Group Sues Baltimore City Over Canton Bike Lane Demolition

Baltimore’s fire code calls for a 20-foot-wide clearance; as with many streets, the Potomac Street bike lane is in violation. (Photo provided by Liz Cornish)

Yair Flicker bikes four miles from his Mount Vernon home to his Canton office every day, but when he visits relatives in Tel Aviv, he feels the transportation options are much more efficient than Baltimore’s.

So when Baltimore City Circuit Court judge Althea M. Handy granted a temporary restraining order on June 9 to halt the city from tearing out a new protected bike lane on Potomac Street in Canton, Flicker took it as a small victory.

“We need to work with the infrastructure that we have,” said Flicker, 34, who is board chair for the nonprofit bike advocacy group Bikemore. “Baltimore has got some history to it, and it’s not a new city, so we’re not going to knock it to the ground and rebuild the entire city anytime soon.”

Bikemore opted to sue the city in response to a letter sent to residents from the Baltimore Department of Transportation on June 7 informing them of its intention to demolish the $775,000 bike lane. In the lawsuit, Bikemore alleges the city’s action “reversed five years of extensive planning and public input” and was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Mark Edelson, an attorney for Bikemore, said a two-day preliminary injunction hearing has been set for June 28 and 29.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh, said while the administration does not “discuss pending litigation,” the city plans to “respond appropriately.”

While Flicker said the Canton Community Association fully backed the bike lane, for which the city broke ground in April, some residents voiced concerns, prompting Pugh and the Fire Department to get involved.

The decision by Pugh’s administration to remove the bike lane was made after opponents said the track has resulted in 10 fewer on-street parking spaces, is unnecessary on a one-way residential street that bicyclists already ride on and restricts street space for fire trucks.

“It was a little bit disingenuous that those would be the reasons they would fight for the removal of this bike lane,” Flicker said.

Much of the dispute over the bike lane, created on Potomac Street between Eastern Avenue and Boston Street, has to do with a city fire code calling for at least a 20-foot-wide clearance for fire apparatus.

Advocates said they feel the provision is subjective, pointing out that 63 streets in Canton alone — particularly those with reverse-angle parking — have traffic lanes that are narrower than 20 feet. Potomac Street, as currently constructed with the bike lane, known as a cycletrack, has been cut to a width of 10 feet.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes told the JT that the agency could not confirm or deny the number of streets in Canton in violation of the code. She added the department is “evaluating the city’s current infrastructure” to see if the streets meet the fire code but declined to provide a timetable of when she expected that to be finished.

Edelson told the JT the city risks losing hundreds of thousands dollars in state and federal funding for its decision to demolish the bike lane.

About 80 percent of the project’s funding came from state and federal sources, and “we just does not want to see that funding disappear,” Edelson said.

“There was just an incredible amount of support from elected officials and civil servants working to get federal and state funds to put this kind of project in place to benefit the city,” Edelson said.

Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, said she believes the city spent $200,000 on the design, engineering and construction of the bike lane. There are also additional plans to include street trees, planters and storm-water management facilities.

McCarthy did not respond to a request on how much, if any, money the city contributed to the project and how much it would cost the city to remove the lane.

Cornish worries that construction of the Downtown Bicycle Network, a project that will encompass more than 10 miles of bike lanes protected from traffic, could be at risk. Lanes have already been carved out or are in the works for many streets, including Maryland Avenue and Cathedral, Centre, Monument, Madison, Preston and Biddle streets.

Cornish said she engaged in meetings with city officials for three weeks, urging “them to build a safe, comfortable network of separated bike facilities city wide.”

But when she felt all her options were exhausted, including the “1,000 emails and phone calls” city residents made to Pugh, Cornish said, “We did what advocates do — hold those tasked with representing us accountable.”

City Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-District 1), who represents Potomac Street, took to Facebook on June 1 to express his disappointment with the city’s decision to “downgrade” the Potomac Street bike lane.

In a video message, Cohen called the moved “shortsighted” and said in order for the city to move forward, “we need to move toward a truly walkable, bikeable Baltimore.”

This story has been updated to reflect the two-day preliminary injunction hearing date.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

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