Future of path puts neighbors at odds One man crusades for train crossing

October 28, 1991|By Lynda Robinson

Almost every day, Jay Angle walks the three-quarters of a mile from his antique-filled house in Central Baltimore County to the Riderwood Post Office to pick up his mail.

The stroll, which takes him down a crumbling asphalt path known as Blackiston Road and across the old North Central railroad tracks that run behind the post office, has been a part of Mr. Angle's life for 26 years. He aims to keep it that way.

But the construction of the Maryland Central Light Rail system threatens to obliterate the path Mr. Angle uses to cross the tracks -- a prospect that has pitted the 61-year-old retiree against the Mass Transit Administration, community association leaders, elected officials and some of his neighbors.

"I'm just fighting for a right I believe I have," says Mr. Angle, whose thinning gray hair and mild-mannered face belie the intensity of his campaign to keep the crossing open. "I certainly admit I can drive or give up my post office box. I can certainly live without the access. It's the principle of the thing with me."

The battle over the crossing has churned plenty of stomachs in Riderwood, an affluent jumble of historic Victorians, suburban split-levels and modest ranchers.

Many of the neighbors were already worried that the light rail system would disturb the leafy tranquillity of their community hTC when the MTA outlined its plans for the pedestrian crossing at the post office at a February meeting. The news wasn't good.

A deep curve in the tracks just south of the post office and the position of the building next to the line would block the view of northbound train operators, MTA's engineers explained. To make the crossing safe, the MTA said it would have to install flashing lights and bells that would go off every time a northbound train approached.

The warning system would cost about $130,000 -- considerably more than the $8,000 to $10,000 for a crossing without it, estimates John von Briesen, MTA's light rail project manager.

Fred and Olivia Rasmussen, who live on Rider Avenue directly across the tracks from the post office, cringed at the idea of bells ringing every 7 1/2 minutes during light rail's peak hours of operation. They circulated a petition seeking to eliminate the crossing.

"It wasn't just us," says Mr. Rasmussen, a librarian at The Sun. "It was all the families through here. Everybody thought this would negatively impact the neighborhood."

Actually, not everyone.

Bill Heckner, who lives next door to the Rasmussens, says the crossing provides an important link in the community and should be retained.

He insists the crossing could be safe without an elaborate warning system. All the MTA would have to do is move the crossing a little farther north and slow down the trains, which will run between 35 and 45 mph as they approach the area, he says.

"There are compromises that can be made," Mr. Heckner says. "Let's make it safe, and let's make it palatable to everybody."

A meeting held by the MTA in May gave homeowners along the tracks the chance to decide the issue.

After heated debate, they voted 40-23 to eliminate the crossing.

The question seemed settled. But Mr. Angle, who was excluded from the meeting because his Burnley Road home is almost a mile from the tracks, would not accept the verdict.

"They've decided I'm wrong," Mr. Angle explains. "I'm wrong. I lose."

His battle to restore the crossing has grown more vociferous since May.

First, there was a petition to the MTA with more than 1,000 signatures, including several dozen homeowners who live along or near the tracks. By Mr. Angle's tally, the vote in the immediate neighborhood isn't 40-23 against the crossing. It's 112-30 in favor of the crossing.

Then, there were letters to MTA officials, community association leaders and politicians. Finally, there were threats of retaliation.

The Rasmussens, whose driveway runs adjacent to the privately owned path leading to the tracks, could find themselves unable to park their cars next to their home, Mr. Angle warned in one letter to them.

Mr. Angle serves on the board of directors of Emily's Path Corp., the group that owns the path. If the crossing is eliminated, the path owners could drive stakes into the path where it meets Rider Avenue, effectively denying the Rasmussens the use of their driveway, Mr. Angle said.

"He says he's going to take the MTA decision out on us," Mrs. Rasmussen said. "I think he's obsessed."

So does John Dahne, a friend of the Rasmussens and president of Mr. Angle's community association in the Village Green section of Riderwood. Mr. Angle wanted the Village Green Association to back his effort to restore the crossing.

When Mr. Dahne and the association's board of directors refused, Mr. Angle announced that he would run for president of the association to oust Mr. Dahne.

He also says he is considering running against the Baltimore County politician who has given him the least help with the crossing issue. State Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-10th, tops Mr. Angle's political hit list at the moment, he says.

But none of Mr. Angle's maneuvers has changed the MTA's position on the crossing.

Gilbert L. Moore, MTA's community relations officer, says the decision was made by the people who live along the tracks and would be most affected.

"Twice we've gone to the community, and twice they've said no," he says. "Those people right there are saying no. They're the ones who are going to be living with it."

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