After years of modifications, heated community meetings and, more recently, plans to test out a “road diet” in Roland Park, the city has instead decided to remove the neighborhood’s two-way protected cycle track altogether and replace it with the old design of a painted bike lane situated alongside traffic.
In an announcement Friday, Mayor Catherine Pugh declared that for all of the city’s attempts to please both cyclists and neighbors along Roland Avenue, the cycle track just isn’t “good.”
“Let me be clear: I am committed to adding bicycle facilities in Baltimore, but I want good facilities that represent today’s best practices,” the mayor said in a statement. “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.”
The city will therefore tear out the protected curbside lanes running along the North Baltimore thoroughfare and restore curbside parking, as has been demanded by some drivers and residents, to the tune of what officials have estimated will cost between $600,00 and $750,000. The Department of Transportation will then “immediately reinstall a bike lane alongside the parked cars, visibly painted green and with a firm commitment to make sure it is well-maintained.”
“While not as ideal as a cycle track, we believe this is the most practical solution for this particular section of this Baltimore road under these specific circumstances,” Pugh added.
Many residents of the affluent neighborhood will cheer this as a victory. The Roland Park Civic League has led a push for the last couple years to tear out the lane, citing what it said was sparse usage by cyclists, numerous incidents of damage to parked cars and altercations between riders and drivers, among other complaints.
In a statement posted to the neighborhood group’s website today, president Dr. Bob Connors wrote, “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.”
The group wrote a letter to DOT in June 2017 asking for this outcome, noting it had held a number of internal meetings, solicited input from an outside engineering firm and taken a vote among members.
In response to residents’ complaints, the city had proposed five design options to re-do the track last fall, including a “preferred” road diet option that involved reducing a stretch of the road to one traffic lane to make more room for cyclists and parked cars. At a meeting at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, officials said that was the least costly option at $250,000.
Cycling advocacy nonprofit Bikemore, which has defended the cycle track for its protected design (one that doesn’t place riders alongside moving traffic), said it’s “disappointed.”
The group cited the city’s non-scientific 2018 survey about the five options–which DOT wound up ignoring, anyway–that found strong support for the road diet plan leaving the protected lane intact. After much delay, DOT had recently proposed testing out the road diet for a month starting in mid-April, but officially killed those plans today. A community meeting had been scheduled for next Monday night, but has since been cancelled.
“We still believe the pilot project should move forward,” Bikemore said. “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?” the group said in a pointed statement. (Palermo was killed by an intoxicated Heather Cook, a since-defrocked Episcopal bishop who remains in prison.)
The group more broadly called for the city to keep its commitment to the Separated Lane Network plan adopted in 2017, and to Complete Streets guidelines adopted under a new law that Pugh signed this past fall. “Baltimore City Department of Transportation must maintain an all-ages, protected bike lane on Roland Avenue, as called for in the Separated Lane Network Plan, and as required by national separated bike lane guidance adopted in ordinance and in policy by the City of Baltimore.”
Pugh said the change “does not mean that the City is any less committed” to its long-term plans, and “does not mean that every community objection to a proposed bicycle facility will be dispositive.”
As something of a stopgap, the mayor also said the city will extend existing painted bike lanes on nearby University Parkway to “further connect to the successful Maryland Avenue Cycle track,” which firefighters raised a stir about with an ill-advised home movie last year. She said DOT will also be painting the lanes along Roland Avenue running north of Northern Parkway.
Pugh also said she’s directed DOT to “develop an action plan which expedites the installation of quality bike facilities around the City,” though as previously reported, the city’s capital improvement plan doesn’t budget much money for those projects.
In response to that assurance from Pugh, Bikemore executive director Liz Cornish called for full funding to install more separated lanes.
“We look forward to seeing a FY2020 budget of at least $6.5 million dollars to build 12 miles of separated and 5 miles of supporting facilities this year as called for in the Separated Lane Network Plan.”
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