S. Baltimore residents want to halt MTA plan to increase bus traffic in their neighborhood

Proposal revives memories of '75 collapse of buildings

April 24, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The tale is tossed around like local folklore, but South Baltimore residents are eyewitnesses.

In 1975, two buildings in the 1700 block of S. Charles St. crumbled to the ground on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. Newspaper articles prove it happened.

Many attribute the collapse to the heavy buses and trucks rumbling through the neighborhood's narrow streets.

Members of South Baltimore Improvement Committee met this month when Mass Transit Administration officials suggested increasing bus traffic on Charles Street, a few blocks from the famed collapse.

MTA officials suggested rerouting bus line No. 64, which travels north and south on Light Street, saying the street is too narrow to support bus traffic both ways. They proposed moving the northbound route to Charles Street and keeping the southbound on Light.

The No. 1 line operates north on Charles. And residents on Charles Street were very clear: Buses cause enough headaches in South Baltimore. No extra routes on our street.

"We're not asking for them to go away, but we can't support any more," said Jennifer Boyer, who lives in the 1300 block of S. Charles, where the No. 1 travels. "If we have more traffic, our houses will turn to rubble. That's the whole reason they stopped bus traffic south of me."

Boyer was referring to the buildings' collapse, after which residents complained and buses were shifted to an adjacent street.

Larry Daugherty, manager of operations, planning and scheduling for MTA, said he would not make a change that upsets residents. The proposed plan would affect Federal Hill, Otterbein and South Baltimore.

"It certainly sounds like this plan is not very popular," Daugherty said. "The likelihood of this plan being implemented is slight. I'm not saying it's dead."

Boyer, who lives four blocks north of where the buildings fell, has a new crack in her dining room wall that she attributes to vibrations caused by buses and trucks. Her stained-glass window shakes as they pass by.

"If you put more buses on our street, we will have more sleepless nights," Boyer said. "I cannot support one more bus."

Richard Wingate, who lives half a block from Charles, says his apartment shakes, his drinking glasses rattle and his rug creeps across his floor when buses go by.

"The room actually rrrrrrrrrrrrrr rattles like you're at the subway in New York," said Wingate, who lives in Advent Senior Housing in the 1200 block of Patapsco St.

Carol Martin, who lives on the block where the buildings fell, said people saw a bus going by when they collapsed.

"My two daughters were outside and saw them fall down that day," said Martin, who has lived in the 1700 block for 46 years. "We fought to get those buses removed from our block."

Jerry Korzybski, manager of customer services and community relations for MTA, said he grew up in Curtis Bay and knows how it is to live with vibrations from buses.

"If something is rattling in their homes, of course they have a problem. If it's as serious as they say it is, we'll have to go out and investigate," Korzybski said. "From my experience, it is usually due to the deteriorated roads from snow and ice and other things. The buses are exacerbating that process."

When residents complain about vibrations, MTA hires a consulting firm to analyze the effect with seismographic equipment. MTA hasn't commissioned a study in three years, Korzybski said, because nobody has asked.

In the most recent study performed, 58 MTA buses passed by the 3000 block of Federal St. in East Baltimore. Twenty-one caused vibrations so severe they could cause structural damage, according to an MTA report.

The survey also found uneven pavement in front of 3048 Federal St., which might have increased the effect of the buses. South Baltimore also has uneven pavement, Korzybski said. He has a theory about Federal Hill.

"There were a lot of tunnels built in the Federal Hill area for transporting troops and slaves in the Civil War, which left holes under the surface," he said. "It's chock full of holes. It looks like an ant farm, from what I understand."

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