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January 5, 2011

State employee describes MLK dangers

Georgia Corso, a 12-year state employee who works at the State Center complex in Baltimore, wrote Getting There to describe the problems she sees with  the pedestrian crossing of Martin Luther King Boulevard between there and Maryland General Hospital.

The crossing was the site of a fatal incident Tuesday in which a bus struck a man in a crosswalk. Police attributed the death to pedestrian error. Getting There passes on Corso's email in a lightly edited version.

The  center is bordered by Howard Street on the east, Eutaw Street on the west, and the heavily-trafficked six-lane divided highway of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd to the south. On the north side of MLK Blvd are the 5th Regiment Armory and the Maryland State Office Complex, comprised of three buildings full of offices. To the south are the Maryland General Hospital complex, the Baltimore School for the Arts, and a myriad of restaurants and shops. There is one crossing for pedestrians across MLK Blvd and I would venture that easily 750 people use that particular crosswalk everyday.

The problems
It takes forever to get across the street; the signal is not coordinated with the ones at Eutaw Street and Howard Street. At rush hour, pedestrians are crossing through stopped traffic that is gridlocked. The light signal changes green for pedestrians every two minutes, according to Mike Harrington of Baltimore City’s Transit and Traffic, although I have not yet had the stopwatch to time it. But when you are standing on the sidewalk waiting for your chance to cross, it seems much longer than that indeed.

The signal does not respond to the Pedestrian Crossing Button, and you can punch on that button forever to no avail. Additionally drivers exhibit a flagrant disregard for the red signals in both directions and pedestrians cannot depend on the signal to stop traffic. Since there is not a street intersection affiliated with the red light, just a pedestrian crosswalk, drivers feel that stopping for the red light is optional, and it makes no sense to stop for the possibility of a pedestrian. Sometimes drivers are running the light because the existing signals are too high in the air for drivers near the crosswalk to see the light. The crosswalk painting on the street has faded and worn.

People who have to cross are usually on a 30 minute lunch break, or are trying to get to work on time and cannot afford to stand on one side of the street waiting for the long two minute series to finally change, particularly when it does not seem to really make a difference to the passing cars. They take their chances and cross halfway, standing on the narrow median, under four feet wide, waiting for the other side to clear and then to make a break. I call it playing Frogger. Oftentimes, pedestrians will get caught on the median, with traffic rushing dangerously past on both sides. It was only a matter of time.

I started making calls back in October. I was told the signal had already been examined and to try calling 311. That did nothing. I kept calling. Finally, Mike Harrington came out to the site and when I spoke with him afterwards, he said he made the green signal for pedestrians longer, giving them more time to cross. Of all the issues I had with the signal that was not one of them. I called then again on December 16, 2010, and told him I was getting a petition together and I was going to send it to the Mayor’s office. I was terrified of the idea of watching someone get hit and having to live with that specter the rest of my life. Plus I truly care about the people I work with, not to mention my own safety. I sent out an email  to everyone in the Laboratories Administration and started gathering signatures. In talking with my co-workers, many told me that they had also called about the intersection and there was no action taken.

Finally, yesterday, January 4th at approximately 3 p.m., a man was attempting to cross and was hit by a (bus). A coworker in the Department of General Services saw it and told our security guard that people lifted the man and carried him into the Linden Deli, and that he watched as workers from Maryland General Hospital worked to resuscitate the man. When I heard about the incident yesterday afternoon from Department of General Services Police officers, I called Transit and Traffic and told them that I was the woman who had spoken to them, requested a camera, requested other safety issues, additional lower traffic signals, and was getting a petition together.

And that now there had been a fatality, just as I feared. I could not get any information from the Baltimore City Police, naturally, but there were eight patrol cars on the scene when I left work at 5:15 p.m. and there were city police officers from the Crash Unit on hand, the crossing was taped off, traffic on the west bound side was detoured, and officers were bustling about still. It is a horrible thing that someone has to die, a family has to lose a loved one, before something is done about a situation that is well-known for many years to hundreds of people.

Getting There has contacted the city and is looking forward to hearing its response to Corso's concerns and any plans it might have for addressing pedestrian safety issues there.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:06 PM | | Comments (6)


There was a blog published yesterday about this area and the associated pedestrian danger at

There are some legitimate concerns that the writer offers, but whining about being on a 30 minute lunch break and not having time to wait for a light is utter nonsense. Just as the poor soul yesterday crossed at a time that he clearly should not have, if the state workers (or anyone else) decide that they cannot wait for a light, they are risking their lives to get to their lunches. Not worth it. I drive through this area every day and I know about the "Frogger" that the writer mentions that happens there, but ultimately what this all comes down to is poor choices on the part of the pedestrian. We see this all the time throughout the city where people choose to cross at times or places that they should not, and sadly, there are consequences for that.

I think the larger point here is that pedestrian safety in Baltimore is very low compared to other cities.

I can't tell you how many times I have nearly been run over by drivers turning into crosswalks where pedestrians have the right of way and then getting honked/yelled at like I'm the one in the wrong. Many drivers in this city are dangerously ignorant of traffic laws.

That being said, I have also seen pedestrians who suddenly dart into traffic like possessed deer, almost daring cars to hit them. One guy STOPPED in the middle of Maryland Ave and then looked at me like I was the one who wasn't supposed to be in the middle of the street. It's unbelievable.

There are several pedestrian deaths in Baltimore every year, with fault falling on both sides. Bottom line: all the signals and painted crosswalks in the world won't help if you live in a city where many people have complete disregard for traffic laws and fellow drivers/pedestrians.

Ultimately, doesn't this come down to enforcement? If you ticket people who do not yield to pedestrians in crosswalks people will quickly come to understand that it's the law and that it must be obeyed. Station patrol cars beyond intersections and pull over anyone who doesn't yield to pedestrians in crosswallks. Don't know how long it would take, but I believe two weeks would do it. I think the overarching message, that we are civilized people, would have benefits beyond just making life safer for pedestrians.

Build a pedestrian bridge, build a tunnel, I don't care, but don't screw up traffic in that section, it will screw up all of MLK. Maybe this woman shouldn't be so impatient about crossing the street.

As for the person hit by a bus, he probably wasn't supposed to be in the road when he was in the road. That's pedestrian error. Don't blame it on the street crossings.

As a commuter who has to use MLK/Howard on a daily basis I will tell you that any attempt to mess with the light timings to make them more "pedestrian friendly" will create HAVOC on MLK during the evening rush. Already that complex is a huge bottleneck that causes long lines of vehicles to back up down MLK. I actually moved my work schedule up an hour simply to avoid hitting that intersection too much after 4 PM when the gridlock becomes extreme.

Every so often when the light timing gets out of whack the traffic backup can stretch almost to Route 40 so that is the future you are proposing for thousands of Baltimore city commuters. I don't see why pedestrian safety is some golden calf that somehow trumps the needs of motorists. I don't see the wisdom in delaying thousands of motorists 5-10 minutes each every day just so a few hundred state workers can save a minute or two on their lunch break.

I question the need for a crosswalk at that location in the first place as there is an alternate one about 250 feet to the south at the corner of Eutaw. This is a REAL intersection where cars actually have to stop, running on a minute long cycle providing ample time for pedestrians to cross. The crosswalk in question is a luxury item that most regular drivers resent for screwing up the traffic flow. The state workers should be happy that it exists at all instead of advocating for changes that will bring the city to a stand-still.

Don't forget about the unintended consequences of traffic shifting off MLK onto other city streets in an effort to avoid the gridlock that increasing pedestrian access will cause. When MLK breaks down I have to use Paca or Eutaw or even cut through the state office complex itself on Preston to avoid delay. I am sure that the pedestrians would love a constant backup of cars in the middle of their office complex.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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