Pedestrians get short shrift at busy crossroads

WATCHDOG

June 19, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- A crossing signal at a downtown intersection doesn't give pedestrians enough time to cross the street.

THE BACKSTORY -- Emily Hiller lives in Little Italy and walks along Fayette Street when visiting downtown. She keeps a brisk pace, unless one of her children tags along, but even when solo she complains that crossing President Street is a torturous task.

The pedestrian signal, Hiller says, does not leave enough time to traverse seven lanes of traffic and a wide median strip. "I have a million issues with how downtown Baltimore is amazingly un-pedestrian-friendly, but this is a biggie, and easily fixed," she said in an e-mail.

Watchdog timed the pedestrian signal at 27 seconds and, walking quickly, could not make it across before the "don't walk" signal froze red.

The Iowa State University Center for Transportation, Research and Education has developed a formula to help determine how much time is adequate to safely cross a street, based on the width of the intersection - in this case, 138 feet - and the speed an average person walks.

Plugging those numbers into the formula, the walk signal at Fayette Street should be illuminated for 61.5 seconds.

Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Transportation, said giving pedestrians more than a minute would inconvenience motorists at a busy junction - the southern end of the Jones Falls Expressway. "Traffic would stack back through the adjacent intersections to the south, and into downtown," she said.

Barnes said the signal is not timed for a curb-to-curb walk, but rather from curb to median. Pedestrians are expected to cross in two stages, pausing on the median for the stoplights to go through their cycle, which takes about 21 seconds. "Pedestrians don't necessarily have to run," she said.

So Watchdog went back to the math board. Walking from east to west, the first leg of the journey across Fayette Street to the median is 36.4 feet. The second leg (not counting the 47.5-foot-wide median) is 54.1 feet. Recalculated for the shorter trip, the formula finds pedestrians should be given 36.1 seconds to make the first leg of the journey and 40.6 to finish it.

So even factoring in the stop at the median, 27 seconds still is not enough time to cross either the northbound or southbound lanes, though the Watchdog made both trips quite easily.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Felicia Oliver, 410-396-6802.

UPDATE-- Last month, Watchdog reported that water was flowing continuously from a pipe in back of homes in North Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood. City officials said the source was a sump pump in the basement of a home on Taplow Road, and that they had advised the owner to make repairs.

Jay Rubin, a neighborhood resident who complained about the leak, reported this week that the "continual water flow problem has been resolved. Thanks for your efforts in stopping this terrible waste of water and destruction of our neighborhood's alley."

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