Cross Street in Federal Hill Reopens to Vehicular Traffic

| February 27, 2024 | 0 Comments

Backed with signatures from Federal Hill businesses, the Federal Hill Main Street (FHMS) board voted unanimously last year in favor of reopening the north side of the unit block of E. Cross St. to vehicular traffic. The street was closed and made pedestrian-only in 2020 in response to indoor COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants and retail businesses.

The street was reopened to vehicular traffic the Baltimore City Department of Transportation last week.

Federal Hill Neighborhood Association (FHNA) President Zac Blanchard told that the association “never considered voting on the issue, since Cross St had largely been the focus of FHMS, but noted a vote likely would’ve been for keeping the street pedestrian-only. FHNA and FHMS are teaming up to submit a grant request to fund a public space study of the area around Cross Street Market.”

Here are some reactions to this possibility in December after this vote was taken.

Federal Hill Main Street

Earlier this week, a petition was released to the community about the reopening of Cross Street to cars. It claimed that the decision to reopen the street would, “Hurt local businesses who currently use that space for outdoor seating.” As the owners of these local businesses, we would have loved to have been asked our thoughts about this before the release of the petition to the community. Unfortunately, we weren’t. So we’re here to explain to you all – our community, our neighbors, and our customers – why we’d like to see Cross Street reopened for now.

To our Federal Hill community,

We would like to take a moment to address the recent decision to reopen Cross Street to traffic. We understand that this issue has sparked diverse opinions, and we want to assure you – our neighbors and customers – that your concerns are important to us. We also want to clarify the reasons why opening Cross Street is the best decision for now.

Our request to reopen Cross Street was not one we made lightly. We have collectively fought for three years to make the space a place that the community can gather and our businesses can thrive. Unfortunately, our business community has not experienced outcomes that support the continued closure of the street. Our reasons for requesting that the street be reopened to cars are twofold:

  1. Expense to maintain closure
  2. Lack of consistent use of the street by the community

We’d like to thoroughly address each point so that the community can understand our collective decision making process.

Expense to maintain closure

Like most capital projects, the closure of Cross Street has been expensive. Individual businesses have invested their own money into cleaning and greening efforts to make the street more appealing. Federal Hill Main Street has written grants for hundreds of thousands of dollars to support cleaning, greening, beautification, and waste management. The city has provided grants to individual businesses for external improvements. We’ve put a lot of resources into Cross Street – and we often hear that it looks terrible. We agree. We’re not happy, either. The current closure has trapped us in a cycle of seeking funding to maintain and improve the street.

We often hear that time is money. As businesses, we believe that both time and money reflect the priorities of a community. Right now, Cross Street is receiving far more than its fair share. Our business district is large and we have limited resources. We’d love to address other improvements in other parts of the district – improved tree pits and planters, additional lighting, and public art projects are all things we’d love for our community. Unfortunately, funding for projects like these is a finite resource. At this time, we don’t have a wealthy corporate benefactor or access to substantial government funding, so our efforts are piecemeal – and they’re not working effectively for any part of the business district.

Lack of consistent use

We have heard the community say that Cross Street is a space they use often. As the business owners on the street day-in and day-out, we can assure you that this is not our reality.

We love to see the community come out for specific events like the farmer’s market and other festivals. These large events will continue on the street with permits from the Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, when there isn’t a streetwide community event, Cross Street is nearly empty the vast majority of the time. The lack of daily foot traffic isn’t just a problem for our bottom line, it also results in other negative outcomes. Cross Street has become a destination for illegal drug use on weekdays in the morning and afternoon. Enforcement of this issue by city agencies and departments has been nearly nonexistent, making business owners feel unsafe in our community.

We want to acknowledge the valid concerns raised by some residents. Like most issues facing our city, there are no quick fixes or simple answers. We understand that the situation on the ground may not be the same in six months, a year, or five years. We’re willing to be flexible and adaptable and work with the community to find common ground. We want pedestrian spaces, but Cross Street as it stands today isn’t that space. We lack the consistent funding and foot traffic to make it successful.

Many of our businesses have been in this community for over ten years. Our continued existence is the direct result of your support and our community’s collective ability to embrace change. We’ve weathered severe storms, recessions, and a pandemic together. We’d ask you to walk with us through this next change, too.

With gratitude and respect,

Federal Hill Main Street
Abbey Burger Bistro
Blue Moon Cafe
Cross Street Public House
Federal Hill Fitness
Fenwick’s Choice Meats
One Star Country Club
Pandora’s Box
Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse
Steve’s Lunch
The Well

Federal Hill Resident Ben Aronson started a petition to “Urge Federal Hill Main Street to Keep Cross St Pedestrian-Only” that garnered 843 signatures. From the petition:

As a resident of the neighborhood and a frequent visitor of E Cross St, I am deeply concerned about the decision to open this valuable community space to cars. This area serves as an essential third space for young families, nightlife enthusiasts, and farmers market attendees. The safety of bar patrons and concert goers is also at risk with this decision.

E Cross St has been a pedestrian-only zone that has fostered community interaction and provided a safe environment for various activities. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), pedestrian fatalities account for 17% of all traffic fatalities in urban areas like ours. By opening E Cross St to cars, we are potentially increasing this risk.

Furthermore, research by Gehl Architects suggests that pedestrian-friendly streets can enhance local economies by encouraging more foot traffic and time spent in local businesses. Therefore, keeping E Cross St car-free not only ensures safety but could also contribute positively towards our local businesses.

We urge Federal Hill Main Street to reconsider their decision based on these concerns raised by residents like myself who value our communal spaces’ safety and vitality over convenience for motorists. Please sign this petition if you agree that E Cross St should remain a pedestrian-only zone.

Councilman Eric T. Costello:

I agree that a closed E Cross St has immense benefit to the community however, there have been several challenges with effectively maintaining this closure without detriment to our local small businesses.

Recognizing the value of these community spaces that are pedestrian friendly, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic it became abundantly clear for the need to think and act creatively to ensure we did everything possible to save restaurants across the City. As co-chair of Mayor Young’s Small Business Recovery Task Force, I led the effort to initiate the Design for Distancing program, which included this closure, among 15 other locations citywide. My office also led the design of the Outdoor Seating Relief Program (sidewalk dining) and the Outdoor Dining Street Closure Program (parklets). Programming on E Cross St has been successful in some instances, due primarily to the tireless efforts of the FHMS Executive Director, board members, volunteers, and our small businesses.

However, it has not been without its challenges. Unfortunately, the current situation has become untenable for our small businesses and unsustainable for FHMS. I am grateful to FHMS and our small businesses for their hard work here, I support their position, and look forward to continuing the conversation on how to make the area around Cross Street Market more pedestrian friendly.

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