Maryland Avenue, waterproof gateway to Cambridge

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper The Herringbone brick-pattern section of the roadway will serve as a bicycle lane and drainage system.

CAMBRIDGE — Maryland Avenue, the first light after the bridge, is the turn off US Route 50 that leads into the heart of Cambridge. So why does much of the tourist traffic zip right by with no notion of the pleasures and treasures of our small city? If drivers flipped on their right turn signal and headed downtown, the tourists might discover the lovely riverside at Long Wharf, with working watermen’s boats, graceful sailboats, and a lighthouse. They would find brick-paved historic streets, museums, shops with personality, restaurants with variety, in short, the soul of Cambridge.
But there has been little or nothing to induce the unknowing traveler to try that turn … until now. The orange cones and construction vehicles announce that change is underway. City officials and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy have embarked on a makeover for this Gateway street, a makeover such as the ones that turn a before plain-Jane into an attractive after-Jane.
Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley says “The City Council is committed to enhancing the entryways and improving the function for all travelers.” Donna Towers, a local resident says, “Cambridge deserves not just an attractive street, it deserves fabulous.” And that, Ms. Towers and the rest of the city’s 12,000 residents, is what the planners say you will be getting.
Besides becoming more attractive, you can see Maryland Avenue right now transforming into a ”Green Street.” The old impervious concrete sidewalk has been carried away and replaced by “pervious” (porous) concrete. City engineer Brent Jett says rainwater runoff now dumps nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into the creek, but with porous concrete it will be filtered before entering the creek. How does concrete do that? Mr. Jett says the concrete has a consistency similar to a Rice Krispie Treat, a non-engineering terminology that we can swallow. He invited this doubter to pour water on the new hard concrete and watch it disappear. He’s right. He says snow will also disappear without chemicals. Good for the creek, good for the Choptank, good for the bay.
Maryland Avenue will also be a “Complete Street,” a term used to describe a street fashioned to serve all kinds of users, cars, bikes, foot traffic too. Bumpouts, (semicircular protrusions) will narrow the street to slow down traffic, making it safer for people crossing the street and for bikers who will have a designated lane, framed by a herring-bone pattern of bricks covering another runoff filtering system. For pedestrians, there’s a pleasant sidewalk on each side of the avenue, with something to look at.
The bumpouts themselves will be little pockets of colorful plantings, with a drain underneath that will serve in the event of heavy rain. They too will siphon water into soil-filtering before it hits the creek. The planting will take place in the spring because now it’s too late in the season.
So who’s paying for this project? The figure that’s been talked about is a million dollars. Whose money? Five different grants, both public and private funds
• National Fish and Wildlife Fund $75,000
• Community Legacy (streetscapes and crosswalks) $31,000
• MDOT (bike lanes and bike/pedestrian safety) $44,000
• Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund $75,000
• Maryland Department of Natural Resources $886,000
The total is just over a million. The contribution from the City of Cambridge is the time of the employees who have been active in the project which is expected to extend to three blocks. Maintenance in the future will partly rely on homeowners and community groups but according to the City Engineer, the city has made a commitment to ensure maintenance.
It’s difficult to anticipate just how the transformation will affect Cambridge, but as Commissioner Robbie Hanson says, “We’re not trying to be St. Michaels, we have our own relevant heritage, a genuine history of farming, manufacturing and seafood, and we must enhance our presentation to attract business and tourism.” City Engineer Brent Jett says the fully funded project is on budget and on schedule. The project is a leap of faith. Remember “Build it. They will come.”?

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Work will be finishing on the project for the winter in deference to the cold weather.

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