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Bike Lane Failure Runs Down St. Paul St.

St Paul St Bike Lane in Baltimore, MD

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:

St Paul St Bike Lane in Baltimore, MD

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:

Parked Honda Civic

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.

Posted in Bike Lane Reports.

  • Brian

    Yeah, I felt way safer riding in a car lane before they did this. I could keep up with traffic and bomb down St. Paul without worrying about being doored.

  • Brian

    Also, this is why I ride way to the left in this bike lane.

  • Slappy

    Dats a hot car $on!

  • John McDonald

    It’s too late now, but it would have been interesting to set up a video camera and record a day’s worth of cyclists on St. Paul before the lane was added, then compare it with a day’s worth of cyclists now. My hunch is that before the lane was added, there would have been some cyclists taking the lane, but a lot who were riding just one or two feet away from the parked cars. I hope that with the 4.5-foot lane, a lot more cyclists would be riding three or four feet from the cars; not completely safe from someone who suddenly flings their door wide open, but safer than before. And I suspect that most of the take-the-lane cyclists will still take the lane, which should be easier if the narrower car lanes do slow the car traffic a bit.

    But I could be completely wrong; maybe the lane makes people ride closer to the cars. I’d be curious if anyone knows of any actual data on this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.day.524 Paul Day

    I think it’s counterproductive to focus on failures. We should focus on successes. I ride this bike lane every day and it makes me feel safer than I did without it. It’s not perfect, but it does provide a clearer delineation from traffic and that’s a plus. Let’s take what we can get, this isn’t Portland.

    Cyclists are going to use St. Paul St. no matter what when they’re commuting to Penn Station because it’s a faster route than Guilford. So telling cyclists to use another road is pretty counterproductive. I love Guilford and all of it’s bike improvements, don’t get me wrong, I use it to go downtown/Southeast, but St. Paul is more direct when I’m headed to Penn Station and it’s a little safer/more well trafficked at night.

    Pay attention and you won’t get doored. It’s worked for this guy.

    • dukiebiddle

      “Pay attention and you won’t get doored. It’s worked for this guy.”

      So far luck has been on your side. Thankfully, no under 5 foot old ladies have opened the door on you, or anyone else who had been leaning over to get something off the floor or in the glove box, or someone in a windowless utility van. There is no way that paying attention is going to help you in those situations. A cyclist who knows how to minimize the potentiality of a collision never rides in the door zone under any circumstances, no exceptions. Riding in the door zone is the very definition of an unsafe practice. A bike lane that traps a cyclist in the door zone is the very definition of unsafe design.

      ” So telling cyclists to use another road is pretty counterproductive.”

      There is nothing counterproductive about recommending safer alternatives, especially when the road design may increase the danger to cyclists, as the author, and myself, are both under the impression the new bike lane does.

      “Let’s take what we can get”

      Not when it creates a greater hazard than nothing.

      You say it makes you feel safer, but that is the crux of the author’s argument, that it creates a more dangerous road environment while giving a false sense of security, which compounds the already more dangerous environment than existed before the bike lane was striped.

    • hmm

      “Let’s take what we can get, this isn’t Portland.” This is classic zero-sum game only part of the equation thinking.
      The whole point of discussing and lobbying bike infrastructure is to make things safer for biking, and thus get more people biking, to try and reach what portland has…a bike friendly culture that in itself, makes things safer.
      We will never get there by saying we’ll take what we can get were not portland. But more to the point, the combo of a narrow bike lane, fast traffic, doors, and dead-ending into an objectively bad traffic situation means this lane makes things worse for fairly risk-averse bikers and potential bikers. They see the lane, think “Oh great maybe I can bike there.” they try it, all of the above freaks their S#$% out, and they never bike again. Or even, they see the lane, see all of the above points, realize it still doesnt protect them, and think…”If this is how safe a bike lane is, then everything else is worse, so I can never bike in this city”. This is the EXACT opposite of what we want. We want to LOWER the threshold for residents to get on their bikes, not make current bikers slightly more comfortable. No offense, but when everyone bikes we wont be oddballs, we’ll be normal and all who happen to be on their bike will be afforded the privileges of the normal (a modicum of respect from the average motorist and the benefit of the doubt as well as actual enforcement from police).

  • Barry Childress

    I am miffed the city has ignored my request to put the bike lanes on the left side of St. Paul. In NYC it is standard practice on one way streets to put the bike lanes on the left side. Parked car doors opening into the bike lane are fewer and if you ride the stripe of the bike lane closer to traffic, drivers know where the left side of their big honking SUV is a lot better then they know where the right side is.

    Also safety advice tells cyclists to ride at least 3-4 feet from parked cars (measured from outside of your handlebars.) So if a car is parked against the right edge of the bike lane that puts your tire outside the bike lane or at best right on the stripe.