At a meeting at the Maryland Institute College of Art, audience members listening for the university’s position on a dedicated bike lane on Mt. Royal Avenue heard some mixed messages:
“We are committed to the process of dedicated bike lanes” – Michael Molla, vice president for operations.
“What I need to be convinced of is that a bike lane would not impede the safety of pedestrians” – Fred Lazarus IV, president.
MICA officials were trying to mollify the Baltimore bike community up in arms following reports that MICA and the University of Baltimore oppose a bike lane on Mt. Royal between Charles St. and North Ave.
Bike lane advocates, a dozen of whom crashed the Wednesday Town Hall meeting, focused their attention on Lazarus, who has personally shaped the art school during his 34 years as president.
They pressed him to take a stand in favor of the dedicated lane. Penny Troutner, owner of Light Street Cycles, said that without his advocacy, the city Department of Transportation would likely back away from the proposal.
Politely but repeatedly, Lazarus demurred.
“Does bike sharing make sense?” he asked. “What are the options?” he wondered at another point. “We don’t have near enough [information] for a decision,” he concluded.
Effect on Car Traffic
Lazarus made it clear that he was wary of the “ripple effects” of a bike lane, especially on car traffic that currently uses the road.
The bike path would reduce the number of lanes from two to one (each way) on a road that experiences what he called “solid backups” during rush hour of motorists getting on and off the Jones Falls Expressway.
“We are a ramp to the expressway. That’s a given,” he said. These backups now pose a serious hazard for MICA students trying to cross Mt. Royal to get to classes and their dorm rooms, especially at McMechen St. where traffic from Bolton Hill merges onto Mt. Royal.
How much worse might the backups become with a bike lane, he asked. And with such heavy traffic, “is this the best place for bikers to be,” he wondered, suggesting that the city should consider channeling bike traffic to Park Avenue, which parallels Mt. Royal to the west.
Bike advocates told Lazarus that they’ve collected more than 600 signatures in favor of the dedicated lane, many from MICA and UB students.
MICA senior Liam Quigley told Lazarus that the issue boils down to a question of “safety versus a mild inconvenience for drivers.”
Biking on Mt. Royal is currently very dangerous for cyclists, Quigley said, because of the narrow space between parked cars and two lanes of moving traffic. “You’re putting the safety of students at risk,” he said.
Jed Weeks and Chris Merriam argued that a bike lane would lead to greater safety for pedestrians because it would act to calm traffic. They later cited a 2008 mini-charrette on Mt. Royal Ave. that noted: “back-ups no longer a problem (they were 25 years ago); people driving too fast is a problem.”
Merriam said a dedicated lane with solid white lines protecting a biker’s space from intruding cars is the best solution. “The city agrees that a dedicated lane is the only safe approach on busy arterial streets,” he said.
Students Shun Cars
Even without bike lanes running down its main thoroughfare, MICA is the most cycle-dominated college campus in the metropolitan area.
Molla said that the school is constantly adding bike racks. Fifteen or 20 bikes crowded alongside a campus building is a frequent sight.
The school issues far fewer permits for student parking than a few years ago.
In 2008, Molla said, 151 parking permits were issued to students living in the Commons dorm building. This year the number is down to 78 permits.
Lazarus agreed that owning a car isn’t a priority for MICA students – for financial as well as environmental reasons – and reiterated that “the goal is to encourage biking.”