Pedestrians intimidated at busy Roland Park corner Shops create foot traffic

drivers ignore speed limit

March 03, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

It should be a patch of urban paradise, a street corner with coffee, bagel, dry cleaning, video and bakery businesses clustered together.

But residents and business owners say one thing is disturbing the peace: traffic speeding along the narrow stretch of West Cold Spring Lane in the heart of Roland Park's three-block business district.

At West Cold Spring Lane and Schenley Road, no stop signs or lights stall traffic. Only a faded crosswalk marks a path across the street. The posted speed limit is 25 mph.

The speed limit seems lost on drivers who whistle by in cars, delivery and mail trucks, city and school buses and tractor-trailers. Morning to night, they create an environment that is hardly heaven for pedestrians.

"I call it the Indianapolis 500," said Carmen Austin, owner of Carmen's Family Hair Cuts, one of 20 small businesses in the commercial district. "Not a soul pays attention to the speed limit."

The difficulty of crossing Cold Spring Lane on foot at that corner TTC is a topic of conversation among denizens of this North Baltimore neighborhood. When a girl was killed crossing the street a decade ago, the outcry prompted city officials to post signs cautioning motorists that they are entering a business district.

Yet an element of fear remains. "I'm afraid someone's going to get hurt really bad," said police Officer R. G. Sharpley outside Sam's Bagels on his regular rounds. Northern District police officials said the area is a "hot spot" where accidents often happen.

Crossing safely becomes more of a challenge for an elderly person or a parent with a child.

"I'm always amazed at how much traffic there is," said Kathleen Lauman, 38, who waited a few minutes before crossing for coffee at the Daily Grind with her 2-year-old son, J. T., on a weekday morning.

The numbers bear her out. About 14,000 vehicles pass this street corner from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to the city Public Works Department. About 15,000 vehicles move along Pratt Street at the downtown intersection with Light Street during the same time.

A major east-west thoroughfare, Cold Spring Lane is a well-traveled exit off the Jones Falls Expressway. Many motorists on the hilly lane east of Roland Avenue are not local residents but simply passing -- or speeding -- through on their way to or from the JFX. The only traffic light is at Keswick Road, one block east of the intersection at Schenley Road and Kittery Lane, anchored by Alonso's restaurant.

Yet that creates a hazard: "If they see that green light on Keswick, they really barrel down that hill," said Edward Dopkin, an owner of Loco Hombre.

Sidney Brower, a University of Maryland professor of urban planning, observed the corner and said, "Something might be done to slow traffic coming down the hill before here," such as another light or a visually different road surface that helps to give pedestrians priority.

Brower also suggested that merchants make sidewalks more festive, especially in summer, to attract attention and slow traffic.

Kurt Kocher, city public works spokesman, said the consequences of a new traffic light would have to be studied, but he promised to schedule a speed study of traffic and a fresh coat of paint on the crosswalk.

Kocher invited community and business leaders to contact the department's office. "We want input from the community," he said.

Jerry Trout III, who heads the Roland Park Civic League's traffic committee, said, "There's no question that to the detriment of the community, speed gets ignored."

With the opening of a coffee shop last month, the business district has become busier, making it urgent to many that a new balance between motorists and pedestrians is negotiated.

"People have embraced the idea of walking to those establishments," Trout said.

But unless the situation changes, Austin will stay on her side of the street. "You won't catch me over there," she said. "It's not worth losing my life for a bagel."

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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