Closing span lanes a necessary nuisance


No one can claim readers of this column are stupid.

Well, they can claim it, but they can't prove it. Not easily, anyway.

The point is, very few things get past alert commuters. Evidence of their keen powers of observation can be found this week in stories of traffic cones, one-way streets and a Baltimore County light rail station.

We begin, from south to north, with the tale of a Lansdowne man who regularly travels on the bridge over the Patapsco River along Patapsco Avenue.

For a long time, James L. Fries writes, one side of the bridge has been closed for no obvious purpose.

"I can see no reason why it cannot be reopened," Mr. Fries says. "I hope you can find out for me as I travel that way almost daily, and it is a big inconvenience."

Actually, Intrepid Commuter has uncovered a very compelling reason for not reopening one side of the Patapsco River bridge.

Let us put it this way, Jim: Can you swim?

It turns out the city closed the 1,650-foot-long southern span of the bridge to traffic in May 1991, not because of resurfacing, but because numerous cracks had appeared in the supporting pilings.

The bridge was judged unsafe and east- and westbound traffic was directed to the northern span, which was not affected, says Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the city's Public Works Department.

Investigators believe the problem originated with a nearby, privately operated landfill. They theorize that pressure exerted outward from the landfill caused the cracking in the concrete pilings, Mrs. Pyatt says.

The city is seeking $2 million in damages from Patapsco Excavating Inc. to cover repairs to the 32-year-old structure. In the meantime, the city expects to start the renovation in the fall. Work probably will take six months.

Reader wants her right turn 'Bach'

Is Janet I. Weston the only Baltimore Symphony fan living south of Meyerhoff Hall?

Probably not, Intrepid guesses, but the Federal Hill resident is concerned that a new traffic pattern around the Meyerhoff seems to penalize concert-goers coming from that direction.

In the past, Mrs. Weston has driven to the Meyerhoff by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, left on Howard Street and then right on Park Street into the Meyerhoff parking lot. But since the light rail tracks were installed, right turns onto Park have been forbidden.

Instead, the Westons fiddle around a circuitous route: Martin Luther King to right on Chase Street, left on Cathedral Street, left on Preston, through the Meyerhoff driveway to reach Park and the lot.

Curiously, left turns onto Park from Martin Luther King still are allowed. If the tracks are a safety problem, then why are cars from the north still allowed to cross them and not cars from the south?

We put the question to the city's traffic engineers -- we're guessing they were in the midst of one of their innumerable debates over Scarlatti sonatas -- and came up with a simple answer: the traffic light.

The light at the intersection of Howard and Park isn't capable of stopping traffic, including the light rail trains, for an exclusive right turn, says Mrs. Pyatt of Public Works.

Not only that, she says, but there's no room for a right-turn lane so that right-turners won't hold up traffic on King. Putting in a new traffic signal at the intersection would cost at least $30,000.

As an alternative, Mrs. Pyatt suggests a new route: left on Eutaw Street, right on Dolphin Street and into the parking lot.

"I know it would be much simpler to permit the right turn, but it would not be safe to do so," she says.

Falls Road station: not walker-friendly?

Dr. Andrew L. Dannenberg got some people in state government thinking this week.

That's not always a good thing, but we have our fingers crossed.

Dr. Dannenberg is unhappy with the poor pedestrian access to the Falls Road light rail station. The shortcomings include narrow and sometimes discontinuous sidewalks in the area, a fence that limits access north of the station and the absence of a bike rack.

Dr. Dannenberg, who lives three blocks away from the station, thinks the state isn't doing much to encourage people to walk or ride bikes to light rail.

"It's basically a hostile environment for pedestrians," says Dr. Dannenberg, an assistant professor in the Injury Prevention Center of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. "There's been no effort to make it convenient."

We spoke to both the Mass Transit Administration, which runs light rail, and the State Highway Administration, which is responsible for Falls Road. Both state agencies are now seriously considering some changes.

Before Dr. Dannenberg gets his hopes up, we should explain a few things.

First, the fence that's by the station was put there to protect private property and is not coming down.

As to the sidewalks, it's not clear whether the SHA can extend them. It may not own the necessary right of way. Still, SHA officials promise that sidewalk improvements will be made if they are feasible.

As for the bike rack, Dr. Dannenberg need only make a written request with the MTA and one will be installed, promises Dianna Rosborough, an MTA spokeswoman.

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