Street party halts JFX traffic No cars, but plenty of people on expressway's northbound lanes

September 21, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The Jones Falls Expressway became an urban playground yesterday morning as bikers, in-line skaters and pedestrians took over the commuter highway and explored the wooded settings and meandering stream hidden beneath the concrete.

The closure of a 3-mile stretch of the expressway was the highlight of the first Jones Falls Celebration, designed to introduce people to the beauty and recreation potential of the Jones Falls area.

"Our goal is to have the Jones Falls capture people's imaginations," said Sandy Sparks, co-chairwoman of the Jones Falls Watershed Association, an arm of Greater Homewood Community Corp. and one of the event's organizers.

Sparks credits Beth Strommen, city environmental planner and bike enthusiast, with having the idea to shut down the Jones Falls Expressway for the festival.

The northbound lanes of the JFX -- from Cold Spring Lane to Fayette Street -- were closed to traffic from 8 a.m. to noon, to allow, Sparks estimated, 5,000 people to run, walk, bike and push strollers on the key artery connecting downtown to North Baltimore.

Underneath, canoeists and kayakers navigated the Jones Falls, walkers strolled along the stream banks and rock climbers ascended boulders.

"I think people are discovering beautiful parts of the city they didn't know about," said Michael Beer, co-chairman of the Jones Falls Watershed Association. Over the past two years, Beer and a group of volunteers have removed tons of trash from the stream.

A retired Johns Hopkins physics professor, Beer's affection for the Jones Falls is contagious.

'A magical place'

"It's just a magical place," said Beer, referring to Round Falls, a millrace remnant on the falls. "If you had a place like that on the Seine in Paris, someone would put up a five-star restaurant and ** Rolls-Royces would line up."

Margaret Flanigan and her father, Dennis Flanigan, were among those seeing the Jones Falls area from a different perspective yesterday. The two canoed downstream from Lake Roland to Meadow Mills.

"My father grew up in Mount Washington and he never knew about this place," said Margaret Flanigan of Pasadena.

She described the journey as "very green and lush with yellow flowers," with kingfisher and heron sightings. But plastic bags, tires and abandoned shopping carts were also part of the scene.

"The sound of the city never goes away," she said, referring to the overhead traffic on the southbound lanes of the expressway. "But all you can see, if you ignore the gravel and the concrete, is greenery."

The two-day Jones Falls celebration started Saturday night with a steel band concert under the Wyman Park Drive bridge. Yesterday's activities began at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, where people streamed into the parking lot with bikes and in-line skates, ready to travel the Jones Falls free from worries about traffic tie-ups and getting to work on time.

"It's not often you get a chance to ride on the JFX with the wind in your hair and the bugs in your teeth," said Steve Bello of Mount Washington, who drives the expressway daily to his job in downtown Baltimore.

"I think it's wonderfully empowering to know that bicycles are going to have control of the streets, even if it's only for a few hours," said Elaina Snyder of Baltimore. "Also, it's an exciting environmental statement."

Greg Paschall said he was looking forward to biking on a smooth, safe surface.

City not 'cycle-friendly'

"Baltimore is not a cycle-friendly city," said Paschall, referring to the potholes and sewer grates on city streets.

Throughout the morning, bikers made the JFX their own. They stopped frequently to peer over the side walls at the stream below and wave to festival-goers enjoying "Discover the Jones Falls" hiking excursions and rock-climbing trips.

"It's a very cheery atmosphere out there," said biker Chris Kearney of Roland Park. "Everybody's smiling."

Months of planning

Yesterday's activities were the culmination of months of planning by the watershed association, and volunteers from a handful of groups made the events possible. Save Our Streams helped launch boats, Outward Bound led the rock climbing trips and provided all materials, and students from Greenmount Alternative School mapped out and led one of the hiking excursions.

The festival also received grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Parks and People Foundation.

Many people who took part in the Jones Falls Celebration said they'd like to see it become an annual -- or more frequent -- event.

"It would be great if the road could be closed down every Sunday for a couple of hours," said Cheryl Finney, while walking on the JFX with her husband, Stuart, and their three children.

Event organizer and Jones Falls supporter Beer said he'd also like to see another celebration next year.

"This is what community life is all about," he said. "If enough people want it and say, 'We'll put some hours in to help it happen,' we'd like to see it happen."

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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