Flimsy fence may not ward off the curious

January 08, 2008

THE PROBLEM -- A fence that has for years protected a city Public Works project on North Charles Street is unsightly, and in one spot might not offer enough protection.

THE BACKSTORY -- The flimsy fence has been there for years, between the neatly trimmed hedges of Loyola College and the rustic gateway to the Evergreen Museum and Library, marring an otherwise pretty landscape along Charles Street north of Cold Spring Lane.

The chain-link fence seeks to prevent people from falling down a deep embankment where a wall of dirt has eroded next to the street, creating a vertical drop into Stony Run, a tributary of the Jones Falls that runs through a culvert and under Charles Street.

"The situation with the wall and the underlying culvert has been an aesthetic problem, certainly," said Larry Kilduff, the executive director of facilities management for the Johns Hopkins University, which runs Evergreen. "But potential safety problems have been of even more concern. That stretch of Charles Street is busy not only with traffic but also with pedestrians, especially students from Loyola, Notre Dame and Johns Hopkins."

The city has known for at least a decade that the situation needs to be addressed, but getting to the project took time both because of a lack of funding and because officials wanted to complete a complex restoration project of Stony Run before fixing the culvert.

"To a certain extent, money is an issue," said Public Works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher. The erosion problem, he added, "wasn't a real emergency, whereas the stream project had to be done."

The problem stems from a culvert that carries the Stony Run under Charles Street. It is too short, says Azzam Ahmad, acting chief of storm water engineering, and water spilling from it on the east side of Charles has caused the erosion of soil.

Fixing it requires two steps, and two separate contracts that should be put out to bid soon -- the first within two months and the second this summer. First, workers must shore up the area that has collapsed, and to do that Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. must move a high-voltage cable. Then another crew will be hired to add 100 feet to the culvert.

Meanwhile, Kocher said, officials will examine the fence to make sure it is sturdy. A visit found the fence, which is less than 6 feet tall, secure on both ends and without any holes. But the fence can easily be pushed in from the bottom, enough to allow a small person or a child to get inside the dangerous area.

Kocher and Ahmad said the fence has been replaced in the past, but that with so much recent rain, officials would re-inspect it. "It might need some stability at the bottom," Kocher said.

Kilduff said the university is "very, very pleased that the city is taking this project forward" because of the danger posed to students.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Azzam Ahmad, acting chief of storm water engineering for the Baltimore Department of Public Works: 410-396-4700. City residents can also call 311 to report problems.

UPDATE -- Last week, Watchdog wrote about a flashing traffic signal that is designed to activate only when cars stop for more than three seconds at Greenspring Avenue and Woodvalley Drive north of the Baltimore Beltway. A motorist had complained the intersection was dangerous because a hill blocked their views; the county said the light was put in to warn drivers.

Norman Shillman from Keyser Road wrote to complain that his community association has been trying to get the county to lower the hill to improve sight lines. Shillman and several other residents wrote to say the signal doesn't operate properly.

"The signal sometimes flashes when there are no other motorists at that intersection and at times it doesn't flash and there is activity," he said in an e-mail. "I personally stood for almost a half hour near the intersection during rush hours on four separate occasions. ... Even when properly flashing they do little to slow the speeding traffic on Greenspring."

A county public works spokesman has said engineers checked the signal at the request of Watchdog and found it to be in working order.

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