Del. Lewis calls on Mayor Young to save East Baltimore bike lane; city to go ahead with changes to help church

Del. Robbyn Lewis called Tuesday on Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young to save a protected bike lane in East Baltimore — a part of which the city plans to tear out.

In a letter to Young, Lewis, a Baltimore Democrat, said she is requesting a “postponement of the deconstruction, or ‘modification’ of a specific segment of the Monument Street protected bikeway located between Aisquith Street and Central Avenue.”

Lewis said she believed a compromise could be reached between city officials, a church near the bike lane that objected to it because of lost parking and residents of the area who use it to get around. Protected bike lanes are typically separated from traffic by plastic poles, other barriers or parking spaces.

“Mr. Mayor, please halt the deconstruction and bring everyone to the table,” Lewis wrote.

Nevertheless, Young said in an interview Tuesday at least a portion of the bike lane was scheduled to be torn out Wednesday.

He said the nearby church was never consulted about the plan to build the lane, and its installation about six months ago eliminated some street parking spaces used by church members.

“The bike lane has to be altered,” said Young, a Democrat, who became mayor this spring when Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned. “I was not consulted, even when I was president of the City Council.”

Lewis said she recently spoke with Young by phone about the matter and she agrees that parking for the church must be considered.

“You kindly explained that members of the [Fountain] Baptist Church, located at 1215 East Monument Street, had contacted you some time in the past to express their objection to the loss of approximately 12 parking spaces resulting from construction,” Lewis wrote.

A message left at the church was not returned Tuesday.

But the delegate said in her letter that she disagreed with Young’s contention that bike lanes aren’t important to Baltimore residents who are black. Both Lewis and Young are black.

See also: Baltimore crews begin removing Roland Park bike lane, despite protests »

“I agreed with you completely that our city and state agencies must do better when it comes to timely and inclusive outreach with our African American community, however, I disagreed with your suggestion that protected bike infrastructure is not a concern of African American people,” Lewis wrote.

She pointed out she organized a bike ride Saturday via the bike lane that attracted a racially diverse crowd.

“The beautiful diversity of this group reinforced for me the importance of expanding options for moving around for all people,” Lewis wrote. “About half the participants were people of color — African American, Asian and Hispanic. There is a stereotype that black folks do not ride bikes, but this is absolutely false.”

In an interview, Young denied suggesting that black people aren’t interested in bike lanes. He said he enjoys riding bikes himself.

“I never said anything about ‘Black people don’t ride bikes,’” the mayor said.

City Councilman Robert Stokes, who represents the area, said residents who live in the neighborhood complained about the bike lane in addition to the church. He said he hopes a compromise can be found that satisfies all the affected groups.

“There was no communication,” Stokes said. “I don’t want to blame anyone, but there was a communication breakdown.”

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the bike lane still will exist, but in a modified form. The changes to the bike lane will permit more parking spots, while directing cyclists onto the sidewalk for a portion of their ride, he wrote in an email.

“When we originally created the bike lane through Monument Street — we did not take into account the senior residents of this community that use the parking spaces that were taken away from the curbside by the installation of the bike lane,” Davis wrote. “Once the bike lane was completed, [Baltimore City Department of Transportation] began to receive numerous complaints from senior citizens and other members of this community.”

The advocacy group Bikemore argued that tearing out part of the bike lane endangers the city’s ability to win federal and state transportation grants — and undercuts recent legislation mandating an approach to transportation planning that looks beyond the use of cars alone.

“Spending $50,000 to redesign a brand-new bike lane so that it is less safe is not OK,” said Liz Cornish, Bikemore’s director. “It violates the city's Complete Streets law and will continue to put the city out of favor with the Maryland Department of Transportation. Why are we risking people's safety and millions in state funding for transportation for 12 parking spaces when multiple alternatives exist?”

If part of the bike lane is torn out, it will be the latest controversy in which the city has installed bike lanes only to attempt to alter or remove them later in response to complaints. Similar actions have taken place in Canton and Roland Park.

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