It’s a bad week to be a bike lane in Baltimore.
Yesterday, a day after the mayor’s office announced its plans to tear out the nearly complete cycle track on Potomac Street in Canton, a group representing Roland Park residents announced it has asked the city to also tear out a mile-long bike lane running through their neighborhood.
In a June 6 letter addressed to Acting Transportation Director Frank Murphy, and cc’ing Mayor Catherine Pugh and her aide, Chief of Strategic Alliances James T. Smith, Jr., among others, the Roland Park Civic League calls on the city to “restore curb side parking immediately and completely on Roland Avenue.”
Since winter of 2015-16, a stretch of Roland Avenue has been altered to include four-foot-wide bike lanes along the curbs on each side, with parking spaces for cars separating the bike lane from moving traffic.
Civic association president Robert “Hap” Cooper wrote that his group’s Cycle Track Committee conducted a yearlong study of the lane shortly after it was installed, holding more than a dozen committee meetings and two public meetings, in addition to soliciting input from an engineering firm.
Among the complaints listed in the committee’s year-end report: five totaled parked cars, uncounted incidents involving damage to vehicles, cyclists choosing to forego riding in the lane entirely due to fears of colliding with pedestrians and increased verbal altercations between cyclists and drivers. There were also safety concerns about drivers climbing out of cars alongside oncoming traffic and passengers hopping out in the bike lane with cyclists potentially approaching.
With the study done, the civic association initially recommended the city “either restore curbside parking with a wider, safer bike lane and slower traffic, or partner with the community to create a complete street that works for everyone.”
But community members and the civic league discussed it further at their annual meeting in May. In a 55-31 vote, the group revised the recommendation to say the city should eliminate the cycle track entirely “and continue the work of the committee to achieve the other objectives” from the report — among them, a wider bike lane and lower speed limits.
Speaking by phone today, Cooper said a community member stood up and proposed the wording change at the meeting. He noted that the revised recommendation doesn’t necessarily mean the civic league doesn’t want to add a wider bike lane back in at the same time. “I think we can restore curbside parking immediately with a wider, safer bike lane,” he said.
Smith, an aide on Pugh’s staff who previously served as the state’s secretary of transportation and executive of Baltimore County, wasn’t immediately available to comment on the association’s request Friday. Pugh spokesman Anthony McCarthy also hasn’t responded to a message requesting comment.
Two days earlier, Smith sent out a letter to residents of Potomac Street in Canton, where a cycle track was nearly fully installed, informing them the city plans to remove the new lane entirely. Residents had complained that the design there — similar, in places, to that the design of Roland Park’s bike lane — took up room needed for emergency vehicles and violated international fire code standards.
The mayor’s office initially planned a redesign of the lane that would have narrowed the lane to seven feet for a major stretch. When local bike advocacy nonprofit Bikemore criticized the proposed redesign, the city at first defended its plans to modify the lane. A day later, it scrapped them entirely.
Bikemore executive director Liz Cornish hasn’t responded to an email requesting comment on the civic association’s request. Speaking with Baltimore Fishbowl yesterday, she said the city’ s decision to restart its cycle track plans on Potomac Street “sets a dangerous precedent” for how the government responds to community feedback on bike lanes.