End of the line for the No. 61 to Roland Park

June 30, 2005|By Peter Heyrman

I SHOULD BE a perfect 51-year-old poster child for the fight to preserve the Roland Avenue section of the No. 61 bus line. Though I work at home in Tuxedo Park, I take the No. 61 two or three times a week. I don't drive.

I grew up on this bus line. I remember it as the old Baltimore Transit Co.'s No. 6. With my older brother and sister, I rode it to the Baltimore Academy of the Visitation from kindergarten on. When the Maryland Transit Administration split the No. 6 into four routes in the 1970s, the No. 61 was the one for me. Even in the years when I lived elsewhere, I took it whenever I came home.

The No. 61 also has Baltimore history. This is the route that built Roland Park. In the 1890s, Roland Park's founder, developer Edward Bouton, used all his persuasive powers to shake Baltimore's money tree, but what finally sold the houses was the streetcar. Businessmen wanted a cheap, easy ride downtown; their wives wanted the servants to have a cheap, easy ride uptown.

The trolley line lasted for decades. It morphed into the bus line about the middle of the century. Last year, when city crews repaved Roland Avenue, some steel tracks popped up from under the old asphalt.

I've ridden No. 61 through most of 50 years, and I hate to see it go. Now that I live a mile or so north of where I grew up, it's by far the most convenient line for me. But I've seen the truth for years. Even when I was a teen, the route was losing its Roland Park riders. People here own cars and, by gosh, they're going to use them. Besides, like most bus lines, the No. 61 is mostly for poor people.

Except during school rush hours, No. 61 has been a ghost line for years. Once you get above Charles Village, there's no one aboard. It rolls up University Parkway and onto Roland Avenue (what Mr. Bouton used to call the neighborhood's "driveway"), roaring along, seldom stopping, nearly empty. People have to look twice to make sure there's somebody at the wheel.

If Roland Parkers want to save No. 61, shouldn't they do it by riding it? Ride it enough to complain about late buses. Ride it enough to know where it goes and what the alternatives are for those who actually use public transit. Ride it enough to miss it when it's gone.

But there may be no point, because who will listen? While a few of us hoof it over to Homeland to take the No. 11, the rest of you will stay in your cars.

Peter Heyrman is a freelance editor.

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