The city will reopen this afternoon the two blocks of Baltimore Street behind police headquarters that have been closed for security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark and city transportation Director Alfred Foxx will announce the reopening at an 11:30 a.m. news conference and cut a ceremonial ribbon. The road has been closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic since the day after the attacks.
"We felt it was the right decision to close after Sept. 11, and we feel it's the right decision to reopen it now," said police spokesman Matt Jablow. "We're confident we have the necessary security measures in place for us to split the street between the public and the Police Department."
Jablow declined to discuss why the department believes it is safe to open the street. The two blocks to be reopened are on Baltimore Street between Gay and President streets.
Half of Baltimore Street, the north side, will be retained by the police for security, and half - two lanes on the south side - will be open to eastbound traffic. The reopening provides drivers with another route to the Jones Falls Expressway. Drivers will be allowed to make a left turn from Baltimore Street onto northbound President Street, which leads to a highway entrance ramp.
"We see it as a big plus," said Frank J. Murphy, the city's chief of transportation planning. "Without this, we had only one eastbound route through the central business district. It was Pratt [Street]. Period. And if something happened on Pratt, you were stuck."
Officials would not say why they decided the Police Department did not need the entire street for security purposes, but they said Clark was more willing to reopen the street than Edward T. Norris, who was commissioner when the terrorist attacks occurred.
The street will also be open to pedestrians, who have been barred since the attacks. Transit advocates said that's important because the street connects downtown with the Shot Tower/Market Place Metro station. The closing has added several blocks to the trips of those who walk there.
"It required a long circuitous trip around, and it was really unfortunate for the transit station," said Henry M. Kay, a transportation expert at the Greater Baltimore Committee. "It's a banner day when a pedestrian connection to a major destination is restored."
Businesses on Baltimore Street across from police headquarters have also been affected. The lack of pedestrians has hurt sales, owners said.
"We have suffered a lot from it being closed," said Joseph Poupon, owner of Patisserie Poupon at 820 E. Baltimore St.