Cross-posted from Transforming Streets, August 18, 2016
Four city blocks in Baltimore were transformed last Thursday, with a “pop-up” two-way protected bike lane, open for use by the end of the afternoon. Pratt Street between Central Avenue and Broadway is a three-lane, one-way street between two schools to the north and a residential area to the south. The width of the roadway and high traffic speeds made for an unsafe pedestrian environment, with bicyclists avoiding the corridor altogether or primarily riding on the sidewalk. Seeing an opportunity to convert an underused peak-hour travel lane, improve safety for all users of Pratt Street, and show neighbors an example of how their street could be changed to better serve people who aren’t driving, Baltimore City Department of Transportation (BCDOT) planned the temporary three-week installation of the protected bike lane.
The project is the City’s first “pop-up” style intervention and is being used to demonstrate an alternative configuration of the street. Provided that the facility is well used and does not generate significant problems, the protected bike lane has the potential to become permanent. Ideally it would be connected to a more extensive bicycle network leading to Baltimore’s downtown; but even without the connection it already provides people on bikes with a safer experience.
Caitlin Doolin, Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner at BCDOT, commented, “Pratt Street is iconic in Baltimore, but continues to be dominated by cars going through rather than a place where people want to be. This project has helped people form an opinion by feeling the changes rather than seeing them proposed on a piece of paper.”
The protected bike lane includes a buffer featuring drought-tolerant grasses and potted (the state flower of Maryland) to beautify the area and contribute to the traffic calming element of the project.
BCDOT staff has also put up temporary signs to demarcate the bike lane. The City repurposed flex posts from a previous project and had signs and stencils created in-house to keep costs low. The project was funded by a $10K grant from the State of Maryland.
Referencing the opening event after the fact, Doolin remarked, “At the pop-up meetings the following day, we had multiple pass by community members comment that they thought the protected bike lane and green elements made their street look nice. The best recurring comment was: ‘Can we keep it?’ A few community members who regularly drive commented the loss of the left-turn only lane at Broadway increased queueing and their travel time by a few minutes. But they also consistently stated that the added green space and bike lane was a welcome trade-off.” Though temporary and built on a small budget, the pilot project addresses safety issues along the heavily traveled section of Pratt Street. Liz Gordon, a Planning Associate with KAI, notes that protected bike lanes have been shown to “reduce overall traffic injuries between 10% and 50%.” According to Gordon, the neighborhood residents had previously complained about speeding traffic, making the corridor a good candidate for the project.
Before the end of the day, the protected bike lane was already in use, both by bicyclists and by pedestrians using the buffer as a refuge space.