Rec and Parks drags feet on accessibility work for intersections outside Druid Hill Park

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An unfinished sidewalk in the middle of the intersection at Gwynns Falls Parkway and Auchentoroly Terrace. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

“I’m running out of options,” said Auchentoroly Terrace resident Graham Coreil-Allen.

Last week, the artist, public organizer and transportation design-focused Open Society Institute fellow called out the Department of Recreation and Parks online for not finishing its work improving access to Druid Hill Park for wheelchair users, cyclists and pedestrians.

The agency tore out the curbs and sidewalks at three intersections outside the park in 2016. But three years out, he noted, only one of those intersections, Madison Avenue and Druid Park Lake Drive, is as it was intended to be, with sidewalk bumps installed for the visually impaired, clearly painted crosswalks and a path cleared of old utility poles and sign posts.

The other two intersections–Fulton and Druid Hill avenues, and Gwynns Falls Parkway and Auchentoroly Terrace–are sitting pedestrian hazards, Coreil-Allen said. The first has a non-functioning walk sign button, and both have bumpy asphalt patches, rather than concrete sidewalks, at various corners. Each is lined with unused poles, posts and cones obstructing their paths, and mostly lack sidewalk bumps on ramps to aid wheelchair users.

The project, dubbed Druid Hill Neighborhood Access, was meant to improve pedestrian access, Rec and Parks spokeswoman Whitney Clemmons-Brown said in an email. The scope of work included adding new crosswalks and stop bars, traffic signals, sidewalks and ramp areas, and pedestrian paths. The total budgeted project cost is nearly $1.9 million.

Coreil-Allen said he’s complained repeatedly to Rec and Parks about the unfinished work, but the agency has been sluggish in response.

“In the meantime, we’re all just kind of living with this. I’ve lost my patience as a resident and advocate.”

Unpaved asphalt in the middle of the intersection at Gwynns Falls Parkway and Auchentoroly Terrace. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Until this spring, both unfinished intersections also lacked clearly marked crosswalks, after lines initially painted in 2017 deteriorated away.

In April, a Maryland Transit Administration bus struck a man in a wheelchair while he was crossing Fulton Avenue where the lines were mostly absent. Three weeks later, and after multiple back-and-forths with city officials, the Department of Transportation–not the agency in charge of the project–came out and filled in the broken lines, said Coreil-Allen.

This past August, Rec and Parks got around to activating new traffic signals and buttons. But the narrow and bumpy, pole-clogged sidewalks remain.

Asked about the slow pace for the project, Rec and Parks pointed to multiple factors.

“Due to funding issues, there has been a strenuous process in procuring materials for the work,” Clemmons-Brown said.

She also cited weather and traffic, noting record rainfall has contributed to delays because the ground must be dry when pouring concrete, and slick conditions can pose added safety risks for workers. And because of a steady flow of cars through both intersections, work can only be completed at night or on the weekends, she said. 

“As of this email, there is no timeline I can provide at the moment,” she said. It will require “continued coordination with multiple agencies, our contractor and DOT to complete the work as soon as possible.”

Councilman Leon Pinkett, whose 7th District includes Druid Hill Park and the surrounding area in West Baltimore, said in an email to Baltimore Fishbowl that Rec and Parks’ pace on the project “is unacceptable on so many levels.” He also knocked the agency for not heeding his calls to proceed with finishing the project.

“The lack of coordination and continuity around this activity reflects a lack of respect for the community and those who use these points to access Druid Hill Park,” said Pinkett, who recently announced a bid for Baltimore City Council president. “Despite the continual insistence from my office and community leaders this project continues to move along at a snail’s pace.”

He also suggested the work on the intersection would not have been so delayed had it been located elsewhere.

“Adding insult to injury is the fact that… we look around the city at similar installations, for example Mount Vernon, and see the timeliness and care given to those efforts,” he said. “It reinforces the fact that projects in different parts of the city are given different priority and attention.”

Madison and Druid Hill Avenues, the one intersection at which Recreation and Parks has finished its accessibility-focused work. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Coreil-Allen, who won an OSI fellowship to help bring the roads surrounding Druid Hill Park up to Complete Streets standards, said he looks forward to a broader overhaul, as required under Councilman Ryan Dorsey’s legislation enacted last year.

After the city’s Department of Transportation failed to meet a deadline this August for drafting its own manual for local street design, Baltimore’s council has extended the due date for crafting those regulations to April of 2020. The city has also brought in a consultant from Northern Virginia to assist on the planning effort for redesigning city streets.

In his new work, Coreil-Allen hopes to go even further than Druid Hill Neighborhood Access project plans, which he described as “well-meaning” but ineffective, with as many as eight lanes of traffic still along stretches of the roads surrounding the park.

Pinkett said his office has been working with the DOT on a realignment study for Druid Park Lake Drive.

“Our hope is that through this effort we will design and implement a plan to address the volume of traffic, the speed of traffic and the challenges that pedestrians of all ages have when accessing the park,” the councilman said.

Coreil-Allen said having Complete Streets standards to follow, including traffic-calming steps, “will supersede this very watered-down sort of aesthetic improvement to the park entrances.”

But for pedestrians traveling those intersections in the meantime, the current project remains a hazard if left unfinished. And at this point, he’s troubled to hear the city doesn’t have any timeline for completing it.

“They are not prioritizing the safety of our residents.”

This story has been updated with comment from Councilman Leon Pinkett.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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