Drivers and merchants cheer reopening of Howard Street

September 11, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Jane Ryland paused in her blue minivan at the corner of Howard and Baltimore streets yesterday and contemplated whether she should obey the signs that indicated she could continue northward.

Ryland did. And then she received a smattering of applause from city dignitaries who were on hand to mark the opening of Howard Street to northbound automobile traffic nearly 10 years after it was closed to everything but buses, light rail and pedestrians.

"Well, it is about time you can drive up here," Ryland said as she waited at a stoplight at Howard and Saratoga. "It has been a pain to have to drive around downtown to get from point A to point B."

Howard Street business owners and city agencies hope the increased traffic along Howard Street between Baltimore and Saratoga streets will help revitalize the ailing area.

Yacob Watchstein, who has owned the discount clothing store "Street Talk" on Howard Street for the past three years, says that he expects his cash registers to ring 30 percent more in sales now that automobile traffic has been restored.

"Now people will be able to see what is on this part of the street," Watchstein said. "People don't even know I'm here. I have a store two blocks away and everyone shops there."

Watchstein said that his other discount clothing store, just a few blocks north on Howard Street where cars are allowed, does much more business because people driving by can see it.

For the next several weeks, officers will be stationed along Howard Street to direct automobile traffic. The fear has been that drivers will interfere with the light rail, which has tracks and stations along the short stretch.

Yesterday, drivers seemed to navigate their way around the lumbering light rail with no visible problems. Signs showing where cars are supposed to travel are displayed next to traffic lights, and arrows are painted on the pavement.

Mass Transit Administrator John A. Agro Jr. said that a study is under way to determine whether Howard Street can be opened to southbound traffic. But that would be difficult because much of the southbound portion is covered with light rail tracks.

"I wouldn't want to suggest more construction on Howard Street," said Agro, acknowledging that merchants are still smarting from the massive light rail construction in the mid-1980s, which caused a downturn in business.

In August 1994, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke formed the Howard Street Task Force, comprised of planners, city agency heads and merchants to figure out ways to rejuvenate the area from Camden Yards on the south to the Mount Royal cultural district on the north.

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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