Turning Baltimore’s Streets Into an Indycar Track: Not So Fun for Pedestrians

Baltimore's Grand Prix Indycar race through the city streets turns sidewalks into cattle pens. Photo: Mark Brown

Road closures began early this week in Baltimore for the city’s annual Labor Day event: the Baltimore Grand Prix.

This isn’t your average marathon-day orange-cones type of street closing. The “celebration of acceleration” welcomes cars racing at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour through the heart of Baltimore, according to the organizers. Along the two-mile course, enormous reinforced fences have to be installed to ensure the safety of onlookers.

Street closures began Monday, but they escalated rapidly beginning today. All the streets won’t be reopened until 6 p.m. on September 3. Meanwhile, the Maryland DOT and race organizers insist they’re doing everything they can to minimize the impact on drivers.

But it’s a huge headache for people walking in the Charm City. Network blog Boston Streets says the event is an embarrassment on a lot of levels.

The Baltimore Grand Prix is a logistical nightmare for residents and workers. Concrete barriers and bleachers disrupt travel patterns for drivers, transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians alike for a month leading up to the event. Trees are removed in the name of cleaner sightlines. And the noise!

To make matters worse, the company that runs the Grand Prix, Baltimore Racing Development, declared bankruptcy after its first year in 2011, and left the city of Baltimore holding the bag for some of its expenses. As part of the fallout, the company never replanted the trees as promised.

The event is run by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s top campaign contributor. A source in Baltimore told Streetsblog, “Nobody within city government, or with business before city government (myself included) will trash it publicly.”

  • Don OBrien

    I love the Baltimore Grand Prix. Its so much better to see a race in an Urban Environment rather that have to head out to track way out in the sticks. All of the amenities of a city. Sure the barriers are a pain for jay walkers, but up until the race days, the intersections are open.

    The article complains about trees being cleared for sight lines. Well that happened in 2011 and had not happened again for 2012 or 2013. Its old news, and if you walk around the track today, you will still find plenty of trees. (These trees of course are not some natural forest, but just some man made landscaping, hardly an eco-disaster). They never cut down the number of trees that was initially reported, not even half.

  • Anonymous

    Even without the barriers, Baltimore is pretty hostile to pedestrians. Many drivers do not yield to pedestrians on left turns or speed through intersections just as the light turns red (or even after it’s turned red). Crosswalk markings are faded (and almost always ignored).

    I can buy that the Grand Prix brings net revenue to the state and the city, but there has got to be some alternative use of Baltimore’s real estate that would bring in as much. As I type this I’m seeing a link populated in related articles that says that streets built for pedestrians and bikes yield more jobs – and Baltimore’s streets are built for cars. We have got to take the G—–m streets back!

  • Joe R.

    With the epidemic of cars going on the sidewalks in NYC, I would actually welcome fences like that.

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