Canton residents scored a second victory in their Nimby wars against progressive transportation solutions. After opposing the Red Line for years residents there found a new target in local protected bike lanes already constructed in their neighborhood. The Mayor bowed to pressure from the well heeled community on Wednesday by deciding to reverse protected bike lanes on Potomac Street into unprotected bike lanes. The reversal comes in the name of the International and Baltimore Fire Code which calls for 20' wide lanes for fire apparatus. However, the Canton bike lane opponents hadn't campaigned on fire safety but parking:
|Potomac Street before bike corridor installation|
We, the undersigned, petition the City of Baltimore to stop the implementation of the permanent protected bike lane that will change S Potomac St from the 500 block to the 1300 block to a single traffic lane. The implementation of this bike lane will result in a reduction of parking spaces and visually change one of the last scenic streets left in the neighborhood and to this we oppose. We want to reserve and preserve this scenic byway.(Canton Petition May 2017)The Mayor had to fight this battle without the benefit of a new Director of Transportation (The position has been open since she took office) and instead had to rely on former MDOT Secretary and County Executive Jim Smith, her current all- purpose weapon in the cabinet and the Acting DOT Director, stalwart Frank Murphy, who was raised on a steady diet of cars uber alles typical for the decades he was in service in Baltimore. A letter addressed to the "Potomac Street Neighbors"and signed by Jim Smith, Chief of Strategic Alliances, states:
Mayor Pugh is committed to making Baltimore a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly multi-modal City, while at the same time ensuring that changes made to our roadways do not have serious negative safety and emergency response implications. In keeping with these joint goals, the Department of Transportation (DOT) was directed to re-evaluate the cycle track, which they have done.
|Protected bike lane and buffer|
The letter continues:
Representatives from DOT and the Mayor’s Office met with bicycle advocates, Councilman Cohen, a representative of the Canton Community Association, and representatives of the Fire Department on May 25th to discuss this circumstance and a compromise was suggested.The "compromise" brings a reversal of the protected bike lane for the segment of the road from Eastern Avenue to Fait Street and simply compromises accepted bicycle lane standards. The letter states:
|"Compromise": exposed two way bike lane in a one way street|
This section of road is too narrow for a curbside Cycle Track. Instead, parking will be allowed back against the curb and a two-way buffered and painted bike lane will be installed. Traffic calming measures will also be installed.The implication is that emergency vehicles can use the bicycle lane as the added width that was missing to have 20'. Of course, the easy slide into the bike lane also invites drivers to do that when they pass parked vehicles or even double park in the bike lane for a short errand, all things that a protected bike lane which is buffered by a row of parked cars, prevents.
For Fait Street to Boston Street the 20' fire lane can apparently be achieved by making the protected cycle track narrower than originally planned and currently marked, i.e. below the width of accepted standards which are derived from how much space two opposing bike lanes need that have to dodge the curb and gutter and also opening doors from the parked cars. In short the Mayor sees no problem shortchanging bicycle standards in favor of the fire lane standard that nobody seemed to have cared about for years.
|"Compromise": Protected 3.5' two way bikelanes. Tough for bikes and|
impossible for sweepers and plows
These blocks are wider than the first three, so we will retain a two-way protected bike lane against the curb. The bike lanes will be narrowed to 7 feet with a 1-foot crosshatch buffer. This will allow the necessary width for emergency vehicles. The bike lane will transition after Fait into this two-way protected bike lane. Traffic calming and painted buffers adjacent to the far parking lane will help to slow traffic and make it safer for all users of the road.
DOT will begin the modifications with removal of the flex posts. Weather permitting, removal of the existing striping hopefully will be completed in the next two weeks. Striping and painting for the new configuration will begin immediately thereafter and is expected to take two weeks to complete.
Residents between Eastern and Fait should begin parking against the curb immediately upon removal of the flex posts.The letter closes with regret about past communications: "The communications and coordination regarding this project left much to be desired. Had there been better communication internally and in the community, this situation could have been avoided."
The outcome is regrettable and includes severe misunderstandings, including calling NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials a "national bike advocacy organization" when in reality, NACTO was founded with the express purpose of reconsidering the many car-centric road standards promoted by AASHTO who has published "Roadside Design Guides" for decades.
NACTO, naturally, had already come across the 20' standard for fire apparatus elsewhere. The difference: Other cities adjusted the lane requirement provided in the model code to something they considered reasonable, given that an actual firetruck is only 8.5' wide. A ladder-truck with outriggers could get to a total width of 15.5'.
|Original design, partly executed|
Fire apparatus standards have been used for decades to justify all those super-wide suburban streets and oversized turn circles at the end of cul de sacs until New-Urbanist planners pushed back by pointing to the fact that many historic cities have existed for hundreds of years with much narrower streets than were built in the suburbs and still could accommodate buses, trash trucks and fire apparatus. New subdivisions now get routinely built with 10' lanes in each direction and sometimes with 12'-15' lanes for one way streets. It is kind of ironic how historic Baltimore now gets hit with those old suburban standards that even the suburbs don't apply anymore. The 20' foot rule seems like a vestige of the old days that someone forgot to reconsider. However, single lane roads should account for the possibility that a vehicle is stalled or broken down and also allow larger vehicles to turn into the travel lane from a side-street, they have to definitely be wider than a standard 10' lane width. The Potomac Street plans show 11' lane width and 8' parking lanes (a parked car, usually around 6' wide, typically takes less actual space than 8').
|Installed bike lane on North Potomac Street (Photo: Philipsen)|
In a call to action to action Bikemore's Liz Cornish states:
The Potomac Street redesign is impractical. It does not meet National Association of City Transportation Officials or Federal Highway Administration standards for a high-quality, all-ages protected bicycle facility. The original design did.
Bikemore has been working behind the scenes over the past two weeks to encourage the city to make a different choice at this crossroads between street safety and fire access.This is not a new issue. NACTO and other NACTO member cities have commissioned reports on this particular provision of International Fire Code and its applicability to old cities with street grids where almost no street meets the 20 foot clear requirement. As early as 1997, Oregon amended their state code to ensure that standards for the width of streets adopted by local governments superseded International Fire Code provisions.
NACTO believes the 20 foot clear rule to be unreasonable and incongruent with the goal of reducing pedestrian and bicycle injuries and increasing bicycle ridership.
After consulting NACTO, we are unaware of any city in North America that has halted construction, or removed protected bike lanes, in response to fire access concerns. Once again, Baltimore City is prioritizing parking of cars over people, and wasting money redesigning bike infrastructure to be less safe—money that could be used to build facilities in other neighborhoods.
|Signs explaining the current lanes on South |
Potomac Street (Photo: Philipsen)
Cornish also ominously predicts that sections of Maryland Avenue, Baltimore's first protected bike-lane, may also be under review for redesign and that many other protected lanes envisioned in the adopted Baltimore Bike Masterplan maybe in jeopardy. The real danger of the Potomac Street decision isn't that particular street with its relatively low volumes of traffic, but the precedent it sets in this city and potentially nationally.
During a transition team event the Mayor was very friendly with the national symbol of courage for bike and pedestrian rights and safety, Janette Sadik Khan, the former transportation commissioner of New York. Sadik Khan was responsible for the conversion of Times Square.
At the time participants grew hopeful that the Mayor would enact a similar agenda in Baltimore. This early cave-in in Canton is very disappointing. Contrary to the Mayor's campaign slogan, her decision moves Baltimore backwards. 65 negative comments on her bike-lane Facebook entry all posted overnight make this very clear. One can be pretty sure that Sadik Khan or her former boss, ex mayor Michael Bloomberg would not approve.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
|Objections to a single lane street (Photo: Philipsen)|
Ladder companies often face narrow streets with vehicles parked on both sides of the street. This is where you need short jacking. The driver/chauffeur, with the help of the officer and other members (who should be off the apparatus, in front and back, guiding the driver/chauffeur to the correct spot), should place the apparatus on the side of the street away from the fire building. Fully deploy the outriggers on the fire building side of the apparatus. This is the side over which the aerial will be used; the outriggers must be completely extended for aerial stability. If possible, try to place the fire side outriggers between parked cars or on driveway aprons. This can increase the aerial ladder's reach. On the other side of the apparatus, the nonfire side, deploy the outriggers out as far as you can. You will not be able to extend them all the way in a narrow or car-lined street. This is the short-jacked side