Filthy park bench sullies Baltimore's slogan

WATCH DOG

December 11, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- Trash littering the side of a busy Baltimore intersection.

THE BACKSTORY -- Dirty streets and trash piled in empty lots are among the most common complaints to Watchdog and among the least-written-about. Pick one bad spot and people will write in with dozens more, all far worse.

But Robert Wray of York, Pa., found a spot that seems indicative of a wider problem. He sent in a photo of a park bench at Patapsco Avenue and Annapolis Road smeared with white bird droppings and drowning in a collection of papers, plastic water bottles and other debris.

"No wonder no one sits on it," Wray said.

He said he snapped the photo in October to capture the irony of the dirty bench emblazoned with the proud city slogan "Baltimore: The Greatest City in America."

"The greatest city in America looks pretty bad," Wray said.

Watchdog visited last week and found the bench to be in no better shape. There was less trash -- a few bags, several cups, some half-full of unidentifiable liquids, but still plenty of bird droppings.

After a call from Watchdog, the city's Department of Transportation quickly went out and replaced the dirty slats on the bench. Spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said that someone -- possibly many people, as the bench weighs 800 pounds -- had moved it a few feet from public property to private property, probably to take advantage of two shade trees. "It has now been moved back to public property," Barnes said.

Kurt L. Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said the area around the bench was cleaned and a trash can was put in. He said it appeared much of the trash came from customers of a convenience store across the street, and he admonished owners for not helping to keep the area clean.

"The responsibility is on all of us," Kocher said. "The people who use the bus stop, who use the store, who own the store: It's our job to pick up trash. It shouldn't be our job to pick up after people who are careless and who are improperly disposing their trash. Let's please work together."

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- To report broken or dirty benches in the city: Richard Hooper, chief of maintenance for the transportation department, 410-396-1686. To report trash: Valentina I. Ukwuoma, head of the Bureau of Solid Waste for the Department of Public Works: 410-396-5134.

UPDATE

Getting the south-facing clock atop the Bromo Seltzer Tower working has been an arduous task. The problem was first reported here back in July, and work has progressed at a steady pace. At first, officials thought the clock stopped because of dust from a renovation project.

But cleaning didn't help. Then a repairman quit, and an expert came in from Maine. But he couldn't get the giant wooden hands moving, either - not even after a climb to the top of the 200-foot tower. Now officials say a new motor is needed.

"The cost of the motor, as well as the manpower to install it and adjust the clock, is estimated to be $7,500," said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. "Right now, we are reviewing our funding options for this repair, including investigating any available preservation grants."

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