bicycle infrastructure

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

Bike Improvements Scheduled for Promenade and Potomac Street

A new signage plan for the promenade. Bike traffic was historically restricted but on May 20th the new rules go into effect. 

A new signage plan for the promenade. Bike traffic was historically restricted but on May 20th the new rules go into effect. 

Some big changes are coming to Southeast Baltimore that indicate major improvements connecting those neighborhoods to Downtown. Two projects--opening access along the Promenade for bikes, and the new Potomac Street Cycletrack mean that beginning this Fall it will be possible to bike from Patterson Park to the Inner Harbor or Fed Hill almost entirely on protected facilities. 

Changes to Promenade Access and Upgrades on the Jones Falls Trail

Historically biking was restricted on the Promenade east of President Street. Beginning May 20th (just in time for Bike to Work Day!) new signage will be in place signaling the area is now open for bikes. The new signs will indicated shared bike and pedestrian use, caution bikes to move slowly in areas often congested with pedestrians, and direct people away from the Promenade to the Jones Falls Trail where between the Cheesecake Factory and the Science Center bike traffic will remain prohibited. This expands bike access on the Promenade considerably, and simplifies past rules that were hard for those new to the city to understand and even harder to enforce. 

View the entire plan including samples of new signage here. 

Additionally, the Jones Falls Trail will receive a much needed facelift with the addition of green paint indicating that is a bike facility. The Jones Falls Trail will remain a shared use path, but the addition of the green paint will help indicate to pedestrians and the numerous drivers that like to use it as a place to drop off passengers to respect and expect bike traffic. Paint treatment is scheduled to be completed Late Summer/Early Fall. 

Potomac Street Cycletrack

Beginning this year, construction will begin on the Potomac Street Cycletrack. The two-way parking protected lane will extend from Patterson Park all the way to Boston Street. 

The project will be installed using a phased approach. Temporary materials will be used in Phase I to support quick implementation, followed by a community input session on how the cycletrack should be improved permanently. 

Typical cross section of the new Potomac Street Cycletrack. 

Typical cross section of the new Potomac Street Cycletrack. 

At a community meeting held last month, residents came with excellent questions regarding the new construction. All in attendance were excited about the ability of the cycletrack to calm traffic on this residential street by reducing travel lanes and decreasing crossing distance for pedestrians. 

The project will result in minimal parking loss, most standard at intersections in order to "daylight" cyclists behind park cars. Bike stop signs for north bound bike traffic will be installed at intersections, including signs for East and West Bound vehicle traffic to "Look for Bikes" in both directions for drivers previously used to only looking for southbound traffic. 

Better Protected Networks

These two projects together mean huge improvements in connecting Southeast Baltimore to Downtown. Once both projects are complete it will be possible to travel from Patterson Park to the Inner Harbor entirely on protected or off street facilities. Future improvements include bike signals on Boston Street to improve connections from Boston to the Waterfront and way finding signs directing people to useful (but hidden to those not in the know) Eastern Promenade. 

 

Walther Avenue Bicycle Path Issues

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation (BCDOT), in an effort to make our city more accommodating to alternate modes of transportation, to increase bicycle mode share in Northeast Baltimore, and to calm motor vehicle traffic in a residential area, has installed parking lane-adjacent bicycle lanes on Walther Avenue between Parkside Drive and Eastern Parkway. While this is both commendable and welcome, there is still far too much aggressive and unlawful driving at certain points along Walther, which is a problem we believe can be fixed easily. Also, due to an error by the contractor that BCDOT employed to stripe the lanes, the bicycle lanes between Moravia Road and Eastern Parkway fail to live up to the “absolute minimum” safe design standards for such bicycle lanes.

We thank BCDOT for its willingness to undertake this project, and we look forward to seeing these problems corrected.

A Quick Note

First, to be clear, Bikemore supports the installation of more bicycle lanes all over Baltimore, if they are painted to the AASHTO Absolute Minimum Design Standard or wider. We believe that the benefits of even minimal bicycle lanes – more clarity for people in cars and on bicycles on where on the road each vehicle should be, calmer traffic, encouragement for new and tentative bicyclists – far outweigh the occasional downsides. The Walther Avenue bicycle lanes are not and will never be perfect for every road user in every situation, but Bikemore believes that they can be a positive community asset with a few simple but important changes.

Further, for the reasons detailed below, Bikemore encourages everyone to exercise caution when using bicycle lanes, especially on fast downhill grades. Pay attention to parked cars for signs someone might be opening a door, and be ready to stop if a door opens – DO NOT veer into moving traffic to avoid a car door!

The Bicycle Lanes

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the organization that sets the road design standards used by all transportation departments in the United States, explain the standards for parking lane-adjacent conventional bicycle lanes thusly:

When placed adjacent to a parking lane, the desirable reach from the curb face to the edge of the bike lane (including the parking lane, bike lane, and optional buffer between them) is 14.5 feet; the absolute minimum reach is 12 feet. A bike lane next to a parking lane shall be at least 5 feet wide, unless there is a marked buffer between them. Wherever possible, minimize parking lane width in favor of increased bike lane width.

AASHTO. (1999). Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.

North of Moravia Road, the bicycle lanes have an average width of only 4 feet, with the parking lane narrower than the minimum 7 feet for the majority of its length between Moravia Road and Gibbons Avenue, and their combined width being as narrow as 10 feet 3 inches.

Below is an audit of the bicycle lanes and parking lane widths between Moravia Road and Eastern Parkway. Vehicle lane widths were not recorded because the measurements could not be taken safely.

Figure 1: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Northeast. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Figure 1: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Northeast. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Figure 2: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Southwest. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Figure 2: Width of bicycle and parking lanes on Walther Avenue, heading Southwest. Data collection by Adam Hull.

Below is a photo of the Walther Avenue bicycle lane and adjacent parking lane painted below the AASHTO minimum design standards.

[Figure 3]   Approximately 5010 Walther Avenue, heading southeast

[Figure 3] Approximately 5010 Walther Avenue, heading southeast

Why the AASHTO Absolute Minimum Design Standard Matters

The door zone, the space adjacent to parallel-parked motor vehicles where a swung-open vehicle door comes into conflict with moving traffic, is a particular challenge for people on bicycles. According to Preston Tyree, former Director of Education at the League of American Bicyclists, as many as 7 percent of all bicycle-involved crashes are door zone crashes, and they pose an even greater danger to those who ride bicycles in urban environments, due to the greater prevalence of parallel parking. A New York City report found that 17% of bicyclist fatalities were due to door zone crashes. Furthermore, people on bicycles who veer out of the way of a swung open door can come into conflict with vehicle traffic that can be moving 3 to 4 times faster than a person on a bicycle.

To avoid these dangers, it is important for people on bicycles to stay out of the door zone whenever possible, especially at high speeds, and to exercise extra caution when riding within the door zone. A sedan door on a 2 door car can swing out as much as 4 feet, and normal-sized bicycle handlebars can be as wide as 20 inches; for a bicyclist to stay out of the door zone he or she must maintain a wheel line that is a minimum of 5 feet from the sides of parallel parked cars. The door zone dangers on Walther Avenue are exacerbated by the steep downhill grades in some sections; increased speed makes it more difficult to brake when a vehicle door is swung into the bicycle travel lane.

On a conventional parking-adjacent bicycle lane built to absolute minimum design standards, the majority of a 5 foot bike lane is within the door zone, which leaves only the outside foot as a space free from door zone danger. For this reason AASHTO recommends that the combined space for a parking lane and a bicycle lane be 14.5 feet. But, acknowledging that roads are not often built wide enough to accommodate 14.5 feet of space, AASHTO has set 12 feet (5-foot bicycle lane, 7-foot automobile parking lane) as the “absolute minimum” acceptable design. Below is an example from Roland Avenue of a minimally acceptable portion of adjacent to parking bike lane, with an illustration of where in the lane one must ride to stay entirely out of the door zone.

Figure 5. Roland Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone and safe zone highlighted. Illustration by Adam Hull based on Google Street View image.

Figure 5. Roland Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone and safe zone highlighted. Illustration by Adam Hull based on Google Street View image.

Unfortunately, the new Walther Avenue bicycle lanes are only 4 feet wide. Therefore, the entirety of these lanes are within the door zones, and nobody can ride a bicycle in them without exposing themselves to door zone hazards.

Figure 6. Walther Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone highlighted. Photo and illustration by Adam Hull.

Figure 6. Walther Avenue Bicycle Lane with door zone highlighted. Photo and illustration by Adam Hull.

As they are presently installed, it is arguably safer for a person riding a bicycle to forego these bicycle lanes altogether than to expose themselves to the greater dangers that exist within the bicycle lanes than in the vehicle lanes. Unfortunately, Maryland law prohibits one from riding a bicycle in a vehicle lane on a road where bicycle lanes are present, with some exceptions (TR § 21-1205.1).

Bikemore requests, for the safety and well-being of all Walther Avenue road users, that BCDOT should correct these lanes as quickly as possible, and to repaint them to be compliant with “absolute minimum” AASHTO design standards.

People in Automobiles Disregarding Bicycle Lanes and Parking Lanes Altogether

Based on our observations, Walther Avenue has a high occurrence of people in automobiles who disregard the bicycle and parking lane markings altogether, and use said lanes as a high speed right-hand passing lane; the only time an automobile is allowed to be in a bicycle lane is if the driver intends to make a right-hand turn at the following intersection. This practice was once more prevalent in the portion built between Parkside Drive and Moravia Road, which was completed last year, but BCDOT was able to largely curb the practice (with the exception of one section, more on that later) through the strategic placement of flexible delineator posts, such as the example below.

Figure 7, double installment of flexible delineator posts. Photo by Adam Hull.

Figure 7, double installment of flexible delineator posts. Photo by Adam Hull.

Now that bicycle lanes have been painted between Moravia Road and Eastern Boulevard, the same problem has materialized there. We went to the intersection of Walther Avenue and Echodale Avenue during evening rush hour on June 4, 2014 to film this, and the practice exhibited by multiple vehicles in the two below videos happened at every single light cycle.

Bikemore requests that the Baltimore City Department of Transportation install 2 flexible delineator posts, such as the ones in Figure 7, in the parking lanes at every intersection junction along Walther Avenue that does not presently have them.

Disregard for Bicycle Lane and “No Stopping” Zone Between Iona Terrace and Parkside Drive

Bikemore is generally satisfied with the Walther Avenue infrastructure installations between Parkside Drive and Moravia Road, with a single exception: motor vehicle traffic continues to disregard the bicycle lane and ‘No Stopping’ zone between Iona Terrace and Parkside Drive heading southeast. The below video illustrates this dangerous and illegal behavior.

Bikemore requests that BCDOT install double flexible delineator posts, such as the ones in Figure 7, in the ‘No Parking’ zone, along the entirety of the curve in the southeast lane of Walther Avenue, between Iona Terrace and to within 50 feet of Parkside Drive intersection, to account for right turning vehicles.

Bikemore thanks Adam Hull for his large role in composing this post.