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March 30, 2011

Hanover Street Bridge passes inspection

Drivers in South Baltimore may have been puzzled today to see the Hanover Street drawbridge in the up position, with traffic being detoured, but city officials say it wasn't stuck. Rather, it was undergoing a scheduled inspection of the drawbridge mechanism that required intermittent closings of the bridge between South Baltimore and Cherry Hill after 9 a.m.

The testing was completed shortly after 1 p.m.  and the bridge passed  muster, said city  Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kathy Chopper.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Study shows Maryland bridges better than most

IN a report that finds the overall condition of the nation's bridges to be alarming, a transportation advocacy group had sound that Maryland doesn't look bad compared with most other states.

Transportation for America, a coalition of groups that support increased investment in the nation's transportation infrastructure, reported that Maryland has a lower percentage of structurally deficient bridges than all but 11 other states.

In a ranking in which No. 1 was the worst a state could do, Maryland was No. 40, with  6.9 percent of its bridges ranked structurally deficient -- a measure under which one of three key components ranks 4 or lower on a 10-point scale during bridge inspections. The national average was 11.5 percent.

 

According to  the report, 5 percent of Maryland's daily highway traffic crosses a structurally deficient bridge, compared with a national average of 6.4 percent.

Two of the worst performers in the survey share borders with Maryland. Pennsylvania achieved the dubious distinction of  being ranked No. 1, with 26.5 percent of its bridges ranked deficient. Those bridges carry 17.5 percent of the Keystone State's daily traffic -- more than any other state.

Coming in eighth in  bad bridges is West Virginia, with 17 percent deficient.

Not one Maryland jurisdiction appeared in the report's roster of the nation's worst 100 counties. Pennsylvania had 14 on that list.

While Maryland doesn't  rank  particularly high in deficient bridges, it has some of the busier ones in the country. According to  the report, which  identifies the two deficient bridges in each state that carry  the most traffic, Maryland's two busiest are the Beltway spans  over Liberty Road and Milford Mill Road, each carrying 190,204 vehicles a day -- more than all but three on the list.

A new Liberty Road bridge is currently under construction. A replacement Milford Mill bridge is in the design process and is likely to be built in 2013-2014, after the nearby Liberty project is completed, said State Highway  Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar.

SHA Administrator Neil J.  Pedersen has made  bridge maintenance and replacement a  priority in recent years, shielding that program from many of the cuts Maryland has had to make in its highway program as a result of  the economic downturn.

Nationally, the report paints a bleaker picture, concluding that "the current level of investment is nowhere near what is needed to keep up with our rapidly growing backlog of aging bridges."

Many of the nation's highway bridges -- like  those on Baltimore's Beltway -- were built in the heyday of interstate highway construction during the 1950s and 1960s. Many of those bridges are reaching the end of their useful life at about the same time.

In addition to Pennsylvania, the state's rounding out the worst four were Oklahoma, Iowa, Rhode Island and South Dakota. The best was Nevada, followed by Florida, Texas, Arizona and Utah.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 29, 2011

Amtrak now tweeting Northeast Corridor delays

Amtrak may not be able to prevent its trains from being delayed, but now it can at least tweet about it.

The national passenger railroad announced it has just launched a pilot program under while it will alert ride using Twitter when trains are delayed on the Northeast Corridor for 60 minutes or more.

In addition to Northeast Regional and Acela Express trains on the corridor, the Twitter service will also cover the Keystone Service between Philadelphia and New York via Harrisburg and Shuttle trains between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn. Amtrak said it would monitor the service's level of activity, including re-tweets and the number of followers, before deciding whether to continue or expand its use of Twitter.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads
        

AAA, lawmakers seek new auto manslaughter law

AAA Mid-Atlantic, lawmakers and relatives of highway traffic victims gathered in Annapolis today to call on the Maryland Senate to pass a bill that they said would close a "loophole" in the state's law for dealing with drivers who kill others through negligence behind the wheel.

The advocates urged senators to join the House in approving a measure that would create an intermediate misdemeanor offense of negligent homicide between the traffic ticket charge of negligent driving and the felony offense of automotive manslaughter.

Prosecutors told the House they have difficulty securing manslaughter convictions of people whose serious negligence on the road has killed people unless there is evidence they were drunk or engaged in a street race. They said courts have ruled that charge can be  applied only in cases of gross negligence.

The House unanimously approved a bill creating an offense that would allow jail time in fatalities involving serious negligence that might not qualify for the manslaughter  charge. Before this year, the legislation had been bottled up in a House committee for many years.

Proponents jubilation at House passage of the bill has been tempered by comments from Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, expressing concerns that the law could be used  to jail people over unintentional driving errors.

But proponents argued that a simple traffic charge -- which can be resolved by mailing in a fine without a court appearance by the defendant --  isn't appropriate in a case where someone is killed through a driver's negligence.

“This much-needed legislation addresses a critical loophole that traffic safety advocates, including AAA and the families of victims have been trying to fix for nearly 15 years,” said AAA spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella. “It’s a loophole so large that negligent and irresponsible Maryland drivers who kill have been escaping through it for years."

The bill  that passed the House was sponsored by Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons, who took part in the news conference.

“It is cosmically absurd to give little more than a traffic ticket to someone who takes the life of a pedestrian or another driver by the reckless operation of a motor vehicle,”  the Montgomery County Democrat said.

The bill has strong support from bicyclists'  groups and families of people who were killed  by drivers who faced nothing more serious than traffic charges.

Among them was Adiva Sotzsky of Rockville,  whose husband Harry was killed while riding his motorcycle in 2004 by a trucker who eventually paid a $500  fine for a traffic citation.


“It is embarrassing that Maryland has this massive loophole in its law. When you look at the statutes and accompanying penalties in other states, this bill is more than fair and sensible. It provides a measure of justice for all concerned,” she said.

But Frosh said in an interview last week that drivers  found to be negligent in the deaths of others can face costly civil penalties. He said his view is that in most cases, jail terms should  be reserved for those who intentionally caused harm.

The bill would allow as much as a three-year term for a criminal negligence conviction.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 28, 2011

Holocaust bill OKd after compromise with railroad

A bill intended to put pressure on a French railroad and its U.S. subsidiary to cooperate with Holocaust survivors in efforts to account for the deportation of about 70,000 Jews and others from France to German death camps during World War II has passed both houses of the General Assembly.

Del. Samuel I.  "Sandy" Rosenberg, the House sponsor of the legislation, said the House bill was heavily amended to reflect the results of negotiations between advocates for the deportees and representatives of the French government-owned railroad SNCF and its Rockville-based affiliate Keolis America.

Rosenberg said the Senate bill passed a version close to the original form of the bill, which SNCF and Keolis had said would preclude it from competing to a contract to operate the MARC Brunswick and Camden lines when CSX Transportation relinquishes that role. But the Baltimore Democrat said he expected the Senate to agree to the amendments worked out in the House. He said those changes had been agreed to by the railroad's lobbyist in Annapolis.

The original bill would have made it a condition on bidding on the MARC contract that any railroad involved in World War II deportations would have to make extensive disclosures of its records of its wartime activities. At a hearing marked by the emotional testimony of Holocaust survivors and their heirs, Keolis said the measure's terms were so onerous it would have kept it from bidding on the MARC contract.

Keolis is one of a relative handful of companies with experience in operating railroads under contract with government agencies.

Rosenberg said that under the compromise, SNCF has agreed to speed the digitization of its company archives, which contain details of the railroad's cooperation with German authorities after the French surrender to the Nazis in 1940. The bill puts the determination of whether the company has complied with the bill's specification in the hands of the Maryland State Archives, an independent agency. The original bill would have left the decision on the adequacy of any disclosure up to the Department of Transportation, a part of the governor's administration.

Rosenberg said he believes the agreement forged in Maryland could become a model for other states, where SNCF has also run into attempts by state legislators to come to terms with survivors seeking damages for the railroad's wartime actions.

Neither the lobbyist for SNCF and Keolis, Bill Pitcher, nor Keolis America President Steve Townsend could be reached too comment.

The amended bill passed the House 137-0 Saturday. It had earlier passed the Senate 45-0.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:35 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Gansler urges ban on app that can alert drunk drivers

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler joined with his counterpart in Delaware Monday to urge Google and Apple to ban a smartphone application that helps motorists avoid drunk-driving checkpoints.

Gansler and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden in calling on the manufacturers of the popular iPhone and Android devices to block  the use of the checkpoint-evasion apps from use on their products.

According to the attorneys general, the apps can be downloaded to the  smartphones and used to learn the locations of drunk-driving checkpoints and to spread the word to other motorists.

 

“These smartphone applications give drunk drivers a ‘how-to’ guide to evade DUI checkpoints and endanger the lives of innocent citizens on our roads,” said Gansler.  "These are nothing more than an overt method of circumventing laws that were specifically enacted to save lives.”

The two officials praised a decision made by Research in Motion  for agreeing -- under pressure from several U.S. senators -- to stop selling such apps for its Blackberry mobile device on its online store.

"We should be doing everything we can to keep drunk drivers off our roads, not providing them with a road map to avoid  checkpoints that are meant to protect our families," Gansler and Biden wrote.

However, a trade association representing technology manufacturers wrote a letter to the senators Monday asking them to withdraw their request. The Association for Competitive Technology contended the apps had been unfairly characterized in news accounts and warned that the move would set a precedent for banning the flow of similar information on social networking sites.

"If the mobile-application storefronts begin to pull apps outside of the regular regulatory environment or terms of service agreements simply to respond to any extra-governmental missive, we fear it will harm growth here, but more importantly lead to aggressive action abroad where other governments may see such action as a tool to curb U.S. competitiveness,” ACT President Jonathan Zuck wrote.

Companies such as Phantom/Alert contend their apps actually encourage motorists not to drink and drive. But the company's marketing material strikes a different tone, as when  Phantom/Alert's web page boasts that its "technology is turning the table on cops."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:41 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 27, 2011

Google still directing traffic onto unfinished ICC

How long does it take Google to correct an egregious error in its mapping program once it's brought to the company's attention?

We don't know, but it's longer than 48 hours.

On Friday, The Sun notified the company that its Google Maps program was directing drivers heading from Baltimore to Gaithersburg and other destinations in the Interstate 270 corridor of Montgomery County to get off Interstate 95 and take the Intercounty Connector (Route 200).

The catch is that the 10-mile stretch of the ICC between I-95 and Georgia Avenue won't open until late this year or early in 2012. Only the segment between Georgia Avenue and the Interstate 370 spur off I-270 is open.

A Google spokeswoman said Friday that the company hopes to have the error fixed by early this week.

It would appear that steering people onto a road that's a construction site wasn't seen as serious enough mistake to pay technicians weekend rates to make an emergency fix. Is this just Google being frugal?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

March 25, 2011

On Google, the ICC is open all the way to I-370

On Google World, the 41.9-mile trip from Baltimore to Gaithersburg takes all of 48 minutes along the brand new Intercounty Connector. Just take Interstate 95 south, hop on the ICC and you’re virtually there.

On Planet Earth, most of the ICC hasn’t opened yet. The 10 miles between I-95 and the Montgomery County high-tech hotbed is largely a muddy track where bulldozers are still doing what bulldozers do.

Oops.

In a textbook illustration of the computer adage “garbage in, garbage out,” Google and another popular Web-based mapping service have jumped the gun on the opening of the longest segment of Maryland’s new toll road by about a year (Click on image above to enlarge).

“Beware: Everything you read on the Internet may not be true,” Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA-Mid-Atlantic, chortled when told about the error.

A 6-mile stretch of the $2.6 billion ICC, between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 370, opened late last month. But the segment between Georgia Avenue and I-95 is under construction and expected to open late this year or early in 2012.

“Clearly Google understands that many of our people who drive our roads also have all-terrain vehicles,” Anderson said. “Google’s just a little ahead of all of us.”

As funny as the mistake may be to a detached observer, it could be less than amusing to a motorist who was unfamiliar with the region and depending on the directions. A traveler from Baltimore to Montgomery County, for instance, could drive down I-95 expecting to get off on the ICC, only to get lost upon finding find no exit.

“If you took a ride down there today, you’d see a very active construction zone,” said Cheryl Sparks, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the toll road..

Doug Beizer, a communications manager for an engineering society, stumbled across the misleading directions Thursday when he was plotting a route between his office in Landover and Montgomery General Hospital in Olney.

Google Maps assured him that Route 200, as the ICC is also known, was the way to go. Beizer, who is married to a Sun reporter, knew that wasn’t so.

“I saw this map and it drew this line west on a road that doesn’t exist yet,” said Beizer, whose work travels have made him familiar with the I-95 corridor. “I knew it was one of those glitches.”

Beizer tipped off the newspaper. Another Sun reporter was able to reproduce that error and also determined that Google – as well as Yahoo! for a period Friday morning – were directing motorists onto the ICC on a trip from Baltimore to Gaithersburg and other theoretical journeys across the state.

Mapquest, a rival, provided directions more applicable to 2011. It guided drivers to the tedious but existent 58-minute slog along the Capital Beltway and up Interstate 270 that the ICC is intended to render obsolete. By Friday afternoon, Yahoo! had apparently corrected the information but Google was still directing drivers to the unfinished highway. .

Sparks said the transportation authority was aware of the problem before a reporter inquired about it Friday. “We had already reached out to Google,” she said. .

Google declined to speak to a reporter by phone but released a statement from a corporate spokesperson: .

"We're aware that a section of Maryland Route 200, which is under construction, is appearing as an available driving route and are working to correct that issue as soon as possible,” Google said. .

The statement said Google customers can customize their route by clicking on a blue route line and dragging it to one’s preferred road..

“And as always, we encourage users to let us know when something is incorrect by using the ‘Report a Problem’ tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map,” the statement said.

Sparks noted that the authority’s board had been talking just the previous day about how to make sure the major computer mapping and GPS services know the first section of the ICC was open.

Messages left for Google and Yahoo! have not yet been returned.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:28 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

March 24, 2011

Toll increase timetable comes into focus

The Maryland Transportation Authority's target date for its expected round of toll increase to take effect is October, officials at the agency said yesterday.

The timetable for the increases came into clearer focus this morning at a meeting of the toll authority's board, where members conducted a general, consensus-seeking discussion of the parameters of the increases, which are expected to raise a minimum of $70 million in annual revenue.

According to the plan, the board would make a decision on specific proposals in May, then taken them to a round of about seven public hearings in June and July. The board is hoping to implement the increases in October.

 

This year it appears the board will have a lot on the table besides simple adjustments to basic fares. The discussion indicated that the board will consider a variety of innovations, including tolls at existing facilities that vary between peak and off-peak travel times. There is also a strong inclination on the board to move away from giving change in coins. Members are also planning to look at further incentives to encourage drivers to use E-Z Pass.

It also appears that some of the sacred cows of past rounds of increases might not be as holy as they used to be. Board members are not taking increases in commuter rates or Bay Bridge tolls off the table. Both have been essentially frozen for decades.

"I think they want to look at all the options. Nothing's off the table," said Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley, who chairs the board. "We are not going to have the luxury of not looking at all facilities."

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:21 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

March 23, 2011

Auto manslaughter bill moves ahead in House

A bill that proponents contend would close the gap between a traffic ticket and a felony vehicular manslaughter charge for drivers responsible for the deaths of others has won approval from the House committee where it had languished for many years.

The bill to establish an intermediate charge of manslaughter by criminal negligence won prelimary approval from the full House Wednesday after recieiving a unanimous vote Tuesday night in the House Judiciary Committee, where it had been stalled for many years without receiving a vote.

The bill's advance cheered advocates for bicyclists' groups such as Bike Maryland, who are among the most vocal supporters of the legislation. But their joy could be short-lived because even if the bill passes on a final vote in the House, it faces a skeptical reception in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

 

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of that panel, expressed misgivings about creating an offense carrying a jail term for conduct that was negligent but not intentional or reckless.

"In the past the House formula has had severe defects," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "Maybe this year they'll come up with a formula that will work.'

But Frosh said he's concerned about imposing harsh penalties on drivers who may have killed others as a result of "split-second negligence."

"Our jails are bursting right now," he said. "To me the jails are a place for people who have done something that is intentional."

Frosh said somebody who kills another through automotive negligence can face harsh consequences in civil lawsuits. "You can lose your house for that. You can lose your kids' college fund," he said.

The measure faces a handicap because their is only a House bill, and senators will not hear the emotional testimony from survivors of victims that helped persuade the House panel to approve it. Rather, as is customary for bills that are not cross-filed, the bill will probably receive a sponsor-only hearing in the Senate committee.

That would leave it up to House sponsor Del. Luis R S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, to sell the Senate panel on the merits of his formula, which allows for the enhanced charge in the event of "substantial and unjustifiable" negligence.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:04 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bicycles, On the roads
        

Ignition interlock bills emerge but are at odds

The House and Senate are moving forward with two very different versions of legislation intended to increase the use of ignition interlock devices to prevent convicted drunk drivers from starting their cars if they've been drinking alcohol, setting up a possible impasse over a final bill.

The Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill supported by MADD Maryland and other highway safety advocates that would make installation of the devices mandatory for all convicted drunk drivers. Meanwhile, the House took the same step Wednesday with a bill supported by the liquor lobby that would focus on repeat offenders and people who took tests that revealed a blood-alcohol content of .15 -- almost twice the .08 level required for conviction on a charge of driving under the influence. MADD said it opposes the House bill and would rather see no legislation than one that uses a standard lower than .08. 

As in past years, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr., sponsor of the House bill,  has opposed making interlock mandatory for all first-time drunk-driving convicts. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate committee that approved the stronger measure said the upper house is unlikely to accept a version of the bill that is opposed by MADD.

Barring an unexpected intervention by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the ignition interlock debate is likely to end without agreement -- as it did last year.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Bereano rakes in yet another speeding ticket

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano added one more to his awesome collection of speeding tickets this month when he was cited for going 55 mph in a 40-mph zone on Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis.

The trial set for April 15 appears to be the first for Bereano under the new system -- launched Jan. 1 -- under which a defendant has to request a day in court for traffic offenses. Bereano is already scheduled for trial April 7 on a charge of going 88 in a 65-mph zone of Interstate 97 at Route 648. The case, originally set for last year under the old system, has been twice rescheduled because Bereano failed to appear, according to court records.

Those cases come on top of one guilty plea and one probation before judgment in speeding cases for which he was ticketed last year. All told, Bereano has tallied more than two dozen tickets since 1996. Is there some kind of Lifetime Achievement award for speeders?

The good news for Bereano is that his two pending cases are in his home county of Anne Arundel, where the judiciary has treated him very kindly in the past. His record there includes an acquittal and two probation-before-judgment decisions.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:26 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 22, 2011

Ignition interlock thrives in Senate, ails in House

A bill that would require the installation of ignition interlock devices on the vehicles owned by all those convicted of drunk driving in Maryland has passed two key tests in the Senate, but appears to be on the rocks in the House.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to the MADD-backed bill Tuesday after adopting amendments to eliminate a requirement that drivers who refuse blood-alcohol tests be forced into the program. The action followed approval of the bill Monday by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The measure appears poised for easy approval in the Senate, which passed similar legislation last year. But a companion measure in the House of Delegates appears no closer to passage than last year, when it was killed in the House Judiciary Committee without a vote.

Caroline Cash, executive director of MADD Maryland, said that when highway safety advocates met with committee Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr. and Vice Chairman Kathleen Dumais Monday, they were told the chairman favors his version of the legislation that would restrict the mandatory program to repeat offenders and those found to have been driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of .15 percent.

The MADD-backed bill applies to all drivers who are convicted at driving with a BAC of .08 or above, the level that qualifies for a charge of driving under the influence in all 50 states.

Vallario's position comes as no surprise because the Prince George's County Democrat took essentially the same position last year. But Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, is a former member of the drunk driving task force that recommended ignition interlock and other strong measures to the General Assembly.

Cash said MADD would oppose the Vallario bill if it comes out of committee, contending that it would do no more than codify the status quo. The MADD leader said her group would appeal to House Speaker Michael E. Busch to intervene in favor of its preferred version of the legislation.

Cash's briefing came late in the day, and Getting There was unable to reach Vallario or Busch for their take.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Bicylists can be road ragers too, it seems

Bicyclists absolutely have a right to use the roads -- except for those from which they are legally excluded. And Getting There has little sympathy for the drivers who whine that they shouldn't have to share the roads with bicycles because they might have to endure a few seconds of delay. Coexisting with bicycles is a basic driving skill, and drivers who can't do so gracefully ought to turn in their licenses and take the bus.

But every one in a while comes a reminder that there are jerks on bicycles too. That latest comes in an email from Tom Shettle of Timonium:

Sunday, March 20th, at approximately 2:30 PM I was driving north on Roland Avenue and stopped for the traffic signal at Northern Parkway.  I was in the right lane.  There were four males on bicycles also stopped and facing north.  Before the signal changed to green one angelic cyclist started across Northern Parkway.  The other cyclist waited for the light. 

 I tapped my horn to let the one rider know that I saw him cross on a red light.  When I was through the intersection and still in the right lane the rider went from the bike lane to the white line separating his lane from mine.  I moved to my left and so did he as he came into the automobile lane. 

I was not traveling very fast and tapped my horn as I could not give him the three feet clearance required by law.  He is now next to my car and in the automobile lane, giving me the finger and asked if I had a problem.  This is an adult male. I had three grand children in the car, two with learner’s permits. 

 The rider then comes around the back of the car and is by my left door and in the left automobile lane.  He than gets in front of my car and stays there for a short time before moving into the cycle lane.  He dropped back, said a few expletives, and I was around him by now and proceeded north on Roland.  I believe the rider wanted me to hit him the way he kept getting closer to my car however I was traveling at a very low speed and had control of the car.   I am going to send a copy of this to the Baltimore Bicycling Club and hope they will post it so they will see how some of the riders behave.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Shettle thinks he was entirely in the right, but I have to disagree. His "tap" of the horn was not a good idea. A car horn is there to warn, not admonish or correct, and its should be used only rarely. There's actually a law that says so though it's seldom enforced. (For the record, my contention is that we would be safer with no horns at all.)

In addition, bicyclists are especially sensitive to honking because of the danger of being startled -- with potentially catastrophic results.  Drivers simply shouldn't honk at bicyclists as a way of "teaching" them --no  matter how valid the lesson. One person's "tap" can be another's blare, so it's best not to get started down this path.

That being said, the bicyclist's conduct in this case -- if Settles' account is accurate -- is appalling. Not only did the bicyclist start off in the wrong by running the light, his behavior was rude and suicidally stupid. Bicyclists who desire the protection of the 3-foot rule had better observe it themselves, and people operating 3-pound vehicles have no business losing their tempers around 3,000-pound vehicles.

Sorry, bicyclists, road  rage is not an option for you. If you can't control your temper, get off and walk.

One would hope this bicyclists' companions told him in no uncertain terms they would not ride with him again until he grew up. When one bicyclist in a group starts wagging the middle finger at people in cars and trucks, it endangers the entire group.

Any bicycle advocates disagree? Does anyone think the above-described behavior is jutifiable?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:16 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Bicycles
        

MTA says new MARC schedule going well so far

The Maryland Transit Administration says operations on the MARC Penn Line have gone well despite some "growing pains" since the commuter rail line made extensive changes to its schedule March 14.

The MTA said commuters are taking some time in adjusting to the changes, which have added two trains each during the  morning an evening rush hours.

The MTA's records paint a more mixed picture, however, showing that MARC has had a mix of very good days and awful days since the change was made.

In a statement posted on its web site,  the MTA said some its trains may appear to be "standing room only" in some cars despite the availability of seats in other cars. The agency said that after receiving complaints about its 4:20 p.m. train leaving Union Station, it found 39 riders standing in three cars but 55 seats available in another two cars.

The MTA said the most crowded train is No. 517, the 6:30 a.m. departure from Perryville, which reaches Penn Station at 7:15 a.m. The MTA urged riders to consider taking Train 415, which leaves Penn Station 10 minutes earlier.

MARC urged riders to keep in mind its new trains, including the 5 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. departures from Penn Station and the 4:10 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. trains from Washington's Union Station.

The MTA said it unable to honor passengers' requests for more cars on some Penn Line trains because it has neither the available cars nor the necessary storage space at Union Station. The agency said the schedule change has already permitted it to add 1,000 seats during rush hours.

The agency's online records of its on-time performance show a mixed performance on the Penn Line since the schedule changed a week ago Monday. Three days have been stellar -- wit 93-95 percent of the trains on time. Three others, including yesterday, have brought  sub-par performances of from 77 percent to 80 percent.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:40 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

March 21, 2011

Panel rejects tough drunk driving bill

The House Judiciary Committee live up to its reputation as the graveyard of strong drunk-driving legislation last week as it killed a bill that would have increased penalties for refusing to take a blood-alcohol test for a second time. The bill would have allowed a $1,000 fine or up to a 12-month jail term for such a refusal.

The bill was one of the primary objectives of anti-drunk-driving activists during this legislative session and won the endorsement of police and prosecutors.

The committee rejected the measure on a 12-7 vote.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:54 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 18, 2011

Web link to MDTA budget analysis

Web link to Maryland Transportation Authoriity budget analysis:

 http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/budget_docs/all/Operating/J00J00_-_Maryland_Transportation_Authority.pdf

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

March 17, 2011

Parents can keep puffing with child in car

Parents can puff away in peace after the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee rejected a bill Thursday that would have prohibited adults from smoking in a car in which a young child is a passenger.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, would have imposed a $50 fine on motorists caught smoking tobacco -- or letting a passenger do so -- in a vehicle occupied by a child under 8 years old.

Proponents contended such smoking in a confined space is a health hazard for children.

 

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

Senate panel rejects rear seat belt use mandate

A Senate committee has rejected a bill that would have required all occupants of a car, including adults in the rear seat, to have their seat belts buckled while the vehicle was in motion.

The bill, whose prospects had appeared good in a House subcommittee just Thursday morning, was voted down by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the afternoon.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Montgomery County Democrat Jennie Forehand, would have applied the current seat belt violation fine of $25 for drivers to all passengers 16 and older as well.

Current law requires seat belt use by rear seat passengers only if they are younger than 16.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Monkton Road to be resurfaced

Using some its last available economic stimulus money, the State Highway Administration is starting a $977,000 project today to resurface Monkton Road in northern Baltimore County.

The SHA will mill off the top layer of 3 1/2 miles on the road (Route 138) between York Road and the Gunpowder Falls Bridge. The work will involve lane closures at any time between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays and between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

The agency urges motorists to allow for extra travel time if using that road between Hereford and Monkton, including the access point to the Torrey C. Brown NCR Rail Trail. The project is expected to continue until mid-May.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

The City that Scrimps on Gas?

Baltimoreans rank No. 1 in the United States in using their GPS units to track down cheap gasoline, according to a national survey.

TeleNav, a leading provider of GPS services and consumer data, found that Baltimore led the nation in the average number of searches for the lowest price at the pump. But the same survey found that Maryland had slipped from the top to No. 2 among the highest average users of GPS for all purposes. The District of Columbia grabbed the No. 1 spot.

The survey found that the most-searched-for business destination nationally was the local Walmart store. Target was a distant second, while Starbucks slipped one spot to No. 3.

Los Angeles ranked No. 1 among metropolitan areas in the prevalence of GPS use, TeleNav said. But Chicago grabbed the crown for use of GPS to avoid traffic jams, the survey found.

The full report, collected anonymously from the company's subscribers, will be released Friday.

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

March 16, 2011

SHA to close lanes on Spa Creek Bridge

The trip from downtown Annapolis to the Martime Republic of Eastport may get a little slower at night next week when the State Highway Administration closes one lane for the Spa Creek Bridge for maintenance and uses flaggers to direct two-way traffic.

The southbound sidewalk will also be closed to pedestrians during the work, which will take place Monday through Thursday nights starting a 6:30 p.m.  Crews will be performing preventive maintenance on the southbound approach to the Compromise Street drawbridge until 5 a.m. the following mornings.

The SHA said it's possible that if the weather is favorable, the work could be finished in as little as two nights.

One  can only hope the work isn't too much of an inconvenience for legislators and lobbyists on their way to Ruth's Chris Steak House.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Our own nomination for worst pothole

It might not be the widest or deepest or most damaging pothole in Maryland but it surely in the running on all those counts -- as well as being strategically places on one of the main routes into Baltimore.

 I'm talking about the lunar crater in the pavement just past the "end state maintenance" sign as Interstate 395 turns into Howard Street. In general the road is pitted and cracked between the sign and Conway Street but this particular pothole is one you'd better slow down for or you could be looking at a hefty repair bill. It's just to the west side of the Federal Reserve building.

There really is a dramatic contrast between the condition of the concrete pavement of I-395, which is maintained by the Maryland Transportation Authority, and the asphalt maintained by the city Department of Transportation. The authority's pavement looks pretty good -- with the exception of one growing crater in the right lane of the uphill slope of the ramp ascending to I-395. But the city's part of that road is in disgraceful shape -- with a big crack dividing the lanes instead of paint.

Hey, folks, I know this stretch of road doesn't get the 311 calls because it's not a residential area. But this is the southern gateway to the city and it's no way to make a first impression. Or is this the Rawlings-Blake administration's way of sending a message about the drastic cuts in state highway funds in recent years?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:06 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 15, 2011

Phoenix Road Bridge partially reopens

The Phoenix Road Bridge over Gunpowder Falls and the NCR Trail has been reopened in the westbound direction only, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation announced.

The city which closed the bridge last November for repairs. said eastbound traffic will continue to be detoured until an alternating one-way traffic signal can be installed. Though the bridge is in Baltimore County, it is owned and maintained by the city.

Eastbound traffic will continue to be detoured onto York, Sparks and Carroll roads.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Traffic's a mess at Northern and Falls

Getting There just got a call from the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's Michael Schwartzberg, who's getting nowhere in traffic at Northern Parkway and Falls Road. He said he's moved about 200 feet in a half-hour because of roadwork.

UPDATE: Schwartzberg finally made it back to GBMC 37 minutes after being stopped for the roadwork, which turned out to be at Northern Parkway and Roland. He said a Mapquest estimate of the time it should have taken to cover that distance was 2 minutes (which seems a little optimistic about red lights).

Schwartzberg, who's traveling eastbound toward Charles Street to  get back to the hospital, understands that road work happens. He's seen flowing water in the street and suspects the problem is one of Baltimore's periodic water main breaks. What has him frustrated is the lack of signage placed at a point where drivers can still choose another route, such as Interstate 83.

"Just put your signage prior to the intersection so (drivers) have options," he said.

That doesn't sound like too much to ask. When Getting There contacted the city Transportation Department, headquarters had no clue to what's happening up north. We hope to get some word soon.

UPDATTE: Schwartzberg  reports he finally made it to GBMC 37 minutes after running into the backup for roadwork, which turned out to be at Northern and Roland Avenue. He said a Mapquest estimate showed the  trip from that point should have taken two minutes. That seems a little optimistic about traffic signals, but still -- that's a half-hour out of hundreds of drivers' lives.

UPDATE: According to Transportation Department spokeswoman Kathy Chopper, the water Schwartzberg saw was runoff from a wooded area. A crew was doing utility work at Northern and Roland.

 

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

March 14, 2011

MTA replies to on-time complaint

Getting There thanks Terry Owens, spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, for his prompt reply to the complaint about the No. 1 bus route registered by rider Youssef Mahmoud. Here goes:

We appreciate input from our passengers. We are also proud of the fact that the MTA moves over 350,000 people every day with the majority arriving at their destinations on time. However, when someone like Mr. Mahmoud experiences a service delay we understand his frustration, and seek to resolve performance issues to the best of our ability.

We have heard from Mr. Mahmoud often in recent months via social media and your blog. His concerns are being taken seriously. I have asked our Service Quality Division to investigate his latest issue with MTA Local Bus Service.

The following is an explanation of On Time Performance and how it is calculated at the MTA from our Performance Management Team.

The MTA, like most transit agencies, uses a wide variety of performance measures to monitor and track the delivery of service. No single measure is perfect—each has its flaws and limitations. A typical measure of service quality is on-time performance or OTP. As was previously stated, MTA’s OTP measure is calculated as the total number of timepoints arrived at on time (between 1 minute early and 5 minutes late) divided by the total number of timepoints that were measured. This measuring process is done by our Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system, which basically gets bus location data from GPS and compares it to schedule data. In any given week, a little over 300,000 timepoints are measured on our bus service, with varying numbers of timepoints being measured on each line depending on the time separation between timepoints, how long each bus line is, and how many trips are made on each line.

The AVL system that we use, which is not unlike most other transit agencies’ systems, has its limitations. As we mentioned earlier, OTP does not take into account cut service or when a bus breaks down on the line. This is not because the MTA desires to overlook these events, but because the system that calculates OTP is not capable of measuring these events as an OTP factor. Simply put, if the bus that is supposed to be on the line is NOT on the line, that bus’s performance cannot be measured under the current system design. The bus is not crossing timepoints and therefore cannot contribute to the overall OTP percentage. 
One way we compensate for this measurement problem is that we measure and track runs (bus pullouts) that are cut and delayed as well as the number of major road calls (any instance where service is affected by a mechanical failure, sick patron, or other event that necessitated replacement or repair of an in-service bus).  We also look to data from customer complaints, from the Rate Your Ride project (www.rateyourride.org), and reports of service issues from operators.

In summary, the OTP statistic is not a perfect measure of bus service reliability, and we recognize that. It also does not adequately represent the experience of the largest proportion of riders, since overall OTP is mostly better during off-peak periods when fewer people are riding.  OTP data is currently best used to compare lines to each other

We share Mr. Mahmoud’s concerns, and are currently investigating better ways to measure and present OTP data that more accurately reflects the experiences of the public.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:44 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: MTA bus system
        

House panel dispatches some real 'turkeys'

One of the most important jobs of a legislative committee is to quickly weed out the multitude of muddle-headed bills that lawmakers introduce. By that standard, the House Environmental Matters Committee did some fine work last week killing off some of the "turkeys" proposed for changes to state traffic law.

Gone is the bill that would limit the use of work zone speed cameras to times when crews are present in the zone -- a measure that overlooked the increased hazards caused by closed shoulders, lane shifts and the presence of construction equipment. Gone is a goofy bill -- inspired by lobbyist Bruce Bereano -- that would have sealed court records of speed camera violations.

Also dead is a bill lowering  Maryland's already lenient fine for speeding violations caught by cameras from $40 to $30. The committee also killed a bill requiring wordy signage at work zones monitored  by cameras to warn drivers of what they should already know -- that the work zones are in effect 24/7.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:05 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

Rider frustrated with performance of No. 1 bus

Maryland Transit Administration rider Youssef Mahmoud is frustrated with the performance  of the No. 1 bus route, which runs from Sinai Hospital to Fort McHenry.

Let's let Mahmoud state his case:

 

A few weeks ago you put up a Getting There post about some bus routes that were getting reworked to address chronic lateness.  I commented on that post saying that I was shocked the route 1 bus was not on that list as I seldom had a timely experience with it.  You forwarded my comment to MTA spokesman Terry Owens, who gave the useless reply that the on-time rate for the route 1 is 90% and therefore there was nothing to worry about.  Well, I was just again today made late to work by the route 1 and I was hoping you could get me directly in touch with someone at the MTA who will actually listen to my complaint and offer a helpful response.  So, let me give you some background.

I started working at Tide Point less than 3 months ago.  Prior to that time, I had never taken the route 1 bus.  I start work at 7am, and due to the nature of the business, the person before me cannot leave until I arrive.  I usually ride my bike to work, but if it's precipitating or excessively windy, or if I'm feeling lazy, I take the bus.  Thus, I would say I take the bus to work a little more than once per week.  On weekdays (I work some weekend shifts), when I take the bus I need to leave my house in Charles Village at 5:55am to get to work by 7 according to the MTA schedule.

While my first bus (the 61) is fairly reliable, the route 1 bus that I pick up on Light St has only been on time ONCE since I started making this commute.  That's once in a dozen or more attempts.  It is supposed to arrive at Redwood and Light at 6:23 and Pratt and Light at 6:24.  It typically arrives some time between 6:35 and 6:40.  One time I waited until 7:05, when a route 1 bus passed my stop, too full to pick anyone up.  I ended up taking the 64 down to Digital Harbor High and then walking the rest of the way to work.  I was close to 1 hour late that day.  Today, the 1 did not arrive until 6:49.  The bus that picked me up was #9948.  I couldn't tell you if it was a very late 6:24 bus or a (technically) on time 6:45 bus.  That's one of the things I'm hoping the MTA will tell me.  In any case, I was almost 15 minutes late for work.

Now, I have reported issues with this bus several times, through facebook, twitter, and mta's complaint form on their website.  I have yet to get a response from anyone other than the BS I got from Mr. Owens on your blog.  I'm hoping beyond hope that you will know someone at the MTA who will actually help me.  The way I see it, they are neglecting one of the very riders that they should be trying to attract - a city resident who can afford a car but gave it up in favor of walking, biking, and transit.  In other words, a coveted choice rider.  They're going to need more choice riders if they ever want the political clout to do more things that cost money or inconvenience drivers, like building more rail lines, buying new buses, creating dedicated bus lanes, or giving full signal preemption to the light rail line.  So they need to pay attention to me.  Then maybe when I talk to my car-dependent friends, I will have good things to say about riding MTA, instead of a laundry list of complaints that make them grasp their car keys just a little bit harder.

 I'll forward this complaint too the MTA and give the agency a chance to respond. It would certainly be timely if the MTA could get its act together on the No. 1 in time for the War of 1812 Bicentennial -- either by fixing the route or turning the Fort McHenry segment over to the  city's Charm City Circulator.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:51 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MTA bus system
        

March 10, 2011

Northbound JFX reopened after flooding

Two of the three northbound lanes of the Jones Falls Expressway have been reopened south of North Avenue, Baltimore Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kathy Chopper said at 6:25. p.m.  The southern end of the highway had been closed down to Fayette Street  for about a half hour because  of flooding near Penn Station.

 According to Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the Department of Public Works, heavy rains flooded the parking garage below the station, and some of the water flowed into the roadway.

The State Highway Administration is reporting a handful of closings of roads around the state because of  high water. They include Route 450 in Anne Arundel County between Huntwood and St. Stephen's Church Road, where all lanes were closed in both directions as  of 6:20 p.m.

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

MARC to launch new schedule Monday

The Maryland Transit Administration will launch a new schedule on its Penn Line Monday, adding eight trains to the schedule in an effort to alleviate overcrowding and improve on-time performance on the Amtrak-operated Penn Line.

The new schedule, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year, is intended to relieve some of the strain on its locomotive fleet by using smaller train sets running at more frequent intervals.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said MARC officials have been meeting with riders at Penn Line  stations since Feb. 28 and have received a generally  favorable reaction to the changes. The Camden and  Brunswick lines, operated by CSX, will not be affected.

 

The new schedule will add two morning peak and two evening peak trains in each direction. In both cases, one of the new trains will run between Washington and Baltimore while the other will run between Perryville and Washington.


Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said the new schedule is a positive step that will help relieve crowding on Penn Line trains. However her expressed skepticism whether it would be as effective in preventing breakdowns.

According to the MTA, the new schedule will add five stops at Martin State Airport and seven at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.


One of the Washington-Baltimore trains will be a limited-stop train to Odenton during the evening rush hour.

Owens said the additional service to Perryville is intended in part to help accommodate the additional traffic to Aberdeen Proving Ground expected as a result of the Pentagon's base-relocation process.


Satisfaction hasn't been universal, Owens indicated.


“I think the folks up in Perryville would like to see a little more service up there,” he said. But Owens said MTA officials decided they need to concentrate MARC's resources in the Baltimore-Washington part of the route, where the demand is heaviest.


Owens said one of the purposes of the revised schedule is to ease some of the strain on its locomotive fleet, “especially the electrics trying to haul those nine-train-car sets.”


The Penn Line has been plagued by frequent locomotive breakdowns in recent years -- especially during the heat of summer. Last year one of those breakdowns last summer led to the so-called “hell train” incident, where passengers on one stalled Penn Line train were stranded for more than two hours in baking cars before emergency responders began to evacuate them.


Guroian said he doubts whether the new schedule will have much of an effect on on-time performance. He said he has seen  no evidence that heat and heavy trains are the reason behind the Penn Line locomotive breakdowns in recent years.


However, Guroian said the changes should go a long way in improving the  comfort and safety of the trains.


“The new schedule I’m convinced is going to alleviate a lot of that standing-room-only for a  lot of people,” he said. That standing , he said, poses a significant hazard in the event of a train crash, he said.


Guroian said he’s not expecting everything to go smoothly at first.


“It’s going to be a challenge for Amtrak dispatchers to keep everything running on time in the beginning,” he said. “I’m sure there are going to be some growing pains.”

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

City warns of signal outages, flooding

The Baltimore Department of Transportation urged drivers in the city to be cautious today, warning that today's storms could bring flooded roadways and malfunctioning traffic signals.

The city said heavy rains could cause low-lying areas to flood and warned motorists against trying to drive through standing water. The department also asked drivers to be alert for malfunctioning signals, reminding them to treat intersections with signal outages as if there were a 4-way stop sign present.

According to the department, city residents can report outages and flooding by calling 311.

 

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

March 9, 2011

Hearing reveals clashing views on ignition interlock

Proponents of various approaches to drunk driving clashed vigorously today over the circumstances under which a convicted drunk driver should be required to install ignition interlock devices to prevent a vehicle from being started if the driver has been drinking alcohol.

Del. Benjamin Kramer, sponsor of the bill favored by most anti-drunk driving advocates, denounced a rival bill introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario as one that fails to make any use of ignition interlock mandatory.

With Vallario presiding, Kramer told the committee the chairman's bill is "not going to change anything that we're doing right now." He said Vallario's bill, which focuses on so-called "super-drunk" drivers who test with a blood-alcohol content over .15 percent doesn't even make the devices manadatory for those drivers.

The bill introduced by Kramer would make use of ignition interlock mandatory for all drivers who are convicted of driving under the influence -- which is defined in law as having a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or greater.

Vallario did not testify on behalf of his own bill but briefly said that if he didn't introduce it, there would have been no opportunity to argue against the idea of a threshhold of .15.

His bill was represented by Del. Kathleen Dumais, vice chairwoman of the committee, who insisted "the chairman's bill does quite a bit." But Dumais expressed hope that the committee could put together a bill out of the various proposals that "we're proud of bring to the floor" of the House of Delegates.

The Kramer and Vallario bills were two of four measures on the subject that were heard by the committee, but it was Kramer's bill that received the support of most traditional anti-drunk driving activists.

Vallario's bill received the support of liquor distributors, including the Maryland State License Beverage Distributors  Association.  Some of the witnesses, including many of those representing the insurance industry, urged the committee to craft a bill drawing on parts of all the various proposals.

Lt. Tom Woodward, representing the Maryland State Police, signed up in favor of all the competing bills but urged the delegates to amend the Vallario bill to the point where it would more closely resemble Kramer's bill.

Woodward, commander of the Hagerstown barracks, particularly rejected the idea of a two-tier system based on blood-alcohol levels above .08. He dismissed the .15 standard as "totally ludicrous."

"There are no statistics out there that validate any numbers above .08," he said. "Please pass an ignition interlock bill, a meaningful ignition interlock bill and not a feel-good."

Jay Schwartz, a lobbyist representing the state's retail liquor industry, rejected the idea of getting all the stakeholders together to draft a compromise bill. He came out squarely for the Vallario bill, saying his industry still doesn't like the .08 standard that has been adopted nationwide.

"We think that got social drinkers. We still think that got social drinkers," he said.

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

Curbs on drunk test refusal urged

The House Judiciary Committee is now hearing a bill that would clamp down on a driver's refusal to take a breath test for drunk driving.

The bill, sponsored by Del. C. T. Wilson, would create criminal sanctions for persons who refuse a test if they have already refused in a previous case. Prosecutors are supporting the bill.

But they're running into flak from Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons, who is contending the bill would infringe on civil liberties.

One of the witnesses, Kurt Gregory Erickson of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, just testified that Maryland is in the top 10 in test refusal. 

It's a strong bill but not likely to emerge from this committee which is anything but prosecutor-friendly. We'll see, though.  

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 8, 2011

Baltimore once more rates high in congestion

Once again, a national survey of traffic congestion shows that Baltimore is punching above its weight class when it comes to traffic congestion.

A study by INRIX, a company that provides traffic data to GPS services, found that Baltimore ranks 14th in congestion among U.S. metropolitan areas even through it is only 20th in population.

Baltimore's ranking on the INRIX survey has been moving up each year since 2006, when it came in 21st. Last year it came in 15th.

Washington's congestion also ranked higher than its size. The 8th most populous metro area in the country scored 4th in congestion -- behind Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

In January, the Texas Transportation Institute ranked Baltimore 5th in congestion during peak travel times and Washington 2nd.

The high scores for congestion in Baltimore reflect in part the relatively robust economy in the region. In comparison, hard-pressed metropolitan Detroit ranks 11th in population but only 22nd in congestion.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Beverage group bungles message on interlocks

There is a legitimate controversy about whether to require ignition interlock devices on the vehicles of first-time drunk-driving offenders, and the alcoholic beverage industry has every right to weigh in. But this most recent communication just shows how obtuse the booze industry can be about this deadly problem.

See if you can spot what's outrageously wrong about this communication:

 Hi Michael,

Today and tomorrow, bills (H.B. 360, H.B. 1012, S.B. 803) that would require all drunk driving offenders in Maryland - even first time offenders with low blood alcohol levels - to get an ignition interlock (in-car breathalyzer) will be heard in the Maryland General Assembly.

My organization, a restaurant trade association, opposes this legislation, as we believe that judges should have discretion when sentencing marginal, first-time offenders.

Here is a press release we put out last year when this legislation was considered (it failed to pass): http://abionline.org/news_detail.cfm?id=562.

However, we do support Judiciary Chairman Delegate Joseph Vallario’s legislation, H.B. 1276. His bill gives judges the discretion to require a low-BAC, first time DUI offender to install an interlock, while still mandating interlocks for repeat offenders and offenders with high blood alcohol levels.

Please call or email me to set up an interview. Learn more at www.InterlockFacts.com.

Thank you,

Sarah Maiellano

American Beverage Institute

Ms. Maiellano:

Thank you for your offer of an interview. I might yet take you up on it. But first I want to share this note with my readers, with the modest question: What on earth are you thinking?

Several times in your note you attempt to minimize the dangers of driving with a blood-alcohol content between .08 and .14 -- describing it as "low blood alcohol levels," "marginal" and low-BAC.

Now I will stipulate that a driver with a .08 blood alcohol is not necessarily falling-down drunk, but there's no way on the planet that such a motorist has a low blood alcohol level. Far from being "marginal," a .08 blood alcohol level clearly qualifies as  drunk under the law of all 50 states. (In Maryland, .07 is illegal but carries a lesser charge.)

I realize there are elements of your industry that have never accepted the .08 standard. In fact, your lobby now seems to be spreading the line that one has to hit .15 -- the standard of many decades ago -- to be guilty of more than a technical violation.

But outside the closed circles of the industry, you make yourself look absurd when you dismiss less-than-extreme intoxication as "low BAC." It would be a stretch to call even a legal .05-.06 "low BAC." That looks a lot more like "danger zone" to me.

Here's a reminder: Anything .07 or more is by law "high-alcohol" in Maryland. If you want to create a distinction for .15 or above, "high BAC" is not the term to use. How about the technical "drunk as a skunk?"

Michael Dresser

PS: Here's how much you can drink in an hour if you're a 200-lb. man and still qualify as a "low blood alcohol" driver under the  beverage institute's definition:

6 pints of beer

or

8 glasses of wine

or

4 dry martinis

or

6 margaritas

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:07 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

BWI eligible to provide charter flights to Cuba

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has been authorized to  become one of the United States' gateways to Cuba under new policy allowing charter flights to the island nation.

BWI announced Tuesday that it had been selected as one of eight airports with permission  to join Miami, New York and Los Angeles in providing the charter flights, which will be allowed after the Obama administration decided to relax the previous ban on direct flights to  the Communist country. The new rules announced in January allow expanded travel to Cuba for religious, academic, journalistic and cultural travel to Cuba. In 2009, the administration eased restrictions on family reunification travel.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said the designation was only a  "first step" and that it was not  clear yet if or when the service could begin. He added that it was possible that charter service -- not regularly scheduled commercial flights -- could begin late this year.

Dean said the charter providers would be chosen by  the federal government after an application process.

Other airports designated as possible gateways Tuesday are in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, New Orleans, Chicago (O'Hare), Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Juan.

Steve Sapp, a spokesman for the customs agency, said a number of regulatory hurdles remain -- including negotiation of  landing rights by the airports and charter companies. Charter companies will also have to go through a licensing process involving multiple federal agencies.

"There's no real timeline," Sapp said.

To be eligible airports had to apply and meet a set of criteria, including customs and security facilities to process international traffic.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air travel
        

Survey shows epidemic of school bus passing

More than 7,000 drivers in Maryland were observed passing stopped school buses illegally -- one of the most serious traffic offenses in state law -- during a single-day survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Education.

The figures, gathered from all 24 of the state's jurisdictions, are being used to support an effort by state and local educators to win passage of a bill in the General Assembly to allow the use of cameras mounted on the outside of school  buses to  enforce the law against passing when the vehicles have their red lights flashing and stop arm deployed.

The survey of 4,712 school bus drivers statewide found the violation to be especially prevalent in Maryland's urban regions and inner  suburbs. Baltimore County earned the dubious distinction of being No. with 1,101 violations reported by 457 bus drivers on one day in February.

The survey found the that is law is being widely observed in many of Maryland's more rural counties. For instance, both Allegany County and Queen Anne's County had 130 bus drivers on the lookout but not a single violation, according to the state education department.

 

Violations of the school bus passing law carry some of the heaviest penalties among Maryland driving laws that don't require the defendant to appear in court, A motorist who receives such a ticket and elects to forgo a trial must pay a fine of $570. The offense carries 3 points if a driver fails to stop at all; the penalty is 2 points of  the drivers stops but then passes before the bus driver has turned off the flashing lights and retracted the sign.

The survey found that most of those passing school buses did so when approaching from the front --3,997 of them. It counted 2,665 as passing from behind on the  driver's side. Only 366 motorists passed from behind on the door side of the bus -- considered to be the most dangerous form of the offense.

After Baltimore County, high rates of the offense -- more than one per driver counting -- were found in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties and Baltimore city.

Leon Langley, the state education department's student transportation director, said there have not been any recent  fatalities or  injuries among students getting off or on school buses. But  he said such incidents have occurred in other states.

"The stop arm is absolutely necessary to ensure student safety," he said.

Langley said  there is a national effort under way among state school transportation officials to persuade legislatures to allow automated enforcement of the passing laws, which now result in tickets only if a police officer witnesses the violation.

Under the proposed Maryland bill, drivers detected by cameras breaking the law would receive a $100 ticket. Much like the current tickets generated by speed and red light cameras, the citations would not  carry points because the cameras identify thhe vehicle rather than the driver.

Getting There would like to hear from bus drivers, parents, drivers or  other who have strong views about the proposed law. Please post to the blog or email michael.dresser@baltsun.com

ONE-DAY STOP ARM VIOLATION SURVEY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County
Front
Behind on Drivers-Side
Door-Side
# Responding

Allegany

0

0

0

130

Anne Arundel

554

226

65

485

Balt. City

392

421

84

200

Balt. Co.

1,101

580

42

457

Calvert

80

17

5

151

Caroline

0

0

0

54

Carroll

115

42

3

302

Cecil

42

3

4

157

Charles

124

79

10

156

Dorchester

1

0

0

55

Frederick

24

53

5

343

Garrett

0

0

1

5

Harford

136

33

3

407

Howard

46

19

0

49

Kent

1

0

0

29

Montgomery

864

781

0

802

Prince George’s

315

297

136

376

Queen Anne’s

0

0

0

130

SMC

43

41

2

85

Somerset

1

0

0

35

Talbot

11

1

0

52

Washington

119

63

6

126

Wicomico

18

8

0

69

Worcester

10

1

0

57

TOTAL
3,997
2,665
 366
4,712

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:36 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 7, 2011

MADD not impressed by Vallario drunk-driving bill

A bill introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario to deal with the issue of installing ignition interlock devices on the vehicles owned by convicted drunk drivers is being dismissed by MADD Maryland as accomplishing nothing that doesn't exist under current law.

"Twelve pages of nothing," MADD Maryland executive director Caroline Cash calls it.

The bill, which had 30 co-sponsors from both parties, is one of several that have been introduced during the current General Assembly session on the topic of ignition interlock technology, which prevents a motorist from starting a car after consuming alcohol.

MADD supports legislation that would make installation of such devices mandatory for all those convicted on driving under the influence. Such a bill passed thhe Senate last year only to die in the Judiciary Committee when Vallario declined to bring it up for a vote.

This year the Prince George's County Democrat has weighed  in with his own bill, but MADD isn't impressed. "It does nothing to increase the use if interlock -- let alone save lives and prevent injuries," said Caroline Cash, executive director of MADD Maryland.

Cash said she had at first been encouraged when she heard Vallario was proposing his own bill. But once interlock proponents read  the full bill, they realized there was nothing mandatory about it, she said.

MADD supports a bill called the Drunk Driving Elimination Act, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jamie Raskin and  in the House by Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, both Montgomery County Democrats.

Cash said MADD would raise the issue with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who decided to retain Vallario as chairman despite protests last year from women delegates over the treatment of witnesses before the committee. She said the chairman's proposed bill isn't even as strong as the compromise legislation MADD rejected as too weak last year.

The Vallario bill would require drivers who are found to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or more -- or those who refuse an alcohol test -- to enter an ignition interlock program in order to avert a driver's license suspension. But  Cash said that is no more than drivers are permitted to do now, adding that many drivers simply accept the suspension but continue driving anyway.

Vallario's role is crucial because as chairman he can prevent any bill he opposes from getting a vote in committee.  In practical terms only the speaker, who appoints committee chairs, has the authority to tell  him to bring a bill to a vote.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Speed cameras proposed for Howard County

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will ask the County Council to adopt legislation allowing the use of mobile cameras to enforce speed limits in school zones.

Ulman, along with Police Chief William McMahon and Councilwoman Courtney Watson, will hold a news conference Tuesday to outline his plans.

According to the Howard County Police Department, introduction of the legislation follows a year-long study by police of speeding in school zones.

If the Council approves, Howard would join Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince George's counties, as well as Baltimore city, in authorizing speed cameras under a 2009 state law giving local jurisdictions the option of using them in school zones. Under  that  law, drivers can be fined $40 if a camera detects them going 12 mph or more above  the  speed limit near a school.

The news conference will take place at Ilchester Elementary School. Acting Superintendent Mamie Perkins and members of the school board are expected to take part.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 4, 2011

Tolls take effect Monday on the ICC

The free ride on the Intercounty Connector is about to end.

Starting Monday at 12:01 a..m., the Maryland Transportation Authority will begin collecting tolls on the section of the ICC that opened two weeks ago. Since the opening of the stretch between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 370, the state has waived tolls as part of a "test drive" period.

The authority said more than 273,000 trips have been taken on that segment since  it opened Feb. 23.

The toll for that section will be $1.45 during peak weekday periods periods, 60 cents overnight and $1.10 at all times in between.  Since there are no tollbooths on the ICC, he charges  will be collected using E-ZPass or by taking a picture of the driver's license plate and mailing a bill.

Drivers without E-ZPasses wiill have until April 6 before they begin receiving a bill for a $3 service fee along with that toll. For those who don't have E-ZPasses, the state is keeping its E-ZPass outlets at the Gaithersburg and Beltsville Motor Vehicle Administration offices open from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays through April 2. Drivers can also obtain them through the E-ZPass web site.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:52 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 3, 2011

I-695 outer loop at Charles Street temporary closure

The State Highway Administration will temporarily close all lanes of the outer loop of the Beltway (I-695) at Charles Street tonight.

Starting at 9 p.m., one lane will close. Then at 10 p.m., two lanes will close. By midnight, all lanes will be closed and traffic will be detoured through the Charles Street/Bellona Avenue roundabout and back onto the outer loop I-695.

In addition to the temporary outer loop I-695 closure, the right ramp from northbound Charles Street to the outer loop will be closed at midnight. All lanes will reopen by 5 a.m.

The closures are necessary for the continued work on the replacement of the Charles Street Bridge. SHA urges motorists who plan to travel along northbound Charles Street to reach the outer loop to alternatively use Kenilworth Avenue to West Road to the York Road/Baltimore Beltway interchange.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 2:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Text-messaging bill passes House

The House of Delegates passed a bill Wednesday morning closing a loophole in the state's ban on text-messaging while driving that allowed motorists to read incoming messages while behind the wheel.

The bill also specifies that texting is prohibited as long as the vehicle is in the travel lanes of the road, including when stopped for traffic signals. The preliminary tally was 116-22.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a companion measure has received preliminary approval after attempts to amend it were rejected.

 A similar bill was approved by both houses last year only to fail when the House and Senate couldn't agree on amendments before the session ended.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:07 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: On the roads
        

March 2, 2011

Bill seeks to ease license requirements for adults

Since 1998, in an effort to improve teen safety, Maryland has imposed an escalating series of requirements on new drivers before they can obtain a license. The catch is that in doing so, lawmakers have required adult drivers to jump through the same set of hoops as teens – often at the cost of thousands of dollars.

The result, according to supporters of a bill that would ease up on new adult drivers, is that many lower-income workers have found their path to better employment blocked.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County and Sen. Victor Ramirez of Prince Georges County, comes up for a hearing Tuesday. A House version will be heard later this month. Getting There would  like to hear from adults who have been effected  by the extra licensing requirements for adults.

The legislation is being promoted by Eugene D’Onofrio, a driver educator who has been an off-and-on critic of the law since it was first adopted. While the self-described “snowbird” wasn’t planning to return from Florida for the hearing, he has hired a prominent Annapolis lobbyist to press for change.

“No state but us makes adults do what they’re doing,” D’Onofrio said.”It’s crazy.”

Andrea Payne Roethke, senior policy analyst with the Job Opportunities Task Force, said her group plans to testifying that the requirements have posed a significant hurdle for low-income workers.

Roethke said the steeper hurdles for new adult drivers in Maryland have not been shown to make driving safer. “Unfortunately, driver’s ed is not proven to improve safety behind the wheel,” he said.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said Roethke is correct  about the research on driver’s ed.

“For teens, it has no effect,” he said. “There’s no difference in the crashes for those teens who take driver’s ed compared with those who don’t. So we wouldn’t expect it to be any different for  adults.”

Adults who have found it difficult to get a license in Maryland because of the extra  hurdles here can contact Getting There by leaving a comment with an email address or by sending an email to michael.dresser@baltsun.com.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:48 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads
        

Maryland traffic rose 3.8% in December 2010

Travel on Maryland highways increased by 3.8 percent in December 2010, far outstripping the national average.

Maryland's gain in vehicle miles last year followed a 4.2 percent drop in December 2009, according to figures released by the Federal Highway Administration. Nationally, vehicle travel on all U.S. roads increased  by 0.6 percent in December 2010 to 243 billion vehicle-mile.

For the full year, the nation fell just short of the 3-trillion vehicle-mile mark, a small improvement on its 2009 total but not a return to the pre-recession years of 2006-2007.

The higher travel figures convey both good and  bad news. On the one hand, the increase is a sign of an improving economy. On the other, more travel usually adds up to more congestion and more  traffic crashes.  A sluggish economy is considered one the main reasons for a decline in traffic deaths over the past two years.

 

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

Ulman wants gas tax share for Shock-Trauma

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman supports a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax to help improve roads and transit -- but that's not all.

In his testimony Tuesday before the House Ways & Means Committee, Ulman also urged legislators to set aside a half-cent of the proposed increase for the Maryland Shock-Trauma Center and emergency medical services.

Ulman noted that vehicle crashes are single most prevalent reason patients wind up needing trauma services.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:32 PM | | Comments (5)
        

March 1, 2011

Mayor, county executives back gas tax hike

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and three of Maryland's county executives told a House committee today that they support an increase in the state's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax if it is coupled with a restoration of state road repair money to their jurisdictions and a "firewall" to protect the Transportation Trust Fund from being used to balance the state's budget.

Rawlings-Blake joined County Executives Ken Ulman of Howard County, Ike Leggett of Montgomery County and Rushern Baker of Prince George's County in endorsing a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the tax along with a constitutional amendment that would protect te trust fund from the type of "raids" that have been used in recent years to close shortfalls in the general fund.

Rawlings-Blake said the city is stretched to the breaking point on road and bridge projects. "When it comes to funding for transportation, we are running on empty," the mayor said.

The mayor and all three county executives are Democrats.

Like the leaders of Maryland's other 19 jurisdictions, the mayor and county executives are grappling with severe cutbacks in the amount of local highway money the state sends to local governments each year. Baltimore's highway aid has been cut nearly in half, while the counties have lost about 97 percent of their highway money over the past two years.

The four local leaders testified Tuesday in the hope of averting the third straight years of deep cuts envisioned in the budget Gov. Martin O"Malley sent to the General Assembly.

General Assembly fiscal leaders have signaled that they would consider raising the gas tax, which has not increased since 1992, if the leaders of county governments would take the lead in calling for the increase.

The bill the officials endorsed yesterday, sponsored by Del. C. William Frick, D-Montgomery, would couple the gas tax increase with an increase in vehicle registration fees and indexation of the gas tax to a measure of inflation in the cost of construction. The measure would also put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot creating a firewall putting the Transportation Trust Fund off limits for transfers to the general fund except in the case of an emergency. It would take a three-fifths vote of the legislature to declare such an emergency.

Frick told the Ways and Means Committee that "we need to put the trust back in the trust fund."

The county executives and mayor called for a restoration of the highway users funds to the level in fiscal year 2008, when the counties received about a 30 percent share of the money from the transportation fund.

Baker told the lawmakers that he didn't feel it was right to come to the legislature for more aid without supporting a means to pay for it.

"We're saying we're in it with you," he said.

The executives faced skeptical questioning from some members of the committee, several of whom expressed concern that the increase could have a negative effect on business.

But some of the state's top business leaders told the panel increased transportation revenues are desperately needed.

"Mobility is an essential part of economic growth. You've got to move goods, people and services," said Greater Baltimore Committee President Donald C. Fry.

But some sectors of Maryland business opposed any increase.

The Maryland Motor Truck Administration staged a demonstration in Annapolis Tuesday against the proposed increase beforetestifying against the bill.

The trucking association said the legislation would mean an average increase in costs for truckers of $2,700 a year. The group supported the constitutional amendment but said it should be passed separately from the gas tax and registration fee increases.

The group said a series of transportation revenue increases passed in 2007 didn't generate the expected money but will as the economy recovers. "As the economy continues to improve, the existing revenue structure will generate significant revenue growth without the need to pile on new tax and fee increases," the association said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:00 PM | | Comments (31)
        

It's gas tax day in Annapolis

It looks as if today is going to be a big day in the effort to get some new revenues flowing into transportation in Maryland.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett are expected to testify before the House Ways & Means Committee in support of the combination of a gas tax increase and a constitutional amendment protecting the Transportation Trust Fund from raids to balance the general fund.

Meanwhile, the trucking industry and other opponents of any increase in gas taxes or registration fees will hold a demonstration against the proposals.

AAA Mid-Atlantic will be among the groups showing up to testify in favor of House Bill 1001, which would both raise the gas tax by 10 cents and build a firewall around the trust fund.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:57 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        
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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

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