Obama set to speak in the city

At War Memorial Plaza on Saturday

January 15, 2009|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Planners of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration confirmed yesterday that he will speak at Baltimore's War Memorial Plaza on Saturday, even as officials doled out conflicting advice on how to get to the 4:15 p.m. event.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the event, part of a whistle-stop train trip from Philadelphia to Washington, but transportation downtown is likely to be complicated Saturday because of extensive road closures - including a large portion of the Jones Falls Expressway. And plans to offer shuttle bus service to people parking at Camden Yards were scuttled yesterday because of the cost, according to the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Instead, the Presidential Inaugural Committee recommended that people who park in the stadium lots take the light rail to Baltimore Street and walk the estimated 12 minutes to the plaza across from City Hall.

But Maryland Transit Administration officials said there are likely to be better transit alternatives, such as city buses, for people who want to attend the speech.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said agency officials had just been given details of plans for the event and were scrambling to change bus routes to avoid streets closed for security reasons. She said the MTA and city officials will meet this morning to discuss street closings and to work out specific route changes.

Mayor Sheila Dixon released a statement late yesterday afternoon saying that space will be limited at the plaza, where access will be limited to a few checkpoints.

Dixon said the city is cooperating with the inaugural committee, the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security on arrangements for the event. "We are working at all levels of city government to ensure the visit by the president-elect is a memorable day for the city of Baltimore," she said.

Officials said gates to the plaza will open at 1 p.m. at Baltimore Street and Guilford Avenue. Those who attend must pass through a metal detector and permit their bags to be searched.

Temperatures that day are expected to drop into the teens, prompting city officials to issue warnings to dress warmly.

Certain items will not be allowed on the plaza grounds, including firearms, ammunition, explosives, weapons, aerosols, supports for signs and placards, packages, coolers, thermal or glass containers, backpacks, oversize bags, laser pointers, bicycles and animals other than guide dogs. Signs must be made of cardboard, poster board or cloth and be no wider than 3 feet, no longer than 20 feet and no more than a quarter-inch thick.

City officials suggested that people who want to drive should park at M&T Bank Stadium along the light rail line. But the MTA's Greene said people attending the event should be able to get much closer to the site using either the Metro subway or the MTA bus system.

Greene noted that the subway's Charles Center station is several blocks closer to the War Memorial than the light rail line. The Metro's Shot Tower/Market Place station is even closer, but it will be closed until the event ends because it falls within the security perimeter, she said.

The plaza and surrounding area are also one of the most important hubs of the MTA bus system. Even with the expected rerouting of many lines to avoid closed streets, the bus system is likely to be the best transit alternative for many riders. Among the routes that serve the plaza area on Saturdays are Nos. 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 15, 19, 20, 23, 35, 36, 40 and 64.

Information on transit schedules and routes is available at 410-539-5000 or www.mtamaryland .com.

City transportation officials said they would close Gay Street between Fayette and Lexington streets to traffic this morning through Sunday to prepare for the appearance. Drivers will still be able to access parking garages through Friday, but detours will be in place. MTA bus routes will also be diverted.

The city also said that from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, the Jones Falls Expressway will be closed in both directions from President Street to North Avenue. Orleans Street between Gay Street and St. Paul Street will be closed from 2 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Greene said that while city buses are generally safe, the MTA will be providing extra security for Saturday's event.

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