So Mayor Martin O'Malley wants to make Charles street a two-way thoroughfare again.
No matter what his people recommend, other people will be against it. It's that way with just about any change, especially on Charles street - long regarded as Baltimore's most splendid road - no matter which way the traffic goes and no matter what the conditions of life and commerce alongside.
The report last week of O'Malley's two-way traffic idea brought to mind some amusing lore involving the street, the traffic commissioner, the mayor and this newspaper.
It happened in 1954, the last time the traffic direction on Charles street was changed. Henry Barnes, the city traffic commissioner announced he would change the traffic direction on the street from southbound to northbound. As the story goes, Barnes revealed his plan without telling Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr.
Barnes was a formidable force in his field. He went on to become the legendary traffic planner of New York City. D'Alesandro was a formidable force in his own right. He served three terms as mayor of Baltimore from 1947 to 1959, having already served three terms in Congress. (His son, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III was mayor from 1967 to 1971. His daughter, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California leads the Democratic Party minority in Congress.)
Barnes's plan caused an uproar, and angry residents and merchants were hollering at D'Alesandro about it.
Reporting on the furor, a reporter for The Sun called the mayor to inquire about his sentiments. The mayor said he wanted to make sure the reporter got it right, so he would speak slowly.
"Mr. Barnes," D'Alesandro said. "Got that?"
"Yup," replied the reporter.
"Mr. Barnes has s--- in his hat and he can wear it. You can print that."
Well, not really. The mayor's feelings must have been recorded as disappointed, or unhappy, perhaps very angry.
I could not find the story in The Sun's files. I believe the reporter was Frank P. L. Somerville, who formally retired in 1995 but kept coming back as a temporary hire through 1999. But I could not locate him.
D'Alesandro's son, former Mayor D'Alesandro III, said the story is likely true. His father was known to use crusty language. But he pointed out that the elder D'Alesandro also respected Barnes enormously and "gave him a free rein when he came in."
And Charles Street was changed to northbound one-way traffic, which it has been ever since. Calvert street, St. Paul street, Cathedral street and Maryland avenue also were made one-way in alternating directions.
Going back to the old newspaper files on Charles Street, one finds that practically every change proposed for it has stirred a controversy.
People are reported to have complained when the proposal was made to pave it a couple of centuries ago. They complained when it was widened in 1928.
An article in 1912 reported complaints about shops opening up on Charles north of Baltimore street. One lady predicted if that kept up, Charles Street would become as tacky as New York's Fifth Avenue.
North of the Washington Monument was largely residential until well into the middle of the last century. In 1942, a year into U.S. participation in World War II, Mrs. Fred Gibson, of the 1000 block North Charles Street - that would be between Eager and Chase streets - was anxious about bus service being cut back for fuel conservation.
""I don't know what we're going to do when they take the buses off the street for the war period," exclaimed Mrs. Gibson. "How, oh how, are we going to get downtown?"
Over the past several decades, plan after plan has been made to bring back the luster of Charles street. Some have succeeded; many have not. But, to my mind, the street is pretty marvelous these days.
There are some nice shops, quite a few good restaurants along the road from Saratoga to Eager. Mount Vernon, with its centerpiece Washington Monument (ours is older than the one in the nation's capital, by the way) may be one of the most beautiful city squares in the world. Earlier this month, I spent half an hour in the park there listening to a bluegrass band, surrounded by people of all ages and inclinations.
Mayor O'Malley - like all of his predecessors in the past two centuries - is right to care about Charles Street and to be looking for ways to make it better.
Here's my suggestion. Don't make it two ways. Get rid of the auto traffic altogether on Charles Street from Saratoga Street to Read Street, just north of Mt. Vernon Place. Put in an electric trolley that goes back and forth between the two continuously, which is not a new idea. And leave the rest to pedestrians.
Ridiculous, you say? Henry Barnes, that great planner who made Charles street one-way southbound almost 50 years ago, would roll over in his grave?
Maybe so. But remember this. All Henry Barnes cared about was cars and traffic patterns. If he'd had his way, the Flower Mart would have been moved away from Mount Vernon Place decades ago. He didn't like the event there because it intruded on the free flow of automobile traffic. If he could have, he would have moved the monument itself.
Give that marvelous chunk of Charles Street back to pedestrians, Mr. Mayor. Nobody can find a parking place there anyway.