Bikemore Priorities Update Part II: Mt. Royal Streetscape

 A person riding a bike crosses Mt. Royal. Photo Credit: Fern Shen-Baltimore Brew 

A person riding a bike crosses Mt. Royal. Photo Credit: Fern Shen-Baltimore Brew 

In Part II of our Priorities series we take a look at the Mt. Royal Streetscape Project. Yesterday in Part I we discussed the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack and the Downtown Bicycle Network

Summary

The facility creates a two-way protected cycletrack on the north side of Mt. Royal between Guilford Avenue and McMechen Street. Additionally there are major pedestrian upgrades at each intersection, and sidewalks are improved to be ADA accessible. In some sections the street parking is retained and provides the buffer from westbound vehicle traffic, in other sections flexible posts will be used to create separation. The project is currently at 95% design and scheduled to break ground in 2017. 

Early renderings discussed a traffic circle at Cathedral and Mt. Royal. Citing cost and community opposition, the most recent design of the greenspace stays relatively the same as the current configuration. The traffic circle was removed from the design in 2014. 

Additionally, current designs do not show a cycletrack between St. Paul and Guilford, but instead route bicyclists onto the section of sidewalk labeled as the Jones Falls Trail. DOT explained that Federal rules do not allow for a bicycle facility to be built adjacent to a multi use path. However, the city plans to fund the construction of that section of cycletrack using local dollars maintaining the continuity and safety of the facility. 

Challenges

Since first being introduced to the community in 2012, the project faced opposition from the Lyric Opera House and Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). A recent news story characterized the Lyric’s opposition as not being informed about the project. However, Bikemore and Baltimore City DOT both have documentation of communication with Lyric staff and board members that date back to 2012 and continue through 2015. When DOT attempted to provide this documentation to the media this week, no correction to the story was made. DOT states, 

The final design of the Midtown Streetscape/Traffic improvements project is almost complete. With the Mount Royal Cycle Track in its final design stages, it is anticipated that the curbing in front of the Lyric will be adjusted by about 11 feet in order to accommodate the new cycle track and maintain two lanes of travel along with area parking. While the original sidewalks are up to 24 feet wide along this stretch of Mount Royal Avenue, the newly designed pedestrian walkway will continue to be spacious and ADA compliant.

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation has had discussions with the Lyric about this project and held several meetings since the planning stages. Lyric [representatives were] invited to a public meeting held on February 20, 2014. 95% plans in electronic format have been provided to Lyric staff for their review and comment on January 30, 2015. The BCDOT will continue to engage stakeholders and the public as we move forward with final design and construction.

Like the Downtown Bicycle Network, this project is funded through state and federal grants and is subject to State Highway Administrative review. Mt. Royal has faced similar challenges in terms of the time required to turn around revisions between engineers and project managers at the state and city levels. 

Where the Project Stands Today 

In December of 2014, Bikemore reviewed and gave comment on the plans at the 95% design phase. Our key concern was ensuring that traffic exiting I-83 at the St. Paul exit be placed north of the cycle track and permitted only right turns onto Charles St. Current designs have the off ramp traffic crossing the cycletrack in a way that we believe to be unsafe to those on bikes. 

At this stage it is critical we continue to work closely with DOT to implement changes in designs that can be “redlined” (added once construction has begun) in order to ensure our recommendations are included in the project. 

One of the biggest shortfalls of the project is that it does not extend to North Avenue. Knowing that the new West North Avenue Streetscape plan which was developed through a great community based process led by our friends at the Neighborhood Design Center includes bike lanes on the near west side, this seems like a critical gap to close. Rather than stall the project at this stage and forcing further review, we will be pushing for local dollars to connect the Mt. Royal plan to North Avenue. 

No further revision of the designs dated 12/2014 have been made available. But conversations continue to ensure our comments are included in the final product. 

Lessons Learned

When this project began, Bikemore and many other grassroots initiatives to encourage biking in Baltimore were in their infancy. This made organizing stakeholders to stand up to opposition from institutions like the Lyric and MICA challenging. But as bike ridership has increased and become more visible, and leadership at University of Baltimore and MICA have become more openly supportive of bike amenities for students and staff, the political climate for moving forward with this project is much more favorable today. 

This is also a really good example of not letting “great be the enemy of good.” Knowing that we are better positioned politically than in 2012, with more resources to deploy to activate our members, we are more confident in being able to advocate for upgrades during the construction process, rather than be strict about changes being in the plans. We know that the SHA approval process is a real sticking point for progress in our region. So while we work to make that process more efficient, it’s important to be creative and flexible in how we advocate for improvements. Pushing for local dollars to fund the North Street connection rather than demanding they be included in the Mt. Royal project is a great example of this type of compromise. 

Advocacy Next Steps

  • Encourage UB and MICA students, faculty and staff who ride to join Bikemore. Our student memberships are just $25 annually, and having a list of students and staff we can activate when this project gets moving will be critical for success. 
  • Lookout for community meetings. We know this is where the “not in my backyard” folks get really fired up. It’s going to be critical that we organize, and show up to demonstrate to the city the amount of people in favor of protected bike lanes. 
  • Register and Vote in the 2016 Elections. We’ve said it before, and we will say it again. Political leadership that understands livable streets is critical to get these projects to completion. The 11th district, where the majority of this project is located is a council race to watch. The person elected will need to be an ally to this project and work with us to bring any remaining opposition on board to ensure there are no further delays. We will be releasing candidate questionnaires with their positions on future projects later next month, so read up on the issues and help us secure strong leadership for livable streets in the years to come. 

Tomorrow: Bike Share!