Mount Royal Avenue is getting a facelift that’s bound to attract some complements; it may also ruffle some feathers.

The 2 1/2 blocks of work will complete Central Baltimore’s latest road diet, which has dropped from two car travel lanes along the north/westbound side of the four-lane thoroughfare to one lane in most locations, according to Baltimore Department of Transportation planning documents.

Aside from minor changes at a couple of intersections, the south/eastbound side of Mount Royal Avenue will look the same, keeping its two car travel lanes. Both sides of the road will maintain street parking, records show.

The project aims to calm traffic through the campuses of both the Maryland Institute College of Art and University of Baltimore. The first of two sections of work—running up Mount Royal Avenue between The Lyric and the intersection with West North Avenue — was completed years ago.

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BGE currently has the road dug up for gas main upgrades, part of a multiyear project to swap low-pressure gas lines with newer technology that will improve reliability for downtown customers, a BGE representative told The Baltimore Banner. The work will progress south down Guilford Avenue later this year.

Once the surgical work is done, crews will outfit the road surface with new lane striping, flex-posts — those plastic sticks popping up at intersections all over town — and curblike wheel stoppers. And the extra pavement will extend an existing — you guessed it — separated two-way bike/shared-use lane.

It will connect an area patchwork of bike lanes along Baltimore’s section of the East Coast Greenway, envisioned as a continuous 3,000-plus-mile, shared-use trail between Maine and Florida.

It’s the latest change to Baltimore’s right-of-way in line with the city’s Complete Streets ordinance, a 2018 law that requires the DOT to emphasize cyclist and pedestrian safety as well as public transit access in the design of its roadways, at times at the expense of car travel lanes. From Remington’s 28th Street to Gwynns Falls Parkway and beyond, some city residents have watched the changes with sighs of relief while others have rallied against them.

Complete Streets projects can be as small as improving sidewalk wheelchair ramps or creating bump-outs, which guide cars to make wider turns and shorten the amount of active traffic pedestrians may have to navigate while crossing at a single intersection. They can be as large as the redesign of North Avenue, which replaced major lengths of car travel lanes with dedicated bus lanes intended to help transit move quicker through the corridor.

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In passing the ordinance, Baltimore followed a nationwide trend of retrofitting roadways with the idea of making them safer and more bike-friendly. Though Baltimore’s Complete Streets debate touches on national best practices — what constitutes effective community engagement and other nuances — in the public eye, it has largely been reduced to a fight over bike lanes.

That fight has gone from online, to the steps of City Hall, and now inside council chambers. Last week, residents traded verbal blows testifying at a Rules and Legislative Oversight Committee hearing, sharing love and hate for bike lanes after a presentation from DOT head Corren Johnson and pointed questions from council members.

Baltimore lags behind peer cities like Washington, D.C., Boston and Seattle, with just shy of 37 miles of varying types of bike infrastructure, Johnson said at last week’s hearing. Just under 9 of those miles are separated bike lanes, a far cry from the city’s 2017 Bike Master Plan that recommended building 77 miles of separated lanes throughout the city by 2022.

Johnson touted various health, safety and connectivity benefits to bike infrastructure in her presentation. She presented crash data from before and after the implementation of the Maryland Avenue separated bike lanes to highlight the role they can play in traffic calming.

“We should all be concerned with the safety of our fellow Baltimoreans, working together to value and protect lives,” Johnson said.

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In response, City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton expressed frustration over what she and some critics of the implementation of Complete Streets and bike infrastructure see as DOT’s “one-size-fits-all approach.” She stressed the importance of community input on initiatives that will impact and change their environment.

“You can’t just throw things up without the dialogue of the residents,” Middleton said, wrapping up a nearly eight-minute part-speech-part-question. It was met with applause from some of those present at the hearing.

Johnson agreed that a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work and highlighted a recent nearly $10 million federal Safe Streets and Roads for All grant that will help DOT ramp up their engagement efforts. “So, we are looking for opportunities, and I want to work with you and others to kind of identify different ways we can reach people and try to make a robust engagement program. That truly is my desire,” she said.

An orange roadwork sign that reads "road closed" blocks off a section of an intersection. A green road side that says "Calvert St" hangs next to a red stop light. There are some orange roadwork barrels and white traffic barriers.
Baltimore Gas and Electric crews have closed off a section of Mount Royal Avenue for underground gas main upgrades. Pictured here on March 12, 2024, the area will get roadway changes, including connecting the Guilford Avenue and existing Mount Royal Avenue bike lanes. (Daniel Zawodny)

Councilman for the 8th District Kristerfer Burnett took the mic next and pointed to what he has seen as a key inequity — choosing which traffic calming measures go where. He said there’s an overemphasis on speed cameras as the primary form of traffic calming in predominantly low-income and Black neighborhoods that he represents, but major road redesigns — including bike lanes — happen elsewhere.

“We’re seeing where this is going right? It’s the White L and the Black Butterfly,” Burnett said. “We’re obviously acknowledging there’s a safety problem in one area and dealing with that safety problem in a punitive way, and we see another safety issue across the city where we’re not getting that.”

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Dana Moore, leader of the city’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights, said at the outset of the hearing that her office thus far had been “kind of on the sidelines” observing the Complete Streets rollout and issues surrounding bike lanes. Moore’s team is now conducting an equity analysis of the programs and plans to draft a policy for engaging with diverse communities.

Middleton stressed at the hearing’s start that it was meant to be informational and engage residents about what’s going on with bike infrastructure. She said that it aimed to “foster open discussions and constructive interactions.” But roughly 2 1/2 hours of resident testimony at times strayed far from that spirit, going beyond support or criticism of the rollout of bike lanes and devolving into personal character attacks.

At the hearing’s conclusion, Middleton stressed that the discussions will continue as Complete Streets and bike infrastructure projects continue.

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues.

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