Maryland Ave Cycletrack

The Value of Showing Up

When I took on the role of Executive Director a little over 14 months ago, I could count the people I knew in Baltimore on one hand. Over the past year getting to know the hundreds of people galvanized around our mission has been incredibly humbling and rewarding. Bike people are the best people.

Riding a bike in Baltimore connects us to one another and to the city that we love. We see more when we’re riding through the city on two wheels, and I believe it helps us become more compassionate and engaged citizens and neighbors. 

We know Baltimore is at a critical juncture. This year will see so many of Bikemore’s very first priorities as an organization realized, all while the city is undergoing significant political change. That is a direct result of your support over the past four years, and we are so grateful for your sustained generosity. Maryland Avenue cycle track, bike share, it’s all finally happening.

There’s no doubt in my mind we are gaining ground for livable streets. But I urge you not to become complacent. The ground we have gained is still meager compared to other cities both large and small. If we want a city that prioritizes people over cars, that seeks out solutions that champion public health, affordable and reliable transportation solutions, and streets that are safe for all users, we have to remain committed to building a force for biking in Baltimore. 

The single best way for us to show Baltimore we mean business is to show up. When there is a public meeting on a project related to livable streets, when your community association is discussing a transportation or streetscape project, we need you to be there. 

Public meetings and community input has its challenges. Evening meetings can be tough to make, presentations and public input sessions can be lengthy. But right now I need help showing the city that we are making good on our promise to deliver community support for the projects we’ve all been fighting hard for the past four years. 

This next month has a lot of opportunities to learn about these new developments and show your support. Perhaps none more important that the final public meeting for the Downtown Bike Network scheduled for Wednesday August 31st at the Baltimore School for the Arts at 6:00pm. Years have passed since the last public meetings, so many new residents will be learning about the project for the very first time. There are bound to be concerns over traffic lane reductions and parking loss. Let’s show the city that there are hundreds of us engaged in the fight for safer, healthier, more livable streets and that we are ready to support and celebrate the wins alongside them when they come. 

We invite you to celebrate a month of progress by joining us at a fundraiser for our new political advocacy arm Thursday September 1, 2016 from 5-10 pm at Clavel. They are generously donating 50% of proceeds from draught beer, wine and our signature cocktail to support our advocacy work. More details to come. 

 

Upcoming Public Meetings and Events: 

Pop Up Cycle Track and Bike Share Demo
Friday, August 5 5:00-6:00 pm
1501 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21231, United States

Bike Share Community Input Meeting-South Baltimore Stations 
Tuesday, August 23 6:00-7:30 pm
South Baltimore Learning Center
28 E Ostend St, Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Bike Share Community Input Meeting-West Baltimore Stations
Thursday August 25 6:00-7:30 pm
Bon Secours Community Works
26 N Fulton Ave, Baltimore, Maryland 21223

Bike Share Community Input Meeting-East Baltimore Stations
Tuesday August 30 6:00-7:30 pm
St. Leo's Church
221 S Exeter St, Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Downtown Bike Network Open House
Wednesday August 31st 6:00-7:30 pm
Baltimore School for the Arts
712 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201

Bikemore Priorities Update Part I: Maryland Avenue Cycletrack

Early rendering of the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack shown here between 29th and 28th st. Updated designs include flex posts throughout the project. 

Early rendering of the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack shown here between 29th and 28th st. Updated designs include flex posts throughout the project. 

When Bikemore was formed in December of 2011, our board and stakeholders set forth advocacy priorities. These included the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack, Mt. Royal Streetscape Project, and Charm City Bike Share. While there have been many accomplishments along the way, these three priorities have continued to encounter critical challenges that have meant none of these projects have been completed. 

We wanted to start the new year by taking a moment to review and update you on how these priorities continue to fit into our organizational goals. In a three part series released over the next few days, we will discuss where each of these projects stand, and how you--our members--can support our advocacy efforts to see each of these priorities is achieved. 

Part I: Maryland Avenue Cycletrack

Summary

The facility is a two way cycle track on the east side of Maryland Avenue. The length of the facility is 2.6 miles and extends from 29th street to Pratt. The road will be narrowed to one southbound travel lane. Street parking will be retained throughout most of the corridor, and serve as the barrier “protecting” the cycletrack from moving traffic. Flex posts are also included in the design. 

Challenges

  • Funded through state and federal grants, the project has been subject to the State Highway Administration (SHA) Review process. 
  • Challenges in relationships and changing staff at both Baltimore City DOT (BCDOT) and at the Maryland Department of Transportation led to lengthy approval processes at each stage of the design process. 
  • Maryland Avenue became part of a larger project--the Downtown Bicycle Network which includes protected bike lanes on Monument and Madison and conventional bike lanes on Preston and Biddle, which led to further engineering delays as new plans were drawn and ushered through the approval process. 
  • Plans had to be reworked again in order to respond to community push back from the Mt. Vernon Business Association in order to retain hundreds of parking spaces. 
  • In 2015, the project spent most of the year in a back and forth between agencies on ADA compliance at intersections. The facility is now ADA compliant. 

Where the project stands today: 

On December 16th, Bikemore received notification from SHA that plans for the Downtown Bike Network were officially approved and are now back with the city. It is now up to the City to advertise. This is the furthest in the process this project has been, and marks a significant milestone. The city must advertise for a minimum of 21 days before a contract can be awarded. According to our sources at BCDOT, much of the work to prepare the Request for Proposals has been complete. 

It’s our best estimation that if the city moves quickly, they can advertise and award in Feb/March. We believe that given all the delays, we will still be pushing for their estimated March 2016 groundbreaking. The construction will happen in stages, with Maryland Avenue being the first project to break ground. Construction is anticipated to last 90 days. The entire installation for the Downtown Bicycle Network is anticipated to last six months. 

Lessons Learned

Communication between agencies at the city and state level is critical. We are grateful for new leadership at Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration that seems committed to ensuring that city plans don’t languish unnecessarily in the review stage. Both agencies have been helpful in listening to our concerns about project delays and being proactive in uncovering where the plans were held up in the process. 

But even despite relationship building at the city and state level, both agencies engaged in a level of finger pointing that makes it difficult for us to truly assess where and why the delays occurred. It is our assessment that there are three factors at play that make it so difficult for Baltimore City to move quickly on state and federally funded projects. 

  1. City and State engineers are not “on the same page” when it comes to engineering guidelines for biking facilities. The state has alluded to the city needing to produce stronger plans that would result in fewer revisions, and the city has alluded to the state needing to adopt more flexible design standards. We know from this recent article published by FHWA that this finger pointing is not a problem exclusive to Maryland, but our hope is that through our continued advocacy efforts we can get engineers at the state and local level to see eye to eye on where we can be innovative and flexible in our design choices to produce the safest, best infrastructure for our region. 
  2. Lack of Political Will. When bike projects fall behind schedule, there is not a chorus of public outcry that follows. We’d like to change that. Many current elected officials don’t believe these livable streets projects are a priority of their constituents--so there is little incentive to act. But we found that often a few phone calls and in person meetings were all that it took to remind folks that people were watching and waiting on these projects to move forward. We wonder how much faster projects would move if there was more political leadership on these issues. That is why our advocacy campaign, I Bike, I Vote is so critical to changing the landscape for how and when these types of projects get built. When you have elected leaders that understand the intersectionality between public health, economics, safety and bike lanes, it's much easier to get folks to pick up the phone on your behalf. 
  3. Lack of Accountability. As evident from the recent audit of DOT, it’s clear that while we know there is some great work occurring, we also know that there are few systems of accountability agency wide. Further, we know that because of the City’s procurement process that requires them to go with the lowest bid of a contractor, it nearly guarantees low quality work or excessive and costly change orders to compensate for the ridiculously low bid. We’ve seen this time and time again--facilities that are not installed to specifications that end up reducing the facility’s quality and safety. So the system of who installs and inspects these facilities is broken, and effects so much more than just bike and pedestrian facilities. 

Advocacy Next Steps: 

  • Vote and encourage others to vote. Getting the right political leadership in place this next year will be critical to ensure we don’t take steps backwards. Bikemore will begin releasing candidate’s responses to our questionnaire beginning in February to help inform voters of their choices. 
  • Get involved in your community association. We find that a lot of the community backlash tends to concentrate here. Misinformation, anger over change are all things that can bubble up as projects begin construction. Having people that understand the facts and benefits of bike projects attending those meetings and building relationships with neighbors will go a long way. Not sure what your community association is or when they meet? Use this city website to look it up. 
  • Follow our facebook page to stay up to date on upcoming opportunities to show your support for the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack. 

A year from now, biking in Baltimore is going to look and feel very different. Now is the time to continue to grow support for biking to make sure that these new facilities we fought so hard for are installed correctly, and not undermined by community backlash. 

Tomorrow: Mt. Royal Streetscape Project 

Audits Shine Light on DOT Inefficiencies

A bicyclists rides down Maryland Ave. Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun 

A bicyclists rides down Maryland Ave. Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun 

Baltimore City is undergoing a series of agency audits for the first time in thirty years. That it took thirty years to conjure the political will to conduct financial and performance audits is in and of itself infuriating. That the first audit released, a financial and performance review of Baltimore City’s Department of Transportation revealed that the agency "provided no evidence of policies, procedures, internal controls, or accountability" for its workers' performance in most categories is maddening, although not surprising. 

While Baltimore DOT has made some internal shifts toward promoting more bike and pedestrian friendly designs, we have yet to see a single project from this new line of thinking get installed. That the response to citizens waiting years for projects like the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack is  that it has been hampered in State Highway Administration (SHA) review is so far past adequate that one is left to wonder--how can we believe you anymore? And if it is true, where is the political will from our Mayor and City Council to deliver on promises to Baltimore citizens and hold SHA accountable? 

Since beginning my tenure as Bikemore Executive Director in May, I’ve been promised countless dates of when the Downtown Bicycle Network will go to bid. Going to bid before the end of the year is critical to ensure a March 2016 groundbreaking. This is a project that has been fully funded for years. How can we tell if the back and forth between SHA is a product of poor performance at DOT, SHA or both? The answer--we can’t. When you have no policy or procedure to measure performance or to hold an agency accountable to actually deliver on the projects it promises, the results are what we have today. Very little accomplished, very few projects even close to completion. And what incentive do employees have to actually follow through on their promises when they can rest assured knowing there will be zero consequences for failing to meet their self appointed deadlines? 

What’s more, specifically in relation to the Downtown Bicycle Network--which includes the plan for the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack--DOT as of today remains firm in their statement that they are waiting for SHA approval to be finalized. Meanwhile sources at SHA have confirmed that they have released the plans to the city--although we were not able to confirm a specific date the plans were released, and still other SHA employees in their communication to DOT today have stated that approval has not been finalized. That this level of inconclusiveness is considered status quo is unacceptable.  

This is just one small example of how poor performance from DOT has been allowed to remain “unchecked”. This is in no way an indictment of individual employees, who for the most part have exhibited a willingness to hear Bikemore’s concerns and help us find answers. But rather a system that forces well intentioned employees to patronize people who are merely seeking clarity--clarity that without strong systems of accountability and performance measurement seems outside their ability to provide. 

I hope those running for office this election cycle recognize there is a new crop of informed voters who want more than platitudes about job growth and crime reduction. We want candidates to bring forth actual plans to rid our city of the horrible abuses those with power have allowed to go on for too long. Abuses that are well documented across all agencies, not just the Department of Transportation. We want candidates that understand the nuances of operating a cash strapped independent city, and are realistic about our locus of control. Good government isn’t something that should be aspirational for Baltimore, it’s something as voters we should demand.