Hello Bike Maryland! My name is Galen Wallace and I have been invited to pick up the Bike Maryland blog. What I hope to do with the blog submissions is add another – sometimes contrarian - voice to cycling advocacy. I am a 53 year old male who has been a recreational, competitive and utilitarian cyclist since 1987. I have lived in the Baltimore area my entire life. I am a pragmatic person who believes in thoughtful investigation of cycling issues with an eye towards simple and inexpensive solutions. To that end, my first report concerns the recent Maryland State Highway Administration’s roadway widening project of York Road from the Baltimore Beltway overpass north to Ridgeley Road in the Lutherville area of Baltimore County.
The main impetus for the SHA’s widening project was to construct a center turn lane so that the lane would be continuous from just north of Towson all the way to Hunt Valley. As a bonus, the state constructed the curb lanes along this stretch of York Road to accommodate bicycle traffic by making them wider than the SHA standard twelve-foot lane. The actual width of the curb lane varies a little but on average it is approximately fourteen feet wide. During the warmer months of the year, I make a habit of taking York Road southbound from Ridgely Road all the way into Towson, through the Towson Roundabout on my way home from the Oregon Ridge Wednesday night ride. I have found the wide outside lane concept of bicycle integrated infrastructure to be superior to the generally “separate but unequal” segregated concept of bicycle lanes as they are locally implemented. The only portion of this stretch of road which I would consider slightly daunting for a novice would be the I-695 overpass and a bike lane there would not be an improvement. Wherever there is a merge lane you have issues of lateral crossing. Only removal of the merge lanes will alleviate that problem, however any competent cyclist should be able to simply maintain through lane position and motorists getting on or off of the beltway will figure it out. Unfortunately, south of I-695 the wide-lane concept degenerates – mind you, this is an older section of road and past the limit of the widening contract. While the actual paving width south of I-695 is sufficient to accommodate a wide outside lane, the lane markings contradict with the fog line being painted about three feet away from the curb, thus forming a “shoulder” situation which is too narrow to be safe. Also, various excavations, paving patches and failed paving within that “shoulder” render the shoulder much bumpier than north of the interstate. The SHA could remediate these problems by taking up the existing fog line and relocating it next to the curb and improved patching. I find the wide outside lane concept superior to a segregated bike lane for the following reasons:
1) The ambiguity of not having a designated bike lane forces motorists to pay more attention to cyclists;
2) Because the whole lane is a travel lane, even close to the curb the paving is generally free of debris;
3) Motorists seem to have very little trouble moving left within their lane to give a three-foot or wider passing berth;
4) Sharing the wide lane legitimizes cyclists as bona-fide road users;
5) Wrong-way cycling is discouraged;
Naturally, there is room for improvement. First, the width of the outside lane should be standardized and consistent. I think fourteen-and-one-half feet from line to line is sufficient (curb gutterpan width not included) but others might like fifteen feet. The speed limit should also be reduced from the posted 40 MPH to 30 MPH.
With the volume of traffic and the amount of commercial entrances along York Road I would think a lower limit would reduce accidents and their severity. The average speed along most of the road has to be lower than 40 MPH anyway. As a defacto 10 MPH grace margin is pretty much standard for enforcing the speed limit in Maryland, lowering the limit along this stretch of York Road would in reality lower the peak speeds from 50 MPH +/- to 40 MPH.
Additionally, the removal of merge an yield lanes – always the bane of cyclists and pedestrians alike – would be an improvement, as would prohibiting right turns on red.
I would like to see Maryland adopt a wide-outside lane standard for major arterial improvements in high-density areas of the state. After all, utilitarian and commuting cyclists want a direct route to their destination just like motorists. The wide-outside lane concept promotes direct access along historically utilized major roads and safely integrates cyclist into the urban-transportation mix. It’s a win-win in my book. I would suggest area cyclists give York Road a try.