DOT launches Slow Streets program to slow traffic on roads for distancing

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A pedestrian uses the temporary path in Druid Hill Park. Image via the Baltimore City Department of Transportation’s Twitter page.

Starting next week, the Department of Transportation is accepting applications for streets that should be mostly closed off to vehicular traffic, allowing for socially distanced walking and recreation.

On Monday, residents can begin applying on the agency’s website to have barriers put up on a street in their neighborhood, an expansion of the city’s Slow Streets program in three parks.

Temporary signs that read “Road Closed: Local Traffic Only” will be placed on selected streets. Drivers will be allowed on the roads that are eventually designated as Slow Streets if their destination is within two blocks of that street, DOT said.

DOT said officials have identified 65 miles of streets that would be good candidates, but residents can submit any street near their residence for consideration.

A nominee must meet the department’s criteria for a Slow Streets designation and receive the endorsement of the council person whose district it is in.

DOT’s site describes good candidates as roads near food distribution sites and parks.

“Optimal streets are long segments of residential streets that could provide meaningful connections within and between neighborhoods,” the agency said. “Slow Streets will avoid high speed, high traffic volume streets like truck routes and most bus routes.”

Back in April, a group of 10 Baltimore City Council members sent a letter to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young encouraging him to repurpose travel lanes on essential routes for pedestrians, cyclists and people with mobility devices.

City sidewalks are generally not large enough for social distancing protocols, and “many” sidewalks and intersections do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they said.

Five days later, DOT started a pilot program for Slow Streets in Druid Hill Park, removing a lane of parking along parts of Swann Drive to make room for a “Temporary Pedestrian Path” for walkers, runners and cyclists. (Anyone who’s been to the park in recent days can attest that many motorists have taken parts of the lane back to park their vehicles.)

Councilman Ryan Dorsey (District 3), chair of the Transportation Committee, said at the time that the removal of the lane in Druid Hill Park was “a small step in the right direction” but argued more must be done.

Cities across the U.S. have closed off entire streets to promote social distancing during the pandemic.

In May, the pilot program was expanded to the roads around Lake Montebello and parts of Patterson Park, where barriers were set up to only allow local traffic through.

On May 11, a bill was introduced at the council requiring that at least 25 miles of roads be closed off to cars. A week later the council approved the measure and sent it to the mayor’s desk, where it still sits.

A bill approved by the council can become law without the mayor’s signature if the mayor does not take any action within three regular council meetings.

The next full meeting of the council is scheduled for Monday, July 13 at 5 p.m.

Brandon Weigel

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