Baltimore bike lane construction delayed again, amid fire code concerns

Baltimore bicyclists may have to wait nearly another year for protected bike lanes on Monument, Centre and Madison streets.

The city’s Board of Estimates approved a 318-day extension on Wednesday — a move that frustrated bike advocates. The vote allows the city to delay for a second time construction on the Downtown Bike Network to reconfigure the lanes to maintain 20-foot street clearance for fire department vehicles.

The $2.85 million project calls for more than 10 miles of bike lanes from Charles Village to the Inner Harbor and Mount Vernon to Johns Hopkins Hospital. The contract, awarded in 2016 to the Baltimore construction company P. Flanigan and Sons, is about 70 percent finished and has racked up $2.3 million in cost overruns, according to the Board of Estimates agenda.

The work originally was scheduled to be completed by January 2017 but was extended through December. This extension gives the city until Oct. 31 to finish construction.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who controls the spending board, referred questions about the bike lanes to Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau, who said in an interview last month that construction would continue this spring.

“We’ll be installing lanes starting in the spring and summer,” Pourciau told The Baltimore Sun on Jan. 19.

Pourciau’s senior adviser, Frank Murphy, said Wednesday that still could happen.

“[For] at least one of them, we’re in agreement with [the fire department] that we’re ready to roll ahead,” Murphy said.

He said the transportation department could not commit to finishing all three bike lanes by the end of the summer, however.

“I don’t know enough about where the fire department discussions will lead,” he said.

The fire department did not respond to a request for comment.

The delay infuriated Bikemore, the city’s bicycling advocacy group, which called the city’s request for a time extension a “total failure in leadership” on the part of city officials.

The 20-foot clearance issue was first raised by neighbors who wanted to remove a bike lane in Canton that took up parking spots on Potomac Street. Bikemore successfully sued last year to stop the city from ripping out that lane, but the city put others on Centre, Monument and Madison streets on hold to reconfigure them to allow more clearance.

The advocacy group then submitted a Maryland Public Information Act request and obtained a list of all city street resurfacing projects with less than 20 feet of clearance. Only those with bike lanes were being delayed, the group learned.

Murphy said the discrepancy may have to do with bike lane projects creating new infrastructure, rather than simply resurfacing an old street.

“We’re seeing a continued disparity between road design that includes bike lanes and road design that doesn’t,” said Jed Weeks, policy director of Bikemore. “The Downtown Bike Network is already a year behind. Now it’s being extended another year.”

If less than 20 feet of clearance is truly a safety threat, the city should be applying the code to all projects, said Bikemore executive director Liz Cornish — not just those with bike lanes.

“They’re not applying this interpretation of the fire code equitably for streets across the city,” Cornish said. “If it is, in fact, a safety issue, it is a safety issue on all streets.”

Jon Laria, chairman of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission, said the transportation and fire departments are “working in good faith to resolve this.”

“They need to work as quickly as possible,” Laria said. “Other cities seem to have resolved this. There’s no reason we can’t have a resolution that allows us to continue installing bike facilities.”

Amid the Potomac Street kerfuffle last year, the city informed Pierce Flanigan, president of P. Flanigan and Sons, that the bike lane construction would be put on hold until city officials could figure out how to redesign the lanes to code, he said.

Flanigan said his firm is ready to construct the lanes as soon as the city is.

“It’s a great contract,” he said. “We really believe in adding to the bicycle infrastructure and we’re going to get it right.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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