The Jones Falls, a rut oft-traveled, is a route with a view


Life may have many roads but mine is the Jones Falls Expressway. It is the rut I ride in, the road that runs my life.

Like any driver with kids to ferry and errands to run, I am drawn to the fastest route. In my case, the shortest distance between home and obligation is usually the Jones Falls. Rarely is there a day that I do not find myself on some stretch of that 9 1/2 -mile roadway that starts at Fayette Street in downtown Baltimore and runs north to the Beltway. Technically, the Jones Falls is a section of Interstate 83. Colloquially it is called "The JFX." It is my trodden track.

On most Saturdays, for instance, my expressway exits change with the changes in the sporting year.

During the kids' soccer season, my turnoff was Cold Spring Lane West. During baseball season, it was Northern Parkway East. And in basketball season, there were two teams and two turn-offs. For one kid, who played his games on North Charles Street, I turned off the JFX on Ruxton Road and angled over to Charles. But when transporting the older boy to his Saturday games, I took the JFX all the way to the Beltway then east to York Road.

More than one early Saturday morning found me on the JFX with one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand on a coffee cup, and a kid asking "What time does the game start?"

During the week I take my place on the JFX in a river of shiny metal vehicles carrying commuters to and from the city.

Creeping along in what traffic reporters call the "stop-and-go" mode, you notice details of the nearby landscape. For example, while waiting recently at the out-of-sync traffic light at the entrance to the JFX on Fallsway and Madison, I had plenty of time to inspect the windows on the new wing of the nearby Baltimore City Detention Center central booking unit. I was pleased to see that residents will have to be skinnier than Twiggy to escape from the new narrow windows.

Northbound, the slowing at North Avenue and 28th Street, gives me time to ponder a change in expressway architecture. What was once two separate exits has been combined into one, multi-pronged exit. It was, I concluded after much study, a good idea.

However, when getting on the southbound JFX at North Avenue, I think only of survival. It is an entry ramp for kamikazes. There is a very short merge lane, and you have to quickly move over two lanes. Moving over only one lane puts you in the exit lane for Maryland Avenue, the exit used by some University of Baltimore law students hurrying to class. One of my JFX commuter LTC worries, is that one day I will collide with one of these budding lawyers who specializes in whiplash law.

When school is in session, I take my turn in the neighborhood car pool, driving a carload of kids up the JFX to their school. Along the way, passengers have peppered me with questions, big and small, about JFX highlights.

Question: Is the dead deer still there?

Answer: No. The deer was killed last November when it wandered into the northbound expressway about a mile north of Northern Parkway. As the carcass sat on the shoulder of the road, someone stopped and field-dressed the animal, taking some of its meat.

Question: Why would somebody want deer meat?.

Answer: To eat it.

Response: Gross!

Question: Are you speeding?

Answer: Not after seeing the state police cruiser hiding near the Ruxton bridge.

Question: Which can go faster, the Light Rail, the subway, or a car?

Answer: It depends on where the police car is.

Question: Can you see the refrigerator?

Answer: Only during the winter.

The junked refrigerator in question sits on the hill in Druid Hill Park overlooking the JFX. If your eyes are sharp you can see the fridge when you are traveling south on the Jones Falls. It is off the right side of the road, on a hillside past the Meadow Mill Athletic Club, but before the 28th Street exit. You can see the abandoned fridge only during the winter, when the leaves are off the trees.

Or as veterans of the Jones Falls Expressway would put it: It isn't winter in Baltimore, until you can see the abandoned fridge.

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