Lou Catelli stood at the corner of Elm Avenue and West 36th Street late Wednesday morning showing off his handiwork from the night before.
At the intersection were three freshly spray painted crosswalks and stop lines at the intersection Catelli painted himself. After Hampden residents and businesses grew tired of asking the city to repaint the street following a repaving this summer, Catelli decided to take matters into his own hands.
At about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, armed with some Sambuca, a striper and four cans of white spray paint bought from Falkenhan’s Hardware, Catelli went to work making the intersection safer.
“It’s for the children,” Catelli said, only partially joking.
Catelli described the intersection as "dangerous." Since the city has made it a four way stop, some drivers still don’t realize they have to halt and just cruise through. A few minutes before, while standing at the intersection, a young woman in a black car drove through without even hitting her brakes.
Catelli views his actions with a kind libertarian philosophy. He said Hampden has a diverse group of residents with a lot of talents that can be pulled together to help address the neighborhood's problems, even if it means forgoing the traditional methods of going through city government.
“The more [the neighborhood] can take care of itself the more Baltimore City will leave us alone,” Catelli said.
Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, said the city agency took a dim view of the DIY street improvement.
"This is not something we're very happy about," Barnes said.
She said residents are not permitted to do work on city streets because of liability concerns. She said the department would have to investigate whether or not it would or could take civil or criminal action against those who participated in the painting.
She said that the crosswalks are scheduled to be painted along with other lines along West 36th Street on Feb. 6, weather permitting.
Catelli said that police stopped by three separate times during the painting because of calls about "malicious property destruction." Each time he said the officers laughed and just told him to finish the project.
Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, said the Baltimore City Department of Transportation’s lack of response to merchants and residents pleading for the crosswalks and yellow striped centerlines have forced actions such as Catelli's.
“Since the city is letting us take the DIY (do it yourself) approach I think the next stop is to let the city let us start doing our own property (tax) assessments and issuing our own liquor and entertainment licenses,” Ray said. “But if the city would like to help we still have three more intersections, a bike lane and a yellow center line (to be painted). So there’s still opportunity to get involved.”
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents most of the area, said the crosswalks, centerlines and bike lanes on West 36th Street haven't been repainted because the contractor who repaved the street this summer has been unable to complete the job.
She said getting crosswalks repainted should be a top priority because there are so many schools in the area. But she said she has been told by Director Kahlil Zaied the repainting couldn't be done in cold weather. Clarke also said she sent an email warning Zaied that residents have been threatening they would take action if the city didn't act soon.
As for any repercussions for Catelli and his co-conspirators, Clarke said that was highly unlikely.
"I can't imagine such a thing. We should be thanking them and apologizing for our contractors," Clarke said.
Councilman Nick Mosby, who also represents parts of Hampden, said he's working with the department to get the street painting situation resolved. Mosby said the actions show the residents care about their community.
"It's unfortunate. I know it's very frustrating for them," Mosby said.