Baltimore councilman seeks increased penalties for motorists who park in bike lanes

Baltimore councilman wants cars parked in bike lanes to be immediately towed.

After hearing an outpouring of complaints from residents, a Baltimore city councilman is pushing a bill to crack down on motorists who park in bike lanes.

In recent years, government agencies have spent millions trying to boost the city's bicycling infrastructure. Miles of lanes have been installed, including a 2.6-mile stretch of Maryland Avenue called a "cycle track," in which bicyclists are protected from traffic by a buffer of parked cars.

But motorists continue to park in the lanes, making it dangerous for bicyclists, who are forced to dart out into traffic, advocates say.

"It's a safety issue," said Liz Cornish, president of BikeMore, a local bicycling advocacy group. "It's just not enough to put a ticket on the windshield. It can lead to crashes."

Citing increased complaints, City Councilman Eric T. Costello is proposing a bill that would increase the fine for parking in a bike lane from $75 to $250. It also authorizes the city's transportation department to tow the parked vehicle immediately, as they are empowered to do with cars parked in the middle of the road.

"It should be no different than me parking in the middle of the sidewalk or me parking in the middle of the street," Costello said.

For years, bicycling advocates said Baltimore officials were slow to build protected bike lanes — which often means eliminating lanes for cars — even as they sprouted in cities such as Chicago, Indianapolis and New York. Portland, Ore., for instance, has 186 miles of bike lanes, including 11.5 miles of protected or buffered bike lanes.

Baltimore officials are working to catch up.

Costello said various federal, state and local agencies have spent more than $7 million on bike infrastructure in the city.

"If we're going to spend these types of capital dollars, then we need to be protecting it," he said.

Cornish said motorists are using the bike lanes as loading zones.

"The penalties for parking in a travel lane should be more consistent," she said. "If I were to stop my truck in the middle of Charles Street, get out and walk away, my truck wouldn't be there when I got back."

A majority of the City Council has signed on as co-sponsors of Costello's bill, making it likely to pass. He is planning a hearing on the matter for March.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, said Young backs the bill.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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