By Brandan Rogowski
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore City Department of Transportation will begin reconstructing the bike lane on Potomac Street in Canton later this month or in November, ending a nearly year-long debate in the neighborhood, according to officials.
The approximately 1.5-mile bike lane will be eight feet wide and run from Patterson Park to the Promenade. The lane is designed to be safer for bikers because it will be separated from motor vehicles by flexible posts. The redesign includes an all-ages, two-way bike lane with one-side back-in, angled parking.
The current Potomac Street design is a two-way bike lane with two parallel parking lanes, one on each side of the travel lane. The original project cost $775,000, financed by a grant from the federal government’s highway administration.
The bike lane was proposed by former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The bike lane was approved by the state of Maryland in October 2015 as a part of the city’s cycle track program.
The Baltimore City Fire Department granted an exception this summer to the new proposal that will allow for a 19-foot travel area for emergency vehicles. With the fire department action, resident concerns that the street would not meet the fire code standard of a 20-foot travel lane were resolved.
Blair Skinner, a spokeswoman for the city fire department, said her agency would have no comment.
Those in support of the bike lanes had safety concerns of their own.
“You’re far more likely to die in a crash if you’re riding a bike versus driving a car,” said Canton resident Stephanie Woods. “Whatever we can do to protect bikers is a good thing. If the bike lanes prevent even one biking accident, they’re worth it to me.”
Mark Edelson, attorney for the local advocacy group Bikemore and a bike-rider, said the Potomac Street bike lane will make bicycle riding in the neighborhood much safer.
“I ride out of my way to use the Potomac Street lane because of the protected facility,” Edelson said. “Drivers don’t care about bikes.”
Edelson said bike lanes are a way to create a better sense of community.
When on a bike, he said he is more likely to talk to people or stop in a local store and help the local economy.
Bikemore, a Baltimore bike advocacy group, has found that residents have a desire for bike lanes.
“In areas where Canton and surrounding neighborhoods have existing bicycle infrastructure, there are more people who commute by bicycle than the overall Baltimore average,” said Jed Weeks, the group’s policy director. “In areas in Canton where there is no bicycle infrastructure, there are almost no bicycle commuters. This shows that there is desire for infrastructure, and when you build it, people will ride on it.”
Some Canton residents argue that the bike lanes aren’t used and that they take away parking spots from a highly populated area.
The new Potomac Street design is expected to take away approximately 20 parking spaces.
“I rarely actually see people using the bike lane,” said Canton resident Mike Pugaczewski. “Most of the time they are just riding in the road to begin with. Regardless, either way you are going to have to ride on other main streets to get where you want to go.”
“They are taking away parking in Canton,” Pugaczewski added. “It’s a pretty populated area and I think we need the most amount of parking we can have. Otherwise, we’re going to be parking blocks away.”
Some residents said they are able to see both sides of the debate.
“I feel for the people who are losing parking spaces,” Woods said. “It was already hard to find a parking space in Canton and this makes it harder.”
Edelson said he hopes more people will use bikes and that two-car families will turn to one-car families. This, he said, would reduce the need for vehicle parking spaces.
Edelson said the new proposal is a good compromise between both sides. He said that while the neighborhood will have fewer parking spots, the new bike plan increases the width of the motor vehicle travel lane.
Bikemore sees additional positives to the bike lanes.
“The cost of installing this infrastructure is far cheaper than any other kind of road improvement, and provides more jobs per capita than any other kind of road improvement,” Weeks said. “Bike lanes are a great investment for cities to make, especially cities that have limited control over their public transportation systems, like Baltimore.”
The construction of the Potomac Street redesign should take approximately a month. Phase II of the cycle track plan will begin at a later date.
Phase II calls for constructing a two-way bike lane on Potomac Street between Eastern Avenue and Boston Street. It is set to take place in 2018, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.