Last stop for cyclist on light rail

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

August 22, 1994

Bradley I. Schwind feels downgraded, or at least his bicycle does.

The city resident has been effectively kicked off the light rail system because his constant companion -- a Performance brand bike -- was branded a weekday undesirable by the Mass Transit Administration.

This is no small matter to Mr. Schwind, the owner of a computer repair firm in Hunt Valley. For the past 10 months, he has (willingly!) commuted to work by a combination of light rail and bicycle.

He used to ride to Cold Spring station, carry the bike on board, and then finish with the 3-mile jaunt from Timonium. Sometimes, he would bike the whole way, confident that he could always return on light rail if it rained.

"The MTA has banned bicycles from the Central Light Rail Line except for Saturdays and Sundays," Mr. Schwind writes. "As of the first of [August], my mode of transportation has been downgraded to recreational vehicle."

Mr. Schwind questions whether it's in the region's best interest to discourage people from biking, an environmentally friendly pursuit. He also wonders what further restrictions the MTA will put on ridership.

"Could baby strollers be next?" he asks.

Outraged that the MTA would: 1) Classify bicycles as recreational vehicles when we know full well they lack proper RV amenities like a refrigerator and toilet, and 2) Even think about refusing service to cute little baby vehicles, Intrepid Commuter gave them a call to find out what's what.

We confirmed Mr. Schwind's findings (except for the stroller part). Since Aug. 1, the MTA will only allow bikes on weekends and even then, not around the times of ballgames. Nobody under 16 may bring a bike without adult supervision.

MTA Deputy Administrator James F. Buckley says trains were becoming too crowded to permit bikes on weekdays.

"This is not bike rail, it's people rail," says Mr. Buckley. "The ever-increasing volume of passengers on our cars doesn't leave room for bicycles."

Bicycling and mass transit have long had an uneasy relationship. Light rail was the only transit system that has permitted bikes at all -- a much easier thing to do when the system averaged 5,000 passengers a day instead of the 20,000 it attracts now.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish for the agency to ignore the great opportunities to bike near light rail stations, including the B&A and BWI trails in Anne Arundel County and the Northern Central in Baltimore County. MTA officials say that's why they want to keep bikers on weekends.

The MTA has received few objections to the decision. If you want to voice a complaint, you can call the agency's customer service office at 333-2354 or write: MTA Customer Services, 300 W. Lexington St., Baltimore 21201.

Shedding light on the tunnels

Forget about light at the end of the tunnel, Stanley M. Kordela is more concerned with light at the beginning.

Mr. Kordela, an Eastpoint resident, used to commute to the Laurel area by way of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, but not any longer.

"What is with the lighting for the first few hundred feet when you enter southbound?" Mr. Kordela writes. "This is so pronounced to someone that has a slight vision problem that I've had to stop using this route.

"The northbound tunnel has better lighting and this can be used by me without trouble."

Intrepid Commuter was in the dark on this one, so we asked officials at the Maryland Transportation Authority to illuminate. The simple answer: All the McHenry tunnels have identical lighting.

But something was clearly going on here, so we took a quick course in Tunnel Lighting 101.

First, Mr. Kordela is on to something when he notices that the lighting for the "first few hundred feet" is different. To be precise, the first 475 feet of the tunnels are different: They have lighting designed to mimic sunlight.

This "threshold" lighting has four settings of varying intensities that change to match the outdoor light. The lights are a combination of orange-colored sodium and the whiter fluorescent light. Deeper inside the tunnel, you'll find just rows of fluorescent lights. It's all designed to aid your eyes in adjusting from sunlight to artificial light.

"We can only assume that when the gentleman is going southbound, the sunlight isn't as bright as when he's going northbound so the entrance may seem darker to him," says Lori A. Vidil, an MdTA spokeswoman.

Of course, it may be that Mr. Kordela has trouble with low-pressure sodium lights. Whatever the case, there's always the Key Bridge or the scenic tour of downtown Baltimore. Both have plenty of natural light.

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