Bicyclists concerned over traffic circle removal

Posted at 2:30 PM, May 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 14:30:09-04

The city will remove a controversial traffic circle at 32nd Street and Guilford Avenue in Abell Saturday, raising concerns from local bicyclists who said they were never contacted about the plans.

The intersection will be closed from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to remove the circle and replace it with a four-way stop.

The traffic circle, first installed in 2011, was never perfect, said Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore.

But a four-way stop is not the answer, she said, adding Bikemore worked with the Baltimore City Department of Transportation on recommendations that were later ignored.

“It shows a lack of transparency,” Cornish said.

JoAnn Robinson, the president of the Abell Improvement Association, said she welcomes the four-way stop, though she has no idea how the decision got made.

She likened the circle, which she said has been a source of frustration in the neighborhood since the beginning, to trying to cram something large into a too-small box.

“The sight lines are terrible, and people don’t know they are in the circle until they are in it. And the thing just didn’t fit in the intersection,” Robinson said. “As my neighbor said, it gives all traffic circles a bad name.”

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In a statement, the transportation department said the circle was being removed due to community concerns.

“High traffic volumes have resulted in vehicles arriving at the same time and queueing on all approaches, making drivers unsure how to yield,” the statement read. “These traffic volumes resulted in the mini-roundabout functioning more like an all-way stop, but with more driver confusion. In addition, larger vehicles such as box/delivery trucks and buses had to mount the island in order to turn, causing unsafe conditions for cyclists and pedestrians.”

Since the traffic circle was installed five years ago, “we have seen bicycle traffic increase exponentially,” Cornish said.

But there were always problems with the circle’s design. It lacked vertical treatments common in other traffic circles in other cities, such as sculptures and shrubbery.

That undermined its effectiveness, Cornish said. In addition, 32nd Street is also a popular cut through route for drivers who don’t want to wait at the intersection of 33rd Street and Greenmount Avenue.

“The traffic circle just wasn’t doing a good enough job slowing traffic,” she said.

After talking with some members of the Abell Communication Association, Cornish said Bikemore made several recommendations to the Department of Transportation.

They were:

  • Remove four parking spots to increase the size of the crosswalks and re-stripe larger crosswalks to improve visibility
  • Create vertical elements and reflective signage in the traffic circle
  • Create a concrete channel or small median leading up to the circle that makes the turning radius narrow and expands the footprint of the circle, again slowing traffic. 
  • Install bike friendly speed humps leading up to the intersection in all directions. 

Instead, the city opted for the four-way stop, and Bikemore wasn’t aware of it until members noticed the stop signs recently.

“We were definitely surprised,” Cornish said.

Robinson said she, too, would have liked to have seen speed bumps, and added she’s not opposed to bicyclists or bike-friendly street improvements or even traffic circles.

But she said she wishes the city had listened to the community’s input on the circle from the beginning.

The department said officials are “always considering the safety of citizens who walk and bike, and is open to exploring alternative treatments to better serve other modes of transportation.”

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