Decrease the din of sirens, stereos to make city more livable

City Diary

February 26, 2003|By KATHY HUDSON

FRIENDS IN Evergreen, Keswick, Hampden and Medfield have been calling to see if I have noticed all the sirens.

How could I miss them? It sounds as if we are living at the epicenter of perpetual disaster.

The intersection of Cold Spring Lane and Roland Avenue is in one of the increasingly noisy city neighborhoods. I live near there.

Since we moved here in 1959, Cold Spring has been anything but a lane. First, it was more like an avenue. Then houses were torn down to widen it. Every year since, it seems more like an interstate highway.

Multiton trucks rumble, groan and grind their gears, screech their brakes, hit their air horns. Lines of traffic race up the hill and then idle at the light before crossing the intersection where the road suddenly narrows to two lanes.

In addition to engine rumble on this cross-city thoroughfare is the pulsating, vibrating, chest-splitting thumpa-bumpa-rumpa of car stereos. Trucks shake the houses and windows.

Then there are the sirens. They are so constant we might as well be living in Beirut. Fire trucks, ambulances and police cars whir, whoop and blast Star Wars-esque sirens and horns, often simultaneously, around the clock. Rare is the half-hour that passes without one.

I am all for fighting crime, for quick response to emergencies. But is it really necessary for sirens to run the entire stretch of Cold Spring Lane, from the Jones Falls Expressway to Harford Road, on Roland Avenue and Falls Road, from the city line to 36th Street, even with no cars in sight?

Sirens are double-edged sounds. They alert other motorists, but they also reinforce the perception of a troubled city.

The move of the Northern District police station from Keswick Road to Cold Spring Lane is responsible for some sirens here, but not all of them.

We can set our watches by an ambulance that drones on, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, every weekday at 5:15 p.m. Hard to imagine that its deafening sound could do patients inside much good.

I have become expert at distinguishing fire truck, ambulance and police sirens. Not long ago I counted five different siren outbreaks in 35 minutes, near midnight.

County friends comment on the sirens every visit now, and often when they telephone. That has not always been the case. Sirens have become a hallmark of life in Baltimore.

So invasive have they become that my neighbors, die-hard city folk, went house hunting in Baltimore County. I never thought they would contemplate suburbia.

Recently, I spent the night with a sick friend in Lutherville and found the once-deafening quiet there alluring.

When I traveled home via Falls Road, I watched a county fire truck in action. It did not blast its siren all the way to Lake Avenue. At that intersection, it gave only a brief flourish before racing silently up the hill.

As the yellow bumper sticker says: I love city life. I have lived in Baltimore for most of my 53 years, many right here in the house where I was raised.

To me, the renovation of downtown buildings and theaters, the many apartment conversions, are exciting. Extensive advertising campaigns promote the culture, sports, nightlife, cleanliness and safety of downtown living.

One word missing from the ads is "quiet." Life in Baltimore is not quiet. It's noisier every year.

Besides crime and cleanliness, noise is a quality of life issue that must be addressed. Decibel meters, like red-light cameras, might even bring in some revenue.

In Manhattan, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is tackling the noise. I have been there and have heard the improvement. On Broadway and on Park, Madison and Columbus avenues -- East Side and West Side -- I watched police cars and ambulances race with lights flashing. Sirens sounded only momentarily at intersections.

If New York City can do it, so can Baltimore. Shush the sirens and the horns and the thumpa-rumpa, hon.

Today's writer

Kathy Hudson is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Baltimore City.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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