MARC rider Suzanne Lurie's knees were hurting her, so of course she wrote her local transportation columnist. Who would you consult - an orthopedist?
Lurie had some questions about the MARC station in Halethorpe. She thought I could get some answers out of the Maryland Transit Administration. As it turns out, tormenting the MTA is one of my specialties. But let's let Lurie tell her (lightly edited) story:
I began working in DC a little over 3 years ago. I live in Owings Mills so, all things considered, Halethorpe is the best choice MARC train station for me. As you probably are aware, in order to access the southbound side of the tracks from the northbound side, a person must ascend about 50 steps to an overpass, cross the tracks via the overpass, then descend at least another 50 steps on the other side. I've done this every work day since I've been commuting and chalked it up to being good exercise.
Problem is, I've begun having pain in my knees going up any stairs, so unless the doctor I'll be seeing can come up with a solution for me, I won't be able to do Halethorpe much longer. That means I'll have to start taking the train from BWI. You could say I'm less than thrilled about that because it will mean leaving the house earlier and getting home later, extra expense to get a "pass" for the parking garage, more money for the extra gasoline the extra miles will require, and, since imany morning trains are full by the time they get to BWI, I'll probably end up standing a lot more on my way in to work in the mornings - another just-great-for-the-knees situation.
What I'd like to know is - how does the MTA get by with not having to provide access for the physically disabled at the Halethorpe station (and at the West Baltimore station, while I'm asking)? Did they leave Halethorpe off the list of "key stations" so they wouldn't have to deal with it?
They have parking spaces for the "handicapped" - but, seriously - you can handle the stairs but you can't walk an extra hundred or so feet on a flat surface?
I've been on trains back to Halethorpe at various times in the afternoon, and I've seen how many people get off at Halethorpe. It's got to serve at least as many riders in a day as BWI does. So how does MTA justify this situation? Not that it will be soon enough to help me out at this point, but do they have any plans to improve things there?
I referred to the question to MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene, who provided a detailed and prompt reply - again lightly edited - during a most challenging week for the MTA.
"Concerning whether Halethorpe was left off of the list of 'key stations' so MTA would not have to deal with it? No, the U.S. Department of Transportation established criteria by which public transit agencies were to define their "key stations." For instance, end-of-the-line stations, transfer stations, and major interchange points were part of the criteria to be considered in order to provide an accessible system. The MTA had extensive public participation, including heavy participation by the disability community, in the selection of "key stations." As your reader notes, the BWI Station was a "close by" key station that provided full access for riders in the service area she uses.
"The good news for your reader is that the MTA has completed the design for a new Halethorpe Station, to be built adjacent to the existing facility. It will have high-level platforms which will allow customers to board our MARC trains without climbing steps from the platform on to the car. There will also be a pedestrian overpass with elevators on both sides of the tracks - making the station fully accessible. We expect to begin construction on the $18 million project in the spring of 2010 and hope to have the new station in operation by 2012.
"Concerning your reader's concern with the use of accessible parking spaces by individuals who may not be entitled, we share the same concern. Those individuals are using spaces that a person with genuine need may be denied because those spaces fill very quickly. To help resolve this issue, our transit police will soon be implementing a program to randomly request individuals parking in accessible spaces to provide written verification of their right to park in those spaces.
"Concerning your reader's question about the level of MARC ridership at Halethorpe versus BWI, Halethorpe has average daily boardings of approximately 1,200 and BWI has average daily boardings of approximately 3,200, of which approximately half are Amtrak's customers."
There you have it. Easiest column I ever wrote .