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5 things you didn’t know about living Car Free in Mt. Vernon

Today’s guest post comes from Paul Day, enthused yuppie, transit cheerleader, and Most Distinguished Scholar of Sociology at Towson University. He’s a Mt. Vernon resident who lives a largely car free lifestyle. The driving force in Paul’s life is a commitment to urban living, which he says “is more patriotic than the alternatives”. “Being car-free for me is part of the larger protest against suburban living.” says Paul who has lived car-free all over Maryland, from the rural backwaters of Hagerstown, to the sprawling suburban dullopolis of Frederick.


Mt. Vernon

You probably think that the Mt. Vernon neighborhood is a paradise for the car free. Truth be told, there are other neighborhoods that offer a more comfortable car free lifestyle. Here are 5 things holding Mt. Vernon back…

  1. Too many vehicles. Congestion is pretty bad in Mt. Vernon, particularly for pedestrians who have to cross many busy streets to get downtown. Unlike Bolton Hill, which has plenty of two-way streets with stop signs, Mt. Vernon can be a dangerous place for pedestrians and cyclists commuting to work downtown or anywhere else.
  2. Expensive restaurants, grocery shopping. Other than Eddies, which is expensive and lacks selection, there are no grocery stores in Mt. Vernon. The Superfresh on Charles Street Downtown is pretty crappy and has limited hours. There are also plenty of places to eat out, but few places worth trying that are both cheap and good. You’ll be spending a lot more on food and eating out living in Mt. Vernon. Some say it’s worth it, and they might be right.
  3. State Center and Cultural Center. It’s the most transit-oriented place that is completely unwalkable. To access the light rail or the Metro means crossing some pretty dangerous traffic on Martin Luther King and Howard Streets. It’s a trek up to State Center Metro, which you can take downtown.
  4. Tiny apartments. The apartments are tiny in Mt. Vernon and there is a lack of decent two bedrooms, so where are you going to store your bike? My wife’s bike is out on the fire escape.
  5. It’s not a party on the weekends. Unlike Fells Point, Charles Village, Harbor East, or Belvedere Square, Mt. Vernon is relatively dead most of the time as it lacks a really vibrant main street. There’s more activity when there’s a concert in the square or Gay Pride, but other than that it’s pretty subdued. You’ll find yourself venturing out of the neighborhood to be in the center of it.

But here are the perks of Mt. Vernon: lots of bus access, the Charm City Circulator, lots of young professionals, diversity, a huge selection of fine dining, great architecture and history, the square, and it’s in walking distance to the downtown.

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  • Youssef

    I never considered how difficult it would be to buy food in Mt. Vernon without a car. My new apt is 3 blocks from a Safeway, which is a huge improvement over being 4 blocks from the Harbor East Whole Wallet. The one claim here I would dispute is that Charles Village has a better night life than Mt. Vernon. Both are pretty dead, unless of course you like getting completely trashed with a bunch of college kids at a dive bar every weekend (there's nothing wrong with that once in a while but it hardly qualifies as a comprehensive night life).

  • Markkkk

    The Charles St. Superfresh is so tiny I run into people head on with my shopping cart everytime I'm there. Maybe I'm just a bad shopping cart driver?

    In the neighborhoods defense, though, Brewers Art is one of the best bars around.

  • Dukiebiddle

    Having been a Mt. Vernon resident for 12 years, car-free for 8 years, and a transport cyclist for 4 years, I will disagree respectfully on some points:

    “Mt. Vernon can be a dangerous place for pedestrians and cyclists” Do you mean perception-of-danger dangerous or high statistical rate of collision dangerous? Uptown/Downtown I never have conflict with motorists as either a pedestrian or a cyclist in Mt. Vernon, regardless of number of one-way streets, although I seem to constantly have conflict problems with motorists when I'm riding down St. Paul street in Charles Village. I cannot remember one single conflict with a motorist in Mt. Vernon/Belevedere, and for context I am a daily rider and ride between 75 and 130 miles a week. Guilford is almost perfect for getting downtown by bicycle. Gay Street and Fallsway are very good for getting you back uptown during daylight hours (although that could be improved and safer), and I've never had conflict coming up Charles or N. Calvert As for pedestrians, I'm not sure how Mt. Vernon could be considered dangerous either. It is simply a matter of waiting for the crosswalks. Perhaps right turns on red should be outlawed throughout the neighborhood (I would support this) which would eliminate 100% of potential conflicts between drivers and pedestrians, given that the drivers would follow the law, which admittedly isn't a given.

    Grocery stores: As a pedestrian I would have to say that I agree. As a cyclist, I completely disagree. Superfresh and Safeway are within a 1 mile radius. Superfresh, Safeway, 2 Giants, Wholefoods and 2 SFW's are within a 3 mile radius. I prefer to do my grocery shopping uphill (downhill all the way home) as Safeway, Giant and SFW. The one shortcoming of the Mondawmin Mall SFW is the one block Gwynns Falls Parkway connector between Mondawmin Mall and Druid Hill Park is uphill, too fast, too wide, too ghetto and a bit too harrowing for a cyclist. I would love to see some DOT shared streets planning on that stretch of road. *wink wink nudge nudge blog owner*

    Expensive restaurants: Really? Dukem, Helmond, Thairish, Thai Landing and the Indian Restaurants all seem competitively priced to me. As do the bar fare at the Stable and Doughertys. I'm not sure what neighborhoods have less expensive restaurants.

    Tiny Apartments: I don't think I've ever been in a tiny apartment in Mt. Vernon. In fact, all the apartments seem larger than the apartments in charles village, federal hill, canton and fells points that I've lived in and visited. Cut up brownstones and townhouses seem to make larger apartments than cut up rowhomes that you find in most other Baltimore neighborhoods. My apartment is quite large, 800+ sq foot 1 bedroom. There are 35 units in my building that are similarly large.

    Public transportation at State/Cultural Centers: State Center Subway: totally agree. Do they still close that station down hours before the rest of the system? It is truly bizarre that they intentionally limit neighborhood use of the subway for Mt. Vernon/Belvedere/Bolton Hill that way and try to make it ONLY an entry point for State Center employees. Not that I've even bothered checking for years. A complete waste of a subway stop, and yes, it is quite tiresome waiting to cross MLK and Howard street to cross into the Bolton Hill to use it. As for the light rail at Cultural Center and at MICA, what is the problem with them? There are no major road crossings to get to those stops and trains from both lines stop there once every ten minutes. Those light rail stations are the very definition of walkability.

    It's not a party on the weekends: THANK GOD! There are reasons I left Fells Points/Federal Hill. The fewer undergraduates and early 20something drunk-n-hookup-crew urinating or vomiting on your stoop, the better your neighborhood.

  • pauldayhq

    Brewers Art is in Midtown Belvedere, not Mt. Vernon. Actually, I think Midtown is better IMO. There's a good vibe from Station North down to UB's Campus. Many of the Mica people hang out in Midtown. Mt. Vernon bars are more like drown your sorrows after work kinda places. There are a few clubs… but nothing I can afford. Mt Vernon ends at Eager Street.

  • pauldayhq

    Dive bars are awesome.

  • pauldayhq

    Right turns are precisely the problem for peds, and I'm nearly killed every day. I don't know how I do it.

    You can find a decently large apartment if you're willing to pay for it and are single. I'm not. This small town is not worth more than 800/m for a one bedroom no matter how big it is (what am I going to do with a 800SF one bedroom, anyway??). Where are all the two bedrooms? Aside from the cost, there is a short supply.

    There are plenty of cheap places to eat in Charles Village that are also good. Whatever cheap places there are in Mt. Vernon are total crap (Howards, Kyro, ect). I just want my Starbucks in the morning. Donna's in Mt. Vernon sucks, the Charles Village one is better. City Cafe seems to think that on Saturday morning, I'm too drunk to get up before 10am to get my coffee?? Where are my favorite chains… maybe I should move to the suburbs? I'd be happy with a McDonalds so I can get some cheap coffee in the morning. Yes, I am aware of the Dunkin Donuts on Madison and Fallsway. I'm also aware of Rolaids.

    You have to cross tracks to use the light rail. I think that's a dangerous situation. The light rail in general is dangerous. I've witnessed people getting run over by it on Howard Street and it's scary.
    We shouldn't have train tracks running surface level on downtown streets. It should be an elevated track. This is why a surface-level Red Line is a terrible idea. I've seen cars get hit by the light rail (or the light rail hit by cars) at that very intersection of Chase and Howard.

    I love living around college students. Might be because I'm relatively young (27), but I'm no longer single so I'm not benefiting from the proximity… I will say, to be fair, I did have a problem with the frat douches in Charles Village. Those idiots would keep me up all Sunday night.

    I just like Charles Village better because it's more college student focused and there is more affordable things to do. For some, that's a turn off. I will say that the Hopkins kids are pretty pathetic at parties. I can say that from personal experience.

    Mt. Vernon is more snooty. In the Village, I could go for a run around Wyman Park, or catch the #3 pretty easily and it would be worth it (as opposed to catching a bus in Mt. Vernon to go downtown, which I could easily outcrawl). People rave about Mt. Vernon Square, but what am I going to do there? Watch people walk their dogs? Mark jokingly said I could just run around in circles around the Washington Monument, but then I'd just look like an idiot. Mt. Vernon is for tourists and rich bachelors who appear on reality television shows.

    And if you're looking for gritty, Charles Village has won a few extra points the past few weeks. I used to look for gritty, but married life and increasing personal income has also made me a little more snobby and middle class (blah!!).

  • Jfs22000

    I want to contribute to this blog regularly but my wife won't let me…..but tonight, I rebel! My buddy who moved to the York Road corridor tried to do the right thing tonight – take a bus downtown. He was told to take the 11 to Fells because it was a great direct trip. My dear friend, who put his life on the line (this is to embellish the story) was passed by a bus tonight. He stood there waiting for public transportation while his neighbors no doubt shook their heads at this silly man. That bus road right by…..sucka

  • Jess

    DIVE BARS ARE THE BEST!!! When are we all going out? Too bad you didn't work at DOT under ny Dictatorship…..

  • Jess

    my not “ny”

  • pauldayhq

    I'm sorry your friend experienced that. The #11 is a lot like a tornado, you have no idea where it's going and when it's going to stop.

  • Dukiebiddle

    “I'm nearly killed every day.” Oh, come on now. That's a bit hyperbolic. If I cross these streets every day for 12 years without a single incident, and you are nearly killed every day, one or both of us are being disingenuous. If there is any advice I can offer it would be to always keep an eye out over your shoulder and always establish eye contact with any driver who may want to right hook into you. Eye contact is key. I should also point out that 27th, 28th, and 29th streets in Charles village are also all one way cross streets. Mt. Vernon only has a couple more one way cross streets than Charles Village.

    “You have to cross tracks to use the light rail. I think that's a dangerous situation. The light rail in general is dangerous. I've witnessed people getting run over by it on Howard Street and it's scary.
    We shouldn't have train tracks running surface level on downtown streets. It should be an elevated track. This is why a surface-level Red Line is a terrible idea. I've seen cars get hit by the light rail (or the light rail hit by cars) at that very intersection of Chase and Howard.”


    Generally dangerous or not, street level downtown street level light rail systems are well within the safety parameters of federal guidelines. They travel below 20 miles and hour, constantly ring their jingle bell whenever in the presence of pedestrians or motor vehicles, and only pass once every five minutes in either direction. By physical realities, a light rail is no more dangerous than a single road that only has a single motor vehicle pass every 5 minutes at a speed between 10 and 20 miles per hour. As a matter of context, that is actually within the parameters of dutch woonerven, which are shared streets between motorists, bicycles and playing children. A single downtown light rail train is many many times safer than a single motor vehicle on any street, be it downtown or a residential street. As for light rails being elevated, it is next to impossible nowadays to get such funding from the federal government to pay for such projects, even for metropolitan areas as small as 5 million, even lesser so for metropolitan areas of 2.5 million such as our own. It's a miracle we were granted the funding for red line that we were. All of the claims against a street level red line on Boston Street out of safety concerns are completely disingenuous. The citizens on that stretch of road are only concerned with it being an eyesore for their high real estate district. Light rails are slow and extremely predictable. Walkable streets require awareness of its citizens. Expecting the streets to not require looking before crossing is folly. How many people have you seen “run over” on Howard Street? What is the overall number of people who have been run over by the light rail in downtown over the course of the light rail's history? And how does that number compare to the number of suicides that are killed while being run over by the DC Metro system, which about a weekly occurrence? Or the number of people run over in the NY Subway system, which happens daily? Regardless, all of these numbers pale in comparison to the number of pedestrians who are struck and killed my motor vehicles in all of these cities.

    As for the cost concerns, yes, Mt. Vernon is a more expensive neighborhood than Charles Village, but some neighborhoods are more expensive than others everywhere. The issue of cost and walkability are not directly related. But some neighborhoods have higher social desirability to different demographics. Charles Village may be more attractive socially to professional mid-twenty married couple who still enjoy being surrounded by a university environment, while Mt. Vernon may be more attractive to a MICA graduate or what have you; but again, these distinctions between the two neighborhoods have little to do with being car-free. Both have very good bus routes.

    Now, I can understand the acknowledgment that Mt. Vernon has better access to transportation alternatives like the Circulator, the Light Rail, and (theoretically) the Subway, but as a professional mid-twenty married couple the neighborhood doesn't do it for you socially, and lacks a really big grocery store (Circulator + granny cart + Superfresh is an option). But most of your issues don't really seem to have much to do with living car-free, and seem to have more to do with feeling that the neighborhood isn't your flavor.

  • mark

    We should be able to hold our heads up high and wait for bus. Even if our attempts fail. Even if it passes us by. Maybe some things in life just aren't meant to be (like a predictable #11).

    You, my friend, should also be able to proudly contribute to my blog with or without your wife's permission!

  • Mark

    Elevated rail lines? Welcome to 1930! At grade LR tracks are pretty standard and well within fed regulations. Pretty much every new transit line in the world is using on street light rail tracks – some even in way more dense downtowns than ours.

    Howard St is a clusterfck, but this has a lot to do with the track alignment within the ROW – parallel traffic lanes cross the tracks at crazy angles and the tracks mind-bogglingly weave from the curb to the middle of the street. I've heard folk tales and wise tales and somewhat reasonable explanations for why this happened, but the point is it needs to be fixed (hi MTA!) – transit in one dedicated lane, traffic in the others. Surface Red Line will be nothing like this, though (yea i know, it's hard to convince people that light rail can be great when people see Howard St. as our only example). light rail technology and urban design incorporating surface tracks have progressed a lot since 1990.

    For examples of how to do surface light rail right, check out Dallas' system. Or Portland. Or San Diego. pleas please please please don't let Howard St. frame your idea of light rail, hm k?

  • pauldayhq

    I'm not totally against light rail, especially as they were implemented in the examples you gave. I'm just against the way it's been implemented here on the east coast. It's not any better in Philadelphia. SEPTA's streetcars are always getting in accidents with surface traffic, pedestrians, ect…

    It's food for thought that the Red Line is going to be partially underground and significant aboveground portions in its own right-of-way.

  • Rcklasen

    I used to live here and I agree with you.

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