The city on Tuesday removed a lane of parking along a stretch of roadway in Druid Hill Park to promote social distancing while people are walking, running or biking.
Workers blocked off the lane with orange cones and placed “no parking” signs to mark the “Temporary Pedestrian Path,” a joint effort of the Department of Transportation and Department of Recreation & Parks.
German Vigil, a spokesperson for DOT, said the path starts on Swann Drive where it intersects with Beechwood Drive on the western side of Druid Lake, and runs along Swann Drive and East Drive, ending where the latter road intersects with Red Road near the park’s tennis courts.
DOT Director Steve Sharkey said in a statement the lane removal is part of a pilot program that’s been discussed with Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other officials over the last few weeks.
“BCDOT is taking appropriate action to help maintain and protect the health of our residents as this public health emergency continues,” he said. “BCDOT wants to use this pilot as a great starting point as we gather much-needed data in order to help protect our residents from being infected by the COVID-19 virus in the public space.”
A separate portion of Beechwood Drive, near the Rawlings Conservatory, is being used as one of three COVID-19 testing sites in the city.
Representatives from DOT and Rec & Parks said it has not yet been determined if the pilot program will expand to other parks or other areas of Druid Hill Park.
Earlier this month, the Department of Public Works closed off part of the road around Lake Montebello to give people more space for recreation.
The addition of the path in Druid Hill Park comes five days after City Councilman Ryan Dorsey (District 3) and nine other councilmembers sent a letter to Young asking for travel lanes along certain routes to be closed to provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and people with mobility devices.
City sidewalks are generally not large enough for social distancing protocols requiring six feet of separation between people, and “many” sidewalks and intersections do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they said.
Dorsey, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, told Baltimore Fishbowl the removal of the lane in Druid Hill Park is “a small step in the right direction” but said more must be done.
He said the mayor’s office should take similar steps for people using roads for reasons other than exercise.
“The administration’s focus on parks is important because safe recreation is crucial to maintaining good mental health at this time, but similar accommodations are necessary in other places around the City,” he said, “particularly to provide the benefit of safe travel to a wider variety of road users.”
Some cities across the U.S. have closed off entire streets to promote social distancing during the pandemic, ranging from four streets in Denver to a pledge of up to 100 miles of closed streets in New York City.
Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-46th District) has also called for opening up streets. Earlier this month she prodded city officials by noting Baltimore had been “outclassed” by Louisville, Kentucky, which closed off three parks to motor vehicles.
“Come on now. We can have open streets too,” she tweeted. “There’s a way to do this that will respect social distancing.”