A Pedway to Nowhere

Recently on a walk to Druid Hill Park, I spot from a distance a large piece of infrastructure that I have never noticed before: a pedestrian walkway that starts on the 28th St. overpass and zig zags down to I-83. I am puzzled because it appears to alight on a narrow median between freeway and busy onramp. Where could this thing go? Might it be a way to get somewhere, over to Remington perhaps or down to Jones Falls? Seems unlikely. So what is the point of this structure?

I’m delighted to have something new to check out, so the next day I return and head to the 28th St. overpass. On the way I return again to the question of where this pedway could possibly go and start to think it would probably be barricaded and closed off, left standing only because budget constraints didn’t allow for its demolition, the kind of legacy neglect you see quite a bit in Baltimore.

I get to the entrance to the walkway and find it unblocked. It appears to be open for business. I start to stroll down the ramp, still having no idea what I’m walking towards exactly.  As I descend further into the noise, the vibe of the place changes and my defensive systems kick in. The place seems a tad dangerous now, with only one way back up (other than across lanes of freeway traffic), and a lot of disorienting noise and wind. Yet at the same time I am wary of being the intruder, venturing into a space that may or may not be occupied.

I could see down to the end of the last ramp now, and indeed it appears to end on a small island between I-83 and the onramp. I overcome my reservations (the place’s danger was still only about a 3 on my scale of 1 to 5), and proceed down the walkway. When I reach the bottom the noise is deafening, reassuring me that no one could possibly live down here.

The island is big enough for a large pillar supporting the 28th Street overpass and a few square yards of urban jungle. In futile good faith, I circumnavigate the area to be sure I’m not missing a continuation of the path. The median continues to the north but there is no path and it’s too overgrown to proceed any further.

I can find a reason to linger just about anywhere, but this poor little scrap of earth is repelling my best efforts to appreciate it. I have arrived at few places so inhospitable. There isn’t much to see, nowhere to sit, and the noise is awful. Couldn’t even stage a Beckett production down here. So I take a few pictures and start to head back up, trying to make sense of my ‘discovery’.

It’s not just the noise and location of the place on my mind. It’s a feeling of disorientation that I had been led to this dead end by a big piece of city infrastructure. The garden at the bottom is like the punch line of an urban planner’s practical joke. It seems the place is not just neglected but forgotten, in an administrative way. Are they going tear this thing down? Did they just forget? Isn’t it considered dangerous to have this area open? Is any one paying attention to this kind of thing around here?

As a passerby and resident, how do I feel about this pedway that deposits me on a dead-end median next to I-83? Is it part of a benign post-industrial playground? Maybe it’s an amenity, this 28th St. Overpass Pocket Garden. Or is it menacing somehow, an omen or ticking time bomb? Is this joke annoying, creepy, or dark? Funny, or sad?

I am starting to catch on that this is a frequent dilemma for Baltimore residents. We have to take in legacies both beneficial and poisonous as we try to stay connected with the place’s obvious potential.

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