Thames Street. Wide enough to land an airplane on.
It’s argued that Thames Street in Fell’s Point is a major gap in Baltimore’s waterfront promenade. I happen to agree. While the cobblestone street looks great, narrow sidewalks and a complete lack of bike infrastructure creates a bottleneck for pedestrians and cyclists. Thames Street is about 80 feet wide through the waterfront section; wide enough to create a more complete street while not effecting through traffic. Simply widening the sidewalks could be a possibility, but that’s too easy (and relatively expensive given drainage, utilities, cobblestone and ADA issues). Though not as simple as Pratt Street, a cycletrack along the Thames Street waterfront could reduce bike/pedestrian conflicts on sidewalks and entice more (future) bike share users and tourists to visit Fell’s Point businesses.
I’m a proponent of high visibility cycletracks on major commercial corridors despite the engineering challenges. They’re good for local businesses. They’re a great way to showcase progressive complete street infrastructure, and they “sell” cycling to everyone who uses the street. Thames Street’s primary challenge is the cobblestone, which is not ideal for walking or biking but gives the street an old world charm. Paving the cycletrack with grout while leaving the rest of the cobblestone alone could be a solution. While green paint would be way too gaudy for a historic district, tasteful lane markings with bike icons on the grout could be a possibility. The buffer between the cycletrack and parallel parking bay could be lined with inexpensive movable planters to spruce up all the hard scape.
Parking is the second big issue. Because there are wide 90 degree parking bays on the street to maximize the number of spaces, adding a cycletrack and buffer means something has to give. One side of the street will need to be converted to parallel parking. While I haven’t bothered to calculate the number of spaces which would be lost, I think it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. The handful of lost parking spaces will be replaced by hundreds of cyclists a day traveling through Fell’s Point’s front door, and research shows cyclists spend more than drivers on local retail.
Concept for a Thames Street cycletrack (click to view PDF)
The third challenge is connecting the cycletrack to streets to the north. Broadway would have new grout bike lanes on the cobblestone sections with signs (and enforcement) to prevent trucks from parking on them, and there would be a connection to Ann and Lancaster Streets. Cyclists would still have to travel over cobble between Broadway and the Thames Street cycletrack, but that’s only for a short distance.
Awesome water views to the south. A thriving Main Street to the north. It’s time to complete the scene and transform Thames Street into a complete street.
Reference: Four ways protected bike lanes help local businesses, Green Lane Project, Michael Andersen
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 (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.