Downtown Baltimore's transportation network has made great progress in recent years, with improvements like the Charm City Circulator, the completion of the Jones Falls Trail on Pratt Street and an expanding network of bike lanes. Those investments make sense given the fact that the census tracts that include downtown Baltimore are among the few areas of the city that gained population in the last decade. However, traffic patterns still treat downtown as a place to drive through, rather than a place to live, work and shop.
The dominance of the automobile is evident at the intersection of East Fayette and Light streets. One of the busiest intersections in the city, it links City Hall, the courthouse complex and the Inner Harbor with offices and businesses on Charles Street. Unfortunately, the traffic pattern there creates almost continuous conflicts between cars and pedestrians. It takes courage to cross the street. Pedestrians crossing Light Street legally have to contend with two lanes of traffic turning into the crosswalk from Fayette Street.
This situation increases delays and hazards for both cars and pedestrians. Cars are delayed while pedestrians scurry between them. Vehicles farther behind in traffic honk horns because they can't see what's delaying them. Even worse, some pedestrians are intentionally crossing Light Street illegally, mid-block, because they rightly conclude that it is unsafe or difficult to cross legally in the crosswalk.
A simple solution to this problem is already being employed in some intersections downtown and elsewhere in the City. A 15-second "pedestrian-only" cycle at signaled intersections creates an opportunity to cross safely while traffic is stopped in all directions. This approach can improve safety while minimizing delays.
Baltimore would do well to consider such improvements as part of an overall strategy for downtown pedestrian safety. The need will only increase in coming years if the city's goal of increasing population is realized and more people are living downtown. Creating more rational downtown traffic patterns can avoid conflicts and improve efficiency. That's good news for everybody, because no matter how you arrive downtown, at some point in the journey, we're all pedestrians.
John Papagni, Baltimore