City, community reach consensus on redesign of Charles St. section

Proposal aims to relocate median, widen crosswalks

January 20, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A new proposal aiming to make it safer for the Johns Hopkins University students to cross heavily traveled North Charles Street is calling for widening of crosswalks, relocation of a traffic median and elimination of the road's so-called "death lane."

After years of debate, city traffic officials and North Baltimore community members have reached a tentative agreement on how to approach Hopkins-area traffic woes. The last hurdle before road changes are implemented will be whether to cut the number of rush-hour northbound traffic lanes from three to two.

Chief among the remedies proposed in the Jan. 7 agreement - arrived at by more than a dozen city, university and neighborhood officials - is the removal of the "death lane." A single strip of southbound traffic unusually placed alongside the northbound lanes, it earned its nickname in the community vernacular because several joggers and other pedestrians have been struck by cars there.

Traffic officials say there were more than a dozen accidents and at least one pedestrian fatality in the notorious southbound lane since 1998. The officials say they are hopeful, however, that a solution may be around the corner.

"We know the neighborhood wants us to shrink the street and we have to be certain that it accommodates the projected future [traffic] demand," said Frank Murphy, a traffic engineer in the city's transportation office. "We're clear what stakeholders want and if we can make that workable, we've got a plan."

Even with the consensus, it will likely be at least a year before ground is broken on the traffic reconstruction project, officials said.

Redesigning the section of North Charles Street between 25th Street and University Parkway has long been in the works, since it is regarded as run-down and dangerous for pedestrians, city officials said. The "Charles Street Reconstruction" plan has been under close scrutiny since it is meant to last at least half a century and could cost about $10 million, officials said.

Sandra Sparks, a community leader in the area, hailed the agreement as a breakthrough for all sides involved in the issue.

"This is an opportunity to integrate the museum and the [Wyman Park] dell with Charles Village," Sparks said. "Now the street is scruffy-looking, not the way you'd want your city's premier street to look."

Discussions among the Baltimore Museum of Art, the university, the community and the city took a new turn two months ago, when Mayor Martin O'Malley urged all parties to come to a meeting of the minds. The mayor said that if an agreement could not be reached, the reconstruction project might lose its projected city funding. They city is to cover 20 percent of the project, and federal funding is to pay for the rest.

David W. Wallace, a partner with RK&K Engineers, acted as a consultant to the city and as a mediator for the various parties over several weeks. He met privately with the Charles Village Civic Association, the Friends of Wyman Park Dell and the Greenway Community Association, among others, to establish zones of agreement.

"The street touches so many pieces. A relatively diverse group was able to agree and get the basic framework pretty well stated," Wallace said. "There was rapport and a remarkable degree of consensus."

Since the single southbound lane was generally regarded as a hazard, it was gradually established that two northbound and two southbound lanes should be separated by a new median, Wallace said.

To ease city traffic officials' concern about congestion between Art Museum Drive and 33rd Street, a third northbound lane for right turns would be added, Wallace said.

Baltimore Museum of Art director Doreen Bolger said she was "thrilled" with the consensus reached, especially because museum-goers from downtown would be able to make a simple left turn onto Art Museum drive, easing navigation.

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