2-way traffic due on Charles

11-block stretch north of Penn Station affected

Plan grows from study's advice

Mayor sees way to revive pre-1950s Main Street feel

December 20, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that two-way traffic will return next year to Charles Street north of Penn Station after a 50-year absence -- the key recommendation of a study he requested last summer.

Sometime in the fall, traffic should start flowing again in both directions on an 11-block stretch between Lafayette Avenue and 29th Street in Charles Village.

If that experiment goes well, the mayor said, the city could take an even bolder step by extending two-way traffic to sections of Charles Street in midtown and downtown.

"I'm willing to try it wherever," O'Malley said.

The mayor has become a vocal advocate for changing the street back to the way it was during its long reign as the city's elite shopping strip. Slowing down traffic "a bit," he says, will help reclaim its pre-1950s Main Street feel.

Traffic experts, including those at the city's Department of Transportation, noted risks that include added congestion and a loss of parking. That is why the study urges a detailed look at the corridor from Lee Street north to Lafayette, including the potential impact on businesses.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles use Charles Street daily to get out of downtown, and reducing northbound traffic on Charles will force cars onto other north-south arteries such as Calvert Street.

"Frankly, the jury is still out on two-way traffic," said Frank J. Murphy, the city's chief of traffic engineering, after discussing the study yesterday with Charles Street business and community groups at the Johns Hopkins University.

O'Malley said he would follow the guidance of the study by engineering firm Whitman, Requardt and Associates. But he did not seem deterred from the larger goal of ending Charles Street's half-century stint as a one-way freeway out of town.

"Traffic engineers always predict headaches when you do something different," the mayor said. "They could be right."

Not a new notion

Restoring Charles Street's traffic patterns is not a new notion; several groups along the corridor have endorsed it over the years. But city officials have long dismissed it as unrealistic.

Thirteen groups, from the Baltimore Museum of Art to the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, sent O'Malley letters in September thanking him for pursuing the issue.

"We believe that the changes made in the 1950s were designed for a Baltimore that no longer exists," one letter read. "In a city of the future, we believe the traffic patterns must be more sensitive to the needs of urban residents and businesses as well as commuters."

But as many participants in yesterday's discussion noted, opinions vary widely. One business owner may love the idea, while one next door might hate it if it means losing even one parking space on the street. Not everyone in the 11-block area above Penn Station supports two-way traffic on Charles Street.

"We have a business district from 23rd to 28th Street that would be severely impacted," said Christian Wilson of the Peabody Heights Resident Homeowners Alliance. The group's territory runs from 25th to 31st streets.

That drew a sharp reply from Alfred W. Barry III, a consultant for the art museum and supporter of two-way traffic on Charles.

"Baltimoreans tend to be myopic and say, `We don't want any change,'" he said. "I would hope it would not be on a block-by-block basis, but on the basis of the city's interest as a whole."

Making the 11 blocks two-way will cost about $800,000, Murphy said. That includes new signs, pavement lines and a pair of intersection changes.

Hopkins favors change

The Johns Hopkins University is eager for more two-way traffic. "We see this as a further opportunity for traffic calming and volume reduction," said Larry Kilduff, executive director of its Office of Facilities Management. There are plans to reconstruct Charles Street between 25th Street and University Parkway, alongside the school.

One of the challenges farther downtown will be the street's narrowness, a mere 31 feet in width north of Saratoga Street.

Whatever happens to the traffic patterns, said Charles Duff of the Midtown Community Development Corp., people must remember there are many other factors that affect a community's well-being.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.