Less than a week after city officials announced plans to remove the divisive Roland Avenue cycle track, board members of the Roland Park Civic League have voted to ask the city to temporarily hold off.
After an hour-long discussion about the cycle track Wednesday, Civic League board members voted 7-4, with three abstentions, to ask city officials to delay undoing the current configuration until officials have an alternative plan to make it safe for children to ride bikes to area schools and other destinations.
The vote came despite the prior recommendations of Civic League president Dr. Bob Connors and others who have asked the city to dismantle the four-year-old cycle track on the grounds that it is unsafe.
For the past nine months, Connors has served as the League’s representative on a mayoral task force that considered a range of options for improving Roland Avenue, including a “road diet” experiment, and eventually recommended undoing the existing mile-long cycle track.
Many Roland Park residents have asked the city to take away the current configuration, which provides a narrow bike lane next to the curb and a “floating” parking zone that buffers the bike lane from moving traffic on Roland Avenue, roughly from Cold Spring Lane up to Northern Parkway.
Mayor Catherine Pugh announced last week that the city was canceling plans for the road diet experiment, which would have tested out reducing the number of lanes for vehicular traffic from two to one. Instead, she said, the city would restore the road to its previous configuration from before the cycle track was installed, with parking once again at curbside and a bike lane next to moving traffic. It was one of her last acts before taking an indefinite leave of absence on Monday.
The neighborhood association board’s vote arose from a discussion about Pugh’s March 29 cycle track decision.
As part of a “Roland Avenue Safety Update,” Connors recapped recent efforts by the task force and what led to Pugh’s announcement. He said a consultant hired by the city, Whitman Requardt Associates, concluded the current cycle track configuration is unsafe and there is no easy way to address its flaws.
“There was no way to make it all work,” he said. “That’s what really drove this final decision… They just couldn’t make it work with the physics of the road.”
Part of the problem is that the city has limited funds to make changes, he said. “We’re bumping up against a city that just has lots of budgetary constraints.”
Connors said he thought the idea of removing the cycle track amounted to a “reset,” in which the city was essentially taking Roland Avenue back to the way it was before the cycle track was put in. He said removing the cycle track was not a final solution, and that the city and community will continue looking for ways to make the street safer for all.
“There’s still a lot that we can do to make [Roland Avenue] safer. I don’t look at it as anything more than resetting the conversation.”
But several residents said they don’t agree. They noted that in addition to putting in the cycle track four years ago, the city repaved the road surface, eliminating potholes and other imperfections that slowed down traffic, and that repair work has prompted some motorists to drive faster today than they did beforehand.
They also said adding the cycle track has encouraged more adults and children to ride bikes along Roland Avenue. Removing it now and replacing it with a traffic-side bike path could make it less safe for children, just when they have become accustomed to riding along Roland Avenue.
“In a way, we’re not restoring anything,” said board member Steve Gantz. “We are doing an experiment if we put things back.”
“It isn’t the old road,” agreed St. Johns Road resident Jeremy Greene. “We’re not going back to the old way… This is going to something that is potentially more dangerous.”
“The answer isn’t to put the kids between the parked cars and traffic,” added neighbor Kurt Overton. “If the kids are there, the kids are the ones who will get hurt… You need to find a safe option for kids who are riding bikes to school now to get to school, before you change it back.”
Connors said the task force considered all that, and there have been discussions about striping the traffic-side bike lanes so they stand out to motorists, or encouraging bikers to use residential streets that are less busy than Roland Avenue, such as Hawthorn and Woodlawn roads. He said a possible solution is a two-tier approach to cycling, in which cyclists who are comfortable using Roland Avenue are encouraged to use the bike lanes there, and younger cyclists or those uncomfortable using Roland Avenue use side streets that aren’t as busy.
Several non-board members questioned how side streets would be marked for bikers, and how drivers would know to watch out for kids.
“How safe will bikers be on the smaller streets if they’re not marked?” asked a woman in the back of the room. “We need another study.”
One resident, Andrew Marani, warned the Civic League would be opening itself to liability issues if it recommended alternate bike routes. He said recommending routes should be the role of the city. Others said the Civic League, which represents residents and business owners, could at least take the lead on educating bike riders about possible options.
That’s when several residents asked if the city could delay removing the cycle track until it has an alternate plan for riders. Board member Kristen Herber motioned for the Civic League board to “go to the mayor and ask that there not be a change made to the current cycle infrastructure until a clear, safe alternative can be presented for children to bike to and from schools and other neighborhood destinations.”
Connors said the task force had essentially already asked the city to take that step, noting he wasn’t sure how much the association could dictate about the time frame. “It’s already coming out,” he said. “It has been decided. I’m not sure we can say, You can’t do this until you do that.”
Speaking with Baltimore Fishbowl after the board approved the motion, Connors said he doesn’t think it would change the track’s fate in the long run. His impression, he said, is that city will wait until schools let out for the summer to start removing the track anyway.
Baltimore City Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kathy Dominick said she didn’t know the exact timetable for removing the cycle track. She was also unaware of the Civic League’s new request to hold off on removing it.
Liz Cornish, executive director of cycling advocacy nonprofit Bikemore, was similarly unaware of yesterday’s vote by the neighborhood group’s board.
“While the Roland Park Civic League’s vote to delay the bike lane’s removal comes as a surprise, it confirms something we have believed all along–that there are plenty of residents that want the street to have slower moving traffic and include an all ages protected bike lane, and those voices were not being heard.”