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Business & Developmentby Ed Gunts1:00 pmDec 10, 20150

Anxiety about two-way street conversion – and frustration with city life

Continued concern about converting St. Paul and Calvert streets to two-way roads at a second public hearing

Above: Reaction to changing traffic patterns on St. Paul and Calvert streets went far beyond two-way traffic last night.

No one mentioned doomsday.

But there was a lot of talk about lack of parking. And illegal double parking. And loading zones. And snow. And special events such as last week’s Washington Monument lighting.

In the second of three community meetings scheduled this month by Baltimore’s Department of Transportation, residents were overwhelmingly negative about the idea of converting Calvert and St. Paul streets to carry two-way traffic.

Unlike last week, when the biggest concern was about the potential for slower travel times if the streets become two-way – the “doomsday scenario” of a four-mile drive taking 60 minutes or more – area residents came up with new reasons to panic about different traffic patterns.

In the process, they revealed deep seated anxieties that go far beyond two-way traffic.

At times, last night’s meeting took on aspects of a group therapy session in which participants tried to out-do each other with horror stories about living and working in the city.

“It’s the fear of change,” observed Valorie LaCour, DOT’s chief of transportation planning. “We all hate it. People are afraid of change. . . We all get anxious. We all want to talk through it.”

Ultimately, she said, “this is about life. We talked about life tonight.”

Plea for Open-Mindedness

The DOT is holding the meetings to discuss whether St. Paul and Calvert streets, both one-way now, should be converted to carry two-way traffic between Fayette Street and University Parkway.

The city hired Sabra Wang & Associates of Columbia, at a cost of $140,000, to study the corridor and make recommendations. Three meetings were scheduled to get reactions from city residents before a recommendation is sent to city officials early next year.

Last night’s meeting was held in the Baltimore Montessori School at 1600 Guilford Avenue, a street with two-way traffic. It followed a meeting last week in Charles Village. Many of the speakers focused on the potential impact of change on their lives and businesses.

Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, a bike advocacy group, sought to allay their fears. Cornish said she believes that residents and businesses will be able to adapt if the streets are switched to two-way traffic.

For example, new laundromats and other service businesses might open up as streets become more livable and pedestrian friendly due to calmer traffic.

“I would encourage people to remain open-minded,” she said. “I think there are engineering solutions that will create the environment that people desire.”

It was a tough sell.

The tone of fear and anxiety was set by one of the first speakers, a man who complained about double parkers and the potentially negative impact on his business if the streets are changed to two-way traffic.

“What is the time frame?” asked the man, who declined to give his name or disclose the nature of his business.

“One year? Two years? Three? I have to know when it is going to happen, because I have to know when to move my business out of the city, because this is ridiculous. I’m going to have to move my business out of the city if this takes place.”

LaCour assured the man that DOT would give the public plenty of advance notice, whatever decision it makes.

“You will have time to make a decision about what to do with your business,” she said.

“It’s Going to be a Mess”

The critique continued.

Steffi Resnick, a hearing aid specialist with an office in Mount Vernon, said she is afraid of losing parking needed for her elderly patients and for delivery trucks.

“I need to get my deliveries,” she said. “If you are limiting where delivery trucks can stop, how can I get the deliveries I need for my business?”

Cynthia Reed runs a day care business, Cindy’s Learning Center, on North Calvert Street. She’s afraid a switch to two-way traffic will endanger the lives of the children in her care.

“I have parents who are dropping their children off,” she said. “If there’s a two-way street, those babies are going to be in the middle of the road.”

Reed said drivers travel at high speeds in front of her business, and more than one car has crashed into a house at Calvert and 23rd streets. She encouraged the traffic planners to spend time on her block before making any decisions.

“You can’t just look at this from behind a computer screen,” she said. “Have you actually come to the neighborhood to see how we live? I’m talking about the traffic where we live. Who does this work for? It doesn’t work for me. It’s going to be a mess.”

Hillary T. said she’s worried about parallel parking. And she’s afraid she’ll hold up traffic on a two-way street.

“I don’t understand how you will be able to park,” she said. “How will you not stop traffic when you are trying to park? I just don’t understand the parking piece of it.”

Hillary T. also wanted to know what will happen in bad weather.

“What happens with snow?” she asked the planners. “I am curious how that works also.”

LaCour told her it would work pretty much the way it does now. “You should be able to park on your street next to your house.”

Parking at Night

Nick Lehwald said he lives on Monument Street in Mount Vernon and has trouble finding a parking space when he comes home from work after a certain hour. He said it’s worse when the city restricts parking for special events.

“God forbid there is an event near the [Washington] Monument, like there is on a monthly basis,” he said. “Don’t even get me started about the Monument-lighting last week. Or a weather event. That’s my concern.”

Erin Reiney said she is “one of those bad guys” who lives in Mount Vernon but commutes to Rockville. She wondered about getting her clothes to and from the laundromat if the streets become two-way.

“I love the city,” she said. “I believe in it. But I’m afraid this will force me to move out of the city.”

Matthew Reid, a resident of the 500 block of St. Paul Place, asked if the planners have thought about the impact of two-way traffic on loading zones used by people moving in and out of buildings.

“You need loading zones on every single block,” he said. “Is the study going to recommend the technical details” needed to go along with converting the streets to two-way?

LaCour said technical details will be part of the final report.

Toby Fitzick, a mechanical engineer, wanted to know how DOT intends to reduce the warned-about 60-minute travel time to go the four miles from Fayette Street to University Parkway.

For a starter, LaCour said some drivers are expected to start using other streets and the city could restrict left-hand turns at certain intersections.

When one speaker suggested that planners investigate traffic solutions in Washington, Philadelphia and New York (“Look at what other cities have [done] rather than start over again”), LaCour said looking at solutions elsewhere is part of the study.

Closing an I-83 Exit

Some residents wondered about the impact of a plan to add a dedicated bike track along part of Maryland Avenue and whether the city could close the exit ramp from southbound Interstate 83 onto St. Paul Street as a way of reducing traffic volume south of Mount Royal Avenue.

LaCour said planners are taking the Maryland Avenue cycle track into consideration. She said the city does not have the authority to close the exit ramp from I-83 because it is part of an Interstate system.

“We’re totally aware that it is problematic,” she said. But “that’s a whole other process and a whole different study.”
The final meeting on the two-way traffic conversion study will be held next Tuesday, December 15, on the third floor of the Benton Building, 417 E. Fayette Street, from 6 to 8 p.m.

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