Bare trees to be cut down for Charles Street reconstruction

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is angry that the city has stripped full-grown trees of their branches in the median along the 3500 block of North Charles Street.

The city plans to cut down the trees and plant saplings as part of the recently begun Charles Street Reconstruction project.

Department of Transportation officials say that cutting down the trees was always planned as part of the project to reconstruct North Charles Street between 25th Street and University Parkway, including reconfiguring the northbound service drive and the median to the left of the drive.

"The trees will be completely removed," DOT spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said in an e-mail Sept. 26. "It's part of the construction process."

But Clarke said it took her by surprise.

"This was a scalping," she said.

Clarke said she is also concerned about the aesthetic effect in the coming years until the saplings grow tall.

"We have this boulevard with trees and now we're going to have a boulevard with sapling trees," she said.

"We realize it may not be pleasing to look at, but the trees will be removed and new ones will be planted," Barnes said. Clarke said she complained to Jamie McDonald, a DOT project engineer.

"He told me everybody knew about the trees coming down and the median strip they're on being totally reconstructed. I never realized," Clarke said. "I was very upset."

Clarke said she also spoke with City Arborist Erik Dihle, who told her he was aware that the trees would be cut down eventually.

"But (the city) certainly didn't ask his permission," Clarke said. "We need the city forestry division involved in the cutting down of trees."

Dihle could not be reached for comment.

The $28 million reconstruction project officially began Sept. 5 and is expected to end in August 2014. The goal is more balanced traffic patterns, increased pedestrian and bicycle safety, upgraded aging infrastructure, improved signage, business revitalization, and a more aesthetically pleasing Charles Street, in keeping with its designation as a National Scenic Byway, DOT officials say.

The project calls for resurfacing North Charles between 25th and 29th streets, with sporadic curb and sidewalk repairs, a new electric duct bank for underground wiring, traffic signals, bike lanes and handicapped-accessible ramps.

From 29th Street to University Parkway, the project calls for full-depth pavement reconstruction of North Charles with reconfigured and landscaped medians, new sidewalks, curbs, gutters, water quality inlets, waterlines, lighting, bike lanes, professional art work and landscaping.

A sweeping, speeding-prone right turn from southbound Charles onto Art Museum Drive near Wyman Park Dell will be converted to a 90-degree turn. Transportation officials have long complained that traffic goes too fast there because of the curve's wide radius.

The southbound service drive that runs along Charles Street will be eliminated. The northbound service drive will be reconstructed and widened from 13 to 16 feet.

Johns Hopkins University will be the beneficiary of a pedestrian-friendly "ellipse" in front of the Homewood campus entrance, giving the street the feel and look of a plaza.

Clarke worries about more trees being stripped and cut down in the area.

"I don't want to see anything like that again," she said.

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