It’s a bad week to be a bike lane in Baltimore.

Yesterday, a day after the mayor’s office announced its plans to tear out the nearly complete cycle track on Potomac Street in Canton, a group representing Roland Park residents announced it has asked the city to also tear out a mile-long bike lane running through their neighborhood.

In a June 6 letter addressed to Acting Transportation Director Frank Murphy, and cc’ing Mayor Catherine Pugh and her aide, Chief of Strategic Alliances James T. Smith, Jr., among others, the Roland Park Civic League calls on the city to “restore curb side parking immediately and completely on Roland Avenue.”

Since winter of 2015-16, a stretch of Roland Avenue has been altered to include four-foot-wide bike lanes along the curbs on each side, with parking spaces for cars separating the bike lane from moving traffic.

Civic association president Robert “Hap” Cooper wrote that his group’s Cycle Track Committee conducted a yearlong study of the lane shortly after it was installed, holding more than a dozen committee meetings and two public meetings, in addition to soliciting input from an engineering firm.

Among the complaints listed in the committee’s year-end report: five totaled parked cars, uncounted incidents involving damage to vehicles, cyclists choosing to forego riding in the lane entirely due to fears of colliding with pedestrians and increased verbal altercations between cyclists and drivers. There were also safety concerns about drivers climbing out of cars alongside oncoming traffic and passengers hopping out in the bike lane with cyclists potentially approaching.

With the study done, the civic association initially recommended the city “either restore curbside parking with a wider, safer bike lane and slower traffic, or partner with the community to create a complete street that works for everyone.”

But community members and the civic league discussed it further at their annual meeting in May. In a 55-31 vote, the group revised the recommendation to say the city should eliminate the cycle track entirely “and continue the work of the committee to achieve the other objectives” from the report — among them, a wider bike lane and lower speed limits.

Speaking by phone today, Cooper said a community member stood up and proposed the wording change at the meeting. He noted that the revised recommendation doesn’t necessarily mean the civic league doesn’t want to add a wider bike lane back in at the same time. “I think we can restore curbside parking immediately with a wider, safer bike lane,” he said.

Smith, an aide on Pugh’s staff who previously served as the state’s secretary of transportation and executive of Baltimore County, wasn’t immediately available to comment on the association’s request Friday. Pugh spokesman Anthony McCarthy also hasn’t responded to a message requesting comment.

Two days earlier, Smith sent out a letter to residents of Potomac Street in Canton, where a cycle track was nearly fully installed, informing them the city plans to remove the new lane entirely. Residents had complained that the design there — similar, in places, to that the design of Roland Park’s bike lane — took up room needed for emergency vehicles and violated international fire code standards.

The mayor’s office initially planned a redesign of the lane that would have narrowed the lane to seven feet for a major stretch. When local bike advocacy nonprofit Bikemore criticized the proposed redesign, the city at first defended its plans to modify the lane. A day later, it scrapped them entirely.

Bikemore executive director Liz Cornish hasn’t responded to an email requesting comment on the civic association’s request. Speaking with Baltimore Fishbowl yesterday, she said the city’ s decision to restart its cycle track plans on Potomac Street “sets a dangerous precedent” for how the government responds to community feedback on bike lanes.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

8 replies on “Roland Park Civic League Asks City to Rip Out Mile-Long Cycle Track”

  1. First, I’m a strong supporter of the protected bike lanes that Baltimore City has been putting throughout the city. It’s fantastic that the city has started acting like a cosmopolitan city and providing soft services that other cities have been providing for years. Go to any major or similar sized city in the US or Europe and you will see that they have provided such facilities. If the city wants to grow and attracted people back they need to continue to watch how other cities have done it. Philly has over 200 miles of protected bike paths its downtown is alive. DC continues to expand their network, they are continuing with their renaissance. Large cities throughout the world are now trending to Car-less streets. Folks will eventually get accustomed to the new traffic patterns. In a recent complaint by the Roland Park Civic Association, it mentioned that 5 parked cars were totaled. If a car was hit that badly I don’t think few more feet would have made that much of a difference. Sounds like a driver going too fast and losing control.
    Give the lanes a chance this is the first summer we actually have access to a large number of them. I drive every day from Homeland down Roland Ave picking up Maryland Ave at JHU then picking up 395 at the stadiums to head south out of the city. Basically the whole route has the new protected bike lanes. I actually enjoy the ride now that I’m sharing it with the bikes as I drive in my car. It just seems more like a city that is alive. As the weather gets nicer more and more bikes are on the paths. This past week I saw at times 3 to 5 bikes per block, nearly always a bike a block. That is 3 to 5 or more cars off the road as well. It’s a city, we have to learn to share. Try them out and experience them. Now if we can just expand the mass transit system.

  2. Thank God people are coming to their senses….I’m not anti bike riding, but what they did on Roland Avenue was just plain dangerous. More people at risk is not a solution.

  3. I had a few thoughts as I read this article, starting with the title, which states that the Roland Park Civic League asks the city to “rip out” the mile-long cycle track. The community, in a democratic process, simply asked the civic league to ask the city to put the parking back against the curb, where it had been for decades. There is to be no “ripping out” of anything — it is a matter of repainting the lines.
    I am a resident of Roland Park, and also someone who walks the mile along Roland Ave. from Coldspring Lane to Northern Parkway 5 or 6 times a week. I rarely see more than 2 or 3 bikes during my walks. On a beautiful Saturday like today, for example, I saw eleven bikes in toto — two were a mother and son, who were riding on the sidewalk, 7 were what looked to me like “serious” cyclists, who were riding in the vehicle lanes, and one was in the cycle track/bike lane. Of the cyclists I have spoken with over the last year or so, I’d say at least 80% of them say that they will not ride in the current cycle track, as they believe it is too dangerous — they are trapped between the parked cars and the curb, and the track is also dangerous to navigate, as it is filled with all of the debris that gets washed to the curb.
    From a personal perspective, I believe that no one is served from a safety standpoint: the cycle track is dangerous for bikes and pedestrians; the “parking” lane, as it now exists, is a risky proposition as anyone who has parked in it will attest, as there is absolutely no margin for error, and if you step out of your car while another vehicle is driving past (or a child tries to get out), you are literally stepping out into a lane of traffic; and the vehicle lanes are now almost too narrow for two cars to pass each other — it can be truly harrowing.
    I have also heard that the cycle track was supposed to have a “traffic-calming” effect (which I think means that drivers should slow down), but I have not seen this to be the case. Drivers are speeding and/or driving aggressively as much as they ever have. The suggestion I heard from my last Plat meeting was that the problems could be solved by making Roland Avenue into a two-lane (one lane each way) street. This solution is the most troublesome to me. I understand what Mike is getting at, accusing us Baltimoreans of being “provincial,” but I look at it a different way — Roland Avenue does not belong to the neighborhood of Roland Park — it is an important artery in our city, and many of its travelers each and every day are going to the store, or to the pharmacy or to take their children to school or to get to and from their places of employment, or just driving down into the city. I cannot fathom what would happen to the travel time during peak travel hours, if the street were narrowed any further — that seems to me to be an experiment in reverse social engineering at best, and at worst, an attempt to prevent access to anyone traveling through Roland Park to get elsewhere — THAT seems provincial to me.
    I would be in favor of slowing down the traffic, which could be accomplished by giving out tickets, and/or by installing another traffic light, perhaps at the intersection where the Fire Station is. In my view, safety and access must be paramount, and the community’s decision to revert the parking to the curb reflects that.

    1. Safety? The National Safety Council Odds of Dying Chart reads, “Cause of Death, Car Occupant 1 in 645”. Compared to “Cause of Death Pedacyclist Incident 1 in 4,486″….so your safety opinion should probably be reexamined based on some facts.

  4. There is an underlying tone from this article that bike lanes are inherently good and that evaluating them with a real world eye is somehow on the “wrong” side of the issue. The headline, asserting that the Civic League has somehow asked the city to “rip out” anything is particularly deceptive. In fact, what has happened here is precisely the kind of community involvement and representative democracy that should be lauded, not subject to barely veiled criticism. The fact of the matter is that the social engineering tried in Roland Park, as well intentioned as it may have been, failed to achieve virtually any of its objectives. Bike usage did not rise, traffic velocity did not lessen, safety was not improved, and property damage meaningfully increased. Roland Park came together as a community, debated the issues vigorously and openly, and a clear decision was reached by a vote held consistent with required process. It is vital to a successful society to have a well defined governance process that provides an accessible forum for open debate, and most critically, that the results of that process are respected. For this to lead to the cynical insult in the comments that Baltimore is somehow “provincial to the last” is both off point and resonant of all too typical elitist condescension. We support bikes in Baltimore; we support bike lanes in Baltimore. But we also support thoughtful, fact-based, intelligent and engaged community involvement that actually tries to get things right every now and then. Roland Park demonstrated the right way for a forward-thinking community to handle an important issue. Well done.

  5. Ganging up on the comments section… a provincial effort indeed, where every couple comments 2x

  6. I’d like to see the trees torn out and a train going down the median like when I was young in the halcyon days of yore.

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