John B. Duvall Jr., 91, spearheaded conversion of streetcars to buses

January 12, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John Brooke Duvall Jr., a retired Baltimore transit official who spearheaded the conversion of streetcar lines to buses in the 1940s and 1950s, died of complications from a broken leg Wednesday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 91.

The longtime Timonium resident was born and raised in Baltimore, the son of John B. Duvall Sr., whose career as an executive with United Railways & Electric Co. and later the Baltimore Transit Co., spanned 48 years. His father died in 1946.

After graduating from City College in 1930, Mr. Duvall went to work for Provident Savings Bank, where he eventually was promoted to branch manager.

"He started with Baltimore Transit Co. as an office boy in 1935 and by the time World War II came along, he was a claims adjuster," said his son, John B. Duvall III of Timonium.

During World War II, he served with the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps in the Pacific, and attained the rank of captain.

After returning to the BTC in 1946, he was promoted to traffic engineer, general superintendent in charge of streetcars and buses, and superintendent of planning. He was named director of planning and public relations in 1952, and vice president in 1957.

Mr. Duvall's tenure with the BTC coincided with the increased use of personal automobiles, the end of streetcar service in favor of buses and the arrival of Henry A. Barnes, Baltimore's famed commissioner of transit and traffic.

"Two events speeded the end of streetcars. First, in 1945, working control of Baltimore Transit was taken over by Chicago-based National City Lines, a bus-minded holding company that specialized in modernizing ailing trolley operations," wrote Herbert H. Harwood Jr., railroad and transit historian in Baltimore Streetcars: The Postwar Years, published last year by Johns Hopkins University Press.

"Second was the arrival of Henry Barnes, the creative, aggressive, and controversial traffic commissioner hired to unclog the city's snarled streets. Barnes's concepts of `free-flow' (for autos) with one way street systems and expanded traffic lanes, simply were incompatible with tracks and trolleys."

In an interview with The Sun in 1954, Mr. Duvall said the building of downtown off-street parking facilities brought more cars into the core of the city.

"Transit riders deserted us for the private motorcar before we deserted them. Even television has affected the bus business. It has all but ruined riding at night," Mr. Duvall said.

As the city's streetcar lines were converted to buses, a hardcore group of supporters countered the BTC's plans in 1958 by planting anti-bus literature on buses. "Give the electric cars a chance which would prove themselves much more worthy than the bus," said the pamphlet.

"This is typical of the so-called rail fan who decries the fact that the streetcar is becoming extinct. There are actually clubs and organizations for this purpose," Mr. Duvall told The Sun. "These people are out of step with the rest of the world - with every trend and pattern throughout the United States. These people are living in the past."

By the summer of 1963, the first of an order of 100 General Motors air-conditioned buses began arriving in the city. Streetcar service ended four months later.

After the Mass Transit Administration acquired the BTC in 1970, Mr. Duvall was named director of administrative services. He retired in 1975.

"He wasn't a big fan of light rail because in his mind, it wasn't cost effective," said his son.

He was an avid golfer and a member of the Hillendale Country Club.

Mr. Duvall was married for 66 years to the former Suzanne Duncan, who died in 2000.

Services were Friday.

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Nancy S. Nash of Kent Island, and a granddaughter.

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