Friday, April 17, 2015

One-Way or Two-Way in Mount Vernon?

A matter that has been broiling or simmering for decades is now on the front burner with an ongoing $400K plus study by traffic engineers Sabra Wang for DOT which is trying to get the facts together that would finally allow a decision.

The question: Should Calvert and St Paul Streets be converted from multi-lane one way streets to single lane two-way streets? How does it affect residents, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, deliveries and transit? What would haven on adjacent streets such as Charles, Cathedral, Park?

A Steering Committee has met at least four times and each time is being showered with facts and figures such as "lane capacity utilization", utilization of parking, transit lines and ridership, and the flow behavior of cars during peak, off peak and weekend hours, to name just a few of the chart, plans and tables that have been prepared by the consultant.
Warning! Two Way Traffic Ahead!
The steering committee seems to be as divided as the residents and stakeholders at large. Opinions galore and it is questionable that the additional facts can resolve the matter. At this point it is hard to see how the consultants can provide an answer or if the matter can be resolved at all without looking at more than one couplet of streets and without having urban design consultants involved that look at the quality of life issues that are really at the root of the disagreements.

As usual, specific solutions are discussed before there is agreement on the desired outcomes or a set of guiding principles. The guiding principle that there is is a DOT "Complete Streets Policy" that is in effect but has gained little traction in the reality of Baltimore's streets. The consultant has talked little about that policy or how it would inform their approach to the problem and the many facts they are collecting. It doesn't even look as if the possibility that the goals could be achieved with something that is not related to one directional or bi-directional traffic. To date there are no charts that show the desired metrics and the pros and cons of various scenarios in a comparative way.

Nationally,meanwhile, new urbanists are pretty solidly in the camp of two-way streets as part of their belief system that includes mixed use, transit, walkability and redundant street grids forming blocks with alleys.  Anybody who questions this canon of dogma commits heresy.

At this point, I don't want to add to the fallacy of opining about the best solution before being clearer about the problem. But I do have a hunch what I'd prefer if somebody would put a gun to my head.

If you care to see my somewhat more detailed deliberation of the issue, I wrote a longer article about it last year. No answer there either, just more questions. A Planetizen article, by contrast is much less reserved, its two-way all the way. Yesterday on Facebook, I was wondering allowed why this discussion is limited to the mostly white and affluent Mount Vernon Charles Village - Downtown areas when the  the same issues exist all over the city, for example with the Fulton/ Monroe one way couplet in the African American communities in West Baltimore?

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I have been involved in extensive traffic calming studies and implementation of a slew of calming measures when I was a Borough Council in Germany some 35 years ago, especially in residential areas. My firm ArchPlan has been a sub-consultant to Kittelson in a feasibility analysis for placing streetcars in the Charles Street corridor. I was asked by a Mt Vernon resident to join the steering committee and own property along St. Paul Street. 

Lane Utilization analysis showing how close to capacity lanes are used on the north and south segment of the
Calvert/St Paul street pair. Red is at capacity, yellow approaching capacity and green is more than 150 cars below capacity
(capacity is assumed to be 650 cars per lane).
The volumes are based on 2012/13 surveys at a time when Charles Street is under constrcution

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