16,000 cars to crowd downtown tonight Ravens game, concerts threaten to create parking nightmare

August 08, 1998|By Peter Hermann and Jacques Kelly | Peter Hermann and Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The signs, all 738 of them, are up in the neighborhoods, telling people where they can park, where they can't park, and the dire consequences of parking someplace they shouldn't.

Top city officials -- the mayor, police chief and public works director -- have faced television cameras to hammer the point home: if you drive into Baltimore for the first Ravens football game tonight, come early or be prepared for a traffic mess.

But the hyperbole turns into reality this afternoon. Will the promise of gridlock on the gridiron be preceded by gridlock on the streets?

"We're all trapped," complained Robert Gisriel, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, who is worried that fans searching for free parking will converge on the community near the 69,000-seat stadium.

"I'm going to the game," Gisriel said. "Either I go to the game or I just stay home. I won't be able to move my car."

The Department of Public Works is taking extraordinary measures to keep traffic flowing and people happy. And it's not just for football. A Reba McEntire concert at the Baltimore Arena could draw 11,000 people. A jazz show at Pier 6 could add 4,000 to the mix.

The events all begin about the same time, with a 7: 30 p.m. kickoff set for the Ravens-Chicago Bears game and the concerts scheduled at 8 p.m.

Avoid gridlock brochures

"We have the potential for massive gridlock if we don't plan early," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, in a not-too-subtle warning. The city produced a glitzy full-color brochure highlighting events, and potential trouble.

City officials believe 57 percent of the fans or concert-goers -- more than 80,000 of them in all -- will arrive by car.

That translates into an estimated 16,000 cars vying for coveted parking spaces, of which only about 5,000 are available for season ticket holders.

If motorists don't have a permit for a specific stadium lot, police will turn them away.

Officials are hoping to avoid the confusion that occurred during Thursday's practice, when people didn't understand the new parking lot scheme.

"We've got new designations, parking lots F, G, H," Schmoke said. "People were just riding around looking for these lots, causing gridlock."

Ravens fans and concert-goers have been urged to take mass transit, including light rail, the Metro subway, or Park-and-Ride buses from seven lots around the metropolitan area. (For information, call the Mass Transit Administration at 410-539-5000.)

A new light rail stop at Hamburg Street Station will give Ravens fans direct access to the stadium. The station opens at 4: 30 p.m.

Two hours to park

Officials warn that if everyone tries to drive into Baltimore at the same time -- with more than 70 percent expected to come in on I-95 and I-395 and Russell Street -- it could take drivers more than two hours to move along the highways and then snake their way through downtown streets to find a place to park.

Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard also is likely to carry heavy traffic.

Drivers have been urged to consider alternate routes downtown, such as I-83, Route 40, Washington Boulevard (Alternate Route 1), Route 2 and Key Highway.

The Ravens have distributed maps and a list of more than a dozen private garages and lots, where people can expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $12 to park for the evening.

Other commercial parking facilities are available, too, although the prices may be higher.

For example, Douglas A. Whitaker, Inc. is charging approximately $20 for parking at one of his 600 spaces at several facilities in the vicinity of the Ravens stadium. That includes a parking lot behind the B&O Railroad Museum.

If drivers who arrive late are turned away from the places they had expected to park, they are urged to head farther away and walk.

The message is to avoid the temptation to park in front of someone else's home.

Tow-away neighborhoods

City police and the Department of Public Works are sternly warning drivers to stay out of neighborhoods.

Tow trucks are poised to roll at 4 p.m. and quickly remove illegally parked cars to the 1700 block of E. Fort Ave. Scofflaws face a $52 ticket and an additional $130 for the towing.

And to make their point perfectly clear, city work crews have peppered communities such as Federal Hill, Otterbein, Ridgely's Delight and Pigtown with hundreds of warning signs.

There are already bright yellow generic signs there warning people they must have a residential permit to park in designated areas and that their cars could be towed during "stadium events." In the past week, work crews bolstered the complement with an additional 458.

Also, they have added 108 signs on the periphery of those neighborhoods, to specifically warn against parking during today's Ravens game. Those signs can be altered to change the date for future stadium events.

Then there are the 84 signs to direct charter buses, the 65 signs to direct people to private parking lots and the 23 signs to get people with parking permits to the appropriate stadium lots.

Residents got restricted

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