The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore said Thursday it has received permits and retained a contractor to add a traffic lane on the north side of Pratt Street between Calvert and South streets, removing a section of sidewalk and relocating a taxicab stand adjacent to the Gallery at Harborplace to do it.
The new lane will remove a bottleneck where three lanes of eastbound Pratt are squeezed into two and Light Street traffic coming from South Baltimore and Interstate 395 merges onto Pratt Street, said Downtown Partnership spokesman Michael Evitts. Both Pratt and Lombard streets lost a lane for traffic to bus-only lanes in 2016, he said.
The major thoroughfare, which runs adjacent to countless office buildings and the Inner Harbor, is among the busiest for cars and pedestrians, Evitts said. About 119,000 daytime employees and 43,600 residents live within a mile of Pratt and Light streets, he said.
"We saw the benefit of balancing out the demand in this corridor in a way that gave preference to the heaviest uses: pedestrians and automobiles," Evitts said.
The construction project, which is awaiting a right-of-entry authorization, is expected to cost roughly $150,000, to be paid for with city bonds, and take roughly a month, said Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler. It's not clear when the project might begin. P. Flanigan & Sons has been hired to do the work, he said.
"Everyone sees the benefit of having that as an active lane of traffic," Evitt said. "We're only adding a couple of extra feet for people to cross the street. With all the things we're doing for pedestrians, this is one of the easiest things we can do for cars."
The Department of Transportation and a spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh did not respond to a request for comment on the plan Thursday.
Marty Lastner, general manager of The Gallery, said he thinks it will help address downtown congestion.
"I actually think it's a terrific idea," he said. "The straightening up of the lane is going to assist vehicular traffic in downtown Baltimore."
The plan drew some backlash from transit and bicycling proponents.
Projects like these provide an opportunity to reflect on how roadway space is allocated, said Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, the city's bicycling advocacy organization.
"Could those resources be utilized in a way where everyone who uses that street benefits — not just the people driving cars?" she asked. "A Complete Streets policy would mean there is a clear process that asks these questions prior to project approval. That's the piece that's missing for me when I hear about projects like this."
That policy is outlined in legislation submitted by Councilman Ryan Dorsey, which would require the Department of Transportation to promote walking, biking and public transit.
Dorsey noted that the project is not in his district, but called removing pedestrian area the wrong thing to do.
"We should be adding more of them, not taking them away — especially in our downtown areas, especially in our tourist destinations, especially where we want to promote pedestrianism, and where we know we have egregiously prioritized the movement of cars over the movement of people," Dorsey said.
"Adding lanes for cars has never reduced congestion," he added, "only created more of it."
The Downtown Partnership supports making the city more pedestrian-, bike- and bus-friendly, Evitts said, and has invested in Baltimore Bike Share and projects to make downtown more walkable.
"But this is one of those cases where we can't forget that cars are here," he said. "This was a simple thing we could do immediately to alleviate some congestion."