To watch Manny Nissel walking home from synagogue is to understand why many Orthodox Jews walk two by two along Park Heights Avenue on Saturday mornings.
There he is, holding the hand of a child who is on his left. On his right, a friend from Philadelphia gingerly tiptoes along the curb, then steps into the roadway at the sight of a street sign.
Four feet wide, the sidewalk can barely accommodate two grown men and a boy.
"In Memphis, you can go jogging without knocking into the street lamps," said the 30-year-old visitor, as he accompanied a cousin home after morning services at the Agudah of Baltimore. "There, [the sidewalks] are nice and wide."
Here, along Park Heights Avenue above Northern Parkway, the pedestrian traffic increases on Saturday mornings.
The neighborhoods east and west of this busy four-lane thoroughfare have become home to a growing number of Orthodox Jews whose religious laws prevent them from driving cars on the Sabbath.
Add to that the numbers of elderly already living in condominiums and apartments and an influx of Russian emigres, many of whom don't have cars, and the need for wider sidewalks becomes apparent, community leaders say.
"When Park Heights [Avenue] was developed, it was much lower density," said Cass Gottleib, a local architect and president of Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., a housing and community development arm of the Associated Jewish Charities that works in the area. "The sidewalks can no longer accommodate the traffic."
A consultant hired by a community-based task force formed to improve the Park Heights corridor from Garrison Avenue to Slade Avenue has recommended that the avenue be reconfigured with sidewalks twice as wide as the city's 4-foot maximum.
With wider sidewalks and improved landscaping, the avenue would become "a more gracious and safer environment," according to the report issued in 1990 by Land/Design Research Inc., consultants on the Park Heights revitalization project.
The proposed sidewalk expansion is only one small part of an overall improvement plan that includes recommended changes in utilities, front yard landscapes, signage, street furniture and traffic patterns. And although some of the proposed corridor improvements have so far been paid for with private and public dollars, the sidewalk expansion is a more expensive endeavor.
City planners estimate the cost to widen the sidewalks from Northern Parkway to the city line at $750,000. And no decision has yet been made by the city to undertake it.
"That's still one we're discussing," said Rachel Edds, deputy director of the city Planning Department. "The question is, how much is it going to cost? How much can we afford?"