Home | BaltimoreBrew.com

A change in directions? City to study whether to turn Calvert and St. Paul into two-way streets

60 years ago, the streets were made one way by legendary traffic engineer Henry Barnes

Above: Southbound St. Paul Street funnels substantial traffic through Mt. Vernon during the rush hour.

The city is looking at the possibility of returning a pair of heavily-used north-south streets to two-way operations with the aim of “calming” traffic through residential neighborhoods.

The Board of Estimates will be asked this morning to approve a $140,000 study by Sabra, Wang & Associates to analyze the impact of making Calvert Street (northbound) and St. Paul Street (southbound) two-way between downtown and University Parkway.

The study is the first step in what promises to be a lengthy process for the possible conversion of the streets.

Among the issues to be studied is the impact of two-way traffic on side residential streets and on bus, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Another matter would be how to handle southbound traffic coming off of the Jones Falls Expressway at St. Paul and Mt. Royal Avenue.

The outcome is not certain. A decade ago, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley wanted to make Charles Street bi-directional. “The vision is to make the cultural district and the midtown area much more of a destination, rather than a blurry sight along a major thoroughfare,” he announced.

The city transportation department reviewed the matter, and it never happened.

“Hurry Up” Barnes

Interestingly enough, this latest study comes on the eve of the 60th anniversary of single-way trafficking on Calvert and St. Paul streets.

In the early morning hours of July 18, 1954, traffic commissioner Henry A. Barnes staged the transformation. As crews uncovered posted signs to unveil the new directional signaling, other employees flagged down cars headed in the wrong direction and towed away cars that were, suddenly, with the new rules in effect, illegal.

“It was wild,” Edward Kahoe, then coordinator of transit and traffic, told Evening Sun writer Gilbert Sandler. Two months later, on September 14, 1954, Barnes turned Charles Street one-way north from downtown to 29th Street.

In the Barnes era, Baltimore became a leading proponent of converting its streets to one-way operations in the belief that slowing up cars bought by post-war families would put the city at a competitive disadvantage. Barnes wanted to hurry up traffic in and out of downtown and, some would say, out of the city itself.

During the same period, an extensive (200-miles-plus) streetcar network underwent dramatic shrinkage. The No. 8 electric streetcar made its last run between Catonsville and Towson in November 1963.

Barnes, meanwhile, left the city in 1962 to become New York’s traffic commissioner.

Reducing the Car’s Footprint

Over time, some one-way streets have returned to two-way operations – such as East Pratt and Lombard streets between Broadway and Patterson Park Avenue.

The reduction in traffic density and speed on those streets was credited with helping revive home-ownership and investment in Upper Fells Point and Butchers Hill. Southeast Baltimore remains one of the few sections of the “old” city that has generally escaped one-waying.

St. Paul and Calvert run parallel from Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor to University Parkway through Mt. Vernon, Station North, Old Goucher and Charles Village.

A second pair of north-south one-way streets, Charles and Maryland Avenue/Cathedral Street, are not part of the traffic engineering study.

A consultant recently looked at opening Charles Street to two-way traffic between 25th and 29th streets. But that road segment, now undergoing a major rebuild as part of the Charles Street reconstruction to University Parkway, is to continue one-way northbound.

Most Popular