Next Steps for #DirectDOT

by Liz Cornish, Executive Director

Yesterday was the first meeting of the Transportation Committee of Mayor-Elect Pugh’s transition team. As I sat in a room with twenty other people selected to serve our next Mayor and assist in shaping the goals of her administration, I took a moment to appreciate how even just being asked to serve was a victory for bike advocacy.

Bikemore is a young organization. And I am new to Baltimore, having only moved here in the Spring of 2015. But in that short time, we have worked to establish ourselves as valuable stakeholder when it comes to having input into transportation policy for the city. How did we do it? We have all of you. Our 3000+ network of members and supporters — the people who give generously to the people who retweet a blog post — you all played a part in helping us achieve a seat at the table.

After an election, it can be enticing to take a step back. To disengage from the level and intensity of civic engagement an election often asks us to make. I implore you to resist that temptation. Because right now, decisions are being made that will set the course for the next four years. And while I have confidence in the folks gathered around the table at the transportation committee meeting yesterday, what I sensed is that there is a still a disconnect between wanting to believe in bold ideas, and actually implementing them. We need you to keep the pressure on, and let them know that residents from every neighborhood in Baltimore are asking for these improvements to transit, to walking, and to biking. That making the city safe for biking and walking isn’t only a carrot that we dangle in front of a millennial workforce we hope to attract, but that safety is fundamental to the quality of life of all residents — especially those most in need of transportation. That the economic and public health benefits of designing a city that is safe for biking and walking are something that we shouldn’t have to advocate for, but that should be the standard of good government.

Our #DirectDOT campaign centered on making sure that your voice was included in this transition of leadership. That whomever Mayor-Elect Pugh selects to lead the agency, should be someone that has progressive ideas of how to make the best use of our city’s resources. So keep posting your ideas on social media. Make sure your posts are set to public so we can archive them and share them as we work on the transition team. Additionally, we invite you all to use the Mayor-Elect’s transition website to provide input.

We all have a role to play in shaping the city where we want to live. Keep engaging, keep asking questions, and keep fighting. Because if I’ve learned anything from this past year’s success — it’s when we fight, we win.

#DirectDOT: Anikwenze Ogbue says transportation is freedom

This interview is part of #DirectDOT, Bikemore's campaign to send a message to the next administration that the new Director of DOT needs to be a champion for livable streets.

When Anikwenze's sisters taught him how to balance without training wheels, they forgot an important detail — how to stop. At age five, he took off around the block but wiped out when he returned to his own driveway. He still has a scar on his left hand from this early memory of biking, but he kept at it. 

In Mississauga, the Toronto suburb he grew up in, there were sidewalks along every street, trails that cut through parks, and bike racks at school — so he walked and biked to school, to visit friends, to play sports, and to the convenience store. Growing up in pre-cell phone days, there there was always a set time to be home by, but the boundaries for how far he could go got further and further as he got older. His parents took him on the subway or train downtown when he went to work with them and he loved the excitement of it. Walking, biking, and public transit were just how he and his family got around. 

Today, Anikwenze Ogbue, a transportation engineer here in Baltimore, is figuring out how to get around with his own family in his neighborhood and in his city. 

How do you get around?

"The favorite part of my commute is walking my son to child care. After I drop him off I take the bus to work and my wife picks him up. We do all of this as a one-car family. Many people assume that being car-light or car-free is impossible in Baltimore. Three things make it possible to live a car-light or car-free life: safe streets, frequent transit and walkable amenities. We can walk or bike to a frequent bus line on Loch Raven Boulevard (103X & 3). We also have a plaza and a library within walking distance. 

The more we did it the more we found ways to make it easier. For instance, taking my son to the pediatrician as a toddler was easier on the bus with a carrier instead of a stroller. I also found that using the bus-bike rack cut my commute time significantly."

What’s your favorite thing about your neighborhood?

"I can’t name just one favorite thing about Original Northwood. I like that everyone is doing something to make the neighborhood better and help each other. We have an active community association that helps to organize different events, like the Summer Block Party, the Newcomers Party, and summer Popsicle nights for families.

We also benefit from having people of different races, backgrounds, ages and incomes.  It’s worth noting that it wasn’t always this way. When the Roland Park Company developed Original Northwood covenant restrictions on deeds were used to restrict home sales by race. Although those restrictions no longer exist, a neighbor started the Sister Neighborhood Arts Project (SNAP!) to help our surrounding communities unpack this history and understand how it impacts us today."

What's the biggest barrier in your neighborhood to getting around and accessing amenities by bike or foot? 

He says that getting around on bike or by foot is easier within the community, but the neighborhood is bounded by a few major streets: Loch Raven Boulevard, The Alameda and Argonne Drive creating two major intersections with a history of crashes.

Havenwood Road and Loch Raven Boulevard had five crashes during the first quarter of 2016. Because it's highest point on the road, sight distance is limited for three of the roads that lead into the intersection. And at Argonne Drive and The Alameda, five crashed occurred in the first quarter of 2016. As you can see in the photos above, traffic converges from five different directions, it isn’t clear where to turn, and there are no push-buttons or pedestrian signals — so it often feels like a game of chance to guess when it’s your turn to cross. Fortunately, based on some interactions between the neighborhood association and DOT, some lane markings will be added to improve how vehicles move through the intersection.

what would an ideal neighborhood street look like? and WHAT DOES SAFETY even MEAN? 

"To me the ideal neighborhood street is safe in two ways. Safety means residents and visitors on the street respect one another. Safety also means the most vulnerable people can use the street regardless of their mode (wheelchair, bike, transit or vehicle). In both ways of viewing safety there are tools to mitigate conflict if it arises."

Anikwenze goes on to say that, "A neighborhood street is also adaptable and responsive to the needs of the community."  According to the Census Bureau's 2010-2013 American Community Survey, 30.6% of Baltimore households do not have a car. This is often not due to abundant mobility choices, but an issue of cost and access. This lack of safe and affordable choices caused many communities to innovate and create transportation 'hacks' by themselves, a system of informal drivers picking up residents in the neighborhood and driving them to their destination. And while today formal ride shares like Uber and ZipCar help address this issue, in neighborhoods where multi-modal options have not yet reached many still rely on 'hacks.' 

Anikwenze says that, "As a transportation engineer this shows me there is latent demand for improved walking, biking and transit infrastructure in communities with low car ownership. Latent demand can be explained with a story about two shoe salesmen who visit an inaccessible community. After canvassing the area one shoe salesman gave up and reported no sales to his office: 'I’m returning tomorrow. Nobody here wears shoes!' However, the other shoe salesman saw opportunity and informed his office, 'Send more product. Everybody here needs shoes!' If we think like the second salesman Baltimore’s streets will be a safe and adaptable network of sidewalks, bike routes and high-frequency transit."

Why would you like to see leadership at DOT put people before of cars?

"I actually think DOT has made strides to take risks and provide people with more choices to get around without a car," Anikwenze says, citing projects like the bus lanes on Pratt and Lombard for the Baltimore Link, Pratt Street Pilot Pop-Up Cycle Track, Baltimore Bike Share and the Downtown Bike Network. And he notes the collaboration between DOT and MTA on the TIGER grant award for the North Avenue Rising multi-modal improvements. "This same collaborative spirit can lead to concerted efforts with other agencies and communities on specific transportation issues." 

Anikwenze says it's crucial to shift the thinking to focus on transportation modes that move the most people in the least amount of space. The traditional level of service (LOS) model judged performance of transportation based on how quickly vehicles move, without factoring in the number of people traveling to a destination — as seen in the visual below. 

GIF: Seattle Bike Blog

GIF: Seattle Bike Blog

"To continue making more progress future DOT leadership can seek more opportunities for multi-modal facilities in communities with latent demand. Neighborhoods outside of the waterfront and central city as well as high-capacity transit hubs like Mondawmin Mall are prime locations for improved walking, biking and transit infrastructure. The future of a connected multi-modal transportation network in Baltimore rests on six E’s: Equity, Evaluation, Engineering, Education, Encouragement and Enforcement. These are the tools that ensure every citizen has mobility and access to opportunity.

And if Anikwenze could only say one thing about creating safer streets to the people in charge? He'd tell them transportation is freedom.

#DirectDOT: Lessons from Seattle & Pittsburgh about building quality, quickly

Seattle built a 1.2 mile two-way protected bike lane in just 4 months and in Pittsburgh it took 4 months to announce, build and install their first three protected bike lanes. Seattle and Pittsburgh are cities with leadership (and bike advocates!) that have a strong commitment to bike infrastructure, evident by the quality and speed at which they're building. 

While local conditions will always vary, seeing cities quickly building quality bike infrastructure demonstrates what is possible with committed, forward thinking leadership.

What do we love about how bike infrastructure is getting built in Seattle?

It's being built quickly. The 2nd Ave bike lane "Originally on schedule for construction in 2016, Murray gave SDOT directions in May to make a protected bike lane happen before Pronto Cycle Share launches in late summer. Four months is a very fast timeline for a project of this scale, but SDOT delivered. Now the city has a jump start on creating a safer and more comfortable bike network in the city center." — Seattle Bike Blog

Volunteers and signs are telling people about changes. In addition to signage, like in the photos below,  the local advocacy group mobilized volunteers to be stationed along the new lane at its opening to answer questions.

The city continues to iterate on the design once they see how people are using it. After a new bike lane opened, the city made several changes to improve problem intersections, including improved “no turn on red” signage and changing green balls to straight arrows.

They're building bike infrastructure in coordination with public transit infrastructure. 
For example, the two-way protected bike lanes on Broadway were created as part of the $134 million First Hill streetcar expansion.

    What do we love about how bike infrastructure is getting built in Pittsburgh?

    It's being built quickly. It took Pittsburgh 4 months to announce, build and install their first three protected bike lanes. That's really fast! 

    Mayor Peduto has a bold, unwavering commitment to building protected bike infrastructure. He said, "It isn't the way it was in 1970. Not everyone's dream is to have their own car and be able to use it to get to work. [...] When you talk about the bike infrastructure and the investment and capital dollars to build it out, you're really not talking about bike lanes. What you're talking about is a multimodal approach to building out your infrastructure."

    While community involvement in these projects has been questioned, we believe bike infrastructure projects are strongest with both committed and fearless city leaders and sustained engagement with communities. And here in Baltimore, we're definitely committed to both, with a combination of efforts like #DirectDOT and our community engagement campaign for the Downtown Bike Network.

    The city put their money where your mouth is by passing a particularly bike friendly city budget. This included significant funding for protected bike lanes, bike infrastructure in a diversity of neighborhoods, funding for bike racks, improved sidewalks, and more.  

    Mayor Peduto issued a Complete Streets Executive Order, which was unanimously adopted by Planning Commission, and affirmatively recommended for City Council to adopt. This ensures that a complete streets vision is carried through all city departments in the design, construction, and maintenance and use of the city's streets.

    They're building bike lanes within a complicated landscape of hills, bridges, narrow and non-grid streets. Pittsburgh, not unlike Baltimore, is a city with characteristics that make bike infrastructure and biking itself difficult: tons of hills, bridges, windy roads, and a strong car culture. But the city is taking that as a challenge rather than a barrier. 

    According to Bike PGH, census numbers show that bike commuter rates doubled since Pittsburgh began vigorously installing bike lanes in 2007. Seattle and Pittsburgh demonstrate what is possible, and act as an illustration of what we can and should be asking for from Baltimore leadership.

    → Share your vision for a Baltimore that builds quality bike facilities on a reasonable timeline through our #DirectDOT campaign!

    #DirectDOT: Amy Bonitz wants all kids to be able to walk to school safely

    When you pass by Roland Park Elementary/Middle School on a Wednesday in October, you're likely to see kids with crazy hair, the Loyola mascot, and an outpouring of excitement and energy as students make their way toward school. If you've ever been to a school on an early morning, you'd know that this is not typical — but Walk to School day at Roland Park isn't typical. 

    “I feel like I belong to a community when I walk,” says Amy Bonitz, a Baltimore parent taking active steps to get her neighbors walking and biking more — and taking active steps to build the infrastructure that encourages it. Like many, she loves to walk to run errands, to connect with nature along Stony Run Walking Path, to walk her dog and even to get her kids to school. She’s thankful for the tree lined streets and sidewalks in parts of her neighborhood that make these things possible.

    For the past few years, she’s been organizing Walk and Bike to School activities for Roland Park Public Elementary/Middle School, with about half of the 1400 students participating in annual Walk to School month in October and Bike to School month in May. “I love how excited the kids get about participating and how parents share their experiences of forming new habits of walking or biking to school,” Amy says.

    Amy and other local advocates organized the school community to support the creation of the Roland Park Cycle Track to help kids bike to school, but they're hoping to keep the ball rolling. Like much of Baltimore, the biggest barriers to walking and biking in her neighborhood are “speeding cars and the challenges of crossing major arteries."

    But these committed volunteers need the city's support. She wants help to reduce speeding throughout the neighborhood and to create real crossings for bikes and pedestrians at intersections along Northern Parkway and Charles Street. "I feel like some things are harder than they need to be like getting more bike racks for our school. I also feel like the City's Walk to School program is too formulaic and needs to support schools in developing a unique plan to meet the needs of each school."

    "I wish all Baltimoreans had the opportunities to walk in a safe environment with trees and adequate sidewalks and crossings. There are way too many one-way streets in Baltimore that are geared toward allowing through traffic to get through neighborhoods as fast as possible. These streets are bleak, mini-highways that undermine any sense of community for residents on either side and create a hostile environment to walk in. There are also too many non-ADA sidewalks and not enough trees and garbage cans.
    The ideal street in my mind would be two-way, with on-street parking and street trees. These streets would have trash cans that are emptied frequently to cut down on litter and main streets would incorporate transit to cut down on automobile use. Major streets would also have neighborhood retail or community amenities on the first floor of key buildings to activate those streets and provide nearby amenities. Bike lanes would also be incorporated in a strategic manner to link City neighborhoods together.
    We can't have a livable city, reduce health disparities and rebuild devastated neighborhoods if we treat streets in our poorest neighborhoods as highways whose sole job is to move traffic as fast as possible. We need two-way, complete streets in Baltimore's neighborhoods and a DOT leader who is a creative doer that feels a sense of urgency in moving the City toward a 21st century street network." 
    — Amy Bonitz

    The walk and bike to school days that Amy and other volunteers formally organize are only two months a year, but if you do something for a month, it tends to become a habit. Walk to school on Wednesdays in October has become "walking Wednesdays" year round for many families.

    While Amy and her team have accomplished a ton, imagine what a group of committed neighbors and parents could accomplish with the support of a DOT Director who has a vision that all students should be able to safely walk and bike to school. 

    → Share your vision for streets that are safe enough for all kids to walk and bike to school through our #DirectDOT campaign!

    #DirectDOT: New Complete Streets Policy for Baltimore

    Rendering: NACTO

    Rendering: NACTO

    What is a complete street?

    "Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. 

    There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more." — Smart Growth America

    What's the status of Complete Streets in Baltimore?

    Building complete streets requires both leadership (like mayors and DOT directors) that is dedicated to it and policy in place that directs the city, its planners and engineers to design complete streets. 

    In late 2009, Mayor Sheila Dixon’s Bicycle Advisory Committee worked with Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke to introduce a Mayor and City Council Resolution for Complete Streets. The bill sat for several months. With advocacy from the bicycle community, the bill came out of subcommittee in December of 2010 and was subsequently passed by the full City Council and signed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

    At the time, Baltimore was on the leading edge of cities passing complete streets legislation that prioritized multi-modal transportation options on city streets. However, the downside of being one of the first cities to pass such legislation is that the language of Baltimore’s complete streets bill lacked specificity and contained significant loopholes.

    As a result, over the past six years Baltimore City Department of Transportation has routinely ignored the spirit of the complete streets legislation, resulting in planning, design, and construction of streets that prioritize moving cars over moving people — the exact opposite of what complete streets legislation tries to achieve.

    What's next?

    Planning for cars first is not just a transportation problem, it's an equity problem. Promoting private vehicle throughput over safe options for transit, biking and walking unfairly harms our most vulnerable road users, who also often are individuals in our city most in need of connections to opportunity.

    Bikemore is working with Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and the incoming City Council to introduce a new, stronger Complete Streets Ordinance that will more clearly outline the intent of complete streets, mandate certain design standards, and require DOT to report regularly on progress.

    What are we advocating for?

    We're advocating that the new legislation be specific and measurable. Here are a few of the requirements in the proposed new legislation (none of which were in the original legislation):

    • Mandate a “modal hierarchy” of pedestrians first, followed by transit riders, bicyclists, automobiles, and parking. Simply put, the bill will require design to prioritize people who walk, bike, or take transit over people in private automobiles.

    • Mandate use of the latest urban design standards over the dated manuals currently in use.

    • Remove the “Motor Vehicle Level of Service” standard, and apply “Multi-Modal Level of Service” methodology, if a level of service standard is used at all. This means adding bike lanes, reducing travel lanes, and making other pedestrian, transit, and bicycle improvements won’t be thrown out of consideration due to potential delays for individuals in personal vehicles.

    • Mandate travel lane widths at a maximum of 10 feet, except on mapped transit and truck routes, where lane widths may be 11 feet. Many roads in Baltimore have lane widths wider than the standard for highways, which encourages people to drive at higher speeds on these roads. Narrowing the travel lanes will calm traffic and add space for bicycle and walking improvements over time.

    • Mandate a default design vehicle similar in size to a UPS delivery truck — meaning design streets (that aren't truck or public transit routes) to be optimal for a large delivery van rather than an 18-wheeler. When streets are designed or changed, the city uses a "design vehicle" as the typical road user. Baltimore currently uses a 18-Wheel tractor trailer as the default design vehicle, even on streets where trucks are not permitted. This results in wide travel lanes, soft curbs, and far distances for pedestrian crossings to facilitate truck turns that will never happen on those streets. 

    • Mandate street design that limits visual clutter and remains sensitive to Baltimore's historic character.

    While the Complete Streets Bill from 2010 was a step in the right direction, it wasn't specific enough to implement and wasn't made a priority by the administration. This new bill will be a huge step forward for Baltimore, and allow us to catch up to neighboring cities and begin to address the inequity of our roadway planning. Paired with a visionary complete streets leader to #DirectDOT, we will be empowered to implement world-class complete streets treatments in Baltimore.

    → Share your vision for Complete Streets in Baltimore through our #DirectDOT campaign!

    Our work achieves tangible outcomes, like Complete Streets policy, that ensures Baltimore streets are designed for everyone. We need your support to keep winning for livable streets.