The bike lane that runs down St. Paul St. from University Pkwy to Lanvale is close to home, both literally and figuratively. I live on St. Paul St.
Watching the lane’s progress mirrors the Baltimore bike network as a whole – a hodgepodge of cycling lanes and accommodations that ever so slowly connect.
One day a couple of weeks ago, I got back from work and re-striping of St. Paul had begun. It came as a pleasant surprise. Surprise turned into curiosity when construction seemed to become suspended, leaving what looked like either an extra wide parking lane or a half-hearted bike lane.
Yesterday, the project was completed. It was a long time coming. There have been patches of bike lane up-and-down St. Paul for a couple of years, and the new bike lane finally connects them.
It should be a reason to rejoice. It is not.
Quite simply, the design is flawed. But before we get to that, let’s get the good out of the way.
There is no doubt the lane has slowed the speed of vehicular traffic. Cars are now moving slower, and lower speeds mean less serious or fatal car wrecks.
However, in a different way, this lane is far more dangerous for cyclists. A bike lane should be 5 feet wide at a bare minimum, and this lane measures 4.5. The photo below brings to light the failure of the design:
If a driver opens his car door in front of a cyclist, there is a pretty good chance the cyclist will be doored. Eyeballing it, I would say the door takes up 40 percent of the bike lane. Keep in mind the car is parked very close to the curb:
A car parked further away from the curb and closer to the cyclist is a disaster waiting to happen. A cyclist who chooses to swerve out of the way of an opening door will not only have a close call with the parked car, but the vehicles driving in the travel lane as well.
Another critical flaw of the St. Paul. St. bike lane—one that has been problematic for years—still remains. South of Lanvale, the bike lane abruptly disappears in an objectively awful location. Cyclists are thrown into a parking lane swamped with cabbies servicing Bolt Bus riders, and cabs are constantly coming, going, and opening doors.
Unfortunately, a cyclist who chooses not to ride in the bike lane will have a difficult time justifying those actions. Maryland law states, “Where there is a bike lane, a person must use those and not ride a bicycle or motor scooter in the roadway.” Now to be fair, there is an exception for “avoiding hazards,” but that might be difficult to defend.
I applaud the DOT and its wins in recent years. It is no easy task to push for cycling infrastructure in a city with a small cycling population. The Fallsway separated bike lane is a good thing, as is the Guilford Bike Boulevard. I use both several times a week and they really do alleviate a lot of stress that comes from riding alongside traffic. And there is no doubt that these wins have garnered a growing cycling population.
However, we must also identify failures, and the St. Paul. St. bike lane is a big one. It creates a dangerous situation wrapped in the illusion of safety. Riders are advised to use the Guilford Ave Bike Boulevard two blocks to the east for their north-south trips.
I implore the DOT to re-stripe St. Paul St. again, erasing this failure of a bike lane. Some roads just aren’t fit for it, and St. Paul St. is one of them.