Skip to Content
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Log In
Streetsblog USA

Mad About Bike Lanes, Baltimore Fire Department Takes It Out on Advocates

9:50 AM PDT on July 13, 2018

Baltimore City Fire Department made a video intending to show that narrow streets cause problems for their trucks and ladders. But it ended up demonstrating the opposite. Image via YouTube

Disagreements between bike advocates and fire departments pop up all the time in American cities. But what's happening in Baltimore right now is not normal.

Local bike advocates say they've been personally targeted for harassment and intimidation by fire department employees and even the Baltimore City Fire Department itself, which has been campaigning against the addition of bike lanes.

At issue are street redesigns that have narrowed the right-of-way for motor vehicles, which BCFD says violate the requirement for 20 feet of clearance in the city's fire code. Residents of Potomac Street cited the fire code in a bid to remove a protected bike lane on their street.

A lawsuit by Bikemore, the local bike advocacy group, halted the city's plans to remove the bike lane, arguing that the fire code should be interpreted more flexibly.

Two months ago, members of BCFD started lashing out. At a public meeting on bike lanes on May 14, several witnesses reported that a white off-duty firefighter, Charles Mudra, lifted Austin Davis, a black city planner (also attending in an unofficial capacity) up by his neck.

Bikemore Executive Director Liz Cornish told the local news site Baltimore Fishbowl that Mudra should be released by the fire department. He's currently facing assault charges.

At a July 3 City Council hearing, Alyssa Domzal testified that a man driving a pickup truck with a Baltimore City Fire Department decal swerved at her as she was biking and shouted, "I still hate you." Cornish says the Fire Department has not made any effort to investigate the incident.

BCFD recently filmed a bizarre nine-minute video to argue that bike lanes are incompatible with fire trucks. But it appears to have backfired. The trucks in the video clearly have enough room to travel on the streets with protected bike lanes.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young told the Baltimore Sun that "I'm glad I saw the video because it showed me those trucks can get to those fires."

Strangely, part of the video was filmed right across from Cornish's home and Davis's home. The two happen to be neighbors. Cornish told the City Council that she doesn't think the location was chosen by chance:

At 3:00 p.m., I was walking home from my office. As I approached my block, I noticed a BCFD tiller truck parked in the travel lane in front of my house, surrounded by around eight BCFD employees, including many senior ranking staff based on their uniforms. My initial assumption was there was some kind of emergency on my block, but as I got closer I recognized that the fire department was filming a video. Given the history of aggression and bullying over the past year, BCFD leadership showing up on my block to film a video implying they can’t fight a fire there didn’t just feel like a double down on fear mongering, it also felt like a personal message to me and to my neighbor Austin Davis -- a threat.  

Fire Department officials denied singling out Cornish.

The City Council is considering a resolution to strike the "clear width rule" from the city's code and replace it with more flexible guidance from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, but did not pass it yesterday. It will be taken up again on August 5.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog Los Angeles

Friday Bikeways Update: Beach Bike Path Damage, 7th Street, and More

Updates on: beach bike path in Pacific Palisades, Michigan Greenway in Santa Monica, Parthenia Place in North Hills, 7th Street Streetscape in DTLA, and Imperial Highway near LAX

March 1, 2024

Measure HLA Fact Check: Sidewalk Costs

The city says $200 million worth of annual ADA work is "included in the cost" of Measure HLA, but the city is already on the hook for that ADA work anyway, so none of it should be included as HLA costs

March 1, 2024

Supervisor Hahn Calls for No Residential Demolitions in Metro’s 710 Freeway Corridor Project

"[For 710 Freeway expansion] Metro needs to commit itself to zero residential property takes. [Metro] should have as one its top priorities ensuring that our projects do not result in kicking people out of their homes."

February 29, 2024
See all posts