Baltimore is reimagining what the busy thoroughfares running along Druid Hill Park could look like in the future and asking for residents’ input to make the park friendlier for bicycles, scooters and pedestrians.
The Druid Park Lake Drive Complete Streets planning and concept design project is mapping out neighborhood priorities as the city transportation department works to improve the roadway for all types of transportation.
Stretches of Druid Park Lake Drive have been under construction as part of a Department of Public Works infrastructure project installing two water tanks under Druid Lake, holding more than 50 million gallons of the city’s drinking water.
The public works project is nearing completion as crews connect the tanks to the city’s water system.
Graham Coreil-Allen lives on Auchentoroly Terrace across from the Rawlings Conservatory and said neighbors pushed city planners to look into making the street safer for non-motorists even before roadwork disrupted traffic patterns on Druid Park Lake Drive.
“The Complete Streets (project) is in direct response to advocacy we’ve been a part of for many years.” Coreil-Allen said. “Residents have been asking for traffic calming. A lot of our residents do rely on walking, transit, biking and scooters. The streets around our neighborhood and especially around the park are designed to move cars really fast, and it has a huge impact.”
Planners are looking for community input, holding pop-up events and public meetings to assess community desires as they incorporate findings into design concepts.
The concept design will encompass Druid Park Lake Drive from the Jones Falls Expressway, Auchentoroly Terrace, a portion of Reisterstown Road along Druid Hill Park and Druid Park Drive between Reisterstown Road and Greenspring Avenue.
The study will also include examining the popular “Big Jump,” a temporary protected lane designated for pedestrians, bikes and scooters, along Druid Park Lake Drive and over the expressway.
The Complete Streets approach recognizes that automobiles aren’t the only users of Baltimore roadways. The concept design will incorporate the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooters and electric wheelchairs, public transportation, in addition to the traditional automobile.
City planners hosted a meeting in late April and invited more than 80 neighborhood and stakeholder groups, and also collected comments online and on cards.
“What we’re hearing from the community is a need to address traffic speeds and to address the limited ways to increase the amount of safe pedestrian crossings,” said Wes Mitchell, a transportation planner working with the city.
Planners noted that in the early 20th century there were more than two dozen crossings into the park along this stretch, but by the mid-1960s only four remained.
“One of the major desires, at a minimum, is increase the number of access points between the neighborhood and the park itself and make sure those points are safe,” said Will Ethridge, a city planner. “After Druid Park Lake Drive was widened, the access points were reduced. We’d love to get back and forth safely.”
Monalisa Diallo lives near Druid Hill Park and goes for walks regularly in the park.
“I can actually see the park from my front porch, but I can’t keep straight down Bryant (Avenue) to get access into the park,” she said. “I have to go up Gwynns Falls (Parkway) and down Gwynns Falls. It is a lack of access. We’re not a metropolis. We’re like a city-town, make it accessible.”
Diallo says the Complete Streets philosophy prioritizes residents like her and her neighbors. Diallo hasn’t driven in 12 years and estimates that more than half her neighbors in the traditionally Black neighborhood also do not drive.
“We see people on scooters. We see people on the mobile chairs. We see people with bikes. We see people with dirt bikes, as well as walking, pedestrians,” she said.
Using the streets differently is better for majority Black neighborhoods in the city, she says, as residents confront negative health of their proximity major roadways, like asthma, cardiovascular issues and stress.
“Black communities should be trying to develop various ways to combat health disparities. And supporting them isn’t gentrification, it’s progress,” she said. “Black neighborhoods need to understand the difference. I am totally against gentrification, developing black neighborhoods by the standards of white culture consumer society. We should all demand a better standard.”
Mitchell says as designers work on the concept, they will look to better serve different travel modes. The goal is for Druid Park Lake Drive to serve travelers with a more balanced approach.
Significant changes to the streetscape are years off, Ethridge said. The current fiscal year provides for funding only to develop the plan. Actual construction and breaking ground may take five to seven years, officials said, and that’s if any of the design concepts are selected.