Retailers up against a wall Towson barrier cuts snarls, shopping

The Barrier. The Barricade. The Great Wall of Towson.

For six months the low concrete wall across York Road has blocked southbound traffic into Towson at Joppa Road, shunting aside commerce that had flowed unimpeded since the 18th century.


The idea was to ease 20th century snarls at the spot where York, Joppa and Dulaney Valley roads, and Allegheny Avenue, all converge. Now Baltimore County traffic engineers have declared The Barrier a success and want it made permanent.

However, for some York Road business owners such as John Julius, the barrier has become a wailing wall. The diversion of traffic from central Towson, they say, is bad for business.


"I was doing good here" before the barricade went up, said Mr. Julius, owner of the Shell Station and convenience store on York Road just north of the barricade.

Now, he said, the diversion of southbound York Road traffic onto bypasses north of his station has also diverted 40 percent of his gasoline sales and perhaps 25 percent of his store trade. "I spent my life savings here [to purchase the business]," he said. "I don't know what I'll do if they close this permanently."

The county's traffic engineering study bears him out: It noted a 48 percent reduction of traffic in the 600 block of York Road, which includes the Shell station.

But elsewhere, the report says, "The traffic volumes in Towson have not changed. The level of congestion . . . has been greatly reduced [and] the safety of the area has been improved with a reduction in accidents."

There were just six accidents at the complex intersection during July, August and September this year, down from a four-year average of nine accidents for the same quarter, police said.

County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who spearheaded the experiment, said he agrees with the engineers' findings. But he wants to confer with the county executive and businessmen in the 600 and 700 blocks of York Road before a final decision is made.

"There are no perfect traffic solutions," said the 4th District Republican. "Residents are finding it easier to move around in Towson," he added. "If it is helping 20 or 30 businesses on York Road, and only hurting one or two, I should think I would probably decide in favor of keeping it." If it is made permanent, the Jersey barrier that now diverts York Road traffic onto Allegheny Avenue would be replaced by a landscaped median.

But Mr. Julius isn't the only York Road merchant who would rather put the intersection back the way it was -- and several privately expressed anger at Mr. Riley for championing the wall.


"We are disappointed it's being kept in," said Gregory Arnold, vice president of LaSalle Partners, owners of the new Towson Commons. "We feel it's a benefit to our project not having the barricade, for ease of access."

Because Towson Commons opened the day the barricade went up, Mr. Arnold said, he can't prove that it has affected his business. Neighboring business owners said they couldn't separate the barrier's negative effects from those of the recession. But in general, Mr. Arnold said, "People who want to shop don't want hurdles; they want convenience, they want accessibility."

If the barricade stays up, he said, the county must improve the road signs and direct motorists to the businesses beyond the wall on York Road. Mr. Riley agrees. "I think with more signage we can get them back to York Road," he said.

Bernice Brothers, owner of the Once Again Boutique in the 500 block of York Road, said Mr. Riley hasn't been more responsive "because he knows most retailers don't vote in his district."

The barrier has curtailed access to York Road, she said, and "if people can't get to us, they will go someplace else."

Norman Bodarky, the owner of Towson Artists Supply, led local store owners last summer in their opposition to the traffic changes.


His biggest fear was not the barricade itself, but an accompanying proposal to restripe York Road south of the wall. The plan would have left just one lane southbound, making it impossible to deliver goods to the stores on the block.

But Mr. Riley said the restriping idea was predicated on a reduction of traffic volume on York Road south of the barricade, and the engineering study showed that hasn't occurred.

As a result, he said, "there are no plans to go forward" with the restriping.

The permanent median design will include loading zones on Allegheny and York roads for trucks serving nearby businesses, he added.


Shoppers headed for businesses on York Road in Towson south of Joppa Road and Allegheny Avenue can avoid the Towson Barricade if they:


Get off the Beltway at Dulaney Valley Road instead of York Road. Dulaney Valley Road leads directly onto York Road southbound.

Turn left from southbound York Road onto Fairmount Avenue at the Howard Johnson restaurant, then right on Dulaney Valley Road at Towson Town Center. Follow Dulaney Valley Road south onto York Road.

Turn left from York Road at Investment Place, one block before the barricade, then right onto Dulaney Valley Road.

Take the Bosley Avenue bypass and return to York Road by turning left on Allegheny or Chesapeake avenues.