Traffic gridlock, where is thy sting? Downtown jams fail to occur as fans leave cars, arrive early

Stadium The Opener

August 09, 1998|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Diana K. Sugg, Christian Ewell, Bill Free, Gerard Shields, Peter Hermann and Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

Those were actually the streets of downtown Baltimore, not the sleepy town of Mayberry.

Last night was poised for chaos -- at the same time, about 7:30 p.m., 100,000 people and 16,000 cars were expected to converge on downtown for the Ravens' inaugural preseason game at the new stadium, a Reba McEntire concert at the Baltimore Arena and a jazz concert at Pier 6. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the stadium: Fans showed up early.

The gridlock anticipated for the Ravens-Chicago Bears game turned out to be the traffic nightmare that never was.

Only after the game did a full-fledged traffic jam develop. And that was at the new Hamburg Street light rail station at the stadium.

A record 13,000 people rode on MTA's light rail yesterday -- about 5,000 more than capacity. It was expected to take up to two hours for the light rail to take everyone home last night,

transit officials said. And patrons were not amused.

"As many sellouts [at Oriole baseball games] that I've seen at Camden Yards, I've never seen anything like this," said Frank Andrysiak, 63, of Crofton. "Something's wrong that this is happening before my very eyes."

The crush at the light rail station was the result of people heeding the advice of city, state and Ravens officials who had staged news conferences, assaulted the airwaves and drawn up charts and graphs to warn against the looming logjam on the highways.

Ravens fans and concert-goers were urged to arrive early, walk to the stadium, drive along alternative routes, park up to a mile away, or take mass transit, including the light rail system, the metro subway, or Park-and-Ride buses from seven lots around the region.

People listened.

At 6 p.m., everything was running smoothly. And that's when city Public Works Director George G. Balog began to worry.

"I don't like it, " he said, wheeling around in a golf cart, commanding traffic control. "I don't like it."

Balog was waiting for the worst. Aside from a car fire that clogged southbound Interstate 95 for about 20 minutes around 6:30 p.m., traffic flowed smoothly.

Sweeping through it all in his golf cart, Balog found other events jumping that added to the vibrancy of downtown. A couple was married at the Inner Harbor about 6:30 p.m. outside McCormick and Schmick's, while a Spanish festival was staged on Lombard Street at Harbor Park.

Only 25 cars were towed for parking illegally last night, officials said.

By water to the game

Things were just as orderly in Fells Point at 6:30, when more than 120 people had lined up to take the Harbor Shuttle to the Inner Harbor. Many said they use the boats to get to Orioles games and decided to do the same thing for the first football game.

"It's a lot better alternative. It's a pleasant ride on the water," said Karen Lehr, of Canton.

To beat the heat, some people used umbrellas and others drank water and sodas. Four auxiliary police officers stood nearby in case of trouble, but the crowd was fairly quiet.

"It's an eager crowd," Lehr said. "There's a lot of anticipation for the new stadium."

Added another person in the line, Ken McGaffin, 43, from Jessup: "It's OK. Be patient. Take your time. Have a beer."

Others questioned why stadium officials hadn't made better preparations for the thousands of fans.

"I can't believe it came down to this. Somebody should have been working on this," said Peter Fender, a Canton resident and season ticket holder who was also waiting in the line.

He said he was shocked there weren't more provisions for parking: "It's a horrendous walk. They need shuttle buses or something. This is a lot of people."

David Geraghty, a dock coordinator, said that, like most weekends, Harbor Shuttle was using all nine of its boats, but yesterday there were long lines at every stop.

Meanwhile, parking lots in the area, including the large one at Aliceanna and Central streets, were only half-full.

The buses had something to do with that. For a mere $6 and a smooth 24 minutes to Gate D at the stadium, the park-and-ride bus from the Motor Vehicle Administration lot in Glen Burnie ran like clockwork.

The bus left on time at 5 p.m. and arrived 19 minutes later at an easily accessible parking lot on West Ostend Street or Ridgely Street. All that was left was a five-minute walk to Gate D. Many of the bus riders said they would do it again.

Complaints about the light rail started in the afternoon. To get to the stadium, some people endured rides as long as an hour while scrunched up against fellow football fans.

One man said he went to two stations and wound up not getting on at either stop. At Hunt Valley, the lines were too long, and at Mount Washington, packed trains didn't stop.

"I gave up," said Tony Czapski. After a few hours, the 67-year-old retiree finally drove to downtown and parked on Baltimore Street.

Meanwhile, his son tried to get on light rail at a stop near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, but six full cars went without stopping. He also gave up and drove into the city.

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