Baltimore’s Board of Estimates will vote tomorrow on whether to disburse more than $91,000 in state grants for a new “bicycle boulevard” along Covington Street in Federal Hill and Riverside.
The boulevard would run a half-mile, south from Key Highway to E. Fort Avenue, and include new street markings, flex posts, bike-friendly storm drains, signage and “improved crossings,” among other pieces, according to the board’s agenda. The $91,350 in funding would come from the state Department of Transportation’s Maryland Bikeways Program. A state document shows the money was set aside last fiscal year.
A bicycle boulevard includes signage, pavement markings and speed- and volume- management measures for traffic “to discourage through trips by motor vehicles and create safe, convenient bicycle crossings of busy arterial streets,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
“The project will enhance bicyclist safety and access for both residents and visitors and connect to schools, parks and tourist attractions and residential neighborhoods,” the Board of Estimates agenda says.
Covington Street has been part of the city’s Bike Master Plan for years. A 2015 map of the planned bike network categorizes it as a neighborhood route to link up with another set of planned bike lanes running east-west along Heath Street.
An addendum to the Master Plan published in March 2017 categorizes the Covington Street bike route as an area with relatively few stress factors for cyclists, such as high traffic, frequent obstructions or bad pavement. The addendum says the bike boulevard were to be constructed in 2016 or 2017.
“The goal is to be a part of the South Baltimore network and connect [Federal Hill] Park to [Riverside] Park,” wrote Jed Weeks, policy director for cycling nonprofit Bikemore, in an email Tuesday. “I also think it was advanced as a connector to Fort from Key because the political will doesn’t exist to do a road diet on Key Highway and build a low stress route there, where one belongs.”
Baltimore has struggled to implement biking infrastructure requested by cycling advocates as part of their Complete Streets plan. Things came to a head last year when Canton residents pushed city officials to tear out a partially installed protected bike lane along Potomac Street, citing international fire code standards that recommend leaving 20 feet of clearance for fire engines and 26 feet for for ladders and other equipment.
The complaints launched a legal battle between the cycling nonprofit Bikemore and the Department of Transportation. A court order ultimately barred the city from tearing out the lanes, but the city has since put all bike lane projects on hold to review all transportation projects for compliance with fire code standards, Bikemore leaders say.
The nonprofit last week accused officials of using those standards in a discriminatory manner to target bike lane projects, while proceeding with roadwork on non-code-compliant streets. The Department of Transportation responded with a statement saying it is “taking the winter to evaluate all of our projects in regard to compliance with all applicable standards.”
If approved tomorrow, the more than $91,000 in state grants would last through June 1, 2019, or whenever the project is completed–whichever happens first. DOT spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes told Baltimore Fishbowl no details are available for a design plan or timeline for installation.
Weeks said he expects “continued delay” on the project for Covington Street. “This is a much smaller project, so hopefully it will be faster, but I would be surprised if it happens Spring/Summer,” he said. “More likely Fall next year or Spring the year following with the pace the city is at.”
This story has been corrected to clarify that Covington Street would receive a bicycle boulevard, rather than any protected bike lanes.
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