By JACK BARTHOLET
For The News-Letter
By JACK BARTHOLET
Traffic on N. Charles Street was restricted to local and emergency vehicles only between 29th St. and University Parkway on Monday as part of the N. Charles Street Reconstruction project, which aims to increase pedestrian safety.The $28 million endeavor will last two years.
“The goals of the Charles Street Reconstruction Project are to create more balanced traffic patterns, increase pedestrian and bicycle safety, upgrade aging infrastructure, improve signage, support business revitalization and enhance the character and beauty of the area,” Adrienne D. Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Transportation, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“The project is led by the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, using federal and local funds and a contribution by the Johns Hopkins University.”
Pedestrian safety was a major factor in deciding whether to proceed with the construction.
“There had been several deaths that happened with students crossing Charles Street and crossing Art Museum Drive, and we began proposing at that point that the Charles Street section be redesigned. A big piece of it is pedestrian safety,” Sandy Sparks, a member of the Charles Village Community Association and the group’s chairperson of its Charles Street Reconstruction Committee, said.
The original group that suggested this project include Hopkins students, as well as representatives from neighborhoods surrounding Homewood.
“It turns out that studies that were done a decade ago showed that as many people were crossing Charles Street in the 33- 34-hundred block of Charles Street as were crossing Pratt Street [a major street downtown] during the busiest times… So it’s a very highly active walking area, and it simply was not safe…there weren’t clear crosswalks. It was just confusing, and consequently, it wasn’t safe,” Sparks said.
This reconstruction project should improve pedestrian safety, according to Major George Kibler, the Hopkins Campus Safety and Security officer in charge of operations.
“Once fully implemented, the initiatives and reconstruction project will lead to a safer environment for pedestrians, on foot and on bike…student cooperation in eliminating distractions such as use of cell phone while crossing and being disciplined to follow proper directions when crossing will, in the end, help them to avoid the potential serious and/or fatal experiences of recent years,” Kibler said.
In addition to improving pedestrian safety, the project also aims to beautify the local Charles Street area.
With the removal of many of the trees lining the median, the Charles Street Reconstruction Project will ultimately replace this vegetation with even more trees and shrubbery, along with other appealing features.
“The project requires removing 190 trees; however, at least 272 trees will be planted throughout the entire project area. The trees are being cut down so all the utilities and infrastructure can be updated, and then the roadway is being completely reconstructed between 28th and University Parkway,” Barnes said. This public art plaza will be built in the area between 33rd and 34th Streets.
“It will make the area more of a destination [that is] attractive, and it will enhance being in this part of Baltimore not to see just some ugly, old street that people pass through,” said Sparks. She also commented that the project overall will “make for much more convenient and accessible neighborhoods, and it’ll also be a great enhancement to the university because right now, … Charles Street as the front door is pretty abysmal,” Sparks said.
Improvements to the lighting on Charles Street are also a major part of the plan.
“The city has joined with the university to upgrade street lighting to promote safety on residential streets east of campus. The new LED lighting will improve visibility conditions on the small side streets such as 32nd and further down to 29th. ” Kibler wrote.
Additional safety provisions undertaken by the university include two more security golf carts to account for reduced security automobile access the street, increased security focus on relocated public transit stops, officers assigned to assist with pedestrians crossing the streets, and a second team of a campus police officer and an off-duty city police officer working together.
“The latter will further enhance our joint presence in an effort to prevent street crimes and assist students with safety concerns. While unique, this tactic not only serves as a deterrent, but coordinates and focuses quick response and experience to incidents that occur within our Charles Village patrol area. However, the history of crime in the Charles St. area has been very low in the past, [and] absent unforeseen developments, we do not expect that to change.” Kibler wrote.
“Not to be overlooked [is that] city police have initiated warnings and issuance of citations for jaywalking violations in an effort to educate and direct pedestrians to cross at the proper locations. This past weekend, 40 warnings were issued by city police officers for jaywalking during late evening hours. These initiatives are part of the coordinated state, city, and university effort to introduce improved traffic engineering, enforcement and education measures recommended by university and city consultants targeting improved pedestrian safety,” Kibler wrote.
It isn’t anticipated that the construction will have any detrimental impacts to local businesses.
“A lot of legwork has been done towards trying to ameliorate any problems in terms of traffic pattern changes” and “There’s detours coming up, and that’ll be the traffic that was just kind of passing through, and they weren’t stopping for business anyway. So I don’t foresee any problems,” Sparks said.
The project, which the city expects will be completed by the summer of 2014, has been going on since the mid-1990’s.