City plans to tear out protected bike lane on Potomac Street in Canton

The Baltimore Department of Transportation will tear out the protected bike lane on Potomac Street in Canton in the next couple of weeks and go back to the drawing board, according to a letter delivered to residents this week.

The letter comes after weeks of acrimony over the protected bike lane, known as a cycletrack. The city began building the cycletrack in April, but some residents said they were concerned that emergency vehicles would not be able to travel the street, made more narrow by the protected bike lane.

They said the street no longer conformed to fire code standards and also had 10 fewer on-street parking spaces.

International safety standards generally call for street widths of at least 20 feet for fire apparatus, though bike advocates have said the code is subject to interpretation and that many streets in the city do not conform to the standard.

The city responded last week with what it called a compromise — keeping the bike lane buffered from traffic with a row of cars from Fait Street to Boston Street, but leaving it unbuffered by cars from Fait Street to Eastern Avenue.

But a letter dated Wednesday and signed by James T. Smith, Mayor Catherine Pugh's chief of strategic alliances, said the administration will "restart the infrastructure design process" on Potomac Street.

"This will ensure that residents, advocates and emergency management professionals have the opportunity for input on the Potomac Street bike lane design," the letter said.

The Baltimore mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter went on to say the city will be "completely removing" the newly installed cycletrack, reverting to its previous configuration in which residents parked next to the curb. It will then create multiple bike lane concepts and hold a public meeting for people to air their views on the options.

"We look forward to an open and transparent process that leads to the best results for the residents of our city," the letter concluded.

Bikemore, the city's bike advocacy group, sharply criticized the decision. Liz Cornish, the group's director, called it a "dangerous precedent."

"What this administration has decided to do is to make Potomac Street less safe for people who walk and bike," Cornish said. "I'm also concerned with the administration pitting something like emergency access with creating safer streets for all. I don't see those things as competing with one another."

Cornish said the group disagrees with the city's interpretation of the fire code. Many streets in Baltimore are narrower than 20 feet, whether that's because they have a lane or two of parking or simply were designed to be smaller, she said. The code should not be selectively applied to streets with bike lanes, she said.

"We believe that the city should follow the lead of other cities across the country that have found a way to provide safe, efficient emergency access and all-ages comfortable bike facilities," Cornish said.

Cornish said she was concerned that the city may decide to rip out two other cycletracks: one on Maryland Avenue and another on Roland Avenue.

Douglas Kaufman, president of the Canton Community Association, said the group was "surprised" by the letter and said he hoped all those affected can come up with a solution.

"I am very optimistic that we will have some form of protected bike lane," Kaufman said. "We have many, many people who want to bike in the community, but they are petrified to ride their bikes in city streets, hence the need for a protected bike lane."

Kaufman said Canton, which suffers from traffic congestion and a lack of parking, would be well served by a protected bike lane.

"We feel strongly that a protected bike lane will serve the community and encourage bike use which will help alleviate traffic and parking needs," he said.

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