City unveils five options for a redesigned Roland Park cycle track, one of them DOT-‘preferred’

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Photo by Ethan McLeod

Thursday night’s public meeting concerning the Department of Transportation’s planned reworking of the Roland Park cycle track left residents with five options to consider and ended quietly, with no confrontations or shouting matches.

Unlike recent heated public forums with an open format, the gathering at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School was laid out in a series of stations, where attendees could survey a list of options proposed by the Department of Transportation and ask DOT staff about each design.

The choices presented (available for download here):

  1. Reducing the number of traffic lanes on Roland Avenue from two to one while widening the existing parking lane, and preserving the curbside cycle track as-is.
  2. Retaining two traffic lanes on each side, restoring curbside parking for cars and inserting a bike lane between curbside parking lane and traffic.
  3. Reducing the number of traffic lanes on each side from two to one, restoring curbside parking and inserting a “buffered bike lane” between the parking lane and traffic.
  4. Reducing the number of traffic lanes from two to one and restoring curbside parking. Heading northbound, a “two-way flex post or curb-delineated” cycle track would be installed on the left side of the road, along or against the median; heading southbound, a buffered bike lane would be installed between the parking lane on the right and traffic to the left.
  5. Reducing the number of traffic lanes from two to one, restoring curbside parking for cars and adding a “one-way flex post or curb-delineated” cycle track against the median to the left.

Essentially, the first three options would leave the existing cycle track intact, while options four and five would move it to the median side. All but option two would turn a large section of Roland Avenue into a one-lane road. An exception: The area near Deepdene Road, which becomes crowded when parents are dropping off or picking their children up from school on weekdays. Officials said that would remain two lanes.

Only the first three options could be completed this year, and solely option one would cost less than $250,000, according to DOT officials.

Senior adviser and former acting DOT director Frank Murphy explained Thursday that option one is the city’s “preferred” choice because it addresses the largest number of locals’ concerns—including the issue of speeding traffic—and is the cheapest choice.

“Basically, it’s just a change of markings,” he said. “It’s a win-win because then you get more space to park and at the same time reduce speeds.”

Other proposals entail tearing out and installing new flex posts, or require work on the median running north-south on Roland Avenue.

But as Murphy pointed out to one neighbor, DOT is still collecting feedback from the public to see which is their preferred option. Thursday’s event included a table for people to submit comments in writing or on video.

Bike lanes have been anything but straightforward for Baltimore, and particularly for Roland Park. The current cycle track iteration was installed three years ago, moving a bike lane that had once placed cyclists next to moving traffic over to the curb, and pushing parking out toward the street.

But last summer, amid a separate kerfuffle over a two-way bike lane that was eventually installed on Potomac Street in Canton, the Roland Park Civic League, a neighborhood association, called on DOT to remove the track and restore the old parking scheme. The group published a report that detailed damage to parked cars–some of them totaled–and altercations between cyclists and drivers, as well as a pattern of cyclists choosing to forego their protected lane entirely, fearing a collision with passengers climbing out of cars.

While the city did not get rid of the lane as the civic league asked, it’s since spent months trying to sort out the issue. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone quite so smoothly, with neighbors at a recent meeting in April shouting and cursing, and effectively shutting down the forum, cycling advocates said.

But last night was different. Peter Armitage, who launched a well-circulated petition in support of a cycle track for Roland Park, celebrated the civility of the event compared to the April meeting.

“People were yelling, ‘Take it out! Take it out!’” Armitage said of the previous gathering. He maintains it was a very vocal, but small minority in the neighborhood who felt that way.

“The thing that I was really worried about with that meeting was that the impression given to decision-makers with the city would have been that we just didn’t want a cycle track, which is just totally not the case.”

DOT senior adviser Frank Murphy and chief of staff Eboni Wimbush (right) present options for the Roland Park cycle track. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Attendees offered mixed responses to the five options. Several who spoke with Baltimore Fishbowl said they liked the idea of moving the cycle track over to the median side.

Victor Miranda said option four, or something like it, could offer a protected lane for cyclists away from traffic without affecting parking for cars. “You have the two-way cycle track on the northbound side of the street, and still keeping it separated from the volume of cars that have to go to the highway.”

Matt Francis noted the current position of the bike lane along the right side presents issues for travelers approaching intersections, particularly because parked cars present a “visual blocker” for turning cars on Roland Avenue, and for cyclists who can’t see those turning cars.

Blake Goldsmith, who’s lived in Roland Park on and off for about 50 years, said he prefers options four or five. His perspective is that of a cyclist, driver and resident, he said.

“The important thing that we need is cars to the curb. I’m a cyclist… Because of car doors opening into the cyclists, I will not ride in that cycle lane at all,” he said.

Dan Pontious, a cyclist who lives in nearby Radnor-Winston, believes the current design “works pretty well,” but said it can feel narrow when cars park on the right-side buffer. He didn’t voice a clear preference for an option, though he noted the agency said its least expensive proposal is number one.

Jed Weeks, policy director for cycling advocacy group Bikemore, said his organization also prefers number one.

“In every single meeting since the beginning, what we’ve heard from people is that people are driving too fast, they’re driving too close to our parked cars, they’re running into cars and causing damage,” he said. “So a road diet, it widens the parking lane, slows down cars, it makes a wider parking lane so cars don’t get hit, and addresses all of those complaints.”

As Murphy pointed out, relocating the cycle track to the left side of the road would be far more costly, requiring re-striping and resurfacing. Weeks estimated doing so could run more than $500,000.

“We have an entire South and Southwest Baltimore bike boulevard network that can be constructed with $500,000 in local money,” he said, referring to other projects that were approved as part of the city’s cycling network master plan.

Reached by email Friday, Roland Park Civic League president Robert Connors said the “community has been very consistent in its desire: a safer Roland Avenue for all users, and we think that can be achieved with a restoration to curbside parking and a wider, safer bike lane. Option 1 as presented last evening does not achieve any of those objectives including making the bike lane wider and bringing its width up to national standards.”

The group plans to collect feedback from members on the options “over the next few days,” Connors said.

DOT Director Michelle Pourciau addressed the room midway through the event.

“I hope you’ll understand the difficulty that we’re facing in trying to provide for all of the wonderful things we all want to happen in this limited space,” Pourciau said. “The reality is that we’re dealing with a built environment where we have to kind of find the right balance.”

DOT is still collecting public comments here. Deputy Director Muhammed Khalid said a decision would be announced July. Work would then commence this summer.

Ethan McLeod
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