There are nights when Christopher Vucci doesn’t get much sleep, worried that a drunk driver might crash a car into his house again.
Vucci wasn’t living in the house on 28th Street last year — his late uncle was — when a car careened into the home, but he dealt with the consequences long after the wreck. It took months to get the rowhome’s glass-paned sunroom rebuilt; as they waited on Baltimore Gas and Electric, the broken gas hookup forced Vucci and his partner to start the winter without working heat.
After years of Remington residents asking for a way to prevent wrecks like this from happening, Baltimore’s Department of Transportation recently implemented a redesign of 28th Street from the Interstate 83 overpass to Charles Street. The so-called “road diet” eliminates and narrows travel lanes on the one-way street in an effort to make it harder for motorists to speed, thus making it safer for pedestrians.
Neighbors who live along the 28th Street corridor in North Baltimore welcome the changes. They say some drivers used to treat the largely residential street as an extension of the highway, flying through like drag racers. Reckless drivers have been causing overnight crashes in the neighborhood for years.
“Seeing the redesign, I understand the annoyance of it — because it was a two-lane [road], people are used to that, it backs up traffic a lot. But, for me, I am OK with that. It is like the trade-off that I will take for having a safer road,” Vucci said.
Though many residents feel safer, and community groups say they’ve noticed a marked drop in speeding, the traffic corridor has its issues.
A New Year’s Eve crash that sent a car onto the sidewalk marked the second time in as many years that a local business was damaged by a vehicle. And parked cars continue to be struck by hit-and-run drivers, which has some residents questioning what more can be done to prevent reckless driving late at night.
The ‘road diet’ menu
Traffic calming has many forms. While highways seek to reduce travel times, road diets on residential streets are aimed at forcing drivers to slow down and discouraging cut-through traffic.
Since the redesign took effect in late August, the number of travel lanes has been reduced from two to one, and street parking on both sides of 28th Street is more clearly striped off. Lax striping in some locations before the redesign left the distance between travel and parking lanes not only inconsistent but irrelevant for speeders.
Now plastic bollards guide drivers to make wide turns at intersections, creating “bump outs” that reduce the amount of active road that pedestrians need to traverse when crossing the street.
Crews have transformed part of the roadway into a two-way bike lane that better connects Remington with nearby Reservoir Hill and Druid Hill Park, previously cut off from one another for pedestrians and cyclists by harrowing, car-only I-83 overpasses.
“Narrower streets give drivers a sense of risk and make them be more cautious when they drive, and so you will see fewer crashes happen in those streets and lanes,” said Shima Hamidi, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Hamidi is researching the intersection of transportation, climate change and public health.
Narrower traffic lanes in some urban contexts resulted in fewer car crashes than wider lanes, Hamidi found in a recent study.
It is part of a growing body of research that questions traditional approaches to traffic management, historically shaped by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Hamidi’s team examined traffic and crash data in seven cities.
On roads with a 30-35 mph speed limit, they observed, “wider lanes not only are not safer, but exhibit significantly higher numbers of crashes” than lanes set at a width of 9 feet.
The Greater Remington Improvement Association installed a Telraam device along the corridor to monitor vehicle speeds on 28th Street — where the speed limit is 30 mph — before and after the redesign. The neighborhood association says unsafe speeding has decreased drastically. Because the monitoring device and its data are from a private entity, Baltimore’s DOT could not confirm its accuracy or comment on it.
Road diets, long favored by transportation planners, have gotten more attention in Baltimore since the adoption of the Complete Streets ordinance in 2018.
Consistent with federal initiatives and the policies of cities and counties across the country, the ordinance directs the Baltimore DOT to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists and transit use over personal vehicles in the design of roadways. The end game is safer streets for all users.
Amanda Qu, a graduate student who lives along 28th Street, said she routinely saw motorists speed on the road and observed the aftermath of several crashes after moving to the neighborhood in 2020. She used to delay crossing 28th Street on foot for a couple of seconds, even with the right of way, due to fear that a speeding car would blow through the red light.
In the first weeks after the redesign, many drivers seemed confused and there was plenty of horn honking, especially at rush hour, she said. But Qu said the situation got better as drivers got used to the changes. She believes many motorists who once used the road as a cut-through simply found another route.
Traffic is slower and more congested now, Qu said, but that’s “kind of part of the point of the project.”
A 100% fix?
Vucci’s house isn’t the only structure in the neighborhood that’s been struck by a vehicle.
Laura Schneider, owner of Fringe, a Remington hair salon, spent New Year’s Day getting the salon ready for a “fresh and clean start” to 2024. As she walked out the front door at the end of the day, she noticed a brick missing from the corner of her building and shards of red plastic on the sidewalk.
“Oh my God, there are pieces of car on the sidewalk. Did Fringe get hit by a car?” she thought.
A neighbor later told her that a speeding car had run a red light early that morning, T-boning another vehicle before spinning into the front of her building. The wreck was a jarring reminder of the last time the building was hit by a car, just 14 months ago. After that November 2022 crash, Schneider experienced sleepless nights worrying about the safety of her business and employees.
“This one [wreck], thank God, was minimal damage. Hopefully we can get some help before the next one,” said Erin Leader, the salon’s manager. If the car had been traveling much faster, Leader said, “we’d be out of a place of work.”
At the inception of the project, Schneider was thrilled by the idea of traffic-calming measures along 28th Street. But she opposed elements of the final design that eliminated some street parking in front of her building, moved the travel lane directly next to it and forced wheelchair users nearly into traffic to access the sidewalk ramp right outside.
The bike and travel lanes were moved closer to Schneider’s business because residents and other businesses had advocated for maintaining a “parklet” — a parcel of pavement sectioned off for community use — catty-corner to Fringe. The move sparked accusations of a conflict of interest because an owner of one of the businesses next to the parklet, Mount Royal Soaps, sits on the neighborhood association’s board.
The ensuing back and forth between Schneider and community leaders soured the relationship. Association leaders who spoke with The Baltimore Banner said the final design at the intersection was a compromise they didn’t want either — they opposed the addition of a right-turn lane at the intersection, which they blame for the shifting lanes.
Multiple community meetings were held to ensure general community support of the design, which DOT had ultimate say over.
Schneider and neighborhood association leaders individually contacted Councilwoman Odette Ramos to address concerns about the wheelchair ramps at the intersection. And the association helped acquire large cement planters for the sidewalk next to Fringe that could help shield it from cars.
But Schneider told The Banner in an interview before the New Year’s Eve wreck that she still felt it was just a matter of time before Fringe got struck by a car again. She was hoping she wouldn’t be right.
So Ramos continued to press, helping get two concrete bollards installed at the corner that Schneider hopes will protect the building from another crash.
Dozens of Remington residents who spoke with The Banner said they feel safer walking along 28th Street since the redesign. And a representative of the city Department of Transportation says it has received hundreds of thank-you messages from residents for implementing the changes.
Still, infrastructure changes can’t always prevent speeding — and many residents and business owners like Schneider wonder if more can be done to combat reckless driving overnight.
After one parked car was hit late one night over the Thanksgiving holiday, a resident of 28th Street just east of the I-83 ramp told The Banner she and many neighbors are increasingly hesitant to park their cars right outside their homes overnight. They say overnight hit and runs used to be much more common before the redesign, but that even one is too many.
That leaves residents looking for creative solutions — such as one in Burkburnett, Texas, where officials installed a retractable speed hump in front of a local elementary school in 2018. It uses solar power and an industrial airbag to lift metal plates from the roadway during school hours, limiting speeding when children might be near the road but allowing steady traffic flow at other times. A less creative but more immediate solution could be more automated speed cameras along the corridor.
In Maryland, solutions are increasingly necessary. Speeding and distracted driving contributed to roughly 56% of crashes and 55% of roadway fatalities in Maryland from 2018 to 2022, according to statistics from the state’s Zero Deaths database. The state reached 600 roadway fatalities in 2023 for the first time in nearly two decades and saw a higher number of pedestrian/cyclist deaths than in 2022.
Though road diets like 28th Street continue to pop up across the city, advocates worry that progress isn’t being made fast enough. Huntingdon Avenue in Remington, where the car was speeding before crashing into Schneider’s building early New Year’s Day, has been slated for similar work since 2015.
Short of more staff and funding for DOT, progress on creating safer streets, much like the cars traveling 28th Street, may inch forward at a slower pace.