Penn Station headaches Waiting and parking: New policies should help relieve unnecessary congestion.

November 23, 1996

PENNSYLVANIA STATION's new parking garage has not realized its promise. Parking was over-priced. Nearby street parking was eliminated to force commuters into the $12 spaces. Instead, many deserted the locale, driving to BWI or other commuter stops to catch the train.

The roadway in front of the station could have been reconstructed to accommodate more motorists who queue to meet passengers. Instead, their space was reduced in favor of a large plaza that may look good in a drawing but serves no function. "No Parking" and "No Stopping" signs were posted and ignored, leading to confusion and flouting of the law.

Now, under a policy announced by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke as his personal decision, the parking price has been brought down to a more competitive $8 for all day. Using a good idea borrowed from BWI Airport's parking garage, the first half-hour is free. Starting Monday, improper parkers and waiters will be ticketed, or so Amtrak police have been telling motorists.

The idea is to force those meeting passengers into the garage, where they will not pay providing they did not come too early or the train is not delayed. After a half-hour, they will pay $2.50. (For Amtrak trains originating north of New York or south of Washington, delays are the rule; MARC and Amtrak trains between D.C. and N.Y. are normally punctual.)

These policies should help lure commuters back to Penn Station. Even so, the driveway was badly designed, putting drive-through cars and garage-parkers in each other's way. As though the idea was to look good rather than to facilitate commuting between Baltimore and Washington which, increasingly, is part of Baltimore City's economy and purpose.

Redesign still under way at the west end of the station, blocking the former Charles Street access, looks more likely to cause than relieve congestion. In any case, the long years taken in building the garage and the St. Paul Street bridge has made use of the station more difficult.

The idea of a massive parking garage at the station was a good one, as is the light rail connection now being built. But somehow the purpose got lost in design and construction. Let's hope that the new policies make commuting easier. And if they don't, the city should wait less than the year this time to make these changes.

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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