Dan Rodricks

Finally, someone tries to untangle Baltimore’s mess of overhead wires, but what about the trash? | COMMENTARY

Someone has finally stepped up to do something about a blight on Baltimore and suburban neighborhoods — the tangles of telephone wires and television cables, many of them dormant, that hang over alleys like the badly designed webs of giant, demented spiders.

When I first described this problem in 2016, it generated only a modest response because these eyesores are mostly out of eyesight. They are located behind houses and not instantly visible. Unless you’re an infrastructure nerd, unless you’re in the habit of being in alleys and looking up, you probably have not noticed.


But when I addressed the subject again in September, the feedback from readers was robust and came with photographs from all over the city. (It could be that people who were homebound because of the pandemic might have finally noticed the insane nests of black wires over their alleys and wondered why they were there.)

I looked into this a couple of times and learned something that strikes me absurd: When a new homeowner or renter orders service — primarily cable these days — the service company runs new lines and leaves the old ones. Plus, dormant telephone lines have apparently been left in place for years. Often you’ll see old wires or cables hanging from poles or tangled with the live lines, including power lines.


In Maryland, the Public Service Commission has only limited authority to make cable and power companies do something about this. If you complain, one of them might send an employee out to have a look, and that employee might say something like: “I can only remove our wires and it’ll take me awhile to figure out which ones they are.”

Generally, nothing has happened on this front for years, which is why you see such a mess behind rowhouses.

But now there’s finally some hope.

Bills have been filed in the General Assembly — one in the Senate, one in the House of Delegates — to give the PSC the authority to untangle questions of responsibility, identify the appropriate party and fine them if they don’t clean up a mess within 90 days.

The bills were introduced by Democrats Sen. Antonio Hayes of Baltimore and Del. Ben Brooks of Baltimore County. If the bills become law, the PSC would be able to “notify the owner of a utility pole about damaged, dangling, obsolete or redundant lines or blight or public nuisance caused by an excessive number of lines” and require the company that controls the line, or lines, to remove them. Fines for noncompliance would be $250 a day.

Thanks to Hayes and Brooks for getting something started. This legislation is a sight for sore eyes.

And speaking of eyesores …

I was thoroughly disgusted with the amount of trash I saw on city streets over the weekend. The wooded area along Perring Parkway, near Northern Parkway, is loaded with trash. A privately owned parking lot — that of a chain pharmacy at Erdman Avenue and Belair Road — was filthy with trash, right up to the front steps of the establishment.


The median strips have trash.

The sidewalks and bus stops have trash.

Trash in pieces, trash in bulk.

Makes me sad, makes me sulk.

This is not new, of course. I’ve been around the block once or twice and have seen plenty of trash in the city over the years — along the curbs, strewn across vacant lots and dumped in alleys. But lately there seems to be more of it. When you consider all that the pandemic hath wrought, there’s likely some connection. People have been home more, ordering takeout meals more, ordering stuff online more, cleaning out their clutter more and creating more trash. And through the crisis there were lapses in municipal services that created backups of trash and recyclables. Some of that was bound to spill over.

But it’s the day-to-day littering I find infuriating. In a city with an unrelenting crime problem, street trash contributes to an undesirable atmosphere of dysfunction and apathy. Sunday afternoon, as I made a left turn from northbound Loch Raven Boulevard onto Walker Avenue, on the northeast side of the city, I saw the driver in a facing car drop his window and toss a bottle into the street.


We are 21 years into the 21st Century. Why is this still happening?

I’ll give one reason: There is no counter messaging. It’s not OK to throw your trash into the street, but where do you hear that stated publicly, consistently and effectively?

You don’t.

Some of us learn not to litter as we grow up. Some of us get the message in school. But obviously, others saw their parents or peers do it and think throwing fast-food trash out the car window is an acceptable practice.

There is no counter messaging.

I’ve said it before: The mayor of Baltimore should ask local broadcasters to create a fresh and inspiring public service campaign — on air and in social media — against trashing the city streets. County executives could get involved, too.


One or all of the local TV stations should take up the cause. Maybe one of the fast-food chains could provide some cash to pay for the production of clever PSAs. Maybe Royal Farms would be interested in getting behind this.

There, I said it again.

Please pardon the repetition, but I think I should keep saying this until someone steps up.