As multiple parallel projects seek to reimagine Druid Hill Park for a better future, Baltimore’s Department of Transportation plans to make it friendlier to pedestrians, cyclists and public transit by eliminating the highway-like characteristics of some of the roadways that encircle it.

A new $6 million federal grant will help move that vision forward. With the money, transportation planners are now able to pick up where they left off years ago when community calls for a safer Druid Park Lake Drive prompted analyses of the corridor.

The award comes from a program parallel to the one funding the reimagining of the “Highway to Nowhere,” a massive road expansion project that displaced hundreds of Black residents of West Baltimore decades ago. The grants are just a sliver of the total funding coming to Baltimore through major federal infrastructure investments championed by the Biden administration.

The U.S. DOT’s Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods grants support local and state governments to transform infrastructure that “creates an obstacle to community connectivity” or in some way burdens disadvantaged or underserved communities.

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Based on preliminary designs from 2021, that could mean adjusting the speed limit, reducing the number of car travel lanes on either side of the road, creating more pedestrian crossing points and adding a bike lane. The grant furthers, but not finalizes the design.

The project is one of so called Complete Streets redesigns of city roadways that have received the applause of some and the ire of others. The funding will help transportation planners involve the community in the planning, which many residents feel is critical for its success and some have criticized the agency for fumbling in the past.

In the 1920s, the roads surrounding Druid Hill Park were narrow with slow traffic — pedestrians could easily cross the asphalt boundary line to access the park at more than a dozen locations. Decades later, the roads were widened to accommodate commuters from the growing suburbs traveling downtown, choking pedestrian access. Today, roughly 43% of households — higher than the citywide average — living within a half-mile of the park lack a personal car, according to transportation officials.

Cars are driving in both directions of a road that has concrete traffic barriers and orange cones placed along it. The road is in the background seen from the top of a hill covered in yellow flowers.
Cars flow onto Druid Park Lake Drive near its intersection with I-83 on March 15, 2024. (Daniel Zawodny)

“Quite a few families have stories of almost getting hit by a car trying to get into the park,” said Keondra Prier, president of the Reservoir Hill Association. Many of her neighbors that have cars often choose to drive to the park instead of walk out of concern for their safety, Prier said. She thinks road changes can help the area neighborhoods feel more integrated with the park again.

“I dream of the day when Druid Hill Park is thought of again as one of our neighborhood parks,” Prier said.

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Michele Johnson remembers when the road was less harrowing. As a teenager living next to the park in the early ’70s, she would cut through the green space with friends to walk to a nearby movie theater.

“When they cut all of that off, it made it harder for us to get from one neighborhood to another,” Johnson said.

A community-led call for a safer street coalesced in 2016, according to the DOT project’s website. The agency released a feasibility study in 2022 for potential changes after getting input and ideas from local residents and community organizations.

The DOT ultimately proposed three draft design concepts to the public in October 2021; each included a traffic impact study, according to a DOT spokesperson.

One preliminary option would downsize Druid Park Lake Drive to a single travel lane in each direction — it got the most positive feedback, with nearly 800 votes in favor via an online response form, according to the feasibility report. The other options — two travel lanes in each direction or a hybrid between the single- and two-lane plans — had less support from respondents. Each redesign, spanning roughly 2.3 miles of roadway, including Auchentoroly Terrace, a section of Reisterstown Road and Druid Park Drive on the park’s northern edge, had an estimated cost of more than $30 million, a price tag that would likely be higher today.

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With the new federal money, DOT can combine elements from those proposals into one preferred alternative and move the design forward. The department will have to seek additional funding to complete the design and build it. The ultimate timeline is not yet defined.

A wide, flat construction area splits two lanes of traffic moving in opposite directions. The area is seen from the top of a hill.
Cars travel along both sides of Druid Park Lake Drive on March 15, 2024. Baltimore's Department of Public Works closed off multiple lanes of the road years ago for the overhaul of the park's reservoir and lake. (Daniel Zawodny)

Today, along the southeast section of the park, Druid Park Lake Drive is a mess of concrete traffic barriers and road work signs as it snakes toward I-83. The Department of Public Works closed the lanes for underground work associated with the overhaul of the reservoir. But the barriers have also served as a sort of pilot for what one lane of traffic in each direction would mean.

It hasn’t gone over well with all residents and commuters who drive from West Baltimore to I-83 and beyond. Frustrated by the congestion, Mary Hughes, who lives in the nearby Gwynn’s Falls corridor, said that she and some colleagues have spent time along that street asking drivers stuck in traffic how the backup was affecting them.

“They were frustrated with the amount of time they were losing getting to their jobs, getting their kids to day care,” Hughes said. She thinks that the DOT has simpler solutions at hand, like making red light times at crosswalks longer or adding a pedestrian bridge, that would cost less than a complete redesign.

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A black car zips past an orange road work sign that reads "detour ahead."
Construction to overhaul Druid Hill Park's reservoir and lake has closed lanes along Druid Park Lake Drive for years. (Daniel Zawodny)

The transportation department is also getting nearly $10 million to bolster efforts to work with the community on the Druid Park and other Complete Streets projects.

For Hughes, it proves the point that the transportation department hasn’t been doing the job it should. Though Prier agrees that the department has to do a better job in making communities a part of the changes to their environment, she sees the set of grants as an opportunity to right historic wrongs. Everyone is on board with better safety, Prier said. “It just has to be a more thoughtful process for how we get there together.”

The reimagined roads around the park will connect with the recently redesigned 28th Street in Remington via another transportation department initiative — The Big Jump. The pilot version of a protected bike lane on the bridge between Remington and Reservoir Hill has been in place since 2018. The city hopes to replace the “quick build” plastic barriers with permanent concrete barriers in tandem with the Druid Park effort.

White plastic traffic barriers divide a roadway in two. Cars are seen from behind on the left and a bike rider is seen on the right coming toward the camera.
The Big Jump, currently in its temporary "quick build" form of plastic barriers, splits a road over I-83 to provide better pedestrian and cyclist access between Remington and Reservoir Hill. (Daniel Zawodny)

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues.

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