Striving for harmony in traffic Nearness of concerts to first Ravens stadium game will crowd lots

August 06, 1998|By Gerard Shields and Alec Klein | Gerard Shields and Alec Klein,SUN STAFF

What do you get when you cross a Reba McEntire concert, Pier 6 jazz show and the first football game in Ravens stadium? Potential for the traffic and parking nightmare of a lifetime.

Baltimore officials say that without the help of patrons and fans, downtown could be twisted into a traffic pretzel Saturday night.

The numbers tell the tale. About 69,000 fans are expected to pack Ravens stadium at Camden Yards for the 7: 30 p.m. exhibition season opener when the Baltimore Ravens play the Chicago Bears. A little more than a half-mile away, another 11,000 people will be pouring into the Baltimore Arena to hear country singer Reba McEntire at 8 p.m.

At the other end of the Inner Harbor, jazz performer Pete Fountain is to play for an expected 1,000 to 4,000.

In all, more than 16,000 cars will jockey for coveted parking spaces.

It could be worse, but the Orioles will be on a road trip.

"We are optimistic," said engineering consultant David Wallace, leader of the Maryland Stadium Authority's Transportation Task Force, which has overseen traffic issues involving the area around the stadiums since 1986. "I think the fans hold the key to this."

City officials' concerns were heightened by a practice run July 30 at the stadium that turned into chaos. Scores of the 36,000 ticket holders worsened the situation by driving around the stadium in search of parking lots that accept cash. None does.

Permit-only lots for those with season tickets surround the stadium. The problem was particularly acute at the Ravens' Lot H because drivers confused it with Lot H at nearby Oriole Park, which is a cash lot.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and Public Works Director George G. Balog joined Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday in explaining how the city plans to handle the traffic.

Since July 30, the city has put up signs to direct drivers to lots near the stadium. The Ravens are hurrying to finish the team's lots. By game time, all but one lot -- J, for charter buses only -- will be complete.

Police are warning motorists to stay out of adjacent neighborhoods, which require residential stickers for parking. Parking enforcement officers, tickets in hand, will be out in force.

To direct traffic, 59 police officers and public works traffic enforcement officers will be stationed around the stadium. Ten more police officers will patrol to deal with traffic from the concerts.

Ten solar-powered message boards on Interstate 83, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and U.S. 40 will tell travelers where to park and provide updates on traffic conditions.

"We have the right problem," Frazier said. "We have a vibrant downtown and having more than one event going on isn't a panic attack, it's a planning attack."

Frazier said he urged friends to carpool to the game. City officials pointed out that mass transit will be operating, as will Park-and-Ride lots from White Marsh, Owings Mills, Carney, Glen Burnie, Essex, Southwest Baltimore County and Anne Arundel Community College. Round-trip Park-and-Ride tickets cost $6.

The city estimates that 57 percent of downtown visitors Saturday night will arrive by car. An estimated 70 percent of traffic will flow off Interstates 95 and 395.

For traffic to move smoothly, the Ravens need 23,000 people to arrive by foot, charter bus, Park-and-Ride buses or light rail. That compares with about 9,000 required for Orioles games and 16,000 when the Ravens played at Memorial Stadium.

"I wouldn't call it a problem, I would call it a challenge," said Dianna D. Rosborough, deputy administrator of the Mass Transit Administration.

The only parking lots surrounding Ravens stadium not reserved for season-ticket holders are north of Oriole Park. That leaves the remainder of downtown travelers to seek parking in the more than 100 garages or lots within a mile -- most of them north of the stadium. Those lots provide 30,000 spaces, Balog said.

Schmoke urged those headed downtown to arrive early and stay late. "Come early and have lunch," he joked. "We're talking about 80,000 people coming into the downtown area around the same time. We can accommodate that if people plan ahead."

If 3,000 fans are willing to walk 30 minutes to the stadium, if 9,000 cars park more than a half-mile away, if ticket-holders study maps locating a bewildering array of parking lots, and if thousands of folks arrive by light rail and Park-and-Ride buses, then traffic should be a piece of cake.

"I've been thinking about that," Balog said. "But then I think the Ravens, Reba McEntire and a jazz concert -- what more can you ask for? It's good for the city."

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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