Annapolis bike lane experiment ends two weeks early

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

After considerable pressure from business owners, and with the United States Boat Show just days away, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley pulled the bike lane experiment from Main Street on Monday.

Buckley’s bike lane and sidewalk extension project, complete with public cafe tables and chairs, was intended to pilot new street programming and point Annapolis in the direction of progressive American cities gearing infrastructure away from cars. The experiment was to last 30 days and end on Oct. 19.

But the project upset downtown businesses and residents, who saw the rollout as sloppy and unethical. Some pointed to the legal ambiguity surrounding the setup and approval of the project.

The mayor did not seek Historic Preservation Commission approval, saying its oversight does not apply to temporary projects. Chair Pat Zeno disagreed.

Buckley, at an afternoon news conference on Church Circle, explained the decision to pull the bike lane and sidewalk expansion project followed a meeting Thursday with merchants.

“They expressed their concern with the bike path during the boat show, which the merchant consider their Super Bowl. I had to take into account these stakeholders, and merchants are very important to me,” Buckley said. “I need to be a leader who can listen.”

Staff from the mayor’s office attended the meeting last week, where he answered questions on his intentions, past and future. Those gathered challenged the mayor to remove the pilot before the boat show, to avoid parking mayhem. He didn’t commit at the time. But the staff collected surveys asking questions about support for various pedestrian- and bike-friendly options for Main Street.

Buckley said at the news conference he would continue pursuing change, but do so with stakeholder input. He plans to meet monthly with the downtown retailers to form a committee that would explore alternate options for Main Street — reversing traffic, creating a pedestrian plaza during rebricking, expanding Hillman Garage.

Business owners attended the press conference, watching from the curb as Buckley talked about the need to listen to owners who say the bike lane hurt them. “My record is not hurting business, my record is helping business. And if the merchants are telling me I’m hurting their business, I have to listen to that and that’s what leadership is about.”

But when Eyes On Main owner Rick Lepski spoke on behalf of businesses who have seen losses during the four weeks of build-out and pilot, Buckley pushed back. He blamed the soggy weather for potentially dampened sales.

“I’m sure you had a plan for when Main Street was going to be closed (for rebricking) for six months,” Buckley said.

Lepski said the rebricking was planned, while the bike lane was a surprise business owners didn’t prepare for.

“You hurt us,” he said. “You hurt every one of these people here.”

Buckley returned: “I don’t think its every one of these people here, Rick, I think it’s just you.”

Lepski, in an interview before the meeting, said he and other merchants have retained attorneys and are prepared to take legal action if the city doesn’t reimburse them for losses.

Kostas Alexakis, who hosted the Thursday meeting at O’Brien’s Oyster Bar & Grillfish, said the fight over the bike lane has “exposed a strong and determined merchant group that is willing to fight to preserve character” of the city.

“We can learn from Alexandria’s efforts to upgrade the experience without damaging the charming character of this very unique city,” he said.

The city has data on the number of bikes that used the lane, though it’s not yet available. Officials are also gathering input from residents via a survey posted to the Annapolis website. There will be a public meeting to discuss the life after the bike lane in the coming weeks.

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