“Our main focus was to make sure a two-way, protected bike lane was retained and whatever solution the city came up with didn’t sacrifice safe cycling infrastructure for parking,” says Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, the local advocacy group that sued Baltimore city in June to prevent the demolition.
The restraining order is part of an emotional summer for the city’s cycling community. (This month, a well-known rider and bike shop worker was killed after being rear-ended by a car.) But there’s a larger question that goes beyond the specific Baltimore case and addresses the anxieties that cycling advocates in several cities across the U.S. have been facing recently as more cities ramp up bike lanes, often over the objections of drivers and residents: Once you build them, can you keep them?
Cities elsewhere in the U.S. have experienced similar battles. In Pittsburgh, Mayor Bill Peduto is facing a “bikelash” from aggrieved motorists and business owners who are unhappy with the city’s bike-lane building boom. Protected bike lanes in New York City were menaced by a group of residents that sued the city to remove the Prospect Park West lanes; last September, plaintiffs dropped their lawsuit. Other protected lanes have been removed in Northwest Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, and Boise, Idaho. But in each of those cases, the lanes were temporary pilot projects to judge their efficacy. Even in Boulder, Colorado, where a protected bike lane was removed after only 11 weeks, the lane was originally only planned as a one-year pilot.
Protected bike lanes that are carved out of existing streets—often set off from traffic by flexposts, parking lanes, or other barriers—can find themselves under fire because they’re perceived to be taking up space at the expense of cars, or they make it more dangerous for cars and other vehicles to navigate already-narrow roads. A common criticism of protected bike lanes that hug curbs is that parking either has to be reduced or removed entirely to accommodate a lane. Drivers in Chicago complained enough about two protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard and Marshall Boulevard that eventually both the lanes were downgraded to buffered bike lanes instead of ones situated next to curbs and set off by flexposts.
“The design of the lanes was fine. It was an issue where people were kind of broadsided by it,” says John Greenfield, editor of Streetsblog Chicago and transportation columnist for the Chicago Reader. “People were getting ticketed for parking in the wrong spaces and people didn’t like parking next to moving traffic on busy roads.”
In Canton, residents had voiced concerns in an online petition about the loss of parking spaces. But they also introduced a novel angle, arguing that further narrowing of Potomac Street—reducing it from two traffic lanes to one—would run afoul of the International Fire Code, which mandates 20 feet of unobstructed street width to make room for full-size firetrucks.
One vocal group, Canton Neighbors for a Better Potomac Street Bike Lane, says that while it’s in favor of a bike lane, it would prefer a different design, one that doesn’t accommodate a cycle track. “By removing a lane of parking, you have residents who have to cross two lanes of traffic—a travel lane and a bike lane—to get to their homes,” says group spokesperson Steve Bloom. “Folks are not opposed to the bike lane at all. But the cycle track design that Bikemore has advocated for is indicated for a high-stress, high-speed street for traffic traveling greater than 35 miles per hour. … That doesn’t characterize Potomac Street.”
In response to the criticism, Mayor Pugh first announced that the new cycle track on Potomac would be redesigned as a buffered bike lane; then she said the city would tear out the nearly-completed cycle track entirely, undoing about $100,000 of expenses in a multi-year, $775,000 phased project that would also include stormwater management improvements a year or two after the cycle track was fully installed. That’s when Bikemore sued the city. On June 9, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the demolition slated for June 12, pending a hearing.
On June 27, the day before the hearing, the legal saga came to a close. Bikemore and the city entered a settlement agreement, preserving the cycle track currently on Potomac Street as a modified street plan is formulated by the city and presented to the neighborhood for public comment before any final construction begins.