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Distance between Baltimore and Washington is more than miles

Distance between Baltimore and Washington is more than miles
In a southbound view, commuters on the Md. Route 175 eastbound interchange barely move, waiting to exit onto northbound I-95, whose traffic crawls toward Md. Route 100 (behind camera) as afternoon traffic crawls through the area. FILE / 2013 (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Sports mogul Ted Leonsis was on to something when he recently talked about Baltimore and Washington as one large market.

Yet while the two cities are be only 38 miles apart, economic and physical differences between the two are still fodder for a lively discussion.

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I often hear Washingtonians say they like Baltimore because it's a "real" city. I presume that translates into their perception of our grittiness and remnants of our working, semi-industrial neighborhoods.

I also assume they find Baltimore accents as curious as our limited availability of Starbucks outlets.

Baltimoreans, on the other hand, see Washington as a place to get a good, steady job with a salary unavailable on the shores of the Patapsco River.

Parts of Baltimore could almost be considered D.C. suburbs. People who reside in Federal Hill, for example, are in a good place to get between the two cities, and Kevin Plank's ambitious initiative at Port Covington and the Middle Branch of the Patapsco is in that sweet spot not far from commuting corridors to the District.

But being on the southern tier of Baltimore does not assure a fast trip to D.C. Travel time between the two cities is not the breezy 45 minutes it once was.

I often hear gridlock stories, tales of long days spent in the quest for Washington work. If you are bound for a District restaurant or sporting event, leave early; many strategies involve leaving Baltimore before daybreak or getting a job with some version of flextime.

Being a non-driver who has visited Washington regularly for nearly 50 years, I have observed rail service reflect the growing demand for the two-city commute.

In 1968, the fare was $1.50 when I first boarded the old Pennsylvania Railroad here and stepped off at Union Station there. The few commuter trains on the Penn Line were relics of the 1920s. You rode with windows open because there was no air conditioning, only overhead paddle fans.

In that era, stations at Halethorpe or Odenton accounted for a few daily riders. It was unusual if even three people boarded a train along Southwestern Boulevard near Arbutus.

Today, the state has supported MARC rail lines with new rail equipment and about 35 weekday trains from Baltimore to Union Station.

There's a large and bustling Halethorpe station, with elevators so passengers don't have to cross the dangerous tracks.

Location can help. Living in Catonsville, Arbutus or Ellicott City puts you in a better place to catch a D.C. train and cut travel agony. But be warned: You may not get a seat because passengers from Martin's Airport or the main Baltimore station got there first.

When MARC opened a new station at the end of the Highway to Nowhere in West Baltimore nearly 25 years ago, passengers were slow to adopt it. Today, its parking lot has been expanded many times and commuters seem to consider it a handy place.

I do recall as a child taking Sunday car rides to the District along Washington Boulevard, or U.S. 1. Along that old road, we passed such memorable landmarks as the Rosa Bonheur pet memorial park, the One Spot dog and cat flea powder factory, and the Calvert distillery.

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Today, when I'm not taking the train to Washington, I find myself on the Balltimore-Washington Parkway. I think Baltimore residents feel comfortable entering Washington along New York Avenue.

But when the parkway starts to back up at Laurel, you can always switch to the old, reliable, slow U.S. 1 and enter the District via Rhode Island Avenue.

It's like that Sunday drive of 60 years ago.

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