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Spirits Tavern car accident prompts closer look at remedies for 'crash corner'

Upper Fells Point residents call it “crash corner” — the intersection of Bank and Wolfe streets, and the site of yet another car accident early Sunday morning.

“You don’t park there unless … you don’t like your car,” said Dan Harrison, whose house on Bank Street was damaged in the collision.

Neighborhood business owners and residents hope the crash that sent a car slamming into Spirits Tavern at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday will prompt city officials to take action to slow cars speeding down Wolfe Street. Drivers frequently surpass the speed limit of 25 miles per hour on the downhill stretch — Harrison called it “Hopkins speedway” — and Sunday’s accident wasn’t the first time Spirits Tavern became the unintended target.

Chad Ellis, who has owned the tavern at 1901 Bank St. since 2005, said it’s the eighth time his building has been hit and the third time he’ll have to do major repairs as a result of a car accident.

“It’s an ongoing problem,” Ellis said. “It’s really frustrating to have to deal with this like every couple of years.”

Ellis’ building sits at the southeast corner of Bank Street, a one-lane, one-way street heading east, and Wolfe Street, which has two lanes running south and no stop signs or traffic signals at the Bank Street crossing.

“People go too fast, and that’s what happened last night,” Ellis said Monday.

Now, the city may look to make the intersection safer. Councilman Zeke Cohen, whose district includes Fells Point, will host a safety walk at 10 a.m. Wednesday with Ellis, Upper Fell’s Point Improvement Association President Kurt Schiller and members of the city’s Department of Transportation to identify problem intersections in Upper Fells Point and start to craft a plan for improvements.

Cohen said he’s hosted three other walks in his district to bring residents face to face with DOT officials.

“We know that we have several intersections in Southeast Baltimore that are not safe enough for our citizens, and my office has been actively engaged with DOT in hosting these safety walks where we bring community members together with DOT and collectively create plans for improvement,” Cohen said. “It’s about the community feeling some ownership over our streets, and it’s also about giving folks an avenue to engage directly with DOT.”

Wednesday’s walk, open to the public, will begin at Canela, a cafe at 1801 E. Lombard St.

“Wolfe and Bank is our true problem child, but there are many areas we feel we can do things to promote pedestrian and bicycle safety,” said Schiller, who has lived in the neighborhood 32 years. “Really, we’d just like to resolve it without having someone killed at the intersection first.”

Kathy Dominick, a spokeswoman for the DOT, said residents can call 311 with complaints about unsafe intersections and requests for stop signs and stop lights. Each call triggers an investigation that examines factors including intersection traffic volumes, accident summaries, speed and intersection geometry. Those studies help the department to determine whether it’s appropriate to add traffic control measures.

The DOT was not immediately able to provide information on previous traffic problems reported at 1901 Bank St.

Schiller said his neighborhood association has brought the Wolfe and Bank intersection to the Department of Transportation’s attention before without any luck. Residents have suggested measures including stop signs or stop lights on Wolfe Street, or changing the stop light at Wolfe and Gough streets, one block north, to a flashing red that creates a four-way stop and slows drivers’ momentum as they approach the Bank Street intersection.

“I don’t really feel that we’ve ever gotten support from DOT on anything that we’ve presented,” Schiller said. “We have had studies done, and they’ve always come back that it wasn’t a problem.”

Harrison, chair of the Upper Fell’s Point Improvement Association’s traffic and parking committee, said he’s hopeful Wednesday’s walk will spur real action from the city.

“I think we’ve finally reached the point of gentrification and traffic and development that the issue is being forced in our favor,” Harrison said.

He lives next door to Spirits Tavern, and estimates his house sustained $1,000 worth of damage to the door, railing and porch light in Sunday’s crash.

The Baltimore Police Department confirmed the accident but could not provide further details Monday afternoon. It’s unclear whether alcohol was involved in the crash.

Ellis said the damage to Spirits Tavern’s exterior was extensive, and he’s still evaluating the scope of needed repairs to determine when the bar will reopen. There was no major structural damage, he said, but there were gaps in the exterior wall and damage to a recessed alcove where the front door sits. He also expects he will have to replace a window.

“I’m hoping I won’t have to replace the entire facade, but that may be something that has to occur,” Ellis said.

Ellis said he’s concerned that someone could be seriously hurt in an accident at the intersection.

“It’s scary to even cross the street walking here,” he said.

smeehan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sarahvmeehan

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