Dozens gathered in front of Baltimore City Hall on Monday to call on Mayor Brandon Scott and the City Council to consider changes to Baltimore’s Complete Streets roadway policy, saying the emphasis on bike lanes and traffic-calming devices is having unintended consequences on their neighborhoods.
Two groups, The Friends of Gwynns Falls Parkway and Eutaw Street Neighbors, organized the rally and held up signs that referred to the policy as “Incomplete Streets.” They called it a “copy-and-paste equity ordinance” that prioritizes the desires of special interest groups over the needs of everyday people.
“I am thoroughly disappointed with city leadership,” said Cheryl Glenn, a former state delegate who attended the rally. “People no longer have a voice.”
Organizers for Monday’s rally used robocalls and email blasts over the weekend to get residents to turn out. They listed four demands for city officials — an equitable distribution of resources, meaningful community engagement, transparency in city plans and truthfulness in the process.
Baltimore City officially adopted the Complete Streets framework in December of 2018, with Scott signing an updated implementation manual in March of 2021. In a letter introducing the manual, he calls it a “change to our priorities on our roadway network” that places additional emphasis on safety for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders.
The rally comes as cycling advocates say the mayor and city government haven’t done nearly enough to achieve a stated 2017 goal of 77 miles of separated bike lanes within five years.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday afternoon. But the mayor’s office said earlier this month that it was committed to working with communities.
“Mayor Scott has always been supportive of a comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach to Baltimore City’s transportation infrastructure, including ensuring access to safe bike lanes,” Scott’s office said in an emailed statement, adding that it was eager to work collaboratively with communities “in full consideration of multi-modal design.”
Using Complete Streets as a guide, the city’s transportation department has introduced traffic-calming measures, made certain intersections more pedestrian-friendly, and committed to building out protected bicycle infrastructure, such as separated bike lanes.
Rally-goers on Monday said the policy has led to changes in their communities that they don’t like and didn’t ask for — that the bike lanes and dividers are making traffic and parking worse, as well as obstructing access to their neighborhoods for emergency vehicles.
“That’s all a part of the decision-making around Complete Streets that did not include you,” Linda Batts, an organizer with Friends of Gwynns Falls Parkway, told the gathering.
“No one here disagrees that transportation — whether by foot, bike or car — should all be safe,” continued Batts. “But how government transforms spaces, places and the environment requires a process that is open, objective, collaborative, equitable, and results in decisions that do no perpetuate structural and systemic racism and divides.”
Equity is a stated goal of the Complete Streets manual, defining such a transportation system as “one that is safe and accessible, improves mobility for all users regardless of race, income, gender, age, disability, health, English language proficiency, and vehicular access, and reflects neighborhood values and promotes economic vitality.”
And city officials have said they will rely on data to get there. The manual states that projects are prioritized based on an equity assessment, which looks for “key indicators of historically underserved communities.” The assessment maps the indicators using GIS technology to give areas a “composite equity rating.”
But for Batts and other rallygoers, the policy is not achieving its goals. The Complete Streets manual says that stakeholder input is a key part of achieving equity and that “community engagement must also be actively pursued throughout all phases of the design process.” Therein lies the rub, according to Batts and her fellow advocates.
“Many of us feel that Complete Streets, all the way up to the Mayor, has been derelict in listening to the people,” said Lawrence Bell, a former City Council President, who was present at the rally and has been a vocal advocate for a “moratorium on bike lanes.”
Jed Weeks, executive director for the advocacy group Bikemore, disagrees. He said that the process for crafting the Complete Streets legislation was a collaboration of dozens of stakeholder organizations.
Weeks did not attend the rally, but in an emailed statement cited high numbers of bus and scooter ridership throughout the city, and a disproportionately high rate of households in historically redlined neighborhoods that lack access to a car.
“They are not being represented in afternoon rallies calling for a moratorium on their transportation options. They are at work. If anything, we need to be building mobility infrastructure faster so it can reach folks who need it the most,” his statement read.
The Gwynns Falls Parkway has been a recent Complete Streets battleground, with plans for a mixed use trail in the grassy median getting delayed and ultimately scrapped. Scott directed Baltimore City transportation officials to study an alternate corridor for the trail after some community pushback.
However, the city Department of Transportation plans to move forward with a resurfacing project along the parkway that will remove one lane of traffic, which it says will increase safety for pedestrians and parked vehicles. Patrick Henderson, a longtime resident of the Ashburton neighborhood, thinks lane reduction for the stated goal of safety is disingenuous.
“We know that because there are no safety issues there,” said Henderson. “They are coming in and telling us what to do in our community.”
Despite the physical “No Bike Lanes” signs, several speakers and rallygoers said that they do not oppose bike lanes. Several, including Bell, said that they ride bicycles themselves, but think cyclists and advocates have been given special treatment and that tipping of the scale is “narrowing the streets too much.”
Multiple speakers said also that the issue comes down to who has a seat at the table, with some remarking that they “plan to bring their own table.”
Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.