Baltimore officials are delaying the installation of the much-awaited Downtown Bicycle Network by as much as 10 more months so that city agencies can reconfigure three streets to meet fire code standards and safety regulations.
The Board of Estimates voted unanimously this morning to approve a 318-day delay for work by P. Flanigan Sons, the construction contractor tasked with installing the 10-mile bike lane network. Originally awarded a $2.85 million contract—much of it covered by state and federal funds—in July 2016, the firm was at first given a deadline of June 20, 2017, to finish the bike lanes. The contractor later received a 180-day extension to finish the network by Dec. 31, 2017.
That deadline also fell through, due in part to last year’s controversies that put all bike lane projects on hold. The extension awarded today would apply from the first of this year through Oct. 31, which means P. Flanigan and Sons’ new deadline is a little over eight months away.
The delay is intended to give DOT and the fire department “time to work out the traffic configurations for Centre, Monument, and Madison Streets,” according to the Board of Estimates agenda.
For cycling advocates, it’s another troubling development.
“It’s disappointing to us that this project, which has already been subject to one extension, is already a year behind, and is now potentially behind for another year because of the fire clearance issue,” said Jed Weeks, policy director for local cycling nonprofit Bikemore.
He added that the issue of fire apparatus clearance “seems to only come up when we talk about bike lanes.”
For years, fire code standards wasn’t part of the conversation around biking infrastructure. That changed with the scuffle over the Potomac Street Bike Lane project in Canton last spring. Worried about reduced parking availability and other issues, neighbors there invoked international fire code standards that call for 20 feet of clearance for fire engines, and 26 feet of clearance for ladders and other equipment, to try to convince the city to stop installing a two-way protected lane running north-south and vice-versa along Potomac Street.
Responding to neighbors’ complaints, DOT reconfigured the lane; Bikemore balked at the reconfiguration, which led the city to decide to tear out the lane altogether. Bikemore then sued, successfully, to stop that from happening. In a settlement, the city agreed to commit to installing the lane after all.
But weeks later, DOT said it would be putting all bike lane projects on hold to ensure they complied with the fire apparatus clearance standards. Bikemore later found through a public information act request that the city had continued carrying out conventional (non bike lane-related, that is) roadwork projects on streets that weren’t up to those international fire code standards, while delaying any work on bike lanes.
Weeks said Bikemore has not heard from the city about next steps for bike lanes since the holidays, when DOT officials said they would present a plan in February or March. “The last comment that we had received was that the project would be completed this spring.”
Flanigan and Sons’ work on the Downtown Bicycle Network, which is to run from Charles Village to the Inner Harbor and Mount Vernon’s western edge to just past Johns Hopkins Hospital, is 70 percent finished, according to the Board of Estimates agenda.
Neither DOT or the fire department have responded to requests for comment this morning on their plans to reconfigure the protected bike lanes on Centre, Monument and Madison streets.
Despite that 70 percent completion mark, Weeks said the Downtown Bicycle Network at present looks like a “half-done project,” with some streets lacking striping and flex posts and bike lanes abruptly ending before resuming on other blocks. The “stop and start” nature of it all has pushed cyclists to craft their own routes down other city blocks to get around, which he said has caused crashes or left cyclists vulnerable to assaults, in some cases.
“It’s just increased risk all around.”
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