The Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 13, 1999
December 13, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 15


Rethinking North Charles Street

Master plan team focuses on problems and solutions on east side

By Dennis O'Shea

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

What should North Charles Street be: urban drag strip or peaceful parkway? Put the question that way, and you're not likely to get much argument against option B.

And, in fact, university staff and consultants putting together the new Homewood campus master plan are finding that most people think of the issue in just those terms. Almost everyone they've asked--Charles Village residents, students, faculty and staff, the university administration--agrees that it's time to rethink and redesign the stretch of Baltimore's main street that passes by Homewood.

"We want to think of calming traffic," said Adam Gross, principal of Ayers/Saint/Gross, the Baltimore architecture and planning firm working with the university on the campus plan. "We want to make this much more of a residential-scale street and much less of a speedway."

Until 1955, when it was moved onto campus, the Johns Hopkins Monument stood at Charles and 34th streets. Under the proposed master plan, the Hans Schuler statue could be relocated to a new median crossing that intersection. The block of 34th street between Wolman and McCoy halls, seen behind the statue, would become a bricked pedestrian mall.

The issue of Charles Street has gotten particular visibility this semester. Three separate accidents in the southbound rush-hour lane--accidents resulting in the death of a neighborhood resident and injuries to two Hopkins students--guaranteed that.

But the issue has long been on the radar screen. The Charles Village Master Plan, devised several years ago by the Charles Village Community Benefits District, proposed a number of safety-related and aesthetic changes. The university also did a study and has been in discussion with interested community groups. The city has just selected a consultant to do an engineering and landscape study of the stretch of Charles from 29th Street north to University Parkway.

And in the past two months, Charles Street has been a major focus of the "east precinct phase" of the process that will result by May in a new Homewood campus plan.

Ayers/Saint/Gross has consulted students, other on-campus constituents and community leaders and has come up with a proposal that incorporates ideas already on the table with new concepts. The highlights:

A single 30-foot-wide median strip, planted with two rows of trees, flanked by two northbound and two southbound travel lanes. To discourage cars from speeding, the travel lanes would be no more than 12 feet across, perhaps 10 or 11 feet if the city allows it.

A parking lane against the curb on either side of the street. Depending on the results of traffic studies, the southbound parking lane might be cleared for morning rush and the northbound lane opened to traffic in the evenings. But the preference is, if possible, to restrict traffic to two lanes each way all day to keep speeds down.

A bike lane on either side of the street, to connect with possible bike lanes on 33rd Street and University Parkway, and eventually with the bike lanes already in place out Roland Avenue and well into Baltimore County.

Broad sidewalks on both sides of Charles Street, with trees and other plantings.

A restoration of the historic design of Charles at 34th Street, by the university's front door. There are many elements to this proposal. It could involve reconstructing the oval that once existed there; though through traffic would drive straight across the intersection, the oval would provide drop-off zones on either side of Charles. The Johns Hopkins Monument could return to the median, where it stood from 1935 until 1955. It is now on the west side of Charles, encased in a protective box at the student arts center construction site.

Traffic lights just to the north and south of 34th Street, which would clear a stretch of several dozen yards of Charles Street during red lights and allow students to cross between the Wolman and McCoy residence halls and Eisenhower Library.

Closure of the block of 34th Street between Charles and St. Paul, creating a brick pedestrian mall between Wolman and McCoy.

Clearly defined crossing zones, paved with brick or cobblestones, at the key outlets from campus across Charles Street into Charles Village. This would enhance not only pedestrian safety but also the physical connection between Homewood and Charles Village. "What we're trying to do in each case is suggest a stronger tie-over from east to west," said landscape architect Michael Vergason, a member of the ASG team.

Reconfiguration of Art Museum Drive, by building a bridge so that its intersection with Charles Street occurs at 31st Street rather than half a block to the north. Turning this into a conventional intersection from its current free-for-all design--which pits drivers against walkers in an endless game of chicken--would significantly reduce the danger of serious accidents. There would be other benefits, among them the opportunity to reopen the connection between the ravine where the Gatehouse sits and the Wyman Park Dell. That would permit direct access from the student arts center to the dell, and complement Charles Village's own proposals for rejuvenating the park.

The proposal could change some before the master plan as a whole is adopted in May, and in any case could not be executed without agreement and funding from the city. But it does provide a starting point for discussions that the university and community are already pursuing with city planners, said Steve Campbell, the university's interim executive director of facilities management.

In the meantime, the campus plan process moves next month to a close examination of the western edge of campus, roughly from the ridge line down to San Martin Drive and beyond to Stony Run. For information on the process, see