Auto-matic pilot not the only route CAUTIOUS PLANNERS HOPE FANS JOIN MASS TRANSIT BANDWAGON

March 29, 1992|By PETER JENSEN | PETER JENSEN,STAFF WRITER

At Baltimore's newly built field of dreams, the lingering question is not whether people will come or not, it's how they'll get there.

After 38 years of commuting to Memorial Stadium, a neighborhood ballpark comfortably nestled in the middle of a grid of residential streets, baseball fans must head downtown where problems of traffic, parking and mass transit will be entirely new.

Gone are the days of backdoor routes and secret parking spaces that became as comfortable and familiar to the veteran fan as a well-oiled fielder's glove. Ahead is the era of Inner Harbor traffic, Interstate 95 and multilevel parking garages.

Is Baltimore about to confront terminal gridlock 81 times a year? Must fans leave their cars in upstate Pennsylvania to find an empty parking space? Will mass transit offer any salvation for the traffic-weary?

After several years of planning and preparation, the transportation experts have reached a consensus on these issues: They aren't really sure.

"I doubt seriously whether any community in the country has put as much work into making a new stadium work properly," said Robert T. Schaffner, the city's chief of parking management. "But it's difficult to know everything for certain."

For the most part, Schaffner and his fellow planners are keeping expectations low and warning fans in a $400,000 advertising campaign to scout advance routes. The only thing that's certain is that traffic will be heavy before and after games.

It was at Memorial Stadium. When 40,000 to 50,000 people travel to and from one place at approximately the same time, it has a tendency to do that.

But gridlock? Except in the immediate vicinity of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it should be comparable to rush-hour most nights, the experts say.

The worst will come early in the season as fans adjust to the new ballpark, finding convenient routes and accessible parking once they get there. The worst of the worst probably will be Opening Day -- D-Day in traffic circles -- when a sellout crowd coincides with regular daytime Inner Harbor traffic.

"The majority of my garages will be full April 6 even before the stadium traffic starts," said Bill Roberts, general manager of Edison Parking, which controls 10 downtown parking facilities. "We're expecting the worst."

Coinciding with the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the start-up of Baltimore's new Central Light Rail Line, the $446.3 million electric train system that eventually will cover 22.5 miles from Timonium to Glen Burnie.

A 13-mile segment from Timonium to Camden Yards will be open for limited game-day service beginning April 3. The system opens full time in mid-May.

An additional 3.2-mile section extending the light rail line south from Camden to Patapsco Avenue is expected to be added in July. The remaining link to Glen Burnie is not due to be ready until early 1993.

Few ballparks across the country are better served by public transportation than Camden Yards will be. In addition to the light rail, Baltimore's Metro subway line from Owings Mills and the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) train lines to Brunswick, Perryville and Washington's Union Station will offer service to the games.

The MTA operates 24 regular bus routes that come within walking distance of the ballpark, and some of the routes have been adjusted to bring fans to the stadium's doorstep. Special shuttle buses will be running east-west along Pratt and Lombard streets and north-south on Eutaw and and Paca streets downtown. A ride costs 50 cents, and they are free with a transfer.

In addition, a fleet of express buses will carry fans from 13 outlying park-and-ride lots, including four "Super" lots where buses run continuously before the game.

Coaxing Baltimore residents out of their cars may not be easy, however. Transportation officials expect 15 to 30 percent of the fans to travel to games by mass transit compared with the 5 to 10 percent who took the bus to Memorial Stadium.

"I'm hoping we can attract a lot of people to transit who normally don't use it," said Ronald J. Hartman, state Mass Transit Administrator. "But what will people actually do? That's what keeps me awake at night."

To help encourage the use of mass transit, the MTA is offering special family fare rates. Buy an "MTA Baseball Card" and any group of four can travel on all MTA buses, Metro and light rail. The cards cost $8 for trips inside the Beltway and on light rail, $14 outside the Beltway. Users also must display four Orioles tickets.

MARC also will offer special discount fares for groups of four and families of four, with the deepest discounts offered the far-flung travelers.

To keep traffic moving, 50 to 60 uniformed police and city traffic personnel will be stationed along downtown intersections, and rush-hour rules will be imposed before and after games, banning most metered parking on downtown streets.

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