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A decade-old idea to turn a commercialized stretch of Harford Road in Baltimore County into a safer, more appealing and friendlier locale for pedestrians, shoppers and motorists has come to fruition with the $9 million Parkville streetscape.

Now pocket parks with glistening black benches are tucked into several areas along the two miles of Harford Road from the city line to Joppa Road. Seasonal plants and landscaping, brick accents on sidewalks and retaining walls, and community signs are among the amenities that define the area.

The road, Parkville's main street, has been repaved with its marking redefined and recurbed. Sidewalks and ramps have been repaired and are accessible. Flashing yellow beacons will soon be in operation at popular crosswalks near the post office and the library. The project also included improving access from the Beltway and a grass-covered median on the bridge over Interstate 695, all with safety as the priority.

"We have a two-lane road now and not a four-lane highway," said Richard Fostner, past president of the Parkville Business Association. "Instead of just moving traffic, we have a corridor that is business- and pedestrian-friendly."

The design that evolved with constant community input has improved highway safety, traffic flow, parking, lighting and aesthetics along the county's western portion of the road, also known as Route 147. Four new community signs serve as the gateways to Parkville.

"This project has a 10-year history from concept to construction and gives Parkville a new look," said Fran Ward, the State Highway Administration's community liaison. "It was all designed to create a sense of place and to enhance safety. It is an investment in community and safety."

The project began with a volunteer community task force in 1999 and led to the past two years of construction.

"The task force really came together with a vision for this corridor that addressed the issues that had a negative impact," said Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council. "This streetscape is the reality of that vision. Now we have a safe, walkable community with a sense of place."

The highway administration organized frequent meetings to update residents on the progress of the work. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday that drew nearly 100 people to one of the pocket parks that has a sign proclaiming "Parkville" in bright yellow letters.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. used the occasion to launch a holiday celebration of the county's Main Streets, including Harford, Belair, Frederick and Liberty roads. In support of the 3,000 shops, businesses and restaurants in the county's retail centers, Smith announced two hours of free meter parking from this Thursday through Sunday and Dec. 19 to 27 in the downtown areas.

"In these economic times, it is more important than ever to support local businesses," Smith said. "You all can start that here by rediscovering Parkville."

Baisden echoed the sentiment.

"All we are asking now is for residents to become part of this community. Walk down here and use these businesses. Our economic turnaround depends on these businesses," she said.

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