Roland Park’s New Cycle Track is Step to a ‘Bike-Friendly’ Baltimore

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Have you noticed in many cities – Pittsburgh, Seattle, Memphis, Portland, Chicago, and Roland Park – all types of newfangled bike lanes? Part of Baltimore City’s Master Bike Plan, Roland Park’s new “cycle track” is the first-of-its-kind in Baltimore. Though 100 miles of our city have become more bike-friendly, we’re behind most cities in moving toward more sustainable transportation where bicycles, autos and pedestrians safely coexist.

Roland Park’s updated bike lanes and revised street parking are near completion, and residents are getting used to the new system. How’s it going, and what’s next on B’More’s biking horizon?

With its grassy street medians and Main-Street-like shopping area, Roland Park harkens back to bygone days. One of the first planned communities in the U.S., Roland Park’s residential neighborhoods surround a quaint shopping district that includes a renovated library. Roland Park is also home to three schools a stone’s throw from the post office.

If you’re near the intersection of Roland Avenue and Deepdene Road on a school morning, you’ll also notice a maze of adults and students biking and walking. Add to the mix a lot of car traffic; about 14,500 cars travel on Roland Avenue each day with some driving well over the speed limit. Roland Park Elementary/Middle School boasts an enrollment of 1,400 students, with many walking and biking to campus. Across the street from RPEMS, Roland Park Country School and Gilman School have a combined enrollment of nearly 1,700, with many students driving in from the larger metro area.

Roland Avenue’s much-needed repaving project provided the opportunity for Baltimore City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to implement a piece of the city’s Master Bike Plan – make Roland Avenue more bike-friendly for bicyclists ages 8-80.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Making urban areas more bike-friendly often means that cars and their drivers make the biggest changes as other modes of transport gain more priority in the pecking order.

Working with community groups, school leadership, local businesses, and bike advocate groups like Bikemore and Bike Maryland, DOT zeroed-in on a cycle track strategy for Roland Avenue that switches where cars park, and where bicyclists ride. DOT also recommended cement islands installed where pedestrian cross streets. These “bump outs” force cars to slow down to make a tighter right turn.

In early November 2015, about 200 neighbors attended a community meeting, and from the reports, feathers were ruffled. Many were opposed to the new plan for a variety of reasons: loss of parking spots, felt left out of decision-making, or just didn’t like the concept.  DOT went ahead, and during the holidays, the Roland Avenue cycle track was installed.

This is new: cars on left and bikes on right.
This is new: cars on left and bikes on right.

In the above photo, street parking was moved to the outside of the new cycle track creating a protected bike lane. This never-seen-in-Baltimore design also reduced 15 street parking spots along Roland Avenue between Northern Parkway and Cold Spring Lane, with a few lost in front of the ever-busy shopping area.

Over 75 cities in the U.S. have installed a variety of cycle tracks. Protected bike lanes are gaining in popularity as research suggests the severity of bike accidents is reduced. Last year in Maryland, there were over 700 bicycle/car accidents including the tragic fatality of Tom Palermo on Roland Avenue.

Though DOT marketed the changes ahead of the repainting, drivers were confused at first as to where to park. Many cars parked in the bike lane and Facebook was abuzz with people complaining, or giving a thumbs up.  According to Liz Cornish of Bikemore, Baltimore’s bicycle advocacy group, plastic flexiposts will soon be installed between the cycle track and the street to delineate better the bike areas. Permanent signs will also replace the sandwich boards (which were put out a few days late).

In April 2016, the next cycle track will be installed on Maryland Avenue (see graph below). Biking’s benefits are numerous from emission-free transportation to exercise. Add to the list, bicycling is also an inexpensive transport mode. Did you know that there are many sections of Baltimore where the majority of residents don’t own a car? The Maryland Avenue corridor falls in this category. 

Baltimore's future bicycle projects. Source: Baltimore Master Bike Plan, March 2015.
Baltimore’s future bicycle projects. Source: Baltimore Master Bike Plan, March 2015.

The car-is-king strategy won’t be the leader in a future fossil-free world. Modern urban transportation strategies will include safe biking areas connected to bus, subway and train transportation hubs that allow citizens to get seamlessly to work, school and play. Like other cities, especially in Europe, transportation hubs will also offer safe and secure bicycle storage. Roland Park’s new cycle track is the first step in Baltimore’s becoming a “bike-friendly city.” It just may be a bit bumpy along the way. 

This bike storage facility is in Amsterdam. Cyclists can bike from their home in protected bike paths, store and secure their bike, and catch a train or bus from this location. I’m guessing there were 2,000 bikes.

Laurel Peltier
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  1. This is a terrible design for individuals who are handicapped! They have no protection from either the street side nor the passenger side of a vehicle. And, to add insult to those that are mobility impaired, in this “bike-friendly” set up there are no additional handicapped parking spaces to support their need for safety and convenience. What was wrong with the previous bike lanes???

    • “handicapped”, Leslie? Do you mean disabled? The handicapped will do the same thing that able bodied, the lame, dumb, and mute, retarded and colored do. They’ll enter the car from the driver’s side. They will be at the mercy of drivers who should be paying attention and courteously allowing them to get into and out of their cars. What was wrong with the previous bike lanes? Everything Leslie, that’s what.

  2. A very one sided article – Baltimore FishBowl. Clearly you are not current with the widespread community anger and divide on this issue! Prior to this article there have been several articles written about the ongoing flawed design of the road, destruction of our trees and loss of Roland Park’s historic integrity. The safety of pedestrians, bikers and drivers have been hugely compromised. Accidents are occurring and people are put in dangerous positions. Responsible unbiased journalism looks at the reality not at the perceived politically correct point of view.

    • Hi Leslie, I have been riding it regularly, and I say phooey on you. It’s great! The only thing that will make it better is people who park on Roland Ave. making a bigger effort to keep their cars out of the bike lane. It’s what other world-class cities like LA, SF, NYC and Washington, DC have. People who don’t like it are wrong. Learn to love it, Leslie!

    • Well Pam, I certainly haven’t seen any children biking to school because the cycle track is dangerous! It erratically swings in and out of traffic. Parents have stated they won’t let their children use it.

    • Those parents’ danger fears are totally irrational. CDC and National Safety Council says that odds of dying in a car accident is 1 in 303, pedestrian accident – 1 in 649, bicycle accident – 1 in 4,717. The kids in the car are 15 and1/2 times more likely to die than kids on a bicycle.

    • Have there been accidents as a result of the new bike lane design? If so I would ask the Fishbowl to cover them.

  3. I don’t know where Laurel Peltier has gotten her facts from, but local parents are not allowing their school children to cycle to school because the track is too dangerous! It is erratic and weaves in and out of traffic.

    • Not true Michelle. The cycle track never “weaves in and out of traffic”. It is parallel to traffic lanes in most places. At intersections the cyclist gets closer to traffic lanes, but NEVER does the track enter automobile traffic lanes. On both sides of Roland Avenue, a cyclist can ride the entire length without entering the lanes intended for automobile traffic.

  4. It’s unfortunate when Tom Palermo’s tragic death is the rally cry for over-zealous bikers. The facts are he was killed by a habitual drunk on a cell phone. The irony is the “master bike plan” doesn’t even cover the very area where he was killed- it stopped at Northern Parkway, blocks away from the Bellmore Road accident site. As for Ms Schuh, your pronouncement of “people not liking it are wrong” and that we should “learn to love it” is the typical unyielding mantra of selfish groups and people with agendas. The radical bikers in this city feel that sharing the road doesn’t mean being considerate on how THEY behave when traveling in traffic. Pedaling side by side at a deliberate slow speed during evening rush hour thus leaving only one lane of auto traffic, is not an example of sharing the road. What I just mentioned is not an isolated incident, but a constant issue downtown when trying to leave the city. And let’s not get started on the constant weaving in and out of lanes (or between cars). Then there are the numerous bike “enthusiasts” who refuse to use the Roland Avenue bike lanes or the high priced Falls Road bike/walking path, but instead wheel out in the main traffic and are incensed by the volume of traffic that pass them (most at three feet plus) or are irked by the cars trailing them because the vehicles are afraid to pass them. And why are there no repercussions of the many bikers who travel the roads with no lights or reflectors and wear dark clothing at night. I have had a couple of close calls. In this current climate, if I would have struck one of these bikers, I would most likely be found at fault. The resentment many feel toward the “progressive” bike community will dissipate when they truly understand the concept of sharing the road and obeying the traffic rules. Contrary to some popular beliefs, automobile drivers are not the enemy. And I will add neither are most bicyclists. It’s the small group(s) that project the notion of the ” tail wagging the dog” to get their way, they
    are the ones who are the real problem.

    • I agree. Also I am constantly amazed at how many bikers go through red lights. Don’t they know they can be ticketed just like a car? 2 wheel or 4 or 18, it doesn’t matter the lights are there to PREVENT accidents. Nothing is perfect but it would help, just as not walking across the middle of a dark street in all black at night. Accidents are not always the driver’s fault.

  5. this BIKE TRACK in Roland Park is RIDICULOUS. I have almost been hit 3 times opening my driver’s door. Cars should be by the curb, then the bikes, then a division space. the danger to drivers was not taken into consideration.

    • 3 times! Look in your side view mirror and wait until the lane is clear before opening your door. Like most of the whiners and complainers about the cycle track, I believe your complaint is more about your inconvenience than your safety.

    • How would you be hit on your driver’s side door if the bike lane is on the passenger side? That doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. The changes to Maryland Avenue over this past weekend are completely idiotic. I would guess there are at least 1000 cars or more per day traveling this route and maybe 50 bikes, and now they remove a lane of traffic for cars just to put in a lane for bikes?? Coming off 83 onto Md Ave they now direct the right lane into parked cars for the morning commuters. This is causing major frustration for all travelers and the bikes are still riding in the car lanes! Worse project I’ve seen in many years!

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