IRL in Baltimore: Race or DisgRACE?

September 02, 2011 | Keith Melchior

This morning on a local radio station, people were talking about the miserable traffic jams in and around the downtown area in preparation for this weekend’s IRL style Grand Prix of Baltimore.

I have no interest in IRL, open wheeled racing cars, or even NASCAR. I know this is billed as a once in a lifetime event you MUST witness in person (at about $150 a head after all the shouting is over) I won’t support it, nor will I watch it, but I am going to give my 2 cents about it.

The politicians claim this weekend-long event  is going to be a major money maker for the city and state.

But at what cost?

They’ve already had to spend millions closing and repaving roads, welding dozens of manhole covers shut, filling in the tracks for the light rail, blocking streets, putting up temporary barriers, seating and walkways and inconveniencing the residents and commuters who respectively live and work in the downtown area. Taking public transportation isn’t going to get people in and out any faster. Adding buses to the mix makes it much worse. All for the sake of 2 million dollars in revenue? Not worth the trouble in my opinion.

I have no inside information but am led to believe by other parties there was a $6 million grant given by the feds for this event.  Typical governmental BS if you ask me. They complain about having a budget deficit in the trillions yet openly give 6 million for a freaking race?  Please help me understand THIS logic.

The claim is that the area stands to make maybe (?) 2 million dollars in revenues from the weekend racing events.  Nice, an extra 2 million dollars. So what will that change?  Nothing.  Budget cuts will still be made in recs and parks, police and fire departments, schools, libraries, etc… you know, all the usual suspects that they never seem to have enough money for. And you can bet the tolls are going to increase for bridges and tunnels, regardless of the public forum town hall meetings which are just typical dog and pony shows to make people THINK their opinions and input matter. They actually have nothing to do with the decision to raise the tolls  in Maryland. It’s a done deal regardless what they tell you.

The only good thing is the local parking garages, restaurants, bars and shops may see a temporary increase in sales which was severely damaged by the Orioles 14th annual attendance flop, but it’s not going to be nearly enough for them to break even.

Back to the radio comments…

A woman said she sat through a traffic light for 8 changes and didn’t move. A guy said it took him almost 3 hours to get from downtown to northern AA County, normally a 20 minute trip. THREE HOURS?? WTF? Another guy said cops were not really interested in directing traffic because they were too busy writing tickets left and right for people caught driving in a bus only lane. Talk about a PR nightmare. The Mayor is all smiles about the  exposure the city of Baltimore gets from this. Yeah, sure, on Labor Day weekend, when lots of people try to get one last beach visit in, go to the state fair, go to the Renaissance Festival,  have family parties and picnics, or are busy moving their kids into the local college dorms. Gee, I guess for those who have absolutely nothing to do, let’s all go downtown, sit in a traffic jam, buy a $60 ticket and fight crowds to watch about 100 to 200 FEET worth of race cars zooming around the city streets. I wonder what she’s been smoking. Someone said the city of Long Beach and another small town have grand prix events and they are a huge success. Well, last I looked , Long Beach ISN’T the size of Baltimore, and neither was the other town he mentioned.  Lots of other cities tried it and jettisoned the idea after a few failures. I wonder what would have happened if the hurricane hit the area THIS weekend instead of last weekend??

I can imaging the telephone calls between the braintrusts that run the grand prix city events. “Well, we lost Richmond. Hey, I have an idea.. let’s try Baltimore. The Orioles stink and the Ravens can’t seem to get over the top and beat the elite teams when it matters. They really need something to cheer and get excited about. We’ll sucker them into hosting this event. And let’s make them sign a 5 year contract. We’ll get rich of those suckers. BRILLIANT” And so it happens……

This whole thing is ridiculous. And believe me, I have an open mind about it. It’s the people who live and work around the area affected that I feel sorry for. Even when they give notice about road closures and such, people still think they can whiz thru the area without much difficulty, but they aren’t the ones to blame for traffic being so heavy and almost immovable. When Obama was here about a year and a half ago, there was gridlock on 95, 395, 895 and all roads in and out of the city. And that was just for 3 or 4 hours. Talk about a nightmare. But this thing is a tad bit different.

How can a city with little or no knowledge of moving traffic through the area train and re-train their police department to work hard to eliminate these gridlocks? They can’t and they won’t and the ones who suffer will be the ones who welcome the event “for the good of the city, even though it’s a little inconvenient at times” .. BULLS@*T …tell that to the guy trying to get to AA County or the woman who sat thru 8 traffic light changes. They ain’t buying it.

I basically stopped tailgating at Ravens games because it took incredible amounts of time to get from the parking lots to my home. It pained me to leave a game with 6 minutes remaining, especially if it was a close one. I can’t blame people for leaving early. Traffic enforcement in the downtown area is a nightmare after a football game where some 70,000 people attend (maybe 50,000 by vehicle and 20,000 take public transportation) The cops have no clue how to make traffic move. I saw 3 of them talking once at a gridlocked intersection, then and only then decided to jump into action after a fight was about to erupt between 2 guys. Once I sat in a lot for almost 90 minutes and when I finally made it 3 blocks away from Ostend and Sharp Streets it was smooth sailing all the way home. There’s no excuse for this. None.

I once heard an idling vehicle burns more gas than one in motion. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but can you imagine all the $3.50 gas wasted because the cops can’t make traffic move efficiently away from the area? Oil companies and gas stations love traffic jams, I’m sure. (I can’t wait to see the 3rd quarter profit margin for Exxon/Mobil and BP…has to be multi-billions worth, again)

Oh you can bet there will be lots of law enforcement out this weekend (mainly because of the terror threat potential at a large gathering of people) but if they aren’t sipping coffee, gobbling donuts, beating up skateboarders, or yakking on their cell phones or to each other, they might write you a ticket. But they aren’t going to make you move any faster thru the streets of downtown Baltimore. They’ve proven that 10 times a year at Ravens’ home games as well as during the U2 concert. They have no clue.

I’m sure they’ll have an after-event sit down with the local politicians and chat about everything that went right and wrong and how happy they are the city and state made so much money because of the races. And you know what?  We get to do it all over again next year?  Which means a rewind and replay all over again in late August / early September 2012.  Joy!

If I were you, I’d take that last week of August and the first week of September off cuz it’s going to be deja vu all over again.

A few people may learn a lesson from this, but the vast majority won’t.