The city’s announced removal and re-working of the contentious Roland Avenue cycle track will begin April 29, according to dozens of temporary tow-warning signs now peppering the northbound side of the road weaving through one of Baltimore’s most affluent neighborhoods.
The signs, affixed to trees stretching from Cold Spring Lane to Colorado Avenue (a bit before Eddie’s), advise drivers not to park along any stretch of the road, or risk having their car towed, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. from April 29 through May 10 while construction firm P. Flanigan & Sons is at work. The description of their work order: “to remove bike lane.”
Crews from another company, Mid-Atlantic Marking, were out this morning outlining where parking will be restored along the curb.
Under one of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s last orders as mayor–before she took an indefinite leave of absence amid an ethics scandal and a prolonged spell of pneumonia on April 1–the Department of Transportation is bowing to neighbors and drivers’ complaints about the buffered cycle track and removing it. DOT will then immediately reinstall a bike lane between the parked cars and traffic. It will be painted green to distinguish it, according to Pugh’s March 29 announcement.
“Let me be clear: I am committed to adding bicycle facilities in Baltimore, but I want good facilities that represent today’s best practices,” Pugh said in her emailed statement that day. “No matter how good the intentions were, this is just not a good bicycle facility. There isn’t enough room on Roland Avenue for a proper cycle track, a buffer area, parked cars, and travel lanes.”
Jed Weeks, policy director of the cycling advocacy nonprofit Bikemore, said in an email that the group was “disappointed” this morning to hear about the signs and paint markings. He emailed the city’s Department of Transportation five times since Pugh’s announcement asking for a timeline for removal and other status updates.
“We have not received a single response to our inquiries,” he said.
Jon Laria, chairman of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Commission, told Baltimore Fishbowl via email that he was not aware of the timeline for removing the track, “but we have a commission meeting today and it is on the agenda. Perhaps DOT intended to discuss it then.”
In an update posted to Bikemore’s website today, the group said it confirmed the agency plans to remove the protected lane, going against “DOT’s own adopted guidance and national best practice documents codified into city law under the Baltimore Complete Streets ordinance.”
Asked when DOT notified stakeholders and residents about the removal timeline, DOT spokesman German Vigil said as that “as of Monday, April 22, 2019, signs were posted providing notification of the upcoming work that will impact the traveling public. Work is set to begin 72 hours after the installation of signs.”
It’s been a long, troubled saga for the Roland Avenue cycle track, which actually had conventional curbside parking until DOT reconfigured it–with some cost overruns–in 2015 as part of a traffic-calming plan.
During the protected bike lane’s run of several years, drivers and some neighbors have complained of damage to cars, altercations with cyclists and other troubles. In response, the city last year launched a survey and held a public meeting to collect feedback on five options for a re-working the divisive track.
One of them, a “road diet” reducing a stretch of Roland Avenue to one lane to make more room for cyclists and parked cars, was labeled the “preferred” option at the time, was the least costly at $250,000 and earned the most support in a non-scientific survey of locals.
But DOT ignored the results of its poll, and nine months later, after teasing the road diet option as an experiment, the city selected Option #2, with an estimated price tag of $600,000 to $750,000, to restore curbside parking. The announcement came three days before a public meeting the road diet experiment, which was subsequently cancelled.
Roland Park Civic League president Dr. Bob Connors supported the move, while saying in a statement on March 29, “The process to reach this final decision on Roland Avenue’s design has not been an easy one. It has been challenging for all involved.” He also assured, “The City remains committed to providing a low stress bike network and state of the art bicycling infrastructure.”
Cycling advocates were displeased, particularly given that DOT had given the impression it would consider the road diet.
“We still believe the pilot project should move forward,” nonprofit Bikemore said in a statement March 29. “Why wouldn’t we test a design that could possibly make the street safer for everyone, before committing to spending between $700,000 and $1.4 million to restore a design proven to be unsafe, a design that couldn’t prevent the death of Tom Palermo just a few blocks north?” (Palermo, a cyclist, was killed in a 2014 hit-and-run by an intoxicated Heather Cook, who remains in prison.)
Peter Armitage, a Roland Park resident who’s advocated to keep the protected cycle track in place, today called its pending removal “a real shame.” He also worries about pedestrian safety and cars speeding along the four-lane road.
“I think it’s clear that, without the cycle track there, without going to one lane, that it’s some situation where the road is gonna be a new freeway,” he said. “The speed limit’s 25 miles per hour, and already people are driving very fast through there. I think now as the road gets wider, the situation’s gonna be even worse.”
Baltimore Fishbowl has reached out to Connors for comment.
Several days after Pugh’s announcement, Roland Park Civic League board members took a vote and, in a 7-4 split against going against Connors’ previous recommendations, moved to ask DOT to delay removing the cycle track until the city has an alternative plan to make it safe for children to ride bikes in the neighborhood.
Connors had told Baltimore Fishbowl after the April 3 meeting that he didn’t think the vote would change anything. He also said he figured the city would wait until school was out to begin removing the buffered track.
Weeks said Bikemore is “baffled that the city would move forward on something that the Roland Park Civic League Board and dozens of neighbors have asked to be postponed.” He added, “Changing a street in a way that undermines safety and continues the inequity of dumping more resources into a contentious project is irresponsible and we strongly oppose this decision.”
Laria said the neighborhood association’s position on the issue, including the subsequent board vote to ask for a delay, has been “certainly confusing.”
“It also highlights a more complicated long-term issue, which is properly calibrating the role of community input in these kind of transportation planning decisions,” he said. “How should the City react when the community sends conflicting messages?”
“What is clear is that we need more and better bike facilities in Baltimore–the demand is clearly there.”
While there were dozens of signs in view today along the northbound side of Roland Avenue, none were posted along the southbound side, which also has a protected curbside lane in stretches. DOT did not respond to an email asking if there’s a timetable for removal on that side as well.
This story has been updated.
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