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