City Council to hear pro-bicycle bills

Measures seek to make streets safer for those on two wheels

May 05, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Storm grates might seem like an inconsequential matter to drivers, but for bicyclists their design can make the difference between a smooth ride and serious injury.

Grates are just one of the topics to be considered by the City Council Thursday as it holds hearings on a package of bills that seeks to promote bicycling in Baltimore.

Bicycle advocates believe the group of five bills on the hearing schedule is the largest ever brought before the Council on that topic. They say they have gathered more than 1,000 signatures on petitions in support of the bills, and they're hoping for a heavy turnout for the 4 p.m. hearing before the Community Development Subcommittee.

"What we're seeking is to make the city more of a bike-friendly place," said Carol Silldorff, executive director of One Less Car, a group that advocates for alternatives to private vehicles.

The bills, whose lead sponsor is Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, address such matters as redesigning storm grates, requiring bike racks in new developments, ticketing motorists who park in bike lanes and improving communication between bicyclists and police on safety issues.

Another Clarke bill would require the city to adopt a Complete Streets program, joining a nationwide trend of integrating the concerns of bicyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair users — and not just vehicles — into planning of transportation projects.

Bicycle and pedestrian advocates have enjoyed several years of favorable treatment from City Hall under the administration of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, an enthusiastic bicyclist and fitness buff. They see the bills as an early indicator of whether pro-bicycle policies will continue to thrive under mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who has been largely preoccupied with budget issues since Dixon's resignation in February.

Greg Hinchliffe, chairman of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the members of that largely holdover panel strongly support the bills but said he cannot speak for the mayor.

"A year ago, I could have answered an enthusiastic yes, but, as we know, things have changed at City Hall, and [the mayor] has been too busy with the transition and the financial crisis to pay much attention to us," he said in an e-mail. "That said, I know she is supportive of a greener city in general."

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for the mayor, said Rawlings-Blake is awaiting comments from city departments on each individual bill.

"More broadly, the mayor supports a more walkable and bike-able city," he said. "She's not taking a final position one way or another right now — just letting the legislative process take place."

Bicycle advocates are coming off a successful legislative session in Annapolis, during which they persuaded the General Assembly to pass a long-sought bill requiring motorists to allow a 3-foot buffer zone between their vehicles and bicycles. But that legislation was approved on the last weekend of the session after a significant struggle.

Silldorff said bicyclists usually encounter more "hospitable" treatment in Baltimore, where commuting by bicycle has become relatively commonplace after decades in which it was considered an oddity.

"To its credit, the Baltimore Department of Transportation has been moving to increasingly bike-friendly positions over the last ten years," Hinchliffe wrote. "This legislation is an attempt to codify these policies and 'lock in' the gains, while everyone is on board, just in case a future administration might not be quite as enlightened."

One of the policies the advocates want to make law is a requirement that any time a road is rebuilt, officials replace any grates whose openings run parallel to traffic with ones running perpendicular to it.

One Less Car President Greg Cantori said bicycle wheels can get caught in parallel-running or ones that are in poor condition.

"It's one of the worst type of accidents because it will grab the wheel, lock it and cause the cyclist to do a header," he said. "It's the worst kind because it puts you onto the pavement without any warning."

Cantori said such crashes usually cause facial injuries, fractured noses, broken teeth and damage to the spinal column. He said a dangerous grate prevents riders from keeping as far right as they otherwise would.

"I end up riding in the middle of the lane to get around it safely," he said.

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