First game at stadium showed ills of light railSaturday...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 22, 1998

First game at stadium showed ills of light rail

Saturday night, Aug. 8, may turn out to be a turning point in the history of the city's public transportation.

That was the night downtown offered, on one boffo evening, the opening game of the Ravens, the jazz concert at Pier Six, and the Reba McIntire concert at the Baltimore Arena.

In the course of the evening, thousands of Baltimoreans coming and going were left stranded and frustrated by a light rail system that seemed to fail them. It couldn't get them there from here.

Irate riders and would-be riders who couldn't get aboard a train (some missed the kick-off of the Ravens game) were stunned by what they viewed as the failure of Baltimore's light rail. They shouldn't have been. The light rail from conception, despite the good intentions of its advocates and its design team, was bound to disappoint. It's just that the chickens had come home to roost.

From conception in the Schaefer administration, the light rail was the unwanted stepchild of the middle-class love affair with the automobile and the suburban culture it supports. The people who vote wanted cars and lawns, and moved away from people who didn't have either.

The body politic created so much resistance to the building of the light rail (and to where the stations should be located) that to get the project rolling, advocates were forced to make compromises with fiscal and engineering aspirations. These compromises resulted in short-cutting and a "we'll do the best we can" mindset on the part of civic leadership.

For example, money was not available to build a fully operational two-track system. It does not help, then, that for a large part of the north-south run, trains are subject to the shortcomings of a one-track system. Of course, the efficiency of the train, the frequency of its trips and the dependability of them is going to be adversely affected. But the light rail was not the electorate's darling, and so the project came out of the legislature with what it could get.

Many aspects of the system, regardless of the arguments that exist for choosing them, wound up user un-friendly.

The ticket sale arrangement, for example, is not easily understood or managed, and breaks down often.

The supervision on the cars, save for an occasional walk-through by a transit guard, leaves much to be desired and the system only allows for walking through one car, not through the length of the train. The motorman is disconnected from his passengers; he has no idea what is going on among the hundreds in the cars behind him.

The schedule is insufficient and often erratic. It calls for a train every 17 minutes. Assuming that the system holds to that schedule -- which it appears to the put-upon rider not to do more often than it does -- a train runs only every 17 minutes. This, in a metropolitan area of 2.3 million people, cannot be said to serve the region well.

But something positive may come out of the fiasco. Now that the middle class has its dander up about the condition of its light rail system, politicians with their finger in the wind may be moved to action. One thing they understand: Constituents don't like to be late for the kickoff.

There is an expression, "Don't wish too hard for something, you might get it," That's what happened. All those people who fought the idea with such acrimony and wished only for the minimum in light rail service got their wish. Now what have they got?

L One awful Saturday night waiting for the light rail to show.

Gilbert Sandler

Baltimore

Curtis Bay residents are ill-served by city

I enjoyed the article about some Curtis Bay residents who are taking Baltimore off their mailing address and replacing it with Curtis Bay, Md. ("Separate but unequal," July 31)

I've been a resident of Curtis Bay for more than 40 years, and I know how isolated we feel from the city government.

According to the Calvert Institute study, Baltimore has far more employees than other cities of similar size; I wonder what departments they're in.

I have two perfect examples of the kind of services we get right on my block.

I called the housing department the first week of June about a vacant house next door.

The weeds and bushes were three to four feet high at the time. From the first week of June until Aug. 7, I made nine phone calls to speak with the inspector or his supervisor. My neighbor told me I wasn't forceful enough when I called them.

On July 20 I called and put more force in my attitude. Lo and behold, the inspector called me the next morning and said he'd been out. He said he would get a notice to the landlord.

I've also contacted all three of my City Council representatives and was told by all of them that a letter would be sent to Daniel Henson about this situation.

By now the weeds and bushes were eight to 10 feet high in the back yard.

I always plant flowers in my yard in May. Needless to say, I haven't had the pleasure of enjoying my yard all summer.

My second example of the help we get is as follows:

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