Public meeting over new Potomac Street cycletrack design gets heated

Tempers flared at a public meeting Tuesday night as the Baltimore Department of Transportation formally unveiled its plan to alter a protected bike lane on Potomac Street in Canton.

One man demanded to know why his life was worth less as a cyclist than that of a driver. One woman said her elderly parents’ handicapped parking spot is poorly marked in the new street configuration and other people keep parking in it. And many were concerned about a possible loss of parking spaces — a perennial issue in parking-challenged Canton.

“It’s been a very frustrating ordeal,” said Amanda Rothberg, a 31-year-old resident of Potomac Street who opposes the protected bike lane. “We, the residents of Canton, don’t feel like we’ve been advocated for or listened to.”

The meeting kicked off a 30-day comment period on the new bike lane configuration, and construction is set to begin in October or November.

The new design features a two-way bike lane protected by flex posts on the one-way street, with one side of the street converted to angled parking. The design would allow for enough access for emergency vehicles to make it down the street more easily.

The cycletrack stretches from Patterson Park to Boston Street.

The design unveiled Tuesday was a compromise reached between bike advocates and the city. The city began building the cycletrack in April but was quickly met with criticism from some residents who were concerned emergency vehicles would have a hard time getting down the street.

The city announced plans to rip out the cycletrack and start over, but Bikemore, a leading advocacy group, sued the city to stop them from demolishing it. The group dropped its lawsuit after the city pledged not to destroy the cycletrack.

Michelle Pourciau, the city's transportation director, said the plan unveiled Tuesday might change further after getting community feedback.

“The project has had a lot of ups and downs and we didn't want to come out with a final plan before showing what we have,” she said. “We’ll be back in a month or two to show the final and then complete the construction.”

Alex Pike, who lives north of Patterson Park, said keeping the bike lane protected was important to her.

“I’m supportive of complete streets and good bike infrastructure because that’s the only way I really get around town,” said Pike, 28. “I use ride shares for cars and I bike and I walk. It’s really important to me to have safer bike lanes and for it to be easier for people to get around.”

But a group of residents known as the Canton Neighbors for a Better Potomac Street Bike Lane circulated an alternate design they said they would present to the city. It had parallel parking on both sides of the street and a one-way, unprotected and painted bike lane.

Group members said they were concerned that up to 40 percent of the parking on the street will be eliminated with the switch to angled parking on just one side. Pourciau said there may be a 10 percent increase or decrease in parking depending on how the angled parking is configured.

“We’re not against bikers, we’re not against a bike lane,” Rothberg said. “We really don’t think it needs to be protected with the [flex posts]. It really should be a painted lane.”

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