Roland Avenue

Update on Roland Avenue

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Baltimore City Department of Transportation has decided to move forward on a directive from an absentee mayor to tear out the Roland Avenue protected bike lane and revert it back to the original design. In the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Commission meeting today, we learned that this phase of removal will cost at least $140,000.00. Mayor Pugh’s directive also included the placement of green paint on an indefinite timeline that will extend down University Parkway, adding significantly to projected costs.

At today’s meeting, we publicly confirmed with Department of Transportation staff that traffic volumes and speeds on Roland Avenue require a separated facility based on DOT’s own adopted guidance and national best practice documents codified into city law under the Baltimore Complete Streets ordinance.

For four years, we have shown up to meetings. We helped organize neighbors who believe that people of all ages and abilities should be able to bike on that stretch of road. We have received verbal threats. It has put Bikemore in an impossible position of going head to head with some of the most influential residents in the city. It has misdirected City resources. It created a contentious divide among neighbors. This project has caused unnecessary harm.

It is a failure of leadership when something as relatively insignificant as paint on a street receives this amount of resources and exposure. There are challenges facing this city that eclipse the needs on this one mile stretch of road, and it is our opinion that it is time to move on. Everyone has had their say. The next step should be to implement change that creates the safest, most fiscally responsible option. Removing the bike lane is not that.

We take our responsibility to push for streets that are proven to increase safety seriously, and and we will continue to do so. And the people that bike in this city, including the people who bike on Roland Avenue, are committed to lifting up the causes and leaders who address the multitude of problems facing our city. Streets built for people who bike, walk, and take transit are part of that effort.

The love we have for Baltimore is fierce. How can it not be? We see the city up close every single day. We are your kids’ teachers, we are your doctors, we are the political organizers fighting for affordable housing, we are in City Hall, we are your pastors, we are kids popping wheelies, we are the racers doing laps around Lake Montebello — all adding to the things that make Baltimore unique and beautiful. We are among those building a city where people want to live. The way a handful of people, who in many other instances have proven to be incredibly altruistic, have other-ized their neighbors and people who bike is inexcusable.

We want to apologize on behalf of everyone that is part of this contentious situation. Bikemore is for everyone, and safe streets should be too.

And finally we want to apologize to Rachel and everyone that knew and loved Tom Palermo. This project, as small as it was, had the potential to demonstrate the City’s commitment to preventing a tragedy like that from happening again. It had the potential to build a safe place to do the thing Tom loved most—riding bikes.

We know there are some of you wondering if we are going to sue to halt the removal of the bike lane. It is certainly an arrow in our quiver and one we have demonstrated we are not afraid to use. It is also unsustainable, and is the express reason we championed the Complete Streets Bill. This is a bill the Mayor signed into law, the same Mayor who has given this directive. And this directive is being carried out by the same agency that stood beside us celebrating the law’s passage. What other laws has Mayor Pugh signed with no intention to follow?

It is a challenging time for the City, making it especially important to do the right thing. We ask that the City evaluate the costs of the redesign, the risk of making this arbitrary decision, and the clear compromise to safety this directive will cause, and immediately stop work. To do otherwise would continue to put us on this path of confusion, contention and wastefulness.

The City must take seriously its responsibility as outlined in the Complete Streets ordinance, including the stated directive to promote biking to “the greatest extent possible.” And we will continue to fight until they do.

ACTION ALERT: Support the Pilot on Roland Ave

A letter from Liz Cornish, Executive Director, Bikemore

Next Monday DOT will host a meeting to discuss whether or not to put down orange barrels for one mile on Roland Ave for four weeks. The idea is to determine if reducing that stretch of road to one lane is viable. If successful, it will demonstrate that it is possible to design a street that calms traffic, makes it safer get out of your car while parked in the street, and creates a wider, safer protected bike lane. Everyone has waited years for an improved design. We are ready to move forward.

Tell the City you support moving forward with the pilot. Tell the City that you support a protected bike lane on Roland Avenue.

Take action by sending an email to Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton using this form:

Four years ago Tom Palermo, a beloved member of the bicycling community, and most importantly a husband and father, was killed on Roland Avenue using a bike lane on the outside of the curbside parking by Heather Cook. Cook was drunk, texting, and operating a vehicle without regard for human life. Bikemore existed before then, but there is no denying Tom’s death was a catalyzing moment for bike advocacy in Baltimore.

Shortly thereafter construction for a resurfacing and streetscaping project on Roland Avenue began, one planned long before Tom’s death. DOT moved forward with the existing design for three reasons: The Roland Park Civic League asked for a protected bike lane in their Master Plan, NACTO guidelines recommend it on streets where average vehicle speed and traffic volumes match that of Roland Avenue, and at the time it seemed unviable to garner public support for the removal of a traffic lane. There is also no doubt that Tom’s tragic death just mere blocks from the project also influenced their decision to build a protected bike lane.

Very few people are happy with the current configuration — including me. But over time a narrative emerged that people advocating for a bike lane were intruders. That only long standing residents should have a say. People with access to power typically have the upper hand. And so it was. Tensions ran high, public meetings were fraught, and the whole thing became absurd.

In this instance some people became blind with rage when their own extraneous interests weren’t given top priority. It also demonstrated that the City is still a long way from being able to respond to controversy fairly and with precision.

This is out of hand. The folks driving this controversy are no longer acting in good faith. People have been given four years to share their perspective. It’s time for a final decision to be made and move on.

I hope folks that attend the meeting take a step back and check the nastiness at the door. I hope everyone looks at the plans DOT drew up to put some barrels down on the street for four weeks and shrug their shoulders and say, ok.

There’s enough space on that street to make cars drive slower, to make it safer to exit your car when it’s parked on the street, and make a protected lane that people of all ages can safely and comfortably enjoy. Anyone that says different has decided to do so only to win a fight of their own making.

Making a public street that prioritizes the safety of all people over the convenience of cars is the best thing for everyone — even people who have made it clear that they disagree. Opponents have lots of tactics. They want more data — plenty exists. They want more time — they’ve had four years. They evoke concerns that stoke fear, like emergency response — that have no basis. They ask us to think of the children getting dropped off in cars — without regard to the kids who would like to bike but cannot do so safely. They say clearly that the road should be designed with only the people that use it the most in mind — rather than those most likely to be injured or killed. They say cyclists don’t deserve a bike lane since they already don’t follow the law — completely disregarding that in the case of people like Tom and too many others, it is the DRIVER WHO BROKE THE LAW AND KILLED SOMEONE.

I shake my head when people tell me I should stay away, not engage, not fan the flames. They forget this isn’t some pet cause or a hobby. This is advocacy for something that is proven to make people healthier and safer — something proven to save lives.

An Update on Roland Avenue

UPDATE to the Update: 

Last week, BCDOT presented options for revision of Roland Avenue. Their “preferred option” is a road diet that takes Roland Avenue down to one lane in each direction. This would slow traffic while allowing for a wider parking lane, reducing parking intrusion into the bike lane. This design would solve  It also is by far the most cost-effective and quickest to implement solution.

While several other designs presented would maintain an all-ages bike lane, they would cost in excess of a million dollars, money that can and should be spent building infrastructure in the rest of our city where it is desperately needed.

Two designs were presented that would remove protected, all-ages lanes entirely. Removing protected infrastructure on streets where our city-adopted plans require it is a dangerous and likely illegal move that we cannot support.

You can see the presentation and the options here.

Please use the below tool to send comments in support of the preferred option, #1:


In brief

On Thursday at 6:00pm at Roland Park Elementary School, Baltimore City Department of Transportation will be hosting yet another meeting on potential design revisions for Roland Avenue. It's likely that BCDOT will present at least one design option that is incompatible with adopted city guidance and removes parking protection and the all-ages classification of Roland Avenue. Please come out and show your support for a revised design that reduces a travel lane and keeps an all-ages, curbside protected bike lane on Roland Avenue.

Background: Roland Ave needs a road diet

Cars continue to speed on Roland Avenue, causing dangerous conditions for people walking, biking, or trying to enter and exit parked cars. This is not an issue with a bike lane, it's an issue with inconsiderate, speeding drivers. Luckily, it's solvable.

From day one, we have advocated for a road diet on Roland Avenue that would reduce the street to a single travel lane, a wider parking lane, and a wider curbside protected bike lane in each direction. This design is proven to slow vehicular travel speeds, by far the number one complaint about the current design on Roland Avenue. It is also the #1 design alternative listed in Roland Park Civic League's own commissioned Alta Planning report. 

Any new design for Roland Avenue must maintain an all-ages, physically separated bike facility. Baltimore City Department of Transportation's own guidance states this, as does our city-adopted Bike Master Plan and Separated Bike Network Addendum. 

Slide from the original BCDOT presentation on Roland Avenue, showing that traffic volumes and speeds on Roland Avenue require a physically separated bike facility.

Slide from the original BCDOT presentation on Roland Avenue, showing that traffic volumes and speeds on Roland Avenue require a physically separated bike facility.

Some say tear it out

Some neighbors in Roland Park continue to advocate for removal of the curbside bike lane and restoration of curbside parking.

Restoration of curbside parking would create a remaining area that is visually massive, contributing further to speeding cars along Roland Avenue. The Roland Park Civic League commissioned Alta Planning Report agrees with our assessment: "The travel lane may not seem narrower...and therefore will not calm traffic to the same degree as modification #1."

Returning parking curbside would require installation of a new median-side bike lane separated only by flex posts, or striping of a standard buffered bike lane, against BCDOT guidance. Either design would remove the all-ages, parking-separated nature of the original facility, a step backward in safety for people who bike.

Tearing it out has a cost

While additional striping for a road diet that keeps the bike lane curbside is cheap, returning parking curbside would require milling and resurfacing of Roland Avenue to install a significantly different striping pattern. This would cost upwards of $500,000 of local dollars.

For comparison, the local dollar contribution for BCDOT to build the entire separated bike network plan for West Baltimore is $464,848.

11.5 miles of separated and supporting facilities in West Baltimore could be built for the cost of returning parking curbside on Roland Avenue.

11.5 miles of separated and supporting facilities in West Baltimore could be built for the cost of returning parking curbside on Roland Avenue.

Enough is enough

Baltimore City Department of Transportation has now spent years meeting with a vocal minority of Roland Park residents. The only reasonable and safe solution to their complaints happens to be the cheapest solution: striping a road diet and keeping a protected bike lane curbside. 

Any more time or dollars spent on this project = time or dollars that could be spent on increasing access to opportunity to residents most in need of it.

If Baltimore City Department of Transportation dares spend $500,000 on resurfacing Roland Avenue to make the street less safe for people biking instead of investing that money into expanding bike access into West Baltimore per the city's own adopted Separated Bike Lane Network Plan, they will be exacerbating inequity and doubling down on our city's well documented history of structurally racist infrastructure spending.

Mythbusting: Roland Avenue Cycletrack

Two children bike in a cycletrack in Seattle. Soon children will be able to bike in a protected bike lane along Roland Avenue here in Baltimore. Photo Credit: Adam Coppola Photography

Two children bike in a cycletrack in Seattle. Soon children will be able to bike in a protected bike lane along Roland Avenue here in Baltimore. Photo Credit: Adam Coppola Photography

In case you missed it, according to at least one news source, there is a civil war going on in Roland Park. What is causing the divide is the inclusion of a parking protected bike lane (or cycletrack) on the recent road resurfacing project. While the project has the support of the Roland Park Civic League, Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, and the Roland Park Elementary and Middle School Principal, parents and faculty there is a vocal opposition comprised of Roland Park residents and business owners that want to delay the installation. 

Today Baltimore City of Department of Transportation issued a very reasoned response to concerns about the Roland Avenue Cycletrack. They state definitively that construction will go on as planned. We thank them for sticking to the City’s promise to design more complete streets that accommodate all modes. You can read the full letter from Director Johnson to Roland Park Stakeholders here. 

So knowing that the the cycletrack will move forward, we thought it still important as advocates to take time and dispel some myths both about this specific project and cycletracks in general. As more of the Bicycle Master Plan gets implemented, we will undoubtedly be forced to both come to the defense of DOT’s planned improvements, while maintaining a critical eye in hopes of getting the safest facilities possible for all road users. 

At the heart of the concerns of residents and business owners who oppose the project on Roland Avenue are two issues: 1.) a general feeling that they were not adequately informed of the project’s design and scope and 2.) that the cycletrack will do nothing to improve safety along Roland Avenue, and may in fact make it less safe by placing those exiting parked vehicles closer to traffic. 

Residents’ concerns came to a head at a recent Roland Park Civic League where the mood could be described as tense. There was yelling. There was cursing. There was a lot of throwing about flagrant lies both about the project and the process. All because of a change in the roadway design. 

We felt it was important that we lay out the facts of both this project and the cycletrack’s design to help those confused about the project’s goals gain some clarity. News reports have done little to clarify the project for readers, and in our opinion have only served to further sensationalize the project’s divisiveness. In the end you have neighbors on both sides deeply concerned about the safety of the major roadway in their neighborhood--and that’s a good thing. Neighbors should care about the safety of people where they live. But it’s become clear that the cycletrack has in some ways become a proxy for deeply entrenched feelings about public space--who gets priority, who’s entitled to use it, and what does the future of transportation planning look like in Baltimore City. 

Myth # 1

Baltimore City Department of Transportation did not properly notify residents and business owners of the new roadway design. 

The proposed cycle track has been part of the Roland Park Master Plan for five years. The scheduled resurfacing project provided an opportunity for the DOT to implement some requested improvements from the Master Plan. The first meeting to review the feasibility of including a cycletrack as part of the resurfacing project happened on September 9th, 2014. After it was determined that it was in fact feasible, DOT met with members of the Roland Park Civic League again on December 11, 2014 to review preliminary designs. These dates are important because they happened before Tom Palermo’s tragic death on December 27th, 2014. Palermo was killed while traveling in the unprotected bike lane just north of the proposed project by a drunk driver. These facts show that the cycletrack was not a reaction to the public outcry that followed Palermo’s death, but something that had been requested by the community long before, and given the timing of the resurfacing project had finally come to fruition. 

In January, the proposed plans were presented at a meeting of the Roland Park Civic League, where it was met with support. A DOT community meeting was then scheduled for April 29th, 2015 to present the full design. Due to the curfew imposed that week as a result of the Uprising, the meeting was rescheduled for June 11th, 2015. In between, the plan was presented at the annual Roland Park Civic League meeting on May 21st, 2015 with over 50 attendees. Again the project was met with support. 

Bikemore attended the June 11th DOT community meeting. It was here that of the 30 or so folks in attendance, a few were hearing of the project for the first time and were displeased with the design. Roland Park Civic League President Chris McSherry cited the multiple notices of the project in the Roland Park Civic League newsletter, that each resident of Roland Park receives. 

DOT’s follow up with the community was to then hold six additional meetings with stakeholders both opposed to and in support of the project. DOT met with business owners, school officials, and community groups. This also doesn’t account for the multiple written correspondence between DOT and stakeholders that further sought to clarify the project. 

While we can be critical of the DOT’s past track record of external communications on projects across this city, this particular project--the Roland Avenue Resurfacing and the subsequent upgrade in facilities to include a protected bike lane seems to have received an abundance of communication efforts. Whether or not one chooses to attend neighborhood meetings or read neighborhood communications is ultimately a choice, but if DOT cannot reasonably expect the official neighborhood group to effectively communicate the desires of the community, what other avenues should they pursue? At what expense? As a city agency they are required by the City’s adopted complete streets policy to assess all new road projects for the inclusion of multiple modes. They then assess the feasibility and community support to determine whether or not to move forward with a project. Those steps were taken. And one’s choice to remain ignorant to the details of a road project shouldn’t be used as the basis to call the communication inadequate. That responsibility lies with the neighborhood to assess how effective and inclusive their neighborhood group is, and if improvements can be made to ensure more voices are at the table, then steps should be made to work toward that. 

But in the end, while community input should be carefully considered, transportation projects that have the direct aim of improving safety of all road users on a public roadway should not be allowed to be derailed simply by public opposition of residents. The fact remains that this facility as designed is not an aberration, but actually quite common across the United States. And it has been reviewed by engineers at the local and state level that are required to certify the safety and effectiveness of proposed designs. The cynicism that was present at the meeting, that asserted that professional traffic engineers would bring something that would in fact make the road less safe is absurd and harmful. We have to move toward designs that do better at considering all users, and now that the DOT is beginning to do that more frequently, we can’t undercut that progress with unfounded fears. 

Myth # 2

The addition of a protected bike lane will do nothing to improve road safety or calm traffic. It will in fact make it a more dangerous road for pedestrians, residents utilizing public on street parking in front of their homes, patrons and delivery trucks accessing business along Roland Avenue, and emergency vehicles. Oh, and yes, even bicyclists. 

Because Roland Avenue is not the exact same width throughout the length of the project, the overall width of the cycletrack varies. At its narrowest the bike lane is 4 feet and the buffer between the parking lane is 2ft. It is true that this is below NACTO minimum desired width for one-way protected cycle tracks of 5 feet for the bicycle travel lane and a 3 foot buffer between parking lanes--and was the part of the project Bikemore criticized early in the design.  

The parking lane on the outside is 7 feet. Making the combined width of the parking lane and buffer 9 feet at it’s narrowest and 10 feet at its widest--still below the NACTO recommended guidelines of a combined 11 feet. So while this makes the design imperfect, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is designed to fail. Facilities of similar width were determined to be safe and viable in other communities where road width didn’t allow for NACTO minimum widths. And when you understand the politics of the neighborhood the design actually makes a lot of sense. The average daily traffic (ADT) and average vehicle speed present in the roadway demand a protected bicycle facility--meaning that the existing unprotected bike lane was inadequate. So when faced with a width issue there are a few alternatives to the proposed design all of which we believe would have faced too much cost and potential for community opposition to lead to installation: 

Widen the road: This alternative would be incredibly costly, and nullify any dollars saved by addressing this facility upgrade as part of a resurfacing project, and honestly put it fiscally out of reach. Additionally it would encroach on people’s private property. Something that I think we can safely assume would be off the table for garnering Roland Park resident support. 

Place the bike lane along the center median: See the costly argument above, but also you would have to contend with people who see the green grassy medians as part of the Olmsted vision and would not allow it to be modified (even though Olmstead’s vision most certainly included bicycle paths and not lines of parked cars). Not to mention the lengthy disruption caused by construction to the neighborhood. So while long term, Bikemore would support designs like this--it doesn’t seem feasible at this stage given available funding and the neighborhood’s willingness to endure even more construction. 

Remove street parking: One of the biggest contentions of the opposition to the cycletrack is that somehow the free public parking that fronts their property adds value. They are opposed to it being moved 6-8 feet from the curb as in the current design, and thus would most likely oppose its elimination. People must remember only 15 spaces are being removed along the project, and most of the on street parking is preserved at the request of residents. 

Eliminate one travel lane in each direction: While a road diet of this kind would certainly calm traffic, reduce traffic noise, and improve the safety of vulnerable users, that given current vehicle numbers traveling through on a daily basis, DOT did not see this solution as feasible. While idyllic, it doesn’t account for all the ways the road is used. 

The important thing to remember is that the installation of this design at this time, does not mean that the facility couldn’t be improved at a later date. As bike ridership increases, local money allocated for projects, and our overall competitiveness for state and local dollars will increase--leading for more options becoming fiscally viable in the future. 

We also see attitudes shifting. It was noticeable that the people in the room most enthusiastic about the project were families with school aged children, and the ones opposed were elderly residents with children no longer in the home. As communities’ desires shift, so does the political will present to put forward designs that go further to create transportation equity among all modes. 

Perhaps the most explosive part of the Roland Park Civic League meeting was when a mother leapt from her seat holding a sign depicting the roadway conditions in front of her home. Her concern was how safe would she be while loading and unloading her children while parked on the street.  This idea that the design pushed those exiting parked vehicles further into traffic and in harm's way is complicated. Yes, on street parking is no longer “protected” by the bicycle lane that was previously present on the outside of the parked cars. The bike lane as it was designed saw only light use--which is typical of unprotected lanes adjacent to traffic, so it’s presence really did create a safe buffer from which to exit the vehicle. So while parking along Roland Avenue will be different, it has not degraded to a standard of safety that warrants hysteria like the woman in the meeting exhibited. Like most on street parking in Baltimore City, you’ll have to look before exiting your vehicle and even maybe wait for cars to pass to exit safely. We believe it is always best to load and unload your children and elderly passengers on the side of the vehicle away from traffic. And the buffer between the parking lane and the bike lane will give plenty of room to leave a door open so you can use both hands to guide a car seat or an elderly passenger into the car. Additionally many properties that front Roland Avenue have alley access and parking pads available on their property. Many other residents report preferring to park one block away on the side street to avoid the moving traffic on Roland Avenue. While we do believe that the added facilities such as the cycle track, ADA and pedestrian accommodations at intersections, and lane narrowing will calm traffic to an extent, the reality remains this is a four lane road. And a side street or rear alley will provide a much calmer place to load and unload a vehicle of your most precious cargo. 

But we agree with residents who believe more can be done to calm traffic on Roland Avenue, including enforcement of posted speed limits and adjustments in traffic signal timing. And we will support and advocate for any resident who wants to see continued efforts to calm traffic along Roland Avenue. 

We know that protected bike lanes increase bike ridership. We know that increasing bike ridership is the number one way to improve the safety of people on bikes. We also know that in this particular project, given the enthusiasm from parents at Roland Park Elementary and Middle School (that has over 1200 students enrolled) that families are now more receptive to the idea of walking or biking with their children to school that just one generation before them. This means less cars in the drop off/pick up lane, less congestion on Roland Avenue during peak travel times, and happier, healthier families and kids. 

Myth #3

I’m an avid cyclists, and I will not use the cycletrack because it will mean biking slowly behind children/grandmas/families using those trailer thingys) therefore I oppose it. 

It’s true, for many cycling teams and amateur athletes alike, Roland Avenue provides excellent access out of the city and onto many roads that are perfect for training rides. But we have good news. You don’t have to use it. And before everyone whips out their Maryland law book--we know the law states that when a bicycle facility is present you have to use it, except in cases where it doesn’t make sense--like left hand turns. But we worked with DOT to ensure that protected facilities are classified differently. Protected bike lanes--meaning any bike lane with a permanent barrier are classified as bike paths. And therefore not subject to the same level of enforcement as a bike lane located in the roadway. Is this legal sleight of hand? Perhaps. But until Maryland takes meaningful steps to update it’s road laws to better accommodate people on bikes, we know the existing law is punitive. People on bikes should be able to use their judgement and ride where they will be most safe. As long as bicycles are classified as vehicles, on city streets--people on bikes should have the right to use the full lane. So if that is where you prefer to ride, you’re welcome to. Our number one goal as a bike advocacy organization is to increase bike ridership--not because we believe everyone should ride bikes (although we would love it if everyone at least tried) but because even a small shift in the percentage of people riding bikes to their everyday destinations has a tremendous positive effect. 

Last month, when the Pope visited D.C. many offices encouraged employees to stay home or telecommute. During peak times on the two key days of the Pope’s visit a 2 percent reduction in volume led to a 27 percent reduction in traffic congestion. Currently in Baltimore, bike ridership is at .7 percent of the overall mode share. So when we talk about getting more people on bikes, or building facilities that have proven time and time again to increase ridership, we aren’t declaring a war on cars. We aren’t suggesting that families that have complex transportation needs or physical limitations that preclude them from riding a bicycle for their everyday trips are inferior. As bike advocates we are trying to nudge the needle a little bit. Because that little bit can have significant impact on things that matter like getting to work on time, reducing chronic disease, improving air quality, and a increasing a family’s bottom line. Things that impact a person's quality of life. 

A year from now, there will be close to six miles of additional protected lanes constructed in this city. So while Roland Avenue may be the first, it will certainly not be the last. We are done allowing our funded projects to be delayed, we are done falling behind nearly every city in America that has chosen to start designing it’s public roads with more of the public good in mind. We are done with people peddling lies about what bicycling is or isn’t, or sensationalizing the struggle to get these sensible, tested facilities built. We are advocating for safer streets for all users, which is why we support the Roland Avenue Cycletrack.