Bus plan offers relief of city parking woes

New DASH shuttle will link stadium lots to workplaces

February 04, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A new way to get around downtown Baltimore will be previewed today -- a shuttle bus that planners hope will relieve a parking crunch and show that a car is not essential in the city center.

"Public transit is not a court of last resort, but something that's a good option," said Michele L. Whelley, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., who will unveil the plans at a news conference today. The business advocacy group is a partner in the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH), funded with a $5.9 million state grant.

Eight brand-new buses will begin rolling March 4. They will serve two groups: workers who, through their employers, will pay $50 a month to park near PSINet Stadium and ride to the office or anywhere else on the DASH system; and "leisure" riders who will pay 50 cents to go from, say, the Inner Harbor to Mount Vernon.

Neither the name nor the idea is new. Shuttle buses have worked in other American cities, experts say, and neighborhood shuttles in Baltimore's Hampden and Mondawmin areas have proved successful.

"It really shows that providing quick, efficient and reliable service to get people to the places they most need to go really works," said Brad Rogers, program manager at 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide group that pushes for "smart growth."

Whelley said she understands some people's reluctance to sign on to an untested program. That is why efficiency and reliability will be emphasized. In fact, the rush-hour route has been limited to make sure the buses will reach the stops every five minutes.

No employers have committed to the program, but the University of Maryland, Baltimore and a half-dozen other large downtown entities are finalizing one-year contracts, Whelley said. The goal is to have 300 or 400 riders initially, and about 1,000 after a year.

The downtown partnership sees many benefits to the shuttle. Although several parking garages are under construction or planned, Whelley said, a "significant" number of new parking spaces will not be available for 18 months.

Even so, "we all know we can't ever build enough parking garages," said Lisa Raimundo, the partnership's vice president of economic development. Nor, she added, would it be desirable.

By offering a cheaper parking option, planners hope to encourage businesses to stay and expand in the city. Downtown parking typically costs between $150 and $220 a month per space. Many companies subsidize those spaces, some spending $100,000 or more annually.

Another goal, Whelley said, is to show tourists that downtown offers more than the Inner Harbor. Mount Vernon attractions such as the Walters Art Museum suffer from a shortage of parking, their distance from the harbor and Charles Street's incline.

The state grant that will pay for the DASH buses also will cover one-half of the operating costs for three years. The other half is to be covered by riders. Yellow Transportation Co. has been hired to run the service.

The brightly painted buses -- each 30 feet long with 25 seats and room for 25 people to stand -- will follow two routes and maintain varying schedules.

The first -- the green route -- is the rush-hour loop. Every weekday morning and evening, buses will pick up motorists at one of three secured parking lots near the stadium. Buses will travel east on Pratt Street, north on Charles Street, west on Fayette Street, and south on Greene Street, letting passengers on and off at designated shuttle stops.

That path was chosen because of the proximity of major companies on Charles Street, such as Legg Mason, as well as the sprawling University of Maryland along Greene Street.

The blue route will tie into the green route but cover different territory. It will take riders east along Pratt and south down President Street to the Marriott Waterfront Hotel at Inner Harbor East. It will double back on President, travel west on Lombard, and head north on Charles to the Washington Monument and Mount Vernon. The last leg of its journey takes it back to Pratt via Cathedral Street, Liberty Street and Hopkins Place.

Buses will run on the blue route at midday and evening during the week, and on the green and blue routes Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

To encourage public transit riders to use the shuttles, no fee will be charged to holders of Maryland Transit Administration passes. That agency is one of the shuttle partners, along with the state Department of Transportation; Baltimore City; Maryland Stadium Authority; downtown businesses; and WestSide Renaissance Inc., a business group.

Organizers held a naming contest last fall, drawing hundreds of suggestions, such as Roving Covered Wagon, Driving Miss Daisy and -- inevitably -- CRAB, for Convenient Ride Around Baltimore. Two people suggested the speedy- and short-sounding DASH -- and will receive $250 gift certificates for their efforts.

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