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Do police actually ticket drivers for illegally using Baltimore’s red, bus-only lanes?

The Maryland Transit Administration has painted bus- and bicycle-only lanes on several blocks of Baltimore Street downtown.
The Maryland Transit Administration has painted bus- and bicycle-only lanes on several blocks of Baltimore Street downtown. (Colin Campbell / Baltimore Sun)

When the Maryland Transit Administration rolled out its BaltimoreLink overhaul of its bus routes in 2017, the agency added 5.5 miles of red-painted, bus-only lanes to allow the buses to move more quickly through downtown’s most congested streets.

Car drivers who ignore the bus-only designation risk incurring both state and city penalties. Maryland law allows a $90 fine and a point on the violator’s license, and city law was amended in 2017 to create a $250 fine for driving or parking in the lanes.

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The MTA says the lanes have reduced bus trip times on nearly all routes, and police have been issuing citations to violators, but 40% of bus drivers said in an employee survey that more enforcement is needed.

MTA Police, Baltimore Police and city Department of Transportation traffic enforcement officers issued a collective 1,739 citations and 514 warnings to bus-lane violators in the first year and three months of BaltimoreLink, a period ending Sept. 30, 2018, according to the MTA’s “Dedicated Bus Lanes: A Before and After Study.”

That’s roughly 3.5 tickets per day. (The report, released in February, did not provide a breakdown noting the type of violation in each case.)

The agency agrees with its bus drivers’ concerns about cars and other vehicles driving and parking in the bus lanes and plans to work with the city on an enforcement program, MTA spokeswoman Veronica Battisti said in a statement.

“To realize the full benefit of dedicated bus lanes, MDOT MTA agrees they must be enforced consistently,” Battisti said.

Baltimore, Charles and Lombard streets, in particular, have “regular blocking or violation problems,” the MTA’s report said.

“Increased enforcement on these streets would improve the effectiveness of the bus lanes,” the report said.

The agency says the bus lanes are working. They have improved bus travel times in nearly 80% of the bus lanes during peak periods, the MTA said in its study. The average travel time in each corridor decreased by 9.3%, the agency said.

Time savings varied by corridor. They ranged from less than 5% on Baltimore Street to nearly one-third on the Hillen Street/Guilford Avenue corridor, the MTA said.

While giving buses a full lane of traffic on the city’s busiest downtown streets has been unpopular with some car drivers, the bus-only lanes “have not had a noticeable effect on general traffic flow,” and additional travel time for other vehicles is less than a minute, the MTA said.

The number of bus crashes on the roads with bus-only lanes has decreased by nearly 12%, according to the MTA.

In addition to more enforcement, nearly a quarter of the 192 drivers surveyed told the MTA they wanted “better bus/bike interaction.” They also asked for more dedicated bus/bike lanes, improved signage and better synchronized traffic signals.

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