Transportation Advocacy Organizations Join Together to Defend Complete Streets

The below letter was sent in support of Complete Streets from 1000 Friends of Maryland, Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, Bikemore, Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, Citizens Planning and Housing Association, and The Opportunity Coalition.

June 9, 2017  
The Honorable Catherine Pugh
Mayor, City of Baltimore
100 North Holliday Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Dear Mayor Pugh:

We are writing to express our concern over the removal of the Potomac Street protected bike lane in Southeast Baltimore, and the precedent set by this decision, based on an interpretation of the International Fire Code 20 foot unobstructed access rule for fire apparatus access roads.

When we commit to public safety, it requires us to act in the best interest of our citizens, to minimize risk, and ensure equal access to health and safety. Prioritizing efficient emergency access at the peril of safety of people walking and biking is problematic. It is the administration’s duty to make infrastructure safe for people who live and travel in Baltimore City under a variety of conditions. That means protecting people from traffic crashes as well as reducing risks of fire. Baltimore must not set a precedent that indicates the Baltimore City Fire Department is unable to safely fight fires on streets without 20 foot clear access.

Such a precedent has broad implications that extend beyond bike lanes. It potentially threatens portions of the Baltimore Red Line corridor and any other transit project that contains on-street rail or road diets associated with construction. It threatens new construction in our city, where best practices state streets should have travel lanes under 12 feet in width. It threatens all infill development and home retrofits on streets that have existing conditions narrower than 20 feet clear.

The broad International Fire Code adopted by Baltimore City is in conflict with the City’s local, context-sensitive engineering design guidelines. This conflict is not unique to Baltimore; many other historic cities such as Boston have found themselves at this crossroads and chosen to prioritize local, context sensitive design of streets over broad international code guidelines inappropriate for the dense urban built environment. Baltimore should follow their lead, not do the opposite. 

Lack of physical activity and a number of negative health outcomes are closely related to the built environment. One-third of Baltimore’s residents lack access to automobiles, and that number climbs to above 80% in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The number one cause of death for teens in the US is vehicular crashes. Those who do bike and walk in Baltimore suffer death and injury from being struck by cars at disproportionately high rates. Furthermore, many residents currently do not bike in Baltimore City precisely due the dearth of safe and protected bike lanes. These residents and commuters end up back in their cars increasing traffic and reducing available parking.

These are just a few of the reasons experts believe that the emphasis on designing for large fire trucks is not the best way to improve the health and safety of people. That's why the National Association of City Transportation Officials states in its Urban Street Design Guide: "Design for the most vulnerable street user rather than the largest possible vehicle. While designs must account for the challenges that larger vehicles, especially emergency vehicles, may face, these infrequent challenges must not dominate the safety or comfort of a site for the majority of daily users."  

In fact, referencing the needs of Baltimore's neighborhoods your own Transition Report states “The City should continue to invest in innovative efforts to link neighborhoods to opportunities within the City and throughout the close-in suburbs by strategically advocating for transit improvements from MTA and tactically expanding Baltimore BikeShare and dedicated bicycle lanes.”

Baltimore can not continue to prioritize moving and parking cars over moving people. Baltimore can not thrive without safe, reliable access to multiple modes of transportation.

If our city is to turn the corner and begin to thrive and grow, we must aggressively pursue buildout of safe places to walk, bike, and ride public transit. That means building out our protected bike network. It means fixing sidewalks city wide. It means building more bus-only lanes and building the Red Line. It does not mean catering to a few vocal opponents over the safety and needs of the majority of Baltimoreans. 

We urge you to follow the lead of our peer cities and your own transition report, reverse this decision, and move forward alongside us in fighting for a Baltimore that has safe, reliable transportation options for all people.

1000 Friends of Maryland
Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition
Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
Citizens Planning and Housing Association
The Opportunity Coalition