Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Two-way on St Paul and Calvert Streets?

The public comments period for this one way to two way street conversion study will end on March 18. Then BC-DOT chief William Johnson will have to decide the matter and regardless on which side he will come down on the two-way versus one-way issue, he will make many enemies.

Not that the City DOT needs any extra enemies. The department is perceived as out of control, rudderless, understaffed and not delivering on all kinds of policies that are somewhere on the books but not realized such as "complete streets" or "bike corridors". Bike-share apparently moving off this list soon. But I am digressing.

From the study appendix (Sabra Wang)

So in the vague hope of becoming more pedestrian friendly and doing residents along the arteries of St. Paul and Calvert Streets a favor, DOT engaged Sabra Wang, the City's favorite traffic engineers and transportation consultants, (they seem to currently study everything from the closure of the dogleg at McKeldin Plaza to bus-only lanes) to look into what would happen if those two streets were converted from being a pair of one-ways to being a pair of two-ways.
The nays have it

Of course, there was plenty of outreach, a special working group was created and everything under the sun was studied, whether it made sense or not, including elimination of parking on those streets where residents had fought for decades to get it (unrestricted and even during rush hour) in the first place, turn lanes and other suburban interventions. What wasn't studied, was the rather obvious matter of looking at the entire transportation corridor with adjacent Charles Street (a one way street) and the other one-way pair of streets dealing also with north-south traffic, Park Avenue and Cathedral Streets. All these streets and also Howard Street share the task of digesting north-south traffic and none of them should be looked at in isolation.

Opinions on the Steering Committee and in the communities were starkly divided from the beginning. Some say this is a solution looking for a problem in Midtown and Mount Vernon, areas with a high quality of life which are thriving by all accounts with the Barclay and Charles Village communities to the north being on an uptick. Some others, especially Charlie Duff of the Central Baltimore Partnership, considers the existing streets as "traffic raceways" and, with an eye on Barclay and Charles Village, says that "residents have been discriminated against in favor of commuters". He is strongly in favor of traffic calming and two-way traffic. From the poll published in the latest DOT Newsletter, proponents of the conversion seem to be in the minority, though.
The majority of users are not out of town commuters

The 530 page final report is online and can be found here. A form for last minute comments are here. As these polls go, they are subject to who feels most compelled to respond, so here is a chance to tip the scales.

The report shows that the matter is complicated and that it can be made even more complicated if a study is not guided by very clear principles and goals and is controlled by traffic engineers and not planners. As it is, the study says that two-way conversion will increase both trip times and the number of "failing intersections". Both of these are classic traffic engineering metrics which are pretty meaningless when it comes to the goal of making a residential neighborhood more livable. But as the polling results show, the clamor for additional livability isn't very strong and there appears to be a pretty strong segment of even residents that oppose the conversion, possibly because residents are drivers, too. Of course, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users would be affected, too, although how is not summarized in quite the same neat manner as grade F intersections or car driver travel time in the corridor.

I think my daughter (who lives on St Paul Street) may have it right, the money should have been invested in one of the neighborhoods in distress, and there not on a study but actual improvements. As far as traffic calming and complete streets, I believe that money used on experiments and temporary experimental installations would be better spent than on 18 months of data collection which is now in the hands of a director who may not even be in office anymore by the time it is time for implementation. I don't think the report contains ideas for the case that the two-way conversion is rejected.
Trip time: Not necessarily the most telling metric
My suggestion for that case: Keep it one-way but take down almost all signals in favor of 4 way stops. That will slow traffic, avoid unnecessary delays at red lights when nobody comes from the other direction and gives pedestrians a better chance to cross.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA