On a warm, sunny afternoon in mid-June, longtime bike advocate Liz Cornish was returning home from a Baltimore City Council hearing when she noticed a large tiller fire truck — the kind with a secondary steering wheel for its tail end — parked in front of her house on Maryland Avenue in central Baltimore. Five higher-ranking Fire Department officials were also there, not responding to an emergency, but participating in the filming of a video intended to highlight the obstacles that bike lanes pose to emergency vehicle access.
“I recognized it immediately as a [fire] truck I had never seen in my neighborhood before,” Cornish recalls. “I was taken aback and I was angry because it really looked like clear intimidation.”
The incident became linked to a few verbal and physical bouts of fighting over the past year between Baltimore fire authorities, local residents, and cyclist advocates over a bike lane along Potomac Street in southeastern Baltimore. Shortly after its construction began in spring 2017, the bike lane became the center of controversy when area residents and members of the city’s Fire Department alleged that it would take up precious street space from emergency vehicles.
The firestorm caused Baltimore legislators to introduce a bill that would loosen urban design guidelines of the city’s fire code with the goal of lessening the regulatory hurdles to new bike lanes and private development projects. They approved the bill this month.
The fire code amendment bill, which will likely become law in late October, revokes a section of Baltimore’s fire code that requires at least 20-26 feet of clear street width for large fire apparatus during an emergency response. The clearance regulations would be supplanted by more flexible street design guidelines, from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, in order to facilitate approval of public infrastructure and private development projects.
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