Contributed by Greg Hinchliffe
In 2010, District 1 Baltimore City Councilman Jim Kraft approached the Department of Transportation to develop a plan addressing the increasing transportation demands in southeast Baltimore. Rather than looking exclusively at a ‘parking plan’ to increase on-street parking availability, DOT began an extensive traffic analysis and community input process to develop the Southeast Baltimore Complete Streets Master Plan (CSMP). The Complete Streets Plan not only looked at opportunities to provide reverse-angled parking, but also bike lanes, cycletracks, pedestrian improvements and reallocating pavement space for public parks.
By taking both a block-by-block and corridor-based approach, each street evaluation balanced residential preference with how the street functioned within the entire street network. After its completion, the Southeast Baltimore Complete Streets Master Plan received positive reviews from city agencies, neighborhood leaders and residents. Since then however, none of the recommendations in the plan have been implemented. Despite crafting the master plan, Department of Transportation ignored the recommendations and continued accommodating city streets only for automobile traffic and parking.
The first bike infrastructure casualty of auto proliferation and parking was on Bank Street in Highlandtown, an integral part of the signed “Greektown Bike Route”, which acts as a bike boulevard-style passage from Haven Street in the east to Central Avenue in Little Italy, in conjunction with paths through Patterson Park. To complete this route, the Departments of Recreation and Parks and Transportation collaborated to construct a path within Patterson Park, connecting an existing park path to Bank Street and Ellwood Street. This designated bike route proved to be very popular with neighborhood cyclists, yet it and the proposed traffic calming improvements in the CSMP were ignored in favor of installing reverse angle parking. DOT’s Traffic Division, which oversees all traffic patterns, pavement markings and signal operations, implemented the reverse angle parking without consulting other DOT Divisions, including the city’s bicycle planner, making a portion of the route unusable. Fortunately, the bicycle planner was able to modify the route to restore continuity, although the new route is less direct and convenient.
This pattern of auto proliferation continued with the eradication of another bike boulevard-type signed route in Canton: Fait Avenue, which is a vital link in the “Brewers Hill Bike Route”. Like Bank Street, Fait Avenue was converted from a two-way bike boulevard to a one-way reverse parking corridor. The two way bike route abruptly stops without any bicycle wayfinding signs. Again, the route can be modified to restore continuity, but this has not occurred to date, leaving a confusing and possibly unsafe situation.
In a November 14th, 2013 letter, Councilman Kraft has called for a ‘new’ southeast traffic study. Even though the CSMP accounted for all planned developments in the area including Harbor Point and Canton Crossing, Mr. Kraft is calling for a new traffic study and widening Boston Street to accommodate automobile traffic. No mention is made of accommodating bicycle traffic. A true Complete Streets vision of Boston Street is planned to coincide with Red Line improvements, but that project will not be complete for almost a decade. Pressuring City Hall to bump up the widening of Boston Street without any accommodation of bicyclists threatens the intent of the CSMP to make what could be most bikeable area of the city into the least hospitable environment for bikes.
As the average rowhome in Southeast Baltimore is typically narrower than the length of an automobile, accommodating every household with on-street parking for one or more vehicles is an unattainable goal. Similarly, we just do not have enough roadway to accommodate moving every citizen of the city and its suburbs in single occupancy motor vehicles. Providing for more walkable, bikeable and transit friendly communities is essential, and can only be achieved after the elected officials and DOT staff understand this basic spatial analysis.
Any further “improvements” to Southeast Baltimore to increase traffic flow or parking must include provision for through and local bicycling, as required by the Complete Streets Policy and Bicycle Master Plan, both of which have been enacted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor. At the least, the loss of bicycle accommodation to increase traffic flow or parking must stop. Anything else is a disservice to the present and future citizens of Baltimore.
Greg Hinchliffe is a long-time Baltimore bike pest, former chair of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and active member of the East Coast Greenway Alliance. In other words, Greg’s got serious bike-cred!
Tracking preferred bike routes in southeast Baltimore has been a challenge. Scheduled bike counts at President & Aliceanna, President & Fleet and occasionally at President & Fawn/Eastern did not reveal any higher than average traffic numbers indicating a preferred route entering downtown from Fells Point, Canton or points east. Online and in-person surveys also did not assist which corridor was preferred. Bank and Gough Streets proved good ‘bike boulevard’ routes, but only for through bike traffic heading to Butcher’s Hill or Highlandtown.
The advent of Strava has shed light on this mystery! Strava is generally used by more seasoned riders who like to track their riding statistics. Seasoned riders tend to be the 1%ers, brave and fearless cyclists. By reviewing Strava’s Race Shape heat map, a good base for where people are riding emerges. Given that premise, the below map illustrates that Fleet Street (in dark blue) is used more as a bike route well into Canton, than Aliceanna Street or Eastern Avenue. Even as Aliceanna Street is marked as a bike route, along with Fait Avenue, there’s more bike traffic on Fleet and President Streets.
With Fleet Street being the preferred east/west bike route from the Inner Harbor through Fells Point and into Canton, a few options are available for improved bicycle infrastructure.
Option #1 – of course, would to do nothing and add sharrows to the existing lane configuration.
Option #2 - With approximately 42′ of roadway space from curb to curb, adding a bike lane in one direction (likely eastbound) with a shared lane (westbound) would slightly improve bicycle level of comfort. Adding an inverse lane configuration with a westbound bike lane on Aliceanna or Eastern would be practical.
Option #3 - To centralize bicycle traffic along the Fleet Street corridor, providing more adequate bicycle facilities would be necessary. To provide two bike lanes along this length, removing on-street parking along one side of the street would be necessary.
Option #4 - If a row of on-street parking was removed to truly increase bicycle level of comfort, providing a bi-directional buffered bike lane would really do the trick. The buffer could be treated with bollards, landscaping or (like other Baltimore bike improvements) furniture and sculptures. Displaced parking could be accommodated at Canton Crossing or Eastpoint Mall where bikeshare stations or an enhanced transit hub could be established.
As the 2014 Maryland legislative session progresses, potential laws meant to benefit cyclists are loosing support while some have already been defeated. During previous successful sessions, bills were crafted after vetting from statewide advocates and state legislators before being introduced in either the House of Delegates or State Senate. This year, individual bills were introduced in a patchwork pattern, having more regional than statewide support, with many facing an early death; even before the Maryland Bicycle Symposium, where advocate support surges.
The first bicycle related bill to see defeat was House Bill 0241; which would have allowed motorists to cross a double yellow line to safety pass cyclists with the required 3 feet when safe to do. HB241 was introduced by 42nd District Delegate Stephen Lafferty, a long-time champion for cyclists’ rights in Maryland. The bill was referred to the Environmental Matters Committee where it received an ‘unfavorable’ report by a vote of 14-8. (The voting record is available online here) While the intent of the bill is to increase cyclists safety, Maryland drivers may not be ready for this bill. Double yellow center lines are installed primarily for lack of sight distance on roads.
Instead of passing a law that will likely meet resistance from insurance companies and bewilderment from motorists, a public service announcement should be produced with an emphasis on roadway patience. Some tag lines to consider: .
“I’ll be out of your way in just a few seconds”
“Is my life worth a minute of your time?”
“Thanks for your patience! My kids appreciate having their dad home safely”
“I’m trying to get to work too. I’m just going a little slower” (and not supporting big oil in the process)
House Bill 0092 sponsored by 11th District Delegate Jon Cardin is another bill that has received little to no support. HB0092 would have required motorists to pass cyclists with a minimum of 4 feet, up from the legal 3 feet. Like HB0241, this bill was referred to the Environmental Matters committee and received an unfavorable report by a vote of 22-0! Passing distance is relative to speed, vehicle size and roadway context. 3′ is plenty of space for a compact car passing a cyclists at 30 mph or less. 12′ is not enough space when a tractor trailer passes as cyclists at 50 mph. Traffic situations aside, several legislators did not support this bill because “what more are [cyclists] going to ask for?” With the 3′ law just passing a couple years ago, why the need for an extra foot this year? While there be a 5′ Bill next year? Additionally, with all the media produced by state agencies informing motorists of the 3′ Law, a complete revamping of this media would be needed if a 4′ bill passed. This bill, more than any other in recent years, has caused bike supporting legislators to question the intent of cyclists legislative requests.
Another bill that’s managed to survive is House Bill 0052 introduced by 18th District Delegate Al Carr. HB0052 intents to modify existing law by stating: “Every person operating a bicycle or a motor scooter in a public bicycle area HAS all the rights granted to and is subject to all the duties, AND ONLY THE DUTIES, required of the driver of a vehicle…” This means that a cyclist is granted the same rights and responsibilities as other roadway users (including obeying those laws) and nothing more. With this law in place, police and insurance companies would provide the same rights to cyclists. Insurance company could therefore no longer deny a cyclist’s claim who had been doored because they were riding ‘too far to the right.’ This bill would also help minimize faulty police reporting of bike-involved accidents, like that of Jack Yates and Henry Densmore. Facing a potential unfavorable report in the House Environmental Matters committee, this bill has survived by being reintroduced as Senate Bill 0808 by 10 District Senator Jamie Raskin. This bill will be heard by the Judicial Proceedings committee on Friday, February 28th.
House Bill 0530 introduced by 12A District Delegate James Malone and Senate Bill 0520 introduced by 13th District Senator James Robey are essentially the same bill which allows cyclists to operate on a roadway with a posted speed limit exceeding 50 mph. While many cyclists prefer not to bike on these types of roadways, sometimes its necessary. With these bills, utilizing a shoulder for biking will be allowed. HB0530 received a favorable report from the House Environmental Matters Committee and is likely to pass.
Other bike-related bills are making their way through Annapolis like House Bill 0205 and Senate Bill 0378 which clarify the difference between electric bicycles and mopeds. These bills will be important as electric bicycles become more popular and enable cyclists greater range of travel.
At the end of the 2014 legislative session, Bike Maryland has proposed a closure meeting to discuss this year’s wins and losses and plan for the 2015 session. Holding this type of meeting will identify strengths and flaws in bills’ processes and language while helping to galvanize bike supporters.
Look for a recap of these bills after the end of the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session.
The City of Baltimore Department of Transportation recently installed a plethora of new bike racks. These are the first of 500 racks that were purchased through a Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ) grant. Look for these new bike racks at
- DuBurns Arena – 1301 S. Ellwood Ave.
- 720 S Montford LLC
- Long & Foster – 1210 Light St.
- Messiah Lutheran Church – 1035 S. Potomac St.
- Green & Healthy Homes Initiative – 2714 Hudson St
- Beadazzle – 501 N. Charles St.
- Federal Hill – 1011 Light St.
- Federal Hill Eye Care – 1029 Light St.
- City Limits – 1700 E. Fort Ave.
- Ace Hardware – 1022 Binney St.
- Peters Inn – 504 S. Ann St.
- Smaltimore – 2522 Fait Ave.
- Fork & Wrench – 2322 Boston St.
Baltimore County’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) is seeking community input to help identify the next round of pedestrian and bicycle projects to be targeted for implementation. Members of the public are invited to voice their preferences on which projects to fund at a Citizen Input Meeting to be held:
Tuesday, March 11 at 5 p.m.
Jefferson Building Hearing Room (Room 104)
105 West Chesapeake Avenue
Towson, MD 21204
The PBAC is looking for projects that will provide County citizens with the greatest benefit at the lowest cost, using state, federal, and private grants. Projects should have been recommended by Baltimore County’s Eastern and Western Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plans.
As the brutal winter of 2014 showed signs of waning yesterday, people took advantage of the semi-springlike temps to get on their bikes. On a leisure ride myself yesterday, the following people on bikes were observed:
- mom and son taking an easy ride on Loch Raven Drive
- mountain bikers at the Seminary Trailhead having 2nd thoughts about riding (no way trails are ready yet)
- smiling solo cyclist powering east on Seminary
- another smiling solo cyclist waiting to go north on Thorton
- yet another smiling solo cyclist nothbound on Thornton
- 3 guys out for a social ride with what looked like full panniers heading east on Joppa Road
- team of 3 jerseyed riders flying down Bellona
- a family of 4 out for a leisure spin around the ponds at Springlake
- numerous riders on commuter bikes heading south on St. Paul
- a fat tire bike and a low rider salmoning on Fleet Street
- kids cleaning off their bikes on Mannasota
If all these riders are out in late February, this bodes well for Baltimore’s 2014 riding season
Tour dem Parks, Hon! is Sunday, June 8th, 2014. This annual bike ride through Baltimore’s parks and neighborhoods offers a close-up view of regional parks like Carroll, Patterson, Clifton and Druid Hill, as well as some quietly tucked away gems. Participants choose from 4 routes: 14 miles (the family ride on the Gwynn’s Falls Trail), 25 miles, 35 miles, or a metric century (64 miles). All rides start and end in Carroll Park.
Proceeds support Baltimore’s parks, as well as environmental, “friends of parks”, and cycling groups. Tour dem Parks, Hon! is fully supported with rest stops and ends with a jazz barbeque. Visit the new website and register today!
Bikemore & the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are collaborating on a Bicycle Attitudes Study, specifically aimed at those who do not ride bicycles.
There’s a lot of data available about what cycling people want. This survey will help to determine what measures might make someone want to ride, but who doesn’t currently ride, without asking them?
Please share this survey with those who currently do not bike in Baltimore