DOT ignored its own public comment poll for Roland Avenue cycle track redesign

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A box truck blocks part of the reconfigured cycle track in front of Eddie’s of Roland Park. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

When Baltimore’s Department of Transportation asked the public to weigh in on five options for a redesign of the much-toiled-over Roland Avenue cycle track, it created a survey and said it would announce the winning choice by July 19.

Instead, the agency said that day it had delayed its decision without picking from the five blueprints. “After careful review of all comments” from the public, it would instead hire a consultant “to work with the community to find the best solution for the project,” said the announcement on DOT’s website.

But data from the public survey suggests that careful review skipped an obvious finding: 62 percent of respondents, or 469 people, said they preferred “Option 1″—also DOT’s declared “preferred” option back in June—to eliminate a lane of traffic on the two-lane road, expand the existing parking lane and retain the curbside protected bike lane.

Only 15 percent went for the next most popular choice, “Option 2,” which would simply move the bike lane alongside traffic and restore curbside parking (Exhibit A above). The other options drew 6 percent or less of the support; 13 percent said they didn’t have a preference.

While delaying, DOT has taken the “Option 2” approach to a commercial stretch of Roland Avenue, between Deepdene Road and Colorado Avenue, tearing out the protected lane last week and putting cyclists back alongside traffic to make way for parking next to the sidewalk.

The agency will explore plans to do the same in front of the library on the other side of the road. It also plans to restore curbside parking along the 4500 and 4700 blocks of Roland Avenue, close to the intersection with W. Cold Spring Lane.

Charles Village resident Carl Shapiro, who obtained the data from DOT’s public survey through a Maryland Public Information Act request and shared it publicly, said he was “very surprised” about the delay announced in July, particularly given that city officials had touted their own preferred design. He learned through the data that it also had majority public support.

“The overwhelming majority of people who submitted comments wanted Option 1, and I think that there’s a bigger story that I don’t know, that I think citizens would be interested in,” said Shapiro, a self-described “casual cyclist” whose wife commutes by bike.

The “story,” according to DOT, is that the poll wasn’t scientific, that there were other pressing safety concerns and that Roland Park community leaders wanted more analysis of the area before considering eliminating a lane of traffic.

“A key factor to the selection was that there were specific concerns relating to school operations and increased cut-through traffic on neighborhood roads,” said a statement sent by DOT spokesman German Vigil. “While our nonscientific pole [sic] resulted in the selection of option 1, it raised other questions in regards to other safety concerns. To answer these and other questions regarding the options, DOT engaged leaders from the community who agreed that additional analysis and engineering will lead to a more informed design decision.”

DOT is now working with Robert Connors, president of the Roland Park Civic League neighborhood association (which last year petitioned the city to tear out the protected bike lane), along with Jon Laria of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Commission (who the Baltimore Brew pointed out last month is a dues-paying member of the Civic League), on picking a consultant.

Outside of Eddie’s on Roland Avenue on Friday morning, a box truck sat for more than 20 minutes obstructing part of the bike lane. A car, unable to find a spot out front, idled directly in the middle of the path, also partially blocking a traffic lane.

Asked to comment on the recent changes, a couple passersby said they were pleased to have traditional-style parking back. (The protected lanes went in on both sides of Roland Avenue in 2016.)

John Coleman, a driver from Medfield who parked in one of the new curbside spaces, said “it’s a lot better because, number one, the bicyclists aren’t gonna ride in the gutter where all the junk goes. Number two, if you stand up here and watch, at least 75 percent of them don’t use the damn thing anyway.”

The Civic League had complained of cyclists ignoring the lane last year while calling for the its removal, also making note of numerous collisions between cyclists in the curbside lane and passengers climbing out of their cars, among other issues. (“Option 1” would notably have provided more room for cars to park while eliminating a lane of traffic.)

Katherine Chissell, who lives in Guilford and has a son who’s a cyclist, said previous and current iterations are both “dangerous for the bikers” because of the potential for them to slam into car doors as passengers or drivers climb out. But the curbside parking arrangement is better, she said, because DOT has removed the flexi posts near traffic—”everybody hit those little rubber things,” she said—and the redesign reduced the chances for right-turning cars to strike cyclists that had been obscured to drivers by parked cars.

The cycle track in front of the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Roland Park branch, which could soon be reconfigured. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

The cyclists using the bike lane aren’t quite as pleased. Down the road, just past W. Cold Spring Lane, cyclist Kata Frederick said having protected facilities makes himself and other bike riders safer.

“It makes a huge difference, because otherwise you’re right next to the cars, and then you have cars parked, so it’s tight. If a driver does something wrong, your body is in between two large, metal objects.”

Frederick agreed there’s potential to run into car doors in either design, but said “I’d rather hit an open car door and fall on the sidewalk than have a car hit me and get run over by a car.”

Asked for comment, cycling advocacy nonprofit Bikemore referred to a July 20 letter from executive director Liz Cornish, penned one day after DOT’s announcement of the delay.

“The opportunity was there for Baltimore City DOT to make a decisive move and select their own preferred option,” Cornish wrote. “It had strong citywide and Roland Park community support, and would have reduced the corridor to one lane and widened both the parking and bike lane. This solution addressed all valid stakeholder concerns and would have cost the city significantly less than a full redesign. We see the decision to devote more time and resources to this project as wasteful.”

DOT’s July 19 announcement said the agency would aim to implement a full redesign by spring or summer of 2019. Vigil said they’re still drawing up the language for the contractor bid.

“The Department of Transportation would like to thank everyone for their comments regarding the Roland Avenue Cycle Track,” it concluded.

Ethan McLeod
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  1. Roland Park has hounded the city about this redesign relentlessly. Yet Civic League leadership asked for the original cycle track to be installed in the defective configuration in the first place. It’s sick that the city is working so closely with Robert Connors and Jon Laria. I wish the city would listen to the public, and itself, and just implement option 1, and not fold to a community that can’t agree on anything, other than the need to continue to waste city resources on an issue that really amounts to much ado about nothing.

    • “… need to continue to waste city resources…”
      I live in Roland Park and have followed the Roland Avenue project. At no time has Roland Park requested resources. It has asked for a safe street, and has been ignored. BCDoT has done what IT wants, wasting its resources and our time. BCDoT has experimented on Roland Avenue.

  2. The traffic configuration along Roland Avenue has been, is, and always will be a controversial issue. Unfortunately (like so much of what seems to pass for discourse currently), it has also become quite difficult to keep facts straight. In addition to DOT’s “public survey” referenced above, Roland Park Civic League conducted a thorough survey among Roland Park residents, those citizens most directly affected by the issue. That survey’s results revealed a compelling two-thirds majority in favor of “Option 2,” restoring curbside parking, re-establishing a protected bike lane, and maintaining two lanes of traffic on Roland Avenue, a critical artery for the city. Including this fact in the article would have provided important balance and also made it clear why DOT realized it has more work to do.

  3. Dear Mr. McLeod, why did you not interview BCDoT? Clearly it is the subject of your piece. Why not ask BCDoT why it ignores its residents? What about the many communities nationwide with similar problems that worked alongside their DoT to achieve an implementable solution that resulted in safe traffic speeds, increased real estate value, decreased fatalities and crashes, increased business performance, and increased street use? Why can’t BCDoT do this? Why does it appear they are rudderlessly experimenting on Roland Avenue? What, if anything, can BCDoT do differently when engaging its residents? Can the process in which proposals are rolled out be improved so that discussions of facts can occur instead of having to merely accept street design proposals? Generally, what is BCDoT’s purpose? An article that gets into this would be fresh and informative.

    Inquire into what DoT requires of a consultant. Will he/she talk to the community as a group? How, if at all, will residents and stakeholders be engaged? Is the consultant experienced not only in urban street design and placemaking, but also in untangling and unwinding the neighborhood’s tension? Can the consultant garner trust from residents and stakeholders; clearly explain the complex concepts of urban street design and ultimately guide the community toward consensus on a vision for how Roland Avenue best functions? Can the consultant communicate clearly between BCDoT and the community? What would be their methods for achieving the stated goals? Would this be the first time such ideas were heard by BCDoT? Alternatively, is the consultant expected to continue a practice of providing little info and engagement with the community?

    These are things sorely needed in order to develop a clear vision for Roland Avenue because for too long the concepts of street design have intentionally not been explained to residents and stakeholders. And without this understanding, choosing buffet-style “options” is baseless and wasteful.

  4. Anything which would reduce Roland Avenue to one lane between Northern Parkway and Upland (past the point at which U turns can be made) would render impassable an already challenging morning and afternoon school traffic situation. The fact is that bikes should be considered vehicles and NOT afforded a special lane for such a small percentage of users vs. those who need to access that section of Roland Avenue. Witness the devastation of Maryland Avenue south of 83 for evidence of what happens when a lane of traffic is removed. Perhaps the City should resend the survey and include the affected schools, whose constituents most assruedly will object to the removal of a lane i.e will recognize instantly the folly of so-called Option 1.

    • Hi WK–
      If, if Parts of Roland Avenue between Northern and Cold Spring were single lane, could you find another route to your destination? That’s the point here: Should Roland Avenue remain two-lane each way to accommodate school drop off and pickup times? For what? Thirty minutes in the morning and again after noon. The rest of the day, night, and weekends outside those few dangerous minutes Roland Avenue is almost vacant….a speedway.

    • The situation on Maryland Avenue has very little to do with the removal of a lane. Rather, like much of the city, the automotive congestion is primarily due to poor signal coordination. The signal cycle on eastbound Oliver Street at MD Avenue is far too long and then the coordination of the signals at Mt. Royal, Preston, and Biddle are all disjointed. If you correct the signal timing, you would easily achieve the 17-22 MPH that is the gold standard of urban automotive throughput and you won’t even notice that you have lost one automotive lane so that a city of more than 600k people can have a SINGLE protected cycling lane. But even as it stands, I really do feel awful for those people who have to wait an extra 30 seconds for the next signal cycle. It must be, as you put it, utterly devastating. I play the world’s tiniest violin for them.

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