Transportation within Baltimore FAQ (v10.0 release Jul 2010)
This FAQ is aimed at those who are getting to Otakon by means other than driving themselves. Specifically the question answered is “How do I get to the convention from the bus station, airport, or train station by either walking or using Baltimore’s public transportation system?” (Of course, taxis are always another option.) Also included are a few tips for those who plan on driving to the con (see sections 5 & 6).
This information is consolidated from a slew of tips from both Otakon attendees and Baltimore-resident transportation specialists; all efforts have been made to assure accuracy, but Otakon can bear no responsibility for changes to schedules, fares, or highway conditions. Consider yourself warned. Prices quoted are from various web sites, some from previous years, so trust their accuracy only as much as you trust the ’net… I wouldn’t bet my munchies money on it, and would bring along some extra just in case.
Before you go too far with your planning, let us run some basic ideas and updates past you for your consideration:
Note that the public transportation does NOT all run late at night, so those staying at hotels not within walking distance of the BCC may have to use alternate methods of getting back to their rooms at night! (Specifically, the Light Rail last leaves Camden Yards at about 12:08 AM on Friday and Saturday, and about 8:16 pm on Sunday to get to BWI, and the last regular Super Shuttle is done before midnight!)
IMPORTANT NOTES BEFORE STARTING:
These things are just approximations, OK? Might be a bit more, might be a bit less. We strive to constantly update this site, but we cannot make allowances for emergency construction, traffic jams, accidents, fare increases, disasters, tsunami, blizzards, or giant lizard attacks. Plan accordingly.
Not all transit or transportation services will operate on the same schedules on weekends as opposed to weekdays. Some operations — for example, MARC train service — will not operate at ALL on weekends. Please consult ALL applicable schedules to be certain.
If you want to check out Internet map services or a computer atlas program:
For those of not driving to the con… You might have noticed that the official hotels do not, as a rule, offer shuttle/limo services. (Apparently the BWI airport hotels DO offer free shuttles, but possibly only to the airport! See the Light Rail section, below.) Don’t worry. At least you won’t have to deal with parking. So… assuming you can get to the general Baltimore region, but are wondering how the heck you’ll cover the last few miles/meters/cubits… (Mind you, this is assuming you're going to the BCC. And don't take this as the Word of God/Allah/Buddha/Cosmic Muffin — check up on things yourself, please?)
A NOTE ON TEAMWORK:
We suspect that the vast majority of you will be traveling to Otakon with friends. You probably couldn’t find a place to stay without them. However, if by some small chance you are traveling to Otakon solo and you need to travel in a taxi or on mass transit the final lap downtown, we suggest that you travel on and come off the bus/plane/train looking very obviously Otakon-bound. Wear an anime-theme t-shirt. Carry a manga. Wear part of your costume. Hold a sign saying “Going To Otakon” (not “glomp me”). When you arrive, look around for fellow otaku and consider approaching them and offering to split a taxi ride to the BCC/hotel or perhaps walking together. There is safety in numbers. Every taxi should be able to handle two or three otaku plus their luggage/gear. Even if you never see that otaku again, you’ve just made a $9 taxi fare into a $3 or $6 fare. And maybe that stranger is just a friend you haven’t met. (Please use judgment and discretion in this as well. A young female otaku might do well to steer away from someone resembling The Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons or a sweaty, creepy-looking “fanboy,” for example.)
Baltimore has a Greyhound/Peter Pan terminal at the corner of HAINES (going northwest/southeast) and WARNER (going northeast). Unfortunately, it is nowhere near anything else to which any sane person would want to go — it’s actually located next to the city’s garbage incinerator! This stop is NOT to be confused with the “Baltimore Travel Plaza” (a glorified truck stop) on the east side of town.
The front doors/gates of the bus terminal face north. The easiest and biggest landmark to see will be the huge Ravens football stadium looming to the north. If you need your bearings, the Baltimore Convention Center is well beyond and to the right (east) of that stadium.
From this bus terminal, there are three options: city transit (MTA) bus, taxi, or walking. (We will disregard roller skates, bicycles, etc.) Actually, make that two — see below.
The MTA operates the Route 27 bus line to directly serve the Greyhound/Peter Pan terminal. You can ride from the bus terminal to the BCC for only $1.60 one-way. The bus stop is outside the bus terminal, marked by a small blue-and-white sign saying “BUS STOP” on the back (you passed it riding the bus into the terminal). Get on a MTA bus (with yellow/black trim: as seen here or blue/green trim: as seen here) with a destination sign saying “27 Reisterstown Road Plaza Station (a METRO subway stop),” NOT “Port Covington” (which is to the south; you want to go north). If the bus destination sign should somehow say anything else, ask the driver before boarding if the bus is going north past the Convention Center. Go here to see approximate times for the bus.
If you are short on time or running late, there is also a taxi stand outside the Greyhound bus station. When you get there and claim your luggage, walk outside. You will see a line of taxis (mostly yellow). Walk up to the one at the front, tell them where you want to go (Convention Center, your specific hotel, your friend’s address, whatever) and ask an approximate fare before you get in so you know how deep you’re getting into from the start. (Most drivers will err on the side of caution when estimating. A trip during rush hour might cost somewhat more, because the driver may spend a lot of time sitting in traffic.) Then get in and let him do his job.
The average taxi fare from the bus station to the BCC is around $8, according to local taxi drivers. The distance from the Greyhound parking lot to the Pratt Street Lobby doors is 1.3 miles. (This writer drove it in five minutes with many red lights; with all green lights, one might do it in three.) Nearby hotels (Sheraton, Marriott, Hyatt, etc.) will cost you a dollar or three more, depending on distance.
And please be nice and add an extra dollar or two for the driver’s tip — maybe two if you have him loading and unloading a lot of luggage. It sounds expensive, but tips are where they really make their living, just like waitresses and pizza delivery guys.
It is strongly suggested that you do NOT attempt to walk from the bus terminal to the Convention Center, and walking to the Light Rail is totally counterproductive. As such, no directions are provided here. Suck it down and take a taxi. Do not think that you can walk that distance. It's certainly possible to walk it, but it involves a long overpass with no walkway. There is a pedestrian route that takes you up and down stairs to a walkway attached to a railroad overpass. It’s a couple blocks through a not-very-nice part of town and around/through the Ravens Stadium complex. You WILL get lost. Even Baltimore residents would not walk this route voluntarily, IF they even know of it. DO NOT DO IT unless you’re a martial arts god/goddess with a great map. (As it turns out, this writer is in that area frequently for business reasons — and he often has a police radio if he’s there for a long time.) And if Baltimore weather is typical for July (hot and muggy), that $1.60 or $8 will be the best you’ve ever spent.
As suggested at the top of this document, look for fellow otaku with which to share rides.
A last quick tip: if for ANY reason someone either needs to catch a bus from the Baltimore Travel Plaza or accidentally gets off the bus there instead of Haines Street, the MTA #20 bus connects downtown and the Travel Plaza. Please see the MTA bus section for more details.
NEW FOR 2010: There is a new low-cost bus services that Otakon goers can use. The BoltBus goes from New York to Baltimore. The New York BoltBus stop is located at the northeast corner of 33rd and 7th, in front of a Sbarro’s Italian restaurant. New York public transit connections to the BoltBus stop are the NY MTA subway lines A, C, E (8 Ave), 1, 2, 3 (7 Ave), B, D, F, and V (6 Ave) and the drop-off and pickup location for Baltimore is Penn Station (where you just need to take the free Charm City Circulator to the downtown area).
To reserve a ride and get the cheapest price, go here. You can go directly to the bus and pay to board, however, it costs more to do so rather than going online to reserve a ride ticket. BoltBus features:
BoltBus also does charter buses. To charter a BoltBus, just call 1-(888)-MYBOLTB (888-692-6582) and a travel coordinator will assist in arranging exclusive use of one of the buses. All the extra amenities are included (free Wi-Fi, power outlets and additional leg room). It is noted that weekend availability may be limited, so a group that may want a chartered bus for Otakon may want to call in advance to see if the group can reserve a BoltBus.
All Amtrak and MARC (State of Md. Baltimore/Washington DC commuter trains) Penn Line trains in Baltimore arrive at a place called PENN STATION. From there, you can either take the MTA Light Rail (see below), a bus, or — if you’re feeling your oats — you can walk the 1.5 miles due SOUTH. Or you can take a cab from the cabstand at the train station. This will take you directly where you want to go. It will cost about $5-8 to get to the Holiday Inn/Days Inn/Sheraton City Center (not to be confused with the Sheraton connected to the BCC) or the BCC, and that includes a tip. (For more on taxis, see the Greyhound/Peter Pan section.)
There is also a separate MARC line (the Camden Line) that goes from DC and other points south directly to the Camden Yards station. This is only a block or two from the Baltimore Convention Center — more precisely just across the street. This is NOT an Amtrak station! Camden Station serves weekday-only MARC commuter trains between Washington Union Station and Baltimore Camden Station with intermediate stops (Laurel, Dorsey, etc.). This line is not to be confused with the Penn Line, which operates on Amtrak tracks through Baltimore’s Penn Station. It can be useful (and very convenient) for a ride to Otakon, but ONLY if you ride in on Thursday or Friday and return on Monday (meaning another night’s stay at a hotel or with friends). The fares are quite reasonable, but there are relatively few trains scheduled on the Camden Line, primarily at what we consider “rush hour.” Alternately, you could consider riding in to Camden Station to get TO Otakon, then catching a ride home with friends or being picked up on Sunday.
Check www.mta.maryland.gov for schedules and fares on both the Camden Line and the Penn Line. Go to www.amtrak.com for Amtrak information. Note that ALL Amtrak trains operating on the Northeast Corridor (Washington-Boston) require advance reservations.
As another tip, it may be possible to ride MARC from locations on the Brunswick Line (Rockville/Gaithersburg/Martinsburg/Frederick) to Washington and then ride another train north to Baltimore. This can work if, for example, you want to ride in on Thursday/Friday while parents are working and you can be picked up Sunday evening.
NOTES TO REMEMBER ON MARC:
One option for reaching the BCC area from Penn Station is the LIGHT RAIL (a modern version of old-time streetcars or trolleys). There is a Light Rail station IN Penn Station — watch in the main concourse for the signs — it’s downstairs from a side hallway of the main concourse (a rack of bus and transit timetables might actually be easier to spot than the signs themselves). The Light Rail cars departing Penn Station go only one direction — south towards the BCC and BWI Airport — so it’s fairly idiot-proof as far as getting from Penn Station to the BCC. The fare is $1.60 one-way (anywhere on the Light Rail, as a matter of fact). Purchase a pass at the vending machine on the platform (exact change may be required or instead use a major credit card) and board the Light Rail “Penn Shuttle” car. (You will not have to show that pass to board, but you possibly might be asked by roving transit inspectors to show said pass.) Your Light Rail car will then run up to the Mount Royal station and then south to the aptly convenient Baltimore Convention Center stop. (If you should happen to miss this stop, the Camden Yards Stop is a mere 100-200 yards further down the track, and you can still see the BCC from there — start walking.) The Light Rail, due to badly-timed traffic lights along its route, is not particularly fast through downtown — it&rsqou;s been said that a pedestrian walking a fast clip could beat a Light Rail train down Hanover Street and this writer has personally done so at least part of the distance. In a worst-case scenario, boarding just after another train has departed and hitting all red lights, it can take over a half-hour to reach the BCC, but it will still be easier than walking, especially with a suitcase or two in steamy or stormy weather.
There are also regular city bus lines (lines 3, 11, 61, and 64) that will take you south on either Maryland Avenue or St. Paul St/Light St (which goes directly to the Inner Harbor — right next door to the BCC), and come back up other streets. Riders on all four lines should exit at Pratt Street or the nearest convenient stop for the Convention Center (though the precise intersection depends on the line). Take the #3 line all the way to its final layover point which is at Pratt and Charles Street, near the Sheraton Inner Harbor hotel if you want to be directly across the street from the BCC. See the MTA website for timings, fares, and more precise information, and when boarding, ask the bus driver to confirm that he is indeed going downtown. (The Penn Station main entrance faces generally south, or slightly southwest.)
The best option to get directly from Penn Station for free is the Purple Route of the Charm City Circulator, which is new for 2010 and takes you down Saint Paul Street. You can then get off at the Pratt Street – Inner Harbor stop (located at Pratt Street and Light Street). From there, if you turn to your immediate right, you will see this, and if you turn to your immediate left, you will see this. To get to the BCC, you will need to turn to your immediate left and cross Light Street so you are on the opposite side of the street. You will see a large building with the address of “One East Pratt Street” above the doors and a tall silver building with a red “H” on it in the distance. Walk up Pratt going against traffic (on the sidewalk of course) for about a block until you get to a busy street with a traffic light. This is Charles Street. Depending on what time you arrive on Thursday or Friday, you will see a long line. This is the BCC (finally!). You will just need to cross the street and then look for an Otakon staff member in a black shirt directing the lines to find the end of the pre-reg line or the reg line. It could be a long walk looking for the end of the line since they are known to actually wrap around the entire BCC.
DIRECTIONS for walking from Penn Station to the BCC:
This involves going up and down hills. The perceived size of hills depends on your exercise and upbringing — not San Francisco or Grand Canyon trails, but not flat either.
NOTE: Walking from Penn Station to the BCC is NOT recommended by this writer since Otakon is usually held in the middle of the summer (July or August), Baltimore’s summers are usually very hot and humid, and it’s a nearly 2 mile walk which Google Maps estimates would take 32 minutes in order to reach the BCC from Penn Station. With the new option of taking the Purple Route Charm City Circulator (in a nicely air conditioned electric-hybrid bus) from Penn Station to East Pratt & Light Streets, you can reduce your walk to the BCC to less than a mile and 5 minutes or less (depending how fast you walk). This is a much better option than walking all the way to the BCC, ending up very hot and sweaty by the time you get there, and possibly suffering from hyperthermia or severe dehydration (both of which are not good and may be medical emergencies that require immediate attention).
Okay, yeah, officially it's "Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport." Great guy and all that, but it's too much of a mouthful. Henceforth, "BWI Airport."
PLEASE NOTE: We are only advising you on how to get from BWI Airport to the BCC. If you have not flown in the past six years, we strongly advise doing research on airline travel what to take, what NOT to take, etc. This could become a serious issue in the case of, for example, cosplay costume details or props or items you might purchase at Otakon (swords, jewelry, etc.).
For Otakon 2011 American Airlines is offering a 5% discount on flights to the Baltimore area for Otakon Members. Tickets can be purchased between now and the convention, for travel between July 25th and August 1st, 2011. Use Discount Code 9271DC to receive a 5% discount on flights.
In addition, if you are staying at a hotel/motel other than downtown Baltimore, you may want to check to see if your hotel has a shuttle that runs from the airport to the hotel. Many, especially in the so-called "BWI Airport District," do, and it is also possible that enough of you might be arriving on Thursday to warrant a side trip outside a van's normal route. Also, you should be able to take a shuttle to the airport and then ride the Light Rail downtown.
Take the MTA Light Rail (see section 4.1 below) from the BWI AIRPORT station directly to the CONVENTION CENTER station. Or take the airport shuttle (see section 4.2 below). Or take a taxi. Note that these options are progressively more expensive and convenient for a single traveler. For groups, you might have to use some of those algebra skills you said you'd never need in real life, though the Light Rail remains the cheapest in all cases.
BWI Airport is a massive, well-equipped airport, complete with lots of food and information options. Throughout the airport, there are maps. If you want a guide, look for a purple-toped brochure titled "Terminal Map and Guide." (Please note many of the better food/drink selections are off on concourses past security checkpoints. If you like the looks of that beer or pizza or souvenir, get it right away and do not assume you can come back and get it later!)
If this is your first time in Maryland, welcome! We suggest a stop at the Maryland Information Center, which is located on the ground level (arrivals level) between Baggage Claims 3-6 and 7-9. They should be able to provide you with answers to any questions you may have and items such as state highway maps, Baltimore maps, Light Rail timetables, and tourist brochures (especially important if you have people with you with no interest in Otakon, like parents!).
For those who are fascinated with air travel and transportation, there's an Observation Gallery on the upper (departures) level between Concourses B and C. It is highly recommended if time permits.
A Meditation Lounge is available for airport patrons from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm daily on the upper level, next to an elevator between the AirTran counter and the International Terminal. This is available for your prayer, meditation, or other spiritual and/or quiet needs.
TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS from BWI:
All aboard for a fast, easy, and cheap ride to the Convention Center! You use a standard Light Rail pass ($1.60/1-way, or pay $3.20 round trip or $3.50 for a day pass).
NOTE: There are TWO lines that run through these stops. One of them goes from Cromwell Station to Penn Station (the YELLOW rail). The other one goes from BWI to Hunt Valley (the BLUE rail). Make sure you have the right line! You can transfer between these two lines at any stop between the dashes in the list above.
The Light Rail ticket vending machines do give change, but only in the form of coins. If you put in over $1 extra (the machine takes up to $20 bills), you will get the Susan B Anthony and/or Sacajawea dollar coins back instead of bills. You can also use major credit cards for the Light Rail ticket vending machines.
To ride Light Rail direct to Baltimore from BWI, follow the blue-and-white signs throughout the airport to "Public Transit" and the Light Rail station, located at the far end of the airport next to Concourse E, the International Terminal (sorry, Southwest passengers, for the long walk!). Proceed through the doors to the railroad platform and turn right. You will see two ticket machines. The fare one-way to Baltimore is $1.60. Insert $1.60 in one of these machines (the machines should accept bills, but in some cases the machines may be only taking change) or insert a major credit card and follow the instructions for a one-way ticket. Take the ticket and board the Light Rail vehicle. Once it departs, the trip to the Baltimore Convention Center Station should take about 35 minutes.
If you plan to ride Light Rail or buses more than once that day (say, to your hotel first, and then back to the BCC), we recommend you purchase a $3.50 Day Pass. It's good on all MTA buses, subway, and light rail all day long. It expires at the end of the night (MTA defines the end of the night as 3:00 AM).
You need not show your ticket or walk through a turnstile to board a Light Rail car/train. However, IF at any time you are approached by ANY uniformed policeman and asked to show your ticket, show them whatever you purchased at the ticket machine or on the bus. This is standard operating procedure on the Light Rail. If you do not have a ticket, you can be fined and/or arrested, and they make certain it's not a pleasant experience. This is the job of MTA Transit Police, whose uniforms will even explicitly say "Fare Inspector.' You should not be asked this by County or City Police. Yes, it is possible that you will not be asked to show that ticket during your Light Rail ride. Don't take that chance.
If you are going directly to Otakon, you want to get off at the Baltimore Convention Center station (surprise!). You should arrive here approximately 30 minutes after leaving BWI. While en route, you will pass over a very long and high bridge that passes over a body of water and under Interstate 95. After this bridge, the train will pass through one station next to the Ravens Football Stadium (M&T Bank Stadium/Hamburg Street Stop), then into a station next to the Oriole Park at Camden Yards called Camden Station. This latter station is also a railroad station serving commuter trains. At this point, the BCC will be visible ahead on the train&rsquos right. Get up and prepare to detrain, taking your luggage with you. A minute later, the train will stop (having pulled forward only several hundred feet) at the Convention Center stop. Get off when the doors open. To open the doors, you must press the green circular button that's recessed in a bright-yellow casing. You must also do this to request a stop as well. The BCC is that big concrete and glass monstrosity across the street. Carefully cross the street to get to it. The Pratt Street Lobby entrance is approximately 120 feet from the stop.
If you wish to go to your hotel, friend's place, or other destination first, please consult with your hotel, your host, or the MTA website and use their handy Google Maps-powered trip planner or call 410-539-5000 (the information call center is only open Mondays to Fridays from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM) for more information. For example: if you are staying at the Sheraton City Center, you would be better to get off at the University Center/Baltimore Street stop, the next stop after the BCC stop.
There is also a "Super Shuttle" (you've probably seen them at airports before) that runs from the airport to wherever. This, however, is a bit more expensive: $22 single and round trip for 1st person, $12 for more than 1 person. Between 9:00 AM and 2:00 AM, go to the Ground Transportation desk (BWI lower level) and ask for help; otherwise call 888-826-2700 and set up a reservation. You may need to call from your hotel in order to make sure they stop to pick you up for your return: call 888-826-2700 or, better yet, ask your hotel concierge.
The shuttle may also be reserved (at least 24 hours in advance at 1-800-258-3826, with a slightly more complex pricing scheme. This might be necessary if you want to get there outside of the MTA-LR operating hours (especially on Sunday) or don't care for public transportation, but you'll have to do further research yourself.
It is our experience that the shuttles are sometimes delayed. As with any form of transportation, if you have a schedule to keep (like, say, a plane to catch), make sure you allow plenty of extra time to get to your destination. People (ahem) have missed flights due to cutting things too close or unanticipated delays. Smoggy the Boar says: Don't let this happen to you!
If you decide to spurn the walking/public transportation route and decide you need a taxi, check out http://yp.yahoo.com. Enter your LOCATION as "Baltimore, MD" (or use one of the hotel addresses from the web page) and then do a search for "taxi" you should get about 3 dozen. Estimated prices to/from the hotels are about $20. Also note that this should not change for a group if they all get on/off at the same locations. Most taxis can accommodate three persons in comfort, four if they don't mind getting close in the back seat. However, factor in luggage in the trunk or on laps as well.
Note that not all of the taxi services will pick you up everywhere! They can drop you off most anywhere, but only airport licensees can pick you up at BWI, and only city licensees can pick you up downtown. Call ahead (or print out the whole list) to make sure you have one that will get you from point A to point B.
Here are directions from BWI to the BCC in the event that you wish to rent a car or get a ride in that weekend:
For Otakon 2011 Avis Rent A Car is offering a group discount to Otakon attendees designed to shop the best available rate, includes unlimited mileage and is available from seven days before to seven days after Otakon.
Reservations may be made by calling Avis directly at (888) 754-8878 and using group code: "AWD: G027999" or by following this link:
AVIS Otakon Group Discount
If you are flying to Dulles Airport or Reagan National Airport in the Washington D.C. area, you will have a formidable challenge getting to Baltimore. Further information is available at http://www.metwashairports.com.
Bluntly speaking, you only have three ways to get to Baltimore from Dulles: rent a car, hire a shuttle van (expensive), or get a ride with someone else. (Once again, we disregard the possible-but-unfeasible walking, bicycling, etc.) A Washington Metrobus connection exists Route 5A from Dulles to Rosslyn and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations in D.C. but it is effectively useless for the Otakon-bound. It takes approximately an hour (and $3) from Dulles to L'Enfant Plaza, and then there's the Metro ride to Union Station and then MARC or Amtrak to Baltimore. Total elapsed time from Dulles to Otakon: three to four hours.
Though the fastest way to get to Baltimore from National is still by automobile or shuttle van, tone transit option does exist for the Otakon-bound: Take the Washington Metro from National Airport north into downtown Washington and change lines to get to Washington Union Station. From there, one can hop either a MARC train (weekdays) or an Amtrak train (weekends) to Baltimore (connection from Baltimore Penn Station to the BCC by Light Rail may be needed).
Note that parking in downtown, even at the hotels, can be rather expensive (most hotels were quoting at least $12-16/day, with some as much as $35/day), so one option would be to parking a car at one of the many remote parking lots along Light Rail or Metro Subway and RIDING into town.
This map (well, diagram) lists all of the Light Rail stops and includes which ones have parking available. (PDF)
This map may give you a better idea of where these stops actually are (the above map is just a detail of this).
This map gives you a better look at the public transportation near the convention center.
This option works best IF there are only 1-2 persons in the car AND they are willing to leave the car out there for 2-3 days. Also, in theory it is possible for an individual to drive a car/van load of people to the BCC then have the driver ditch the car in a remote satellite lot and ride back in. If there’s a van load, you’re dealing with $1.60 times the number of passengers each way on the Light Rail/Metro.
The Park-and-Ride lots are HEAVILY patrolled by both local police and MTA Transit police. Your vehicle should be safe unless you’re practically inviting people to steal thousands of dollars of stuff left in plain sight in the car. (Nevertheless, if you have a choice, pick the car with the alarm system.)
RECOMMENDED P & R LOTS:
Owings Mills, Old Court Road, Milford Mill Road. The first two are relatively easy access from the Beltway. Just be warned that Milford Mill may close early in the evening, like 8 PM. Check http://MTA.Maryland.gov.
Recommended P & R:
North Linthicum: easy access to/from Beltway from south, although one SHOULD look closely at the maps first.
The North Linthicum station is located at the junction of Md. 648 and 170, which is an intersection shaped like a long, skinny “x”, with 648 going northwest to southeast and 170 southwest to northeast. The station is to the SOUTHWEST of the intersection, on the west side of 170 south of the intersection.
Beltway Exit 6 for 170 is set up ONLY to handle traffic from the west, not the east. If you come down from I-95 or 295 (Baltimore-Washington Parkway), the exit will feed you north on 170 to the Light Rail station, and you can return west on the Inner Loop of the Beltway.
One last park-and-ride thought: If you have friends, business associates, or the like in Baltimore, you might consider the possibility of parking your car at a friend’s house/garage and riding a bus or taxi downtown. You might also try the parking lot of a willing business. Be SURE that all parties are amicable and that someone can watch the car; don’t just put the car in a shopping center parking lot and leave it for several days, you may be towed or burglarized.
We assume if you’re reading this section, you 1) can drive or have a driver, and 2) can find your way to Baltimore, the BCC, and your accommodations. If you can’t, attending Otakon is the least of your worries, Ryoga.
However, we want to offer a few useful tips about driving on a “road trip.”
Gas Prices: Averaging about $2.72 a gallon as of Jun. 30th in Maryland, way below the national average of nearly $2.80 a gallon according to this dynamically updated 3 month chart.
LOCAL RUSH HOURS: The “BoshWash” metro area is one of the nation’s most congested highway zones for rush hours. You are guaranteed to hit heavy traffic on the “Beltways” around Baltimore (I-695) and Washington (I-495) between the hours of 6:30 AM and 9:30 AM and 3-7 PM weekdays, although historically rush hours on summer Fridays tend to be a bit lighter.
The following areas are guaranteed heavy traffic with average speeds well below 50 MPH: MORNINGS: Outer Loop I-695 from I-95 northeast of town to southbound I-83; I-795 inbound/southeast; outer Loop I-695 from I-795 south all the way to I-95. EVENINGS: Inner Loop from I-95 southwest of town north to I-795 or I-83 south, and Towson to I-95. BOTH RUSH HOURS: I-95 Fort McHenry Tunnel both ways and the entire Washington DC area. ALSO, be careful approaching the Beltway from the West on Interstate 70 — backups frequently stretch several miles and are the site of almost daily fender-benders as fast cars brake for the sudden line-up of almost-stopped cars ahead of them during morning and afternoon rush hours.
TRAFFIC REPORTS ON THE RADIOS: The following are recommended radio stations for traffic reports in their areas:
Listening to traffic radio can be like listening to a cryptic code if you’re not used to knowing the local highways. If you are not intimately familiar with the local roads, use traffic radio primarily to listen for major highway closures or traffic jams/backups. One example: “the JFX’ refers to the Jones Falls Expressway, or I-83 between the Beltway and downtown.
INTERSTATE 95 ADVICE/TIPS
A useful website for those driving Interstate 95 any distance is www.i95coalition.org. Click on the “Travel Information” section on the upper right.
If you are driving north from the D.C. area or further south, be aware of the following: There are no tolls in your way, other than if you happen to take the Dulles Toll Road from west of Washington. Between Washington and Baltimore, there are three major roads: I-95 is four lanes in each direction and usually very crowded. Maryland 295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, is two narrower lanes each way, and in generally rougher condition albeit more scenic. U.S. 1 is a local road between the two, going through all the towns, traffic lights, and commercial areas. We do NOT advise Route 1 unless you’re looking for food, motel space, sundries, or gas.
From the North, BE AWARE OF THE FOLLOWING: There are TOLLS collected at the following Maryland locations (All of the following toll facilities are participants in the EZPass transponder toll system, which uses a device you put in your car to automatically record toll passage and deduct it from your account. If you have access to an EZPass account/transponder, use it):
If you are driving through Delaware from the north, take I-495 around Wilmington as opposed to I-95 through Wilmington. It’s faster and safer, and the signs tell you to.
We see no reason for any Otakon traveler to use I-895 in Maryland at all, except in VERY special circumstances such as driving south from Philadelphia and picking up a friend at BWI Airport before going to Otakon. Stay off of it. Even if you do find a reason to travel it, be aware that I-895 is generally regarded as one long speed trap because it’s wide, flat, sparsely traveled, and conducive to doing 80-90 mph when it has a speed limit of 55.
GENERAL TIPS FOR ROAD TRIPS:
If you have never taken a long road trip with a group besides your family before, I STRONGLY advise you to take the following advice, gleamed from 25+ years of driving solo and in groups:
If you find that you have a lot of friends or new friends that are going to Otakon from a particular geographical area (say, New York City, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, northern New Jersey, or Richmond), you might find that it is possible to charter a bus from your area to go to Otakon! It sounds ridiculous, but some anime clubs have already done so — at least three charter buses appeared at Otakon in 2006. For a fare not much more (and possibly a lot less) than a bus or Amtrak fare from your chosen point, you can enjoy a comfortable bus ride straight from your point of origin (say, a shopping center parking lot, a school, or bus terminal) directly to the Baltimore Convention Center on Thursday or Friday morning, and a comfortable ride back on Sunday! Most charter buses hold 45 people — the critical break-even point financially seems to be about 30-35. If you think you can find a group of 40 willing people to pay $20-30 in advance, you might want to call bus companies and see what happens!
If you don’t have quite enough people to warrant a bus, you might be able to rent a van. Large passenger vans are capable of carrying up to eighteen passengers, although luggage may cut into that figure. Some bus companies will direct you to companies that hire vans complete with driver, an arrangement similar to a small charter bus. Car rental companies also rent vans on occasion, but you provide the gas and driver.
In addition, if you know for a fact that you are staying at a hotel in the suburbs and a lot of other people are as well, you might consult with your hotel’s manager to arrange for a group ride to Otakon in a van or bus. In 2006, one hotel in Columbia, MD provided a tour bus to and from Otakon each day of the convention. It’s best to confirm you have a “critical mass” too big for a car — say, ten or fifteen. At worst, the hotel will give you the number of a local taxi. At best, they’ll do all the work for you. Expect to pay a price per person for this “luxury” — perhaps $5-10 round trip — but it'’s still cheaper than the parking fees or gas!
Idiotically preposterous if you don’t live in the downtown Baltimore area, only modestly preposterous if you do. If you are even reading this, we don’t need to tell you much except for one thing: you will NOT be permitted to bring your bicycle into the BCC and there are a somewhat limited number of things to which you can secure/lock your bicycle outside the BCC — trees, lamp posts, etc. — and some of those run the risk of having a bicycle cut off and impounded if it is judged to be impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic. Oh, and wear your helmet.
If you are staying with friends at a downtown hotel, most hotels will make accommodations for your bicycle (such as locking it in a back storage room) if you are a paying guest. Ask your hotel for information.
Another option under the right circumstances: if your family or friend’s family (or you) happen to own a boat capable of allowing passengers to sleep aboard, Baltimore has a multitude of marinas in the downtown Inner Harbor area and off to the east. This actually may be a feasible option IF you have access to the boat AND can pay the dockage fees.
The closest marina to Otakon is the Baltimore Inner Harbor Marina Center. Rates for transients for the weekend are $2.50/ft. of boat size for Fri/Sat/Sun, $2.00/ft. Mon-Thurs., if space is available. Other marinas are located in the Canton area southeast of downtown. If you actually have access to a boat, you probably know how to find dockage.
Hey, we’re just making sure we cover all the possibilities. (^_^) If you have a private aircraft, we recommend Martin State Airport, about ten miles east of downtown Baltimore in Middle River. There’s also the Essex Skypark, on a remote peninsula southeast of Baltimore, and Baltimore Airpark along I-95 near Perry Hall, northeast of Baltimore. Small aircraft may also use part of BWI Airport. From there, you have the above-detailed transit and car rental options.
No, we’re not seriously advocating this as a transportation alternative. This is just an excuse for us to remind you that you may NOT use skateboards, skates, or “Heelys” in the Baltimore Convention Center. It’s the BCC’s rules, not ours. In fact, we most strongly advise not even bringing them at all, even if it’s part of your character’s appearance for a cosplay sketch.
This version of All Roads Lead to Otakon was compiled/updated by Kun Sun Sweeley.
The original All Roads Lead to Otakon was long hosted and maintained by George E. Hagen. He has graciously allowed us to capitalize on the hard work and move it into Otakon’s main site to be maintained by Otakon staffers and we’re grateful.