THE winter newsletter from the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Improvement Association startled and delighted me. The lead headline announced: "Light Rail Station Opens March 1st." My exhilaration was based on three decades of hope for commuter service to my community, now finally and seemingly realized.
As a television and later newspaper editorial writer, I had campaigned since 1959 for restoration of rail service to Ruxton, Riderwood and the corridor of the old Northern Central Railroad. In 1960, I wrote a half-hour television documentary promoting this. Consequently, in 1989, when the Mass Transit Administration announced that light rail service would at last be inaugurated on the old right of way, Ron Hartman, then MTA administrator, jokingly said I ought to be given a lifetime pass in recognition of my long crusade.
The victory proved hollow. I live in Ruxton, and the improvement association here vetoed any station within its territory on grounds that it would -- well, I don't really know on what grounds. Unless I drive four miles south to the Falls Road light rail station or the same distance north to the one in Lutherville, I am enjoined by my "improvement" association from enjoying convenient public transportation.
That's why I was puzzled as well as heartened by the headline in the newsletter. On perusing the letter, however, I found no story based on the headline. Then, I got it. It's a joke, see? If you want to strike terror into the heart of certain Ruxtonians, tell them the light rail is coming. Doomsday!
But it's a joke in poor taste. Potentially, the lack of light rail service amounts to the tyranny of the majority, or, I suspect, of a vocal minority. There will, in time, be many people in my area whose quality of life will be severely curtailed by the improvement association's arrogant and inconsiderate position.
Crimping one's social life
You see, I am old. I enjoy good health except for one limitation: I am beginning to have trouble driving at night, especially if it is raining, and therefore avoid it whenever possible. But this small handicap should not mean I am barred from enjoying baseball games at Camden Yards, concerts at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall or musical events at the Lyric Opera House.
But that is exactly what it will mean in the future unless the improvement association recovers from its light rail phobia. Even now I take the light rail to Camden Yards or to the Meyerhoff, but I have to drive four miles first.
In 1959, when the Pennsylvania Railroad announced it was suspending commuter service on the Northern Central line -- the "Parkton Local" -- residents of Ruxton and Riderwood signed petitions to save the service -- to no avail.
Since then, there has been a sea change in the outlook of the children of those petitioners. Public transportation has become RTC not a welcome convenience but a service provided for the common herd, not for motorized suburbanites.
Indeed, the light rail's very existence has produced a neurotic kind of class warfare. Those who prefer to endure traffic hassles and pay exorbitant parking fees downtown are in command. For others, who would prefer a comfortable, relatively inexpensive ride on the train, that's too bad -- if they live in Ruxton or Riderwood.
Repeatedly, light rail opponents stress fear of crime as an argument against a station in the neighborhood. I am as afraid of crime as the next person, but where is the proof that the light rail fosters crime? Stories of shoplifting at Yorkridge Shopping Center, near the Lutherville station, are simultaneously matched by the same reports from Towson Town Center -- where there is no light rail. The typical thief's mode of transportation is the automobile, not public transportation.
A bitter pill
I live one block from the tracks and can see the trains go by from my front lawn. Each time, I am filled with bitter resentment that my neighbors -- or some of them -- are, as I grow older, impinging on my lifestyle as well as my cost of living. A no-parking station in Ruxton (with strict neighborhood parking regulations) would be a boon to scores of people like me.
Recently, a Ruxton couple, hearing that my wife and I were going to a recent Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert, asked whether we would give them a lift. Fine, we told them, we always drive to the Falls Road station and take the light rail to avoid the parking cost and the post-concert traffic jam.
Oh, they couldn't do that, they said. Why? we asked.
Their answer exposed the irrationality that underlies the problem: "Well, we just don't want to."
But that's not a reason to deprive those who do.
Gwinn Owens is a retired Evening Sun editorial writer.
Pub Date: 2/27/98