Baltimore Bikeshare needs a Tango Partner: Better Bicycle Infrastructure

MDOT is requesting $882,000 for the implementation of “Charm City Bikeshare.”  44 stations and 425 bicycles are envisioned. Great news!  However, it takes two to tango, and Baltimore will still need better bicycle infrastructure to create a beautiful dance in Charm City. Baltimore has made strides, but Bicycle Magazine is probably on target ranking Charm City  48th out of its top 50 US bicycling cities. Baltimore falls right behind Fargo, North Dakota and Anchorage, Alaska on the list.

To leap ahead of our frost covered competition, Baltimore should build a bike friendly infrastructure network, focusing on its destination rich center to complement Bikeshare. Envision a resident or a visitor starting their Charm City Bikeshare experience in Inner Harbor East. “Sharing” a bike to reach the Convention Center, Camden Yards, University of Maryland Baltimore/Hippodrome, or Penn Station, are all indirect awkward bicycle trips. However, these are the kind of bread and butter trips that make for a successful  Bikeshare system.

Construction crews should be racing to build a generous bi-directional bicycle-only cycle tracks on:

  • Pratt Street from MLK to Inner Harbor East
  • Maryland/Park Avenue extending from Pratt Street to Penn Station/JHU/Charles Village
  • Light Street/Key Highway  extending to Ft. Mchenry/Under Armour
Proposed core cycletrack network (yellow) Approximate Jones Falls Trail (green)

Proposed core cycletrack network (yellow) Approximate Jones Falls Trail (green)

Cycle tracks covering the above territory would provide a core network while giving future Bikeshare users the desired infrastructure in the heavy traffic places that should matter the most. The costs would not be inconsequential, but pale in comparison with other transport infrastructure. It is not a whole lot more than barrier curbs and paint. Other cities are creatively funding these types of projects using local and federal dollars.

The quality of Bike friendly infrastructure on Pratt Street is a telling barometer of how serious the city is about making bicycling a serious transportation option. Pratt Street is home to more square footage of office, retail, restaurants, and visitor attractions than any other 1.5 mile stretch in the region.  It is arguably Baltimore’s premier main street.  This corridor is plenty-wide to incorporate a generous (bicycle only) bi-directional cycle track.  A city that has a Complete Streets Law and looking to advance its Bike friendly bronze rating should prioritize its priority streets for bike infrastructure.

Cycle tracks should be designed within the Pratt Street corridor

A bi-directional cycle track should be designed within the wide Pratt Street corridor

Pratt Street-Baltimore's unofficial main street

Pratt Street-Baltimore’s unofficial main street has poor bicycle facilities

Many Baltimore readers might ask, what about the Jones Falls Trail (JFT) along Pratt Street? It is not adequate.  Here are my reasons:

  • The JFT only traverses four of the roughly 18 blocks between MLK and Inner Harbor East.
  • The JFT doesn’t connect the stadiums, UMB, the convention center, Inner Harbor East, etc.
  • The JFT is a confluence of slow-moving humanity. On nice days, the trail is packed with moms, strollers, children, sports fans, tourists…. It is the ultimate bike/ped conflict hazard zone.  In places with this many people, bicyclists need a bike only cycle track.
Too many people crowd the Jones Falls Trail to be bike friendly-notice bicyclist walking astride bike.

Too many people crowd the Jones Falls Trail to be bike friendly-notice bicyclist walking astride bike.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Montreal and use the Bixi Bikeshare and their route verte system for almost every trip we made within the city.  Bixi worked so well that sometimes it was hard to find a bike because so many were in use. Montreal has built cycle tracks all over the city and they function as a real transportation network serving all generations.

Author on Bixi and Montreal Cycle track

Author on Bixi and uptown Montreal Cycle track

Montreal’s cycle tracks:

  • Directly connect the most important places people want to go
  • Avoid crisscrossing back and forth from one side of the street to the other and maintain straight ahead paths
  • Are geared toward bicyclists (separated from pedestrians and car traffic)
  • Include bicycle traffic signals, plentiful bicycle parking, and directional signage

A section of the cycletrack running parallel to the downtown waterfront in Montreal

Baltimore should be applauded for pursuing bike share. Baltimore is an ideal bicycling city  with clustered destinations and neighborhoods like pearls on a string.  However, to meet its potential, an efficient cycle track network starting in the core of the city should be implemented. Bikeshare is not unlike; roads, the internet, sewers, subways, and cell phones. The network is just as important as the bikes and it does not work well when clogged, indirect, or disconnected. What do you think Baltimore needs to be a Bikeshare success story?

JL

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Life or Death: America’s Crosswalks

In Baltimore, there are good crosswalks out there, but there are more that are mediocre.  Many have the stripes worn away. Others are not prominent enough to slow oncoming drivers. The sad state of crosswalks often includes areas that garner walkscore.com ‘s prestigious “walkers paradise” rating. Next time you are on a walk, notice the street crossings. Are they prominent? Are they in good condition? Do they slow car traffic?

In health circles, advocates preach that walking is good for your health.  That is not true if you get mowed over by a car, truck, or SUV. Walking can be deadly. In 2009, 4092 pedestrians were killed and 59,000 injured in the US according to walkinginfo.org According to the New York Daily News, “about 19% of the 770 pedestrian fatalities from 2005 to 2009 (in New York)- roughly 150 deaths-were people crossing at an intersection with the walk signal in their favor.” Over the five year period, 335 deaths occurred at intersections controlled by traffic signals.  This means crosswalks are not doing a good enough job, and there is room for innovation and upgrades.

Family sprinting to safety

Family sprinting to safety

In the 2010 Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State, prepared for the Governors Highway Safety Association, the study makes no meaningful analysis regarding the quality or type of crosswalks in pedestrian safety, nor does it dive into vehicle speeds or road design in areas where pedestrians frequent.  It does offer impotent conclusions like “pedestrian fatalities are affected by the amount of walking” and “no single countermeasure can make a substantial impact.” Pedestrian infrastructure deserves an out of the cubicle analysis.

Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, argues walkability is the single factor to attracting and retaining business and entrepreneurial talent. Surely, playing frogger from one side of the street to the other is not part of the recipe for Speck’s walkable prosperity. Kaid Benfield has a persuasive post about poor walking conditions across America where he points out, that in 1973, sixty percent of American kids walked to school and by 2006, kids walking to school had dropped to 13 percent. Should walking to school in America be an unusual thing?  I don’t think so.

Pedestrian crossing sign near North Avenue light rail station

Pedestrian crossing sign near North Avenue light rail station

I write this post, because crosswalk (and street) design does not consume enough of the discussion about safety, walking for health, or economic revitalization. It should. Pedestrian planners are often not the ones with the big influence at DOTs or MPOs and their influence is not heard enough.  A notable exception may now be Los Angeles. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is championing the investment of 53 “Continental Crosswalks” starting implementation near transit lines and schools. These crosswalks will have a vehicle stop line, have wider stripes, and be more prominent than LA’s other 5250 crossings.   LA has recognized the challenge and is beginning to overhaul its pedestrian infrastructure.

If your town, suburb, or city needs better crosswalks, let people know. It may save someone’s life.  I’ll conclude with a slideshow of good and not so good crosswalks.

JL

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