A group of 10 Baltimore City Council members on Wednesday sent a letter to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young encouraging him to repurpose travel lanes on essential routes for pedestrians, cyclists and people with mobility devices.
The councilmembers said city sidewalks are generally not large enough for social distancing protocols requiring six feet of separation between people during the COVID-19 crisis, and “many” sidewalks and intersections do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“This poses a public health risk for any person making an essential trip on Baltimore’s sidewalks, or seeking physical activity for mental health purposes,” the councilmembers wrote.
The letter appears on letterhead from Councilman Ryan Dorsey (District 3) and is signed by Council President Brandon Scott, Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton (District 6), Councilman John Bullock (District 9), Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (District 8), Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (District 14), Councilman Zeke Cohen (District 1), Councilman Bill Henry (District 4), Councilman Edward Reisinger (District 10) and Councilwoman Shannon Sneed (District 13).
Scott said repurposing unused travel lanes would make it safer for residents to complete essential trips and easier for them to access recreational spaces while physically distancing.
“I always try to learn from other cities and encourage the Mayor’s Office to put best practices in place that prioritize the public health and safety of our communities right now during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” he said.
The state requires any bus driver who displays COVID-19 symptoms to self-quarantine for at least seven days, which has led to a shortage of bus drivers and less frequent bus service, the council members wrote.
In turn, the council members said that more people have been crowding onto remaining buses, creating an environment in which coronavirus could more easily spread.
Young said last week that he was looking into limiting the number of riders on MTA buses to reduce overcrowding.
“We are serious about slowing the curve and we don’t want to have people riding on the bus, all crammed up on the bus, elbow to elbow,” he said.
The council members said repurposing travel lanes would reduce overcrowding on buses and give people other transportation options while safely social distancing.
They added that fewer motorists are on the road due to Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order. That lower traffic volume would allow the city to temporarily convert some vehicle travel lanes into paths for pedestrians, bicyclists and other people not driving cars or riding public transit.
The council members said that some of the drivers who remain on the road during the stay-at-home order have been driving “faster and more recklessly,” making it more dangerous for non-motorists traveling alongside busy corridors.
“The danger posed is exacerbated for persons using a mobility device on one of Baltimore’s many non-ADA compliant sidewalks or intersections,” they said.
But repurposing travel lanes along certain roads would “provide a safety buffer protecting road users from this dangerous traffic,” the council members said.
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