One-Way Streets: Bane or Blessing?

May 31, 1993

This is the 40th anniversary of Henry A. Barnes' traffic study that introduced one-way streets to Baltimore with a vengeance. "There is nothing wrong with the street system of Baltimore that an adequate, modern, well-engineered traffic signal system can't rectify," he wrote after searching for the controls to city traffic lights and finding them in the men's room of police headquarters.

Baltimore's city fathers were so impressed with the 1953 traffic study that they hired Mr. Barnes to be the city's traffic commissioner. He quickly moved to unclog the city's snarled traffic through upgraded signal equipment, a network of one-way streets, expanded traffic lanes and free-flow concepts that were incompatible with streetcars. By 1963, buses had replaced the last streetcars.

Although a modern-day streetcar line was introduced a year ago, that mode of mass transportation is never again likely to relive its glory days, when clean and efficient lines criss-crossed the city. To those filled with nostalgia the next best thing would be dismantling the traffic patterns Mr. Barnes ordered four decades ago. They want two-way traffic again on Charles Street, claiming this would lure more shoppers and residents.

The two-way plan was recommended two years ago in a downtown planning document, "Baltimore -- The Renaissance Continues." In general, the study group wanted to divert commuter traffic away from residential areas on St. Paul, Calvert and Paca streets to the perimeter of downtown, using the Jones Falls Expressway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as the major arteries.

Meanwhile, city officials started their own experiment around Thanksgiving of 1991. They retained Charles Street as a northbound one-way street but lifted many of the rush-hour parking restrictions. That apparently satisfied sufficiently many merchants and residents. The arrangement has now been made permanent. Proponents of a two-way Charles Street keep demanding an experiment with their concept, however.

We urge the Schmoke administration to keep an open mind on the two-way proposal.

Recently started construction around Penn Station will slow traffic on that portion of Charles Street for several years. Since downtown commuters will seek alternative routes anyway, this is the time to see if two-way traffic on Charles Street would make sense in today's circumstances.

Such a test is particularly timely because the Jones Falls Expressway ramps will soon be reconstructed. If they are to be improved, the city must know how the Charles Street traffic ought to flow.

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