Bicycle Safety in Baltimore: Old-School vs. the Current Insanity

The Current Insanity

Currently, the City of Baltimore is in a fight over the ongoing development of costly, intrusive, and downright dangerous bicycle lanes. Started by former mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the idea was to create dedicated bicycle lanes in trendy neighborhoods, based on a misguided, poorly planned vision of Baltimore as a more bicycle-friendly and less car-driven city. [For news stories on the current situation, read or view the following: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0616-bike-lawsuit-20170614-story.html; https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/baltimore-bike-lanes-expansion-plans; http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/politics/bs-md-ci-pugh-bike-lanes-20170607-story.html.]

The results in the Charles Village/Remington neighborhoods have been decidedly mixed; those in Roland Park have been a little less problematic; while the proposed bike lanes in Canton are causing major disagreements between residents. Our current mayor, Catherine Pugh, is stuck in the middle of the fight.

As a dedicated Baltimore driver, I frequently travel from Northeast Baltimore to West Baltimore, using 29th Street (one-way west); my return trip from West Baltimore back to Northeast Baltimore takes me across 28th Street (one-way east). Occasionally, I also travel along some of the cross-streets of these two thoroughfares, in particular, to get to my doctor’s office on Remington Avenue. I can say unequivocally that the design of the Remington neighborhood bike lanes is a huge disaster(!), resulting in traffic backups because the right- and left-turn lanes from 28th or 29th Street onto side streets have been made too narrow to navigate; the series of poles that block the cars from the bicycle lane do not allow cars to turn easily. Pedestrians at the corners are no safer, either, having to navigate around the poles.

In addition, there’s a point on 28th Street (between Remington Avenue and Howard Street) where 2-lane traffic—on a curve—is suddenly, and without warning, reduced to one and a half lanes due to the bicycle poles. It’s a miracle that no cars have been involved in fender benders, or worse.

And one of our major four-lane, north-south streets (Maryland Avenue) has been turned upside down, with parking in the middle lane, bike lanes on both curb lanes, and effectively only one drivable lane! No thought was given to one basic safety need: curb access for (1) commercial/delivery trucks to their customers and (2) emergency vehicles (fire trucks, ambulances, or police vehicles).

To make matters worse, I have never seen a bicyclist actually use the designated bike lanes on the streets I travel.

Old-School Baltimore Bike Safety

In 1960, when I was 7 years old, I got my first bicycle for Christmas. On December 31st of that year, I went to my neighborhood police station to register my bike, in compliance with the then-current laws of Baltimore City.

 

I received a registration card and a booklet detailing the bicycle rules of the road. One of the first rules was that a bicycle was to be ridden in the street—not on a sidewalk (once, I got a ticket from the police for riding my bike on the sidewalk, near my grandmother’s house!); and a cyclist was required to ride with car traffic, and not on the wrong side of the road. The booklet also had pictures of the correct hand signals for making a left or right turn, and for stopping (at stop signs or red lights). I was required to have a working headlight and either a bell or a horn mounted on my bike, along with reflectors on the wheels. At age 7, there was no way I’d be riding my bike at night, but I did have the required equipment. There was no such thing as a bicycle helmet in 1960 (just as cars were not yet required to have seat belts!) You were expected to follow the law!

By 1962, when my registration was to expire, the Baltimore City Police Department no longer administered this safety program.

It’s a Different World, Now, But….

I understand that the world has changed radically over the last 55 years. But what happened to common sense? To be sure, car drivers don’t even follow the rules of the road; I can’t tell you how many times a driver has blithely blown through an obviously red light, or made a turn without stopping at the corner with a stop sign in plain view (with no policeman in sight). So, in some respects, I can understand the desire of the 21st century cyclist to have dedicated bike lanes. But where are the cyclists? Why don’t I ever see them riding in droves in their lanes, or riding anywhere on the streets?

A couple of years ago, on a warm, Sunday afternoon with virtually no traffic at all, I was traveling down St. Paul Street, between 25th and 20th Streets, when I looked in my rearview mirror and saw something marvelous—a lone unicyclist, speeding down the middle of the middle lane, oblivious to everything but the joy of riding. I really wish I could’ve stopped and taken a picture. But with my luck, a Baltimore City Policeman would have pulled me over. For using my cellphone while driving.


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