Baltimore is demonstrating this summer that it is a big league town when it comes to mass transportation.
Just a few months ago, critics were telling us to expect gridlock in the downtown because of the new stadium. Locating Oriole Park at Camden Yards so close to the Inner Harbor and the business district spelled disaster, they claimed.
With some exceptions, those fears have been more or less forgotten.
Fans have been stunned by the convenience of the ballpark. For many, the trip to and from Memorial Stadium was never so easily navigated.
Looking over the results of the first half-season, transportation planners attribute a lot of that success to the fans.
They come early, stay late, park at a distance, take alternate routes, but most importantly, a great many of them ride public transit.
At Memorial Stadium, 5 percent to 10 percent of the fans came by mass transit. It's closer to 20 percent now at Camden Yards.
According to state estimates through June 30, an average 7,300 people come by bus, train, Metro and light rail each game. By far, the most popular -- with 3,100 of those fans -- is light rail.
"It's been as good as you can hope for," said David W. Chapin of the state transportation department.
"It's not been great for the parking garages, but I think Baltimore as a whole seems to be very pleased."
Baltimore is not known as a mass-transit town. While many people still ride the buses, the Metro is short and expensive; the commuter train system is underwhelming (no parking, unexplained delays, antique equipment); and the fledgling light rail line has yet to prove itself.
Worst of all, it's comparatively easy to drive a car into town and find a reasonably priced parking space. Three out of four suburbanites commute by car. Under those circumstances, some people figure, why step on board a bus?
The fact that fans are willing to take public transit to a game bodes well for the future. Maybe they'll try going to work by public transit, too.
While Intrepid Commuter practically bleeds unleaded gasoline, we look forward to a day when Baltimore isn't in the big leagues of air pollution.
The baseball fans may just be on to something here.
Sign of the times
Now a word about road signs, or should that be rhode signs?
Stephen M. Belkoff of Kingsville wants to know the correct way to spell the name of a road in northeast Baltimore County around Gunpowder Falls State Park. Is it Raphael Road or Raphel Road?
"After moving to the area, I thought my confusion was due to misunderstanding an obscure inflection in the local dialect," he writes. "Recently, however, I noticed that even the road signs are confused."
Turns out the road sign on northbound Route 7 announcing the road spells it Raphael. The street sign at the intersection spells it Raphel.
So, which is it?
We posed the question to Tom Hamer, deputy director of the Baltimore County Department of Public Works. The answer is. . .
"Maybe somebody didn't know how to spell it at the sign shop," says Mr. Hamer. "It happens sometimes."
Mary Anne Tom was on her way to work at a bank in Greenbelt one day last fall, driving south on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway when it suddenly got quiet.
That can happen when the engine conks out.
She had just passed the Dorsey Road exit. She was alone with no choice but to walk a mile to the nearest emergency phone.
Such a prospect can be frightening even in daylight hours, so you can imagine her relief when a car pulled over to help. Behind the wheel was a sympathetic woman -- a housewife in her mid-30s, Miss Tom recalls -- who offered a lift to the nearest gasoline station.
"From there I got a tow back to Baltimore," says Miss Tom, 26. "I wish I could thank her personally."
Such unsung heroes of the road deserve some attention. A lot of people like Miss Tom never get a chance to fully express their appreciation.
Intrepid Commuter asks that if you've had an encounter, please let us know about it.
Maybe you broke down on a lonely highway and a passer-by changed your tire or perhaps a stranger gave you cab fare home when you got caught in the rain at a bus stop.
We hope to put the best ones together as a kind of thank-you card to the Baltimore area's good Samaritans of the road.
Keep in touch
Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, Md. 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can contact you if we have any questions.
Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter extension 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.