Druid Hill Complete Streets

Graham Coreil-Allen headshot

Graham Coreil-Allen headshot

I’m honored and humbled to announce that I have been awarded a 2018 Open Society Institute (OSI) Baltimore Community Fellowship providing me with eighteen months of funding and organizing support as I collaborate with residents on reconnecting our West Baltimore neighborhoods with Druid Hill Park. Through the Druid Hill Complete Streets project I will be working with my neighbors to ensure that a forthcoming Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) planning effort is as reflective of community voices as possible as we seek to convert the dangerous barrier highways around Druid Hill Park into complete streets safe and accessible for all – especially the approximately 50% of area residents who do not drive. Complete Streets are streets designed and operated to be safe and accessible for all, including pedestrians, transit users, wheelchair riders, and people who rely on bicycles. During the fellowship I will be working with local youth to create traffic calming public art to slow down cars and improve pedestrian safety. Potential ideas include mural-filled crosswalks, artistic planters protecting pedestrians, and creative signs reminding motorists where pedestrians have the right-of-way.

Auchentoroly Terrace walking tour

Auchentoroly Terrace community advocacy walk with city agencies, 2017.

West Baltimore’s historic work class neighborhoods of color have systematically been denied safe access to Druid Hill Park due to dangerous six-to-nine-lane-wide highways constructed over community opposition between the 1940s and the 1960s. Click here to read my story about the history behind the highways cutting off the neighborhoods of Mondawmin, Penn North, and Reservoir Hill from Druid Hill Park. The formerly two-lane, park-front streets of Auchentoroly Terrace and Druid Park Lake Drive were widened into high-speed highways primarily serving suburban commuters at the expense of park access for local residents.

Structurally racist urban planning decisions to build highways around Druid Hill Park make it difficult for the residents to enjoy the park’s public health benefits, including exercise, healthy food, and clean air. The Baltimore City Health Department’s 2017 Neighborhood Health Profiles show that the majority working class, African American communities around the park have some of the city’s highest mortality rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Click here for the Penn North / Reservoir Hill and Greater Mondawmin health reports. Census data also shows that approximately half of residents in the immediate area code of 21217 do not drive. As pedestrians, transit users, wheelchair riders, and people who rely on bicycles, our residents deserve priority access to the park.

Druid Hill Complete Streets map and challenges

Since moving to Auchentoroly Terrace in 2013 I’ve listened to my neighbors talk about and experienced firsthand the need for more crosswalks, narrower roadways, less vehicular traffic, and slower speeds. With no playground in our neighborhood, I all too often witness small children on foot and bike darting across eight lanes of high speed traffic to reach the safe green spaces and play areas of Druid Hill Park. I also see how my retired, car-free neighbors are unable to reach the Druid Hill Farmers Market due to a lack of safe, convenient crosswalks. Most at risk are wheelchair riders who along sections of the park are blocked by non-ADA pathways.

In response to community transportation needs, 7th District Councilman Leon F. Pinkett III convened the Druid Hill Park Stakeholders group in early 2017. The group includes representatives from Mondawmin, Auchentoroly Terrace, and Reservoir Hill; Baltimore City agencies including the Departments of Transportation, Public Works, and Recreation and Parks; as well as non-profits including Bikemore, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and Parks & People. We are also reaching out to more local leaders and organizations to bring into the planning and advocacy effort. Thanks to the councilman’s leadership, in February 2018 Baltimore City DOT agreed to conduct a major transportation study to address our community’s concerns. This study will build on two ongoing local initiatives, the Big Jump Baltimore and the Baltimore Greenway Trail Network northwest trail planning effort. As an OSI Community Fellow, I will work full-time with my neighbors to shape this forthcoming transportation plan for rebuilding the dangerous barrier-highways of Druid Park Lake Drive and Auchentoroly Terrace as accessible boulevards that safely connect our most vulnerable residents with Druid Hill Park.

The Druid Hill Complete Streets initiative will support community education, creative urban planning, and traffic calming through public art. We will organize community-led walking tours in which youth, seniors, wheelchair riders, elected officials, and city planners learn from one another while seeking common ground for enacting equitable park access. We will also creatively engage residents in the ongoing DOT planning process through a new website, social media campaign, and activities at places like the Druid Hill Farmers Market to get input from residents who may not be able to make traditional public meetings. Lastly, we will collaborate with youth to create traffic calming public art around Druid Hill Park based on community design workshops in which residents will identify sites for enhancing pedestrian safety and reconnecting with the park. These low-cost interventions will have an immediate positive impact on park connectivity and public health while enabling residents and the public at large to envision the possibilities for complete streets.

The schedule of events and public art production will be determined by the yet-to-be-confirmed DOT study timeline. The Druid Hill Complete Streets project will bring together diverse neighborhood groups to shape the upcoming improvements around the park, empowering communities to claim our public spaces through creative city planning and public art interventions.

The Big Jump Towards Druid Hill Park Access

180816 Big Jump Madison Ave entrance

180816 Big Jump Madison Ave entrance

Listen: Urban Planning History and Park Access in Druid Hill Park, Graham Coreil-Allen, Maryland Humanities podcast, August 30, 2018

If you’ve recently visited Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, you may have encountered a long row of orange and white plastic Jersey barriers running along the Druid Park Lake Drive and across the 28th Street Bridge. This is the Big Jump Baltimore shared-use path. Championed by local residents like myself, 7th District Councilman Leon Pinkett, Baltimore City Department of Transportation, and Bikemore, this temporary project counteracts decades of highway expansion with a protected space for pedestrians, wheelchair riders, and bicyclists to connect with green space, school, and jobs. Those of us living in West Baltimore certainly need it as for the past seventy years, walking or bicycling to Druid Hill Park has proven prohibitively dangerous. As a local resident and public artist, I’ve been working with neighbors on creating public art along the Big Jump pathway to make it safer for all people to enjoy the cultural and public health benefits of Druid Hill Park.

160706 Auchentoroly Terrace Druid Hill Park 8 lanes wide

Half of residents around Druid Hill Park do not own cars. So why does the area feel like a suburban highway? From the 1940s through the 1960s, car-focused transportation projects drastically changed the face of the park. The city’s goal was faster commute times for downtown workers living in the suburbs. Back then the surrounding neighborhoods of Reservoir Hill and Mondawmin were largely Jewish and African American communities. Proposed in 1945, the “Druid Hill Expressway” would convert Druid Hill Avenue and McCulloh Street to one-way thoroughfares connecting with a widened and extended Auchentoroly Terrace. By 1947 the highway plans had sparked a robust public debate

When the “Druid Hill Expressway” was proposed, NAACP Labor Secretary Clarence Mitchell Jr. argued that increased traffic speeds through westside neighborhoods would imperil black residents effectively barred by racist real estate practices from moving to the very suburbs that the highway would serve. Shaarei Tifoloh synagogue Rabbi Nathan Drazin expressed concern that traffic would endanger children attending Hebrew school as well as the throngs of congregants who traditionally walked down the middle of Auchentoroly Terrace during the high holy days.

Despite local outcry over the expressway plans, the three local council members were asked by area political boss James Pollack to ignore the opposition of their constituents and support of the “city wide” highway effort. In those days Pollack’s Trenton Democratic Club ran a political machine that effectively picked and elected all northwest Baltimore politicians. While the councilman had local independence, they dared not to cross Pollack over issues he considered important to the city at large. It didn’t hurt that the soon-to-be widened Auchentoroly Terrace just happened to end at Anoka Avenue – the calm, tree-lined street that Mr. Pollack called home. [Hat tip to my neighbor Dr. Daniel Hindman for discovering the connection to Pollack’s home.]  In the end, the councilmen appeased the local political machine and voted in favor of cutting down over 250 trees in Druid Hill Park to make room for widening Auchentoroly terrace into a highway flushing cars in and out of the central city at the expense of safe park access for west side residents.

Just a few years later Reservoir Hill residents in on the south side of the park found themselves facing a similar fate. In 1951 Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. proposed the Jones Falls Expressway. Druid Park Lake Drive would need to be expanded to serve as a feeder road to this new highway. Ensuing years of residents’ protests were ignored and construction began in 1956. Completion of the 1948 Druid Hill Expressway and 1963 Jones Falls Expressway resulted in the widening of Auchentoroly Terrace and Druid Park Lake Drive. Two-lane, park-front residential streets became dangerous five-to-nine-lane-wide highways difficult for people to traverse on foot, and virtually impossible to cross for wheelchair riders. These expressways literally paved the way for white flight while cutting off the surrounding working class African American and Jewish neighborhoods from the park. A park once served by over 20 footpath entrances is now only equipped with merely five sets of badly deteriorated, nearly invisible crosswalks.

2018 Druid Hill Park highways

Structurally racist urban planning decisions to build highways around Druid Hill Park made it difficult for the existing majority working class, people of color living in Auchentoroly Terrace, Mondawmin, Penn North, and Reservoir Hill to enjoy the park’s public health benefits, including exercise, cultural gatherings, healthy food, and clean air. The Health Department’s 2017 Neighborhood Health Profiles shows that the majority lower income, African American communities around the park have some of the city’s highest mortality rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Census data also shows that nearly half of neighbors around the park do not have access to cars. As pedestrians, wheelchair riders, transit users, and people who rely on bicycles, neighbors deserve priority access to the park.

180816 Big Jump pedestrian

Seventy years after the first highway was built around Druid Hill Park there is now a movement afoot to rethink how these barrier roadways can become connectors enabling more equitable access to our historic, 714 acre green space. In 2017, Councilman Pinkett convened the Druid Hill Park Stakeholders group to counteract years of urban planning that prioritized cars over the public health and economic opportunity of residents. We are pushing for “complete streets” to safely connect our neighborhoods with Druid Hill Park. Complete streets are designed and operated to be safe and accessible for all, including pedestrians, children, seniors, mobility users, transit riders, and bicyclists. Earlier this year Baltimore City Department of Transportation agreed to conduct a corridor study that has the exciting potential to address our community’s concerns. Leading up to this study, a newly created, temporary shared-use path now connects Reservoir Hill and Remington. The Big Jump Baltimore pathway previews what life could be like if we privileged privileged all people, not just outside car commuters.

180816 Big Jump vinyl signage Remington

With the Big Jump temporary infrastructure now in place, myself and other residents and artists are adding public art enhancements making the trail more visible and usable for neighbors. In close collaboration with Bikemore, we’ve designed and installed creative wayfinding to show that the Big Jump Baltimore pathway is for everyone. Wayfinding consists of any number of sensory cues, such as signs, maps, textures and sounds, that provide travelers with orientation and possible paths. The Big Jump logo was designed by Danielle Parnes on behalf of Bikemore, with icon input from myself. I then adapted the logo to serve as pathway signage and wayfinding. For the Big Jump path we designed a street-sign-inspired logo featuring icons of the trail’s many different active uses, including but not limited to walking, wheelchair riding, bicycling dog walking, and skateboarding. We then went to our local makerspace Open Works and used their special equipment to cut the signage and icons out of adhesive backed, colorful vinyl. We used this cut vinyl to label and decorate the plastic jersey barriers so that both pedestrian and passing motorist can understand the purpose of the pathway.

180816 Big Jump Eutaw Pl entrance

To provide wayfinding for people not in cars we made our own set of large scale street stencils highlighting the pathway primary uses – walking, wheelchair riding, and bicycling. With these stencils we boldly marked the pathway as an active place for people. We also made several different footprint cutouts representing the people and creatures that travel daily between Druid Hill Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Stenciled with colorful traffic paint, these footprint trails visually lead residents from surrounding blocks to safe access points for the Big Jump Baltimore pathway and Druid Hill Park.

180816 Big Jump side street stencil wayfinding Eutaw Pl

Local residents deserve priority access to Druid Hill Park. The Big Jump Baltimore shared use pathway shows that through low cost traffic projects, public art and community collaboration we can make immediate positive impact on the lives of our neighbors. For the first time in over 50 years wheelchair riders and people who rely on bicycles to get to work can actually cross the Jones Falls Expressway. More work needs to be done, but the Big Jump is a step in the right direction towards reconnecting our neighborhoods with Druid Hill Park. Starting in 2019 Baltimore City DOT will be conducting a roadway alignment study through which residents will have the opportunity to shape how the city converts the dangerous highways around Druid Hill Park into “complete streets”: streets safe and accessible for all, including pedestrians, children, seniors, mobility users, transit riders, and bicyclists. In the meantime, it’s up to us take advantage of the Big Jump pathway while to creatively envisioning how our neighborhoods will one day reconnect with Druid Hill Park.

180830 Big Jump father and son bicyclists, photo by Brian O'Doherty www.odohertyphoto.com

Big Jump father and son bicyclists, 9/26/18, photo by Brian O’Doherty

180830 Big Jump Walking Tour with Graham & Ms Dee, photo by Brian O'Doherty

Big Jump Walking Tour 9/26/18 with Graham & Ms Dee, photo by Brian O’Doherty www.odohertyphoto.com

Listen to a version of this story on the Maryland Humanities Podcast: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-cwqjv-9886f5

Click here to see more photos of Big Jump wayfinding: https://grahamprojects.com/projects/big-jump-wayfinding

Learn more about the Big Jump: https://www.bikemore.net/bigjump

Group photos courtesy of Brian O’Doherty: https://www.odohertyphoto.com

Read related letters to the editor by community leaders:

Op-Ed: Pinkett: We must make Druid Hill Park accessible, Leon Pinkett, Baltimore City 7th District City Councilman, Baltimore Sun, July 5, 2018

Op-Ed: Right a past wrong by opening access to Druid Hill Park, Daniel Hindman, Medical Doctor, Baltimore Sun, October 17, 2018

Op-Ed: Asphalt arteries cut off communities from Druid Hill Park, Davin Hong, Architect, Baltimore Sun, June 8, 2017