After fire code issues and other delays, city announces final steps for Downtown Bicycle Network

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Photo via Bikemore

In what officials say is the final wave of construction on the Downtown Bicycle Network, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation today announced a slate of new projects for biking facilities in the city’s downtown area that should complete the much-awaited 10-mile system for cyclists.

Construction is set to begin Oct. 15 on E. Monument and Centre streets, which are being outfitted with two-way separated bike lanes. The protected bike lane running on Maryland Avenue and Cathedral Street, stretching from Old Goucher to Downtown, will get some tweaks like road markings and design changes where cyclists and cars often conflict.

Other lanes are planned for Madison Street and N. Liberty Street during the final phase. Broadly speaking, these last steps will connect Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard on downtown’s west side with N. Washington Street miles away in East Baltimore, and link N. Eutaw and N. Washington streets up with the existing two-way lane on Maryland Avenue.

Work on E. Monument and Centre streets will last about two months, assuming Mother Nature cooperates. The other projects could stretch into the summer of 2019, according to a release from DOT.

Here’s a map from local cycling-advocacy nonprofit Bikemore for reference.

“This important project establishes a downtown network of bike lanes from which further connections can be made into neighborhoods throughout the city,” said DOT Director Michelle Pourciau in a statement. “The Department of Transportation is committed to providing safe streets for all users that include a variety of options for alternative modes of travel.”

This winter the city approved a 10-month for contractor P. Flanigan & Sons to start these last steps. The city paid the company $2.85 million in July 2016 to complete the network by June of last year, but granted the company two extensions.

The most recent delay was due to conflicts surrounding the city’s fire code and installation of bike infrastructure. In spring of 2017, Canton residents protesting the two-way protected Potomac Street Bike Lane invoked fire code standards, which call for 20 feet of clearance for fire engines and 26 feet of clearance for ladders and other apparatus, to sway the city to halt installation of the north-south thoroughfare for cyclists. After a legal dispute, the city agreed to install the lane, but also announced it would put all other bike lane projects on hold to ensure compliance with fire code.

The wonky issue prompted very real confrontations over the last year and a half. An off-duty firefighter assaulted a cyclist at a May meeting over the Downtown Bike Network’s reconfiguration, and the Fire Department drew the City Council’s ire when it filmed an ill-advised video outside the homes of Bikemore executive director Liz Cornish and the aforementioned assault victim to make its case for why bike lanes make it hard to park and anchor down fire engines.

The City Council responded to the latter conflict by passing a bill, sponsored by Councilman Ryan Dorsey, to repeal the street-clearance provision of the fire code and replace it with guidelines friendlier to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. The bill takes effect Oct. 29, barring a veto from Mayor Catherine Pugh.

“We take great pride in having been a part of helping to see this project come to fruition and are grateful for DOT’s commitment to seeing it through to the finish,” Cornish said in a statement in the city’s announcement today. “Projects like the Downtown Bike Network make biking a safe and comfortable choice for Baltimore residents of all ages. And that has a real impact on our city’s health and prosperity.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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