Residents oppose bike path in park Some say racism spurs arguments against trail

council to hold hearing

'Blown out of proportion'

July 26, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Accusations of racism and elitism are rocking Annapolis' Germantown and Homewood communities in light of opposition from several residents to a bicycle path through Poplar Park.

Some residents have petitioned the city council to build sidewalks instead of the 6-foot-wide path between Windell Avenue and Taylor Avenue because they fear the path could be bad for the environment and would increase traffic and crime in the area.

Trouble over the patch of wooded area bordering the communities has been brewing since Annapolis won a state grant in 1995 to cover 80 percent of the $191,000 cost for the 0.7-mile path. Opposition to the bicycle path has escalated with the start of construction in October only months away.

Tomorrow night, residents are expected to testify before a city council public hearing to try to prevent the construction.

"This bike path will be used by bicyclers, walkers and mothers with strollers," said Patty Waldman, who has lived on Poplar Avenue for seven years. "This path would suddenly become accessible to the handicapped. This is a city. We're not in the suburbs. I think it's very important that all people get to use it.

"There is no proof that people walking over here from other communities will cause the crime to rise," said Waldman, whose husband, Bob, helped plan the path. "It's all been blown out of proportion."

Waldman and many other Poplar Avenue neighbors believe the opposition to the path has to do with race. Adam Schulman, who testified at a recent council meeting when opponents of the project held an impromptu hearing before the city council to protest the path, said opponents were misleading people by describing the path as a connector between high-crime areas of the Clay Street community to the east and Annapolis Gardens to the northwest.

Clay Street and Annapolis Gardens are mostly black communities with public housing while residents of the German- town and Homewood communities are mostly white.

"It was inflammatory," Schulman said.

Not so, argue Waldman's neighbors who have posted red-and-white "Don't Pave Poplar Park" signs on their lawns. Besides testifying before the council, opponents also circulated a petition against the path and persuaded Mayor Dean L. Johnson to schedule the hearing tomorrow night.

'A graying neighborhood'

"Oh, I'm against it," said Florence Cherry, a Poplar Avenue resident for 31 years. "There will be a lot of drug people coming through here. It'll bring other communities through here. This is a graying neighborhood. I'd like it to stay that way. We don't need a bike path."

Residents like Cynthia Eckard, who began the impromptu hearing on the issue at the council meeting, believes the trail should be stopped for reasons unrelated to race.

It will increase the number of motorists who already whiz by Poplar Avenue along Glen Avenue, she says.

"The path is completely unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money," said Eckard, who has gathered more than 100 signatures on a petition opposing the path. "It will have a negative impact on the habitat. It will serve very few people. It may invite crime. It will create a nightmarish traffic situation. It's obscene.

"Poplar Park is near and dear to our hearts. It is one of those sacred places in the city," Eckard said. "The idea that the people who oppose this are considered racist is offensive to me."

About 4 acres through woods and the Germantown and Homewood communities, the designated Poplar Park area is not far from busy West Street and the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. The site once served as a railway bed for trains carrying people, food and supplies into Annapolis from Washington and Baltimore more than 40 years ago.

Over the past five years or so, residents of the community's quaint homes with picket fences and American flags have planted flower gardens. Poplar trees and stone retaining walls near the tracks remain.

One compromise made

Bike path supporters and opponents have tried working together -- they agreed to reduce the original 12-foot-wide path to 6 feet -- but the recent hostilities have caught the attention of neighboring residents as well.

"These are the most selfish people I've seen yet," said Jim Martin, a resident of the neighboring Admiral Heights community who watched when angry Germantown-Homewood residents testified in front of the council. Martin stood and urged the council to move forward with the plans.

"Are we going to allow one community to veto a good idea that benefits the entire city?" he said of the Germantown-Homewood area. "This project is part of a major effort to find alternatives to driving. It would enhance my ability for walking."

Johnson agreed. The Poplar Park bicycle path is a key component of the city's master plan for parks, which calls for almost 40 miles of interconnecting hiker-biker trails. The trail would cross the Naval Academy Bridge to link to the southern end of the county's Baltimore and Annapolis Trail.

The other major project in the parks and paths program now moving forward is the Spa Creek trail, which is being funded partly with a federal grant won in 1996. The path will ramble along Russell Street, Spa Road and into Truxtun Heights Park.

Part of parks program

Johnson, who once represented the Germantown-Homewood area as its alderman, said, "It's very much a part of the Parks and Paths for People Program that the council adopted 11 years ago.

"I think a lot of the opposition has resulted from misinformation," Johnson said. "Some people would envision the path as an alternative route for roads, but that would be absolutely horrendous. We are not paving over all of Poplar Park."

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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