Judge Issues Restraining Order to Keep Baltimore Mayor From Erasing Protected Bike Lane

Pandering to NIMBYs, Catherine Pugh wants to rip out a protected bike lane that has been in the works for years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to design and build.

A judge is the only thing standing between Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and her mission to remove this protected bike lane. Image: WMAR-TV
A judge is the only thing standing between Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and her mission to remove this protected bike lane. Image: WMAR-TV

Barely six months after taking office, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has, in a matter of weeks, made a name for herself as the mayor who rips out protected bike lanes.

The Pugh administration had been installing a protected bike lane on Potomac Street that was years in the making when, last month, she halted construction as the project neared completion. Bike advocates, the local councilman, and the neighborhood association all backed the bike lane, but Pugh bowed to a group of anti-bike lane NIMBYs who seized upon a suburban-style fire code technicality that until then hadn’t been an issue for Baltimore’s narrow streets.

Mayor Catherine Pugh. Photo: City of Baltimore
Mayor Catherine Pugh. Photo: City of Baltimore

Instead of standing up for street safety, the Pugh administration released a new design concept that created extra-wide lanes for fire trucks. The new design sacrificed the bike lane’s quality while keeping parking in place, resulting in wide lanes that encourage drivers to speed and double park, while sticking bike riders with space that is either too narrow or, on some blocks, unprotected from car traffic.

But watering down the bike lane wasn’t enough for the Pugh administration, which has changed its position yet again by deciding to remove it completely. James T. Smith, Jr., chief of strategic alliances for Mayor Pugh and former secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said in a letter last week that the city will tear out the bike lane and “restart the infrastructure design process.”

According to estimates from local bike advocacy group Bikemore, the city has already spent about $200,000 designing and installing the bike lane, which had been included in city planning documents for the past five years. The project received federal funds distributed by the state and met design guidelines set by the Federal Highway Administration and the National Association of City Transportation Officials before Pugh decided to cave to its detractors.

Now, neighborhood bike lane backers, with the support of Bikemore, have sued to stop the city from removing the bike lane, arguing that the administration’s decisions have been “arbitrary and capricious.” On Friday, Baltimore City circuit court judge Althea M. Handy, finding “immediate, substantial and irreparable harm,” granted a temporary restraining order preventing the city from removing the bike lane.

Bikemore issued a statement about why it decided to go to court:

Bikemore and the plaintiffs in this case believed the decision to demolish the Potomac Street Protected Bike Lane to be arbitrary and not in the best interest of Baltimore residents. After three weeks of engaging in meetings with Baltimore City officials a decision was made that jeopardizes significant federal transportation dollars and puts at peril plans to build a safe, comfortable network of separated bike facilities city wide. Realizing that all other avenues of advocacy had been exhausted including the nearly 1,000 emails and phone calls by Baltimore City residents urging the Mayor to reconsider this decision, we did what advocates do — hold those tasked with representing us accountable.

A spokesperson for the Baltimore City transportation department had no comment.

  • HamTech87

    The firefighters union has also argued against the proliferation of cell phone towers. Should be interesting when Mayor Pugh starts demolishing cell towers, and then she and her constituents can’t get any service.

  • acerttr250

    We idolize firefighting waaaaaay too much.

  • Jeff

    “arbitrary and capricious.”

    Where have I heard this standard used before with respect to a lawsuit involving bike lanes…

  • Jed Weeks

    It’s the good guys using it this time 🙂

  • Smalltimore

    I live on South Potomac and love the bike lane. Once it is completed, it will look better and have clear signage. The main issue people had was the roll out, communication during the rollout, not understanding the phases, missinformation and a splash of NIIMBYism.

  • inesalag

    Think outside the box… you Pugh.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Can we stop and talk about photography for a moment. What the heck is going on in that photo of the mayor? She looks like an insane Barbie after 100 hours in photoshop.

  • Warren Meech Wells

    People in Fells Point with kids need to start taking photos like the one above and tweet them at Mayor Pugh.

  • Just because it’s the same phrasing doesn’t mean it’s equally true or false in different cases. This sounds like it is arbitrary and capricious. Lanes that have been advocated for years, and planned and shopped in public consultations for years aren’t.

  • John Simms

    Then do the job. The whole job if you think it’s so simple. Just remember when the fire department can’t get to the house due to small impassable lanes. Don’t blame the FD.

  • Frank Kotter

    A civil fire truck is, by law, not allowed to be wider than 102 inches. The lane you refer to as ‘to’ small is 120. No one is blaming any FD should someone be double parked or their way is otherwise obstructed.

    What we do blame each and every FD for is being obstructionist in advancing progressive street design with the illogical argument you just advanced.

  • acerttr250

    Everything burns down in Europe and those places with streets less than 14 feet wide. Thank you for pointing out this calamity .

  • KilroyRock

    Pugh already isn’t giving her constituents any service, so I’d say that’s right up her alley.

  • Frank Kotter

    ‘Everything burns down in Europe…’

    Hot take: you have not the foggiest clue what you are talking about.

  • J

    The mayor’s appearance has absolutely nothing to do with this.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    They mayor’s appearance hasn’t got anything to do with that photograph, either. That’s why it’s fascinating.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Frank, I think maybe that’s called sarcasm.

  • Well that’s an unfortunately welcoming development. This woman is a danger.

  • Reggie

    Is it even legal to rip out what I assume was a bond-funded improvement?

  • basenjibrian

    lol.

  • basenjibrian

    Doesn’t matter anyway. We are MAGA now, and we don’t listen to any of them soft sissy Europeans and their bad! bad! luxury cars they dump on us (via American transplant factories that employ thousands). We need wide streets. Wide enough for the typical baby boomers to ride five abreast in their hoverounds! .

  • J

    The cycling world has enough problems with misogyny as it is. Please let it go.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Why do you have to be so precious. This is a crime against photography, and it’s the second time it’s been featured on this blog. Here’s a competent photograph of the subject.

    http://data.baltimoresun.com/voter-guide-2016/images/candidates/pugh.jpg

  • Jason

    Wait, seriously? What’s their objection to cell phone towers?

  • Donald Holland

    What is really needed are tougher penalties for motorists who injure or kill cyclists. The fact that motorists are inside their “killing machines” does not make them less responsible for their actions. However, Baltimore’s “justice” system exists to serve law-breakers, not law abiding citizens, so it is easier to meddle with streets than be tough on rogue motorists.

  • Frank Kotter

    dammit! I was really on a mean streak…..

  • acerttr250

    Fire fighters should be fighting the rare fire. Not designing cities.

  • neroden

    Nope.

  • neroden

    They can’t burn down houses and run away as easily if people have cell service? It’s well documented that arsonists usually become firefighters. I’m going to assume that all the asinine positions taken by firefighters’ unions are driven by the demands of the arsonists within their ranks.