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 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.
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