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