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May 27, 2011

Lesser fine for driver who hit bicyclist was blunder

The Baltimore woman whose driving errors led to a crash that left bicyclist Nathan Krasnopoler in a coma with possibly permanent brain injuries has resolved the traffic charges against her by paying  $220  – about half the amount she would have been fined if the Baltimore police had not erred in writing the tickets.

Jeannette Marie Walke, 83, pleaded guilty May 11 to negligent driving and failure to yield tight-of-way to a bicyclist in a designated lane. There was no indication in court records that she chose to appear in court. Such charges can be resolved by sending in a standard fine by mail.

Nathan Krasnopoler, a Johns Hopkins University student, collided with Walke's car Feb. 26 when she turned in front of him on University Drive near the Homewood Campus. According to his family, he retains brain stem function but is not expected to regain consciousness. The Krasnopolers have filed a $10 million lawsuit against Walke.

Walke could have been fined $400 had not the police officer who wrote the tickets blundered.

The  negligent driving fine was assessed at $140 rather than the $280 allowed under state law for cases involving a crash. On the failure-to-yield charge, she was fined $80 rather than the $120 she could have been assessed for an offense that contributed to an accident.

Terri Bolling, a spokesman for the District Courts of Maryland, said the officer wrote in the higher amounts but failed to check off the boxes indicating the charges involved a case that led to an accident and personal injury.

Bolling said that when the boxes are not checked, the fines default to the lower, pre-set amounts. She said the staff that enters the data into the court’s electronic system is not permitted to check the boxes or correct the amounts because the tickets are legal charging documents.

The police error comes after the department acknowledged mishandling the case up front by initially saying no charges would be brought against the driver. After a public outcry led by bicycle advocates, the police conducted a more thorough investigation and the State’s Attorney’s Office decided to charge Walke with the two traffic offenses.

Andrew G. Slutkin, the Krasnopoler family attorney who filed the civil suit, said he was surprised to learn that Walke had been charged the lesser fines. He said that while the family didn’t want to see the driver jailed, they believed it was important that she be charged because they felt she was “legally and morally responsible for the collision.”

“The family believes the fine should be the maximum available under the law,” Slutkin said. “If anyone deserves a break, it’s not this defendant.”

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:25 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Light rail and pedestrians: Why not a crosswalk?

A light rail train was heading north on Howard Street in downtown Baltimore when it made a stop on the right side between Lexington and Saratoga. Dozens of passengers disembarked, and the vast majority of them crossed over the street in the middle of the block, just behind the train.

This may not be strictly legal but it is human nature. No amount of legislating or fulminating or lecturing will stop it. Rich or poor, black or white, male or female, young or old -- it seems we all want to get from Point A to Point B by taking a straight line.

My question for the city Department of Transportation is this: Given that this is how pedestrians react to this configuration of transit and street, why not create a crosswalk at the point where they are going to cross anyway? Even when pedestrians are in the wrong, drivers are obligated to avoid hitting them anyway, so why not provide that extra measure of protection to people on foot?

Here's a modest suggestion: Have one of those sharp traffic engineers with the department follow the light rail through town and chart where the passengers are crossing. Then design measures to protect them. It's not as if Howard Street was intended to be a fast-moving street for drivers.

Yes, the city could wait for a fatality. Or, at the risk of sounding unoriginal, it could "do it now."


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:33 PM | | Comments (7)

Artlcle explains why long commutes are killers

An article in Slate by Annie Lowrey, entitled "Your Commute is Killing You," has plenty of relevance in Maryland, which has the dubious distinction of offering its residents some of the longest commutes in the United States.

The article is based on the findings of a Swedish university study, but there's no reason to think the ill effects of long commutes -- increased obesity, less exercis and less family time -- aren't equally applicable here.

According to the U.S. Census, Maryland has the second-longest commutes in the country and is dead last in the percentage of commuters who enjoy a daily trip of 15 minutes or less.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

Driver whose error left bicyclist in coma fined $220

The Baltimore woman whose driving errors led to a crash that left bicyclist Nathan Krasnopoler in a coma with possibly permanent brain injuries has resolved the traffic charges against her by paying a $220 fine.

Jeannette Marie Walke, 83, pleaded guilty May 11 to negligent driving and failure to yield tight-of-way to a bicyclist in a designated lane. There was no indication in court records that she chose to appear in court. Such charges can be resolved by sending in a standard fine by mail.

Nathan Krasnopoler, a Johns Hopkins University student, collided with Walke's car Feb. 26 when she turned in front of him on University Drive near the Homewood Campus. According to his family, he retains brain stem function but is not expected to regain consciousness. The Krasnopolers have filed a $10 million lawsuit against Walke.

It was unclear why the negligent driving fine was assessed at $140 rather than the $280 allowed under state law for cases involving a crash. Court records erroneously indicate the charges did not result in an accident or personal injury.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:11 AM | | Comments (33)
Categories: On the roads

May 26, 2011

City announces Fells Point pedestrian changes

In response to a neighborhood outcry, Baltimore' s Department of Transportation and City Councilman Jim Kraft announced a series of changes to pedestrian signals and crosswalks intended to make walking safer in Fells Point.

Transportation Director Khalil Zaied said the city will soon adjust the signals at seven Fells Point intersections to flash an automatic "walk" sign at set intervals between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The intersections include east-west Eastern Avenue and Fleet Street where they cross north-south Wolfe, Ann and Washington Streets, as well as the intersection of Gough and Wolfe streets.


The city said crosswalk's in the neighborhood will be re-striped and traffic-calming improvements will be made along Bank Street at Wolfe, Ann and Washington.

In addition the city said it would work with community associations to study whether to convert Wolfe and Washington to two-way use south of Pratt Street.

Kraft, the local councilman whom the city credited with helping to broker the agreement, called the changes "a positive sign" about the department's commitment to keeping Fells Point walkable.

So how do local residents view this resolution? Please let us know by commenting to this blog or by emailing me at


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:29 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

Maryland drivers test 49th out of 51

Maryland motorists may not be the nation's worst, but they seem to be close contenders.

The state's drivers scored third from the bottom this year in an annual written test of knowledge of the rules of the road, according to GMAC Insurance.

Maryland drivers placed 49th out of 51 in the company's seventh annual National Driver's Test, with a score of 73.3 percent, trailing only Hawaii (73 percent) and the basement-dwelling District of Columbia. Rounding out the Feckless Five were New Jersey in 48th and Massachusetts in 47th.

Leading the pack was repeat champion Kansas, where the 82.9 percent score was 5 points above the national average. Following close behind were Iowa, Colorado and  Minnesota. Oregon, Nebraska, Indiana and Missouri tied for fifth.

How important the results are in terms of actual traffic safety are unclear. In terms of actual road deaths, Maryland is far from the bottom. And even a GMAC representative agreed that the survey is subject to sampling errors.


Maryland's race to the bottom this year followed a 2010 in which it was one of the success stories of what GMAC calls "the benchmark for America's driving IQ." Last year it soared to 20th place after placing 41st in 2009. Its 29-place plunge in the rankings  this year was exceeded only by Alaska, which dropped from 10th to 40th. But Maryland's percentage-point decline was even greater at 4.9.

Scott Eckman, chief marketing officer for GMAC, said it's hard to believe the education level of Marylanders has fluctuated so wildly from year to year. He said individual state scores can change with sampling variations but that regional performance remains consistent over time.

"It  is interesting that the Midwest states always do better and the Northeastern states always do more poorly," he said. In the most recent survey, the Midwest was the highest-scoring region and the Northeast the lowest.

The annual survey polled 5,130 drivers aged 16-65 from across the country, asking 20 questions taken from each state's driver's license exam. Nationwide, motorists improved their average score from 76.2 percent to 77.9 percent.

In terms of outright failures, New York and the District took the lead for that dubious honor. In both jurisdictions, 34 percent received less than a 70 percent passing grade. Wyoming, where only one in 20 didn't get a 70 or above, had the smallest percentage of failures.

Eckman said the nationwide results indicate that U.S. drivers "are forgetting some of the basic rules of the road."

Among them, he said, are the basic guidelines for how much stopping distance a driver should allow between his or her vehicle and the one in front. But the most frequent;y missed question, according to Eckman, had to do with how to respond when a stoplight turns yellow just as a car is reaching an intersection. He said that only 15 percent answered correctly that the driver should continue through rather than abruptly braking.

Some drivers expressed skepticism about the significance of the results. Ron Miller, a personal injury attorney, said he sees the worst results of bad driving in his practice and that it is seldom the result of ignorance.

"The extent to which we know the driving laws is of very little consequence," he said. Miller, of the law firm of Miller & Zois in Glen Burnie, said "bad choices" such as drunk driving and distracted driving are the main causes of injuries.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:21 AM | | Comments (72)
Categories: On the roads

May 24, 2011

Md. ranked 15th most deadly for pedestrians

Maryland is ranked as the 15th most dangerous for pedestrians of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to a national study released this week by the advocacy group Transportation for America.

Meanwhile, Baltimore is ranked as the 32nd most dangerous metropolitan area for walkers out of 52 in the United States, according to the latest version of the report "Dangerous by Design." However, the report singles out Baltimore an an example of a region where pedestrian deaths have increased over the past decade -- from 43 in 2000 to 62 in 2009 at a time when total traffic deaths fell by almost 6 percent.

The report ranks states and cities by a proprietary Pedestrian Danger Index that weighs the number of pedestrian deaths in an area over the past decade against the total amount of walking activity in the region. Thus, metropolitan New York ranks among the safest on the index despite having the the greatest number of pedestrian deaths in the years 2000-2009.

Maryland is assigned a score of 76.4 on the index compared with 182.8 for the most dangerous state, Florida, and 11.2 for the safest, Vermont.

The report contends that a significant factor in the number of pedestrian deaths is the practice of designing roads for maximum vehicle speed rather that safety for people on foot. The study says the U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations in pedestrian safety, with a rate almost twice that of Australia,


According to the report, 1,057 pedestrians died on Maryland roads during 2000-2009 out of 6,219 total deaths. Of those, 481 occurred in metropolitan Baltimore. In a previous study, Maryland was criticized for having one of the lowest rates of spending on pedestrian safety projects in the United States.

The four most dangerous areas were all in Florida -- Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. The top 10 hazardous states and cities were all in the South and West. Maryland's 15th place ranking was one of the worst in the Northeast. 



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:44 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: On the roads

May 23, 2011

SHA proclaims 'Year of the Bridge'

Motorists in Maryland can expect to encounter an abundance of road projects this spring and summer as the State Highway Administration embarks on what it has dubbed its "Year of the Bridge."

The agency will be replacing or performing major repairs on 25 bridges across the state -- including four on the Baltimore Beltway.

Two of the Beltway bridge replacements -- at Liberty Road and Charles Street -- have been under way for more than a year. Soon to follow will be the bridges at Wilkens Avenue and Frederick Road.

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen noted at a news conference Monday that many of the bridges over the Beltway were built during the 1950s and 1960s and are wearing out at about the same time.

Also showing the effects of time is the Capital Beltway, where the agency is replacing two bridges and rebuilding the decks on two others. Also underway is the replacement of a heavily used bridge between Baltimore and Howard counties on U.S. 40 at the Patapsco River.

The SHA has created an online "electronic brochure" called e-Road Ready 2011 to inform drivers of where road projects are taking place.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Delaware Memorial Bridge tolls to rise July 1

It's not just Maryland that's raising tolls.

The price of crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge in a two-axle passenger vehicle is scheduled to rise from $3 to $4 July 1 after the Delaware River and Bay Authority adopted a new toll schedule last week. Tolls at the bridge are collected from southbound drivers only.

The bridge, which crosses the Delaware River between the Wilmington area and southern New Jersey on Interstate 95, is part of the most heavily traveled route between the Baltimore area and New York. It is the first toll increase at the facility since 2000.


The governors of New Jersey and Delaware could still veto the increases, but such a move could have negative consequences for the authority's bond rating. Those bonds were already downgraded by Standard & Poor's in March.

The Delaware bridge toll increase comes as the Maryland Transportation Authority is weighing a proposal by its staff to raise tolls at its facilities this year and again in 2013. Among the increases being proposed in Maryland is an increase in the $2.50 toll on the Bay Bridge to $5 this October and to $8 in 2013. The Bay Bridge is about a 5-mile-long bridge, while the Delaware bridge crosses a river at a point where it is less than a mile wide. Both collect tolls in only one direction.

Officials of the Delaware River authority said the toll increase was necessary to make infrastructure improvements to keep up with the effects of age and heavy use of the 60-year-old bridge. The authority said that without the increase, it would not be able to maintain the required ratio of revenue to debt to avoid higher interest rates.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

Gas price drop by 11 cents in a week

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Maryland dropped by a little more than a dime over the past week, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report shows an average Maryland price of $3.89, 11 cents down from the $4 registered a week ago. The June 2008 record of $4.05 appears to have held for the time being, and AAA expects further price declines this summer.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Signs of the (end) times


Photo courtesy of Peter Werweth     

Peter Werweth reports that he snapped this photo of a highway sign at 9:05 a.m. on Homewood Road in Howard County, just north of Route 108.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:13 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

May 20, 2011

MTA offers transit options for Preakness

The Maryland Transit Administration is offering a menu of transit options for getting to the Preakness without a car. Here is its description of those services:

(BALTIMORE, MD) May 19, 2011—Preakness fans are being encouraged again this year to avoid
traffic and the hassles of parking by taking the MTA’s local bus, Metro Subway, and Light Rail to
Pimlico Race Course.


Shuttle buses will run Saturday May 21, 2011 between the Rogers Avenue Metro
Subway station, the Cold Spring Lane Light rail stop and Poly-Western High School. All shuttle service
will run until 2:00 PM, then resume at 6:15 PM and run until 7:30 PM. Since each rail or bus boarding
requires payment of a fare, riders are encouraged to purchase Day Passes for $3.50 ($1.20 for seniors
and people with disabilities with MTA-issued identification)

The best transit options to Preakness are as follows:

Local Bus Service to Pimlico:
Nos. 27, 91, 44 lines, plus No. 54 via Park Heights Avenue all stop near the track.
$3.20 round trip or $3.50

Metro Subway Service:
Take Metro Subway to the Rogers Avenue Station.
Take the connecting Shuttle Bus to the track. Shuttle Bus service ends at 2:00 p.m.
Return Shuttle Bus service to Rogers Avenue Metro Subway Station begins at approximately 6:15
p.m. and operates until 7:30 p.m.
$3.50 Day Pass required

Light Rail Service to Pimlico:
Take Light Rail to the Cold Spring Lane Stop. Take the connecting Shuttle Bus to the track. Shuttle
Bus service ends at 2:00 p.m.
Return Shuttle Bus service begins at approximately 6:15 p.m. and operates until 7:30 p.m.
$3.50 Day Pass required

From Towson-Lutherville-Timonium-Hunt Valley-Southern PA:
Take Light Rail to Cold Spring Lane Stop. Take connecting Shuttle Bus to Pimlico ($3.50 Day Pass

From Glen Burnie-BWI Marshall Airport-Linthicum-Severna Park-Annapolis:

Take Light Rail to Cold Spring Lane Stop, then connecting Shuttle Bus to Pimlico ($3.50 Day Pass required).
From Downtown Baltimore: Take Metro Subway from Charles Center or Lexington Market to Rogers Avenue Station. Take connecting Shuttle Bus to Pimlico ($3.50 Day Pass required). Or take Light Rail to Cold Spring Lane Stop, then the connecting Shuttle Bus to Pimlico. ($3.50 Day Pass required).

From Owings Mills-Reisterstown-Glyndon-Old Court-Milford Mill:

 Take Metro Subway to Rogers Avenue Station, then connecting Shuttle Bus to Pimlico. ($3.50 Day Pass required).
From Mt. Washington-Falls Road-Cold Spring Lane-Northern Parkway-Cross Keys: Take Park & Ride Express Bus from Poly-Western High School to Pimlico. ($3.50 Day Pass required).

For general information on MTA service, visit the MTA website at You can also call the MTA Transit Information Center Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. at 410-539-5000. (TTY 410-539-3497) To sign up for e-mail about service modifications and delays regarding all MTA modes, go to and click e-mail notification.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

MTA seeks OK to order 57 new hybrid buses

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to buy 57 new hybrid diesel-electric buses by piggybacking on a purchase by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The department is scheduled to bring that $38.5 million contract with New Flyer of America  to the Board of Public Works for approval at its June 1 meeting. If it is approved, as is routine for this type of contract, the MTA will increase the number of hybrid buses in its 706-vehicle fleet to about 250. The MTA is in the process of converting from an all-diesel fleet to an all-hybrid fleet.

According to the MTA, piggybacking on an existing order by another transit agency will save the agency both on the purchase price and the delivery time. It said the new buses will replace aging vehicles that require extra maintenance.

The agency said its piggyback contract will save it almost $31,000 on the price of each bus, lowering the cost to $647.108 per vehicle. The MTA contends that while the hybrid vehicles cost more up front, the state saves money in the long term because of their superior fuel economy and lower maintenance costs. MTA spokesman John Wesley said the 57 new buses would likely go into service in early 2012.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MTA bus system

Drivers said to violate HOV rules with impunity

M. M. of Annapolis didn't want her full name used because the people she's blowing the whistle on may be her neighbors. But she's raising a valid issue about the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on U.S. 50:

Is anyone monitoring the Rt 50 HOV lanes??  A recent job change has me traveling this road frequently, and I am amazed at the total lack of adherence to the HOV2 postings.  Easily 3 out of 4 cars passing me as I sit in traffic have only  one person in the vehicle.  The regularity of this offense has me convinced that no one has ever been ticketed for violating the rule, so the offending  solo drivers just use it with abandon.

So what do you think, folks? Do the State Police need to stage soem highly visible enforcement actions to bring this under control?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:57 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: On the roads

May 19, 2011

AAA predicts brisk Memorial Day travel

AAA is predicting that American drivers will shrug off the high price of gasoline and take to the roads over the Memorial Day weekend in about the same numbers as they did last year.

Even though the price of gasoline is running more than $1 higher than at the same time last year, AAA forecasts a decline of only 0.3 percent in the number of travelers taking to the road for trips of 50 miles or more between Thursday and Monday of the weekend.

AAA expects a slight 0.2 increase in the total number of travelers over the weekend, with a 11.5 percent increase in air travel canceling out the small decrease in driving. Of 34.9 million Americans expected to travel, AAA expects 30.9 million to go by car.

According to AAA, an improved economy is offsetting the price of gasoline in affecting travel plans.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is expected to release its prediction of Maryland travel trends for the weekend on Tuesday.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Baltimore MVA office leaving Mondawmin

For 40 years, the place for Baltimoreans to go to get a driver's license or return license plates in the city has been Mondawmin Mall. No more.

The state Motor Vehicle Administration's Baltimore office is leaving its longtime home at Mondawmin Mall and relocating to a new site up Reisterstown Road.

Friday will be its last day at the mall, where it has been since 1971. On Monday it will reopen at the Hilltop Shopping Center at 5424 Reisterstown Road. On Saturday morning, when there is normally service betwen 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., the city office will be closed for moving.

MVA spokesman Buel  Young said the agency is moving because it lost its lease at Mondawmin. He said the new office will have the state's first 24-hour kiosk for registration renewals and twice as many parking spaces -- 400 -- as the Mondawmin location.


Young said the new office is 3 miles up Reisterstown Road in the revitalizing area of Park Heights. Unlike the current location, which is directly on the Metro line, the new office will be about four blocks from the Rogers Avenue station, Young said. However, the Hilltop location is right on the Maryland Transit Administration's Route 53 bus line.

According to the MVA, the city office serves about 26,000 people a month. Young said the Hilltop office will offer all the services currently provided at Mondawmin.

The MVA has had its city office at Mondawmin since May 1971. It moved to a location inside the mall in 1974, where it remained until moving to its current office next to the mall in 1984.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

May 13, 2011

Nasty toll hikes proposed for Nice Bridge

One of Maryland's toll facilities didn't make the cut in Friday's Sun coverage of the steep proposed toll increases by the Maryland Transportation Authority: the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland.

The 70-year-old bridge, which carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River between Charles County and Virginia, now has a basic toll for two-axle vehicles of $3, collected in one direction only. The staff of the authority had suggested raising the toll to $4 in October and $6 in 2013.

There was some discussion at Thursday's meeting of the authority's Finance Committee whether the Nice Bridge toll increase should bring it to eventual equivalency with the Bay Bridge, for which an increase to $8 in 2013 was proposed. Members noted that the narrow, antiquated Nice Bridge is likely to need a full replacement in the coming years.

Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said she has heard from Southern Maryland elected officials that they aren't concerned about the amount of the toll as long as the state gets the replacement done.

While Baltimoreans can easily live out their lives without ever crossing the Nice Bridge, for residents of Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's county it is the main link to the South. Without it, they would have to travel north to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to go south.

The bridge is an active commuter route between Charles County and King George County, Va., and is used by many workers at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Calvert County and the Patuxent Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County. The proposed commuter rates would go from 60 cents to $1.20 in October and $2.10 in 2013.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

There's a (thin) silver lining in bridge toll proposal

Amid all the bad news contained in the Maryland Transportation Authority's staff's original proposal for toll increases in October and in 2013, there's a nugget of a good idea: Equalizing the toll burden of the two main routes to the Eastern Shore.

Currently there's a perverse incentive to use the congested bottleneck that is the Bay Bridge. The toll for a round trip there is $2.50, while the cost of using the Kennedy Highway to get to a northern route through Delaware is $5.

The increases proposed by the authority staff would bring the Bay Bridge and Kennedy Highway tolls both to $8 in 2013.

Many people in Baltimore aren't aware that they can get to certain Delmarva destinations -- the Delaware beaches or northern Ocean City -- in about the same time by using the Bay Bridge or by going around the head of the bay. When the bridge is congested, the northern route will often take less time. But for many in Baltimore, the Bay Bridge is the only way they know -- plus it's cheaper.

If the change were adopted as proposed --- and that's still a big if -- there would be less of an economic incentive to favor the Bay Bridge. The more traffic can be diverted from there, the less it will be congested and the longer Maryland can get by without an enormously expensive and environmentally damaging replacement crossing.

Now equalizing Maryland tolls doesn't make things even-up. Some of the faster routes to the Shore via Elkton involve Delaware tolls. (There are free routes through Delaware to the beaches but you have to be pretty adamant about avoiding tolls to take the trouble.) Still, anything the tilts the scale away from the bridge is a good idea.

Obviously those for whom the bridge is the only practical alternative -- such as Washington-area residents -- won't see it that way. But they would at least benefit from sharing the bridge with fewer Baltimoreans.

Another effect of higher Bay Bridge tolls could be to make people think twice about the idea of living on the Shore and working on the western side of the bridge. This might be bad news for current commuters, Shore developers and merchants, but it could be a boon to those who want to preserve the rural character of the region.

This effect can and probably will be exaggerated. The proposed increase would add $9 to the weekly cost of commuting over the bridge -- enough to tip the balance for a few people but not many. Still, the old rate was virtually a subsidy for Shore sprawl. An increase after 36 years would serve notice that the Bay Bridge is no longer a sacred cow.

Some current commuters might be motivated enough to switch to commuter buses -- which could take some single-passenger vehicles off the bridge. It would be even better for current bridge users if higher truck tolls created an incentive to try another route. The fewer tractor-trailers, the less wear and tear on the bridge.

Another positive aspect of the proposal is that it would bring the toll on the bridge to an even dollar amount -- $5 in October and $8 in 2013 -- instead of the current $2.50. By cutting down on the amount of fumbling with change, the increase would at least speed traffic  flow through the cash tollbooths.

These are some rather thin silver linings on a cloudy toll scenario, but you've got to take your consolation where you can find it.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:03 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Record Maryland gas prices? Not yet, says AAA

Maryland gas prices continue to flirt with an all-time record, but pulled back a little Friday.

According to AAA, the statewide average price of a gallon of regular, which had reached $4.04 Thursday, retreated to $4.034 Friday. The record, set in June 2008, is $4.053.

Prices had steadily climbed since September until beginning to flutter just shy of $4 last week. Then came flooding on the Mississippi River, which helped drive prices up by about 6 cents.

So have prices hit their high-water mark and started receding? Or is the market pausing for breath before a new assault on the summit? AAA's prediction is that prices will remain volatile over the next few weeks before sinking to the $3.25-$3.75 range. But such a decline could be delayed if a new crisis breaks out anywhere from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico.

What seems almost inevitable is that after one of these spikes, $4 will become the new normal -- just as $3 gas did a few years ago. Who among us wouldn't welcome a sign saying $3.05 at our local gas station? Someday, unless there's a technological game-changer, we'll likely feel the same about $4.05.

But not yet.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

May 12, 2011

Toll expert: Increase is steep but overdue

A leading expert of toll facilities said the proposed increase outlined by the staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority Thursday are steep because they are making up for years in which the state's tolls lagged behind national trends.

Peter Samuel, editor of Frederick-based Toll Road News, said the Bay Bridge and commuter tolls are particularly "cheap." Samuel said the rates being proposed would take them to levels consistent with national trends. He noted that Maryland has gone almost a decade since increasing its base-rate tolls for passenger vehicles.

"I think it's been a long time coming. I don't think it's necessarily excessive," he said. "I personally think they should have bitten the bullet 2-3--4 years ago."

But Samuel said there's a cost to playing catch-up after years of shying away from increases.

"They're probably going to stir up quite a political hornet's nest with increases as big as this," he said. "Normally (toll agencies) spread things out over s longer period than this. This is pretty sudden."

Samuel said it's entirely plausible that Maryland would need significant toll increases to keep up with its bond obligations for construction of the Intercounty Connector and other projects. The authority is currently bumping up against its statutory limit of carrying $3 billion in debt.

"It's just a matter of arithmetic," he said. "They have been taking on a lot of debt. The ICC is a very expensive road."

Samuel said a political "hue and cry" could prompt the authority to modify the staff proposal to some extent but he warned that an overt intervention by elected officials to block the increase could have serious consequences.

"They might have a financial crisis. They might have trouble with the bonds they've issued and they might have to suspend some of their capital programs," he said. "Some thing's got to give, and this is what's going."



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:47 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Senator blasts proposed toll increases

The Senate's leading critic of the toll authority, Republican E. J. Pipkin from the Upper Eastern Shore, denounced the proposed increases as "outrageous."

"It just shows how out of touch the O'Malley administration is with the average working family," Pipkin said. "Do you think the average family income in Maryland has gone up 300 percent?"

The staff of the authority outlined increases that would in some cases double tolls in October of this year and triple them from current levels in 2013. At the Bay Bridge, a particular interest of Pipkin's Eastern Shore constituents, the $2.50 toll that has been in place since the 1970s would go to $5 in October and $8 in 2013.

The authority has long been an independent entity that does not answer directly to the General Assembly and that can raise tolls without legislative review. Pipkin noted that he proposed legislation that would have curbed the authority's toll-raising powers but that it had been successfully opposed by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Pipkin said the proposed increases show why the authority's "independence should be questioned." He urged citizens to call the governor's office and the authority itself to protest the possible increases.

The senator suggested that much of the demand for money to pay bondholders comes from the costs of building the Intercounty Connector, a partially opened toll road in the Washington suburbs. The $2.6 billion highway was proposed as a toll road under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and continued in the same form by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Pipkin contended that users of the Bay Bridge and other facilities shouldn't have to pay more to cover the costs of that project. "If the ICC threw the finances out of whack, they ought to address it through the ICC," he said.

The ICC, conceived as a road where rates would vary by market demand and congestion levels, is not affected by the current set of increases. Authority officials said its rates had only recently been adopted and that when it fully opens late this year or early in 2012 the tolls would fall within the rate originally set.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

MDOT chief: Toll increases are unavoidable

Whether Marylanders like it or not, tolls have to go up, Maryland's transportation chief says.

Beverly Swaim-Staley, who in her role as secretary of Transportation chairs the Maryland Transportation Authority, said the package of $210 million in toll increases outlined yesterday for a committee of the authority's board is a regrettable necessity. She said the authority needs the increased revenue to pay bondholders and to keep up with the escalating costs of maintaining an aging system.

"They are at an age where they need major rehabilitation and we need to pay for that rehabilitation," Swaim-Staley said.

The secretary noted that both the Hatem and Nice bridges are 70 years old, while the two spans of the Bay Bridge opened in 1952 and 1973. The Harbor Tunnel is 55 years old, and the John F. Kennedy Highway opened in 1963.

Swaim-Staley also noted that most of Interstate 95 as it goes through the city -- a stretch of highway that the authority maintains -- is the equivalent of a long bridge because the roadway is elevated. The authority's current maintenance plans call for expensive rehabilitation projects along much of the roadway approaching the tunnels under the harbor.

The details of the toll package outlined by the authority's staff are not graven in stone. Swaim-Staley noted that the package will be the subject of nine public hearings starting in June, giving the board an opportunity to make adjustments in response to public concerns.


But Swaim-Staley said the overall size of the toll increase is relatively inflexible because of the consequences of failing to raise enough money to meet the system's obligations. She said a failure to act could result in a default, which would cost the authority its top-tier AA bond rating and escalate the cost of future borrowing.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:19 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Commuters would take hit under toll plan

Marylanders who use the state's toll facilities for commuting have been exempt from increases for more than two decades as other users have had to dig deeper into their pockets. But that would change under a plan suggested by the staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority at a meeting of the board's finance committee this morning.

The staff outline the following potential changes in commuter fares, which have remained the same since 1989:

Baltimore Harbor crossings (Key Bridge, Fort McHenry Tunnel and Harbor Tunnel): The commuter toll, now 40 cents, would go to 90 cents on Oct. 1 and $1.40 on July 1, 2013. These tolls are paid in both directions.

Bay Bridge: The current $1 commuter toll, charged to eastbound users only, would go to $1.50 in October and $2.80 in 2013.

Kennedy Highway (Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore). The current 80-cent commuter rate, charged northbound only, would go to $1.80 in October and $2.80 in 2013.

Hatem Bridge (U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River). The current decal system would be abolished and commuters who want discounts would have to use E-ZPass. The current $10 decal for a full year's use would be replaced by a $36 annual charge. Commuters would also have to buy a transponder and pay the monthly E-ZPass fee.

Nice Bridge (U.S. 301 over the Potomac in Southern Maryland): The current 60-cent commuter toll, collected in one direction, would go to $1.20 in October and $2.10 in 2013.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:56 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Proposal: Kennedy Highway to $6, then $8

The Maryland Transportation Authority staff has given the Finance Committee of the authority's board a proposal under which the $5 charge for the toll on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore) would go to $6 on Oct. 1 and $8 on July 1, 2013. The same increases would apply to the Hatem Bridge n U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:48 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Proposal: Harbor crossings to $3, then $4

The Maryland Transportation Authority staff has given the Finance Committee of the authority's board a proposal under which the $2 charge for a one-way crossing of the Key Bridge and the McHenry and Harbor tunnels would go to $3 on Oct. 1 and $4 on July 1, 2013.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:44 AM | | Comments (23)

Proposal: Bay Bridge toll would go to $5, then $8

The staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority has presented the board's Finance Committee with a plan to raise the tolls on the Bay Bridge from the current $2.50 for a crossing to $5 on Oct. 1 and $8 on July 1, 2013.

Tolls on the Bay Bridge have essentially been frozen since the 1970s.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:27 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Hatem Bridge commuters likely to pay more

Commuters on the Hatem Bridge on U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River will likely have to pay significantly more to use that route under a Maryland Transportation Authority staff recommendation that is supported by a consensus of the board's finance committee.

The plan would eliminate the current decal system, which lets subscribers buy a $10 decal that allows unlimited use of the facility for a year. Instead commuters would have to get an EZ-Pass at the cost of $25 and pay the $1.50 a monthly fee. Then they would be charged $36 a year for unlimited use of the bridge for a year.

All of this would have to go to the full board and to public hearings. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Toll increase proposal expected today

Marylanders can expect to learn the specifics of a proposed $70 million revenue-raising increase at the state's toll facilities this morning as the Finance Committee of the Maryland Transportation Authority's board meets to consider a plan drawn up by the agency's professional staff.

The increase is expected to be imposed later this year to meet the expectations of the authority's bondholders and to keep up with a lengthy list of maintenance projects for the aging system -- much of which was built 50 or more years ago.

Some sacred cows could be on the menu as the panel is likely to discuss raising tolls on the Bay Bridge and the cost of commuter plans -- items that have remained essentially frozen for decades as the cost of using other toll facilities has increased.


The Finance Committee will make a recommendation to the full board, which will make the eventual decision on whther to adopt the staff's plan in whole or in part. A decision is not expected today.

Before the board can implement any plan it must hear a series of public hearings to gather comments. But while the public is unlikely to be enthusiastic about the increases, it is more likely that the board would change details of the plan rather than the overall amount to be raised. General Assembly approval is not required.

Getting There will be reporting the details live from the meeting at Point Breeze in Southeast Baltimore as they become available.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:47 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

May 11, 2011

Gas price exceeds $4, but good news may be near

On a day when the average price of a gallon of gas passed $4 for the first time since 2008, AAA Mid-Atlantic says it has good news about fuel prices.

AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella said the group's oil  analysts believe that with Wednesday's 3-cent increase in the Maryland average to $4.005, the market is at or near its top. She said they expect a few weeks of volatility, followed by a significant decrease in prices at the pump.

Averella, who participated in a conference call with AAA analysts Wednesday, said AAA is unsure whether the decreases will come quickly enough to affect Memorial Day travel plans. But she said the group expects to see prices in the $3.25-$3.75 range -- and "maybe even lower" -- by July and August.

"We see prices reasonable enough that people will be taking trips," she said.

Averella noted that crude oil prices plunged 15 percent Friday to reach their lowest levels in two years -- even though they partially rebounded early this week. She said Maryland's 3-cent overnight increase, which followed several days of flatness or modest declines, may be related to flooding along the Mississippi River.

Averella said the Oil Price Information Service believes high prices have already reduced demand for gasoline by 3-5 percent -- more than in some other estimates. She said gas prices have already peaked and are on their way down in high-priced markets such as California.

The AAA spokeswoman said the national average lags Maryland's by about 5 cents and has yet to cross the $4 mark -- though prices in many metropolitan areas have been there for weeks.

The current Maryland average is just short of the $4.05 record set in June 2008.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:37 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

BWI sets March passenger record

BWI Marshall Airport recorded its busiest March ever as 1.9 million passengers passed through it -- a 3.3 percent increase from the same month of 2010, Gov. Martin O'Malley has announced.

The March figures brought the airport's 12-month rolling total to 22.3 million -- also a record -- according to airport officials. Th represents a 6 percent increase over the same period of 2009-2010.

BWI has set monthly passenger records in 10 of the past 11 months, according to the Maryland Aviation Administration. The March increase exceeds the global average of 2 percent, officials said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air travel

Statewide average gas price goes past $4

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Maryland broke the $4 mark today for the first time since 2008 and only the second time in history.

AAA reported that the statewide average jumped almost 3 cents -- from $3.977 to $4.005 -- overnight after a few days of modest declines.

The increase came despite signs last week that the run-up in gas prices since last September may be approaching a peak. Crude oil prices, the single biggest component in the cost of gas, took a tumble last week on world markets, but it can often take several weeks for such changes to appear at the pump.

By now, $4 gas is old news to many Marylanders who fuel up in more expensive zones of the Baltimore metropolitan area. But there are still many stations around the city that have so far held the line below the psychologically daunting $4 mark.

Wednesday's price is still a few cents below the $4.05 record sent in June 2008. A year ago, the average Maryland price was more than $1 less -- $2. 882.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:47 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Transportation funding panel waiting for September

A blue-ribbon commission now studying ways to raise new money to finance transportation projects in Maryland is unlikely to have much to add to its previous recommendations before September.

A meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding in Annapolis Tuesday produced nothing in the way of new decision-making. Members discussed the slim results of this year's legislative session and heard a briefing on a statewide development plan being drafted by the O'Malley administration but signaled that any new recommendations to the General Assembly would wait until fall.

The panel recommended during this year's legislative session that legislators take steps to raise the state's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax and insulate the Transportation Trust Fund from future "raids" to balance the general fund budget. With gas prices soaring during the session, legislators shied away from any increase in the gas tax, which has remained level since 1992, but provided a modest amount of new money in the form of fee increases. The Assembly also adopted some mild safeguards against future diversions of transportation money -- though nothing that couldn't be undone by a majority vote in both Houses.

The main decision facing the panel now is whether to recommend to the O'Malley administration whether to push the issue of transportation funding in a special session of the Assembly this fall or to wait for the next annual session next January.


That decision could hinge on the price of gasoline as fall approaches. On Wednesday the average price of regular gasoline in Maryland edged past $4 for the first time since 2008, but there have been recent signs that the market may be nearing a peak.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has signaled he is ready to take on the issue, urging Gov. Martin O'Malley to take up the transportation issue as part of the special session that must be called to deal with redistricting.

Democratic Sen. Rob Garagiola, a commission member from Montgomery County, said he believes the gas tax must be increased to deal with the state's growing backlog of transportation needs. But he conceded that it's a hard sell when prices are at peak levels.

"The reality is that it makes it more difficult when your constituents are clamoring about the high price of gas," he said. "If gas is high, it'll make it more challenging to get the votes."

For the state, the dilemma is that high gas prices don't just make it more difficult to raise new revenue. When prices are high, consumers tend to cut back on driving and use less fuel -- cutting into collections.

In 2007, O'Malley proposed an indexing scheme that would have automatically increased the gas tax when the cost of road construction increased, but the Assembly rejected the idea.

In addition to taxation, the commission is expected to make recommendations on other financing options including public-private partnerships and methods of "capturing" a portion of the value added for developers when a transportation project is completed. However, those matters could involve complex legislation, and some legislators who are members of the commission warned against bringing complex proposals into a relatively short special session.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

May 10, 2011

Bill to use cameras to enforce school bus law OKd

Gov. Martin O'Malley has signed a bill Tuesday  that will permit local jurisdictions to install cameras on school buses to enforce the law against passing those vehicles when they stop to pick up or drop off children.

 The bill, proposed by Frederick County Republican Sen. David Brinkley, would allow a fine of up to $250 for violations detected by the cameras. Because the cameras identify the car, and not the driver, the law does not impose points for such violations.

Thw General Assembly passed the law after local and state school officials conducted a study showing thousands of violations each day of the law requiring drivers to stop for school buses with their flashing red lights on and stop sign extended.

School bus passing will be the third category of traffic law for which enforcement by cameras is permitted, State law currently allows their use to enforce laws to enforce law against red light running and speeding in school zones and work zones.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

O'Malley signs manslaughter bill

Despite misgivings from some of Maryland's state's attorneys, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill Tuesday that is intended to make it easier to impose serious penalties on drivers who kill people as a result of serious negligence.

The legislation, which had the backing of bicycle advocates and survivors of victims of vehicle crashes, fills what proponents called a gap between the traffic offense of negligent driving and felony vehicular homicide.

The new charge of manslaughter by criminally negligent homicide, carries a jail term of up to three years. Proponents said it has been almost impossible to win convictions of the felony manslaughter charge unless prosecutors could show the defendants had been driving drunk or engaging in a street race.

Proponents say the new charge could not be applied for ordinary driving mistakes that have fatal consequences but only for flagrant violations that lead to another's death.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

May 9, 2011

Maryland gets $22 million toward new Amtrak bridge

Maryland has been awarded $22 million in federal high-speed rail money for engineering and environmental work to replace the century-old Susquehanna River Bridge on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

The money directed to Maryland comes from the $2 billion rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott for a high-speed rail project in that state. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the current Susquehanna bridge causes frequent delays because of the frequent need for critical maintenance work.

The $22 million is part of the $795 million redirected to the Northeast Corridor to increase the speed of travel on the line from Washington to Boston.

Some of the other projects on Maryland's wish list did not make the cut. After Scott ended his state's participation in the proposed high-speed line from Tampa to Orlando, Maryland applied for $450 million in federal grants toward projects including replacement of bridges over the Bush and Gunpowder rivers, a new station at BWI Marshall Airport and replacement of the B&P Tunnel leading into Baltimore's Penn Station.

In addition to the money Maryland will receive, the Federal Railroad Administration announced it would direct $450 million to Amtrak itself for improvements to the power, signal and track systems on the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak said that money would be used to improve a heavily used section of the corridor between Morrisville, Pa., and New Brunswick, N.J., as well as to overhaul track switches at New York's Penn Station.

Amtrak said the track, signal and power line improvements will let it increase the maximum speed of its Acela trains along the 24-mile segment of the corridor from Morrisville, across the Delaware River from Trenton, N.J.,  to New Brunswick, from 135 mph to 160 mph.  The railroad said the project is part of a plan to add six New- York-Washington Acela round-trip trains to its schedule by 2018 and 15 by 2022.

In addition to Maryland, Rhode Island and New York were awarded money for improvements to the corridor. New York was allocated $295 million for a track project to alleviate delays in Manhattan, while Rhode island will receive $28 million for track and station improvements.

Other projects receiving large grants from the money Florida spurned were a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco and improvements to the corridor between Chicago and St. Louis.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:52 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

May 6, 2011

City clarifies stance on Fells Point lights

After a city official said Monday that changes had been made to the traffic signals in Fells Point to restore the automatic "walk" signs at several intersections, neighborhood residents quickly rose it to say it wasn't so.

It turns out they were right. And some thought they had been deceived.

"If the city has decided against a response to the community's concerns, they can at least provide a condescending, 'we studied the issue and decided to not change the timing' response as opposed to -- I'm sorry to be so blunt -- a lie," one resident wrote.

But Jamie Kendrick, the city's deputy transportation director, has an explanation: He misspoke.

Kendrick said the city did make a quick change to the signals after Fells Pointers complained last week that changes to the pedestrian signals at several intersections had made crossing more hazardous for pedestrians. After a trip to Fells Point and a tour, Kendrick agreed to make changes almost immediately.

But the  immediate changes did not include a restoration of automatic walk signals at each corner, as Kendrick had mistakenly indicated. He said that what he should have said -- and what the city had promised -- was that it would restore the automatic "all red" second during which vehicle traffic is halted in all directions. That, he said, was accomplished last Monday.

The automatic walk signals will come back too, he said, but not as quickly and only after study of the individual intersections. He explained that the city might want to program some so that the signals are automatic only at certain busy times of day.

"Four in the morning? Should we have automatic walk when there are no pedestrians," Kendrick said. (Actually, he originally said 2 a.m. but amended that after it was pointed out that 2 a.m. is when the  bars let out in tavern-intensive Fells Point.)

One change residents requested but that the city rejected was the removal of the push buttons that control some signals. Kendrick said the city thinks that's going too far. For one thing, he said, the buttons can give some pedestrians a quicker walk signal than they would otherwise have. And even if it doesn't, it doesn't cost them time, he said.

Kendrick said keeping the buttons is also a matter of following the rules.

"The State Highway Administration (which provides most of our funding for these projects) now requires an Accessible Pedestrian Signal to be placed at each signal that is rehabilitated or reconstructed.  This is consistent with the requirements of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.  We must comply with this requirement," Kendrick wrote.

According to Kendrick, the city transportation department in many cases is receiving requests from neighborhoods to install such buttons.

"We are willing to work with the group to identify time of day, day of week and time of year restrictions, but it is not in the best interest of the City to remove the push buttons altogether," he said.

The intersections that have gone to the all-red period are:  Eastern Avenue and Wolfe, Ann and  Washington streets; Fleet Street and Wolfe, Ann, Washington, and Gough and Wolfe streets.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Happy 200th to the National Road

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pointing out that this weekend marks the 200th anniversary of what could be called the United States' first interstate highway: the National Road from Cumberland to what is now Wheeling, W.Va.

Construction of the road was authorized by Congress in 1806 but didn't begin until May 8, 1811 -- setting a precedent of road project delays that persists to this day. The highway would eventually be extended to Vandalia, Ill., much of it along the route of the current U.S. 40. 

History buffs will find plenty going in in Cumberland, including a parade, to mark the occasion.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

BWI passengers: Don't worry, it's a drill

Travelers going through Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Saturday may see a lot more emergency vehicles and people in uniform than they're used to, But don't worry: It's a drill.

Emergency personnel and airport officials will be conducting an exercise simulating the response to an event such as an air crash between about 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman, said such drills take place every three years under federal rules. He said the drill is not expected to delay flights or cause any other disruptions for travelers.

The exercise will involve state, local and federal agencies, including the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and local fire departments, Dean said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air travel

Camden Line riders mourn veteran conductor

Passengers on the Camden Line were saddened this week at the news that longtime conductor Eric Wolf died Tuesday morning of an apparent heart attack shortly after his train arrived at Washington's Union Station.

According to a statement issued by the Maryland Transit Administration, Wolf (right) had been an employee of CSX Transportation and its predecessor railroads for 38 of his 57 years.

Dave Johnson, chief customer communications officer for MARC, called Wolf "a consummate professional"

"Eric was more than a conductor--he was a jovial, humorous guy who made it a priority to make his passengers smile every day," Johnson said. (A longer version of Johnson's statement, with reaction from MARC riders, is available here.)



Elizabeth "Beth" Green, a Department of Homeland Security employee who rides the CSX-owned Camden Line, shared her memories of "a sweet, lovely man with a thick Baltimore accent who we all loved to hear over the intercom."

I have been riding the Camden line train from Camden Yards to Washington, D.C. for four years.  When I was a student interning in DC, I left my cell phone on the train.  Throughout the day, I kept receiving emails from all my friends.  My friends were all emailing to tell me that Eric the Train Conductor had my cell phone and that he was calling them, trying to connect with me. 

That evening I used my roommate’s cell phone to call my cell phone and Eric answered.  We arranged to meet at Union Station the next morning, and he gave me my cell phone.  As a poor student, I was so relieved that I wouldn't have to purchase a new one.  And Eric, in his usual humble way, waved away my torrents of thank-you’s and explained to me that “It was nothing.”

Eric was truly a fixture on the Camden line.  He was dependably there, wearing his safety glasses and his conductor’s cap.  One of my favorite things about Eric was his thick Baltimore accent – something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days.  He would announce on the microphone “Now Arriveeng – Bawdeemoore Camden Station – now arriveeng!”

I am absolutely devastated that Eric has left us so quickly and too soon.  I cannot imagine the pain you must be feeling.  Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.  I know that Eric was an angel during his life and I am sure that in this regard, nothing has changed.

Camden Line riders can email their memories of Wolf to:


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:25 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train

Could this be the crest of the gas price wave?

Could it be that gas price flood waters are about to recede?

After months of steady increases, the average price of a gallon of regular dipped slightly Friday, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

We're not talking about anything dramatic here, but that price dropped four-tenths of a cent between Thursday and Friday -- going from $3.986 to $3.982. By itself that wouldn't mean much, but crude oil prices have been declining this week after last week's killing of Osama bin Laden. And on Thursday the price of crude -- the biggest factor in gas prices -- took a tumble of nearly 10 percent.

If this does prove to be a market top, prices would fall short of the 2008 Maryland record of $4.05. Stay tuned. The next week could tell whether travel will be constrained by gas prices or freed up by an otherwise expanding economy. 


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

May 5, 2011

Porcari to tour Mondawmin center

Former Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari will make a homecoming of sorts in his role as deputy U.S. secretary of transportation when he tours the Maryland Transit Administration's Mondawmin center to highlight the MTA's use of hybrid buses.

Porcari will ostensibly be making a tour to see some of the hybrid buses Maryland has added to its fleet as part of its conversion from old-fashioned diesel technology. But it's hardly like Porcari's never seen a hybrid bus before -- having headed the Maryland transportation department at a time when the O'Malley administration committed heavily to the technology.

Porcari's trip will coincide with a visit by President Obama to an Allison Transmission plant in Indiana, where he is expected to tout the hybrid technology as part of a strategy to lessen American dependence on foreign oil.

According to the MTA, Maryland has invested in the purchase of 181 buses that use the Allison hybrid technology.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

Neighbors seek closing of Kirk Avenue Bus Yard

Residents of Baltimore's Greenmount West community plan to hold a protest Thursday night to call for the closing of the Maryland Transit Administration's bus yard on Kirk Avenue, arguing that it generates noise and air pollution that hurt the neighborhood.

The protest comes as the MTA holds a community meeting at Cecil Elementary School  to outline its plans for improvements at the Kirk Avenue yard. Resident5s complain that buses idle continuously at the yard, that loudspeakers blare through the night and that diesel fuel runoff from buses gets into their yards.

Resident could face a long struggle. Even if the MTA were to decide it wanted a new yard, it might take years for it to rise to the top of the state's transportation priority list. The state would presumably also have to find land in a place where community opposition wouldn't be just as fierce.

That's a tall order.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MTA bus system

Arundel police to publicize 'move over' law

The Anne Arundel County police will conduct a campaign over the next several months to inform drivers about Maryland's "move over" law -- adopted in 2010 to protect officers and first responders by the side of the road.

Police in the county will conduct special enforcement details on busy highways -- including Interstate 97, Route 2 and Route 10, to educate motorists about the law, which passed the General Assembly without a great deal of fanfare in the spring of 2010.

The law, which mirrors those in many other states, require drivers to move over to an open lane farther from the site of a traffic stop if possible. A driver who can't make a lane shift is required to slow to a "reasonable and prudent" speed while passing flashing lights at the scene of a traffic stop or roadside emergency.

Anne Arundel police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said the primary purpose is educational.

"It just seems like a lot of people are unaware of it," he said.

As part of the operation, officers will issue warnings and pass out brochures informing drivers about the law's requirements. However, Mulcahy said, they are not ruling out writing tickets for violations.

The law is intended to make sure drivers keep a safe distance from first responders working alongside the road. According to county Police Chief James Teare Sr., law enforcement officers in the United States are killed every year in crashes during traffic stops.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:25 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

Rules of road for bicyclists proposed

Generally, this blog shies away from presenting "tips" from commercial interests. They often tend to be more self-serving than useful. But this list, from Genesis Bikes, seems useful, timely and well worth sharing -- especially in view of the impressive amount of unsafe bicycling observed in Maryland.

Warning: There may be some snarky comments inserted by the blog's editor, for which Genesis is not to blame.

We’re not going to pedal around the subject.  Bicycle safety equipment protects a rider, but unfortunately – no amount of gear can adequately prevent a dangerous accident.  The best way to avoid injuries while commuting on a bike is to steer those handlebars defensively.

Genesis – a top-selling line of bicycles, featuring high-quality designs, performance, and safety components at affordable prices – offers these Ten Rules of the Road to keep bike riders safe:

1. Always wear a helmet.

COMMENT: This is a no-brainer in a quasi-literal sense of the term. There is no such thing as a safe bicyclist without a helmet. Any bicyclist I see on the road without one immediately puts me on the same idiot alert that goes off when I see a tailgater. No, wearing a helmet while bicycling is not the law -- but it should be.


2. Obey traffic signs and signals.

COMMENT: That's the law. In my view common sense should allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs once they've slowed to watch for oncoming traffic. (Unlike drivers, bicyclists lose momentum with each stop that has to be recovered through muscle power. They also can stop quicker.) With stoplights, common sense calls for a full stop in all cases. Bicycles taking off a little early, once the traffic in both crossing directions has cleared completely, might be beneficial for both motorists and bicyclists, though I doubt most drivers will be rational on that point. 

3. Visibility:  Wear Light or bright-colored clothing.  Make sure you have a clear front reflector, a red rear reflector that’s visible from 100-600-feet, wheel-mounted side reflectors, reflector pedals, and a front light that’s visible for at least 500-feet if you plan to ride at night.

COMMENT: This is such an important and frequently violated rule. There are few things scarier for a driver than coming up upon a bicyclist dressed entirely in dark clothes at dusk along a road that compels lane-sharing. I'd empower the cops to impound bicycles that are being ridden after dark without reflectors until proper equipment is installed.

4. Install a horn or bell that can be heard up to 100-feet.

COMMENT: Any bicyclist who relies on horns or bells for safety from motor vehicles is delusional. Far too many drivers have the radio blaring and/or a cell phone glued to their ears. But horns and bells are essential for bicyclists sharing trails with pedestrians.

5. Ride in the right-most lane that goes with the direction or flow of traffic.  Do not ride on the sidewalk.  Be sure to allow yourself room to maneuver around roadway hazards.

6. Signal your moves. 
• Right Turn:  Raise your left arm horizontally with your elbow bent 90 degrees vertically.
• Left Turn:  Raise your left arm horizontally with your elbow fully extended.
• Stop or Sudden Decrease in Speed:  Extend your left arm at a 45-degree angle with the palm of your hand facing rearward.

7. Avoid Getting Doored:  Be on the lookout for passengers exiting cars.  Avoid the right side of any stopped car, especially if it’s near the curb.  Never swerve between parked cars and ride at least three feet from parked cars. 

COMMENT: The best advice in this list. Bicyclists need to take responsibility for avoiding getting doored because most drivers simply will never change. It's bicyclists who have more to lose in these accidents.

8. Re-think music players.  It’s more important to hear what’s going around you when you’re biking than when you’re driving a car.  Avoid wearing ear plugs or ear phones in both ears.

COMMENT: Don't just re-think. Don't use them.

9. Put the mobile phone on hold.  When you’re mixing with car traffic, the fewer distractions the better.  Texting or talking on a cell phone increases your risk of an accident.  You’ll want both hands free in case you have to suddenly brake. 

COMMENT: It's hard to believe this advice is necessary, but it is.

10. Avoid busy streets.  One of the biggest mistakes people make when they start bicycling is taking the exact same routes they used while driving.  Take advantage of bike paths that allow you to cross busy streets rather than travel on them.

COMMENT: Good advice, but drivers are reminded that it's up to bicyclists to make the judgment whether a busy but legal street is the better route. For example, I can't blame someone who uses busy St. Paul St. rather than less-busy Guilford Avenue if in their judgment Guilford is unsafe at certain hours. Just so the bicyclist doesn't choose to use Calvert or Charles in the wrong direction.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:34 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Bicycles

May 4, 2011

Water main break to tie up Towson traffic

This just in from the State Highway Administration:

There is a water main break along Southbound York Road (MD 45) at Fairmount Avenue in Towson. Traffic is using the Northbound lanes. Lanes will likely be closed through the morning rush hour.

Charlie Gischlar

SHA Communications

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Did MTA update its MARC phone line?

Jason Ewell, manager of program services at the National Federation of the Blind, has discovered a glitch in the Maryland Transit Administration's phone service listings for MARC trains. It appears the MTA might not have updated its information when it changed its schedule on the Penn Line earlier this year.

Here's Ewell's account:

Just letting you know that nearly two months after the change in the MARC train schedule, the MTA telephone system has still not been updated. The light rail schedule also does not work properly and hasn't for many months. Is there any way you could ask MTA officials why they can't make these simple fixes to their system? I have complained several times to the MTA call center employees, but of course all they can do is pass the complaints along.


For the MARC trains, Ewell said, the MTA is handing out incorrect information:

I am checking the schedule for the Penn Line, from Penn Station to Union Station. It is supposed to list the times for the next three trains. Currently, it lists a time which it says is the next train, then it repeats that time, then it gives a different time as the third listing. You can then choose to repeat those times, or list the subsequent three times. If you choose the latter, it again will list the next new time and then repeat it. The third time listed is a different time. I am not certain, but it appears to me as though it is pulling the data from the old schedule. It is definitely not using the current schedule. The 5:20 p.m. departure from Penn Station, which arrives at Union Station at 6:05 p.m. is not listed, for example. To me, the biggest problem here is that this phone system issue happens every time MTA changes the MARC schedule.
The light rail schedule is another matter. After you enter the stops, it says "for the next three departure times, press 1." When you do this, it then transfers you to the operator instead of listing the times as the system is supposed to do.

Getting There confirmed that there appears to be a problem with Penn Line information. The information dispensed by phone doesn't match that on the schedule published on its web site.

On the light rail. Getting There tried calling 410-539-5000 but was unable to replicate Ewell's bad experience. It seemed to work fine when I asked for the next three trains.

Of course, Ewell has good reason to be concerned. His students are much more dependent on getting accurate information by phone than most of us. That's why he should have received prompt action when he complained, and that's why we'll be raising the issue with the MTA.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail, MARC train, MTA

MTA plans open houses on Red Line station designs

The Maryland Transit Administration will hold a series of open houses this month for local residents to share their views about proposed designs for the 20 light rail stations planned for the east-west Red Line.

The MTA will begin holding the four sessions Saturday with a meeting at Edmondson High School. Others will take place of the 11th, 14th and 17th of this month.

At the open houses, members of the Red Line Station Area Advisory Committee will display the results of their work over the past six months. According to the MTA, 250 community "stakeholders" have been participating in discussions aimed at planning locations, designs, access, development implications and other matters relating to stations along the planned 14-mile light rail line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

The MTA said the advisory committees are a part of its public involvement program for the proposed $1.8 billion transit line, for which the agency plans to seek federal financing to match an expected 50 percent state share. According to the MTA, if the project goes smoothly, construction could start in 2016.

Each of the meetings will focus on several of the stations planned for stops near the meeting sites.

The MTA released the following schedule, along with information on which stations will be discussed and how to get to the meeting sites by bus:

Saturday, May 7, 2011
9:00 a.m. – 12 noon
Edmondson High School (Cafeteria)
501 Athol Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21229
Stations: Edmondson Village, Allendale, Rosemont, West Baltimore MARC, Harlem Park, Poppleton
Accessible by bus routes #20, 23, 40

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Woodlawn High School (Cafeteria)
1801 Woodlawn Drive
Baltimore, MD 21207
Stations: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Security Square Mall, Social Security Administration, I-70 Park-and-Ride
Accessible by bus routes #15, 44, 57, 77

Saturday, May 14, 2011
9:00 a.m. – 12 noon
Hampstead Hill Academy (Cafeteria)
500 S. Linwood Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21224
Stations: Canton, Canton Crossing, Highlandtown/Greektown, Bayview MARC, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Campus Accessible by bus lines #7, 10, 13

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

 University of Maryland, Baltimore SMC Campus Center, Ballrooms A & B

621 W. Lombard Street Baltimore, MD 21201

 Stations: Howard Street/University Center, Charles Center, Government Center/Inner Harbor, Inner Harbor East, Fells Point

Accessible by bus routes #1, 7, 10, 20, 27, 30, 35, 36, 48 By Light Rail: University Center/Baltimore Street station By Metro: Lexington Market station By Charm City Circulator: Orange


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Red Line

Price of gas on Russell Street exceeds $4.05

The statewide average price of a gallon of regular gas is still a hair under $4 at $3.981, up nine-10ths of a cent since Tuesday, but coming into Baltimore on Russell Street, the quad mark was in the rear view mirror. All of the gas stations I sawhad the price at $4.059. That would be a fraction above the old statewide record average of $4.053 set in 2008, according to AAA.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:22 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

May 3, 2011

Conway Street congestion expected to get worse

The already congested commute through Baltimore's Conway Street bottleneck is expected to become even more constricted for the next five to six weeks as the city ramps up a series of closings for utility and repaving work.

Conway Street, a well-traveled link between Interstate 95 and Light Street, has been the site of lane closings for weeks as the city prepares for the downtown Grand Prix race scheduled for September and as BGE works to seal gas leaks from underground utility lines.

As of Monday at 6 a.m., if weather permits, the closings are expected to become ever more disruptive, and city transportation officials are urging motorists to avoid Conway and use alternate routes into and out of downtown.



The closing will affect traffic movements on Conway, Light and Charles streets.

On eastbound Conway, morning commuters could face significant backups because traffic that normally flows onto northbound Light will be detoured onto Charles. One of the three eastbound lanes will remain open between Charles and Light for traffic turning right onto southbound Light.

Commuters leaving town in the evening could face similar congestion because only one lane of westbound Conway will be open, with access from southbound Light only.

Though all lanes of northbound Light will be open, left turns onto Conway will be prohibited. On southbound Light, two lanes of through traffic will remain open, but only one right turn lane onto westbound Conway will be open.

City officials say the closings will "severely impact the movement of traffic in the downtown area" and are urging commuters to use alternate routes.

For inbound traffic, they suggest continuing straight where Interstate 395 flows into Howard Street and using Baltimore Street to travel east. As an alternative, they suggest taking Martin Luther King Boulevard to Baltimore Street, Mulberry Street or Druid Hill Avenue/Centre Street.

For outbound drivers, the city is recommending taking Lombard Street to Howard Street, Greene Street or Martin Luther King. Other suggested routes are Fayette Street to Liberty and Sharp streets to westbound Conway, Fayette to Martin Luther King.


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

Pratt Street lane closings to shift

The lane closings now bedeviling motorists on Pratt Street are neither ending nor getting worse, but they are shifting side of the street.

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation says that if weather permits it expects to wrap up its work on the northern two lanes of the eastbound downtown street and to begin work on the southern lanes starting Monday if weather permits. The work, which will take place between Eutaw and Calvert streets,  is part of the infrastructure improvements being carries out in advance of the downtown Grand Prix race scheduled for September.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:26 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

City makes changes to Fells Point walking signals

The Baltimore Department of Transportation has made changes to the signals controlling pedestrian traffic in Fells Point after hearing complaints from local residents, a city official said Tuesday.

The city's actions comes a week after this blog reported that some Fells Pointers thought a previous round of changes made it more difficult to walk safely through the historic community.

Jamie Kendrick, the city's deputy transportation director, said Fells Point residents complained to the city last week that pedestrians were not getting walk signals unless they pushed buttons installed for that purpose. Kendrick said that in response to that perception, the city has reprogrammed signals so that they automatically flash periodic walk signals at several busy Fells Point intersections. He said the changes were made Monday after transportation officials and neighborhood residents visited some of the intersections last week to observe pedestrian movements.

"For us, that was lightning speed," Kendrick said. "We appreciate their concerns and we are doing our best to accommodate their desires."


Kendrick also said the city hopes to install signals that give a countdown of the remaining seconds to cross within the next 90 days. But he said the buttons, which some residents had wanted removed, will remain.

"We are going to meet them more than halfway," he said.

Kendrick said that in some cases, the buttons will allow a pedestrian to get a walk signal more quickly than if they wait for an automatic signal.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:32 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

Price of gas on a course to break $4 a gallon

If current trends continue, the average price of a gallon of gas in Maryland is poised to go over the $4 mark in the next week.

According to AAA, the Maryland average for a gallon of regular stands at $3.97 today, up from $3.89 a year ago. The all-time record was set in June 2008 at $4.05. A year ago the price stood at $2.87.

In the Washington suburbs, the average price broke the $4 mark overnight and now stands at $4.01. Baltimore's price slightly lags the statewide  average.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:42 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

City to close streets for Flower Mart

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation will close streets and restrict parking in the Mount Vernon neighborhood this weekend for the annual Flower Mart.

The closings will begin at 3 p.m. Tuesday to prepare for the event Friday and Saturday at the Washington Monument. Charles Street will be closed from Centre Street to Read Street until midnight Sunday morning. Madison Street and Mount Vernon Place will be closed between St. Paul and Cathedral streets during the same times.  

Parking restrictions will be in effect from 2 p.m. Thursday until 11 p.m. Saturday. The Flower Mart will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

May 2, 2011

Former train cleaner: MARC riders were slobs

A recent report that the Maryland Transit Administration had admonished MARC riders to drink responsibly while aboard the trains brought a question from Vincent Toni of Street in Harford County: Why are riders allowed to eat and drink aboard MARC anyway?

Toni comes to that issue from  a perspective that is seldom heard from -- that of the people who have to clean up the mess. The retired carman, whose job it was to clean MARC's passenger cars at the end of the day, said he still recalls the messes made by riders -- peanut shells, empty bottles, even soiled diapers. Why, he wondered, are MASRC riders allowed to eat and drink aboard the trains when riders of buses are not?

Interesting question.

Toni has yet another unflattering memory of the people he used to clean up after: "I'd put extra rolls of toilet paper there and they'd steal them."


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

Heavy Bay Bridge traffic expected this weekend

The Maryland Transportation Authority is warning motorists to expect heavy traffic at the Bay Bridge this weekend as a result of events planned on the Delmarva peninsula.

The authority said it expects high traffic volumes between Thursday and Sunday because of a combination of SpringFest in Ocean City, NASCAR races in Dover, Del., and other activities. The agency said the best times to travel will be Thursday before 2 p.m., Friday before noon and after 10 p.m., Saturday before 7 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. and Sunday between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

The authority said that if weather permits it would use two-way operations on the westbound bridge to alleviate congestion on the eastbound span.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

MTA says patrols may increase

The Maryland Transit Administration issued a carefully worded statement indicating that it has ratcheted up security after the announcement of the death of Osama bib Laden.

The MTA statement  said the agency's approach to security "remains comprehensive and multi-layered." He said passengers may see "some visible signs of changes and others not as visible."

"For example, there might be more uniformed patrols and more undercover patrols," the MTA state.

The agency encouraged members of the public to report anything unusual. It said the number to call with security information is 1-800-492-TIPS ( 1-800-492-8477).


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:25 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

BWI security 'heightened' but no delays expected

Security at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is at a heightened state after the U.S. military's killing of Osama bin Laden but travelers are not expected to face delays, an airport spokesman said Monday morning.

BWI remains "vigilant as always" after the announcement of bin Laden's death, said airport spokesman Jonathan Dean.

"There is a general level of heightened security awareness for airports across the nation," Dean said. He added that airport officials are working closely with federal authorities  on security measures.

"There is no indication of a specific threat here," Dean said. He said the security measures are not expected to create delays or have any other significant effect on travel through the airport.



Meanwhile, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said her department has no plans to issue a transportation security alert.

"I have been clear since announcing (the National Terrorism Advisory System) in January that we will only issue alerts when we have specific or credible information to convey to the American public," Napolitano said.

The Transportation Security Administration released a statement on its response to the killing of bin Laden:

TSA continually evaluates the latest threats and screening measures which are implemented based on the latest intelligence. As always, passengers may notice a variety of security measures at U.S. airports to include the use of explosives detection technology, physical bag checks, random gate screening, canine teams and behavior detection officers. We ask the traveling public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the authorities.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air travel
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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

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

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