Image still via YouTube.

Back in April, the Department of Transportation announced that Baltimore would be joining other major cities in penalizing drivers who block the box–that is, impede pedestrian or car traffic by remaining in the middle of an intersection after the light has changed.

The fines were supposed to take effect in May, but the slow grind of democracy put the brakes on the campaign. After some fine-tuning and political maneuvering, Don’t Block the Box will finally hit Baltimore streets tomorrow.

Drivers will be given warning citations until Oct. 15, after which scofflaw motorists caught box-blocking will receive a $125 ticket.

“Vehicles that enter an intersection when it’s not possible to cross all the way through create traffic bottlenecks and hazardous situations for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians,” DOT director Michelle Pourciau said in a statement. “We are optimistic that this campaign will change driver behavior and result in safer and more efficient travel for everyone in the city.”

The department released this helpful PSA today to outline the new rule and remind motorists of the guidelines of traffic intersections. (Shoutout to whoever put in footage of one of the worst box blockers, an MTA bus, at the 12-second mark.)

YouTube video

Other cities like cities like Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C. have had similar measures in place for years, but that didn’t stop Baltimore from hitting legislative gridlock.

After the April announcement, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young slowed down the proceedings by introducing a resolution calling on DOT to properly synchronize the traffic lights across the city.

At a hearing in May, Young also objected to the initially proposed penalty of a $90 fine and a point on the offender’s driver’s license. Mayor Catherine Pugh agreed that assigning a point went too far, according to a spokesman.

“The citizens of Baltimore are redlined by the insurance industry,” he told DOT officials.

When DOT tried syncing the lights in the summer, the result was traffic armageddon.

Synchronization proved harder than anticipated with the antiquated state of the system, according to a July article in The Sun.

“We had to unravel what we did and get it back to where it needed to be,” Pourciau told the City Council then.

The timing issue aside, the Don’t Block the Box program should help with traffic flow, particularly at busy intersections like in downtown.

“Drivers that enter an intersection or marked crosswalk without sufficient space to clear the other side prohibit cross traffic from moving,” the department said in a release. “Blocking an intersection causes gridlock, especially in the downtown area, because motorists with a green light are not able to proceed through the intersection.”

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...

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