Cutting-edge ads may trim bus costs

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

August 16, 1993

The bus sitting at Mike Hannan's Southwest Baltimore lot looks more like a billboard on wheels than a means of public transit.

An entire side of the Mass Transit Administration bus is covered by the image of a basketball player holding a ball in his hand. It's a dramatic sight, enough to swivel the heads and drop the jaws of passing motorists.

"You have to be taken aback when you look at that and not the regular kind of advertising," Mr. Hannan, superintendent of the MTA's Bush Division, says of the Rudo Sports ad. "It looks great."

The MTA was among the first transit agencies to offer bus-size advertisements when the first one -- part of the "Give Baltimore The Ball" campaign -- was created in spring 1992. The technique, called Contravision, has become quite common in cities across the country.

Instead of the normal 30-inch-by-44-inch posters, the ads are eight feet tall and 36 feet long -- about 30 times larger. The ads are so big they stretch across the windows of a bus, yet passengers rarely even notice them.

The effect is like a one-way mirror. You see them from the outside but not from the inside so they don't interfere with passengers or the driver. Up close, you can tell that the ads are a collection of tiny colored dots printed on a thin plastic film.

From the inside of a bus, the windows look like tinted glass.

Less obvious is the fact that the ads help pay for MTA bus service. Last year, the agency earned $915,000 on ad sales.

So far, only four buses have been equipped with Contravision, but if the advertisements sell well (at $1,100 a month to rent the space as opposed to the standard $180), the MTA could make significantly more money in the future.

The more money the MTA makes from ad sales, the less need to spend more tax money or raise fares in the future.

Forget city hall's high-powered experts and career bureaucrats, Intrepid Commuter's readers can claim credit for making a safer and more orderly Pratt Street this summer.

First, there was the purposeless traffic signal at Pier 6 -- removed last month by city workers at the suggestion of an Inner Harbor resident. Now comes Kathy Herman of Fells Point with a good idea for the nearby intersection of Pratt and President streets.

Mrs. Herman is concerned about eastbound traffic turning right on President from the third lane from the right. While the right two lanes of Pratt are marked clearly as right-turn only, motorists in the third lane are not given such explicit instructions.

The lane is supposed to be for cars headed straight only. But sometimes, Mrs. Herman says, people try to make the right turn on President.

"It's happened to me enough times," she says.

We contacted the Department of Public Works about installing a sign there. Lo and behold, they've promised to have the work done this week.

"There's potential for people to be confused," says Marsha Collins, the department's spokeswoman. "We'll be glad to make that clearer."

No word about whether Mrs. Herman, a homemaker, will be offered a spot in the traffic section.

Rampant plant growth: Beltway's vine mess?

Kudzu.

The name conjures images of the Deep South and that voracious vine that engulfs trees and power lines, squeezes out native plants and gobbles small pets whole. (OK, so maybe we're exaggerating about the pets, but it's really scary stuff).

The weed with the scientific name of Pueraria lobata was introduced to this country more than a century ago from Japan, )) and became prolific in the 1930s when it was introduced as a method of erosion control in the South.

In recent years, the broad-leafed vine, which can grow a foot a day, has worked its way north to Maryland. It recently came to the attention of Gretchen Cummings of Towson who fears it is choking trees along the Beltway.

"If something's not done, there's not going to be a whole lot of trees along the Beltway," Ms. Cummings says. "I guess I'm one of those people who feel the world is going to pot and I need to do more to save it."

Lest the vine take over Pikesville, we passed along her observations to officials at the State Highway Administration. They don't think there's a significant kudzu infestation, but admit they have periodically had to trim back kudzu vines.

"It's a never-ending battle," says Donald B. Cober, the SHA's chief land agronomist. "It's like a garden. You can't plant a garden and expect the weeds to take a vacation."

Actually, the SHA has been doing less about weeds in recent years. To save money and improve the environment, the agency's maintenance crews mow less often and are less likely to spray pesticides. Instead, they let areas lie fallow or grow wildflowers.

Still, the SHA spends a quarter-million dollars on weed-killing chemicals annually, often to ensure proper highway drainage, prevent erosion, or protect adjacent farmland. The fight is mainly directed at such noxious plants as Johnson Grass and thistle, as well as a second tier of troublesome weeds like poison ivy and goldenrod. The kudzu threat is less of a priority. Crews generally attack it only if someone has complained about the vines, Mr. Cober says.

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