Even rush hour doesn't produce dreaded gridlock


April 07, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer Staff writers William F. Zorzi Jr. and John Rivera contributed to this article.

They came by car. They came by train. They came by bus.

What they didn't come by was a serious traffic jam.

To all the naysayers who were convinced that Oriole Park at Camden Yards was going to cause downtown gridlock 81 times a year: Go back to worrying about Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.

"They told me it was going to be gridlock, and I said, 'No way, baby,' " said Thomas S. Lipka, a city traffic engineer. "We may have some tie-ups -- that can be handled -- but not gridlock."

The Orioles made things tougher by winning quickly. The game ended at 5:22 p.m., 40 minutes earlier than expected. As a result, departing fans confronted the tail end of Baltimore's rush-hour traffic, which generally lasts from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

President Bush contributed to the problem by staying late.

Russell Street was closed to traffic when the presidential motorcade left at 5:15 p.m. It was closed before the game shortly after 2 p.m., when the motorcade arrived from Carroll Park in Southwest Baltimore, which was used as a helicopter landing site.

Nevertheless, the first game of the season was supposed to be the worst for traffic. The combination of a sellout crowd, the unfamiliarity of a new stadium and the scarcity of daytime parking spaces downtown had authorities a bit worried.

But if that was the worst, breathe easy, Baltimore. It wasn't too bad.

Post-game traffic cleared up within an hour. Traffic before the game ran particularly smoothly.

"Piece of cake," said Anthony P. Wallnofer Jr., assistant chief of traffic for the city's transportation department. "People basically did what was suggested they do through the media blitz. Traffic was about what I expected."

Wallnofer credited changes in the timing of many downtown traffic lights as well as the use of police and transportation officers directing traffic at many downtown intersections for the lack of delay.

About 14,498 people -- or 30 percent of the crowd of 44,568 who attended the game -- took some form of mass transit. Just as at Friday's exhibition game, Metro was the most popular people-mover, with an estimated 6,267 customers.

The new light rail system also proved popular. Riders began showing up at the Timonium station at 10:30 a.m., 90 minutes before the first trolley was scheduled to leave the station, so Mass Transit Administration officials decided to begin service at 11 a.m.

Light rail reported 4,533 customers, or about 1 in 10 ballpark patrons. That meant standing room only in many trains. All of the system's parking lots were filled except for an overflow lot at Timonium Fairgrounds.

"It was a happy crowd. People didn't mind being crowded together," said James F. Buckley, MTA's assistant general manager. "My sense is that we're going to do even better in successive weeks."

Buckley said he is concerned that the 13-mile system may be close to reaching its capacity. He said the MTA will continue keeping buses in reserve before and after the games to make sure no one gets stranded.

Officials were particularly pleased that Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains ran on time. Last Friday, the trains from Brunswick and Union Station arrived a half-hour into the exhibition game.

Park and Ride buses moved 2,386 Orioles fans. Memorial Stadium was the most popular of the 12 Park and Ride lots, with 777 customers, followed by Baltimore-Washington International (473), Catonsville (405) and White Marsh (371).

The 50-cent shuttle buses that the MTA ran up and down Paca, Eutaw, Lombard and Pratt streets downtown did not get many riders, however, and will have to be re-evaluated, Buckley said.

Fans who parked in residential areas near the ballpark got a break during yesterday's game because their cars were still there. During most games, cars parked in those neighborhoods will be towed away. But no cars could be towed yesterday because of the wording of the street signs.

The Stadium Event Restricted Parking signs limit parking to one hour in posted areas, which include South Baltimore and Ridgely's Delight, from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Yesterday's game ended by 5:30 p.m., so the restricted parking never went into effect. Those who parked in Ridgely's Delight received tickets for parking without an area permit, but they did not have the shock of finding their cars missing after the game.

A city parking official confirmed the oversight.

"Only during the times that those signs are in effect could any enforcement action be taken," said Paul Davis, the city's parking administration manager. "So today isn't one of those."

C. Frederick Raynor, superintendent of abandoned vehicles for the city public works department, said city tow trucks did yank about 18 illegally parked vehicles off the street, far fewer than the 30 they averaged during games at Memorial Stadium.

"It's easy. I can't believe it. I keep waiting for something to happen, and it's not happening," Raynor said.

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