UMB changes to MLK/Baltimore/Fremont

UMB changes to MLK/Baltimore/Fremont

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800 Block of Hollins St Neighbors started this petition to Hollins Roundhouse Association

Dear Hollins Roundhouse Association,

We, the undersigned residents of the 800 block of Hollins Street and others, write to request that the Association write a letter to formally request that the University of Maryland, Baltimore, team designing alterations to the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Baltimore Street engage in more robust partnership with residents near the intersection. This includes seeking our input on options, including us in the decision-making process, and sharing information more widely and more frequently.

BACKGROUND: UMB held a session March 2, 2021, advertised in this way:

“The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) is planning roadway improvements to enhance pedestrian safety around Martin Luther King Boulevard, Fremont Avenue, and West Baltimore Street. Initially planned over 10 years ago, the project received federal funding for construction, but was deferred during consideration of the Red Line subway extension. UMB restarted the multi-layered approval process with the city, state, and federal governments and has recently updated the engineering plans to reflect current conditions and planned new developments. Community residents are invited to join UMB for a briefing on the plans, including reconfiguration of the intersection and adjacent open spaces, lighting, and sidewalks.”

To our knowledge, the presentation and the recorded session have not been shared publicly. The UMB team did not indicate any formal or further role for the community. They requested that residents send further reaction to Jane Shaab at jshaab@umaryland.edu. We believe this is inadequate, especially from an institution that prides itself on substantive community engagement.

The plan revolves around opening up Fremont Avenue to MLK between Baltimore and Hollins in order to divert some turns between Baltimore and MLK along a half-block stretch of Fremont, just as it did in its first iteration 10 years ago. On March 2nd, residents closest to the project on the 800 block of Hollins voiced objections to the plan for various reasons, among them:

* Heavy traffic on Fremont Ave. obstructing Booth St, impacting resident access to their residential parking behind the houses on the north side of the 800 block of Hollins St., and also obstructing the BioPark loading dock
* Idling traffic and trucks on Fremont Ave. and Booth St., with the possibility of backing up onto MLK. The planners pointed out that they had changed the original plan so that there is a longer turn lane on MLK, with the expectation that there would be less impact on the flow of traffic on MLK. This does not mitigate backed-up traffic on Fremont Ave and Booth St.
* Loss of street parking along Fremont Ave.
* An extra intersection and traffic light on the west side of MLK between Baltimore and Lombard, increasing pedestrian/traffic contact 
* High-volume and high-speed traffic crossing the MLK berm onto Fremont Ave. a few feet from the end of Hollins St., and the danger of cars running into houses and pedestrians
* The focus on the intersection at Baltimore without mitigation at Lombard, which has almost as high a level of accidents and fatalities, adds aggravation without substantive mitigation of dangerous traffic. No mitigation is planned at any other intersection; the traffic research study gathered data at only a few intersections near UMB on MLK.
* Lack of known coordination with community and city pedestrian-, bike-, and transit-friendly planning efforts, such as the city’s rehabilitation of the MLK sidewalks or the recently published Baltimore City Complete Streets Manual https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MDBALT/bulletins/2c74652
* Lack of low-cost, low-intensity, low-infrastructure safety efforts, such as traffic personnel at high-volume times, increase speed law enforcement, change the height of the median to improve visibility, change lights for pedestrian benefit, etc.
* Diverting high volumes of traffic off traffic arteries and onto residential streets makes residential streets unsafe and unpleasant, and it is unwise from a civil engineering perspective
* This process has had a lack of public representation for a project on publicly-owned streets. What is the role of the city, and why isn’t there a formal mechanism for public input?
* One resident wrote, “UMB's plan could only be stronger if it incorporated the insights of the people who use  these intersections more than anyone else in the city. We not only commute to and from work via MLK by foot,  bike, bus, and car -- we walk across it to do errands and such, we walk dogs along it, we come and go on it at all hours of the day and night, we live with its festival and marathon closures and parking, we can hear it from our houses. We are involved with other groups' and agencies' planning on how to change it. We know things about how that road works that no traffic study reveals, and I would think the planners would be seeking us out.”

During the 3/2/21 session, the planners acknowledged that their plan did not account for the obstruction of Booth St and its negative impacts on parking, resident access and the loading dock’s smooth functioning. They also acknowledged that their plan did not consider buses traveling along these corridors - either the impact on bus routes, or the buses’ impact on congestion on MLK, Fremont, Booth, or Baltimore.

For all the reasons above, we, the 800 block of Hollins St. and neighbors, request that our neighborhood association, the HRA, formally ask the UMB MLK/Baltimore St planning team to involve the community directly in its planning process as well as its decision-making process, and to share materials and updates more broadly and frequently. Thank you.

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