A change in directions? City to study whether to turn Calvert and St. Paul into two-way streets

60 years ago, the streets were made one way by legendary traffic engineer Henry Barnes

st paul at eager gerald neily

Southbound St. Paul Street funnels substantial traffic through Mt. Vernon during the rush hour.

Photo by: Gerald Neily

The city is looking at the possibility of returning a pair of heavily-used north-south streets to two-way operations with the aim of “calming” traffic through residential neighborhoods.

The Board of Estimates will be asked this morning to approve a $140,000 study by Sabra, Wang & Associates to analyze the impact of making Calvert Street (northbound) and St. Paul Street (southbound) two-way between downtown and University Parkway.

The study is the first step in what promises to be a lengthy process for the possible conversion of the streets.

Among the issues to be studied is the impact of two-way traffic on side residential streets and on bus, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Another matter would be how to handle southbound traffic coming off of the Jones Falls Expressway at St. Paul and Mt. Royal Avenue.

The outcome is not certain. A decade ago, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley wanted to make Charles Street bi-directional. “The vision is to make the cultural district and the midtown area much more of a destination, rather than a blurry sight along a major thoroughfare,” he announced.

The city transportation department reviewed the matter, and it never happened.

“Hurry Up” Barnes

Interestingly enough, this latest study comes on the eve of the 60th anniversary of single-way trafficking on Calvert and St. Paul streets.

In the early morning hours of July 18, 1954, traffic commissioner Henry A. Barnes staged the transformation. As crews uncovered posted signs to unveil the new directional signaling, other employees flagged down cars headed in the wrong direction and towed away cars that were, suddenly, with the new rules in effect, illegal.

“It was wild,” Edward Kahoe, then coordinator of transit and traffic, told Evening Sun writer Gilbert Sandler. Two months later, on September 14, 1954, Barnes turned Charles Street one-way north from downtown to 29th Street.

In the Barnes era, Baltimore became a leading proponent of converting its streets to one-way operations in the belief that slowing up cars bought by post-war families would put the city at a competitive disadvantage. Barnes wanted to hurry up traffic in and out of downtown and, some would say, out of the city itself.

During the same period, an extensive (200-miles-plus) streetcar network underwent dramatic shrinkage. The No. 8 electric streetcar made its last run between Catonsville and Towson in November 1963.

Barnes, meanwhile, left the city in 1962 to become New York’s traffic commissioner.

Reducing the Car’s Footprint

Over time, some one-way streets have returned to two-way operations – such as East Pratt and Lombard streets between Broadway and Patterson Park Avenue.

The reduction in traffic density and speed on those streets was credited with helping revive home-ownership and investment in Upper Fells Point and Butchers Hill. Southeast Baltimore remains one of the few sections of the “old” city that has generally escaped one-waying.

St. Paul and Calvert run parallel from Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor to University Parkway through Mt. Vernon, Station North, Old Goucher and Charles Village.

A second pair of north-south one-way streets, Charles and Maryland Avenue/Cathedral Street, are not part of the traffic engineering study.

A consultant recently looked at opening Charles Street to two-way traffic between 25th and 29th streets. But that road segment, now undergoing a major rebuild as part of the Charles Street reconstruction to University Parkway, is to continue one-way northbound.

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  • AKD

    I would much prefer a more serious discussion of bringing back the streetcar on those streets. It would have a similar effect of slowing traffic.

    • Aaron Mirenzi

      im guessing that if they went along with this plan, it would throw a wrench in the plans of the Baltimore Streetcar campaign.

    • EinBalt

      Restoring these streets to two-way traffic would immediately calm traffic. The streetcar project would take years. There’s nothing stopping both from happening. St. Paul could go back to one way traffic if it was absolutely necessary.

    • CV resident

      Streetcars are lovely, but everyone advocating for them in Baltimore should be obliged to spend at least six months using the Light Rail for their daily commute through downtown. A brisk walk is faster than the Light Rail’s average speed along Howard Street during peak hours.

  • bmorepanic

    I hate Henry A. Barnes. I hate every road re-alignment credited to him, I hate the way the Transportation department keeps on trying to implement some of his very stale ideas. I hate the culture of the transportation department – which still exists to this day – that moving vehicles is more important than any other street use. I’d like to see someone explain why EVERY street in the city center must be used optimized for use by commuters. Actually,I’d include quite a few streets in the outer city.

    And I am still waiting for the promised massive improvements in waiting times at lights from the very expensive co-ordinated computerized signal system installed about 5 years ago, complete with cameras at almost every intersection.

    • Citizenpane

      I totally agree. Barnes actually said “The only thing I don’t like about street cars is that they run on the street.” I’d like to go back in time and ask him, “What’s in your wallet, Hank?” (paraphrasing that popular slogan brought to us by the Usurious Fat Cat Assholes at Capital One). Betcha he had a couple of Crispy Georges from GM in that wallet. They were buying up all the local rail and street car lines at the time. Cool thing is this: The entire autocentric catastrophe this rat bastard wreaked upon Balto is documented here:

      • bmorepanic

        I can’t thank you enough – that will be hours of entertainment cursing that man.

      • Aaron Mirenzi

        the only thing I don’t like about cars is that they run on the street

  • Deep Roots

    In the 50s and 60s, as a city and as a nation, we made sooo many bad and shortsighted decisions.

  • CB

    Yes, let’s talk about how we can start to bring back the streetcar network in Baltimore. The Charles Street proposal seems to be going nowhere, while many other cities are pushing forward with this.

    Barnes was worried about Baltimore being at a competitive disadvantage, and 60 years later we still are.

  • John Molino

    I hope the study includes the possibility of closing the St. Paul exit on 83 South. That would make a big difference in the amount of speeding traffic.

    • Jed Weeks

      It also would solve the planning dilemma around having a highway exit onto Mount Royal through the planned cycle track.

    • ham_snadwich

      I think that’s part of the plan. The St Paul St exit was originally supposed to be temporary while they were doing some other work.

  • Jed Weeks


    Now if only we could systematically undo the rest of the Barnes idolatry that remains so deeply rooted in this city.

  • The_Whimsical1

    What a great idea! So much of the charm of St. Paul and Calvert Streets is lost to the runway rush of traffic that turns them into noisy, ill-designed freeways.

  • Wally Pinkard

    I wish they would keep them one way but make them one lane and then use the other lane for something else (not parking). In East Baltimore where I used to live they made many streets one way (for reverse angle parking) and it did not cause any more issues with speeding that I noticed. But they could use the space for a bike lane, street car, or just an awesome greenspace that cut through the whole city which would be really cool.

  • Day_Star

    I live between Calvert and St. Paul and am against changing it. This would create back-ups for cars making left-hand turns, lower capacity, make parking more dangerous requiring passing cars to go into the opposite lane of traffic, AND make cycling on those narrow lanes more risky than it already is. If people want slower traffic on these two important north-south roads leading into downtown then simply change the traffic light sequence to be more in favor of east-west streets — bam, hundreds of thousands of dollars saved! Traffic is already bad enough for commuters (city residents included) during rush hour and this would make it worse. To make such a change to please a few residents who don’t drive or want their street to be more like Eager or Chase Street is looking at it from a five foot level.

    • EinBalt

      That’s the whole idea. With a reasonable amount of traffic, these streets made two way will be functional. The whole problem stems from the fact that traffic planners have presumed Cathedral/Maryland, Charles, St. Paul, and Calvert streets were simply parallel arterials on a scale only slightly less intense than I-83. As a result, habits formed in drivers to use them that way. I say the program doesn’t go far enough. Charles & Cathedral/Maryland should also go back to two way.

      Next up, Mulberry & Franklin. Nothing like walking/cycling across the median of US-40.

      • Day_Star

        They’ll be functional in terms of still being streets, but you’ll be dropping f-bombs when you get stuck behind a bus or are in a rush and can’t walk across the street until you get the crosswalk light for fear of getting hit by bi-directional traffic.

        • ham_snadwich

          I am totally ok with people only crossing at crosswalks.

          • Day_Star

            Agreed, as my comment was on crosswalk lights. To the related topic of dumb pedestrians in Bmore — you know, the ones who knowingly step-out into immediately oncoming traffic or take their time crossing to make themselves feel important — at least now with one way traffic you can alter your course and come close to hitting them without actually doing so. Under this plan I’d actually have to apply my breaks :-)

    • Jed Weeks

      It’s a pretty grand assumption to say this is a “change to please a few residents who don’t drive” when the neighborhood associations are requesting the study.

      • EinBalt

        Exactly. We’ve been asking for this in Mt. Vernon for *at least* 12 years.

      • Day_Star

        I’ll stick to my point, Jed. Civic associations don’t speak for all people in the neighborhood. Leadership wins through attrition of a few persistent folks who can talk more than anyone else (or give more time than anyone else) and not democratic votes of all persons in Mount Vernon or Charles Village. They don’t speak for people in other neighborhoods who rely on St. Paul and Charles, they don’t speak for the city and they don’t speak for the people who drive in and keep commercial downtown relevant or drive to points south of downtown.

        Increase MLK capacity with roundabouts and/or underpasses at key stress points (eg. Howard, Eutaw) a la DuPont Circle and Thomas Circle in DC and provide easy access from 83 to MLK to help north-south flow and I promise you I’ll be on board.

        • CV resident

          Certainly the CVCA has requested that two-way traffic be studied. But not necessarily that it be implemented.

          As a practical matter, it’s unlikely that two-way traffic would make Calvert and St. Paul quieter, or safer. Most of the significant traffic noise is generated by trucks, buses, emergency vehicles, and motorcycles, whose presence two-way traffic would not eliminate, and which are as loud traveling at 20mph as they are at 40mph. As regards safety, for pedestrians, traffic moving in a single direction is much easier to judge than traffic moving in two directions.

          Careful timing of traffic lights, mentioned elsewhere in these comments and implemented in cities worldwide, is the obvious and sensible measure for ensuring moderate vehicular speeds.

    • John Molino

      This is one of the recommendations that came out of the Mt Vernon Master Plan, which was completed last year. Charles Village was working on a plan and had the same suggestion. So I wouldn’t say it is only pleasing a few residents.
      There was an unexpected benefit to the past couple years of water main breaks. They showed drivers find a different route to take. Light Street was down to one lane for weeks, and no one seemed to notice.

  • Baltogal64

    i could use $148,000 and get you an answer quickly. Oh, what the heck, here’s my answer free of charge: NO! This is an idiotic idea; it doesn’t need to be surveyed. The one-way streets are what make Baltimore easy to navigate. I lived in Baltimore when all streets were 2 ways and there were a million fewer cars and, even then, streets were always backed up. One way streets freed up the traffic. All we need to speed up traffic is better light syncing during rush hour so that cars don’t get piled up at a red light, blocking traffic, while the ones behind them turn green. And we need to get rid of some on street parking. I tried to get up Calvert Street recently at 6:30 in the evening. The normally 6-minute ride to my neighborhood took 45 minutes, because there was parking on both sides of the street. This idea of making the main streets 2 ways is even dumber than putting bike lanes that reduce a 4-lane road to a 2-lane road in places where NO ONE RIDES BIKES ON THE STREET. I mean, Boston Street near 95? Frederick Road? NO ONE RIDES BIKES ON THOSE STREETS. I’m beginning to think that people in Baltimore traffic are smoking strange substances. Really… ridiculous.

    • EinBalt

      You have missed the point entirely. This project isn’t designed to make your commute easier, it’s designed to make life in these neighborhoods better. I won’t even touch the metric-ton load of nonsense that is your assessment of urban cycling.

      • paticklyons

        That’s all fine and dandy, but people have to get to work and to get home somehow. Roads are what we’ve got. we’ve already exceeded the capacity on i-83, as should be obvious by the frequent snail’s pace in the morning and evening. plus i-83 doesn;t go everywhere. even if you live in the city, eventually you have to get out on local roads and drive a mile or two, and it helps when the local roads aren’t clogged and plagued with slow lights. this whole plan reeks of arrogant non-commuters and bike commuters (i would love to commute by bike, but it’s logistically not sound for me work, and I live in Bolton Hill) deciding that relaxing street fronts for two hours a day for them is worth taxing everyone else’s ability to get around.

        • EinBalt

          You can’t get to work from Bolton Hill without tear-assing through Mt. Vernon?

          • paticklyons

            not really, no. it’s not bad, but it’s also a very short trip. i used to live in north baltimore though, and the commute was close to half an hour each way usually. if you got lucky and took 83 on a non-traffic jammy day, it was a little better, but if you’re in a job where a 20 percent chance of being 20 minutes late is a disaster, 83 isn’t even an option it’s so crowded and unreliable at peak times.

        • John Molino

          So Bolton Hill can have all quiet, 2-way streets and a bunch of random dead-ends that discourage through traffic (There is a garden in the middle of John Street), but Mt Vernon has to be carved up by a race track? Seems reasonable. You should leave your car at home and take the Light Rail to work.

          • paticklyons

            where would you like those cars to go? there is no capacity anywhere else to put most of those people if you try to force them away from neighborhoods.

            I live next to a light rail station, but there’s no light rail station near my work because the light rail was designed to get people to baseball games and not to work, so i drive, typically through mount vernon. a friend of mine used to live in waverly. the only way he had to get to work was to drive neighborhood streets. he hated it. unless you live and work in very specific locations, light rail and metro are simply not an option in this city. and we have almost no highways onto which to shunt this traffic and get it off neighborhood streets.

            unless you’re healthy, well-coordinated, don’t mind the cold in winter, live near your work, and have a job where showing up a little sweaty or rainy won’t be a problem, biking isn’t an option either.

            That’s why I’m a fan of massive elevated rail projects. modern elevated rail can be made to be tolerably quiet and clean, especially when you run it along a perfectly straight track. it’s much cheaper and easier to maintain and quieter (for the passengers) than subway. and you can build it over top of existing roadways.

            I’m not strictly opposed to making neighborhood streets less high-speed car friendly, but before we start removing capacity from the system, we need to up the capacity somewhere else because this city is already BELOW capacity as should be obvious to anyone who has ever commuted here.

          • EinBalt

            This proposal wouldn’t remove capacity, it would just change its location. Instead of 2 lanes going north on Calvert and 2 lanes going south on St. Paul, there would be 2 lanes in each direction shared across both streets. Cars would simply be moving at a lower rate of speed.

          • paticklyons

            so the same number of lanes, but a lower rate of speed. that is, by definition, a reduction in capacity.

          • EinBalt

            Fair point. But honestly, what would the real drop in capacity be, and measured against the other improvements, is it worth it? I would argue yes, but I’m a pedestrian/cycling elitist. It will all come down to the study’s results I suppose, although I wish it were more comprehensive to include all the n/s streets from Guilford to Howard.

    • The_Whimsical1

      I live on St Paul & bike commute to Penn Station. It would be hugely less dangerous as a two-way street. This shouldn’t be about the comfort of commuters racing through our neighborhood. It should be about our neighborhood. It’s the short-sighted planning of people like Henry Barnes (who made this mess in the first place) that hollowed out Baltimore City. Let’s correct the error, not pretend its good for Charles Village. Two-way! – say I.

      • Jay Heaton

        NYC is actively pursuing converting two-way streets to one-way streets as a pedestrian safety measure. The Park Avenue Tunnel at 33rd Street was one of the top pedestrian crash locations in the city from 1996-2007, averaging 12 pedestrian crashes per year. The city converted the tunnel to one-way operation in 2008 and the intersection saw a dramatic drop in both pedestrian injury crashes (-100%) and all injury crashes (-74%).

        According to the New York City Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, major two-way streets account for 47% of pedestrian fatalities in Manhattan but only make up 12% of the road network.


  • paticklyons

    Am I reading this wrong? They intentionally want to slow down traffic and make things even more congested on the theory that this will make southern charles village and station north more vibrant? Are they complete idiots? Getting to and from downtown if you live east of johns hopkins university is already obnoxious. So they want to punish the people whose journeys aren’t satisfactorily met by i-83 just for the hope that it’ll help a few blocks that are already gentrifying nicely?

    I’ve got a better solution. turn harford road and york road, both of which kindof suck already, into non-stop highways with no lights, and restrict access to on and off ramps. elevate harford road over greenmount cemetary (the dead don’t mind smog) and have all three of them meet like a trident at penn station, and then expand 83 south of there by 2 lanes on either side. and change the light patterns on MLK so that it doesn’t suck so much. And while you’re at it, build elevated heavy rail on top of all of it.

    Sure, my idea is crazy expensive and disruptive, but it’s still a better idea than making mount vernon, midtown, and charles village even slower. It takes at least half an hour to drive from downtown to northern parkway already.

    • James McBee

      There is also the option of actually living where you work. If you’re not a Baltimore resident, your opinion doesn’t really carry much weight, and the city absolutely should not be making decisions with your convenience in mind. I don’t mean that to sound harsh; I absolutely understand why people choose to live elsewhere. But the city should be governed based on the interests of tax paying residents. For my part, I sincerely hope the days of carving up the city with highways are long behind us.

      • paticklyons

        I’ve got it. we bulldoze federal hill and mount vernon and replace them with soviet style highrises so we can fit the entire population of baltimore county as well as all baltimore city residents outside of the 83/MLK/95 bubble within about 40 square blocks. we get rid of all the roads and just have bike paths and an elevated monorail system. it’ll be just like ebenezer howard imagined. then we bulldoze everything outside the bubble (other than harbor east, fells, and canton, which is now the “suburbs”) and turn it into a state park.

        or we could try to get along peacefully with our neighbors without factionalizing over whether they made the bad life decision of living too far from work.

        • James McBee

          Well, being that Baltimore was once a city of over a million people, and now has just over 600k, I don’t think one can credibly argue that there is no room in the city.

          And for better or worse, the interests of commuters and the interests of city residents often diverge dramatically. You suggested that we build more highways through the city. Do you know what happens to a community when you ram a highway through the center of it, or even along the edge of it? Even relatively stable neighborhoods are adversely affected. Take Hampden, just as an example that most people in the Baltimore area are familiar with. Check out the property values on the West side of Falls Rd, versus on the East. The houses on the former are worth roughly half of those on later, for the sole reason that their proximity to I83 makes them highly undesirable to anyone who isn’t enamored of constant noise and horrendous pollution. Now imagine what the presence of a highway does to a truly poor/struggling neighborhood.

          I’m not sure how serious you were about your proposal, but I doubt you would be particularly amused by even a playful suggestion that your municipal govt ram an expressway through your backyard…especially if that hypothetical expressway would exist almost solely to serve people who live outside of your community.

          • paticklyons

            population growth is hugely disruptive. there’s only three things you can do with population growth. expand out or expand up or exile the undesirables to other metro areas (which basically just pretends that there is no population growth).

            if you expand up, to increase the density and fit more people into the same space, you destroy what was previously there and build on top of it. rowhouses in place of detached houses. apartment buildings in place of rowhouses. this is what is happening in harbor east. it is what happened to charles village, reservoir hill, and federal hill (single family homes converted to multi-family rentals). and because cars dont’ work well in high density areas, you build a lot of new public transit options, though because your development footprint is small because you are dense, hopefully the distance isn’t too great which keeps the costs down.

            if you expand out, to keep the same low density in the original area and still keep the growing population as part of your cohesive city, you need a lot more infrastructure to handle all the people moving around. this means whatever you’ve chosen as your means of moving people, be it roads, trains, canals, whatever. but you need much more capacity. and walking and biking stop being effective alternatives to a large extent. and because your new development is unlikely to be even as dense as the original development (suburban sprawl), public transit ceases to be an option at all for most people, so highways become necessary.

            so please, I invite the suffering residents of century old neighborhoods in what used to be the suburbs and are now the urban near-core to pick one solution. either we keep ourselves slaves to the need for high speed road capacity for cars or we start building massive amounts of new public transit capacity within the city (with the attendant noise and disruption that building trains through residential areas brings) and encourage the re-development of whole neighborhoods with much higher densities than currently exist. and in order to populate those new neighborhoods, we starve the outlying commuters of road capacity so that they feel no choice but to move into the city.

          • James McBee

            I don’t think many city residents have a problem with high density development, or with public transit. OK, some people in Canton objected to loosing parking capacity in favor or the Red line, and many people (including myself) would criticize that project’s inefficient and unnecessarily expensive design, but I’m relatively sure that even the project’s fiercest critics would prefer it to a highway being built through their neighborhood.

            But frankly, you failed to address my point. Baltimore is underpopulated. Could the current construction within city limits accommodate the entire population of Baltimore county? Probably not. But it could accommodate a healthy proportion of the people who commute into the city for work. There are dozens of neighborhoods with excellent proximity to the urban core, that now sit almost entirely vacant. I’m not talking places on the fringes of the city, but rather places that are absolutely walkable/bikeable. If, as a society, we had the will to reclaim and rebuild those neighborhoods, there would be a lot less sprawl, a whole heck of a lot less traffic, and a lot less suburbanites clamoring to to build expressways through other people’s communities.

  • Jay Heaton

    Cities that have converted one-way streets to two-way streets have seen a significant increase in both total accidents and pedestrian injury accidents.

    DENVER, CO (1986):
    Denver converted several one-way couplets to two-way streets in 1986.
    After conversion, the vehicle accident rates at intersections increased
    37.6% while the mid-block accident rate increased 80.5%.

    LUBBOCK, TX (1995):
    Lubbock converted a couple of downtown one-way streets to two-way in 1995. After conversion, total accidents increased by 41.6%

    CINCINNATI, OH (1999):
    Cincinatti converted Vine Street to two-way operation in 1999. After
    conversion, vehicle accidents increased from 75.9 to 164 (+116%).
    Pedestrian accidents increased from 5.9 to 12 (+103%). Volume of
    traffic increased from 30,900 to 35,600 (+15.2%) and the average speed
    decreased from 18.0 to 12.4 (-31.1%).

    ALBEQUERQUE, NM (1999-2003):
    Albequerque converted most of their downtown one-way streets to two-way
    streets between 1999-2003 (62 blocks total). After conversion, vehicle
    accidents increased from 778 to 824 (+5.9%). Pedestrian accidents
    increased from 14 to 26 (+85.7%). Bicycle accidents increased from 5
    to 12 (+148%). Volume of traffic decreased from 359,430 to 284,180

    City of Denver, One-Way Street Monitoring Study, Phase 1 Conversion Report, January 1990.

    City of Lubbock, Main and 10th Street Accident Analysis, Before/After Study, 1998

    City of Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine/Vine Street Circulation Study, February 2003.

    • ham_snadwich

      Why did you leave off the rest of the cut and paste from this comment? You could’ve just linked it.

      • Jay Heaton

        The rest of the comment cites studies that show pedestrian accidents decline when two-way streets are converted to one-way streets.

        PORTLAND, OR (1949):
        Portland converted most of their downtown two-way streets to one-way streets in the late 1940’s. After conversion, vehicle accidents decreased from 6,127 to 3,361 (-45.1%). The number of pedestrian accidents decreased from 237 to 126 (-46.8%). Volume of traffic in downtown increased from 12,734 to 16,708 vehicles (+31.2%) and average speeds increased from 7.9 mph to 14.2 mph (+79.7%).

        CINCINNATI, OH (1975):
        Cincinatti converted Vine Street between Central Parkway and Mc Micken Ave. from two-way operation to one-way in 1975. After conversion, vehicle accidents decreased from 212 to 128 (-39.6%). The number of pedestrian accidents decreased from 16.6 to 13 (-21.7%). Volume of traffic increased from 24,520 to 28,025 (+14.3%).

        NEW YORK CITY, NY (2008):

        The Park Avenue Tunnel at 33rd Street was one of the top pedestrian crash locations in the city from 1996-2007, averaging 12 pedestrian crashes per year. The city converted the tunnel to one-way operation in 2008 and the intersection saw a dramatic drop in both pedestrian injury crashes (100%) and all injury crashes (74%).

  • HS

    Considering all of the institutions in Baltimore that have deteriorated significantly or outright failed, and the city government wants to “fix” some that aren’t broken. Sounds about right for Baltimore City.

  • Michael Farrell

    This is definitely something that is broken. Baltimore has way too many fast, noisy one-way streets, in what should be prime areas. One way streets damage property values. People flee fast traffic streets, because they feel dangerous, and they’re right. One of Federal Hill’s advantages is the street system – cars can’t go too fast.

    One way streets serve short trips poorly, because they force people to go out of their way.

    Baltimore should convert as many of its one-way streets to two-way operation as possible. And drop the speed limits and signal timing on most of the rest.

    • Jay Heaton

      Albequerque, NM converted most of their downtown streets to two-way flow between 1999-2003 (62 blocks total). After the conversion, the city saw an 86% increase in pedestrian accidents and a 148% increase in bicyclist accidents (even as traffic volumes downtown decreased by -21%).

      One-way streets can be timed to regulate the flow of traffic. An example of this is Portland, Oregon where the city times their downtown one-way streets for 12 mph. With two-way streets, you lose the ability to time a corridor for a set speed limit. There is little support to suggest two-way streets in Baltimore would be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

      • ham_snadwich

        Explain how a two-way street loses the ability to time traffic lights.

        • Jay Heaton

          In traffic engineering, the ‘critical resonant cycle’ is the longest cycle length that accomplishes good two-way progression. The critical resonant cycle = 2 x travel time.

          As previously mentioned, downtown Portland times their one-way streets for roughly 12 mph. If all the one-way streets were converted to two-way, a critical resonant cycle length of 30 seconds would be required.

          2 x 260 ft / 12 mph (5280 ft/mi / 3600 s/h) = 30 seconds

          Pedestrians require a minimum amount of time to safely cross the street and a 30 second cycle length would violate the minimum pedestrian times found in the MUTCD (I.E. pedestrians wouldn’t have enough time to cross the street safely at such a short cycle).

          Since a resonant cycle isn’t practical, the two-way streets would likely be set up for “simultaneous greens”, where all the lights along a corridor turn green (or change red) together. With this type of operation, drivers have every incentive to speed since the faster they go, the more lights they will make it through before getting stuck at a red light. After two-way street conversion, the operating speeds of Portland drivers would likely double from 12 mph to over 30 mph (a speed that some drivers would feel comfortable driving in a dense urban environment).

          The videos below animate what I’m attempting to describe!

          One-way Portland streets (current):

          Two-way Portland streets (theoretical):

          Here’s another video that relates to this topic. It’s a video that compares a one-way street to a two-way street in Manhattan. The biggest thing to note is that the operating speed of the driver on the one-way street was 30 mph (the speed of the “green wave”). The operating speed of the two-way driver was 41 mph (with a “simultaneous green” setup).

        • Jay Heaton

          Don’t understand?

  • Mark T

    With the exception of a few more thought out points referencing accident rates observed in other cities, the main opposition seems to be “this would make my commute slower, therefore the planners proposing this study are idiots”. Take a look at the strong support posted in other comments, ask yourself whether it’s statistically likely that you’re the lone genius in a roomful of morons, and then consider admitting that there is enough possibility of success that it is at least worth *studying* the impact of the proposed changes.

    • Frank F. Hejazi

      Hi Mark, I need a bit of clarification on your last sentence! Are you for or against the Study. I don’t believe the study is warranted.

  • halstevens

    All of these opinions are interesting, but I wonder what SRB’s major donor’s think about this idea? Aren’t they the ones that will ultimately make the decision?

    • Matt R

      Het donor’s will probably support it if they can get contracts for all of the new signage, traffic engineering, and street lights for a lot more what it should cost.

      • Tim B

        donors (plural) does not need an apostrophe, ty.

        • Day_Star

          Tim B, thanks for pointing out to Matt R. Wow, you must be really smart! Your comment really benefited the conversation. PS. Shouldn’t you have capitalized ‘donors’ since it was the start of a sentence?

  • Rodman

    I live in Charles Village on St. Paul St. and pray that this doesn’t happen. All it will take is one person trying repeatedly to parallel park to back up traffic for blocks – and then the car horns will start. Throw in a city bus, a person double parking, and we are looking at a real nightmare.
    There is a reason why very few streets in NY are two way – they are the most dangerous streets in the city. 14th Street has the most bike/pedestrian accidents downtown.

  • Aaron Mirenzi

    what about making Charles a two way street and leaving st Paul and Calvert as is? Charles is the obvious “main street” in the area and has the most pedestrians.

  • James McBee

    Seems like a bad idea. We sorely need some traffic calming measures, but this whole plan misses the mark. As has been pointed out, we should be removing lanes in favor of street car lines and bike lanes (with barriers). This city once had effective mass transit. We need to rebuild that system, or something broadly similar. Rearranging vehicular traffic won’t do all that much to improve the quality of life for people living in these neighborhoods, as long as cars remain the dominant mode of transportation.

    With that said, I don’t have much sympathy for all the commuters whining about the possible effects on their daily trips to and from work. For half a century the city has been run with the convenience of suburbanites in mind. It’s high time that we start making decisions based on the interests of those who live and pay taxes in the city. You would cry bloody murder if your municipalities did anything that put the good of city residents ahead of your own, yet our govt (such as it is) is expected to bend over backwards to accommodate your choice to live in one of the counties, or in many cases, even in another state. I think most people who live here, have had just about enough of that.

  • Jed Weeks

    Jay Heaton:

    Just curious about your thoughts on this:

    “America’s multi-lane one-way streets are a disaster for neighborhoods. A recent study released at the International Conference on Livability led by John Gilderbloom finds significant benefits to converting such streets to two-way traffic flows.” –

    Also, there’s a good article on Streetsblog that debunks some of the common and dated ideas about one-way vs. two-way streets:

    • Day_Star

      Jed, first off, I admire and respect you for trying to get to the heart of a matter.

      Two-way streets are the best option for many towns with “Main Streets,” but one size does not fit all. An honest New Urbanist will concede on this. Main Streets with commercial businesses in more traditional town configurations will usually benefit from two-way over one-way (I’ve read this and I’ve seen this); especially when there’s relatively nothing offered in the other one way direction. Calvert and St. Paul are NOT main streets. Anything but. Why? They aren’t destinations. Their greatest function and use is to get persons to and fro.

      There’s only one street in MV & CV that, in my opinion, could or should ever be considered for two-way and that’s Charles Street (like you mentioned) – on top of it being a main street in the traditional sense (eg. a single street destination), it has wider right-of-ways for better passing and even bike lanes in some stretches.

      • Jed Weeks

        Multi-lane high-speed arterials aren’t a good fit for neighborhood streets either. So what would you suggest from a new urbanist perspective? Some kind of neighborhood street treatment like lane reduction but keeping them one-way?

        • Day_Star

          30-35 MPH is not a high speed arterial (it seems faster because it’s so narrow), but to answer your question, I would make MLK a more attractive option, both for vehicle capacity and aesthetics. After that, then change light sequencing less in favor of north-south driving during non-rush hours.

          I choose Calvert/St. Paul to drive to downtown, Fed Hill, the airport and the DC area because it’s both quicker (usually) and more pleasant to drive. To make more people choose MLK (and make Baltimore a nicer city to boot), first, the 5-road intersection cluster f$%^ at MLK and Howard should be fixed with a roundabout and an underpass for either MLK to Howard or straight Howard traffic.

          If there’s any money left over. . . apply underpass w/ roundabouts to 3-4 other locations providing safe and easy and attractive pedestrian crossings at grade with slow (but efficient with less stopping) roundabout traffic for vehicles going east or west off MLK. Remove highway to nowhere overpass/ land waste and replace with general design approach I’m talking about. Some land taking would be required, but the right-of-ways are quite large thanks to wasted land beside the road and no-mans-land medians (which must go because they psychologically make people drive too fast). I thinks I just spent a billion dollars.

          • Matt R

            Better timing of MLK would be a great start. If the timing of the lights is done correctly, the posted speed will be regulated and rewarded by allowing drivers to not have to stop. I also think if we want to keep drivers out of the neighborhoods, we need a connected interstate highway system. I would start by extending I-70 to I-95 on what is now Caton Ave/Hilton Parkway and building a freeway to connect I-83 to I-95, either by building an Eastside expressway, a tunneled approach thru Harbor East/Harbor, or a tunneled connection thru downtown.

          • Aaron Mirenzi

            where would you build an eastside expressway?

          • Matt R

            I would build it on Hoffman St where the JFX bends to go downtown, it will be a straight path thru a very dilapidated corridor, then have it go down what is now Erdman Avenue, to I-895, putting it within a stones throw of I-95, north of Baltimore.

          • Aaron Mirenzi

            That’s the only feasible spot as far as I can see. Mostly because of the amount of vacant property along biddle and Preston like you said. Still would require displacement of thousands of people though which is tough.

          • Matt R

            It needs to be built…imagine that highway with dedicated bus based rapid transit lanes (not effected by the general traffic patterns)…Who needs rail at that point. Also, I bet 100,000 vehicles a day would use that highway and I will bet it would create 10,000 new permanent jobs in the warehouse, construction, and transportation sectors. It will displace some people but lets face it, any project that will have a real impact will displace people. However this project will grow the economy on the middle-east side of this city, an area that has been in a state of depression since the 1960s.

          • Jed Weeks

            You did just spend a billion dollars–on new road construction which won’t relieve traffic but encourage more driving. That’s not “new urbanist” at all.

          • Day_Star

            I proposed a solution to change driving patterns so less people choose to drive through MV. I was intentionally lofty the 3rd paragraph. The Automobile is real. It exists and is favored at nearly a 94:6 ratio in Bmore I think. Light rail is painfully slow through downtown and at 30 minute intervals at non peak and to try to time connections between the redline, light rail and subway will lead just about anyone with keys to choose to drive if they have a busy schedule. Biking is an option only we who live close in can consider on a frequent basis. If we sat down and had a beer, I’d sell you on personal rapid transit (prt) being the only viable competitor for the average Joe to the car in a semi-dense city like Bmore and then my lofty city planning side of me will come out. For now, just get MLK working better at the tangle of streets at Howard and change light sequences for easier access to MLK.

          • Carol Ott

            As someone who lives right off MLK and therefore (as a pedestrian) as someone who has to cross it often, I would as that we please NOT encourage even more traffic in this direction. It’s hard enough for just one person to get across MLK at several points (even with the turning lanes and increased crosswalk times) — I can’t imagine pushing a baby in a stroller, or walking with little ones.

            At the corner of MLK and Washington Boulevard, there’s a nasty accident at least once a month — 99% of the time, caused by someone running a light, headed SB on MLK.

          • paticklyons

            and yet MLK is a major throughway, a critical arterial. if we want that area to be more walkable, perhaps we would be better off building pedestrian bridges or tunnels.

    • Jay Heaton

      The streetsblog article referenced a 2000 study that looked at children injury rates in Hamilton, Ontario from 1978 to 1994. It found that “children’s injury rate was 2.5 times higher on one-way streets than on two-way streets”. The study has been cited by two-way street proponents to support their claims that one-way streets are dangerous for pedestrians. The major limitation of the study is that it doesn’t compare the quantity of exposure (i.e., the number of times a child is exposed to a street or vehicle) for each street-type being analyzed. The downtown core of Hamilton consists almost entirely of one-way street with high pedestrian crossing volumes. Had the quantity of exposure been measured in the study, it may have simply found children are 5 times more likely to cross a one-way street than a two-way street in Hamilton (which would explain the increased injury rate).

      According to Dr. John Gilderbloom, the study in the first link is going to be available shortly at I’m waiting to read the methodology of the study before commenting.

  • Matt R

    Much care will need to be given on the flow
    of traffic to not have a congested dangerous mess. There will need to be many intersections with dedicate left turn arrows, dedicated left turn only lanes, raised medians that allow pedestrians to cross half way, ruble strips in the center of more narrow areas to avoid head-on collisions, etc. The way Baltimore tends to half ass projects, I think we should leave well enough alone.

  • The_Whimsical1

    What’s clear, looking at the reactions, is how strongly people feel about this issue. Let’s see what the study says and keep our minds open. I just know I feel much safer pedaling about Bolton Hill than I do dodging vehicles in Charles Village (and we’ve had some horrific cars-hit-pedestrian accidents near JHU). I say we all keep our minds open, wait for the study, and then discuss this with some Charles Village-specific data points at hand.

    • CV resident

      Unfortunately, dodging vehicles is precisely what too many local bicyclists do. Although dependent for their lives upon motorists obeying traffic laws, only a minority of bicyclists in Baltimore consistently bother to. I’m a bicyclist myself, and I marvel that there aren’t more accidents, and that there isn’t more road rage directed against bicyclists.

      • The_Whimsical1

        St. Paul Street is horrible now. I commute down to Penn Station. Drivers (often talking on their cell phones) come up right behind me, either honk their horns or whiz by nearly clipping me. When it rains it’s deadly. A two way street would be vastly better, slower, safer. Everywhere I’ve ever bike commuted (which is everywhere, as I am in my fifties) has been far better as a two way street.

  • Archphips

    Armchair traffic engineers galore! The problem with the study is that the objectives aren’t clear. Better flow, fewer crashes, better living on those streets? A few years ago we fought for all day parking on those streets and elimination of the rush hour lanes. Now, that made the traffic calmer, walking safer and living in the street much better. Two way on these 10′ lanes is tough with buses and trucks that hardly fit into them. It will make bicycling in those lanes terrible. Two way traffic doubles the conflicts at each intersection for cars, peds and bikes. At a minimum the study should include Charles, Cathedral and Park as well. The goal should be to calm all those for better living. Like most urban stuff, it’s a system issue and what works depends on what the desired outcome is supposed to be.

  • Voice of Reason

    I am a resident of Calvert Street in Charles Village. Changing Calvert into 2-way would be a mistake. We don’t need a highway through our residential neighborhood. Currently, Calvert is 2 lanes in one direction with cars parked on each side. To adequately ensure the flow of traffic, the city would need to eliminate residential parking on both sides of the street. This would be necessary if a vehicle breaks down or if there is an accident. Also, vehicles would need to yield to emergency vehicles traveling to Union Memorial Hospital which already have problems getting thru that corridor during peak rush hours. We already have a crisis in parking with multi-floor apartment buildings and Hopkins students living in the neighborhood. And now that Calvert has inherited the bus stops originally located on Charles Street, 2 lanes are needed to allow traffic flow around buses. 15 years ago, the city did the midtown bridge repair on Charles Street that was to temporarily divert the main flow of traffic thru Calvert Street. Then they decided to close Charles again to begin the current streetscape project. Charles Street is a much wider than Calvert and was always intended to be 2 way. While Charles Street is closed, the city needs to covert that to 4 lanes going both ways and drop this idea to alter the quaint neighborhood thru Calvert. Or else there will be a lot of residents leaving Charles Village.

    • CV resident

      Of course, the nominal motivation behind implementing two-way traffic is to perhaps make the quaint neighborhoods along Calvert and St. Paul even more quaint. Many residents of these streets would understandably prefer to see no through traffic transiting them.

      The conflict of local versus transit traffic is familiar to cities the world over. Mostly it becomes a protracted learning experience for all the parties concerned, in which many aspects of the existing situation are ultimately found to have been well justified and a fair compromise.

      Bottom line here is that, unless Baltimore develops a taste for pedestrian districts in the European manner, and a willingness to fund vastly improved public transport, there’s little likelihood of city streets being made much calmer than they already are.

      • Carol Ott

        Your last paragraph sums up the entire argument perfectly. Without these improvements, you could construct a jersey wall across most of our city streets, and drivers would find a way to simply plow through them.

        Want safer streets? Have less cars on the road. Sometimes the best solutions really are the most simple.

        • Citizenpane

          Exactly. Here’s the solution: The citizens of
          Baltimore need to overcome their “Fear of Clowns.”

          Bear with me here.

          Re: Traffic – One Way, Two Way..what
          the hell difference does it make? The fact is that the city is
          totally “carfucked,” (credit to BB commentor Aaron Mirenzi
          for adding this word to the vernacular. Don’t Google that word
          however, unless you want to get a bunch of links to porno sites
          featuring people having sex in cars).

          We should strive for fewer vehicles
          grinding through the city everyday, or perhaps a greater number of
          commuters who are willing to drive their seven passenger SUVs to
          work whilst ridesharing with something more sentinent than an Egg
          McMuffin in a paper bag – one or two other human beings perhaps?

          Back to topic, i.e., the clown thing :
          SRB’s transportation people should commission a study by a
          consultant who will reach out to the circus clown community to
          determine how said clowns achieve such effective density rates, in
          terms of the ratio of passengers to vehicles, i.e., the “clown

          Once hired by the Board of Estimates,
          the consultant can probably simply cut and past

          …and then hit the city up with a bill
          for $250K or so for a finely crafted “deliverable.”

          In an effort to decrease the number of
          pedestrians injuries and deaths in the city, yet another consultant
          could be commissioned by the SRB Administration to formulate
          strategies as to how pedestrians can make themselves more visible to
          the “You’re Nothin’ But a Bug on My Windshield” Rush Hour Road
          Ragers. Once again, the clown community could be called upon to
          serve as a knowledge enrichment resource. The consultant could
          subcontract with circus clowns who would serve as subject matter
          experts in the discipline of stilt walking. They could suggest
          methodologies by which pedestrians in the city can “rebrand”
          themselves as “visible” to drivers lurking behind tinted
          windshields, with their right feet itching to hit the gas as soon as
          the light turns green.

          Here’s a start for that successful
          consultant to begin the cut and paste effort which will garner THEM a
          fat $250K or so by way of a plagiarized “deliverable”:

          NOTE: Judging from the Brew photo
          taken of SRB at the recent 26th Street collapse, it appears that she
          herself may very well be somewhat of an “Apprentice Level Stilt
          Walker:” Here it is:

          • ushanellore

            Bitter bile to love.

          • Citizenpane

            …Plus a lot of the type of buzzwords one finds in a typical proposal from what I call the “Bullshit Boutiques” (consulting firms that cater to government). Anyway, thanks Ushanellore (assuming your comment was meant as a compliment).

            Incidentally, the erratic line breaks are due to the fact that I wrote the thing in Open Office and then pasted into this Disqhead Comments thing (but Gosh Darn It, I can’t complain much, because both programs are free).

            Interestingly enough…Although I initially hated the way this thing looks because of the formatting bugaboo – upon re-examination, I think the line breaks lend it a bit of a “prose poem” feel. I’m only bringing up the poetry thing in order to segue into an opportunity to tell you that I truly enjoy the stuff you post to BB. Keep up the good work.

          • ushanellore

            Of course it was a compliment. Loved it. They say do not complain–I say complain, grumble, carry on and make it good.

    • Frank F. Hejazi

      Totally with you

  • Citizenpane


  • Andrew


  • chris doeller

    I am perplexed that this is going to take so much money for a study. A current stud to make Howard Street stop where it intersects with MLK has also been carried out and at a citizen’s meeting last winter, I felt it was a done deal, even before the locals could get in their say. I keep asking why not synchronize the traffic lights? Try to move east or west and you get stopped by a light every block. Drive down MLK and you end up stopping every couple lights. MLK is the primary road no cross street need to be a priority, Travel north, on Charles, in Mt Vernon and you see the lights at or just past Mt Royal out of sync with all the others.

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