Cyclists rallying to save Mount Royal bike lane

UB and MICA presidents' roles questioned over plan for a dedicated lane.

bike lane proposal

A bicyclist on Mount Royal Ave. recently riding in the slim space between parked cars and two lanes of moving traffic.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Did two college presidents try to kill a bike lane proposed for the stretch of Mount Royal Avenue that runs right through their campuses? And have angry Baltimore cyclists and students, with their emails, phone calls and petition campaign, saved the lane for now?

Answering “yes” to both questions might be going too far, but it’s safe to say the heads of the University of Baltimore and Maryland Institute College of Art have been, behind-the-scenes, pumping the brakes on the idea of a dedicated bike lane that would take away one of the two lanes of vehicular traffic.

“I think it is awful that the leaders of two universities would reject a plan for bike lanes in their neighborhood when university communities are filled with young, potentially car-less students in need of efficient and safe transportation choices like biking,” said Mount Royal Ave. resident Jeremy Schroeder, in an email to The Brew.

“I’ve been sideswiped by trucks and almost hit by cars,” MICA student and avid bicyclist Liam Quigley said, in a phone interview.

"Alternative B," showing a dedicated bike lane in between parked cars and a single lane of vehicle traffic. (Source: Baltimore City DOT)

"Alternative B," a dedicated bike lane in between parked cars and a single lane of traffic. (Source: Baltimore DOT)

Quigley is one of 396 people who have signed an online petition asking for the lane to be included in the city’s ongoing Midtown Streetscape redesign project.

Lane supporters have been out on Mount Royal gathering more signatures and plastering bulletin boards with urgent messages about the effort.

Signers can leave a comment. Shane Townsend’s was one of the more pointed: “Cyclists are getting killed by Baltimore’s poor planning.”

“The students want a bike lane,” Quigley said. “They know it would increase safety to have them.”

The uproar was touched off last month when the local bike blog Baltimore Velo published a post saying that a representative of the city Department of Transportation told a January meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee that the lane is not going to happen because MICA President Fred Lazarus IV and UB President Robert L. Bogomolny do not want it.

Non-Committal Response

Asked by The Brew if this is true and whether they support or oppose a bike lane, the answers from both MICA and UB did not address the Velo post, were non-committal on bike lanes and stressed the two schools’ general commitment to making Mount Royal safe for all who use it.

“Unfortunately, MICA faculty and students have been hit by cars; in fact, one of our students was killed by a speeding driver. In addition, cyclists have also been victims,” Lazarus wrote in an email. “Our goal is to find solutions that result in the increased safety for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Both he and Bogomolny point to the city as the lead decision-maker on the issue.

“We are open to any plan that contributes to the safety and well-being of our community,” according to a statement from Bogomolny’s office. “It is appropriate that experts in the Baltimore City Department of Transportation study and recommend how best to implement safe pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists in our area.”

So what does the city say?

A cyclist preparing to cross Mount Royal Ave. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A cyclist prepares to cross Mount Royal Ave. (Photo by Fern Shen)

DOT officials agreed to a short conference call with The Brew to explain why the bike lane is problematic. (Planning documents now show the preferred option to be one in which two vehicular traffic lanes are maintained, with sharrows added.)

But, first, they wanted to clear up what they said is a misconception by bicyclists about “complete streets.”

Only a Resolution

Bicycling advocates have been saying that, by dropping the dedicated bike lane, DOT is in violation of the complete streets legislation the City Council adopted in 2010.

The main idea of complete streets is that roads should be designed not just for cars but for all users in mind – bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

But Theo Ngongang, division chief for planning at DOT, pointed out that the council’s vote was “only a resolution, not an ordinance – it doesn’t have the power of law.”

So while the city is advised by Council Bill 00-0433 to consider things like bike lanes, Ngongang said, they are not compelled in every instance to create them.

“Hopefully they’ll be compelled by hundreds of signatures and students showing up at mass meetings,” Quigley said dryly.

$6 Million Spruce-Up

The bike lane proposal was part of what is described in a Midtown Streetscape Transition Report as a four-year, $6-million project to improve the city’s cultural district, encompassing not only UB and MICA but the Lyric Opera House, the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and other institutions. The improvements include intersections, traffic signals, signage, curbs, streetlights, road surfaces and other features.

Mount Royal median near the University of Baltimore could use some love. (Photo by Fern Shen

Mount Royal median near the UB campus could stand some attention. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Documents show there have been meetings (including charrettes and a “contractor kickoff”) going back to 2008, but Ngongang said the project is only about 60% designed.

“The final design is yet to be completed, things are still happening,” he said this week.

So does that mean a bike lane is still on the table? The answer, it seems, is possibly.

“We have been going back and forth on it,” he said, explaining that the problem is fitting the lane in.

“Some sections [of the available roadway] are narrower than others and some medians are wider than others,” he said.

“Throughout the length of Mount Royal between Charles [Street] and North Avenue we have clearly identified a bike lane, but it wouldn’t be a continuous bike lane,” he said. Ngongang described a possible bike lane route “that would be leading into the sidewalk” in places and then return to the roadway.

Other bike lanes in Baltimore do have this on-again, off-again feature. On the West University Pkwy. bike lane, for instance, between Tudor Arms Ave. and San Martin Drive where there’s a bridge over Stony Run, the dedicated bike lane disappears.

Ditto on St. Paul St. below Lanvale St. where congestion from the Bolt Bus stop and taxis queued up at Penn Station becomes intense.

Truncated Interview

Ngongang promised to send photos and might have explained this further, but The Brew asked a question that caused the DOT spokesperson monitoring the conversation to put the conference call on hold: “What has the position of the MICA presidents been and are reports correct that they have problems with the bike lane?”

“We’re going to have to cut this [interview] short,” said the DOT’s Kathy Chopper, after the two city officials came back on the line.

Many bike lane advocates say they are especially surprised MICA hasn’t supported the idea.

“As a MICA alumni, I’m struck by what comes off as an out-of-touch, behind-the-times position taken by a president of a school that prides itself on being forward-thinking and on the edge,” petition signer Michael Gunn wrote.

Rumors are running rampant that, as Quigley put it, “affluent influential Bolton Hill residents” have pressured the school.

A MICA spokesman, Cedric Mobley, tried to explain some of Lazarus’ concerns about bike lanes.

“He looked at everything on the table . . . and what adding a bike lane would do to reduce the capacity of the road to handle vehicles, and what affect that might have on reducing the pedestrians’ safety,” Mobley said. In other words, he added, Lazarus wants to make sure that Mount Royal, narrowed to one lane for cars, “would still be able to accommodate growing traffic.”

Asked if Lazarus thinks traffic on Mount Royal is growing Mobley demurred: “I’m not saying that.”

In a 2008 mini-charrette, according to DOT documents, Lazarus’ group concluded: “Mt. Royal back-ups no longer a problem (they were 25 years ago): people driving too fast is a problem.”

Mobley said Lazarus “is listening to his students” and that the plan for Mount Royal at this point “is not concrete.” They’ll have a chance to to air their views at a Feb. 15 MICA Town Hall meeting at 2:30 p.m., at the main building at 1300 Mt. Royal.

A post on Baltimore Velo about the meeting urged people to “wear shirts, hold helmets or somehow identify themselves.”

Cars, Bikes and Thousands of Students

On a recent morning, at rush hour, Mount Royal was abuzz with cars coming off the I-83 exit ramp, pedestrians carrying briefcases and painted canvases, bicyclists walking and riding their bikes and a truck for a work crew spreading mulch at the light rail stop.

The area serves more than 7,300 students and 700 faculty members, according to the DOT Midtown Streetscape report. MICA security personnel were stationed at intersections to help cyclists and pedestrians get across Mount Royal.

There weren’t any back-ups this day but when the lights let bursts of cars through, some of them veered far to the right, forcing several cyclists we saw to within a foot of parked cars.

A MICA student, who had just locked his bike to a rack, said swinging doors and veering cars have been a problem.

“I’ve almost gotten ‘doored.’ I’ve had some close calls,” said Walt McCreary. “So many people, when they’re driving, just fly into their parking spot without looking.”

McCreary, who said he sold his car and just uses his bike to get to classes, hadn’t heard that a bike lane was being considered but he said he favors the idea.

“It’s definitely tight, it’s dangerous,” he said. “Why don’t they do it?”


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  • Seth Lueck

    On one hand I hear this:   “Planning documents now show the preferred option to be one in which two vehicular traffic lanes are maintained with sharrows added.”On the other hand I hear this:  “We have been going back and forth on it,” [Ngongang] said, explaining that the problem is fitting the lane in.“Some sections [of the available roadway] are narrower than others and some medians are wider than others,” he said.Can someone explain how this would accommodate two car lanes but not one bike lane?

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    The problem is nicely shown by the photo – cyclists don’t take a proper position in the road. They want bike lanes because they don’t want to learn how to cycle effectively – or safely.

    Trust me, bike lanes aren’t going to make people like the guy in the photo any safer. Learn to ride properly and you don’t need a bike lane to be safe.

    • Chris Merriam

      Most people who aren’t experienced urban cyclists are too intimidated to ride with traffic. That’s because some drivers honk and yell at cyclists to “get on the sidewalk!” (which is illegal, by the way).
      Make a safe place for people to ride their bike and they’ll ride it there. Full stop.

    • Liam

      Asking cyclists to take the lane there, especially less experienced ones, is unrealistic. There is a hill there and it can take some cyclists a while to make it up that road, causing drivers to honk and get really aggressive. 

      Easy to sit behind a computer and ask people to do something which is actually very intimidated because drivers get very aggressive very quickly when they feel inconvenienced. 

      • Rose Reis

        I would love to take Mr. Cooper–and our DOT officials–on a bike ride through Baltimore. Ride along with us as we get cursed at, cut off by trucks, stumble over broken pavement, narrowly avoid giant potholes, blow a tire on broken glass, and still get to our destination before cars traffic.

        Bike transit is super efficient, but way too dangerous and stressful with little support from our city planners.

        • yea right

          good luck with that. nobody in DOT upper management regularly rides a bike.

    • John Stechschulte

      So pick one:

      a) Have everyone who might be potentially interested in bicycling for transportation read and live by John Forester’s “Effective Cycling”; or,

      b) Build bicycle infrastructure that new cyclists feel safe using, and then let everyone benefit from the safety-in-numbers effect of having more cyclists on the roads.

      One of these two strategies has been effective at achieving a cyclist mode share greater than 1%. It is left as an exercise to the reader to determine which. (Here’s a hint: look at the Netherlands . . . or Portland, for that matter.)

    • John Stechschulte

      So pick one:

      a) Have everyone who might be potentially interested in bicycling for transportation read and live by John Forester’s “Effective Cycling”; or,

      b) Build bicycle infrastructure that new cyclists feel safe using, and then let everyone benefit from the safety-in-numbers effect of having more cyclists on the roads.

      One of these two strategies has been effective at achieving a cyclist mode share greater than 1%. It is left as an exercise to the reader to determine which. (Here’s a hint: look at the Netherlands . . . or Portland, for that matter.)

    • Anonymous

      That philosophy toward cycling keeps % of bike commuters at a tiny rate. And taking the lane for someone who is not in good shape can be extremely difficult, because cars pass very close to your bike and frequently honk or yell, even if you are moving at a decent speed. Forcing people to use traffic lanes doesn’t work, or Baltimore would have a much greater number of bike commuters. One of my good friends has a bike and is terrified to ride around in the city, because she sees the way drivers here act. I personally don’t mind getting honked at but I have been sideswiped or barely missed enough times to know the cars don’t care if they hit you.

    • single speeder in the city

      Ian Brett Cooper: just curious, what is wrong with the cyclist’s position in the road as shown in photo number 1? 

      I see a rider on the right hand side of the street lane, maintaining a safe distance from the doors of parked cars.  Rider is wearing helmet and gloves. The rider is showing “situational awareneess” as evidenced by his looking over his shoulder at the car approaching him from the rear.  The rider is not wearing headphones, or talking on a cell. That the rider, appearing young healthy and fit,  is wearing a messenger  bag, clipped in style cycling shoes and  “baggy” riding shorts demonstrates that this rider probabaly rides everyday and is not a “beginner”.  

      Regarding “proper position in the road”  if you look closely the car that is about to overtake the rider is maintaining a greater distance between itself and the other car in the next lane, rather than between itself and the rider.  Legally the overtaking car should be maintaining a three foot distance from the cyclist when passing.  Yes, legally the cyclist has the right to take the whole lane, but also has the option to choose to share that lane by moving to the right.  The rider, on  a mountain bike with fat tires, flat bars and a relatively low saddle height is likely aware that he is slower than other vehicular traffic, and has chosen to share the lane rather than take it.

      Personally, I am not a big fan of  “painted” bike lanes because cars do not respect their integity nor the safety of riders using them.  I actually prefer to ride on streets more than in lanes, unless the lane is separated by either grading or barrier.  However  the cyclist in the photo appears to be doing a good job maintaining the “proper position in the road.”

      Can you exlain further what you mean by your admonishment to, “learn to ride properly”?

      • Dukiebiddle

        In partial defense of “effective cycling techniques” truth be told the cyclist’s lane position in the photo is not safe.   Anywhere within 5 to 6 feet of the door of parallel parked cars is within the door zone. 
        If his lane position is consistent with what it was when he passed the
        parked truck behind him, he passed within a foot of the truck, and is
        about to pass within 3 feet of the car in front of him.  The only way to
        erase the potentiality of a dooring is to stay out of the door zone
        100% of the time, with ABSOLUTELY NO EXCEPTIONS.  To do that a cyclist
        must never allow the line of his wheels to come within 5 feet to the
        side of the parked cars, and truthfully should never allow his wheel
        line to come within 6 feet.  Typically, that puts the cyclist in line
        with the right wheel of the motorized vehicles in the lane he or she is
        sharing with vehicles.  That is not the “whole” lane, but it is the safest possible lane position for several reasons.  First, it erases the potentiality of a dooring completely.  Second, it forces
        the motorist to pass with due care and to focus more attention on the
        act of passing, greatly reducing the likelihood of a right hook.  Third, it makes the cyclist far more visible to oncoming traffic and cross traffic, as the cyclist is no longer blends into the shadows of the parked cars, trucks, SUVs and curbside trees, thereby greatly reducing the likelihood of a crossing collision.  Doorings, right hooks and cross collisions account for vast majority of all “motorist error”
        bicycle/motorist collisions, and a cyclist who practices proper lane
        position, which the cyclist in the photo is not exercising, can more
        than double their statistical safety from motorist error.  My issue with
        Forrester and Effective Cycling techniques is not with the road sharing
        techniques themselves:  on that front they are 100% correct.  Vehicular
        Cycling does work, and every cyclist who learns the proper techniques
        taught by the VC school is vastly safer than every cyclist who does
        not.  My issue is that VC is not good enough and can never increase
        bicycle modal share above 1%, and fails to account for the majority of
        the population, between the ages of 8 and 80, male and female, who would
        benefit greatly from cycling themselves, but will never feel
        comfortable sharing the lane with often aggressive and hostile vehicle
        drivers.  It also fails to create an environment that is healthier and more livable for all urban residents.  Bicycle infrastructure,
        when designed properly, does work better than effective cycling
        techniques, and it makes cycling accessible to everyone, and makes
        cities better places.  For whatever reason, Forrester and his ilk insist on fighting infrastructure improvements, and that I cannot abide.

  • Anonymous

    As a cyclist I stay away from Mount Royal currently, the street has too much traffic and I’m almost always wanting to turn left onto Charles, which is a recipe for instant death! If Baltimore wants to be a modern city we need to build to standards that are going to last, and that means including bike lanes. Bike infrastructure keeps the city flexible as gas prices go up. Bikes wear down the road less, the infrastructure is cheaper to build, and the effect of dedicated infrastructure is also to make drivers aware the bike has a right to be on the road. I can’t count the number of times I’ve almost been clipped by a car who’s driver doesn’t know the state’s laws (3 ft when passing a bike, no less).

  • Chris

    The pressure is working. Keep it up!

  • Phil

    Mt. Royal would be an ideal place to take some sidewalk width and put a separated bike lane inside the parked cars, or a two-way lane in what is now the median.

    • Chris Merriam

      Sorry, Phil, no. Pedestrians need and deserve wide sidewalks. The median should be reserved for greenery and art installations, as it presently is. The proposed road diet makes the most sense and would create a truly “Complete Street.” Cyclists and pedestrians are currently marginalized by cars; Occam’s Razor would seem to suggest removing a lane of traffic and giving it to bikes. It’s really that simple.

  • Penny Troutner

    The quote from MICA spokeman Mobley,  that (Pres.) Lazarus wants to make sure that Mount Royal, narrowed to one lane for cars, “would still be able to accommodate growing traffic.” is troublesome.  What the city should aim for in its traffic engineering, is a way to LESSEN car traffic while encouraging and accommodating bicycles and pedestrians.   We need to catch up to other, more progressive cities that are attracting and keeping their tax base.  I would rather have more people live, shop, and work in the city instead of flying through it.

  • Chris Merriam

    The bottom line here is that at least some parts of DOT do not want to inconvenience cars for even a minute, no matter the costs in safety to cyclists and pedestrians. This is a completely backwards policy suited more to 1962 than 2012. I don’t know the numbers for sure – I’d certainly love to see them – but I would be shocked if the current average traffic volumes on Mount Royal were high enough that removing a lane of traffic in each direction would result in a complete traffic standstill.

    If someone has data to the contrary, I’d love to see it.

  • Chris Merriam

    The bottom line here is that at least some parts of DOT do not want to inconvenience cars for even a minute, no matter the costs in safety to cyclists and pedestrians. This is a completely backwards policy suited more to 1962 than 2012. I don’t know the numbers for sure – I’d certainly love to see them – but I would be shocked if the current average traffic volumes on Mount Royal were high enough that removing a lane of traffic in each direction would result in a complete traffic standstill.

    If someone has data to the contrary, I’d love to see it.

  • Gerald Neily

    This area from Mount Royal to Penn Station including Oliver Street and the JFX ramps might very possibly be the biggest mess in the entire city for all modes – bikes, pedestrians and cars – the full trifecta. Let’s also mention the monster parking garages, especially the one built for “transit oriented development” at the light rail station.

  • Jed Weeks

    Mount Royal Ave is an arterial road. The city does not place sharrows on arterial roads because they don’t work to improve cyclist safety. 

    So why are they stating that is under consideration?

    Also, time to go back to the city council and get an ordinance.

  • Jed Weeks

    Also, I’m far more concerned with the safety and quality of life that complete streets (and a dedicated bike lane) will bring residents, students, and cyclists on Mount Royal at all hours than I am with how quickly county residents can get to and from work at rush hour.

  • Bad Planner

    “He looked at everything on the table . . . and what adding a bike lane
    would do to reduce the capacity of the road to handle vehicles, and what
    affect that might have on reducing the pedestrians’ safety,” Mobley

    That’s a load of bunk. Reducing vehicular capacity increases safety for pedestrians. Slower speed, fewer car lanes to cross, incentives for impatient and reckless drivers to go elsewhere… all those things are very positive for pedestrians. Additionally studies in New York, Seattle and other places clearly demonstrate that added bicycle infrastructure and increased bicycle traffic reduce crash rates and severity for ALL users, including pedestrians AND vehicle occupants. Pedestrians cannot legitimately be used as any kind of excuse for prioritizing motor vehicles over bicycles.

    Now as for Mr. Ngongang’s comments on Complete Streets… if only it were easier to sue engineers for malpractice. It doesn’t matter what a bunch of politicians in city council did or didn’t say, he has a professional (and moral) responsibility to consider the needs of all citizens who will use the city’s streets. He can agree or disagree about whether bike lanes are the preferred treatment, but to say he isn’t obligated to accommodate bicyclists or pedestrians because the city failed to pass a law by which he can be held criminally or civilly liable for failing to do so is ridiculous and speaks volumes about the ethics, sophistication and professional knowledge of the city’s transportation department.

  • John Stechschulte

    Why is it that “the problem is fitting the [bike] lane in”? How about the problem is fitting the *second* car lane in?

  • Steve S

    As a former competitive cyclist, I would suggest that bicyclists as a community should encourage the bad apples to respect the rules of the road. Crazy riders who weave in and out of traffic and ignore signs and signals do the cause a major disservice.

    • Anonymous

      And those riders become outliers when the responsible cyclists are on dedicated infrastructure

  • Gerald Neily

    We need the big picture: The thousands of excess cars per day need to be moved out of the Mount Vernon corridor, and over to the Jones Falls corridor for which it is suited. Instead, the city puts a bikeway on The Fallsway, where the cars should be, with the full acquiescence of the bike community. The Mount Vernon neighborhood has been fighting and losing this battle with the city for decades. The city needs a plan which puts neighborhoods first.

    • Anonymous

      I still feel the fallsway lane is better than nothing, particularly since the area doesnt really need the space that lane is taking up. That said, there should be continuous north south and east west bike lanes from downtown up and mlk over as well

    • Dukiebiddle

      You’re still dead wrong on the Fallsway, Gerald Neily.  If it were well suited to do that job the giant viaduct superhighway wouldn’t have been built on top of it.  Motorists have been ignoring that option for decades, because they know it is slower than the other options available.

      The bicycling community acquiesces on the Fallsway separated bike lane because there is no reasonable question as to whether or not it is in there best interest.   It clearly is.  There is no other option available for a genuine and authentic transportation route for cyclists.  Transforming Mt. Vernon into some sort of pedestrian paradise, which seems to be your chief concern,  would not connect cyclists with their jobs downtown and their residential communities.  The Fallsway is the ONLY choice.  It just so happens it isn’t a very good route for cars so the city was able to do what was right for other road users, for once.

  • Corey Gaber

    To be perfectly honest I’m a cyclist who often disobeys the rules of the road, but what’s interesting is that when there’s a dedicated bike lane I tend to ride much safer, and legally. I guess there’s fodder in that comment for both sides. Bottom line is as long as there’s 10x as many motorists as there are cyclists in the city our preferences will not be favored.

  • Rich_R

    Baltimore needs better ways for bicyclists to safely travel the city streets. Bicycling promotes healthy exercise and doesn’t pollute like cars and trucks. Bicycles take up much less space than cars. I wish I felt safer when bicycling and that could happen with good planning, engineering, and implementation. My daughter and son-in-law bicycle in Baltimore and I wish it were safer for them.

  • Gerald Neily

    You’re right, Ian. I can’t blame the bike community for taking whatever they can get, including those who have taken me to task in my own blog. The blame lies squarely on the City, for allowing a world-class neighborhood like Mount Vernon to be trashed by auto traffic which it was not built for, and which is an insult to the heroic efforts of all the people who have worked to rebuild it. And the only reason the city allows it is because Mount Vernon has been exposed to such a slow death by automobiles over the last 60 or so years.

  • Chris

    Gerald: one great way of removing “excess cars” from Mt Vernon would be to take lanes away from cars and give them to bikes. First things would be congested, and then drivers would figure out rather quickly that they should try another route. Traffic is like water.

    • Gerald Neily

      It’s more complicated than that, Chris. The streets need to fit into a rational system. The city fairly recently removed a traffic lane on St. Paul Street by reinstating parking in the right curb lane south of Mt. Royal. Now traffic coming off the awful substandard JFX ramp must merge into the next lane. Maybe that has caused a few motorists to go different ways, but it has mainly just created even more chaos. In similar ways, other traffic has been squeezed randomly over the years, which has increased congestion and provided some more on-street parking, but that’s about all.

  • Chris Merriam

    Also, there’s no reason we can’t have world-class bike routes along Fallsway 

  • Chris Merriam

    Also, there’s no reason we can’t have world-class bike routes on Fallsway AND Maryland AND MLK and a lot of other places, too. We need to start aiming high instead of preemptively tempering our expectations due to the ever-present lack of money. Installing a Cycletrack on Maryland Ave, for instance, would cost basically nothing except paint – and political will, the rarest resource in this city.

  • Chris Merriam

    So Gerry, if you had your transpo planner druthers, where would you put bike routes in Downtown Baltimore (expanding somewhat from the narrow question of Mount Royal here).

  • Chris Merriam

    Dukie, I would mildly disagree with you in that there IS another option for a high-quality bike route spanning the city’s north/south spine: Maryland/Cathedral/Liberty. Charles & St. Paul probably are too busy to remove a travel lane, but there’s no reason a Cycle Track couldn’t go in on 
    Maryland/Cathedral/Liberty. Supposedly this has been discussed internally by DOT, or may even be in the works, but I don’t know for sure.

    • Dukiebiddle

      RE: a Maryland/Cathedral/Liberty contraflow bike lane.  I’ll concede it is an option, but I definitely think it is an inferior one to the Fallsway cycletrack.  Liberty street is very steep and long for blocks between the Arena and the Enoch-Pratt, and Cathedral between the Enoch-Pratt and Chase is downright hilly.  The Fallsway, in contrast, is a very mild ascent of less than 1% grade from the Harbor to Madison Street, only steep for two blocks between Madison and Chase, after which it becomes the Guilford Ave. bicycle boulevard, which itself is only steep for one block between 25th and 26th and is otherwise a gradual grade all the way to University.  Also, the Fallsway has far less current traffic than the Maryland/Cathedral/Liberty arterial.  I’d support it as a secondary route serving the West Side, but I think it is in the better interests of the cycling community overall, and of the city itself, to but a couple more eggs in the Guilford/Fallsway basket.  I certainly don’t view Maryland/Cathedral/Liberty as a viable alternative to Guilford/Fallsway, but of course the ball is all ready rolling on that so we’re speaking in hypotheticals.

  • Dukiebiddle

    I apologize in advance for hijacking this comment thread; but it seems there are comment thread participants still holding to antiquated beliefs about safe cycling and the necessity of bicycle routes in our urban areas, and I just stumbled across this letter cosigned by 34 CURRENT urban transportation experts addressing identical antiquated criticisms, and think it is relevant enough to cut and paste into the thread, along with a hyperlink to the original letter. 

    “To the Editor:

    In John Forester’s letter to the editor critiquing “Physically Separated Bikeways: A Game Changer for Bicycle Mode Split” (vol. 81, no. 4), he takes credit, as he has elsewhere[i], for alerting the engineering community to the supposed danger of bikeways that are physically separated from adjacent traffic. His objection is based primarily on his advocacy for a style of bicycling effective under what most people consider the worst of conditions: a roadway shared by bicycles and high volumes of fast motor vehicles. So-called “vehicular cycling”—essentially operating a bicycle as if it were a motor vehicle—allows the small minority of people willing to operate in such environments a safe way to ride. While Forester deserves credit for developing such a style, better alternatives are now and have long been available.

    There is a growing consensus among transportation professionals and decision makers that direct their work that it is the diametrically opposite of Forester’s antiseparation doctrine that results in increasing numbers of people bicycling. Creating as much separation as possible between people riding bicycles from high volumes of motor vehicle traffic improves the safety and comfort of all road users. There is substantial and growing evidence to support these views based on the recent experiences with cycle tracks in Montreal, Canada, Portland, OR, New York, Long Beach, CA, and Washington, DC that are not merely anecdotal, but are being confirmed by emerging research. A 2010 study of Montreal’s bikeways found, not surprisingly, that they were significantly safer than riding in mixed traffic, as well as enormously popular[ii]. New York City reports similar results. Research suggests that the cycle tracks in Portland, OR increased cyclist perceptions of safety (particularly those of women)[iii], a necessary step toward expanding the use of bicycles across a broader cross-section of society. Of course, European cities have long known about these benefits of cycle tracks and comparative research has shown that European countries with cycle tracks had far lower bicycling fatality rates than America[iv].

    Unfortunately, Forester’s statements reflect more a personal philosophy about the appropriate relationship of bicycling to driving than they do a reasoned understanding of current research and emerging trends. Stating that “[bicyclists] acting subservient to motorists” is an “indignity”, phrasing such as “cyclist-inferiority cycling” and discussion about how people riding bicycles are “disenfranchised” from riding on the public roadways by cycle tracks, are about as relevant to this discussion as is the 35-year old study Forester cites as the basis for his critique. He was also opposed to building rail-trails in the 1980s and 1990s for these same reasons, which have proven to be groundless.

    The fact is that transportation policies are advancing to support increased bicycle transportation; a growing number of jurisdictions and the professionals that serve them are finding ways to accommodate that desired growth and are achieving success in doing so. With better alternatives now available, willingly planned for and successfully implemented in cities across the country, relying on vehicular cycling—and thus relegating bicycling to only those few willing to ride in such environments—would represent a failure both of policy and engineering. The growing movement to create cycle tracks in American cities is being facilitated by the engineering community’s recognition that separated bikeways can be safe, convenient, and attractive. The 2010 publication of the Bikeway Design Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials offers the first national guidance on separated bikeways such as cycle tracks. We hope that many other positive steps follow.


    Robert Burchfield, P.E., City Traffic Engineer, Portland, OR
    Susan Clippinger, Director, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, City of Cambridge, MA
    Michael Gardner-Sweeney, Traffic Engineer for the City of Boulder, CO
    Brian Kemper, P.E., Acting City Traffic Engineer & Signal Operations Manager, Seattle Department of Transportation
    Peter Koonce, P.E., Manager, Signals and Street Lighting Section, Bureau of Transportation, Portland, ORDennis Leach, Director of Transportation, Arlington County, VA
    Andy Lutz, P.E., Chief Engineer, City of Indianapolis, IN
    Susanne Rasmussen, Community Development Department, Environment and Transportation Planning Division, City of Cambridge, MA
    Bridget Smith, P.E., Deputy Director, Livable Streets, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
    Wayne Wentz, P.E., Director Transportation Engineering, Arlington County, VA
    John Yonan, P.E., Deputy Commissioner/Chief Engineer, Chicago Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering
    Paul Zykofsky, AICP, Associate Director, Local Government Commission, Sacramento, CA
    Mia Birk, President, Alta Planning + Design
    John LaPlante, P.E., PTOE, Director of Traffic Engineering, T.Y. Lin International
    Rock Miller, P.E., Principal, Stantec Consulting
    David Parisi, P.E., Parisi & Associates
    Jamie Parks, AICP, Kittelson & Associates
    Todd A. Peterson, P.E., PTOE, Senior Transportation Engineer, Parsons Brinckerhoff
    Matthew  Ridgway, AICP, PTP, Principal, Fehr & Peers
    William Schultheiss, P.E., Senior Engineer, Toole Design Group
    Andy Clarke, President, League of American Bicyclists
    Dan Burden, Executive Director, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute
    Keith Laughlin, President, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
    Barbara McCann, Executive Director, Complete Streets Coalition
    Randy Neufeld, SRAM Cycling Fund
    Gil Penalosa, MBA, Executive Director, 8-80s Cities
    Jennifer Dill, Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
    Peter Furth, Professor, Northeastern University
    Ian Lockwood, P.E., Loeb Fellow, Harvard University
    Chris Monsere, P.E. Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
    John Pucher, Professor, Rutgers University
    Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator, Portland, OR
    Zaki Mustafa, Chief of Field Operations, City of Los Angeles, CA

  • Gerald Neily

    Dukie, my bottom line point is simply that neighborhoods must be the highest priority, particularly one as important as Mount Vernon. Do I detect some sarcasm in your characterization of my goal as a “pedestrian paradise”? 

    I don’t agree with John Forester, and I actually had lunch once with Peter Koonce and we seemed to agree on almost everything, although I don’t think bikes came up. (I hope that doesn’t ruin his reputation.) The way the JFX/Fallsway/Guilford were originally designed or now used is not so germane as how they could be reworked to accommodate thousands more cars per day. Many options have been raised over the years. Chris, let’s deal with downtown another time – there are far too many variables, especially with the recent Exelon paradigm shift.

    • Dukiebiddle

      If there is any sarcasm in my tone in regards to your view of Mt. Vernon it is rooted in my view that you tend to exaggerate Mt. Vernon’s walkability problems.  All the traffic crossings across Calvert, St. Paul, Charles and Cathedral are only across two lanes of traffic, the speed limits are only 25 mph., and the crosswalk cycles seem generous enough to me.  Compare that to the traffic crossings across the 35 mph 4 lane wide arterials in DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, or across any north/south avenue in Manhattan and it seems that Mt. Vernon pedestrians don’t have it so bad.  Could it be better?  Sure, as it could be in many areas and in many cities, but it just doesn’t seem to me that Mt. Vernon is a notable problem enough to reject using The Fallsway as a safe cycling corridor connecting the Harbor with all of northern Baltimore, and I walk Mt. Vernon streets every single day.

      The John Forrester rebuttal letter was more in response to Ian Brett Cooper, who was clearly using Forrester’s rhetoric language; and while you may not agree with John Forrester, I do remember you making criticisms of  The Fallsway Trail/Cycletrack that were consistent with Forrester’s views on separated pathways.  

      • Gerald Neily

        Fair enough, Dukie. Pardon me if I got overly hyperbolic about Mount Vernon’s pedestrian impacts. There are not that many total disaster points on the level of the Charles, St. Paul and Maryland/Oliver JFX ramps. If we had the general advantages of DuPont Circle and Manhattan (e.g. a real transit system), perhaps we could live with them. And the great thing about those places from a physical standpoint is the street hierarchy – the widely spaced Avenues are disruptive, but around the side street corners, it’s peaceful. One of Mount Vernon’s biggest problems is the lack of street hierarchy. Downtown Portland deals with it, but Baltimore doesn’t.

        Also let me remind all of you: I never said I was against bike lanes on Mount Royal, just that streets need to be planned comprehensively and for the overall benefit of the neighborhood. I hope at least that the “great silent majority” agrees with that.

  • Gerald Neily

    Here’s a good idea: Get rid of the median. It’s just wasted space. Scrunch the road together and there would be plenty of space for bikes and would reduce the excessive crosswalk lengths. Then get rid of all left-turns, which add conflicts and rob needed capacity. Anyone wanting to turn left should be on one of the one-way streets. This might be relatively expensive but would be effective.

    Two other ideas I have preached many times are to get rid of the extremely awkward St. Paul Street JFX ramp which would force traffic to stay on the JFX, and to get Oliver Street to actually function. It’s the direct connection between Penn Station, Bolton Hill and Barnes & Noble, so it ought to work as a real street.

    The Charles Street Trolley article in today’s Sun should remind us that one of Baltimore’s biggest challenges is to make surface transit work, which requires efficient operation of the street network. Mount Royal Avenue runs “against the grain” so any mess up there affects Charles and the rest of the grid. Surface transit is by far the best transit for the kind of growth downtown is poised for.

    • RobertT

      The median is not wasted space. It prevents the street from being hideous. That’s not a waste.

      • Gerald Neily

        That medians are needed to “prevent the street from being hideous” is certainly one viewpoint, Robert, and is evident in President, Conway and MLK Blvd., downtown’s major streets built in the ’80s. In my view, all those streets are disasters for pedestrians and urban activity. The first draft for the rebuild a Pratt several years ago was also that way. I’m glad that was scrapped. Mount Royal used to have a wide median all the way up to North Avenue and it was drastically narrowed to provide a local residential drive adjacent to Bolton Hill. I love that design.

        In my opinion, urban designers should rise to the challenge of making any urban street attractive, with form following function, and that most urban medians are not very functional.

  • RobertT

    As a Bolton Hill resident — neither affluent nor influential, nor a cyclist — I have no problem with a bike lane on Mt.  Royal. It would be nice if they would synchronize the lights, too, since you can drive from Lafayette to Calvert have to stop at every single light because they are so out of synch.

  • guestymcspanky

    Gerald Neily, I think removing the medians altogether would be a problem as that would removed the pedestrian safety islands at the mediums.  Instead of crossing two lanes twice with a safety island, pedestrians would have to cross 4 full lanes of traffic at once.  I’d think that would be especially problematic for seniors and the disabled.  Otherwise, I agree that shaving the required space from the current mediums should be an option considered to make space for bike lanes where possible.  That would easily solve the problem between Oliver and Lafayette [and no, I’m not especially worried about art exhibits in that space], and there would likely be enough space between Guilford and Charles for bike lanes, 2 vehicle lanes in both directions and tiny pedestrian safety islands.

  • Gerald Neily

    That works for me, Guesty – reduce the median from 20 feet to 4 or 6 feet. 

  • darkheartfelt

    For 10yrs MICA has used all land for new buildings (&no P-lots) forcing a growing community to rely on (and fight for) those spaces. 

  • Tom Kiefaber

    It’s a concern that the designation of a tight bike lane imparts a greater sense of cycling safety, that may be illusory. I believe that the awful, ultimately fatal accident near Hopkins, took place within a bike lane? At the risk of being glib about a serious subject, I’m reminded of my friend who always advised us to use crosswalks, reasoning that “then when they run over you, they get in a lot more trouble”. It was odd reasoning, but made a point as well regarding designated lanes if they impart a false sense of security in a chaotic environment.  

  • Chris Merriam
  • Jack Cochrane

    An eight foot parking lane + 5 foot bike lane (13′ total) creates a door zone problem.  At a miminum, 14′ is required.  I’ve stopped supporting cramped bike lanes like this. It doesn’t help.  And remember… in Maryland the law states that if there’s a bike lane you have to use it.

  • Jed Weeks

    While I agree a lane like this could cause a door zone problem, I’d rather take the somewhat unlikely risk of being doored than the certainty of being sideswiped or struck by a speeding car with the current road configuration.

    • Dukiebiddle

      Bike lanes do not cause door zone problems if they bike lanes are 5 feet wide and users stay on the very outside of the bike lane.  The odd car may be parked too close to the bike lane, in which case the cyclist should anticipate it and maintain a line 6 feet from said parked car by checking over shoulder, established eye contact with any motorists potentially in conflict and moving just outside the bike lane.  If one uses a bike lane in a manner that allows even  an unlikely risk of a dooring they are not using the bike lane properly.

      • single speeder in the city


        “If one uses a bike lane in a manner that allows even  an unlikely risk of a dooring they are not using the bike lane properly” 
        Isn’t  that just what it appears the rider in the photo is doing? 

        He is checking over his shoulder, isn’t he? 

        Although he is not riding in a striped bike lane,  he is about 5 feet from the parked car and appears to be checking for overtaking cars as he increases  the distance from the door from 5 to 6 feet?  His left hand has pushed down on his bars somewhat which is normally how you execute a turning maneuver, in this case he is slightly turning away from the parked car, while checking to the rear, isn’t he?

        Doesn’t his riding technique appear proper and safe whether or not in this instant  he is enjoying the benefits of bicycle related infrastructure such as a properly designed 5 foot wide bike lane?  I mean what else do want from this guy; he is just riding his bike?

        Have you considered this option regarding proper bike lane usage? Rather than reflexively swinging wide outside the bike lane to 6 feet whenever there is a parked car ahead, why not look to see if ANYONE is in the car.  If the car is empty you can actually ride quite close to the car with little or no chance that the unoccupied car door will suddenly swing open.  To make this even easier, bikes come equipped with a mechanism called brakes which can be used to safely decrease speed with a surprising amount of modulation and control.  If a  rider sees an occupant in parked car the rider has the ability to SLOW DOWN from an average urban speed of 12 mph to perhaps 5 mph providing ample opportunity to monitor the potential danger of getting doored and to choose the appropriate course of action.

        I usually yell, “Watch it, Asshole!” really loud, and continue on slowly past the car while eyeballing the car’s occupant.   I have had great success with my personal safety using the above safety technique.

        • Dukiebiddle

          ” he is about 5 feet from the parked car ”

          No he isn’t.  His wheel line is only 3 feet from the car door.  If that car is a two door sedan he is well within the door zone.  To get out of the door zone he would have to move an additional 2 feet away from the parked car.  Furthermore, unless he is not maintaining a consistent line, he would have passed that truck [that is standing, and presuming by the parking light, the motorist is in the cabin and could open that door at any second].

          “Dukiebiddle, let’s be reasonable, shall we?”  Huh? I practice exactly what I’m stating on Baltimore streets every single day.  There is absolutely nothing unreasonable about my practices.

          “Many city streets are not wide enough to allow for 6 feet of clearance between cyclists and the doors of parked cars.”

          What are you talking about?  There is ALWAYS 6 feet of clearance.  You make the clearance by never riding closer than 6 feet to a row of parked cars.

          “There are many oneway streets here in town with parking on both sides on which a cyclist even riding down the middle could not attain the 6 foot distance you say is “proper”.

          I welcome you to go down one of these fabled one way streets with their supposed less than 12 feet of clearance between two rows of parallel parked cars and actually measure the space from door to door.  I can all but assure you that the tape will show 12 feet of clearance; and in the event that it does not, NOT that a handfull of alleyways is representative of 99% of the Baltimore roads all of us ride, one can slow down to below 5 mph until they clear the door zone, as such choke points narrower than 12 feet are not likely to last longer than the length of a car or two.  At below 5 mph one can respond in time to stop before hitting a door.

          “I don’t think you ride as much as you talk about riding.”

          I ride at least 3,000 Baltimore urban miles annually, and no less than 5,000 miles overall annually. 

          You seem to be taking things a little personally.

          “I have never been “doored” from a parked car ”

          Not yet you haven’t, and I hope you never do.  Please maintain proper lane position to eliminate the possibility of a dooring.

          ” though I have been “grilled” by a  few moving cars.”

          If you rode with proper lane position you would greatly reduce the likelihood of being grilled, both by right hooks and from cross and oncoming traffic.  Perhaps if you rode more visibly you wouldn’t have been grilled, presuming your grillings were caused by motorist error, and not by malicious intent or negligent cyclist error.   As I clearly articulated earlier in this thread, proper lane position is about much more than just dooring.

          As for you “come on!” tirade about me suggesting infrastructure should ideally be made to make cycling practical for people between 8 and 80 years olds, and then saying some stuff about a stop sign on St. Paul, and something about me saying something about taking a whole lane (Huh? What? Huh?)

          Again, I never said “whole lane” anywhere.  I said proper lane position.  You’re obfuscating separate points that I made and mistaking my positions.  My very point is that vehicular cycling is expecting too much from 8 year olds,  too daunting for 80 year olds and too intimidating for a huge percentage of the population.

          I get that you “think” that his lane position is acceptable, and you don’t want to hear otherwise, but I’m sorry, it isn’t. 

        • Dukiebiddle

          Again, the cyclists wheel line is 3 feet from the car.  Not 5 feet.  It seems you are having a problem with perspective.

          Have you considered this option regarding proper bike lane usage? Rather than reflexively swinging wide outside the bike lane to 6 feet whenever there is a parked car ahead, why not look to see if ANYONE is in the car.  If the car is empty you can actually ride quite close to the car with little or no chance that the unoccupied car door will suddenly swing open.  To make this even easier, bikes come equipped with a mechanism called brakes which can be used to safely decrease speed with a surprising amount of modulation and control.  If a  rider sees an occupant in parked car the rider has the ability to SLOW DOWN from an average urban speed of 12 mph to perhaps 5 mph providing ample opportunity to monitor the potential danger of getting doored and to choose the appropriate course of action.

          Wow.  I’m just speechless.  It seems everything you seem to consider canon is textbook “Don’t ever do that.”  All it takes to kill you is one door.   When you hit a door your body flies into the middle of lane of traffic.  You never presume that you are sure there is no driver in the seat just because you can’t happen to see one.  The driver could be shorter than the headrest.  The driver could be leaning over to pick something off the passenger side floor, or from the glove box, and kick the door open with their foot.  Dooring is one of the top four killer of cyclists, and one of the top three killers caused by “motorist error.”  At 12 miles per hour you cannot slow to 5 mph or stop in time to avoid crashing into a door that violently swings open 10 feet in front of you.

          A cyclist should never allow his or herself to have to “reflexively” do anything or “swing wide” anywhere.  That is failing to maintain a consistent and predictable line.  If you are looking down a line of 20 parallel parked cars, you should naturally be able identify which of the 20 cars is parked farthest out from the curb and adjust your line accordingly, so that you maintain consistent and predictable line.  Deliberately at first, but soon enough it becomes second nature to anyone who practicing effective cycling techniques.

  • andrew

    I tried to go through all the comments, but there are a lot. Did someone point out that there wouldn’t be a problem at all if they just eliminated street parking through this area? Then a bike lane could be installed, the median could be widened, and whatever else could be done with no problems. There are plenty of parking options around Mt. Royal already. The city should just discourage the congestion caused by drivers circling around for spots and direct them to the myriad parking garages in the area. 

  • Chris Merriam

    Eliminating street parking is generally less attractive, in my eyes at least, because it negatively affects pedestrians. Sometimes that’s the right solution, but I don’t think it is in this case because – and again, I haven’t seen the traffic study yet – traffic is probably sparse enough during most of the day that you COULD sacrifice a lane of traffic and not cause drivers more than a minor inconvenience during a small part of the morning and afternoon.

  • November 24, 2015

  • November 23, 2015

    • Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will be off to Paris late next week, leading a delegation of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which she is president, to participate in the United Nations convention on climate change. According to information released this afternoon in the Board of Estimates agenda, the mayor will be in Paris from December […]

  • November 20, 2015

    • The Roland Park Place retirement community took a step closer to starting a major renovation and expansion yesterday when the Planning Commission gave “final design approval” to the first phase of the project. Plans by Hord Coplan Macht call for the first phase to include improvements to the existing building and grounds at 830 West […]

  • November 19, 2015

  • November 18, 2015

    • The Board of Estimates temporarily put the brakes on a plan to build a new courtroom and judge’s chambers in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse after City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young questioned the amount of money it would cost. The spending panel was asked today to approve a request to transfer $1.2 […]

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Below the Fold

  • December 15, 2014

    •   “Ha ha, so not a surprise.” “Shocking…not!!” We get applause but also the occasional eye-roll these days for our accountability reporting – like last week’s piece about how tax cuts promised by the mayor as a selling point for Horseshoe Baltimore probably won’t happen, thanks to the casino’s lower-than-expected revenues. We get where the […]