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.
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.
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.