Disabled man wins uphill battle


July 19, 1993

All Robert Copenhaver wants is to ride the light rail.

He's not seeking any favors. No freebies. Doesn't want to be treated differently from anyone else.

The Cockeysville resident is an Orioles fan. And the easiest way for him to get to a ballgame is to catch light rail at the Timonium station.

But Mr. Copenhaver is also disabled. He needs a wheelchair to get around.

And while it's easy to get on and off the light rail trains, he says, getting out of the station in Timonium is another matter. The steep ramp from the station to the parking lot is too difficult a climb for a 150-pound man in a 70-pound wheelchair.

Even with his wife pushing, Mr. Copenhaver can't scale the hill. He has to ask for help from other commuters, and that's embarrassing.

"It calls attention to your handicap, and it's something you want to avoid," Mr. Copenhaver says. "I've spent a lot of time and a lot of money to be independent, and I can't be independent on the ramp."

After learning of Mr. Copenhaver's struggles, Mass Transit Administration engineers surveyed the 90-foot-long ramp, a former trail from the parking lot to Timonium Fairgrounds that the MTA paved.

They determined that the ramp is not too steep, but it does lack "breaks" -- flat areas like landings on a stairway where people can rest -- every 30 feet as federal law requires.

The engineers recommended the path be rebuilt when the extension to Hunt Valley is developed next year. Not good enough, says MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr., who wants the job done now. The new ramp is under design, he tells us, and should be built later this fall at a cost of around $80,000.

"The first 30 feet of the ramp is OK, but we'll take out the remaining portion, put in a level area, and then extend the ramp," he says.

Intrepid is glad to hear that the Timonium station will be more accessible to the disabled and gives high marks to the generally accessible light rail system. But the best news is Mr. Agro's responsiveness.

Mark today on your calendars, fellow commuters, and we'll see if this trend continues.

Charles and Bellona revisited by author

This column has been appearing on Mondays in this newspaper for more than a year now, but Intrepid Commuter never fully appreciated the size and enthusiasm of its following until now.

Since our column appeared June 6th describing the problems with the traffic signal at Charles Street and Bellona Avenue near Greater Baltimore Medical Center, we have been inundated with calls and letters.

An outpouring of adulation? Kudos on our one-year anniversary? Offers of matrimony?

None of the above.

Our loyal readers have been pouncing on us for suggesting that retiree Ken Bitter turned left from Charles Street onto Bellona Avenue in order to get to the medical center. "You can't get there from there," was how one of our more gentle critics put it.

Well, you caught us. He makes the left to go home from the medical center, not drive toward it.

Incidentally, Mr. Bitter tells us he still has trouble making the left. On a recent evening, he counted 17 cars waiting to make the turn. "The problem ain't fixed," he says.

Running into red: a common lament

Intrepid Commuter hears a lot of complaints about traffic signal timing, but never tires of them.

First, they give us a great chance to beat on some bureaucracy. Secondly, we are always learning about the arcane world of signalization.

Consider the dissimilar plights of C. Gardner Mallonee II and Joanna Weigman.

Mrs. Weigman, a Northeast Baltimore resident, has a problem with the light at Moyer and Taylor avenues. The sequence, she says, has recently changed and gives too much time to traffic on Moyer.

"This causes backups on Taylor Avenue for eastbound traffic going toward Belair Road as far back as Harford Road," she says.

We checked this with James W. Causey, head of the city's traffic division. He assures us that the signal timing has not been altered; Taylor still gets priority.

Instead, he suspects traffic patterns in the area have changed and that is causing the backups. He promises to survey the intersection and adjust the signal if the traffic flow warrants.

Unfortunately, we can offer no such promise to Mr. Mallonee, FTC who commutes daily from Northern Parkway and Pimlico Road east to Essex Community College. He passes about 30 traffic signals on that commute and gets stuck at, oh, about 29.

The problem is the lights are not synchronized. There are two reasons for this. First, signals in the northern and outer reaches of the city are not tied together with the central computer system. The cost of doing so would be prohibitive.

Second is the fact that Mr. Mallonee is a reverse commuter. The majority of city traffic is inbound from the suburbs in the mornings and outbound in the evenings. It gets priority on signals.

"It's always a trade-off," Mr. Causey says. "You have to make priorities and the prime priority is to make it as convenient as possible for motorists to get into and out of Baltimore City."

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