The majorettes marched up the death lane in the bright sunshine yesterday.
Stepping swiftly and suavely to the snap of snares, the Westsiders performed in the middle of Hilton Parkway to celebrate the renovation of Baltimore's most sinister stretch of asphalt.
For decades, the 1.4-mile parkway between North and Edmondson avenues has been the city's most dangerous artery, the scene of more than 10 traffic deaths in the last 10 years.
The road was so bad -- "Horrible, absolutely horrible," said one police officer -- that the city often simply closed it when it rained.
"It took a lot to navigate all the curves, and whenever it rained it was really dangerous," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who unveiled the revamped roadway yesterday with transportation officials and neighborhood leaders. "Half the people would drive safely, but the other half always drove like they were on a raceway. You always feared a head-on."
The $8.1 million solution for making the parkway safer -- achieved with federal, state and local tax money -- was to widen the roadway from 50 to 70 feet and smooth out its snaking curves.
"The major issue on this highway was safety," said William Harvey, who headed the project for Corman Construction Inc. of Jessup. "It was a pretty challenging job. For a mile and a quarter, it had entirely too much curve -- and some of it went in the wrong direction."
In addition to the widening of the roadway, the project also rebuilt the Gwynns Falls and Gelston bridges and added a path for cyclists and pedestrians on the west side of the 35-mph road, the primary north-south artery in West Baltimore.
Before Mayor Schmoke unveiled the new red-and-white street sign for the parkway and the majorettes and neighbors dispersed, the Rev. Depriest Whye of John Wesley United Methodist Church stood on the back of a city truck to bless the roadway.