Downtown Bike Network

Downtown Bike Network Resumes Construction

Downtown Bike Network Construction Timeline (courtesy of BCDOT)

Downtown Bike Network Construction Timeline (courtesy of BCDOT)

The Downtown Bike Network resumes construction this week. For full details, please visit Baltimore City Department of Transportation’s Downtown Bike Network page.

Background

The Downtown Bike Network was originally slated to be completed over a year ago. Construction was halted during the Potomac Street fire access discussion, and the Baltimore City Fire Department required a full re-design of the Downtown Bike Network before construction could resume.

We believe a re-design to comply with arbitrary fire clearance standards was unnecessary, and successfully fought to overturn that piece of fire code to prevent those standards from affecting projects again.

However, this fight occurred alongside the construction halt on Downtown Bike Network. So we worked with Baltimore City Department of Transportation on a re-design that improved significant portions of the design while also maintaining the at-the-time required fire clearance.

New Design Monument/Centre (the good)

The new design creates a fully-separated, two-way bike lane along Centre and Monument Streets from MLK/Eutaw to Washington Street. This will allow direct connections to future separated lanes on Wolfe or Washington Streets to the East, and to the future MLK sidepath and Eutaw Place separated lane.

The design replaces the original protected lane on Madison Street east of Guilford Avenue, replacing it with the two-way facility on Monument.

New Design Madison (not so good/opportunity to improve)

West of Guilford Avenue, Madison Street is planned to have a combination of separated lanes and buffered lanes, the latter being a requirement in portions due to the fire code. This section has been strongly opposed by the Director of Baltimore School for the Arts, and as a result, implementation has been delayed until Summer 2019.

Madison Street needs a re-design that calms traffic along the corridor. It is dangerous and contributes to economic decline of the corridor.

This delay in implementation is both a disappointment and an opportunity. The fire code update will go into effect in the end of October, which gives us the winter to discuss a better design for Madison Avenue that will meet the needs of people biking, the community desire for real traffic calming, and Dr. Ford’s concerns at Baltimore School for the Arts.

However, the delay until Summer 2019 may mean the grant will expire, causing us to lose the money to construct any design on Madison Street. This would be an unacceptable outcome. BCDOT must work to ensure any delay does not end with an expired grant, and must accept that some stakeholders may never accept infrastructure changes, even when they address critical street safety issues.

Changes on Maryland/Cathedral

Certain portions of the Maryland Avenue cycle track contain construction errors in the original design, including at the Pratt Street intersection. Other portions are regular conflict points, like at Centre Street and at the Lexington Street parking garage. Resuming construction of the Downtown Bike Network will allow us to fix these sections with correct and/or improved designs that will make the Maryland Avenue cycle track safer for all users.

Overall

The Downtown Bike Network will create a critical cross town connection that can be expanded upon into East and West Baltimore over the next 2-3 years. We’re thankful that BCDOT is taking a bold step in creating another high quality connection, and that they used this delay to think creatively and improve designs.

We will advocate to use the winter to improve the Madison Street design for a spring implementation that does not risk grant expiration.


Fire Access issue still delaying the Downtown Bike Network

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This morning the city's Board of Estimates voted to approve a 318 day delay for work for the contractor hired to construct the Downtown Bike Network — again citing the fire access issue as the cause for delay. This means that the city now has until October 31, 2018 to complete work that was originally set to be completed by January 2017.

Beginning in May of 2017, there were complaints about the width of the Potomac Street bike lane which was then under construction, citing a portion of the Baltimore City adopted International Fire Code addressing the required width of streets. This code is now being applied only to streets with bike lanes, delaying construction of bike lanes that are already fully designed and funded. You can check out full story for more background on this ongoing issue. 

If less than 20 feet of clearance is truly a safety threat, the city should be applying the code to all projects, said Bikemore executive director Liz Cornish — not just those with bike lanes. “They’re not applying this interpretation of the fire code equitably for streets across the city,” Cornish said. “If it is, in fact, a safety issue, it is a safety issue on all streets.”
— Baltimore bike lane construction delayed again, amid fire code concerns, Baltimore Sun
“It’s disappointing to us that this project, which has already been subject to one extension, is already a year behind, and is now potentially behind for another year because of the fire clearance issue,” said Jed Weeks, policy director for local cycling nonprofit Bikemore.
— City Officials Again Delay Downtown Bike Network’s Installation, Baltimore Fishbowl

Want to support us in our ongoing #FightforBikes?

 

 

Why We Oppose the Potomac Street Redesign

The original South Potomac Street design was a two-way, parking protected bike lane consistent with Baltimore City's adopted NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. It was an all-ages, high-quality protected bike lane.

Bikemore was supportive of an initial requested change by the Baltimore City Fire Department that would have reduced the portions from Eastern to Fait to the narrowest lanes NACTO recommends in constrained settings, allowing a wide, 12 foot travel lane on South Potomac. While we feel a lane of that width is inconsistent with the goal of slower, safer traffic on neighborhood streets, it was a compromise that still maintained the bicycle lane as all-ages.

The new design is not an all-ages facility. It is not a high-quality facility.

The section from Eastern to Fait will be moved adjacent to the travel lane, and will be striped with an unprotected buffer. This introduces two-way bike traffic in an unprotected setting, and gives a person driving a car the visual appearance of a 20+ foot roadway. Without frequent speed humps and other traffic calming measures, this will create a roadway where people driving cars will speed and possibly encounter people riding bicycles head-on. This is not low-stress, it's not all-ages, and without traffic calming measures, is unsafe.

 

FHWA guidance for a one-way facility

FHWA guidance for a one-way facility

The section from Fait to Boston narrows the two-way parking protected bike facility to just 7 feet with a 1 foot buffer.

The narrowest two-way facility NACTO guidelines recommend in constrained settings is 8 feet with a 2 foot buffer. FHWA guidance is a recommended 12 feet for a two-way facility with a required 3 foot buffer if parking protected.

This is not a two-way protected bike lane.

Even as a one-way protected lane, it would fail to meet recommended conditions from FHWA, as the buffer is too narrow. 

 

Not only do these design changes make the bike lane unusable for people of all ages and backgrounds, they jeopardize funding.

This facility was built using state and federal grants that require designs to conform to federal, state, and local street design guidebooks, including the FHWA Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide. The original design conformed to these guidebooks. The new design does not. 

It is likely that the re-design will need to go before State Highways Administration for a review in order to keep the dollars already expended on the project and expend further dollars. If this is rejected, Baltimore City may be on the hook to return expended dollars in addition to using local dollars to construct the new design, since it fails to meet guidelines. 

We can't back this.

We cannot back potentially paying back grant dollars with local dollars and spending even more local dollars on top of that to design and install a worse facility that makes the street less safe for all road users. 

Every local dollar spent on this imaginary problem is a local dollar that the city said they didn't have to invest in bicycle infrastructure in other neighborhoods. The West Baltimore Bike Boulevards project has been held up for a year because the city couldn't commit the funds to get the project done. But now there's suddenly local money available to cave to unreasonable demands in Canton?

Spend the money on facilities elsewhere.

We know the city has money available for bike facilities, because they have suddenly come up with it to make this change in Canton. We don't believe any change should be made. But if the Mayor's Office is committed to tearing out this perfectly good bike facility, they should revert the street back to the original configuration and use any money they allocated to a new, worse design on building out bicycle infrastructure wanted and needed by other communities. We can come back to Potomac Street once this fire access issue is fully sorted out. There's no need to build inferior infrastructure in the meantime. 

There are two ways to take action today! 

Register to attend our Shifting Power workshop, our new program providing livable streets advocacy training to everyday citizens.

Tell your elected officials that you are against the Mayor's Office decision to redesign the Potomac Street bike lane, and that you support safe streets for all. 

On Bikelash & Potomac Street


by Liz Cornish, Executive Director


I got this question in my inbox last week:

I am on Nextdoor and have seen some vocal individuals that are against the Potomac Ave cycle track. Is this something that could be shut down? I am wondering if I need to worry about them or not.

If your question is should you worry about folks opposed to the bike lane being able to have it removed, my answer is honestly, I don’t know. I do know we’ve been working with the Department of Transportation, the Mayor’s office, Councilman Cohen’s office, and the Canton Community Association to make sure we understand why folks are concerned and that those issues are addressed. DOT has been out on the site numerous times addressing any resident’s valid concerns. They plan to be at the 5/23 Canton Community Association meeting to report out on the construction of the project and discuss ways communication and implementation can be improved in the future. That said, it is Bikemore’s opinion that communication on this project was adequate. Each resident on Potomac received door hangers, multiple public meetings were held over a two year period, and those meetings were well attended. Installation is still a challenge, but we are working with DOT to advocate for improvements that reduce the time that residents are confused about new construction.

Bike lanes are a thing now in Baltimore — something people in Baltimore have been fighting to get moving for years. The opposition is vocal, but most concerns are run of the mill bikelash, something that has been happening and being overcome in other cities for years. Bikelash mostly just represents fear of change. It’s something we now have to navigate as a city that is actually making progress on building out a bike network. But it’s important that those in the neighborhood express their support: to Councilman Cohen, DOT, and the Canton Community Association. It is not a forgone conclusion that the Mayor will continue to make progress in this area. We already have seen instances where leadership within the City are prepared to walk back improvements because they seem unwilling to stand strong on a commitment to safe streets or a transportation vision that goes beyond planning for cars. We will be sending out a targeted email tomorrow to those on our list who live near the facility with instructions on how to show your support and get more information about construction at the 5/23 meeting. (If you're not yet on our email list or haven't provided your home address before, subscribe here.)

The recent behavior I’ve witnessed from some who oppose changes in the public right of way that allocate more space for people who bike is worrisome. Baltimore is facing a public health crisis of immense proportions. The astronomical rates of violence, addiction, and chronic disease are a direct result of our cities inability to address the fact that a significant number of people in this city don’t have access to jobs, safe housing, healthy food, or high quality schools. We have talented local leaders with community based knowledge of what our most vulnerable residents need. We have leading academic research, that comes from our very own anchor institutions that points to public policy solutions to these issues. We know what we need to do. That doesn’t mean the solutions are easy, or that the money to execute on solutions is readily available, or that the legislative or policy solutions to enact these solutions have been created. That is the work — change the laws and the policies so the barriers to implementation are removed, and prioritize the funding of these solutions. But no matter who we elect, or how many forums we convene, we just can’t seem to get to the “doing” part.

You see, addressing root causes — by radically reorganizing our power structures and shifting funding priorities to do so — requires a complete shift in mindset. Our “City of Neighborhoods” mentality may be charming, but the fortress mentality that it creates is holding us back. We have a lot of Baltimore residents who live in relative comfort and safety, that will fight tooth and nail when a parking spot or a tree in their neighborhood is under threat, but will not apply that same level of tenacity or civic mindedness to our most pressing city wide problems. And that’s what I see when I see bikelash. I see a misapplication of concern, talent and resources. I see people mistaking compromises in personal preference or convenience for actual injustice. I see people more concerned with retaining power in a situation, rather than co-creating solutions that still create safety. And I witness how this ties the hands of city employees when they aren’t always granted the political cover to forge ahead on projects that are working toward addressing root causes but receiving public backlash — especially when that backlash comes from wealthy, politically connected constituents.

Good projects create space and opportunity for folks to have input and have their concerns addressed. Good cities have leadership that weigh community input against long range plans for improving the public good and determine the best path forward.

Making the streets safer for people who walk and bike is a public good. And we need to do more. We need to implement plans faster, and we need to ensure that resources for active transportation improvements are distributed equitably. That’s what our Complete Streets legislation seeks to do. That’s creating the policy that allows us to begin to work toward progress.

But bikelash? That’s an old way of doing business in Baltimore that is predicated on this idea that if you're relatively affluent, and politically connected, and shout and threaten to move away you’ll get your way — often at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens. That’s not democratic. That’s not neighborly. That’s not the mindset that will allow us to take on the most important challenges that lie ahead. And if elected officials continue to cave to these temper tantrums rather than following the lead of cities around the world of creating public spaces that work for all modes of transportation, Baltimore will continue to be left behind.



Want to support city wide organizing and coalition building around complete streets?

We are all traffic


On September 24th, The Baltimore Sun published an article titled Downtown road work, detours galore driving commuters crazy. The article examined how necessary infrastructure and road projects were causing gridlock on Baltimore’s downtown streets. While compounding projects can certainly increase congestion, what the article failed to point out is that two projects — the bus only lanes on Pratt and Lombard and the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack — are projects that are looking to relieve traffic congestion by prioritizing other modes of travel. By simply lumping these projects together rather than discussing their intended purpose, we set a low bar for discourse around how to address transportation issues in the city.

Traffic isn’t something that happens to you, it is something we all play a role in creating. And while uncoordinated construction projects can lead to problematic congestion — we shouldn’t use congestion as the sole metric to evaluate the performance of transportation. Congestion isn’t always bad. In fact, in many cities congestion means lots of jobs and lots of people traveling to them. Bad traffic is often a sign of good growth. When traffic congestion does reach a threshold that begins to impede business, research tells us that the solution is to invest in alternative transportation such as public transit and bike infrastructure. We know that commuting time is the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. In a city where 33% of residents do not have access to a vehicle, our greatest threat to economic growth is not traffic congestion, but access to reliable transportation.

Not everyone can choose to ride a bike to work. But everyone can choose to support projects that increase biking and transit ridership by making these modes of travel safe, reliable and convenient. Right now, there are thousands of people in Baltimore that would like to try biking to work and won’t because it just feels too unsafe. Right now there are thousands of people already biking to work everyday that deserve to arrive there safely. And unlike the Abell resident from the article who lives a mere two miles from her workplace and a short walk from the Circulator or any number of southbound buses, many lack the ability to choose to travel to work any other way. The number one way to increase the safety of people on bikes is to increase ridership. The number one way to increase ridership is to create a dedicated, easy to understand network of protected infrastructure. The best way to reduce traffic congestion is to give people real options to get out of their cars.

With a new Mayor taking office this fall, we have an opportunity to appoint a Director of the Department of Transportation that understands that transportation includes all modes of travel, not just people who drive cars.  That economic growth happens when we connect more people to opportunity by investing in affordable, high quality, reliable transportation options. When we make decisions that prioritize the comfort and speed of commuters who travel by car over residents that would prefer to walk, bike, or take transit we erode the vibrancy of city life. We turn charming neighborhood streets into high speed thoroughfares. We actively limit choice in transportation rather than follow the lead of cities large and small throughout the United States that are working to expand it.

This fall Bikemore is launching a campaign to send a message to the next administration about what priorities the next Director of DOT should champion. As residents who believe that our economic prosperity, health and quality of life are directly related to the types of transportation investments we make, it’s imperative that we change the conversation from moving just cars to moving more people. You can follow the campaign using the hashtag #DirectDOT, and share your vision for transportation in Baltimore City.