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Biking

A Concept for a Pratt Street Cycletrack

Pratt Street Cycletrack Crosssection

Pratt Street Cycle track Cross Section

Have you ever biked through downtown Baltimore and thought to yourself, “I can’t believe I survived that”? While riding in traffic is fine for low speed residential streets, downtown arterials require bike infrastructure to get more novice and intermediate cyclists out on the streets.  Just like in transit planning, direct cycling routes are best, and nothing is more direct than Pratt Street. With restaurants, retail, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the MARC station, the awesome bike parking at University of Maryland garage and easy access to the harbor and the Jones Falls Trail, there’s demand for a dedicated bike route on one of the most visible streets in the city.

NYC has shown the world the benefits of cycletracks on high volume streets. Here’s one study:

 The New York City Department of Transportation implemented a bicycle path and traffic calming pilot project for Prospect Park West in Brooklyn in 2010 and published their results in early 2011. It created a two-way bicycle path with a three-foot parking lane buffer and the removal of one lane from motor vehicles. They found that weekday cycling traffic tripled after the implementation; cyclists riding on the sidewalk fell to 3% from 46% (the count included children who are legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk); speeding dropped from 74% to 20% of all vehicles; crashes for all road users were down 16% and injuries to all road users were down 21%. – NYC DOT 2011 Cycletrack Study

Like most good things, there are trade offs. A full lane of traffic will need to be removed on Pratt Street between MLK Jr. Blvd and Light Street. While this may not have a big impact where traffic volumes are lower between MLK Jr. Blvd and Paca Street, higher volume segments east of Paca may see a minor increase in delays (measured in seconds, not minutes). Also, at intersections where traffic turns north from Pratt Street, bike signals will be needed to reduce auto/pedestrian/cyclist conflicts, but this type of infrastructure has been installed in DC and NYC with success.

Pratt St. Cycletrack Concept

Pratt St. Cycletrack Concept (click to view full concept as a PDF file)

These are minor issues compared to the benefits of a Pratt Street Cycle Track:

  • Reduction in auto speeds
  • Increased retail sales from bike traffic
  • Fewer pedestrian/bike injuries on corridor
  • Completes a critical bike network link between neighborhoods east and west of downtown
  • Increased number of novice cyclists who prefer to bike on protected lanes

As for the Grand Prix, the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide doesn’t have a chapter on incorporating 200 mph race cars into bike networks, but if you have any ideas, let me know.

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**Reference: New York Times, September 10, 2013: In Bloomberg’s City of Bike Lanes, Data Show, Cabs Gain a Little Speed

 

Why Baltimore Is Not Ready For Bike Share

Charles Street: Not ready for prime time.

This marks my three year anniversary of going car free.  In that time, I’ve cycled through scorching heat, bitter cold, speeding city traffic, winding rural roads, and everything in between.  I broke my arm, was attacked, got really in shape, and reduced my transportation expenses to almost nothing. I’ve met some amazing people through Baltimore’s burgeoning bike culture and saw some wild stuff by simply being present in urban life outside of a car. The experience completely changed my perspective on road design, traffic safety, and what our streets should be.

While the positives far outweigh whatever setbacks and inconveniences I encountered,  I’m also more convinced than ever that Baltimore is out of the game when it comes to quality cycling infrastructure and livable streets. In my three years of being car free, I’ve had to use all of my creativity, gumption and courage to find marginally safe cycling routes to the places I wanted to go.  The barriers to cycling here are high. They shouldn’t be. Historic, walkable neighborhoods. A great waterfront. Density and lots of amenities in a compact city. This place should be a cycling paradise.  Cities like Memphis, Pittsburgh, New York, and DC have taken the initiative with buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks, sensible road diets, and a comprehensive network of traditional bike lanes. They’ve seen the benefits of these investments. Baltimore’s bike ridership is up, but the increase is despite our infrastructure, not because of it.

And while there is talk of a bike share system here, Baltimore is simply not ready for it. As a city planner, and as someone who has walked and biked our streets far more than the people who originally designed them, such a system would put many novice riders in an unforgiving environment. An example: Charles Street in Mt. Vernon is a natural bike route for visitors making a trip from the Inner Harbor. It’s historic, commercial, a scenic byway, has lots of restaurants and street life.  Even without bike lanes, visitors and novice riders using our bike share system would inevitably try to bike on Charles Street. They will find fast, one way traffic, peak hour parking restrictions (which encourages speeding even more), and a general disregard for cyclists because the design cues of the street prioritize through traffic. Current alternate routes: an isolated expanse on Fallsway near the prison, or possibly Park Ave, another fast one way street lacking bike lanes.

The problem is twofold: Baltimore has a strong auto culture because of our lack of fixed rail transit. This is understandable. The other problem is there is no vocal champion for a comprehensive bike network within our city’s leadership. Baltimore’s leadership should step up to the podium and say, “We will have X miles of protected bike lane miles and X bike mode share by 2020″. Given that most bike infrastructure costs a fraction of repaving a road, lack of funding shouldn’t be an excuse.

Yes, there are new bike lanes and cycle tracks in the pipeline, but progress has been excruciatingly slow compared to other cities. In order for a bike share system to succeed, more momentum needs to be seen in redesigning our streets to provide safe bike routes and slower traffic speeds. The economic, social, and environmental benefits of complete streets are known. The goal is attainable. It’s time Baltimore steps up to the plate.

Get Back On The Bike

Last month I replaced the freedom of cycling with bus schedules and being on the passenger side of cars as friends tote me around town. While riding down a hill in wintry weather, my bike slipped out from underneath me. I fell and broke my arm. 1 surgery and 2 metal rods later, I’m relearning how to hold a coffee cup with my left hand.  This isn’t sympathy bait, though. The accident could have been a lot worse, the care I got was top notch, and the hospital food at Johns Hopkins was actually pretty good. The worst part of my stay was accidentally watching 5 minutes of the local news in my hospital room.

I suppose a certain amount of hubris is involved in my accident. After cycling almost every day for the past 2 years in Baltimore, I barely had a close call. I’ve been lucky, especially considering I don’t follow the rules. I weave between cars. I run red lights when it helps me get ahead of traffic and take the lane. I yell at people using their phones while driving. Admittedly, I’m not a model cyclist, but my lack of fear is what helped me get on a bike in this city to begin with.

I was wearing my helmet during the accident, though. This is non-negotiable and probably saved me a concussion or worse.

So my people tell me to be more careful when I get back on my bike this spring. Some even suggest I buy a car. I suppose after something goes wrong, the knee-jerk reaction is fear. To contract your boundaries. If you have a close call with an undertow, you avoid the beach. If a relationship doesn’t work out, you second guess the next one. You hit some crazy turbulence and cancel your European vacation next year. This kind of subtle, spiritual atrophy can go on for awhile until you’re living in a metaphysical box.

At this point, it helps to remember the original things that inspired me to take the journey. I gave up my car to improve my health, spend less time and money on a depreciating asset, and discover a city as it was meant to be seen; outside of 3000lbs of steel. To an outsider, to someone who doesn’t get it, it’s just a bike ride. To a regular rider, it’s a new way of seeing a place. As Kasey Klimes says:

On a bicycle, citizens experience their city with deep intimacy, often for the first time. For a regular motorist to take that two or three mile trip by bicycle instead is to decimate an enormous wall between them and their communities.

Yes, the bicycle is a marvelously efficient machine of transportation, but in the city it is so much more. The bicycle is new vision for the blind man. It is a thrilling tool of communication, an experiential device for the beauty and the ills of the urban context. One cannot turn a blind eye on a bicycle – they must acknowledge their community, all of it.

To someone who has experienced at least a few weeks on a bike, the effects of auto-focused land use and transportation systems on what should be people-focused places becomes painfully clear. You don’t really notice the deleterious effects of 40mph traffic on what should be 25mph streets until you become a vulnerable road user. You don’t understand how a few trees and pedestrian lights can make a walk 100% more comfortable until you walk that street. You don’t understand why being able to bike to work safely is a basic human right until, as a novice cyclist, you have to go 10 blocks out of your way to find a low-speed, bike friendly street.  I didn’t start off as an anti-car zealot. Getting out of American car culture made me this way. It completely changed my personal life and professional aspirations.

And that’s too important to give up because of a few broken bones. The undertow didn’t take you all the way down. That ex may of broken your heart but not your spirit. The plane eventually landed safely. I’ll see you on the streets this spring.

 

Bike Infrastructure As A Public Health Issue

Cycling is often promoted as a neighborhood revitalization tool and sustainable transportation option, but it’s easy to forget that it’s a public health and safety issue too. Every block of protected bike lane is a subtle yet important victory: A possible heart attack prevented. An automobile crash avoided. A day of feeling good being physically active instead of sitting in traffic.

There’s enough information available about the benefits of cycling that it amazes me that every city in the country isn’t making this stuff a priority. Even places that do get it sometimes have to be prodded a bit. Check out East Harlem, NYC:

This is the story about how East Harlem residents and street safety advocates — with leadership from Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito — banded together to win complete streets on First and Second Avenues. After the city backtracked on a plan to build protected bike lanes and pedestrian refuges up to 125th Street on the East Side of Manhattan, this coalition mobilized to put the project back on the table. Later, when the safety improvements came under attack from a few business owners, public health professionals joined Mark-Viverito and NYC DOT to combat misinformation about the redesign and see it through to implementation. Source: Street Films

Car Free in Hampden

As if you needed one more picture of that thing they do on 34th st.

So I moved to Hampden last month. After living in Canton for 4 years, it’s a sea change. Instead of drinking at sports bars talking football, I’m drinking with hipsters talking Beach House records. Soon I’ll be wearing tapered jeans and rolling my eyes at the band you like because they’re just too popular.

I was a bit concerned about being car free in Hampden before I moved. Hemmed in by parks on either side and a behemoth elevated highway to the west, the choice of bike routes into the neighborhood range from OK to less-than-great. Sisson St. is crazy fast.  Wyman Park Dr. is alright, but a dedicated off-street bike path would help.  Remington Ave. is good until you get to Howard. If you’re going across town, 28th and 29th streets, which could of been direct routes into Hampden from downtown, are pretty much unbikable due to fast one way traffic.

I haven’t used MTA since moving up here, but I know the Hampden shuttle and the #27 are pretty much it. Just looking at MTA’s maps gives me a headache, so I’m not going into the intricacies of bus access in Hampden here.

A few initial observations:

  • Hills. It seems I’m going uphill everywhere I go. This isn’t logical. I became spoiled living near the waterfront. Now I have to work for my commute. It’s alright though since biking the extra uphill miles will help maintain my Greek god-like physique.
  • Housing variety. Instead of monotone blocks of rowhomes like in Canton, there’s an interesting variety of housing here. Check out Hickory Ave. Reminds me of my former stomping grounds in Asheville, NC.
  • Bright lights. Stumbling out of Golden West at 1am is a glorious experience. The Avenue is lit up like the sun.  We need this kind of pedestrian lighting on more city streets.
  • The inverse of the above point.  Sometimes I bike Charles St./St. Paul St. on my commute. Long stretches of these streets are almost pitch black at night, especially between 20th and 25th streets. You may not notice this if you’re in a car, but it hits you on a bike.
  • Street life. Not just on The Avenue, but throughout the neighborhood.  It seems more people hang out outside of their homes here. Jane Jacobs would be proud.
  • Shoutout to Sixteen Tons on the Avenue, one of the best men’s clothing stores I’ve found in the city. Timeless styles and contemporary stuff. I walk out of there like Brando.

In other news, we’re taking it to the next level and will be starting monthly meet ups to discuss bike/transit/car free issues in Baltimore. Specifics will be announced on our new Facebook page, so “like” us. Or don’t, but don’t say we didn’t tell ya.

My First Wipeout

Place: A street in Canton. About a 7% grade going downhill.

Time: Mid day. The sun is hot.

Wind Direction: Who cares?

Nearby Wildlife: I recall birds chirping in the distance. There is also a rodent in this story.

Circumstances:  A Venti Low Fat Coconut Caramel Whipped Creame Frapuccino in one hand. My handlebar in the other.  The Venti Low Fat Coconut Caramel Whipped Creame Frapuccino falls out of my hand at high speed. I slam on my break (the front one) hard so I can pick the drink up off the road before it gets run over by a car. At the same time I lean to the side to try to catch the drink in mid air before it hits the ground.

My equally dumbfounding yet dumb efforts to save the drink are fruitless. The front wheel locks and I fall over and around (yes, both) the handle bar, land on my arms, roll 3 or 4 times down the middle of the road and stop on my back.  I focus on a cloud while laying on my back in the middle of the road, surprised I don’t feel any pain and wondering if I’m dead. I see a rodent, and realize I’m not. Luckily, the nearest car was a ways back behind me, but he saw the whole thing. “Dude, you ok? That was pretty crazy”.

I pick up the remnants of my drink and get back on my bike.  I’m fine.  My scientific analysis leads me to believe that rolling on the ground, and my helmet, saved me from some serious damage. That, and dumb luck there wasn’t a car nearby. My backpack stuffed with poptarts (don’t ask) also protected me. Most of the poptarts did not make it.

Lessons Learned: Let the drink go, use poptarts in your backpack for extra protection, and wear your helmet.

I’ll be on vacation in Pittsburgh this week, so enjoy Ethan Zuckerman’s musings on the value of cities, serendipity, and social media-free information. Eli Pariser gives a pretty good talk about filter bubbles at a TED conference, and thanks to Bike Portland, Greater Greater Washington, Drunk Cyclist and EschatonBlog, Baltimore Brew and a bunch of other people for the shout outs.

 

 

Q and A with Anna Ricklin

I asked Anna Ricklin, Baltimore Department of Transportation’s Health and Environmental Specialist, about her experience living without a car in Baltimore. Here’s what she had to say:

How long have you lived without a car in Baltimore?

I have been in Baltimore for nearly three years and, actually, I have never owned a car. The only time I have had (mostly) unrestricted access to a car was when I was living with my parents.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being without a car in this city?

Definitely the lack of well-connect public transit. Before I moved to Baltimore, I figured getting around via public transport would be easy—like it had been in Washington, DC and Portland, OR, where I lived before. Alas, despite being an avid cyclist and trying my best to use the bus, I really only take transit when it’s either pouring down rain or I need to get to the airport. Because of the unreliable—and sometimes scary—public transit, not having a car sometimes makes it so I have to rely on friends for rides, which doesn’t always feel good. And when it’s a beautiful summer day and all I want to do is go on a hike or swim in the countryside? That can be frustrating, too.

What do you think have been the greatest benefits of not owning a car?

Well, it’s funny. Sometimes I borrow cars, and when I do I tend to drive around a lot to get lots of errands done. Usually, by the end of a day like that I am more than reminded of the pitfalls of having a car and more than happy to return the thing. Not owning a car means I am rarely at the whim of traffic (thank you bicycle), don’t have to pay a few thousand dollars per year in car insurance, maintenance and gas, and of course I don’t have to build in an extra 10 minutes parking time as yet another factor adding to me being late.

What’s the single most important thing the city can do to support alternate transportation modes?

Wow, this is a tall order—so much needs to be done. But I think the single mort important thing the city can do is work with MTA to significantly improve transit service. I don’t just mean pressure MTA to have cleaner buses or change a couple of routes. I mean the city needs to create a downtown car-free zone accessible only for buses, bicycles, and pedestrians. They need to subsidize transit passes for all city employees, create incentive programs for businesses to do the same, and massively hike parking fees. It’s ridiculously cheap to park downtown ($2 per hour?!) and the city could be making a lot more money from what is essentially rented street space. Nearly ¼ of the city’s land is used for streets or surface parking (24%). We need to change that if we are ever going to have a more livable—and peaceful—urban environment not dominated by car traffic.

Anna Ricklin has her Masters in Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and currently works for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation as their first Health & Environment Specialist. She is passionate about active living and building alternative transport networks so that no one will have to rely on a car in order to live a full life. At work, she’s helping to make the Red Line green; outside of work, she is a Collective Member of the Velocipede Bike Project; likes to go on long walks, and has an impressive collection of hats.

MTA, Zip Car, and Docks

On Sunday I took the light rail to Hunt Valley to pick up a few things. It was the first time I took the light rail beyond Mt. Royal station. Besides the obvious problems on Howard St. which have been discussed ad nauseum (there was also a multi-agency strategic plan done for the corridor last year), a few small things became apparent.

The location of the ticket machines on Redwood Ave, for instance. Redwood is probably the nicest east/west street in the westside. There’s also a walkway through the 22 S. Howard St. building connecting the light rail station to Redwood St. This could of been a good visual connection between Redwood and the light rail station. Unfortunately, an army of ticket booths gets in the way.

Rearranging the machines parallel to Redwood (and underneath the building’s roof) would have probably required a private property right of entry agreement. I think it still would be a worthwhile thing for MTA to pursue. Improving the visual connections between the transit system and downtown streets is a low-cost, high-impact way to make the light rail system seem like it’s integrated into the city and not just an after-thought. MTA is making headway on this issue with the relocation of the Lexington St. Market light rail station one block north – thereby reducing the distance between the Metro and light rail stops to one block.

While downtown, I also saw these:

Zipcar will be expanding downtown. Since quoting schedules usually gets me in trouble, I’ll wait for the Parking Authority to make the official announcement about when the rollout will begin. I’ve been concerned about grocery shopping without having a car, so this will definitely help.

And finally, another interesting bike ride – Clinton St. along the docks. Seeing these ships and old warehouse buildings up close reminds you that most big east coast and midwestern cities were built on manufacturing. The families, houses and neighborhoods came with the jobs, and these jobs created a middle class which was virtually non-existent in the 1800s. From north to south, Clinton St. is a microcosm of the city’s economic transition over 100 years.

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Hidden Buildings

school

I’ll be taking photos with a cheap camera phone for awhile, so bear with this. I found this little number on Bond St. while riding my bike to work in the sweltering heat. Old Primary School No. 25 rehabbed for apartments. Great building tucked away between some warehouses, and something I never would have noticed in a car.