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Midtown Community Plan Calls
for Big Traffic Changes

On A daily commute to Columbia, this writer leaves a city with a dramatically shrinking population to enter a centrally planned, corporate city in the making. It seems that every square foot of grass, woods or wetlands in Columbia is either slated to be replaced with commercial development or is being covetously monitored by the powers-that-be. On a recent morning I saw the fresh carcass of a deer that had been killed by an automobile on Gateway Drive, a reminder of our zeal to develop rather than renovate.

So why is Columbia being allowed to expand while Baltimore City continues to disappear?

Until the larger factors that are ripping the city apart are dealt with, many activists are concentrating on what can be done now.

While the Inner Harbor has been the focus of our city's leaders over the past 20 years, there really hasn't been too much attention given to the long-term needs of Baltimore's other neighborhoods. This situation is beginning to change.

For example, the Midtown Community Benefits District has compiled the Midtown Community Plan (MCP). It is a plan full of bold ideas that are intended to preserve Bolton Hill, Charles North, Madison Park and Mount Vernon. These are neighborhoods that are keys to our city's future.

The MCP is worthy of every resident's attention. Charles B. Duff, Bonnie J. Butler, Deborah H. Diehl, and Sandra R. Sparks are the four activists listed inside the impressive brochure, the culmination of a lengthy planning process.

The areas that the MCP concentrates on are traffic, renovation of vacant and dilapidated row houses, street lighting, crime and the creation of a non-profit development corporation.

Regarding traffic, the MCP points out that there is far too much traffic and too little parking in the Midtown area. Specific recommendations are:

  • Improve the efficiency of the JFX by building a northbound entrance ramp at Saratoga Street. Encourage northbound Calvert Street traffic to turn right at Centre Street for connections to JFX and Fallsway. Close the southbound St. Paul Street JFX ramp. Rebuild the Maryland Avenue exit ramp.

  • Improve transit service to a "serious big-city standard" by combining the two major north- and south-bound bus routes into one north and south route.

    Along these routes the number of bus stops would be reduced. This means that the Calvert Street and Charles Street buses will be combined, making Charles Street the sole northbound bus street and eliminating buses on Calvert Street.) At the same time, southbound bus traffic on St. Paul and Cathedral Street/Maryland Avenue would be combined, with Maryland Avenue the sole street for southbound buses.

  • Increase parking by removing all bus stops on Calvert and St. Paul Streets. Also, eliminate the peak-hour parking restrictions on Calvert, St. Paul, Biddle and Preston Streets.

Regarding the renovation of vacant and dilapidated row houses, the MCP recommends that a non-profit corporation called the Midtown Development Corp. be created. It would be responsible for stimulating residential development and would assist in implementing other recommendations in the plan.

Regarding lighting, the MCP argues that much of the lighting in Midtown is poorly done. For example, in the Mount Vernon and Charles North communities, the lamp posts are too tall and the bulbs are very bright, directing light on to the street itself for the benefit of traffic, rather than for pedestrians. In Bolton Hill and Madison Park, the streetlights are placed too far apart, with often-dim bulbs. The MCP says that Midtown should adopt Otterbein as the residential model for lighting and Broadway in Fells Point as the commercial model.

In Otterbein, the lamp posts are not too tall and the light is not directed onto the sidewalks. Along Broadway in Fells Point, the lamps are about 40 feet apart and they are also focused on sidewalks.

The MCP also recommends that streets have more trees planted, particularly in residential areas.

Along with these tree plantings and new lighting fixtures, the MCP calls for new efforts at removing garbage to encourage the feeling that the streets "belong" to the residents. As a result, more people would be encouraged to walk at nighttime, thereby reducing crime by increasing natural surveillance. Crime drops when there are more people around.
The MCP shows that, with teamwork, discussion and participation, citizens may yet control the future destiny of this city.

Scott Loughrey

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