City to begin removing buffered Roland Avenue cycle track April 29

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Photo by Ethan McLeod

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.

A crew member from Mid-Atlantic Marking measures a curbside section of Roland Avenue. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

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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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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9 COMMENTS

  1. Pugh’s comment is so hypocritical, it’s infuriating. “I want good facilities that represent today’s best practices,” so the city spends money taking this bike lane FURTHER from what best practices would recommend? Total crap. Great job moving Baltimore backwards. Also great to know that DOT is efficient getting started on destructive projects but making positive change takes forever. The fact that she can undo so much work with a simple press release does not make any sense given the complex, lengthy and costly process of getting approval to move similar projects forward. Wish Bikemore could find someone to sue and stop this action like with Potomac St.

  2. Hilarious. Bikemore claims they’re baffled? If they had been to a single meeting and listened to the uproar, they would understand that the configuration is deeply unpopular with almost everyone. Oh sure, there are a few starry-eyed dreamers but for the most part, the lanes or tracks are roundly hated for making the roadway much more dangerous. If there were people who actually used the lanes, they might be justified but all you have to do is head out there on a sunny, warm Saturday are count the ratio of cars to bikers. It’s rare to see anyone biking along during the good weather and it’s even rarer in the extra hot or cold months which are more than half the year.

    But go ahead Bikemore, be “baffled.”

  3. Once again, the whole concept of “road diet” feels disingenuous and provincial — Roland Avenue isn’t some park lane belonging only to the neighbors. It is a major thoroughfare leading from the city to the county and back again, used by a myriad of Baltimore’s city and county residents, and involves three major schools, two preschools, two shopping areas, three churches and a fire station. Narrowing this important artery down to one lane for any reason makes no sense and isn’t safe. I’m sorry that money has been wasted — the community was largely blind-sided by the expensive bike lane construction, and that original plan didn’t seem to take into account the fact that none of the new lanes would be wide enough to be safe. Now the community is engaged, and they have made their views known, despite aggressive and sometimes hostile efforts by some portion of the biking community. There are other ways to be bike-friendly without making the road into a traffic and safety nightmare, which is what we have now.

    • MMB,
      Your logic isn’t rational. You say, “Narrowing this important artery down to one lane for any reason makes no sense and isn’t safe.” Safe for whom? The children getting in and out of vehicles? The people shopping and visiting places of worship or crossing the street? The motorists? For the sake of the amenities you list–schools, shopping, churches–Roland Avenue should not function as a high-speed traffic artery.

      If Roland Ave were a quiet park lane as you said it’d likely be a calm, safe street. Just the way a local street should be. But since it is more than that, with a broad mix of uses as well as a speeding problem, you somehow believe Roland Ave should remain as is with traffic from the city and county.

      Pick one. Either you want unsafe high-speed traffic for Roland Ave or you want the street to be a place that is enjoyable for all people, not just for drivers. Removing a lane in each direction makes sense because doing so eliminates the ability for drivers to pass, which is a step toward making Roland Ave safer.

  4. Again, this issue has been debated fully, fairly, and exhaustively. The article makes it sound like there is some sort of confusion, indecision, or uncertainty. That is not the case. There is certainly disagreement, but there is no uncertainty or indecision. After full due process, the decision to restore Roland Avenue to a thoughtful and viable balance of autos and bikes has been made. It is consistent with the clear will of the majority of community residents. However much the adamantly pro-bicycling minority may disagree, the issue is settled. This is how pluralistic processes work. This one may have been particularly contentious, but there is no doubt the process was open, robust, thorough, and fair. It is time to move on. I will add here that it is time to stop misappropriating Tom Palermo’s memory. He was killed in a spot entirely removed from the area under question, in a horrible tragedy involving a drunk driver. No road configuration would have prevented that. I choose to honor him by respecting the facts.

  5. Lacking is a coherent community vision for how residents of Roland Park want Roland Avenue to function. No substantive community-wide discussion occurred prior to construction; a discussion of street concepts and design alternatives was not conducted. No consensus reached. No thorough understanding achieved. As a result, the vast majority of RP residents were surprised by the Traffic Calming Project.

    “How should the City react when the community sends conflicting messages?” Residents don’t understand what they’re debating because they do not understand Roland Avenue–its potential, its strengths and value, etc. Residents are pulling in different directions, so to speak. The ugly bickering began AFTER construction was complete and has concentrated on the bike lane, as if IT is the problem.

    The City isn’t innocent either. BCDoT’s roll-out of the Traffic Calming project did the bare minimum communication to residents. Exhibiting pretty eye-level renderings of Roland Ave to residents with no discussion of the concepts employed is a disservice to the neighborhoods they serve.

  6. Lets stick to facts. It certainly is not a large minority of Roland Park residents who support the Cycle Track. As the article states the DOTs own poll found a majority support FOR the cycle track and a road diet. Please read the article. There is a prevailing opinion on these forums that the cycle track was universally hated, but saying so over and over does not make it true. Heck, even the Roland Park civic league voted 7-4 to keep the cycle track until safe cycling options could be developed.

  7. As to PLB’s comment that “it is consistent with the clear will of the majority of community residents”- it really isn’t consistent. This remark totally disregards the reality which was the Civic League Board Vote asking the city to postpone the plans to remove. Disingenuous comments from MMB and PLB, at best.

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