Car Free Baltimore Rotating Header Image

Pratt Street

A Concept for a Pratt Street Cycletrack

Pratt Street Cycletrack Crosssection

Pratt Street Cycle track Cross Section

Have you ever biked through downtown Baltimore and thought to yourself, “I can’t believe I survived that”? While riding in traffic is fine for low speed residential streets, downtown arterials require bike infrastructure to get more novice and intermediate cyclists out on the streets.  Just like in transit planning, direct cycling routes are best, and nothing is more direct than Pratt Street. With restaurants, retail, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the MARC station, the awesome bike parking at University of Maryland garage and easy access to the harbor and the Jones Falls Trail, there’s demand for a dedicated bike route on one of the most visible streets in the city.

NYC has shown the world the benefits of cycletracks on high volume streets. Here’s one study:

 The New York City Department of Transportation implemented a bicycle path and traffic calming pilot project for Prospect Park West in Brooklyn in 2010 and published their results in early 2011. It created a two-way bicycle path with a three-foot parking lane buffer and the removal of one lane from motor vehicles. They found that weekday cycling traffic tripled after the implementation; cyclists riding on the sidewalk fell to 3% from 46% (the count included children who are legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk); speeding dropped from 74% to 20% of all vehicles; crashes for all road users were down 16% and injuries to all road users were down 21%. – NYC DOT 2011 Cycletrack Study

Like most good things, there are trade offs. A full lane of traffic will need to be removed on Pratt Street between MLK Jr. Blvd and Light Street. While this may not have a big impact where traffic volumes are lower between MLK Jr. Blvd and Paca Street, higher volume segments east of Paca may see a minor increase in delays (measured in seconds, not minutes). Also, at intersections where traffic turns north from Pratt Street, bike signals will be needed to reduce auto/pedestrian/cyclist conflicts, but this type of infrastructure has been installed in DC and NYC with success.

Pratt St. Cycletrack Concept

Pratt St. Cycletrack Concept (click to view full concept as a PDF file)

These are minor issues compared to the benefits of a Pratt Street Cycle Track:

  • Reduction in auto speeds
  • Increased retail sales from bike traffic
  • Fewer pedestrian/bike injuries on corridor
  • Completes a critical bike network link between neighborhoods east and west of downtown
  • Increased number of novice cyclists who prefer to bike on protected lanes

As for the Grand Prix, the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide doesn’t have a chapter on incorporating 200 mph race cars into bike networks, but if you have any ideas, let me know.


**Reference: New York Times, September 10, 2013: In Bloomberg’s City of Bike Lanes, Data Show, Cabs Gain a Little Speed


The Problem(s) With One Way Streets

Rivers were meant to run in one direction. People are not rivers.

Alan Ehrenhalt makes an interesting case for two-way streets.  There’s evidence that one way streets increase operating speeds, reduce neighborhood accessibility and can sometimes hurt commercial districts. The UK has already implemented broad design guidelines which call for phasing out one ways in residential areas. In designing streets based on future level of service calculations, we may be sacrificing neighborhood livability.

I know of several residential streets in Baltimore which are currently one way and operate at speeds well above the posted limit. Some of these streets are also excessively wide and could easily handle 2 lanes of bi-direction traffic and full bike lanes. While there are situations where one way streets are needed, these are extreme cases and fall within a limited context.

This post comes from a death-defying attempt to bike west from the Inner Harbor to Hollins Market.  While the future bus/bike lane on Lombard should help, the speeding traffic on the one way pairs on every single east-west downtown street up to Saratoga creates mini-highways which are uncomfortable to walk on and dangerous to bike on. (A quick aside: Eutaw and Saratoga Streets, two of the handful of two-way downtown streets, have much more active retail and street life than most other streets in the CBD).

Another example of a questionable one way pair is Pratt and Lombard east of President St. Pratt bisects Little Italy and Albemarle Square – both of which are small, walkable neighborhoods made up of narrow (more so in the case of Little Italy) local streets.  Pratt as a one way divides these neighborhoods, encourages speeding, and creates a dangerous situation for cars and pedestrians traveling north-south that are trying to cross Pratt/Lombard. In an effort to get as many cars out of downtown as fast as possible, east bound Pratt St. traffic is not required to stop between High St. and Central Ave. This doesn’t seem like a big deal when you’re looking at a map, but when you’re on the ground walking or on a bike, and you combine the one way traffic with a lack of traffic control, it’s obvious this road was designed as a quick exit to Central Ave. and not as a neighborhood street.

View Larger Map

Sure, if Pratt were converted to two way, we’d lose a parking lane with peak hour restrictions. But really, how useful is peak hour restricted parking to residential neighborhoods?

These one-way streets were created with efficiency in mind. So, to my colleagues around the country designing urban streets, I ask; what’s the rush? Who cares if it takes 3.5 minutes or 4 minutes to get to the nearest highway? What good is saving a minute of travel time when you sacrifice walking/biking/retail/comfort/livable streets in an effort to maximize technocratic efficiency? It’s like zooming around Yellowstone Park and claiming you had a great trip because your visit only lasted an hour.

Update: Richmond, VA is planning to convert a plethora of downtown streets to two way to improve navigation, pedestrian accessibilty and spur economic development.

References: TRB Circular E-C019: Urban Street Symposium

Sightings: Storm Grates and Pedestrian Signals

Bike Friendly Storm Grate
Bike Friendly Storm Grate

While riding my bike on Pratt St. in the new bus/bike lane, one of the 200-year-old storm grates almost caught my front wheel. If I had fallen, perhaps my super human reflexes would have allowed me to roll and duck underneath the approaching bus. Maybe not. Never-the-less, living without a car shouldn’t require super human abilities.

I’m told that the old grates on Pratt will soon be replaced with bike-friendly grates like these:

In other news, BCDOT’s traffic division is looking at ways to make the downtown intersections of President St./Pratt St. and Light St./Lombard St. safer for pedestrians. Though the Institute of Transportation Engineers has guidelines for how long the pedestrian “walk” phase should be, I think there should be enough time to sit down, eat a light snack and play a hand of poker in a crosswalk before traffic gets the green.  But that’s just me.

This is especially important with a growing aging population. Check out what New York City is doing: