If you plan to drive anywhere around Baltimore tomorrow, test your preparedness with this multiple-choice quiz:
Thousands of motorists will converge on highways for (a) an Orioles game; (b) a Ravens game; (c) a Redskins game; (d) a Beach Boys concert; (e) the start of the Labor Day weekend; (f) all of the above.
Against all reasonable odds, the answer is (f). And if you think you know something about traffic tie-ups, brace yourself for a painful education. Demand on Baltimore's highways, buses, subway, light rail and parking lots is expected to reach record intensity.
"We know we're going to have a morning rush hour, an afternoon rush hour, a midday Ravens rush hour and an evening Orioles rush hour. And we're staffing as if it is peak traffic and more from 6 a.m. to midnight," said Lori Vidil of the Maryland Transportation Authority.
Beginning the unprecedented sequence, the Ravens will kick off a preseason game at noon against the New York Giants that is expected to draw more than 50,000 people. As fans leave that game, they are likely to become entangled with early arrivals for the 7: 05 p.m. Orioles game against the Cleveland Indians, which will draw more than 40,000 ticket-holders.
It marks the first time the Ravens and Orioles have played games on the same day in their side-by-side stadiums downtown.
Friday evening rush hour could be further complicated by fans heading south to the 8 p.m. Washington Redskins game against Tampa Bay in Landover, and north to the 9 p.m. Beach Boys concert at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, not to mention Labor Day and beach traffic.
To make matters worse, the convergence comes on a workday, when parking garages and lots in downtown Baltimore will be filled with weekday commuters.
Traffic gurus' best advice: If at all possible, avoid driving downtown tomorrow.
"Nobody has dealt with this before," said Chuck Brown of the Maryland Department of Transportation. "We're advising people to start planning now and thinking now about what their travel game plan will be. Traffic will be extremely heavy and parking will be scarce."
So, how to cope?
Downtown employees in particular are being urged to use mass transit or carpool tomorrow.
For those unacquainted with the Baltimore subway system, 8,000 free spaces are available in parking lots along the Northwest Baltimore line. The trains run at eight-minute intervals. Transit ambassadors will be stationed at subway, light rail and park-and-ride locations to assist anyone with questions.
Several popular lots with express shuttles that are normally available during weekend games will be in use by commuters or students and therefore unavailable tomorrow. They include the lots for Anne Arundel Community College; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Motor Vehicle Administration; Poly/Western High School; and Carney.
Instead, fans will be able to park and board express shuttles for the stadiums at alternative spots nearby. Those include the Severna Park, Southwest, South Baltimore, Rosedale, Essex, White Marsh, Hunt Valley Mall and Owings Mills park-and-ride lots. Park-and-ride service will begin two hours before game time.
Highway construction projects are being set aside for the day. And the Maryland Transportation Authority and State Highway Administration are beefing up emergency traffic patrols to respond quickly to accidents or vehicle breakdowns.
Normally those teams work only rush hours on Fridays. Tomorrow they'll be on duty from 5 a.m. until midnight.
Tailgaters who typically party after the Ravens game have been notified by mail that they will be shooed out quickly so the 5,000 parking spaces can be cleared for Orioles ticket-holders, said Ravens Vice President Kevin Byrne.
Of course, it's possible that people will follow all of the advice, or abandon their plans and stay home. Dire predictions of traffic gridlock two years ago -- on a day when the Ravens played at Memorial Stadium and the Orioles played downtown -- came to nothing. Likewise, when traffic officials in Washington predicted a transportation nightmare in April during NATO's 50th anniversary summit, scared motorists stayed away, and the city became a virtual ghost town.
But everyone is preparing for the worst tomorrow.
"We are certainly keeping our fingers crossed, and we're hoping it goes smoothly," Brown said. "But if not, the plan is in place."
Tips for motorists
Allow extra time to reach your destination.
Use mass transit or carpool to work.
Avoid Interstate 95. Use the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, I-895 (the Harbor Tunnel) or I-695 across the Key Bridge.
Use the Metro. There are 8,000 free parking spaces along the northwest subway route.
Check real-time traffic conditions along I-95, I-495 and U.S. 50 by logging on to www.chart.state.md.us.
Check the latest mass transit information at www.mtamaryland.com.
Pub Date: 9/02/99