The Baltimore City Department of Transportation is looking for ways to ease traffic along the busy and congested Orleans Street corridor after years of complaints from residents.
Liam Davis, the legislative affairs manager for the department, said the city is committed to implementing some traffic calming measures and conducting a six-month study of the corridor. The study, which will focus on traffic patterns from Washington Street to Ellwood Avenue, is set to start in either late October or early November, according to the department.
The decision to address the issue, which some residents say makes the corridor unsafe, comes after an analysis of traffic crashes by The Baltimore Banner that was published in July.
Davis said there were a few factors that led to the study, such as the data — which was “highlighted” in a Baltimore Banner story — community interest, and political support from elected officials.
“The data shows that traffic calming is really kind of needed, right?” Davis said.
The city also has plans to rehabilitate parts of Orleans Street from Washington Street to Ellwood Avenue, with a proposed budget of at least $6.6 million in 2027 and 2028, that is separate from this study.
The department is considering re-timing existing traffic signals to encourage vehicles to slow down and ensure there is enough time for pedestrians crossing, Davis wrote in an email to the community. It is also looking into adding speed cameras and new speed limit signs, improving pavement markings and studying the viability of reducing the number of travel lanes from four to two.
“It just seems like it’s a no brainer to move forward,” said Davis, who met with residents and elected officials — including City Council members Zeke Cohen and Antonio Glover, and state Del. Robbyn Lewis — and walked with them in the community in August. “It’s really about making sure we can identify the resources to move forward with it.”
Orleans Street — which is part of U.S. Route 40, one of the first federal highways — crosses through several neighborhoods where the majority of residents are Black and people of color. A Baltimore Banner analysis done in July found that the Dunbar-Broadway and CARE neighborhoods, both located within the study area, had the highest and third-highest crash rates per resident among the more densely populated parts of the city. There were at least 567 car crashes from 2015 to March 2022 on the street within the two neighborhoods.
A six-month timeline for the study is feasible, said Hyeon-Shic Shin, a professor at Morgan State University’s city and regional planning graduate program.
Shin specializes in transportation planning and policy and has conducted safety studies, including a New York City pedestrian safety study and action plan. If there are no unexpected challenges, the city should be able to have a final plan for residents within that deadline, he said. The city should begin developing a plan with trucking companies earlier, he said, adding that there could be difficulties with private businesses.
Rethinking traffic signals is beneficial, Shin said. But he suggests the city look at other measures as well that would force people to slow down by making driving more difficult.
If it’s a commercial area, for example, restaurants and other businesses could have outdoor seating, he said. The city could add a bike lane to share the road, partially narrow the roadway and raise the sidewalk. Adding green areas is also helpful, he said.
Shin also stressed that the city should consider and listen to community input.
“I’m always telling my class: The best planners are local residents,” he said.
Hopefully, Davis said, the department will begin the process this fall and share the results with the community by spring of next year for feedback. Residents have stressed they want some type of city action as quickly as possible.
Dena Robinson, a resident in the CARE neighborhood, said she is excited about the possibility of fewer lanes and on-street parking. Robinson, who attended the August walk with DOT and elected officials, said the meeting seemed to have moved things forward.
In the meantime, Robinson wants to know how the city will ensure that crashes don’t continue to happen as the study is going.
“It’s a really important next step,” Robinson said of the study. “I hope it actually amounts to something.”
Craig Collins-Young, who also lives in the CARE neighborhood, said he appreciated the city for acknowledging their concerns, but questioned the need for a study when there is existing data.
“That said, if a study is the procedural step they need to take so that something can be done, then I say let’s get this study started so we can then implement a change ASAP,” Collins-Young said.
It’s a “massive” corridor crossing through several neighborhoods, Davis said. It will take time and a lot of thought to develop a solid plan to really do justice for the street, he said.