A dustup over a bike lane in Baltimore now has the city re-evaluating its overall bike lane expansion plans, reports The Baltimore Sun. As Sandy Smith reported for Next City, the way the city introduced new bicycling infrastructure this year on Potomac Street, in the waterfront neighborhood of Canton, caused confusion. Even opponents were contradicting each other about whether the street was too busy for a bike lane or not busy enough to warrant it. The city announced its intention to tear out the new bike lane, citing concerns about access for fire department equipment.
The Baltimore Sun reports another neighborhood in North Baltimore now has similar concerns about fire safety and design, and Mayor Catherine Pugh has ordered a review of the city’s bike lanes and parking spaces citywide.
Bicycle advocates, understandably, expressed their concerns. “We were all excited to see the progress the city was making,” Mark Edelson, a lawyer who filed a lawsuit to stop the demolition of the Canton bike lane, told the Sun. “We’ve very concerned about the recent path of regression.”
City Councilman Ryan Dorsey told the Sun that many of Baltimore’s poorest residents lack access to vehicles — making bike-friendly streets essential.
The mayor rebuffed the idea that she is against more bicycle infrastructure. “The message that has gone out is just so wrong,” Pugh told the Sun. “This is about protecting everybody. I think about the number of fires that I’ve gone to in just a short time here. What if somebody can’t get to that?”
Edelson co-authored a Sun op-ed last week accusing the city of abandoning a yearslong public planning process around bicycle infrastructure, noting the safety issues. “We spoke with members of the Baltimore City Fire Department to understand the implications of the International Fire Code, which appeared to be selectively applied,” the op-ed said.
Safety is not a new issue for bike lane and parking planning. When the same concerns came up in Oregon, a collaborative process led to the establishment of statewide bike lane and parking spot guidelines that take into account prevailing fire department vehicle standards — in the year 2000.
According to the Sun, Pugh points a finger to the administration of her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, for approving the bike lane without what she deemed proper planning. “It is difficult at best to maneuver on that street,” she said to the Sun. “If you lived on that street, you would want a fire truck to be able to get down your street.”
Oscar is Next City's senior economics correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha, and Fast Company.