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OPINION: A bike lane on Main Street? Really? Really!

| September 6, 2018
Rams Head

Apparently there is a new bike lane on Main Street. And apparently not many people are thrilled with it.  This morning I decided to walk the route to see what was what as most of the photos posted to the online forums were inconclusive. I may be wrong, but this is ill-conceived and likely to fail; however, we should give it a test.

First of all, it is temporary. Once complete, the City plans a 30-day test of the bike lane to see how it is received. Construction will be complete by September 16th when the Mayor is hosting a “roll-in” down Main Street to a bike rodeo at Susan Campbell Park. If it works, the design will be incorporated into the eventual (and as of yet unbudgeted) re-bricking of Main Street. If not, the idea will be scrapped and the City will be anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000 poorer for the failed experiment.

Rams Head

Here are the photos I took this morning.

This is looking up Main Street from the corner of Green Street. The bike lane is a one-way lane headed down Main Street against the flow of traffic.  The curb at this portion of Main Street will remain, the bike lane is adjacent to the curb. Now the island you see is an island to allow two taxis and ride shares to park. Cabs will park on Main Street to the right of the island and as you move across Main Street there is a travel lane and then the head-in parking in front of Buddy’s and WR Chance Jewelers.  The main issue I see here is the inability of parked vehicles to safely back out of the space when there is no additional space for the free flowing traffic to go around them.   This is the ONLY space on Main Street for taxis to park. Let’s move up Main Street a bit.

Here’s an idea of how two cyclists would use the lane to give you an idea. It is possible that these two were dispatched by City Hall as during my walk, I saw no fewer than 5 City Hall employees casually walking down the street and interjecting themselves into the various conversations about the bike lane extolling the virtues of the Mayor and the bike lane.

I was speaking with a spokesperson for the City who stopped her car when she saw me and a local businessman came up and voiced his displeasure. His main issues were that it eliminates parking for his clients, does nothing to increase the desire to bring people to his business, and that there was no notice. The spokesperson countered that the Mayor announced this at a Downtown Annapolis Partnership meeting more than a month ago. His position was that the DTAP does not represent all the businesses on Main Street. Another business manager said that the construction of this island is effectively a barrier to pedestrians to enter her business. A visitor stopped by and also voiced his opinion that it made no sense.  Let’s move up a little.

Once the taxi island ends, the lane will taper back toward the curb and once again be up against the curb all the way through Gorman and Conduit Streets. Let’s move on!

This is at Conduit Street. The bike lane will have white stop bars as you see here. The mere presence of authoritative paint will sufficiently protect the pedestrian crossing the street who has no reason to expect a bicycle coming downhill from the wrong direction.

The bike lane will continue up Main Street aligned with the right side of the bike lane you see at the intersection. The parking spaces you see (vacant) will be filled in with temporary risers to allow existing restaurants to offer more outside dining. The bike lane will brush up against the platforms. It is unknown if a restaurant that does NOT have outside dining will be able to use the space or not as there is an additional permit required.

This will continue up Main Street to where it meets Church Circle where it will connect to a painted bike lane that has been recently installed.  Construction has not been complete, but here is a view looking down Main Street from the end of the construction. The temporary platform/sidewalk will extend to about the position of the water valve in the bricks.

And all of this leads to the discussions I had today with City officials, visitors and businesses. First off, the only people I found that were in favor of this were the City Officials. Some business owners were neutral. Most were opposed. Visitors scratched their heads.

One restaurant owner questioned why there were no bike lanes on West Street (alluding to the fact that the Mayor owns 4 restaurants on West Street) and the City official said that “this is MAIN STREET.” She stated that there is an existing trail two blocks off West Street and reiterated that people have wanted the bike lane on Main Street for a long time.

Yet another business owner was upset that there were no public hearings on this and was told by the spokesperson that since it was temporary they were not needed.

A business owner asked the spokesperson how it got past the Historic Preservation Commission and she replied that the project is temporary and HPC approvals were not needed. I wonder if paint on a restaurant is considered temporary–wait, I already know that answer!

The main issues I see having walked the project are as follows.

Pedestrian safety. Pedestrians will not always cross in the crosswalk. As such, they will now need to be stepping over at least one additional curb to cross the street and need to be aware that a bicycle could be coming down the hill from a direction that they do not expect.

Cyclist safety. At the taxi island, the curbs that form the bike lane are butted up against one another. Elsewhere there are gaps between them. An unsteady cyclist (like the kind that might use a bike share to visit a City they have never seen) may bump into the curb and have an accident. With the narrowed vehicle lane on Main Street, there is a 50-50 chance the cyclist could end up in the road in front of a moving vehicle. With bikes traveling against the flow of traffic, the risk is greater as the two objects (car and bike) are both moving forward towards each other and reaction times are diminished.

Exclusive use of lane. The City has said this is for bicycles going down Main Street only. What will be in place to stop the skateboarders from using it or from someone using it to travel up Main Street?

Parking. This project will eliminate 30+ parking spots on the street. The Mayor has said businesses can get coupons for their customers to park in the garage. There are some issues here. If this becomes permanent, spaces will be needed when the Hillman garage is rebuilt. It is nearly in danger of collapse as it is. Additionally, that  garage is often full; and unfortunately it is usually occupied by the City’s fleet of vehicles. For some reason, every Mayor wants to make sure businesses, employees, visitors and residents use the shuttle and park in a remote garage, yet refuses to make their own employees do the same. But as Cynthia McBride pointed out in The Capital,

Unfortunately, customers may leave town after finding no parking on the street or in the nearby now “full” garages before finding their way into our businesses to get free parking passes.

Why Main Street. I asked this question and was told that it is needed because it is Main Street! Duke of Gloucester has been accommodating one-way down vehicular traffic for decades. The City says that cyclists are fine going up Main Street without a dedicated lane. Why not allow the cyclists to come down Duke of Gloucester with the vehicles? I get it is more narrow, so why not eliminate parking on one side of that street and paint a lane? It most certainly would be a safer gateway into the Memorial Circle than Main Street. But maybe it is because St. Mary’s might get irritated with that idea.

What is the plan. Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this is that is is being done without a plan.  I asked the City’s spokesperson to post a copy of (or a link to) the plan to see an overview of what it might look like. I was thinking an aerial view or maybe an engineering drawing. And was told that there is none. You can’t make this stuff up folks!

The cost. The cost of the project has been reported to be $100,000 and according to the spokesperson it was budgeted. However she said today that the cost will be around $70,000.  When questioned on the figure, she said it was a lot cheaper than spending several million on the project and finding out it doesn’t work. True. But, usually all projects have plans. This one does not.

Is there a cry for a bike lane? I am trying to figure out if there really is a demand for this bike lane or if this is just a very vocal minority. I can’t quite tell and I am not sure a 30-day test run will be able to tell either. The test is being done in the fall when many visitors are away from the city; yet in the midst of the boat shows when there is an influx of visitors on the weekends. Since the bike share program was launched, I have been keeping an eye on the bikes and there does not seem to be a lot of movement on the bikes.  Granted it has only been a week, but most of the racks seem full when I drive by and I have yet to see one of the bikes on the road.  And I am a fan of that program!  But right now (330pm on September 6th) here’s the status of the 8 racks. Each rack has 6 slots and is stocked with 5 bikes.

The project calls for 10 stations each with 5 bikes for a total of 50 bikes in the program. Only 8 stations are online at this point and 40 bikes.  As of right now, 2 are rented. Is that a good number for the middle of  Thursday afternoon leading into a fairly busy weekend? I am not sure!

The verdict.  Annapolis is averse to any type of change. And to be honest, there are plenty of things that we need to change in this City.  I ride a bike. Not zealously like some. And I am somewhat fearful on some of the roads (Forest Drive and Bay Ridge Road I am talking to you). But to be honest, I am more concerned about riding down this Main Street bike lane than I am Duke of Gloucester or Cornhill  or Fleet. But I have been known to be wrong–a lot. And I also believe in giving things a try. I do not think this will pan out as expected, but what do I know? We will never know unless we try and as The Great One said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  I say, let’s see. It is temporary. Come out and see what the final project looks like on September 16th and let’s watch it through the middle of October. We elected a new Mayor because we wanted a change from the old Mayor. He ran on a platform of change and expanding arts and access to the City. We can’t fault him for trying.

Rams Head

Category: OPINION, Post To FB

About the Author - John Frenaye

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for nearly 25 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news–and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009.

John’s background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.

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