Priorities: Spending Millions on Central Avenue for More of the Same

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting presentand flawedplanning priorities in Baltimore City.

Portions of Lancaster Street, Central Avenue, and Aliceanna Street are being closed as construction begins on the Harbor Point Connector Bridge. This bridge seeks to accommodate the anticipated increased traffic from the many mixed-use construction projects underway in Harbor Point, including the new Exelon headquarters.

The reconstruction of Central Avenue has been underway since 2012. Phase I, which spanned from Madison Street to Baltimore Street, was completed in 2015. Phase II began several weeks ago and will cost $47.5 million, $10 million of which is from the Harbor Point TIF.

Phase II also represents the City's first design/build project. Design/build projects award both design and construction to the same contractor in an effort to expedite project timeline. In this case, the request for proposals was issued in March of 2016 and awarded in July of 2016. Construction is beginning just six months later, and folks could be driving across the new bridge by the end of this year.

Baltimore City needed to move quickly to address the transportation challenges created by moving thousands of jobs to a peninsula with limited access points. As a result, this project has numerous missed opportunities, and has highlighted dysfunction within the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.

Ignoring Complete Streets: Planning for Cars, Not People

The Phase II project area of Central Avenue currently has two lanes of traffic in each direction, a center turn lane, and substandard, unsafe bike lanes. After a $47.5 million rebuild, it will have the exact same configuration.

Too wide, too dangerous: Central Avenue retains prior configuration after $47.5 million rebuild.

Too wide, too dangerous: Central Avenue retains prior configuration after $47.5 million rebuild.

The new Central Avenue bridge will feature a mixed use path, and narrow standard bike lanes, but no protected bike infrastructure alongside 4 lanes of car traffic.

We know that developments without real infrastructure to encourage people to shift from driving will result in more of the same: more cars, more congestion. It's unclear why large scale developments in the most traffic-choked parts of Baltimore are allowed to move forward without robust investments in multi-modal transportation solutions. 

Bikemore requested a more adequate Complete Streets treatment during Phase I construction in 2012. Instead, automobile throughput was prioritized, and "sharrows" were installed against Department of Transportation's own policy. Now, the failure to design adequately in Phase I is used as an excuse to make the same mistakes in Phase II in the interest of "promoting continuity."

The Central Avenue project website describes Phase I "Sharrows" as Dedicated Bike Lanes.

The Central Avenue project website describes Phase I "Sharrows" as Dedicated Bike Lanes.

Cities across the country recognize that adding and retaining travel lanes for private automobiles induces demand and leads to more congestion. Baltimore must join them in moving away from road expansion, and instead invest in meaningful improvements that actually remove cars from the road.

Our 2010 Complete Streets Resolution, and subsequent Department of Transportation policy, says as much. Why, over six years later, do these two policies continue to be sidestepped? Why has no system of accountability been put in place and enforced? 

Why are we spending $47.5 million to force people to unsafely walk and bike alongside traffic that will attain speeds in excess of 40mph in one of the densest areas of our city?

A simple fix could provide protected bike lanes and 10 feet of additional pedestrian refuge.

A simple fix could provide protected bike lanes and 10 feet of additional pedestrian refuge.

Not every street needs a state-of-the-art bicycle facility. But every street that receives federal and state funding should be evaluated to safely include all road users. It's the law. There was a way to make Central Avenue do more for the city, but for now, we're getting a highway offramp to Harbor Point.

Project Inequity

Bikemore spent four years fighting to get the Maryland Avenue protected bike lane installed, a project roughly 2% the cost of Central Avenue Phase II. Throughout that fight we were told that long project timelines are par for the course. In meetings with Department of Transportation, Interim Director Frank Murphy is adamant that the capital process cannot be shortened. But here we are, in wealthy Harbor Point, where design and build of a major bridge may happen in 12 months.

People of color and older adults are overrepresented in pedestrian deaths. Pedestrian deaths are also correlated with median household incomes and rates of uninsured individuals. - Dangerous by Design, 2017

Inadequate design has deadly consequences, and disproportionately impacts those that can least afford to be injured. Yet in large capital investments, Baltimore continues to prioritize accommodating cars from outside of the city. Decision-makers continue to double-down on the myth that in order to grow, attract, or retain business we must make it convenient and fast to get into Baltimore by car.

Traffic congestion does harm business, but only when it's allowed to reach a certain degree. When you design public spaces that allocate too much space for private vehicles, everyone loses. When you don't push forward on projects that seek to improve the lives of residents that need it the most, you hold back the entire city. We must reject anecdotes from CEOs stuck in moderate traffic, and rely on the volumes of environmental, public health, and transportation data that tells us there is a better way.

Countless improvement projects are awaiting design, approval, or signatures to inch closer toward construction. The pace at which these improvements are being implemented, compared to projects like Central Avenue, is maddening, harmful, and inequitable.

The future of Baltimore is dependent on a Department of Transportation that is willing to put forth bold, innovative ideas that begin to address the most pressing transportation challenges of our residents.


→  Be sure you're subscribed to our email list for an upcoming update on how you can support Complete Streets in Baltimore!