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Cantonites say: “We need a long-term plan for Boston Street”

More development will “overwhelm” current roads, says the president of the community association. Also of concern – a suggested transit hub next to Canton Crossing.

Above: This rail crossing is a notorious traffic stopper in Canton.

After the city’s transportation plan for Southeast Baltimore stirred up a hornet’s nest at a Fells Point meeting, Canton community leaders and residents are weighing in with their perspective on the city’s “vision.”

“The DOT meeting focused primarily on Fells Point concerns,” said Sean Flanagan, president of the Canton Community Association, who attended the standing-room-only gathering at the Admiral Fell Inn.

Flanagan told The Brew that the CCA is in the process of reviewing the Southeast Strategic Transportation Vision from more of a Canton perspective.

The 36-page report, prepared by Sabra, Wang & Associates of Columbia, concerns existing surface roadways in the district and the impact of apartment and commercial development around Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton on traffic management.

(The report, dated June 2015, does not address the impact of the Redline’s recent cancellation by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.)

Among the issues the community association is raising: whether the plan adequately addresses worsening traffic on Boston Street and whether making Canton Crossing a transit hub might add to those traffic problems.

“We’re stressing the need for a long-term plan for Boston Street,” said Flanagan, who said the CCA is trying to prepare its comments in time for the August 1 public comment deadline.

Fixing Boston Street

“We’ve been under the impression that enhancements would be made to Boston Street and, given all the future development, now is the time to proceed.”

East of the Canton Crossing shopping center, Boston Street narrows from four lanes to two and crosses a working rail line, where freight trains pass multiple times a day, causing notorious traffic back-ups.

In a recent letter to the Planning Department and First District Councilman James B. Kraft, the association called on the city to make a commitment to improving Canton’s road system (east of Conkling Street and south of O’Donnell).

A top priority is to widen Boston Street and extend Eaton Street to Boston Street.

“With the termination of the Red Line project, this is more important than ever,” the letter stated, noting that development projects underway or planned in the area “will surely overwhelm this road system.”

Traffic Impact Fees

Scott Goldman, who lives on Montford Avenue, attended last week’s meeting about the plan and has some concerns of his own.

“One thing I left unsatisfied with from the meeting was that the current traffic mitigation agreements allow for only one-time traffic impact fees. That doesn’t make sense when we have apparently been so bad at predicting the impact of new development on traffic, getting us to the point where we are now,” he said.  “I would prefer rolling fees that can adjust over time to the needs of the area.”

About 35 developments are slated to be completed in the Southeast in the next five years, resulting in about 20,000 more vehicles on its roads at rush hour, the report says.

Goldman, who recently declared his candidacy for Kraft’s Council seat, said he supported several of the proposal’s recommendations.

They include creating a Transportation Management Association to manage existing and future travel demand in the Southeast, and restrictions on left-hand turns at rush hour at certain intersections along Fleet and Aliceanna streets.

From Stored Trucks to Transit Hub

Flanagan, meanwhile, is trying to understand the logic of another recommendation by the plan – that Canton Crossing become a multi-modal transit hub.

DPW/DOT waterfront maintenance yard at Boston and Clinton streets. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

The city maintenance yard at Boston and Clinton streets. The SE transportation plan recommends the site be used for a transit hub. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

The DOT proposal lists several possible “hubs” or locations where different modes of transportation already intersect.

Among them are Harbor East (the Circulator, Inner Harbor Connector and bikeways), Johns Hopkins Hospital (the Circulator, Metro subway, JHU Shuttle and MTA bus), and Hopkins Bayview (if the MARC station plan moves ahead).

Hubs would be targeted for “additional investments in infrastructure” as well as “improved services,” the report states.

“I know that this is still conceptual, and not an absolute, but I struggle with the logic of making an already congested area a hub that would attract more vehicles,” Flanagan said.

A Baltimore City Police boat, visible from the sidewalk, parked on the grass at the city maintenance lot on Boston Street at Clinton.  (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

A police boat parked on the grass at the maintenance yard. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

Working with the MTA, the DOT identified Canton Crossing and the Bayview MARC station as two priority hubs recommended for future study.

Park and Ride

One reason Canton Crossing was chosen is because it could offer a water transit service (via a new Harbor Connector route) and a park-and-ride with a parking deck on city property at Boston and Clinton streets.

The water service could provide additional transit system capacity for commuters from East Baltimore and I-95-north to Harbor East, Harbor Point and downtown, the report notes.

The new Harbor Connector – which the report says it would be fare-based – would run from Canton to Harbor Point to downtown.

The report recommends that the park-and-ride deck “be developed in coordination with the Canton Crossing Phase II development” and charge fees for parking.

Flanagan is familiar with the proposed hub location, a DOT property at Boston and Clinton streets, colloquially known as the “DPW yard,” where vehicles and equipment in various stages of repair and storage can be seen.

“It’s a maintenance yard with offices,” he said. “You name it, if the city needs a place to store it. They put it there: salt piles, snow plows, harbor skimmers, trash trucks, sweepers, marine police vehicles. What you see there now is only a fraction of the equipment that they used to have out there.”

Alternative: Green Space

The CCA has been working with the city for years to get the space cleared of  vehicles so the space could be used by the community.

Canton Waterfront Park.  Flanagan says the CCA would like to see the city maintenance yard used as a similar green space.  (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

A view of the Canton Waterfront Park just west of the DOT maintenance yard. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

“It’s been a long discussion,” Flanagan said. “I’m told that all agencies, except for the Marine Police, will have their equipment out of there by the end of the year.”

The CCA would like to see the site used for green space.

“Perhaps a unique use or possibly as a complement to the nearby Canton Waterfront Park,” he said. “I could see potentially a farmers’ market or kayaking, just to name a few uses.”

Flanagan said he’s optimistic about having a constructive dialogue with DOT and said the association has asked that a representative come to its August board meeting.

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