwhelmingly favorable testimony on the bill, Simmons seemed pessimistic about the outcome.

“I don’t have any false illusions,” he said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:13 PM | | Comments (1)

Next move on gas tax may be up to local leaders

The chairwoman of the House of Delegates committee in charge of revenue bills says local leaders will have to line up behind a higher gas tax if such an increase is going to happen in this year's session.

In one of those typical one-minute interviews that are a staple of Annapolis reporting, Del. Sheila Hixson, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee said House leaders including Speaker Michael E. Busch have let local officials know that if they want a restoration of some of the local highway maintenance funds slashed in recent budgets, they'll have to get behind a move for increased transportation revenue.

Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat, indicated that General Assembly leaders are reluctant to be seen as the only ones in favor of such a measure. The state's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax hasn't been raised since 1992, but lawmakers are wary of imposing any increase.

This pressure on the local leaders is standard politics in Annapolis, where lawmakers ty pically want a public clamor for services before they provide the revenue to pay for them. If you see Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and a group of big-county executives lining up behind an increase over the next few weeks, you'll know a gas tax increase may be on a track to become part of a bigger budget deal.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: For policy wonks only

February 22, 2011

Hoot of the day: Bereano as safety advocate

Is there any limit to chutzpah in Annapolis? Not so long as Bruce C. Bereano is around.

Bereano, the leadfoot lobbyist who has amassed a collection of dozens of speeding tickets, did his impression of a highway safety advocate yesterday as he testified on a bill that would allow local school boards and law enforcement agencies to install cameras in school buses to enforce the law prohibiting drivers from passing such vehicles when they are parked with their flashing red lights on and stop sign extended.

Originally signed up in opposition, after listening to compelling testimony on the extent of the problem, Bereano abruptly switched sides when called to the witness stand and argued for an even stronger bill.

Passing a parked school bus, Bereano proclaimed, is "egregiously wrong" and deserves a higher fine than called for in the bill -- along with points for violators.

Of course, just a few seconds earlier Bereano told the committee with a straight face that speeding was "not to be tolerated." Funny, Bereano has never had much trouble finding judges who would tolerate his speeding. Just this month, he found a tender-hearted jurist in Snow Hill who gave him probation before judgment even though he had two speeding convictions and another PBJ within the past two years.

It would be cynical to question Bereano's passionate support for cameras on school buses -- even if it flies in the face of his previous opposition to automated enforcement. But Bereano seems to have forgotten that the reason insurance points are not assessed for camera-generated tickets is that they identify the vehicle, not the driver.  That's presumably why the school bus bill doesn't call for points either.

An old Annapolis hand can't help but recall that one tactic employed by lobbyists when they can't kill a bill outright is to love it to death -- by adding amendments that strengthen it to the point where it loses support. Surely Bereano would never resort to that.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:14 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Road safety

Push on to require seat belts for all in vehicles

All vehicle occupants, including adults in the rear seats, would be required to wear selt belts under a bill that received a hearing today before a House of Delegates committee.

If the measure passes, Maryland would join 35 other states that issue tickets if any passenger in a vehicle is found to be unbelted, advocates said. Maryland now requires rear seat belts only for riders under 16 years old.

Maryland currently requires front seat occupants to wear seat belts, but advocates for the bill testified that rear seat passengers also faced elevated risks if they aren't wearing restraints when a vehicle is in a collision.


The legislation, sponsored by Del. C. T. Wilson, a Charles County Democrat and Sam Arora, a Montgomery County Democrat, received a boost Tuesday with the testimony of Montgomery County Police Capt. Tom Didione, who told members of the House Environmental Matters Committee about the 2008 crash in which his teenage son -- a passenger in the rear seat of a vehicle -- was killed after being thrown to the front of the vehicle and hitting the dashboard.

Other advocates told the committee that the average seat belt use in states with mandatory rear seat usage laws is 78 percent compared with 64 percent in states where it is not required. No opponents signed up to testify.

Like the existing law, the bill would put the burden on the driver to see that passengers comply with seat belt requirements.  But the current bill would also allow an officer to ticket noncompliant passengers. The fine for violations is $25.

Advocates estimated that 30 fewer people would be killed and 750 fewer injured if all Maryland drivers and passengers wore seat belts.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:29 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Full speed ahead on ICC opening

With Monday night's snowstorm behind us and a bright sun drying out the pavement, the state plans to go forward as planned with the opening of the first section of the Intercounty Connector early Wednesday morning.

 Dave Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said the leg of the ICC between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 370 will open by 6 a.m. He said engineers will not wait for a specified time but will open the lanes to traffic as soon as they can in the morning -- probably between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Earlier plans to open the road Tuesday morning were postponed because of the snow.

 Buck said the SHA wants to prevent the backups onto Norbeck Road and Georgia Avenue that would be likely if motorists were held in line until a set time.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Bike advocate sees positive signs at MDOT

The Maryland Department of Transportation is becoming increasingly aware to bicycle riders' issues and responsive to their concerns, according to a delegate who has been a champion of bike-related issues in recent years.

Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, told Bike Maryland's annual Bicycle Symposium Tuesday, that he has seen positive policy moves coming out of the department and its agencies. Cradin said he has been informed that the Motor Vehicle Administration has decided to include six bike safety questions on the exam drivers must take to receive their licenses.

Cardin, himself a bike rider, also said the State Highway Administration has adopted a policy under which it will incorporate improvements for bicycles -- bike lane additions, lane striping for bicycles or improved signage -- in every road repaving project where its is not physically impossible.

We have calls in to the two agencies to see what they have to say.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:36 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bicycles

Main roads looking clear, but pavement's slippery

Maryland's main roadways are largely clear or being cleared after an overnight snowfall that came in short of expectations, but drivers still need to look out for wet and slippery road conditions, according to the State Highway Administration.

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen urged commuters to delay leaving their homes this morning to give road crews a little more time to get the pavement clear.

"It takes our drivers up to one and one half hours to complete a snow route and longer when a salt refill is needed,” said Pedersen.  “If you travel the road where a plow has just passed, you will experience near bare pavement conditions.  If you are traveling at the start of the route before the next lap, you will encounter much more difficult traveling.  We ask people to delay travel this morning if possible to allow our crews to continue their operations.”

Charlie Gischlar, an SHA spokesman, said conditions were looking good on the beltways and on Interstate. But he said a crash involving a truck on southbound Interstate 97 at Route 100 had closed two laneds and may make it advisable for motorists to use Ritchie Highway this morning.



Gischlar warned motorists not to speed up too fast on the still-slick roads. "Be careful om ramps, the transitions. People driving too fast are skidding out a little bit," he said.

While drivers in central Maryland might be relieved upon getting up to see that the snow didn't reach the 5-8 inches in some forecasts, they are likely to discover a nasty surprise under the 2-3 inches that fell over much of the region: a sheet of ice under the snow that will require extra time to scrape off. Gischlar stressed the importance of throroughly clearing vehicles so that the ice doesn't become a projectile when on the road.Gischlar said unofficial estimates put the snow at about 7 inches at LaVale in Western Maryland, 5-6 inches in northern Harford County and about an inch in the Washington suburbs. He said the Eastern Shore got mostly rain from the storm.

With pavement temperatures in the mid- to high 20s, salt was working well well at melting icy patches, he said. Gischlar added that road-clearing working should proceed quickly once the sun comes up.

The spokesman said a decision would be made later in the day whether to go ahead with the scheduled Wednesday opening of the first section of the Intercounty Connector, which had been planned for Tuesday morning until it was postponed because of the expected snow.

Meanwhile, public transit riders were also feeling the impact. Bus rider Ada Orie wrote Maryland Transit Administrator Ralign T. Wells to complain that the "White Marsh Park and Ride parking lot is a mess."

 "It looks like it was plowed once and it is icy," she wrote. "I am a little frustrated once again the parking lot is messy. I went on the website and there was nothing that indicated the parking lot was a mess. Our buses are on time and leaving on time."

Wells replied, telling her that "we are stretched in every direction trying to keep the service on schedule and clearing lots and streets.








Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

February 21, 2011

Drivers urged to stay off the roads tonight

With 5-8 inches of snow expected to fall on the Baltimore area tonight, Maryland's state highway chief is urging motorists to stay off the roads until snow plow operators have had time to do their work.

“If you have a choice not to travel tonight, please don’t,” said State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen. “Our crews will work throughout the night, but depending on when it stops snowing, all routes may not be completely cleared by morning rush hour.  Please check conditions before driving in the morning and allow extra travel time.”

Dave Buck, an SHA spokesman, said highway officials hope to see most drivers off the roads in central Maryland by 8-9 p.m. He said the storm is expected to start with sleet and freezing rain but quickly convert to snow.

Buck said the storm is expected to pass through the area by about 7 a.m.  He said that the amount of snow in the forecasts has been increasing and could exceed 8 inches in Western Maryland and along the Pennsylvania border.

According to the SHA, crews were not able to pre-treat roads because the rain Monday would  have washed away the chemicals used to inhibit icing. The agency urged motorists to check road  conditions using the state's CHART system at the SHA web site.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Blog urges MTA to extend bus line to Frederick

Brian DiNunno, on his blog Green Pivots, argues that the Maryland Transit Administration's Route No. 991 should start in downtown Frederick rather than at Monocacy Station. He makes a good case, though he makes it sound a bit more simple and cost-free than it actually would be.

Such a move would involve a renegotiation of the contract with the provider at a higher rate to compensate for the added time and distance. It's doubtful the MTA would undertake that unless there were evidence it would bring increased ridership. But it's a question worth asking.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:04 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MTA bus system

Hearing on Holocaust-MARC bill postponed

Del. Sandy Rosenberg reports that the House hearing on the bill he has proposed to require extensive disclosures about the French national railway's World War II activities while under Nazi control if one of its subsidiaries wants to bid for a MARC contract has been postponed from Wednesday until March 3.

The subsidiary, Keolis America, is considered a leading contender for a contract to operate the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines after CSX relinquishes that role. But proponents of the legislation contend its majority owner, the French railway SNCF, has failed to make amends for its role in transporting Jews to Nazi death camps during the German occupation.

With the schedule change, the House and Senate committees considering the bill will hold their hearings on the same day.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

ICC opening delayed by a day

Marylanders who have been waiting decades to drive on the Intercounty Connector will have to wait one more day.

The opening of the just-completed western section of the ICC, which had been scheduled for Tuesday at 6 a.m., was pushed back to the same hour Wednesday because of predictions of overnight snow.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony with Gov. Martin O"Malley and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood continued Monday morning as planned despite a pouring rain. Among those invited was former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who led the fight to build the ICC before his defeat by O'Malley in 2006.

Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said a decision will be made Tuesday whether to proceed with the Wednesday opening as planned after a snowstorm passed through the region overnight. The Washington area received only about an inch of snow, but Gischlar said officials want to make sure the pavement isn't too wet.

Harold  Bartlett, acting executive secretary of the Maryland  Transportation Authority, said the opening was delayed for "safety and logistical reasons." He said some of  the final work preceding the opening cannot be performed under icy or wet  conditions.

The first section of the ICC to open will be the stretch between Georgia Avenue (Route 97) and Interstate 370 in Montgomery County. The section between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95 is scheduled to open in about a year.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

February 18, 2011

Part of Route 100 closed by fire

This came in from the State Highway Administration shortly after 4 p.m.:

To secure the safety of motorists, Maryland State Highway Administration has closed the two right lanes along westbound MD 100 between I-97 and Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard, as well as the ramps from I-97 to westbound MD 100.  Motorists are urged to avoid MD 100 in this area and consider alternate routes.  If traveling in the area, motorists can expect significant delays.  For up to date travel information, visit and click on incident reports.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

MTA's definition of 'on time' questioned

Jonathan Howard of Baltimore recently read a story on this blog in which Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens explained the MTA's criteria for considering a bus on time. Howard found that the explanation didn't jibe with what he encountered on the streets.

 Let's let him explain:

In your "Getting There" blog Feb 2, you received from Terry Owens the details of how MTA comes up with its on-time statistics for buses.  I was not the only reader to notice the fallacy this phrase:
"In addition, on-time performance only includes buses on the street. It does not factor delays experienced by riders when an individual bus is removed from a route for mechanical or other issues. "
My Tuesday morning commute was a perfect example of why this is a flawed method for deriving data about quality and efficiency of service. 

I arrived at the corner of Paca and Saratoga Streets at 8:40 a.m. with the intention of catching the No. 40 "Quick" bus that was due to arrive at 8:51. 
It did not show up.
Nor did the one that was due at 9:03.
Nor did the one that was due at 9:15.
I called the MTA's 800 number and was connected with a very nice woman who said that she was showing no problems with the No. 40 line and that the service was running on time.  When a bus finally arrived at 9:27, she asked me to read the bus number to her, and she confirmed that it was the one that was due at 9:27.  So even though the three prior buses were mysteriously nowhere to be found (perhaps there is some sort of Bermuda Triangle phenomenon somewhere along Fayette Street?), things were still, according to the MTA, on time, hunky dory, ship-shape, running smoothly.
The call center representative did apologize profusely for my troubles and promised that I would get a call back with an explanation.  Since I haven't received one yet, I am writing this letter.
Anyway, I arrived at work at 10, a full half-hour late.  My boss wasn't pleased, and I was not either because I had to use a half-hour of my vacation time to compensate for the lateness. 
I logged into my computer and checked the MTA website.  The status of the local buses?  "Service on Schedule."
Tell that to my boss. 
The fact that the MTA does not count buses that are cut from service in their on-time statistics is nothing short of creative math to make themselves look better.  This customer is fed up with it.

This sounds like a legitimate gripe to me. What counts is not whether the bus is late in the MTA's terms but whether the customer encounters a bus that doesn't  show up on time.  A bus that breaks down is by any real world a late bus for every passenger who ends up cooling their heels at a stop as a result.

MTA, the ball's in your court. Any reply?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MTA bus system

O'Malley makes pitch for money Florida spurned

Seeking to capitalize on Florida Gov. Rick Scott's decision to turn down $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, Gov. Martin O'Malley has asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to shift much of the money to projects in Maryland and other places along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

In a letter dated today, O'Malley urged LaHood to move much of that money to projects such as the estimated $1 billion construction of a new tunnel to replace the century-old B&P Tunnel just south of Penn Station. That tunnel is regarded as a critical bottleneck slowing trains on the Northeast Corridor.

O'Malley also outlined several other Maryland projects that could benefit from an infusion of a transfer of the money spurned this week by Florida's new Republican governor, who expressed objections to government spending on a project the previous  administration had eagerly sought.

Among the items on the O'Malley wish list:

--Replacement of three Amtrak railroad bridges in Northeast Maryland over the Bush, Susquehanna and Gunpowder rivers.

--Redevelopment and expansion of the Amtrak/MARC station and tracks at BWI Marshall Airport.

--Engineering and construction  of a third track between Perryville and Elkton to speed both passengers and freight service.

--Improvements to the CSX tracks between Silver Spring and Brunswick, which are used by Amtrak intercity and MARC Brunswick Line trains.

In addition to advocating the Maryland projects, O'Malley put in a good word for the Northeast Corridor as a whole, arguing that it received far less funding than other rail projects under the Obama administration's high-speed rail initiative. According to O'Malley, the corridor has more than $52 billion in needs to improve the nation's busiest passenger rail system. Among  other things, O'Malley urged LaHoood to provide additional funds for the Federal Railroad Administration to prepare an environmental impact statement on its plans for expansion along the corridor.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:18 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

February 16, 2011

O'Malley would pursue money Florida spurned

In the previous blog posting, I wondered whether Maryland would pursue a share of the $2.4 billion in stimulus funds Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned down, essentially scuttling a high-speed rail project.

We didn't have to wait long for an answer. Shaun Adamec, spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said Maryland would be happy to compete for the money Florida's Republican chief executive spurned. Adamec passed this along:

The Governor will certainly pursue any funds available that can help create jobs and rebuild Maryland’s infrastructure.  This is not unprecedented.  You’ll recall the example of Talgo, that then-WI-Gov Doyle courted to execute a deal to build a high speed rail system from Milwaukee to Madison.  Gov. Doyle teed it up so that federal funds would provide the necessary $810M investment to make the deal work, but [new Republican Gov.] Scott Walker ultimately turned down the money, and Talgo pulled out.  And now Pat Quinn (Democratic Governor of IL) has courted Talgo to come there instead, bringing the investment and the jobs to the people of Illinois.  It’s hard to imagine just how well the people of Wisconsin were served by political posturing that ultimately resulted in watching millions in investment and thousands of jobs walk over the border to Illinois.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

Florida rejects $2.4 billion for high-speed rail

Florida's new governor, Republican Rick Scott, has rejected $2.4 billion in U.S. stimulus money that had been intended to go for a high-speed rail project linking Tampa to Orlando.

The Obama administration has said it will redirect that money to other states. Hmmm. I wonder whether Maryland can think of a use for some of that money for projects on the Northeast Corridor.

Scott said he was rejecting the money over concerns that the project would cost too much money and fail to meet its ridership projections. He also expressed worries over the possibility of  cost overruns that could be passed on to Florida taxpayers.

Critics charged that Scott was costing the state thousands of jobs at a time of high unemployment as  well as squandering an opportunity to expand the state's tourist infrastructure.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:34 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

Is MTA signage a bit overripe?

Alan E. Povey of Baltimore has a track record of keeping the Maryland Transit Administration on its toes. The following email shows he hasn't given up his watchdog ways:

Michael, I e-mailed you last summer about the incorrect signage promoting attractions at MTA light rail stops, and also mentioned an incorrect bus stop sign on northbound Howard St. north of Lombard.  It showed a schedule for the #10 line, which hadn't used that route for over a year.  You forwarded my e-mail to the MTA, and [deputy administrator] Henry Kay responded regarding the bus stop sign that the MTA occasionally overlooked a sign when schedules changed.  He said the signage would be corrected promptly.

I waited for a bus there recently.  The #10 schedule had indeed been replaced, but by a #27 schedule dated 2003.  The adjacent schedule for the #19 is dated 2002.  The schedules for both lines have changed several times since then, and the old schedules are totally inaccurate.
I've also noticed two similar problems:
1)  On westbound Saratoga at Calvert, there is a posted schedule for the #23 line.  The #23 line in that block was switched from Saratoga to Fayette St. two years ago.
2)  At the Penn Station light rail stop, the posted schedule is undated but shows trains leaving every 20 minutes during rush hours.  They now run only once every 30 minutes.  I recently helped a visitor who was obviously confused by this incorrect signage.
If I just happened on these problems on routes that I travel, I can only imagine how much incorrect signage there must be system-wide.  It seems to me that if the MTA cannot routinely post correct schedules at bus and light rail stops, it should not post those schedules at all.
I also think it's a shame that, for a city dependent on tourism, its major train station and airport are served by light rail only once every half hour.  When light rail debuted, they were served every 17 minutes.  The MTA should get rid of the little-used Penn-Camden shuttle and restore the old system of two lines (Penn to Cromwell or BWI, and Hunt Valley to Cromwell or BWI), serving all destinations at least once every 20 minutes.

Well, MTA, what do you have to say about these problems? Is Povey correct? And if so, what is being done to fix these problems?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:51 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MTA

February 10, 2011

MARC for marks? Perryville service may expand

Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said one of the changes that may be in the works as part of the Maryland Transit Administration's revision of the Penn Line schedule is expanded service to the new Hollywood Casino in Perryville.

Guroian said there have been discussions with MARC officials about adding a northbound train in morning and a southbound train in the evening to let gamblers reach the slots without having to get on Interstate 95.

The key to the plan could be whether Penn National, the casino's owner, can put together a shuttle bus service between Hollywood and the Perryville MARC station. For the state, it could be seen as an investment. It would have to subsidize the expanded MARC service but could win back much of that money in the taxes on whatever increased gambling results.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:23 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train

Man hit by train was wearing headphones

A man who was struck and injured by a train at Halethorpe Thursday -- interrupting or delaying Amtrak and MARC service about midday -- was wearing head phones as he crossed the tracks and failed to hear the oncoming Acela Express, according to Baltimore County police.

The victim -- described by Amtrak  spokeswoman Danelle Hunter as a white male "trespasser" of about 30 -- was taken to Maryland Shock-Trauma Center. Lt. Robert O. McCullough, the county police spokesman, said the man was still alive late Thursday afternoon.

Hunter said the Washington-to-New York Acela train, with 121 passengers aboard, was  held at the scene for more than an hour after the 11:27 a.m. incident. Maryland Transit  Administration spokesman Terry Owens said two MARC Penn Line trains were delayed.

Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the call came in at 11:41 a.m. and the victim was taken by ground to Shock-Trauma.

The victim is the second person in Maryland to have been struck by a train while wearing headphones in just over a year. In January 2010, 14-year-old Anna Marie Stickel was hit by an Amtrak train at Middle River while walking along the tracks and listening to music. She was killed.

In Halethorpe, there is a pedestrian bridge at the MARC station on Southwestern Boulevard. But local residents say it is not unusual for people to cross the tracks at ground level to avoid the steep climb.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:05 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

Amtrak, MARC traffic resumes after pedestrian strike

MARC and Amtrak trains have resumed operations through the Halethorpe area after being held up when an Acela train struck a pedestrian on the tracks near there late this morning.

Danelle Hunter, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said the person -- whom she described as a "trespasser" -- was hit about 11:27 a.m.

Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said call came in at 11:41 a.m. and the victim was taken by ground to Shock-Trauma. No word on age or gender. Hunter said that to the best of her knowledge the victim was still alive. She said there was no indication yet whether the strike was an accident or a suicide attempt.

Hunter said the Washington-to-New York Acela train, with 121 passengers aboard, was being held at the scene as of about 12:45 p.m. But she said the tracks have been reopened to other traffic.

Maryland Transit  Administration spokesman Terry Owens said two MARC Penn Line trains were delayed by the incident, but he said MARC traffic resumed service through the area at restricted speeds shortly after noon.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:16 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train

February 8, 2011

SHA offers limits on work zone speed cameras

The State Highway Administration is moving to address some of the concerns about its use of speed cameras in work zones without dropping its opposition to proposals to limit their use to times when workers are present.

Last week, SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen testified against a bill offered by Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore  County Democrat, that would write such a limit into the law  authorizing the use of  speed cameras.

But Pedersen also wrote a letter to Brochin outlining changes to the agency's speed camera program to address some oof the issues raised by proponents of the bill.


Pedersen told Brochin he has instructed his traffic engineers to review the work zones in which cameras are now deployed to determine whether the construction activities that led to creation of the zone have been completed. He also said the SHA would also ensure that the cameras are used only along the stretches of the work zones where the construction has actually affected the safety of travel -- for instance where lanes are constricted of shoulders closed.

The highway chief also pledged to review the schedules for deploying speed cameras too make sure they are used  only for reasons of safety. Pedersen also said the SHA would launch a marketing campaign to assure that drivers know the work zones are in effect at nights and on weekends, as well as during weekdays.

Pedersen said work zones are still areas of heightened danger even when workers are not present. He noted that the zones routinely involve lane shifts and Jersey walls being placed at the edge of travels lanes, as well as rough pavement.

According to Pedersen, drivers and passengers -- rather than workers -- account for 80  percent of the fatalities from crashes in work zones. He said the crash rate in work zones is roughly three times as high as in similar stretches of highways without work zones.

"We feel that it is essential that SHA retain the ability to used automated speed enforcement in work zones that have serious safety issues, both when workers are present and when they are not  present," Pedersen wrote.

Brochin's bill has not yet come to a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.




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

Does transportation 'lockbox' have a big hole in it?

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit has written an interesting article for Greater Greater Washington on transportation revenue and the potential holes in the constitutional "lockbox" that has been proposed to keep it separate from the general fund.

I'm not sure I buy every premise in the article, but he does point out accurately that a healthy portion of transportation revenues comes from sources usually associated with the general fund. He is correct in asserting that driving -- like other forms of transportation -- comes with some hefty subsidies  from non-driving sources.

I'm not quite persuaded by his logic on the gas tax and titling taxes. But it's an interesting twist on an old argument, with some perceptive commentary following it.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:20 PM | | Comments (0)

Maryland infrastructure gets C-minus grade

A group representing civil engineers reported that Maryland's transportation and water systems are in dire need of billions of dollars of repairs and upgrades as they released a study giving the state's infrastructure an overall grade of C-minus.

The report by the Maryland section of the American Society of Civil Engineers issued  grades ranging from a B-minus for the state's bridges to a D for its storm water systems.

Frank Kaul, president of the state chapter, said the results were "not acceptable," adding that Maryland has putting off i investment in aging infrastructure for loo long.

But if there was a ray of hope in the generally gloomy report, it was that Maryland ranked better in virtually every category than than the dismal national grades issued  by the tough-grading society. But Kaul said that wasn't much of a consolation.

"Infrastructure can't be graded on a curve. It's a black-and-white issue," he said.

The report – the Maryland chapter’s first -- was released at a news conference Tuesday morning in Annapolis, where lawmakers are expected to debate proposals this year to provide an infusion of new revenue for transportation. The most likely source under discussion is an increase in the state's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax.

The report gave the state's roads and transit systems grades of C-minus, while its efforts to maintain its bridges won a B-minus along with compliments on Maryland's progress in reducing the number of structurally deficient spans. Maryland dams received a C. On the water utility side, beside the low statewide mark for storm water runoff systems, the society gave the Baltimore region a C-minus for drinking water and a C for waste water -- identifying the deteriorating pipeline infrastructure under Baltimore's streets as a critical problem.

Sen. Rob Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat who has emerged as a leading advocate of raising new transportation revenue and protecting the existing fund from budget raids, pointed to the roads and transit scores as he warned that the state can't afford to delay a stepped-up infrastructure program for much longer.

Without new investment, he said, “these two C-minus marks are going to slip from just passing to Ds or Fs.”

The report said Maryland can expect continued increases in demand for transit services, which have already posted a 22 percent increase in riders since 2005. But it said the current level of investment is not enough to meet that projected growth and that ““potential budget shortfalls are looming.” The study noted that Maryland has not yet determined how it would fund its share of three proposed expansion projects – the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway in suburban Washington.

Maryland’s highway network is increasingly showing its age, according to the report, with 84 percent of its roadways at least 30 years old. The study gave the State Highway Administration credit for steady improvements in ride quality, largely as a result of road-paving projects financed by federal stimulus dollars. But the engineers said the state is not keeping up with demand for additional capacity, thus adding to congestion.

While the report generally praised Maryland’s road surfaces, engineers said problems lurk beneath the smooth top layer. Kaul said many highways are overdue for a “full depth” rehabilitation – in which the roads are rebuilt down to the subsurface layers.

Maryland’s bridges are in better shape than those in most other states, the report said. The study said only 7  percent of Maryland bridges are structurally deficient, compared with 12.1 percent nationwide, giving the SHA and local jurisdictions credit for a concentrated effort over  the past decade  to repair deteriorating spans.

The  state received its lowest grade – a D  -- for its storm water system. The report pointed to an aging infrastructure and the lack of a reliable funding source for projects needed to control runoff and prevent pollution.

While Baltimore received only a C-minus for drinking water, report contributor Tom Spehe said the problem was not water  purity but the aging infrastructure below the surface. Spehe said many of the pipes were built 60-80 years ago using “very old” cast iron technology that is prone to leaks.

Dell. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat who took part in the news conference, said he is “very open” to considering a gas tax increase if he can be sure the measure would go to fund transportation.

“My  constituency is much more open to  a gas tax if it is dedicated to transportation infrastructure issues,”  he said.

But Del.  Susan L. M. Aumann, a Baltimore County Republican, thought there would be little support in the  minority for such a measure without an ironclad assurance  the revenue would not be tapped for the general fund – as some  legislative leaders have suggested.

“Until that point,  everything is fungible, everything is liquid mercury  and it’ll flow  to the lowest point,” she said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:01 PM | | Comments (3)

February 7, 2011

First phase of ICC to open Feb. 22

The first phase of the long-awaited and long-fought-over Intercounty Connector will open Feb. 22, Gov.  Martin O'Malley announced today.

Drivers will get their first chance to use part of the $2.6 billion toll road that day a 6 a.m. when the state opens the 5.5-mile segment between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue. O'Malley said the highway will be toll-free for the first 13 days it is open -- through March  6.

The section's completion has been delayed by weather conditions in recent months. Today's announcement indicates the state is reasonably confident  it can meet the target date, but it still comes with the caveat of "weather permitting."

The second phase of the ICC -- between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95 -- is expected to open about a year from now. The highway was the subject of decades of contention between environmentalists and highway supporters before winning federal approval under the administration of former Gov.  Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The ICC is expected to eventually extend to U.S. 1, but that part of the project has been deferred indefinitely.

The highway will be Maryland's first toll facility for which all rolls will be collected electronically -- either through the use of E-ZPass or by taking the pictures of the license plates of vehicles that use the road. Tolls for passenger vehicles using the full 5.5 miles will range from 60 cents during overnight hours to $1.45 at peak rimes.

The Maryland Transportation Authority will begin collecting tolls March 7. Owners of vehicles that do not have an E-ZPass will receive a bill in the mail for the toll, along with a $3 service fee. That fee is being waived for the first month of the ICC's operation, but will go into effect April 6.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:28 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: On the roads

February 4, 2011

Circulator draws riders but isn't on schedule

The Charm City Circulator, the free city bus service introduced 13 months ago, continues to post strong ridership figures on its two routes, but staying on schedule remains a problem.

When the Circulator was launched there was talk of running buses at 10-minute intervals, but the city quickly scaled that back to 15 as the realities of running an urban bus system through the heart of downtown sunk in.

Last month's totals show an average interval, known as a headway, of 17 1/2 minutes on the two routes now in service. But during peak evening traffic, that deteriorated to 21 minutes -- a long time to wait in January when walking is a viable option for  many riders. Most of the problems seem to be showing up on the east-west Orange Route, which may help explain why the north-south Purple Route drew almost 20,000 more riders.



Scott Solomon, a regular rider from Federal Hill, pointed out that at one point this morning the bus tracker at Penn Station on the Purple Route showed expected wait times of 4, 26 and 57 minutes for a bus. That means an unfortunate rider who just missed the second bus would face a 26-minute wait.

Solomon provided a detailed, well-thought-out critique of the Circulator service, which I'll pass along while inviting a response from the city Transportation Department.

Probably 80% of the time I have an fine experience - or I'm smart enough to anticipate issues using the tools they provide such as bus tracker, NextBus, etc.  The tools are nice and people really  utilize them.  I check it in the morning and prepare to leave my house in Fed Hill by 7:30 to be at work by 8:10, taking into account the schedule won't always work perfectly for me - this includes a 6 minute walk from my home to my stop outside of Ropewalk  (Tavern).  So as long as a bus arrives between 7:36 and 8:00 I shouldn't have a problem. However it's rare to go an entire week without having some issue one way or another which  requires walking 25 minutes to/from work.  I can't tell you how many times the bus tracker says 4mins/31mins/37mins.  Not a big deal, but I'm in my late 20's and healthy - if I was in a different situation or had a less flexible job or worked farther uptown, I would question the CCC as my primary means of transportation.  

A couple other things to point out - the majority of the drivers are very pleasant and friendly.  There are one or two very cranky individuals though.  One refuses to pick up school kids because they travel in packs and are a little loud.  If the CCC wants to make it a policy not to pick up school kids because they have the free MTA passes, that's fine, but individual drivers shouldn't be making policies. Another driver blocked the intersection of Cross and Light for a good 5 minutes because a car was sort of blocking the bus stop.  His reasoning was "one person not following the rules makes everyone suffer" In reality he was just being stubborn and acting unprofessionally.  An MTA driver walked up to his door and finally convinced him to move. It seems as if a couple of the drivers have chips on their shoulders about the buses being free - as if we should be thanking our lucky stars that they are there to drive us around.  Don't get me wrong - I'm appreciative of the service - but it's not Bobby Bus Driver's Whimsical Ride. 

Next concern is drivers/buses not 'completing the route'.  My route home is downtown to Fed Hill - like so many others - and many times a bus will come down Light with the "Not in service" sign on - but carrying a bus load of people.  Driver says not in service and doesn't allow passengers to board - knowing that all those people's final destination is in Fed Hill.  He continues on - drops people off along the way and heads off down Hanover leaving a bunch of people to walk while they could've grabbed a ride without consequence.  Just doesn't seem logical. I will say lately they have improved on this front so it's possible they figured this one out.  Or maybe it's driver dependent. 

Driver switches have improved significantly.  It used to be up to 10 minutes to undertake a driver change at Conway/Light but it's down to about 3 minutes now.  Earlier this week we did wait a couple minutes for the new driver to finish her cigarette before taking the wheel.  Kind of maddening. 

Buses are still pretty clean.  No complaints.  Passengers are almost always pleasant.  I was concerned there would be a bunch of panhandlers on every bus but no one has ever asked me for anything.  Maybe there's a homeless guy or two but they are quiet and respectful.  People could do a better job of giving up seats for disabled/elderly.  Frankly I'm shocked that people just seem to be so oblivious.  People should be jumping out of their seats instead everyone expects 'someone else to get up.'

When it comes down to it - I really believe the #1 issue is the buses just aren't mechanically sound.  They overheat in the summer - and ever since it's gotten cold, it's rare to see more than 3 buses on a route at any one time.  Not sure what the winter issue is, but it must be something.  Instead of adding a 4th route, perhaps they should increase the fleet on the routes they have.  Capacity seems strained as it is.  

A friend asked the other day what the buses run on.  Someone replied "hope"  Pretty much sums it up...

Well, city,  folks, it's your turn. You think Solomon got it right?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:52 AM | | Comments (5)

February 3, 2011

Maryland ranked high on spending stimulus money

If you go by the standards promoted by leading smart growth advocates, Maryland ranks high on the list of states that spent the money it has received in federal economic stimulus funds wisely.

A report prepared by Smart Growth America (provided to The Sun but since temporarily taken down from its web site) ranks Maryland 9th in its ranking of states for spending the flexible  funds provided under the American Recovery Investment Act for purposes other than adding new road capacity.

Eight other states earned a perfect ranking by devoting no money at all from the program an adding road capacity. Maryland spent only 1 percent for that purpose. The Smart Growth advocacy group contends that stimulus funds were better spent  on transit projects, bike and walking paths and maintaining existing highway infrastructure.


According to the report Maryland allocated 91 percent of its stimulus funds, or $400 million, to improving existing roads -- one of the highest percentages in the country. It spent only 4 percent of its flexible funds on transit but still ranked 16th among the states, said report author Roger Millar of Smart Growth America.

The report did not take into account the dedicated highway and transit money provided to the states under the stimulus  bill because the states had less discretion in how they spent that money.

Smart Growth America generally favors concentrating spending on transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects, as well as system preservation of existing road infrastructure, to contain sprawl and promote a cleaner environment.

Its report contends that such "smart  growth" projects also have greater economic benefits than building or widening roads. It said transit projects generate 31 percent more jobs per dollar spent than road construction, while preservation projects yield 16 percent more jobs.

Transit and road repair projects tends to be more labor-intensive, while road construction projects tend to be weighted more heavily toward materials such as steel and asphalt.

The report also contends that spending on existing infrastructure has a greater payoff because it holds off the need for expensive reconstruction and helps keep existing communities from falling into disrepair.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, said the group is pleased with Maryland's ranking  She said that with further stimulus spending unlikely, it  is especially important that the state maintain its priorities with what are likely to be scarce state and federal funds.

Schmidt-Perkins said that for many years, projects were chosen for political reasons or because they had been on a  local government's list for a long time.

"We can't afford that anymore," she said.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:04 AM | | Comments (1)

February 2, 2011

City's snow emergency lifted

It might seem like an afterthought about a week after the snow fell, but Baltimore has lifted its snow emergency at last. That doesn't mean there aren't some neighborhood streets that haven't seen a plow, but primary and secondary roads are largely passable.

 Here's the city announcement:

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation advises that Phase I of the Baltimore City Snow Plan has been lifted.

Please be advised that motorists should proceed with extreme caution while driving, as slippery conditions may still exist.   Please remember if you approach a traffic signal that is not working or on flash, please be sure to stop at the intersection and treat it as a four-way stop.

Residents are reminded to call 3-1-1 for any non-emergency requests.

That last advice is well worth taking despite the unnecessary hyphens. City officials do use 311 calls as a way of setting priorities for customer service responses. So the best strategy if your street is still choked with snow and ice is to call 311 and to get your neighbors to do likewise. Once that's done, give city workers a reasonable time to respond. If they don't please let Getting There know.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

How does MTA count a bus as on time?

In response to some earlier reader comments, Getting There set out to determine how the Maryland Transit Administration calculates whether a local bus is "on time" or not. After all, it's not very helpful if riders and the agency are using different definitions.

It turns out the policy at the MTA is that a bus is considered "on time" if it is anywhere between one minute early and five minutes late compared with its schedule at various measurement points.


I'd call that a reasonable window and  suggest that anyone who wants to keep tabs on a route use  the same definition.

MTA spokesman Terry Owens agreed to elaborate further on the MTA's on-time policy:

Local Bus schedules are based on approximate arrival times, as noted on the MTA timetables. 

The MTA makes every effort to safely meet those times, but Local Bus drivers face traffic congestion, accidents, and weather related issues every day.  Overall on-time performance is based on the arrival of a bus at selected time points along a route.  For example, if there are 10 time points along a selected route and a bus is “on-time” at 9 of those stops, the on-time performance is 90%.  An MTA Bus is considered on-time if it arrives 1 minute before or 5 minutes after its scheduled arrival.

In addition, on-time performance only includes buses on the street. It does not factor delays experienced by riders when an individual bus is removed from a route for mechanical or other issues.  On-time performance is calculated over the entire span of service.  It is not limited to peak service hours.  MTA is considering options to study peak-hours performance in more detail.

We take our riders concerns over timely arrivals seriously and are constantly working to deal with this issue.  However, there are hardly ever any quick fixes, and we try to prioritize which routes we address based on a variety of factors including passenger input.  We consider passenger feedback invaluable and it is used in our internal efforts to improve the service.

Terry Owens
MTA Media Relations

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:09 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MTA bus system

Police need to be first to obey traffic laws

Roger Martin of Glen Burnie wrote me in response to a recent column about driver and pedestrian interactions around crosswalks. I thought his email was worth sharing, and he generously allowed me to do so. I'll save my rant until the end of his message: 

Subject: Your article on crosswalks, etc.

First, I applaud your articles. I have spent a lot of time in Las Vegas, mostly as part of my Air Force duties attending Operation Red Flag at nearby Nellis AFB. I do not recall anything specific about Las Vegans being especially good with pedestrians. However, I grew up in California, where laws have always been pedestrian-friendly and strongly enforced.

I have lived in several states, due to my USAF assignments and post-USAF career.

I agree with the recent rating of DC and Baltimore having some of the worst drivers in the country. I believe the top issue is failure of law enforcement to pull people over for the most-obvious law-breaking. The law-enforcers themselves are among the worst offenders, and perhaps that's one reason why they don't pull over others.

For example, what does the law say about starting and finishing turns? How many people do you regularly see (including law enforcement) who make left turns into the left-most lane and right turns into the right-most lane. Nobody seems to know about the rule, and that includes the police.

I'd say the place to start is making the police follow their own rules, then start rigorously applying them to others. Only after that, should new rules be applied.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Roger Martin

I'm all for rigorous new rules, but Martin has a good point. The state of police driving in Maryland is fairly abysmal, and a good place to start with any crackdown on highway offenses is with a rigorous review of the driving practices within the state's police departments.

Like it or not, citizens look to the police to be examples as drivers. Certainly, the apologists for bad driving -- and there are many -- are quick to point to the conduct of officers as an excuse for their own behavior.

All too often they have a point about how police drive, though I don't buy the argument that it justifies their own bad driving.  If you're a regular speeder, you're a bad driver. Not super-skilled. Not a free spirit. Just a menace.

But that's true whether a driver carries a badge or not, and there is a sub-group of officers who appear to believe their profession gives them a pass from the laws of physics as well as the law of the state of Maryland. And it's an open secret that many  bad drivers with badges are protected by a code of "professional courtesy" under which officers let other officers off the hook for even serious traffic offenses.

That really has to stop. It undermines respect for traffic law and compromises highway safety.

It's really up to the police chiefs to turn it around. It won't be easy. A culture has developed over decades under which some law enforcement officers believe the laws don't apply  to them. And it's been known to carry over into how seriously they take their traffic enforcement responsibilities. My guess is that part of it  has  to do with a police recruiting pool that draws heavily on the same population of young men -- and to a lesser extent women -- who are fascinated with fast cars.

But the chiefs really do need to change that culture. It might just make sense for departments -- or parts of departments -- to stand down for a time to address the full spectrum of issues involved in enforcing traffic laws. That would include:

1. A zero-tolerance policy for any extension of "professional courtesy" toward law enforcement officers or other favored groups.

2. Perceptions that traffic enforcement is a low-prestige assignment that impedes career progress. Would it be presumptuous to suggest that all officer should pull at least  an occasional traffic enforcement shift and that command of a traffic patrol would be one of the expected career steps for any officer who aspires to top command. For citizens, it is a priority right up there with violent crime. Most of us face a greater risk to life and health from bad driving than from handguns.

3. A reinforcement of the message that it is every officer's job to be a model for other drivers both on-duty and off-duty. Officers should be proud of enforcing traffic laws well and should be professionally recognized for doing so.

4. A determined effort to overcome any "front-seat" bias under which officers see issues from the point of drivers at the expense of bicyclists and pedestrians.

5. Clean and consistent standards on when a warning is appropriate and when a citation is called for. Leaving it solely to the officer's discretion is an invitation for bias to seep in.

6. A clear and consistent message that even in an emergency, an officer must take care to protect his or her own life and that of people along the route -- even if that means taking a few extra seconds to get there. Also part of that is to ensure that emergencies that have been defused are called off just as quickly as they are called.

7. Transparent, unsparing and timely investigations of police-involved crashes.

8. Improved training for police in acting as witnesses in traffic cases.

Those are just some  of the ideas I'd throw on the  table. I'd be interested in hearing from the public -- especially police officers -- to see what you think.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:47 PM | | Comments (5)

Anonymous tipster: Give me a call or write

You know who you are. You're an employee of a state transportation agency and you recently wrote a letter to The Sun with an "important tip" alleging "state fraud" and "an obvious abuse of the system."

We've checked out some of your allegations and we've found there is some basis for investigation. But we need  to know more than you provided to continue to make progress.

Please contact Michael Dresser at The Sun without using your state email account. You can call 410-332-6175 or email from home at Your identity will be protected.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)

February 1, 2011

Report: City's bad roads cost $2,226 per driver

Congested and deteriorated roads are costing the typical Baltimore driver $2,226 a year in maintenance, wasted fuel and time and safety-related charges, according to a study released today by a national transportation advocacy group.

TRIP, the Washington-based advocate for  infrastructure investments said bad roads are costing Maryland drivers an estimated $7 billion a year.

The group's message is that the United States, and Maryland in particular, need to step up their infrastructure investments to meet the travel demands of a growing population. The group is calling on Congress to take prompt action on a new six-year  federal transportation reauthorization bill before the current program expires March 4.



TRIP said that drivers in the Washington Metro area faced higher overall costs -- an average of $2,296 --  than those in Baltimore. But it found that Baltimore's drivers are absorbing more costs in the form of extra vehicle maintenance because of substandard roads in the region -- $603 versus $462 in the Washington area. However, drivers in the Washington area were  estimated to face much higher costs from that region's notorious congestion.

The report said many needed transportation projects can't move forward because of a lack of funding, including the Red Line and Purple Line light rail projects in Baltimore and suburban Washington, a wider bridge on the western end of the Capital Beltway and widening of parts of Interstate 70 and the Baltimore Beltway.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:42 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Morning commute turns out routine

Fears that Marylanders would wake up to solid ice sheets on the road appear not to have materialized this morning, yielding a rush hours that was if anything a bit light on traffic.

The State Highway Administration's CHART system showed no unusual level of crashes this morning. After a thorough scraping of ice off the car, commute north from the Elkridge-Ellicott City area was smoother than usual on roads that were merely wet.

The SHA's Charliie Gischlar confirmed that observation, saying traffic congestion was less than normal as many schools were off and many commuters apparently stayed home or delayed going to work.

Gischlar said the SHA got the chance to pretreat the roads for this morning's precipitation. He said there was some ice formation in the northern tier counties and at least one ice-related crash on Interstate 70 at the Patapsco River bridge. But overall the number of crashes did not seem excessive.

Highway officials will now turn their attention to preparing for the evening peakk travel period, he said, though forecasts call for freezing rain to begin falling later in the night..



Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:26 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

MTA announces changes to 14 bus lines

The Maryland Transit Administration has announced changes to 14 bus lines in an effort to improve service. The changes will be implemented Feb. 6.

 Some of the changes address deficiencies found in a survey by the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance in a report released today. In particular, the report identified Routes 77, 23, 27, 15 as being among those with a high level of rider dissatisfaction.

 Here are route-by-route details of the changes:

Route 12 – Extending service to Kirk Avenue to connect to more routes
Route 14 – Operating two additional southbound morning trips via Anne Arundel Community College
to address customer requests
Route 15 – Adding stop at White Marsh Park & Ride to connect to 120 line and Megabus
Route 20 – Rerouting trips from Old Frederick Road to Athol Avenue due to road construction
Route 22 – Adjusting times to improve reliability
Route 23 – Adding one trip to evening peak service to serve Green Street Academy
Route 24 – Extending the last trip to Whispering Woods to address customer requests
Route 27 – Extending service through the Seton Business Park to serve NAACP, New Psalmist Baptist
Church and ARC
Route 30 – One evening peak trip will begin service at North Bend Road and Frederick Avenue to
address customer requests
Route 36 – Adding two trips to morning peak service to address overcrowding
Route 38 – Adjusting morning trip times to serve Poly-Western
Route 64 – Adding service to Marley Neck Business Park to address requests from employers
Route 77 – Adjusting morning and evening peak trip times to address overcrowding

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:22 AM | | Comments (5)
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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