East-side truck ban makes sense

March 10, 1992

Some truckers are fuming because Baltimore City has experimentally banned through-trucks from Fells Point and Canton. For two weeks, police have been writing warnings to truckers caught in an area bounded by President Street, Eastern Avenue, Fagley Street and Boston Street. From now on, violators will be issued a $50 ticket.

"It's totally unfair," protests Pam Smith, who operates a trucking firm with her husband, Curley. To save money and avoid paying a $4 toll each way in the Fort McHenry Tunnel, their trucks have been hauling cargo through Inner Harbor and East Baltimore streets. The city has been trying to figure out what to do about trucks ever since such heavy vehicles replaced the horse and buggy. Henry A. Barnes' landmark 1953 traffic study recommended designating truck routes to handle through-traffic until a harbor tunnel was built.

Baltimore is now served by two tunnels and a bridge but through-trucks continue to clog the center city. Some do so to save tolls or to avoid time-consuming spot checks by inspectors who may order costly repairs to trucks. Others drive through the city because they are carrying loads like oil and natural gas, which are outlawed from the tunnels as being too hazardous. Meanwhile, truck traffic through East Baltimore in particular continues to be an explosive political issue.

The experimental ban tries to alleviate residents' concerns. "The intent is not to penalize truckers," says James W. Causey, the city's deputy transportation commissioner. "Quality of life is something that needs to be maintained and restored in the city."

If truckers think the east-side experiment will go away, they are wrong. The opening next month of the new stadium at Camden Yards and the new light-rail service are likely to result in further demands for restricting traffic by heavy tractor trailers. City authorities are within their rights in regulating movement by heavy trucks if they are not making deliveries in the downtown area. After all, the two harbor tunnels and the bridge were constructed specifically to accommodate this essential mode of transport and speed the delivery of freight.

Some truckers claim trucks are being expelled from Fells Point and Canton because they are now becoming gentrified neighborhoods. Phooey! For more than two decades, east-siders of all backgrounds have been fighting heavy truck traffic that shakes their streets and rattles their windows. This is not an issue that pits the poor against the affluent. It is the city finally taking action that should have been taken years ago.

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