Mayor to sign bike safety bills

In a sign of the growing influence of Baltimore's bicyclists, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will sign two bills Friday intended to promote safety on two wheels in the city.

One of the measures, which recently cleared the City Council, would require the use of bicycle-safe storm grates on any new roads in the city. The other would increase the fine for motorists who park in bicycle lanes.

The council passed both measures after hearings in which dozens of advocates showed up to urge tougher measures to make the city more bicycle-friendly.

Both of the bills, which the mayor will sign in a public ceremony in Harbor East, were introduced by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

The first requires the city to use grates that run perpendicular to traffic over sewer inlets. Bicyclists have complained that grates that run parallel to the direction of traffic can catch bicycle tires and throw riders from their bikes. The use of perpendicular grates is already city Transportation Department policy, but the bill would make it mandatory for all city contracts.

Carol Silldorff, executive director of the advocacy group One Less Car, said parallel grates cause many serious injuries to bicyclists.

"This will really make a big difference for commuters and recreational bicyclists," she said.

Nate Evans, bicycle planner for the city Transportation Department, said he doesn't know how many parallel grates are on the city's estimated 33,000 sewer inlets but believes they are still numerous.

"I dodge more inlets than I ride over," he said.

The other bill Rawlings-Blake will sign imposes a $75 fine on motorists who park in lanes designated for bicycle use.

According to Silldorff, blocking a bicycle lane poses a serious safety problem. "If a car's in a bicycle lane, the bike has to go around the car, which puts them into a vehicle traffic lane," she said.

The city now has 58 miles of bike lanes and is adding 23 more miles.

Silldorff said the $75 figure is the result of a compromise, noting that the fine for obstructing a motor vehicle lane is significantly higher. "If we need to increase that, we'll do so in the future," she said.

Clarke said that current statutes don't officially spell out the role of bike lanes. Her bill, she said, changes that and makes it an offense for a vehicle to park or stand in one. In addition, she said, it calls for the city administration to quickly replace all parallel grates that are now in bike lanes, whether the road is undergoing reconstruction or not.

After the ceremony, the mayor is scheduled to receive an award from the League of American Bicyclists honoring the city for its bike-friendly policies.

Silldorff said her group lobbied hard for the city to receive the honor. She said recent changes, including an expansion of bicycle lanes, have made Baltimore a better place to ride.

"It's giving bicyclists recognition that they're able to use our streets in a safe, fair manner," she said. "You'll probably see more people using bikes for commuting and other activities."

That, she said, will not only help relieve traffic congestion but will also improve city residents' health and the environment.

Clarke said there are economic reasons for Baltimore to be perceived as a good place for bicycling.

"It's crucial for attracting young people, for example, to live here and stay here," she said.

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