Midtown Streetscape Update

A person riding a bike crosses Mt. Royal. Photo Credit: Fern Shen-Baltimore Brew

A person riding a bike crosses Mt. Royal. Photo Credit: Fern Shen-Baltimore Brew

Last week, construction began on the Midtown Streetscape project, which includes significant changes to Mount Royal Avenue. Last night, Baltimore City Department of Transportation held a meeting to update the public on the project.


We have been long advocating for improvements to this project, beginning with advocacy to include bike lanes, as they were removed early in the project due to opposition from MICA's former president.

Revised plans included a segment of two-way protected bike lane that ended prematurely before North Avenue and dangerously at the Mount Royal JFX offramp, where bicyclists were encouraged to transition to sidewalk. Baltimore City's Bicycle Friendly City status was renewed on a commitment by then DOT Director William Johnson to make design changes to extend the protected facility for the entirety of the Mount Royal Corridor, and make changes to the offramp to improve safety.

After years of these discussions, leadership transitions, and project delays, last summer Baltimore City Department of Transportation held a 95% design meeting. No changes discussed in the prior near-decade had been implemented. Our summary of that meeting is here.

Bikemore immediately coordinated with Councilman Eric Costello to organize stakeholders along the corridor to advocate for further study and redline changes to the 95% design plans. These stakeholders included Mount Royal Improvement Association, Mount Vernon Belvedere Association, MICA, UB, and the Lyric. In those meetings, held in August and September of 2016, DOT committed to study the following, and report back before the project was awarded:

  1. A road diet, meaning removing one of the car travel lanes in each direction, either a) the entirety of the corridor, b) from Guilford to Maryland, c) from Maryland to North Avenue. This would allow for an on-street protected lane or no loss of parking, and no reduction to medians, saving millions of dollars in concrete work and the need for tree removal.
  2. Closure of the I-83 off-ramp at Mount Royal and Saint Paul Streets entirely, and at minimum closure of the Mount Royal slip lane of the offramp. 
  3. Extension of the bicycle lane to Guilford Avenue and to North Avenue.

No report back ever occurred. All stakeholders continuously followed up requesting updates, and those emails and phone calls went unreturned. The project was awarded this past winter, in violation of the agreement, and again emails and phone calls requesting comment were unreturned.

Last week, the project broke ground without notification to stakeholders.

Last Night's Meeting

At last night's meeting, the same project boards were presented, showing no changes to the design. However, the power-point was updated, showing a slightly redesigned bicycle facility, and former DOT Interim Director Frank Murphy acknowledged that a DOT staff meeting had occurred just an hour before the public meeting to discuss implementing the red line changes stakeholders had been advocating for the past five years. 

We will be working with Councilman Costello's office to participate in a re-convening of stakeholders again to reiterate these requests, and demand that any redline changes that are possible to make at this stage are made.

We will likely end up with a project nobody is happy with, but we still must advocate to make it safe and adequate. There are a thousand larger questions surrounding this project: Why we are moving forward with a design nobody likes? Why was over 5 years of direct input ignored? And how we can change our city's transportation planning culture to prevent things like this from ever happening again, by passing robust Complete Streets legislation and empowering our city council members with tools to get real answers from agencies and be able to hold them accountable?

Potomac Street Victory Lap

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With our policy director away on vacation, we are going to skip writing a longer post analyzing the final design for Potomac Street and what it means long term for Complete Streets and bike infrastructure in Baltimore today. But know that it’s coming.

We did want to share our perspective on Department of Transportation’s decision and share the final design. DOT hosted an Open House to share the feedback received from the latest round of community input on a design meant to address Canton residents’ and BCFD’s concerns around fire access.

The design that will move forward will be the one presented at the last community meeting. The revised design retains a two way bike lane, removes street parking from the West side, and changes East side on street parking from parallel to rear angle.

Bikemore has maintained that with a few tweaks to improve emergency vehicle access, the existing design that is currently in the ground would work. But we also believe in compromise when possible, and while we still believe that 20ft clear access for emergency vehicles is not necessary or always appropriate in urban environments, it was important to move forward. This design addresses concerns around fire access by creating 19ft of clearance. Additionally it addresses neighborhood concerns around parking loss by maintaining roughly the same amount of parking as the original design by changing it to rear angle parking. Most importantly the revised design maintains an all ages, high quality two way bike facility--which was the original intent of the project.

You can click through the boards and slides presented at the meeting here to get all the wonky facts surround the new design:

Potomac Street was the biggest fight we’ve ever taken on. Our small staff and dedicated volunteers and attorneys put in many long hours. We sued the city. We stopped the arbitrary removal of a bike lane based on nothing more than a handful of resident complaints (loud ones, but not in the numbers they reported to have). We forced stakeholders and the city back to the negotiating table to think through a thoughtful redesign. We stood firm in our stance that we cannot go backwards, that Baltimore desires and deserves high quality bike infrastructure, and that we cannot allow every public project to improve mobility in this city — whether it’s bike lanes or bus stops — to become derailed when some neighbors don’t want to see change in their neighborhood.

In this latest round of community input to respond to the redesign, DOT received 560 emails. Of those 447 supported the Potomac Street redesign. 113 did not. What’s more, what became the rally cry for redesign — emergency access — received only 16 comments out of a total of 560 emails. Concerns over parking loss received 75. It confirmed what we always knew. That backlash to bike lanes is about nothing more than people placing their personal convenience over public safety and mobility.

Community input is important. No community should ever feel as though a project is being placed upon them without listening to their concerns. But after multiple meetings, and a litany of press, Potomac Street has arguably received the most attention of any eight blocks in the city. The concerns around safety were addressed. Other concerns like parking were accommodated as best they were able. We are satisfied with the outcome. We are looking forward to being able to focus our policy work on Complete Streets that looks at how to prioritize the safety and mobility of people on all city streets, in every neighborhood.

This was a decisive win for people who bike. Not because Bikemore is some inside influence with tons of resources to bring to the table like some would claim, but because of you. Our members. Your letters were inspiring to read. You showed up when you were called to, you were bold in your position for safe streets for all users, and gave generously to allow us to focus all our efforts on the issue at hand.

We have a long way to go before Baltimore is truly safe and accessible for people of all ages and abilities to ride a bike. But we are closer today because of your support. We need your continued support to keep us moving forward.

Please consider making a recurring donation to Bikemore. Whether it’s $10 each month or $1000 a year, you can be certain that your dollars are helping to build a force for biking in Baltimore. We look forward to having you join us as we continue to #fightforbikes.

Baltimore Bike Share Redux

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Yesterday Baltimore Bike Share, a program of the City of Baltimore’s Department of Transportation announced that it will be taking the system offline from September 17-October 15 to address a security retrofit, maintenance backlog, and other enhancements in advance of expansion this fall.

Anyone trying to use bike share these past few months noticed how the system was failing. Empty stations became the norm. Many who had just begun to rely on bike share for their commute were suddenly faced with having to make other arrangements.

Contributing to the challenges of bike share operations was a rash of theft and vandalism that operators first became aware of late spring. As city staff and the bike share operator Bewegen began working on a solution, the system itself chose not to make any external communication regarding the system challenges. It’s a perplexing public relations move in this age of transparency — where information is readily available. For that the City and Baltimore Bike Share deserve criticism.

But in the wake of the formal announcement, we wanted to share with you some of the facts related to the reboot. Our stance on bike share is clear. It can work. Yes, even in Baltimore. When the bikes were available, our system succeeded on metrics related to miles traveled and ridership. Where it has fallen short is it’s inability to rapidly expand — meaning fewer neighborhoods get to experience the convenience of bike share — and not capitalizing on bike share’s greatest asset. It’s really fun!

Why does the marketing and communications about the largest fleet of electric bike share bicycles in the Western Hemisphere feel out of touch and out of date? Like it’s actually a bike share company communicating with us from the year 2005? But there is even good news to share on this topic. Last month, Bewegen hired a new marketing advisor for their U.S. market. Chris King has a lot of experience marketing transportation brands in the mid atlantic. And while Baltimore Bike Share has a long road ahead earning back the trust of its users, we are encouraged Bewegen recognized this shortcoming and took steps to correct course.

So in the spirit of transparency and clear communication here is a quick FAQ we put together based on some of the online chatter we saw in response to the announcement.

When will the bikes go offline?

September 17 to October 15

What sort of maintenance and upgrades will occur during that time?

  • All stations will be retrofitted with new locks to prevent theft.
  • Address bike maintenance backlog related to theft and vandalism
  • Station cleaning
  • Map and Kiosk sticker upgrades (new stations means new maps)
  • Pedalec technology enhancements including the ability to set your own speed or create system wide governors, like reducing max speed in high pedestrian areas like the inner harbor or in wet weather
  • Refurbish bikes (some will be shipped back to headquarters in Canada where they will receive full spa treatment and return shiny and new looking)

Why is Baltimore experiencing so much theft and vandalism? Haven’t other cities figured this out?

Loss is expected in systems like this. It’s planned for by implementing loss prevention techniques like locks and GPS, and insuring the bikes. Much is done to prevent it, but it is never fully avoidable. Other cities experience theft, but at a lower rate and within larger systems where the loss is less noticeable. The challenge with a system like this in Baltimore is that crime is more prevalent here, and it would be naive to ignore that fact.

Very few bikes have been totally lost, but when they are recovered they face extensive repairs—tying up maintenance staff and creating a serious bottleneck, reducing the number of bikes available to rent.

What’s encouraging is that the folks involved in addressing this issue recognize that locks are not enough. So while a technical fix is in place to improve loss prevention, we’ve been encouraged by conversations with Bewegen this week that demonstrate they are exploring ways to creatively prevent and intervene when crimes like this occur. They know that making bike share more accessible and inclusive must be part of the strategy.

Why didn’t we use better locks, or a proven operator?

Despite Bewegen being a newer company, they are not new to bikeshare. The engineers and business leaders were involved in creating and founding the very first bike share systems under the Canadian company Bixi.

The locks on the stations in Baltimore are nearly identical to ones in bike share docks across the country. That said, each company has to develop it’s own proprietary equipment--something typical in a small market.

In the face of this challenge, Bewegen has stepped up and taken responsibility for this shortcoming and is bearing the cost for the research, design, and installation of the new locking system. Additionally Bewegen has provided extra maintenance staff, and is extending the warranty on bikes that were vandalized.

It’s not ideal, but Bewegen has demonstrated itself to be a company of high integrity, committed to making this work in Baltimore. The City, and most importantly taxpayers are not on the hook for these challenges.

Why didn’t Baltimore Bike Share communicate earlier?

We don’t know. We advocated for it. Strongly. But communication out of DOT has always been a challenge. Transparency is not our City’s strong suit. But other stakeholders are ready to fill the void, and we believe that this was a learning moment for Bewegen and one they have actively addressed by hiring someone local in Baltimore to manage marketing and communications for US markets moving forward.

Is the membership extension only for founding members? Can I get a refund?

While the specific details of compensation haven’t been disclosed from Bewegen, what we have heard presently is that anyone that has ever purchased a month membership will receive a free month. Anyone that purchased an annual membership will be compensated at an extended rate — which we expect to be anywhere from 6 months to a year. They plan on communicating the specifics very shortly, so members should watch their email for specifics.

Does Bikemore think Bike Share can work in Baltimore?

Yes. But in order to get there we need a few things:

The City has to be bike share’s biggest cheerleader. We would love to see Mayor Pugh riding a bike share bike at the October relaunch. Bike share is healthy, fun, and affordable — and should be something the city works hard to expand and get right.

We have to figure out the public/private partnership. Sponsors haven’t been clamoring to get on board. And following this setback, it may prove even more difficult to get corporate sponsors interested. The City needs to evaluate the plan and process for securing sponsors, and perhaps find ways to improve the system and expand through other means. Allow bike share a solid 12 months of success, and it will be much easier to ask someone to attach their brand to the system. Additionally, if bike share is to operate as public transportation the City must explore ways to fund with public dollars. Allowing the private market to solely dictate expansion rates and station locations will only further the inequity. Is there a way to allocate revenue from things like the parking tax or traffic citations to fund transportation improvements city wide? We want to see City Council and the Mayor’s office exploring these options.

Do more to make bike share for everybody. The Downtown Partnership’s subsidized membership program is good, but how is it being communicated? How easy is it to obtain? Getting equity right on bike share is a challenge that every city is confronting. No one has gotten it right yet, but many are headed in the right direction. We have to be one of those cities. We have to be willing to lead and be visionary in this area. Mobility isn’t something to be taken lightly. In no way is bike share a panacea in addressing Baltimore’s transportation inequities. But it most certainly should not exacerbate the inequity.

Shifting Power for Complete Streets

Baltimore’s biggest challenge to adopting a comprehensive transportation vision is a lack of political will. We work to educate citizens about transportation and land use policy because these areas have a huge impact on our quality of life and yet consistently have very few city residents who advocate in these arenas. Everyday critical decisions are being made about what types of housing and business get built in your neighborhood, which bus stops get removed, and which streets get a crosswalk or a bike lane without a diverse cross section Baltimore residents always at the table or in the loop.  When we abdicate responsibility to show up in these spaces and ask for what we want and need, we hand over a lot of power. Advocacy is first and foremost about shifting political power. For Bikemore, that means building power for citizens, organizations, and elected officials that believe that a healthy and safe city is one that prioritizes people over cars.

This summer, through your support, we created a huge shift in power. We advocated successfully on behalf of city residents who believe in a walkable, bikeable neighborhood, and who want to see more high quality all ages facilities being installed throughout all of Baltimore. We saved Potomac Street from a knee jerk removal and instead forced stakeholders back to the negotiating table. The amended design leaves something to be desired — mainly removing space that could used for storm water treatments in future phases by eliminating the buffer. So while imperfect, it retains a two-way all ages facility. Something you asked for us to fight for. Something we were able to win.

With changes in DOT leadership, the future of many of these streets projects is unknown. Planned and funded protected bike lanes on Madison and Monument remain incomplete — leaving residents who are still mourning the loss of the Red Line without any realistic East-West transportation connection. Lanes on Preston and Biddle sit unfinished. This lack of follow through does significant damage to building goodwill toward residents in getting them to support more active transportation projects. With markings unfinished, it creates a confusing mess. Who can support something when the roll out and construction invites this level of chaos?

We’ve had the debate about whether bikes belong in cities. The debate is over. Bikes belong. With a state run public transit agency that is underfunded and thus unreliable, building out a comprehensive biking and walking network is something that is within our locus of control. For the same price as the bridge to Harbor East, we could use those local dollars to leverage state and federal funding to build a protected bike lane network that connects 85% of Baltimore neighbors. Why wouldn’t we invest in something that makes healthy food, high quality schools, jobs and healthcare more accessible? That contributes by improving air quality and public health for all of Baltimore?

Success in advocacy is sometimes hard to quantify. Sometimes the shift is subtle, and hard to see. But perhaps the biggest metric for me came last week when Councilman Cohen and Councilman Dorsey addressed the failings of the Boston Street Multimodal plan head on in a video. Two years ago city council did not share our views on Complete Streets. Now we are on track to introduce one of the most progressive Complete Streets Bill in the country. That’s a big shift in a short time. We did this together. So feel proud of what we’ve accomplished, and let’s set our sights on future wins for people who walk and bike.

Want to continue to help build a force for biking in Baltimore? Donate today. Your support is essential in providing the resources necessary to advocate for a healthier, safer, more livable bicycling city.


The Boston Street Study is Out, and It is Bad

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Baltimore City Department of Transportation’s latest one-off planning study focuses on Boston Street, attempting to consolidate planning over the past decade and make recommendations for “multimodal transportation” improvements. It is disastrous.

The report highlights that the majority of travel through the corridor is single occupancy vehicles, and the biggest barriers to shifting modes away from single occupancy vehicles are a lack of high frequency, reliable transit, and a lack of low-stress bicycle facilities in the corridor.

Given these barriers, it would make sense for the Boston Street Multimodal Corridor Study to focus on biking, walking, and transit improvements to Boston Street. This would be consistent with city planning documents going back almost a decade.

Planning History

The most significant planning along the Boston Street corridor was for the Baltimore Red Line, which would have provided a significant public transit improvement connecting Baltimore West to East, and would have run along the Boston Street Corridor. The plan for the Red Line contained buffered bike lanes on Boston Street that transitioned to “bike priority” lane markings at station areas where additional street width was needed.

The 2012 Southeast Complete Streets Master Plan called for installation of bicycle facilities and sidewalk widening on Boston Street to support “heavy pedestrian traffic for active commercial districts.” It called for treating Boston Street as a “traffic calming corridor” and installation of urban greening to create a greenway, all to complement the coming Red Line.

The 2015 Bike Master Plan follows the lead of these prior documents, retaining Boston Street as a “Main Route” for biking, which calls for “bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks.”

2015 Bike Master Plan planned bike facilities on Boston Street

2015 Bike Master Plan planned bike facilities on Boston Street

The 2015 Southeast Transportation Vision produced before cancellation of the Red Line proposes a bike lane on Boston Street. The 2016 update, produced after the Red Line cancellation, maintains this recommendation.

Southeast Strategic Transportation Vision planned bike facilities on Boston Street

Southeast Strategic Transportation Vision planned bike facilities on Boston Street

In sum, over a decade of planning involving countless residents, city, and state elected officials, appointed bodies, and BCDOT and MTA/MDOT staff advanced multiple planning documents focused on improving biking, walking, and public transit to improve quality of life for Canton residents.

The Abrupt Change

In 2017, something changes. At the same time the Boston Street Multimodal Corridor Study begins, the Protected Bike Lane Network addendum begins. Despite Boston Street being identified as a “high stress” street “requiring a bike facility to comfortably cross” in the Protected Bike Lane Network Addendum, Bikemore is told that the “scope of the plan” prevents Boston Street from being included for “political reasons.”

We assumed that this "political" limitation meant that we should expect a Boston Street Multimodal Corridor Study to eschew over a decade of true multimodal planning for moving people on Boston Street, and instead focusing on moving cars.

We were right.

The first recommendation in the study is to build a major new road connecting Toone Street to Boston Street, while widening Boston Street between Haven and Conkling Streets. This widening does not include all-ages, low-stress bike infrastructure—it is solely focused on speeding up cars. The cost of this widening is listed at $2,000,000, and is part of a larger $50,000,000 idea to continue widening Boston Street even further east.

The next recommendations focus on moving vehicles through the neighborhood at the expense of safety and quality of life. The most egregious:

  • Peak hour parking restrictions throughout the corridor are recommended to be expanded, with heightened parking enforcement, to ensure maximum road space allocation to promote speeding cars.
  • Peak hour parking restrictions are recommended for Boston @ Fleet Street, creating a second through lane.
  • Crosswalk removal is proposed at Boston and Aliceanna Street to speed signal timing for cars trying to turn right onto Boston from two turn lanes on Aliceanna at the expense of safe crossing for pedestrians.
  • Lane expansion is also proposed at Boston and Clinton Streets to build 2 turn lanes. Dual turn lanes are commonly proposed in Baltimore but anti-pedestrian and discouraged by our own adopted planning guides.

For walking improvements, the plan audaciously calls for “continuous sidewalks.” It recommends upgrade of sidewalks to include ADA curb cuts, something already required by law. It suggests re-striping faded crosswalks, and it recommends installing pedestrian signals.

For biking improvements, the plan calls for bicycle boulevards on Foster and Hudson Street. These parallel routes have been suggested for almost a decade, and were originally planned to complement Boston Street, not be a substitute for it. The plan suggests the narrow promenade, intended for recreational bicycling during a one year pilot period, could somehow serve as a commuting alternative.

For transit, the plan suggests rerouting one commuter bus, assigning some carpool parking in parking lots, encouraging more private shuttles, and “exploring” expanded/improved water taxi service.

Our View

The Boston Street Multimodal Corridor Study is a plan to spend millions of dollars to dramatically boost the capacity on Boston Street for car commuters at the expense of safe walking, biking and public transit access for residents.

It fails to take into consideration decades of planning for a more walkable, bikeable, livable Canton. It fails to follow planning-commission adopted city planning documents. It fails to meet standards in city’s adopted street design guides.

It is a bad plan.

Share your Comments

Comments on the Draft Final Report can be submitted at the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Boston30

We encourage you to demand a true multi-modal Boston Street, that prioritizes walking, biking, and public transportation access in Canton over county commuters passing through the neighborhood on their way downtown.