Rush-hour parade in Baltimore results in traffic backups, leaves city councilman wondering how it was approved

Prince Hall Shriners hold a parade in Baltimore.

A parade of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine that passed through downtown Baltimore on Wednesday evening disrupted rush-hour traffic and left one city councilman to wonder how such an event was approved.

The Shriners parade began at 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of Market Place and Pratt Street, according to Baltimore Department of Transportation officials, with road closures affecting downtown traffic starting around 5 p.m.


Parade participants marched west on Pratt Street to finish at the intersection of Sharp Street.

City Councilman Eric Costello posted on Facebook on Tuesday that he reached out to Department of Transportation Director Steve Sharkey with concerns about the event. Sharkey was appointed to the position in July after the post was vacated by Michelle Pourciau amid a wide-ranging review of her department by the city inspector general’s office.

“I have no idea how this was approved, but I have already reached out to the new DOT Director about not having parades Downtown during rush hour at the same time as an Orioles game,” Costello said in the post. “This was approved prior to him being appointed as Director of DOT. As it is too late to cancel it, he is researching the issue further to find out exactly what went wrong and how to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

The department sent out a news release regarding the road closures on Aug. 14, giving commuters a week to prepare alternate routes.

If you are driving anywhere near Downtown on Wed, Aug 21 during PM rush hour, PLEASE SEE BELOW, THIS WILL SIGNIFICANTLY...

Posted by Councilman Eric T. Costello on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

In a statement, city transportation officials said Baltimore is “proud” to host the Shriners convention and called the event a boost to the local economy and local communities.

“[The Shriners’] annual activities include a parade, and we worked with the event organizers to push the start of the parade past 6 p.m. in an attempt to minimize traffic disruptions in the downtown area,” the statement says. “Although there will be some traffic challenges later this afternoon, the benefits that this philanthropic convention brings to Baltimore will have a positive impact on the city.”

The parade did cause traffic backups on Light Street heading toward Pratt Street around 5:30 p.m., with traffic stretching well beyond the Light Street and Conway Street intersection.

However, as the parade began around 6:30 p.m., officers directing traffic regularly let through lines of cars as there were breaks in the parade, helping to alleviate rush-hour traffic.

Officials said Pratt Street between Gay and President streets were closed starting at 5 p.m. A portion of Pratt Street between Howard and Gay Streets was also closed starting at 6 p.m., as well as a portion of Hopkins Place/Sharp Street between Lombard and Conway streets.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he has no problem with the arrangements.

“They’ve been having parades in the middle of rush hour ever since I’ve been born,” the mayor said at his weekly news conference Wednesday. “It’s just something we do, and people just have to change where they drive. I have no problem with parades. I wish we could do more, because that’s what the citizens want to see. More parades, more activities, so they can feel safe, so they can enjoy themselves. I think parades help with all that.”

They’ve been having parades in the middle of rush hour ever since I’ve been born.

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Shriners spokesman Dion Hose said the parade is traditionally the closing event for the organization’s annual conventions, which are held in different cities each year. This year, Shriners officials applied for and obtained a parade permit from the city, Hose said.

The Orioles began playing the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards at 7:05 p.m.

Baltimore Sun reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.