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Five questions for Frank Murphy

City transportation department's deputy director of operations talks JFX, big event strategizing

By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

October 5, 2013

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With long-term repair work on the Jones Falls Expressway underway, and major funding for the Red Line coming, Baltimore is in the midst of and building up to a large amount of transportation work — all with an eye toward better connectivity and reliability for city commuters.

The JFX work also means headaches, and the Red Line has plenty of critics, some of who say it is misconceived and leaves out too many residents.

There are other challenges facing the city's transportation system, including a high number of accidents involving pedestrians and the ever-present issue of congestion during large-scale events downtown. (Although, with the Grand Prix gone, that's one less worry for next year.)

The Baltimore Sun asked Frank Murphy, the city transportation department's deputy director for operations, about some of the issues of the day — and what else drivers in Baltimore can expect.

Are there more major repair projects on your long-term list that JFX drivers should anticipate? How do you determine the right balance between necessary upkeep and ensuring smooth commutes?

The current JFX project includes the barrier replacement, joint repairs and safety improvements related to the curve. This is expected to be completed in the next nine months. After the conclusion of this project there will be a second similar project that will begin at 41st Street and extend to the county line. A future project will be done to add safety improvements. Those repairs will most likely be done at night to reduce the impact on traffic.

Attracting and keeping events like the recent Baltimore Book Festival in Baltimore is a goal of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration. How has your approach to large-scale events evolved in recent years?

Maintaining mobility for the public for large events is an enormous task, but we welcome that challenge. A first-class city needs exciting events, and it is gratifying to see the plans come together. It is important that DOT work with the event promoters in the planning stages to minimize traffic disruption and develop a strategic traffic plan. We make a significant effort to inform commuters of times and locations where congestion is expected and to use alternate routes to minimize delays. Public messaging along with social media tools help tremendously in our communication efforts.

Baltimore has more pedestrians struck by vehicles on a yearly basis than any county in Maryland. What are the factors that contribute to that, and what is the city doing about the problem?

All cities have much more interaction between pedestrian and vehicle traffic than less urban areas do. This creates additional opportunities for pedestrians to be struck by vehicles. The main causes are partly due to drivers who run red lights and do not yield when making turns or approaching uncontrolled crosswalks — as well as pedestrians that cross against traffic signals or do not cross at crosswalks or intersections. We have been working to provide both drivers and pedestrians with information as well as providing additional separation between turning traffic and pedestrians. We have implemented various safety tools and programs to educate and inform the general public about traffic laws and safe pedestrian practices, including paddle signs, countdown pedestrian signals and leading pedestrian intervals at various intersections.

Can you explain the city's vision for how the east-west transit Red Line will transform the neighborhoods around it and the traffic in them, during both the construction phase and the life of the system?

Every great city has a viable fixed-rail transit system. It's necessary for Baltimore to progress economically, environmentally and as a regional leader in transit to attract the jobs, families and investment to move successfully through the 21st century. This investment will create jobs, strengthen our transit system, rejuvenate neighborhoods and establish equity across the west-to-east Baltimore corridor. The Red Line will stimulate neighborhoods that have suffered from years of disinvestment and will bring approximately 4,000 construction jobs, 200 permanent jobs in operation and maintenance, and $1.8 million in economic activity. While connecting neighborhoods across the city, it will allow each community along the route to have transit options and a reliable connection to jobs, health care and shopping. It will also provide increased incentives for the private sector to invest in Baltimore neighborhoods. The Red Line connects the communities not only to others along the line, but by means of a transfer, to locations along the Central Light Rail, the and the MARC system.

You must get around the city a good amount. What are a few of your favorite roads to drive in the city, and why?

My favorite roads are determined by the adjacent land use and what Baltimore has to offer — Greenway and Blythewood road have stately mansions and Sherwood Gardens; Poplar Hill Road has multi-acre estates reminiscent more of the French Riviera than an East Coast city; Eutaw Place has townhouse mansions; Hilton Parkway and Windsor Mill Road traverse the hills and valleys of Baltimore's largest open space of Leakin and Gwynns Falls Parks; Boston Street has the vibrant waterfront development; I-395 and the Key Bridge have aerial views; Warren Avenue [Federal Hill] has great views of the skyline to the north and Fells Point to the east; and Mt. Vernon Place has the feel of places in some of the great cities in Europe such as the Grand Place in Brussels.

krector@baltsun.com

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Frank Murphy

Title: Deputy director for operations, Baltimore City Department of Transportation

Age: 62

Residence: Northeast Baltimore

Education: Bachelor's of Science, civil engineering, Drexel University

Birthplace: Baltimore

Family: Two daughters

Hobbies/interests: Travel, playing music, coin collecting