The city's traffic kiosks

Baltimore Glimpses

December 03, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

BOTH pedestrians and drivers these days face the risk of getting clobbered by somebody running a traffic light. There aren't enough police officers in the world to cover every intersection in a city like Baltimore, and light-running is a practice that has become frighteningly common in this frightening age.

That was not the case in Baltimore through the 1940s and into the early 1950s -- at least at major downtown intersections. There were police kiosks in the middle of those intersections, and if you ran through an officer's personally operated red light, it was you who got clobbered -- by a lecture and a ticket.

The kiosks were six-sided affairs with a red-light, green-light (no yellow) apparatus extending up from the roof. The officer sat inside the kiosk and simply turned the apparatus 90 degrees when he judged it was time to change traffic direction.

And when he turned the sign to red and you went through it, Lord have mercy on your Baltimore soul!

There were traffic kiosks at Charles and Saratoga, St. Paul and Lexington, Fayette and St. Paul, North and Charles (elevated on a pillar), Lombard and South -- to name a few.

As dusk descended at the end of the sweltering Aug. 29, 1951, Officer Raymond Miles stepped out of his kiosk at Lombard and South streets. What he was about to do was historic. His was the last traffic kiosk in operation. The city had been eliminating them in the previous few days in favor of automatic lights. Without a word of ceremony, Miles wheeled his kiosk over to the curb.

Today at Lombard and South or at any of the busy intersections throughout Baltimore, you do not see a traffic kiosk with an honest-to-God cop inside, the uniformed conscience of errant and crazy drivers.

What you do see too often is impatient idiots crashing through yellow and red lights, breaking the law and endangering pedestrians and other drivers -- all to save a few seconds.

They're mighty lucky Ray Miles isn't in his kiosk.

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