Some MARCed time, but most travelers slid in

April 04, 1992|By Peter Jensen and Sandy Banisky | Peter Jensen and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers Staff writers John Rivera and Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.

Traffic? What traffic?

The gridlock that transportation officials feared would seize fans and commuters outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday never materialized.

Cars rolled smoothly. The light rail system some worried would be horrendously overcrowded handled its load. Caravans of buses ferried fans to the stadium gates right on time.

There was one snag: Two Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains suffered lengthy delays. Passengers on a MARC train from Washington's Union Station booed as they disembarked at 3:35, 50 minutes behind schedule.

Still, transportation officials were relieved and happy to see yesterday's trial run for Monday's Opening Day proceed so nicely.

"We think this is a good test," said Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation. "But it could be an entirely different picture Monday."

Transportation officials said about 7,000 cars came to the stadium yesterday. They expect 12,000 to 14,000 Monday. Traffic from the Washington area was lighter than they had predicted, perhaps because the Orioles play an exhibition game at RFK Stadium in Washington today.

Ms. Pyatt said officials were "really quite pleased" -- and a little surprised that midday traffic kept moving.

"We had been plugging all along through our public information campaign to come early -- apparently that's what they did -- and to park several blocks away -- and apparently that's what they did," Ms. Pyatt said.

Thomas Hicks, the State Highway Administration's deputy chief engineer for traffic, said I-895 Harbor Tunnel traffic picked up measurably during the game as interstate travelers opted to avoid downtown Baltimore.

After the game, all traffic cleared within an hour, Mr. Hicks said.

The only slowdown before the game was on inbound Russell Street from the Beltway, and traffic was directed toward I-395 instead.

"We sort of suspected things would be uneventful," Mr. Hicks said. "If there had been an accident or a breakdown, things might have been completely different."

The Mass Transit Administration estimated that 12,760 people, or 35 percent of Oriole Park at Camden Yards' customers, took public transportation to the game. That's nearly twice as many as traffic planners had expected and a prime reason for the lack of congestion downtown. At Memorial Stadium, only 5 percent to 10 percent of the fans used mass transit.

"The numbers are better than expected. The message got out," said Ronald J. Hartman, MTA administrator. "We're delighted."

As early as 11 a.m. -- four hours before the game's start -- fans were parking in stadium lots. Other visitors parked in garages and on streets several blocks away and walked to the ballpark, filling the streets with pedestrians.

The fans plotted their routes -- and their mode of transportation -- carefully.

On sleek bikes, Joe Chilcoat and Mike Spake wheeled through the crowd outside the Camden Street gate an hour before the first pitch.

They had driven into town from Catonsville ("It took 17 minutes," Mr. Chilcoat said) with the bicycles hooked to the back of the car. They then "parked at a secret place we will never divulge" and got on their bikes for the five-block trip from the secret location to the ballpark.

George and Michael Waricher, who drove from Carlisle, Pa., said they were outside the park within 90 minutes of leaving home. "I became a little frustrated when the first couple of parking garages we tried were full," George Waricher said. "But we found a place."

Joe Koletar of Germantown and Joe Szrom of Gaithersburg encountered no traffic on their way to the stadium and found parking nearby. "After the game, we're ready to hop on [Route] 40 and get out of Dodge," Mr. Koletar said.

Chris Ryan and Marcus Bronfman, who work in Washington, emerged from a car on Russell Street at 2:15 p.m. Their buddy the driver pulled away, alone, to search for parking. Where would he leave the car? "Who knows?" Mr. Bronfman said. "We gave him a compass."

Less-than-enthusiastic were 750 people who rode the MARC train from Union Station and 18 lonely souls who found themselves the only inhabitants of an 11-car MARC train from Brunswick in Western Maryland. Both trains arrived about 3:30 p.m., 25 minutes after the start of the game.

Both trains' locomotives suffered mechanical problems. The Washington train was further delayed when it waited at Union Station for late customers and missed signals in the yard, MTA spokeswoman Dianna Rosborough said.

"It was a real foul-up," said Mike Robinson of Hyattsville. "Baffling, exasperating. This does not portend well. They've alienated a thousand customers."

As people got off, booing and yelling, some chanted: "Don't take the train. Don't take the train."

MTA officials say that the difficulties were unusual and that they would discuss the matter with CSX Corp., which operates the MARC system. The lack of passengers on the Brunswick line could spell the end of MARC ballgame service there, Mr. Hartman said.

The most popular form of mass transit was the Metro, which handled 5,200 customers from the Northwest. Light rail moved 4,400 people, while park-and-ride buses carried 2,160 passengers.

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