Q&A: Relationships post Potomac, current advocacy strategies & more

Our Q&As are our way of sharing with you questions that we've heard recently. If one person asks it, we know more of you must be curious. These questions came from our Members' Meeting held on January 10th.

It was standing room only at our Members' Meeting! 

It was standing room only at our Members' Meeting! 

 

What's going on with the Jones Falls extension?

The Jones Falls Trail extension from Cylburn Arboretum to Mount Washington is currently under construction. It includes a bike and pedestrian bridge across Northern Parkway.

What about targeting your 501c4 work to getting good people elected to the Central committee?

Yes, we're constantly working at many levels of government, but there are definitely other folks working more targeted there.

When does the funding for the Downtown Bike Network expire?

We're working to get clarity around this. 

What is Bikemore's relationship with the City like post Potomac? Were we "iced out" because of it?

We're still in City Hall most days of the week and are definitely still invited to conversations. We did everything we could behind the scenes through collaborative methods before taking the City to court, and they seem to understand that.

Do you have any early ideas for targeted advocacy we should take for the Complete Streets Bill?

We've been working on building a broad based coalition for Complete Streets since the start, with many council members already on board. So while along with Councilman Ryan Dorsey we're leading the effort on this, we already have many diverse champions and are in a good position.

Do police have any data on the bike crime?

No, the police department doesn't categorize if bikes are involved in crime or even crashes. BPD was cooperative and supportive when we were working with them on the assault issue, but advocating for better stats, while very helpful, doesn't seem like a likely win so we're not focusing energy on it at this point. 

What about taking the Mayor on a bike ride?

We've offered before, more than happy to!

Is something going to happen with all those potholes on Druid Park Lake Drive with the Big Jump project?

Yes, if the road is reconfigured that will include repaving. We're concurrently working on a short-term pop up type project here, as well as longer term full redesign effort. 

What's strategies are currently working best to advocate in your neighborhood?

Personal notes to senior staffers that work around the mayor, like Jim Smith or Pete Hammen, seem to be particularly effective right now, and individuals that write heartfelt, personal correspondence to these individuals get responses and dialogue.

Communications and transparency from Bike Share doesn't seem to be improving since the relaunch, as promised. What gives?

Just to clarify, Bikemore does not run Bike Share. We try to support them and share our ideas with them, but we don't run it. It's our understanding and hope that this is simply a staffing issue. It's really the city's responsibility to deal with the communications side, not the operator, and there currently isn't DOT staff devoted to bike programming. It's our hope that with the hiring of a Bike Share Coordinator, the communications will be improved. We're also potentially looking into modeling the Bike Ambassador program that Philadelphia Bike Share system has in place, to employ community members to teach others about bike share. 

The Bike Share electric bikes aren't working. What's going on?

We've heard that the batteries on the electric bikes don't hold charge well with extreme cold temperatures. If they're not back up to speed after this crazy extreme cold front, we'll get back to it. We're also hopeful that with the announcement of a new major sponsor in February, there will be more accountability and solutions to issues like this.

Is dockless bike share interested in coming to Baltimore?

Yes, we think these companies are interested but understand the current state of Baltimore. Bikemore staff and board members went to DC last month to learn from their DOT staffers that worked on their current pilot program, and to talk with dockless operators. We're working on getting BCDOT to adopt a policy ahead of companies coming here so that we can ensure things like safety standards and equity are requirements at the start, as other cities have done. 

What's going on with the Bike Share station at Penn Station?

There's always a challenge when placing Bike Share on Amtrak property, because of the complicated bureaucratic nature of Amtrak. But it's been done in tons of other cities and we're hopeful it will be resolved here as well. 

Your Monthly Update: Fire Access, Our Legislative Agenda & More

Missed our Members' Meeting last week? Here's what you missed! Plus, we've heard that you want more regular project updates, so this is the first of our new monthly advocacy update series.

And the Q&A from the members' meeting will be published later this week!

 

Advocacy Updates

Baltimore Greenway Trails Network

  • Preliminary outreach and engineering work on
    • Gwynn Falls Parkway-Connecting Druid Hill Park to Leakin Park
    • Middle Branch-Connecting GFT, Westport, Port Covington, and Inner Harbor
  • Develop designs w/ BGE regarding connection between Herring Run and future Highland Town Rail-Trail
  • Working w/ Planning Dept to integrate Green Network Plan
  • Developing project name/branding

More about this project.
→ Rails-to-Trails staff is available to speak at community meetings to learn more: contact jim@railstotrails.org

Big Jump: Druid Park Lake Drive

Big Jump is a national 5 year program to expand biking in neighborhoods from PeopleForBikes. Baltimore was awarded for Remington and Reservoir Hill, to improve the biking and walking connection across the 28th Street bridge. Councilman Pinkett is advocating hard to use the maintenance-of-traffic agreement from the Druid Hill Park reservoir project to implement this solution, but the city is currently not agreeable.

→ More about this project.

Bike Share

Planned stations. Last column is current status, with community, contractor, MTA, developer, legal indicating the reason for a hold up. 

  • 27 live stations (32 by next week)
  • 220 bikes in system (not all on street due to weather)
  • 300+ bikes by mid February
  • Theft no longer an issue, BUT vandalism due to attempted theft still ongoing but manageable
  • Bike app accuracy issues resolved--95% accurate
  • Significant sponsor coming on in February--with specific goal of increasing membership
  • Baltimore being considered for Bewegen US bike manufacturing site

More about this project.

Downtown Bike Network

  • Maryland Avenue (construction hold)
    • It's 95% done, but on hold for fire access issue. Maryland Avenue has been deemed non-compliant by the Baltimore City Fire Department per Baltimore City DOT, though no documentation to that affect has been provided from our Public Information Act request.
  • Preston and Biddle Streets (construction hold)
    • These lanes are standard bike lanes that do not affect fire clearance, but they are also under construction hold because of the fire access issue.
  • Madison and Monument Streets (construction hold)
    • We're currently working with Hopkins to leverage their power, with the goal of a fully protected facility here that makes it safer and more comfortable to ride on these streets that are better lit and have more activity. The city currently plans for these to only be partially protected, and that protection would need to be removed to make them compliant with the fire access issue. 
  • Potomac Street (completed)
    • This is done! Hoorah!
  • Inner Harbor Jones Falls Stain (construction hold)
    • The plan calls for staining the inner harbor route green to be more clearly a bike route, but this is on hold because the Fire Department wants to review it even though it does not affect the width of the road. 

 More about this project.

Fire Access Issue

For more on this, read our latest blog post. But the short of it is that the city is choosing to apply the International Fire Code clearance rules to repaving projects with bike lanes on them, but not on any other roads. 

Mt Royal

Our last update on Mount Royal and the Midtown Streetscape project can be found here. In short, nothing has changed. The city broke its promise to hold construction until stakeholder concerns were addressed. The project is currently under construction, and will spend millions of dollars while making the street arguably more dangerous.

Miscellaneous Projects

  • 28th and 29th Street Traffic Calming (beginning neighborhood organizing phase)
    • Neighbors from GRIA, CVCA, and Harwood have formed a committee to advocate for calming traffic on these highway connector roads. Bikemore is helping facilitate. → Next meeting is 1/22
  • 41st Street Road Diet (in progress)
    • Neighbors organized around the too wide and too fast 41st St. Graham Young from DOT advocated for taking away one of the travel lanes and adding a protected bike lane, serving as a connector from Woodberry across Falls Road to the new Union Collective. So far the lane reduction and bike lane are in place, with flex post installation to protect the lane scheduled for this spring.
  • 39th Street Road Diet (planning)
    • Road diet and traffic calming project on 39th and Argonne that was supposed to be in the form of protected bike lanes, but Councilwoman Clarke and constituents are advocating for parking and turn lanes. Advocacy will need to begin on this project shortly.
  • Covington Street Lane (planning)
    • Bike lane was supposed to be installed in 2016, is due to be installed in 2018, will serve as a neighborhood connector from Rash Field to Federal Hill to Riverside Park.

Legislative Agenda

  • Complete Streets: Delay due to racial equity focus through disparity study. Want to get it right, even if it takes more time. → More. 
  • Parking Cash Out: Gives people option to take parking subsidy from employer (if provided) in form of cash payment. Starting with city employees first. →More.
  • Parking Minimums: Parking is expensive to build, harms affordability, harms walkable, dense neighborhoods.
  • Dedicated Pot: We’ve added revenue streams and will add more, we should dedicate to active and public transport.

North Ave Rising

The top is the current proposed design, but we're advocating for the bottom design.

  • The TIGER grant will improve operations for buses but won’t be great. We think the street should be great. We think great looks something like the bottom image to the right. Councilman Pinkett is leading the effort, in coordination with the Greater Baltimore Committee, to advocate for more money to build a better street.

More about this project. 

Trail and Bike Route Safety

  • 500 people signed our petition for safety improvements along JFT
  • We met with Rec and Parks to discuss our demands
  • Next steps:
    • Rec and Parks are creating an estimate for installation of light poles (Spring 2018)
    • Trees will be tagged for removal, will need volunteers (with chainsaws!!) to come help remove (Winter 2018)
    • Section of fence on north side being removed to serve as bail out
    • Continuing to work with partners like Public Defender's Office, Community Conferencing, City Agencies, BPD, and business to create a comprehensive safety and restorative justice approach

More about this.

Program Updates

 

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 4.05.45 PM.png

Mobile Bike Shop

  • Pilot project started in 2016
  • Have hosted 10 “shops” to date
  • Currently seeking funding to bring project to scale

More about this. 

 

Growing Bikemore

  • We’ve reached staff capacity
  • Will likely hire more staff in the next 12-18 months
  • We will outgrow our co-working space with additional staff/programming
  • On the hunt for a permanent space, likely in the next 1-2 years
    • Transit/bike accessible
    • Hub for all volunteer run bike programs to have meeting space/ access to resources to grow

Financial Snapshot

  • FY18 Budget $225K
  • We are about 75% of the way toward our fundraising goal for the year. About $50K more left to raise to meet our budget.
  • We are currently spending slightly under budget — 46% of total expenses — a little more than halfway through the fiscal year.
  • 35% of our income is individual gifts
  • Our average individual gift size is $123

Arbitrary and Capricious: City Only Applying Fire Clearance Rule to Bike Projects

Nearly 10 months ago, rumbling began over the proposed width of the car travel lane in the redesign of Potomac Street that included a protected bike lane. Neighbors cited a portion of the Baltimore City adopted International Fire Code, which states that Fire Apparatus Access Roads must maintain 20 feet of clear width, and that Aerial Fire Apparatus Access Roads must maintain 26 feet of clear width. 

Our existing street network analyzed for clear width. Purple streets would need parking removed on both sides of the street to be compliant. Red streets would need parking removed on one side of the street to be compliant.

Our existing street network analyzed for clear width. Purple streets would need parking removed on both sides of the street to be compliant. Red streets would need parking removed on one side of the street to be compliant.

We've written about that battle extensively. It received national attention. We filed suit against the city since we felt this fire code ruling was being applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner to one street. We were granted a temporary restraining order to halt removal of the bike lane while we negotiated a solution with the city that worked for all parties.

In those negotiations, we were told by the Mayor's Office and the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) that, at the time, Potomac Street was the only project under consideration for re-design or re-evaluation, and that a clear protocol for Baltimore City Fire Department review and approval of city street redesign would apply going forward. 

Weeks later, in a Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission meeting, we learned from now departed Bike Share Coordinator Jay Decker that all bicycle construction projects were on hold citywide pending review of the "entire bike plan."

Along with that news, we also knew of many ongoing resurfacing projects throughout the city that didn't involved bicycle projects, and that many of these projects failed to meet the Baltimore City adopted IFC clearance standards. So we decided to investigate.

On September 29, we requested a list of resurfacing and reconstruction projects occurring in Baltimore City. On October 11, DOT provided us with their Orange Code list for 2017, which details all resurfacing and reconstruction projects planned, ongoing, or completed for the year.

That very day, we evaluated all street resurfacing and reconstruction underway or planned for July 2017 or later, giving a few months of leeway after the Potomac Street issue was raised, and we were told, addressed.

Using GIS centerline data for city streets, we determined the streets highlighted above failed a 20 foot clearance if the street contained parking. In total, at the time of our evaluation:

  • 40 of 62 streets completed since July 2017 failed clearance.
  • 12 of 33 streets currently under construction failed clearance
  • 24 of 55 streets to be completed failed clearance.

On October 11, we immediately reported this information to the new Director of DOT, Michelle Pourciau. We requested an urgent meeting to discuss the inconsistency of moving forward with what appeared to be every resurfacing and reconstruction project in the city except for those with bike lanes.

We were not given a list of available meeting times until November 6, and the available times were at the end of November. Knowing this would allow all seasonal paving to be completed before our meeting occurred, we immediately filed a Public Information Act request with DOT and Baltimore City Fire Department. 

In lieu of a timely meeting with DOT, our goal with this request was to get clarity on the fire clearance policy that the Mayor's Office and Baltimore City Department of Transportation said was developed in response to the Potomac Street fight, and better understand why exceptions were granted and signed for resurfacing and reconstruction of some non-compliant streets but not others. Maryland state law requires receipt of disclosable records within 30 days.

Immediately after submission of the PIA request, we received an email granting us a meeting with Director Pourciau on November 16. At that meeting, we had not yet received the results of our Public Information Act request, and were told that the City Solicitor's office had advised against disclosing any information that may be a part of the official PIA request. Regardless, we learned the following:

  • All construction work had been stopped on the Downtown Bike Network, even on streets where the re-striping would not affect clear width.
  • No construction work had been stopped on resurfacing of streets without bicycle infrastructure. DOT claimed that "resurfacing of existing conditions" was not a part of the new fire clearance policy.
  • No construction work had been stopped on reconstruction of streets without bicycle infrastructure, even ones like Preston Gardens and Saint Paul Street, which are total reconstructions that provide a new clear width identical to Potomac Street, but are adjacent to skyscrapers instead of two story row homes.

We were told at this meeting that over the winter, DOT would evaluate these projects and their road width policies and fire clearance access rules. This seemed to imply that these things had not already been done, which was a departure from our discussion around Potomac Street. We asked why bike lanes couldn't also continue non-conforming construction like other projects, and were given no answer.

Today, we received the response to our PIA request, 60 days after the request and 30 days after the legal deadline for disclosure of records. The paving season is completed, the non-compliant projects we questioned were installed.

The response to our PIA request verifies what we suspected.

  • Since the Potomac Street debacle, DOT and Baltimore City Fire Department have created no tool to evaluate streets for compliance with Baltimore City adopted fire code.
  • No fire apparatus access road classification map exists.
  • No single list of project evaluations exists, and no promised written exemptions are available.
  • And, the only record of an evaluation of a street was a single bike lane striping.

Both Chief Niles Ford's affidavit and the City Solicitor's argument in our Potomac Street suit clearly state that a lack of 20 foot clearance is a life safety issue and severely hampers fire access operations. If this sworn testimony is true, the city is grossly negligent in not using resurfacing as an opportunity to improve clear width to fire code standards, particularly when we experienced a 5-year high in fatal fires in 2017. If we accept that the testimony was hyperbolic to prove a point, we must acknowledge that it was simply a vendetta against a bicycle lane. Neither of these possibilities is acceptable.

We are encouraged that DOT has committed to developing a standard for road clearance over the winter, and we hope it will result in uniform application of law.

And, since other existing major reconstruction projects have continued, we expect the Downtown Bicycle Network to be installed in the first week of the spring paving season without fire clearance based redesign. 

If this doesn't happen? Well, we're familiar with the terms arbitrary and capricious.
 

 

North Avenue Rising: Take the Survey

In November, kick-off meetings were held for the North Avenue Rising project, a $27,330,000 project to improve transit stops, install bus lanes, and make targeted streetscape improvements to North Avenue. The project is a federally funded Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, or TIGER grant. The project has additional financial support from MDOT MTA and Baltimore City. 

Our Ask

Take the project survey available here. 

In questions #6 and #10, please state that you would like to see dedicated, separated transit and bike lanes throughout the corridor, and that you would like to see a center-running transit option.

Background

We wrote a detailed post in July of 2016 about how to make this project better. It is available here. In short:

The red bus lane stops and starts throughout the corridor. 

For dedicated transit lanes to be successful, they should be contiguous and ideally separated, or at minimum, curbside. The project as planned currently has parking-adjacent bus lanes, which stop and start throughout the corridor depending on traffic volume. This will result in conflict between buses and cars during every parallel parking attempt and abuse of the lanes by stopped cars and delivery vehicles. 

"Parallel" bike facilities, blocks away.

For bicycling to be comfortable for people of all ages on the North Avenue corridor, and for the planned bike share stations to be utilized safely and effectively, separated bike lanes must also be present on North Avenue, at least along the wider section where buses are most frequent. Presently, bikes are relegated to "parallel facilities," which are not parallel. Worse, there is no connection across the bridge, requiring bicyclists to dismount and walk or illegally ride on the sidewalk. 

These constraints mean we're going to spend millions of dollars on a project that still prioritizes moving and storing private cars over moving people via foot, bike, and transit. The end result will be a street with only moderately improved transit travel times, a street with no safe place to bike, and a street that will still be dangerous to cross as a pedestrian. 

According to NACTO's figures on person throughput, North Avenue today can move 6,000 people per hour. The TIGER grant as designed may improve this to 11,200 people per hour. Our fix can move 34,100 people per hour.

The Fix

The fix is easy, it just costs more money. Based on costs of other dedicated alignment bus corridors, an additional $20-30 million could elevate North Avenue from the flawed project outlined above to a truly transformative corridor.

Wider Section of North Ave

The wider section of North Avenue that has the highest bus volume could have a center-running, separated busway. This would allow for curbside protected bike lanes, parking, and a single travel lane for personal automobiles.

North Avenue wide segment at a bus stop, with center running transit way, protected bike lanes, and parking.

North Avenue wide segment at a bus stop, with center running transit way, protected bike lanes, and parking.

Narrower Sections of North Ave

If we removed on-street parking on one side of the street in the narrower sections, areas furthest east and west on North Avenue, we could continue the center-running, separated transit lane by making it bi-directional. Bus frequency is low enough along this segment that oncoming buses would rarely encounter each other, but if they did, they could merge into the regular car travel lane to pass each other.  This design is being used in Indianapolis with the IndyGo Red Line Bus Rapid Transit project, which has similar bus timing to these parts of North Avenue. 

North Avenue narrow segment, where buses share a bi-directional lane and pass each other in the regular travel lane. Parking is restricted on one side of the street to allow for the bus lane and protected bike lanes.

North Avenue narrow segment, where buses share a bi-directional lane and pass each other in the regular travel lane. Parking is restricted on one side of the street to allow for the bus lane and protected bike lanes.

North Avenue narrow segment at a bus stop. Parking is further restricted to make width for the bus stop and allow for protected bike lanes.

North Avenue narrow segment at a bus stop. Parking is further restricted to make width for the bus stop and allow for protected bike lanes.

While parking would need to be reduced on these edges of the corridor where the street is narrower, this is exactly where neighborhoods have zero-car household rates far above the city average, and where adjacent streets have very low on-street parking utilization. Many buildings also have alley garages and rear parking access. Removing parking would be a challenge, but it would be in line with focusing on the majority of road users in these segments, who lack access to a car and instead walk, bike, or take transit.

Perspective on Cost

$20-30 million is a fraction of the money Governor Hogan reallocated away from Baltimore and to rural highways with his cancelation of the Red Line. Baltimore City could also come up with this money over the several year project timeline. In just the few months since Councilman Dorsey passed legislation to increase the fine for parking in bus lanes and bus stops to $250, the city has already failed to collect nearly $500,000 because they haven't updated their ticketing software to the new amount. 

We can afford a project that gets this right the first time, and sets up a future on North Avenue that could easily be upgraded to real Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail Transit. We can't afford to spend $27,330,000 on the existing project. North Avenue and the people of Baltimore deserve better than this. 
 

> Take the project survey available here.
 

24 hours, 24 Bikemore wins, 24 reasons to give.

While there's no doubt we've been faced with a lot of challenges this year, we try not to forget to celebrate our accomplishments big and small.

In the 24 hours of #GivingTuesday, we're sharing 24 Bikemore wins from this year. That's 24 reasons to give. What's your reason for giving?

Whether you want to be able to bike safely with your kids, want to improve access to jobs for those without cars, or want to feel safe walking to your neighborhood grocery store — donate to Bikemore today and tag us in an unselfie to let your friends know your reason for giving. 

Donate to Bikemore to create a safer, healthier, and more livable bicycling city!

We're grateful for your support that has helped us accomplish so much this far, and grateful for your continued support today!

And don't forget to follow along all day on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!