Baltimore Plans to Improve West North Avenue
This post has been updated to reflect additional information received by Bikemore after publishing.
Earlier this week, Senator Mikulski’s office announced Baltimore’s receipt of a $10,000,000 TIGER Grant for roadway improvements to North Avenue.
The project application, entitled “North Avenue Rising,” was submitted by the Baltimore City Department of Transportation and Maryland Department of Transportation including the Maryland Transit Administration.
The $10 million in federal funding is being matched by $14.7 million of state funding, $1.6 million in already-committed FHWA funding, and $1 million of Baltimore City funding.
The bulk of the $27.3 million project, $8.9 million, will focus on sidewalk and crosswalk improvements. Investments in transit infrastructure including bus stop shelters, transit signal priority at intersections, investments in the Penn/North Metro Station, and dedicated lanes amount to about $7.5 million. Funding for bicycle infrastructure makes up less than $1 million.
Current Plans Have Flaws
While early in design, the project as currently scoped has major shortcomings. Dedicated bus lanes stop and start through parts of the project, because Baltimore City Department of Transportation does not want to fully prioritize bus service over private automobiles along the corridor. There are bike share stations planned for key intersections, but there are no dedicated bicycle facilities planned for North Avenue in the project. While the dedicated bus lanes will be signed as shared with bikes, other infrastructure is relegated to stretches of parallel facilities that are sometimes several blocks away.
This contradicts the 2015 bicycle master plan, which calls for North Avenue to be a “main route” for bicycles, requiring dedicated, protected bike lanes. It also contradicts a multi-year collaborative community design process undertaken by the Neighborhood Design Center, which culminated in 2015. That plan also calls for protected bicycle facilities along much of West North Avenue.
These improvements alongside dedicated transit lanes would further reduce personal vehicle travel lanes or parking, and Baltimore City Department of Transportation was unwilling at the time of project submission to sacrifice convenience of personal automobile users to accomodate safe, protected lanes for people who bike alongside fully-dedicated transit lanes throughout the corridor.
Through Advocacy, We Can Fix the Flaws
Luckily, it is not too late to improve the North Avenue Rising plan. North Avenue has significant right-of-way, and advocacy for expanded funding of this project and true prioritization of transit and bicycles as required by our complete streets policy, and as outlined in our master plans, could allow for fully-dedicated bus lanes along the corridor adjacent to dedicated bicycle facilities.
Additional personal vehicle lane reduction or reduction of some parking along North Avenue would allow for design of an Offset Bus Lane Street with dedicated, parking or flex-post protected bicycle lanes. This treatment is endorsed by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), of which Baltimore is a founding member.
Additional personal vehicle lane reduction or reduction of some parking along with additional funding would allow for a true dedicated Median Rapid Transit Corridor for the widest portions of North Avenue. This treatment would include protected bicycle facilities and a curb-separated right-of-way for transit operations, improving bus speed and reliability while allowing for a future upgrade to rail transit on the North Avenue corridor.
Additional funding should should be leveraged by this grant award to make it a truly great project for Baltimore. The TIGER grant money should not be used for routine resurfacing, instead it should be used to bolster this project's innovation in biking, walking, and transit design. Governor Hogan can pay for the overdue resurfacing of a state marked highway, like he is doing in every other county in Maryland.
Bikemore wants to see North Avenue rising.
Neighborhoods along the project corridor have some of the highest rates of households that lack access to a car in Baltimore City. Dedicated transit lanes will make buses faster, more convenient, and more on-time on this critical transportation corridor. Protected bike lanes will allow people to safely use bike share while calming traffic and making the street safer for people who walk. There is no reason to prioritize personal automobile throughput over the safety and convenience of neighbors and people who walk, bike, and take transit on this corridor.
Agencies involved in this project are open to our recommendations, and we look forward to working with them to advance a vision for North Avenue that truly promotes biking, walking, and taking transit. But more advocacy around complete streets is clearly needed, because a project that does not completely consider and include all modes should not be constructed, and we should not accept a political climate unwilling to include adequate design for biking in project submission.
This is a great opportunity to make one of the only wide roads in Baltimore functional for all users, and a mistake in infrastructure here will have to be endured for years to come. We must get to a place where our city prioritizes people over personal cars by default, not as an afterthought.
As this project continues to develop, we will notify you of ways to get involved and ensure we get the best possible design for people who bike, walk, and ride transit.