Many fixes, others pending


Watchdog -- one year later

October 09, 2007

The fix is in.

It's been a year since Watchdog debuted with a column that prompted the city to remove jagged light pole stumps along a path used by schoolchildren in Northeast Baltimore.

Since then, this space has addressed 52 problems, of which 34 have been resolved. Eleven have not been fixed, and repairs are pending for seven others.

The street "Charlers" is now correctly spelled on a subway sign; a broken hydrant in Towson now has water; parking spaces have been reclaimed by customers at a post office in Brooklyn Park; corn sprouting from a storm drain in Highlandtown has been cut; a directional arrow telling drivers to turn the wrong way on one-way Pratt Street has been removed.

It is here we tackle the issues that don't quite qualify as being scandalous but are still too important or too embarrassing to ignore - problems that seem to have been forgotten by the government to become accepted quirks of unresponsive or complacent bureaucracies.

"You cannot see where to make a left or a right on the bridge at Ruxton Road and Bellona Avenue because of overgrown grass," Joyce Williams said in a recorded message to the Watchdog hot line.

The government will not fall because the grass is too high. Angry mobs will not march on City Hall. People will complain and maybe write a letter or two, or call some official office, but deep down they fear that few things will ever get fixed, or fixed in a reasonable amount of time, or that they will ever talk with a human being who can help them.

All too often they are right.

The city urges people to call 311 as a one-stop complaint shop; frustrated residents call Watchdog when their calls to 311 go unheeded. An elderly woman left a message on the Watchdog line the other day: "Please help me. I have called the city 21 times for a stray cat. No one comes."

We all know the city and surrounding counties have vexing problems: crime, troubled schools, drugs and all of the countless interrelated factors that contribute to social ills. But it's the little things that really irk the citizenry: poorly maintained streets, unkempt lots, waterless fountains, confusing signs, potholes and buses that don't run on time.

This column is a way for people to vent.

All Darrell Bishop wanted was an ugly billboard removed from the side of an apartment building on St. Paul Street in Mid-Town Belvedere. For months he complained, and when he turned to Watchdog, a city attorney promised it would come down.

A month later, it was still up.

"The Sun does regular updates on issues that appear in this column where the problem hasn't been fixed," Bishop wrote the mayor in August. "This issue has been updated once. My question for you is this. Just what do I have to do to get this thing removed? I have followed established procedures and the city government, which you head, apparently doesn't. If I were you I would be livid because THEY MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT. If they don't do their jobs, replace them. The buck stops at your desk."

The billboard was removed over the Sept. 22 weekend, about 60 days after Watchdog's first report.

Other issues also remain unresolved. A gap still remains in a fence at the bottom of South Charles Street, allowing access to CSX railroad tracks; a newly repaired sidewalk in Annapolis still looks like a roller coaster; and delivery trucks still block rush-hour travel lanes on Calvert Street near the Inner Harbor, despite stepped-up enforcement after a column.

Sometimes, fixes aren't really fixes at all.

The city promised to take care of a crosswalk at the northern entrance to Federal Hill that guided law-abiding pedestrians to a traffic island from which there was no escape. Workers did repaint the crosswalk at a better spot, but left the old one to simply fade away. Now it just looks like a crosswalk that needs repair, instead of one that shouldn't be there at all. People still cross there and end up as confused as ever when they reach a dead end.

And not everything is clear-cut. A resident of North Baltimore called to complain that speed humps on Walker Avenue were too high and could damage cars. Watchdog investigated and discovered they were indeed built higher than the city standard, and officials vowed to make changes if necessary.

But Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department, said other residents read the item and called the division chief listed in the column under "who can fix this" and "pleaded with us not to modify or change the humps." They wanted them big to slow speeders. "They are grateful that we installed the humps the way we did," Barnes said.

So there was a problem, and it was addressed by not being addressed, to the satisfaction of many, but not of all.

Watchdog "allows us to receive feedback and helps us to make decisions for future work orders and requests," Barnes said.

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