Citizen fights Fells Point pedestrian changes
Rebecca Smith, founder of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, wrote The Sun recently with a complaint that would have brought quick action when William Donald Schaefer was mayor. Getting There can't promise the same type of results, but it can give a public airing to Smith's complaints about changes the city Department of Transportation has made to the pedestrian signals in Fells Point:
I am writing to ask you to stand up for neighborhoods and walkability in Baltimore City--to move Baltimore forward as a progressive, walkable city that is safe and hospitable to residents, businesses, and visitors--instead of taking us backward to a far less enlightened time when cities were designed only around the needs of the car.
As you know, in November, the Baltimore City Council adopted a "Complete Streets" initiative, which binds the city to consider ALL users in transportation and planning decisions--this means, as you know, that decisions about our streets should consider the needs of walkers, bikers, and transit riders, NOT just automobiles.
Now we are faced with a litmus test to determine whether the City Council's commitment is genuine.
For, a recent transportation decision flies in the face of the City Council's commitment to create Complete Streets.
Within the past month, changes have been made to the walk signals along Fleet and Eastern Streets in Southeast Baltimore. At certain key intersections* in high pedestrian traffic areas in business districts, pedestrians do not even receive a walk signal at all unless they press a button. Walkers are waiting for unreasonable periods of time to cross the street and often through two cycles of the light if they do not press the button in time. Jaywalking has increased dramatically because walkers get tired of waiting. Some walkers notice that the cross traffic has stopped and enter the intersection without pressing the button, only to find themselves caught in the middle of the street because there is insufficient time to cross when the button is not pressed.
Buttons such as these are appropriate for areas of low pedestrian traffic, not a densely populated urban area with significant foot traffic. And not in a city in which such a practice flies in the face of a recently adopted City Council policy.
As well, drivers on Wolfe and Ann are waiting for unreasonable periods of time--time during which there are periods of NO cross traffic--in order to get where they are going. Drivers on Wolfe, Ann, and Washington have become more aggressive about running lights and turning into crosswalks when walkers are present, making them more threatening to pedestrians, because they are also tired of waiting and have a very short window themselves.
Clearly these decisions were made solely for the purpose of moving automobile traffic more swiftly along Eastern and Fleet.
But this policy discourages walking and compromises the safety of pedestrians at a time when we KNOW better.
Walkability has been shown to substantially increase property values, enhance public health, protect the environment, increase adoption rates of public transportation, and decrease crime. In the face of such evidence, can the city defend such changes?
We request the following changes, effective immediately:
1) The timing of signals needs to be restored to its previous state. Timing has significantly overcompensated and is frustrating not only to walkers, but also to drivers on Wolfe, Ann, etc.
2) There MUST be a walk signal with EVERY light change. This is a high pedestrian traffic area and a business district. Anything else is both unsafe and not in keeping with a Complete Streets policy.
3) As a show of commitment to the community, these intersections should receive the "count down" signals that have been placed in other areas in the city. The light signals should be changed so that there is a grace period when cross traffic lights change from green to red. People run red lights at these intersections frequently, and walkers and drivers need a grace period. Aliceanna at Wolfe is also long overdue for a walk signal.
Affected intersections include, but are not limited to: Wolfe at Fleet; Wolfe at Eastern; Ann at Fleet; Ann at Eastern; Washington at Fleet; Washington at Eastern.
Can you help us? We hope you will support us in restoring our neighborhood's walkability and will not stand for similar changes in other Baltimore City neighborhoods.
Many thanks, as always.
It's a well-thought-out, detailed case Smith is making, and well worth an equally thoughtful response from the city. We'll ask the transportation department to provide one and let you know about the response.