Tuesday’s ride took me down the hill and to the left for another visit to the cryotherapy chamber. It was already hot as balls, as they say, and by the time I got to the place I was totally ready to get frozen. After I left I tooled over to Potomac Street to check out the status of the new protected bike lane the city’s putting in there–or was putting in there before neighbors complained so loudly it was cancelled, and then put in again after cyclists sued the city for cancelling it. The final design is, I think, still up for negotiation, but last I heard the protected two way cycletrack is staying, and parking is changing to make room for fire trucks, the main concern of those angry neighbors.
I have to say the whole thing has been incredibly disheartening. Who can be against a protected bike lane? The ones on Maryland Avenue and Fallsway are so great, from a bicyclist’s perspective. I’m so much less afraid of being hit and killed by drivers who think they can edge past me, or drivers who are so oblivious as they stare at their cell phones and sandwiches that they just don’t see me. And drivers benefit, too: now they know where I am, and I’m physically out of their way. Drivers might not like the look of a lane, or might think it takes up too much space that they’d like for themselves, but would they really get so huffy they’d organize to protest against it? Please. What a weird thing to choose to get up in arms about, what with icebergs the size of Delaware breaking off, imminent and ongoing wars, and that part where the Civil War was 150 years ago and we’re still really far away from full emancipation, just for a few examples of things way worse than having the city install a protected bike facility on your street.
But a bunch of folks along Potomac Street are just that mad about that cycletrack. They’re mad about losing parking. I don’t blame them. The average row home in Baltimore is like 14-16 feet wide, a car is maybe 10 feet long, longer if it’s a van or SUV or whatever, and lots of those houses are two or even three car households. I’m no mathlete, but it is physically impossible to fit all those cars on those streets. It must be a huge hassle to have to drive around looking for parking every night when you get home from work, and being the loser in musical parking spots must suck. These are some of the reasons I don’t own a car at all–parking in a city is such a drag. To lose even 5-10 spots in a neighborhood must feel really threatening and make you feel like your own life just got harder so a few people on bikes can have things easier.
But the lane is part of a larger plan to build protected bike facilities throughout the city, and bike lanes keep people safer and get more riders on the roads which in turn makes people even more safe, and your cries for parking start to look pretty whiny when it’s about keeping people on bikes alive. So the complaints changed. Next the concern was that the bike lane narrowed the traffic lane so much that fire trucks wouldn’t be able to fit down the street to do their work. Sure, you could take away a few more spots to there’d be better turning room for emergency vehicles, but big trucks still wouldn’t be able to extend fully to reach fires, maybe, and that would mean even more parking lost.
So then it was bike safety versus fire safety, and that’s a much better strategy if you want that new bike lane removed. The city agreed on the fire safety thing, even though Potomac Street with a bike lane wouldn’t be any narrower than many streets in the neighborhood that are narrow to begin with because Baltimore is an old city that wasn’t designed for today’s ginormous vehicles, and because many streets have turned to angled parking to increase parking in the neighborhood. A car is only like 5-6 wide (an average sedan is 5 3/4 feet wide), so you can fit a lot more cars on the street this way. For a lot of people the fire safety thing is a canard, because the city with its hundreds of miles of narrow streets manages fire safety in spite of it all. This was and is still about parking. There will never be enough parking until some people give up their cars. This is such a losing game, but the players are doubling down.
The city’s current plan after being sued to keep the bike lane as is is to remove parking on one side of the street altogether and add angled parking. That keeps the available parking, mostly, and means a wider travel lane for emergency vehicles. That’s a good compromise, right? Fire safety gets its extra nod since neighbors were concerned about that, and cyclists get the protected lane and the city moves forward on building a citywide bicycle infrastructure without setting the precedent that homeowners on individual streets can derail whole city projects. Thing is, when you buy a house you don’t buy the street in front of it, and you aren’t entitled to determine its use. Lots of people use these streets, including me, on Tuesday, availing myself of neighborhood services. I get being frustrated at the change, but none of us are promised streets that look the same forever. Streets are collective projects, not individual ones.
So there I was, riding the unfinished lane, dodging the orange barrels people have shoved in the middle of it. At every intersection are these signs on poles encouraging people to keep fighting the lane. Many houses have signs that say things about how the inhabitants are against angled parking, against losing parking, or wanting a better bike lane, though this lane is built to the latest safety standards. Neighbors have raised over $5,000 to print signs and talk to lawyers to try and get this bike lane out of here, without even giving it a chance. It makes the street ugly, in so many ways. Such hostility! It really is just about parking at this point, and to me that’s just shameful. Parking over continuing to build an infrastructure to make the city safer for the third of us without cars.
I rode the lane to the northern end and then headed west for lunch and then north and east for a doctor’s appointment before heading home, grateful to hit the Fallsway cycletrack for that last bit. That’s a noisy and angry bunch down in Canton, but I have to believe they’re in the minority, because I don’t want to share this city with those kinds of neighbors.
Dear Kate- can we pre-order your book right now! Wonderful words. Thank you.
Too kind! Thank you, Evan!