Kindness of strangers One good turn: A couple aids a driver stuck in snow on light rail tracks, preventing a possible tragedy.

The Intrepid Commuter

January 22, 1996

Here's a tale that might have had a tragic ending if not for the efforts of two downtown workers forced to walk home from work after their car was buried in by the Blizzard of '96.

About 9 p.m. on Jan. 10 -- when the metropolitan area was blanketed by nearly 2 feet of snow -- the man and woman were nearing Bolton Hill when they saw a high-sitting, four-wheel drive vehicle turn from Mount Royal Avenue onto the southbound light rail tracks that run parallel to Dolphin Lane, a narrow one-block passageway.

The driver was talking on his cellular telephone and apparently unaware that he had missed Dolphin Lane and now straddled the train tracks, on which the light rail runs every 15 minutes.

"He did not even know he was on the tracks until I was at his car waving my hands," the woman said. "I was saying 'You're on the train tracks and the train is coming.'"

The vehicle got stuck on the tracks parallel to Howard Street between Park Avenue and Dolphin Lane.

The man ran to the Mount Royal station a couple of hundred yards from the stranded vehicle to call for help and stand on the platform of southbound tracks to alert the light rail driver of the problem.

Meanwhile, the woman talked the driver out of the vehicle, then ** ran to the light rail's Cultural Arts station to stand on the northbound tracks to warn trains there. She also called for help.

"We had seen a train about five minutes before, so we knew that 10 minutes later another would hit the station," she said.

She reached an operator at the MTA police, who said she would try to stop the trains. The MTA and city police were at the tracks within minutes.

A southbound train about six or seven minutes from the area was halted while the four-wheeler was removed, police said.

Sgt. David Marzola of the MTA police said four vehicles -- including an ambulance and a tractor trailer -- were reported stuck on the tracks in that area during blizzard week.

Because the light rail ran continuously during the blizzard, the tracks were never fully snow covered and were visible. Dolphin Lane had not been plowed.

A cruiser had been stationed on Dolphin Lane to prevent vehicles from errantly turning onto the tracks, the sergeant said. However, the couple said no cruiser was there at the time of the incident. A sign is posted on Mount Royal Avenue warning motorists of the rails.

Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman, said all calls that the MTA receives are taken seriously.

"If a citizen recognizes anything that happens on the system, we'll respond appropriately," Mr. Brown said. "We might radio the operator to be aware of some problem [on the tracks]. Calls can spark an immediate response."

The MTA kept going despite stormy weather

And while we are on the topic, a tip of the hat -- and perhaps a few new riders -- to the MTA, which struggled commendably in the blizzard. While many of us were content to leave our cars buried, the buses and trains plowed on.

Light rail never missed a beat during the blizzard, while the buses -- which were pulled from city and county streets Jan. 7 and remained off roads Jan. 8 -- resumed service Jan. 9. The Metro subway system operated on limited routes from Mondawmin Mall to Johns Hopkins Hospital until Jan. 11, then resumed full service.

Sign wins week's most-ignored status

The first sign on University Parkway warning the two lanes of traffic to merge at Calvert Street appears at the Charles Street intersection. A block later, at St. Paul Street, another is posted.

L But does anyone pay attention to either sign? Of course not.

That's why there is always confusion, near-collisions and side-swipings at the ever-exciting Calvert Street-University Parkway union. It's an intersection where we are proud for making it through undented.

And, are there more worthy winners of the Intrepid One's Favorite Ignored Traffic Sign Or Signal Award Of The Week?

The University Parkway signs were brought to our attention by Kaitlyn Garrison of Rodgers Forge, who travels the area regularly, especially on summer Saturdays when she visits the Waverly farmer's market.

"They give you plenty of notice to get into the lane, so why is it that people wait until just before or just after to merge?" she asks.

We perched ourselves at the intersection for an hour or so last week and watched as motorists regularly waited until they reached the traffic signal before they merged. Not a wise move, since they then had to rely on the kindness of other motorists to wedge into the left lane.

Before the signs were posted last year, traffic in the right lane would often race from St. Paul Street to get into the left lane of traffic. And if no one lets them, we've seen their cars screech behind the cars parked just beyond the intersection at Union Memorial Hospital.

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