Second down easier on fans Travel is smoother as crowd works out kinks at new stadium

August 25, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mike Klingaman, Bill Free, Eduardo A. Encina, Dennis O'Brien and Christian Ewell contributed to this article.

While Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda was down on the field looking for clues to solve the puzzle of who will be his starting running back, Rickey Lewis was enjoying a cigarette in the main concourse, pondering his transportation options.

Lewis took light rail to the first Ravens game at the new downtown stadium, and judged that to be a disaster. Last night, he got a ride from a friend. Next time he may try a bus, or go back to light rail if the bugs are worked out.

Like many fans -- and the people running the stadium -- Lewis used the final home preseason game of the year to test various options and tweak his game plan. People shunned light rail in favor of buses and their own cars. New trails were blazed to and from concession stands and bathrooms.

In short, people used the game to craft the routines that will guide them through the official opening game, on Sept. 6, and the years to come.

"Give us some time. This is the first year, the first couple of weeks," said Lewis, 36, of Baltimore.

Like Lewis, many fans worried before the game about transportation. The Aug. 8 preseason opener against the Chicago Bears saw fans overwhelm light rail, setting a single-event ridership record and leaving thousands standing at stations as full trains lumbered by.

MA Officials, who had encouraged people to use park-and-ride bus

service this time, said there was a slight upturn in bus ridership and an easing of the burden on light rail. The traffic downtown, however, was thicker as many of the 65,970 fans at the game opted to drive to the game.

In all, 16,000 people took public transportation. But only 7,900 people took trains, more than 5,000 fewer than the number who chose that option two weeks ago, putting smiles on the faces on those at the MTA.

"Sounds a lot like 8,000," said Dianna Rosborough, MTA spokesman, referring to light rail's capacity. "We want to commend the fans, because they listened to the message about light rail capacity. Tonight, we saw more realistic numbers."

Bus ridership increased only slightly to 7,140, from about 7,000 who made use of the Park and Ride service at the Aug. 8 game. The service, which offers 9,200 free parking spaces, can handle about 14,000 fans.

Even a feared crush of fans after the game failed to materialize. The Hamburg Street light rail station adjacent to the stadium was nearly clear of fans an hour after the game, said MTA spokesman Anthony Brown.

Those who waited to board trains late received an unpleasant delay, however. Some of the last northbound fans arriving at the station at 11: 30 p.m. had a half-hour wait. They would not get to Hunt Valley until about 1 a.m.

City officials reported sporadic bottlenecks but no significant traffic congestion after the game. One of the worst sections, Interstate 83 northbound near Mount Washington, backed up when a contractor closed a few lanes for roadwork shortly after the game's end. State police ordered the lanes reopened and the traffic improved, said George Balog, Baltimore director of public works.

Victor Esquerra took light rail on Aug. 8 and again last night.

"It was smoother. I was worried because last time I missed most of the first quarter," said Esquerra, 28, of Carney.

Mike Campitelli learned the perils of driving to the game the hard way. The 46-year-old businessman from Reisterstown took a left onto Washington Boulevard from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard -- but used the wrong lane, in the opinion of a city police officer. Campitelli received a $75 traffic ticket.

Lamenting his woes in a club lounge during the game, he learned another hard lesson. A big drink carries a big price. His jumbo Crown Royal on the rocks cost him $32. "I want my money back," he said.

Other fans found the August weather unseasonable for football. It was 86 degrees at game time.

"It's hot. It's much hotter than it was on Aug. 8. Football is not meant to be played in this weather," said Pat McNurlan, 43, who grew up near Green Bay, Wis., but now lives in Eldersburg.

Baltimore City police reported a few fans were still learning the rules: there was one arrest, for drug possession, and 16 ejections.

"It's like moving into a new house. You don't know where everything is in the beginning," said Lloyd R. Jones, supervisor of Gate D for S.A.F.E. Management, the company that provides crowd control at the stadium. "It's a lot smoother tonight."

Mary Kessler, working a novelty stand on the main concourse, said she spent 14 hours at the stadium on the day of the first preseason game, Aug. 8. There was construction dust to clean off, systems to learn and supervisors to break in.

"The setup was a lot more smart today," said Kessler, 43, of Bel Air.

Ralph Marston, a mechanical designer from Stewartstown, Pa., and his friends used the preseason game to break in their own tailgating routine. "This is a dry run," said Marston, 38.

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