Baltimore Bike Advocacy

Latest blog posts by Bikemore—Baltimore's bicycling advocacy organization.

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation (BCDOT), in an effort to make our city more accommodating to alternate modes of transportation, to increase bicycle mode share in Northeast Baltimore, and to calm motor vehicle traffic in a residential area, has installed parking lane-adjacent bicycle lanes on Walther Avenue between Parkside Drive and Eastern Parkway. While this is both commendable and welcome, there is still far too much aggressive and unlawful driving at certain points along Walther, which is a problem we believe can be fixed easily. Also, due to an error by the contractor that BCDOT employed to stripe the lanes, the bicycle lanes between Moravia Road and Eastern Parkway fail to live up to the “absolute minimum” safe design standards for such bicycle lanes.

We thank BCDOT for its willingness to undertake this project, and we look forward to seeing these problems corrected.

A Quick Note

First, to be clear, Bikemore supports the installation of more bicycle lanes all over Baltimore, if they are painted to the AASHTO Absolute Minimum Design Standard or wider. We believe that the benefits of even minimal bicycle lanes – more clarity for people in cars and on bicycles on where on the road each vehicle should be, calmer traffic, encouragement for new and tentative bicyclists – far outweigh the occasional downsides. The Walther Avenue bicycle lanes are not and will never be perfect for every road user in every situation, but Bikemore believes that they can be a positive community asset with a few simple but important changes.

Further, for the reasons detailed below, Bikemore encourages everyone to exercise caution when using bicycle lanes, especially on fast downhill grades. Pay attention to parked cars for signs someone might be opening a door, and be ready to stop if a door opens – DO NOT veer into moving traffic to avoid a car door!

The Bicycle Lanes

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the organization that sets the road design standards used by all transportation departments in the United States, explain the standards for parking lane-adjacent conventional bicycle lanes thusly:

When placed adjacent to a parking lane, the desirable reach from the curb face to the edge of the bike lane (including the parking lane, bike lane, and optional buffer between them) is 14.5 feet; the absolute minimum reach is 12 feet. A bike lane next to a parking lane shall be at least 5 feet wide, unless there is a marked buffer between them. Wherever possible, minimize parking lane width in favor of increased bike lane width.

AASHTO. (1999). Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.

North of Moravia Road, the bicycle lanes have an average width of only 4 feet, with the parking lane narrower than the minimum 7 feet for the majority of its length between Moravia Road and Gibbons Avenue, and their combined width being as narrow as 10 feet 3 inches.

Below is an audit of the bicycle lanes and parking lane widths between Moravia Road and Eastern Parkway. Vehicle lane widths were not recorded because the measurements could not be taken safely.

Figure 1: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Northeast. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Figure 1: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Northeast. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Figure 2: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Southwest. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Figure 2: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Southwest. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Below is a photo of the Walther Avenue bicycle lane and adjacent parking lane painted below the AASHTO minimum design standards.

[Figure 3] Approximately 5010 Walther Avenue, heading southeast

[Figure 3] Approximately 5010 Walther Avenue, heading southeast

Why the AASHTO Absolute Minimum Design Standard Matters

The door zone, the space adjacent to parallel-parked motor vehicles where a swung-open vehicle door comes into conflict with moving traffic, is a particular challenge for people on bicycles. According to Preston Tyree, former Director of Education at the League of American Bicyclists, as many as 7 percent of all bicycle-involved crashes are door zone crashes, and they pose an even greater danger to those who ride bicycles in urban environments, due to the greater prevalence of parallel parking. A New York City report found that 17% of bicyclist fatalities were due to door zone crashes. Furthermore, people on bicycles who veer out of the way of a swung open door can come into conflict with vehicle traffic that can be moving 3 to 4 times faster than a person on a bicycle.

To avoid these dangers, it is important for people on bicycles to stay out of the door zone whenever possible, especially at high speeds, and to exercise extra caution when riding within the door zone. A sedan door on a 2 door car can swing out as much as 4 feet, and normal-sized bicycle handlebars can be as wide as 20 inches; for a bicyclist to stay out of the door zone he or she must maintain a wheel line that is a minimum of 5 feet from the sides of parallel parked cars. The door zone dangers on Walther Avenue are exacerbated by the steep downhill grades in some sections; increased speed makes it more difficult to brake when a vehicle door is swung into the bicycle travel lane.

On a conventional parking-adjacent bicycle lane built to absolute minimum design standards, the majority of a 5 foot bike lane is within the door zone, which leaves only the outside foot as a space free from door zone danger. For this reason AASHTO recommends that the combined space for a parking lane and a bicycle lane be 14.5 feet. But, acknowledging that roads are not often built wide enough to accommodate 14.5 feet of space, AASHTO has set 12 feet (5-foot bicycle lane, 7-foot automobile parking lane) as the “absolute minimum” acceptable design. Below is an example from Roland Avenue of a minimally acceptable portion of adjacent to parking bike lane, with an illustration of where in the lane one must ride to stay entirely out of the door zone.

Figure 5. Roland Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone and safe zone highlighted. Illustration by Adam Hull based on Google Street View image.

Figure 5. Roland Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone and safe zone highlighted. Illustration by Adam Hull based on Google Street View image.

Unfortunately, the new Walther Avenue bicycle lanes are only 4 feet wide. Therefore, the entirety of these lanes are within the door zones, and nobody can ride a bicycle in them without exposing themselves to door zone hazards.

Figure 6. Walther Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone highlighted. Photo and illustration by Adam Hull.

Figure 6. Walther Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone highlighted. Photo and illustration by Adam Hull.

As they are presently installed, it is arguably safer for a person riding a bicycle to forego these bicycle lanes altogether than to expose themselves to the greater dangers that exist within the bicycle lanes than in the vehicle lanes. Unfortunately, Maryland law prohibits one from riding a bicycle in a vehicle lane on a road where bicycle lanes are present, with some exceptions (TR § 21-1205.1).

Bikemore requests, for the safety and well-being of all Walther Avenue road users, that BCDOT should correct these lanes as quickly as possible, and to repaint them to be compliant with “absolute minimum” AASHTO design standards.

People in Automobiles Disregarding Bicycle Lanes and Parking Lanes Altogether

Based on our observations, Walther Avenue has a high occurrence of people in automobiles who disregard the bicycle and parking lane markings altogether, and use said lanes as a high speed right-hand passing lane; the only time an automobile is allowed to be in a bicycle lane is if the driver intends to make a right-hand turn at the following intersection. This practice was once more prevalent in the portion built between Parkside Drive and Moravia Road, which was completed last year, but BCDOT was able to largely curb the practice (with the exception of one section, more on that later) through the strategic placement of flexible delineator posts, such as the example below.

Figure 7, double installment of flexible delineator posts. Photo by Adam Hull.

Figure 7, double installment of flexible delineator posts. Photo by Adam Hull.

Now that bicycle lanes have been painted between Moravia Road and Eastern Boulevard, the same problem has materialized there. We went to the intersection of Walther Avenue and Echodale Avenue during evening rush hour on June 4, 2014 to film this, and the practice exhibited by multiple vehicles in the two below videos happened at every single light cycle.

Bikemore requests that the Baltimore City Department of Transportation install 2 flexible delineator posts, such as the ones in Figure 7, in the parking lanes at every intersection junction along Walther Avenue that does not presently have them.

Disregard for Bicycle Lane and “No Stopping” Zone Between Iona Terrace and Parkside Drive

Bikemore is generally satisfied with the Walther Avenue infrastructure installations between Parkside Drive and Moravia Road, with a single exception: motor vehicle traffic continues to disregard the bicycle lane and ‘No Stopping’ zone between Iona Terrace and Parkside Drive heading southeast. The below video illustrates this dangerous and illegal behavior.

Bikemore requests that BCDOT install double flexible delineator posts, such as the ones in Figure 7, in the ‘No Parking’ zone, along the entirety of the curve in the southeast lane of Walther Avenue, between Iona Terrace and to within 50 feet of Parkside Drive intersection, to account for right turning vehicles.

Bikemore thanks Adam Hull for his large role in composing this post.

Some of you have probably heard by now that Baltimore's own Jamie Roberts was tragically killed in Kentucky last week as she rode across the country while doing the 4K For Cancer.

One of Jamie's friends set up a Facebook group to honor Jamie and to finish her journey across the country and people are dedicating their miles that they bike and run to her. If anyone is interested in seeing something really inspiring with the community surrounding her, check it out.

If you'd like to donate to the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, the cause for which Jamie was riding across the country, you can do so here.

Let's use this tragedy as a reminder to pay more attention when you're operating a motor vehicle. If you see someone riding a bicycle (or, in Jamie's case, changing a flat tire on the side of the road), SLOW DOWN and give at least 3 feet of space when passing. 

We at Bikemore don't like to think in terms of "motorists" or "cyclists" or "pedestrians." We are all human beings just trying to safely get to where we're going. Let's all pay more attention to our surroundings and show more care for our fellow human beings.

Rest in peace, Jamie.

Every day is bike to work day. However, due to tomorrow's forecast, the official regional celebrations are being postponed until May 30th.

Emergency Announcement about Bike To Work Day Friday, May 16, 2014

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) recommends the cancellation of regional Bike To Work Day events for Friday, May 16. The recommendation factored in the threat of heavy rain, flash flooding and thunderstorms in tomorrow’s forecast and therefore safety concerns for participants.

Many of the Bike To Work Day site coordinators throughout the Baltimore region already decided to cancel events. They also are in the process of evaluating rescheduling options. Stay tuned as we update this list of events. 

 

Our friends at Greater Greater Washington recently posted a story where a person riding his bicycle was assaulted by someone in a pickup truck and then ticketed by police. In light of that incident, Jed Weeks, Bikemore’s Board Chair, shares his experience with the Baltimore City Police from last September:

On September 28th, 2013 at 2:15am I was riding my bicycle home from the end of the Baltimore Bike Party after-party with my girlfriend riding several yards behind me.

As we were riding northbound on Huntingdon Avenue, approaching 29th Street, the driver of a black Mazda 6 blared her horn, revved her car’s engine, and swerved her vehicle at my girlfriend, nearly striking her.

This vehicle pulled up alongside me at the intersection of Huntingdon and 29th Street where I was waiting at the red light. I gestured at the driver of the vehicle with an incredulous hands-in-the-air motion and yelled “What do you think you are doing?”

At this point I saw a passenger in the Mazda hand a pair of scissors to the driver, who then exited the vehicle holding the scissors, and began to scream that she would “f**king kill us.”

I called 911 as the driver reached back in her vehicle and grabbed various objects and hurled them at me, culminating with an open bottle of water that struck me in the chest and drenched me. The driver of the Mazda got back in the car, and ran the red light, turning left onto West 29th Street and disappearing.

Minutes later, several police cars and a paddy wagon arrived. Police Officer Pitts refused to take a report of the assault at the scene, saying “the driver may have just been a DUI and may not have purposely swerved at you.” When I said I was not satisfied with her response to my request for a report, Officer Pitts implied if I were to be any more difficult, I may end up in the back of the paddy wagon myself.

At this point I asked for the officer’s badge number and my girlfriend and I rode back to her house 2 blocks away. I then wrote an email to Lt. Colonel DeSousa, the Chief of Patrol, who had tailed Baltimore Bike Party that evening in his cruiser. He immediately responded, saying the officer should have filed a report, and forwarded my correspondence to the Commander of the Northern District. Several days later, Detective Plater from the Northern District called me to go over my story from the evening. He said he would interview Officer Pitts and get her side of the story, and then get back to me. About a week later he called me with a police report number, and told me that Officer Pitts had been disciplined for failure to write a report at the scene.

I was very pleased with the attentive nature of the police officers I dealt with in the follow-up to this incident, and I requested a copy of my police report, which I received a month after filing my official request and payment for a copy of the report.

The report claimed “that an unknown black female driving a red car, possibly a Mazda, threw water at [my] face after [I] banged on her car window and yelled at her to exit her car.”

That did not happen, and I never said it happened.

So, I followed back up with Northern District. Unfortunately, Officer Pitts maintains I said it was a red car, and that I said I instigated the incident (as outlined above). According to the Police (and despite my girlfriend backing my story), this comes down to a he said/she said situation, and Northern District cannot change the report as written, nor can they take any further action with Officer Pitts.

The police officers in leadership roles that I have spoken with seem to take poor performance from officers in their department very seriously, but without physical proof they are unable to take appropriate action.

As a result of this drawn out interaction, I suggest video recording all interactions with Baltimore Police patrol officers, no matter how insignificant. If I had recorded my incident, there would be proof that Officer Pitts was being untruthful, and I am 100% confident the commanding officers and detective I spoke with would have acted quickly and professionally to deal with unprofessionalism and dishonesty in their ranks.

Record your interactions with police if possible, and contact Bikemore if you are treated inappropriately by the police.

As we posted earlier today, another person was attacked while riding his bicycle this past weekend on Guilford Avenue in Greenmount West. Attacks like this have been reported sporadically over the past few years  not just on people riding bicycles, but people walking as well  usually along Guilford Avenue and Charles Street between Mount Royal Avenue and 25th Street.

These incidents do not represent the actions of all Baltimore City youth. Many City youth ride bikes for transportation or otherwise get around Baltimore peacefully, and many engage in positive after-school bicycle activities like the Baltimore Bike Experience at Digital Harbor High School and Baltimore Bike Party.

The only way to know what motivated the specific group of youth who appear on the video is to ask them, but we suspect that if Baltimore had more productive adult supervision and more safe places for youth to learn and engage in positive activities, this incident would not have occurred.

Obviously, there must be consequences for assaulting another human being, but we should also use this unfortunate event as an opportunity to teach young people the impact of their actions and address the underlying causes of the assault.

Bikemore is actively engaging with the police and community leaders to ensure the neighborhoods along the Guilford Avenue Bike Boulevard are safe for commuters and residents alike, regardless of one's chosen mode of transportation. We hope this incident promotes a constructive dialogue about increased after-school and evening opportunities for youth in our city.

If you would like to be part of this dialogue, please feel free to contact us.