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Baltimore starts building a real bicycle network

Baltimore transportation officials have proposed a "network of bicycle infrastructure," including the city's first-ever cycletrack. It's a big leap beyond today's incongruent sharrows and paint.

The proposed Downtown Bicycle Network. Image from Baltimore DOT.

The cycletrack will stretch 2.6 miles along Maryland Avenue and Cathedral Street, from Johns Hopkins University in the north to the convention center near the harbor. It will be installed this fall. For the city's bicycle advocates, the network represents a hope that Baltimore may start to build bicycle infrastructure on par with Washington and catapult bicycling forward in the central business district.

Will the Downtown Bicycle Network actually serve downtown?

While its name is the "Downtown Bicycle Network," the projects are mostly actually in Mt. Vernon, a neighborhood north of the central business district. The cycletrack will get a bicyclist downtown, but for now that is where the network ends.

A Pratt Street cycletrack could provide an east/west complement to the north/south Maryland Avenue cycletrack.

Pratt Street is the main artery of the business district. Because of its width and concentration of businesses, hotels, tourist attractions, facilities like the convention center, institutions like the University of Maryland, it remains the grand prize for a cycletrack. Bikemore, Baltimore's bicycle advocacy organization, is pushing this idea.

Image: Pratt Street in Baltimore. The south lane (on left) is a bus/bike lane. Photo by the author.

Officially, Baltimore's bike map lists bus/bike lanes on Pratt Street. However, these lanes are not often enforced and not comfortable for many bicyclists.

Some maps and officials also consider the Inner Harbor Promenade and the Jones Falls Trail adjacent to Pratt Street as bike facilities. But in summer, they are often packed with tourists, strollers, pedestrians, and are often impassable for bicyclists.

If not for Bixi's financial troubles, it is likely Baltimore would have a bikeshare system by this summer. Hopefully, Baltimore can use the delayed launch to continue to build a better network to support cycling. The better the infrastructure, the better bikeshare will work when it eventually launches.

Proposed bikeshare stations. Image from Baltimore DOT.

Baltimore can learn from DC and Pittsburgh

Washington is not the only nearby city for Baltimore to seek inspiration. Pittsburgh has integrated quality bike facilities along its waterfront and made connections to nearby neighborhoods. In a Pittsburgh Magazine article about the steel city's revitalized riverfront, Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of Riverlife, likens the increased traffic along the riverfront to the growth of the regional trail network.

"The more trail that was created, the higher the number of users," she said. "We hit that momentum point along the rivers this year. People realized, 'Aha—this is a network, and I can go in all directions.'" Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh's new bicycle-friendly mayor wants his city to be in Bicycle magazine top ten US cities, despite its hilly contours.

Will the Maryland Avenue cycletrack be the first of a series of complementary projects, extensions, and improvements to Baltimore's bicycle network? The fast growth of DC's and Pittsburgh's networks make us optimistic that the Charm City will soon catch the momentum too.

Jeff La Noue is a project and sustainability planner in Baltimore. He has an Economics degree from St. Mary's College of Maryland and a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Maryland-College Park. Posts are his own viewpoint and do not necessarily reflect his employer. Jeff also runs his own urbanist blog, Comeback City


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while E-W routes in downtown appear problematic, I think the proposed cycle track will in some ways leap ahead of what DC has so far done. Thats an ideal route, connecting both a major U and some of the most potentially bike friendly nabes (Charles Village and Mount Vernon) to downtown.

And for DC folks, its worth noting that the southern terminus will be very close to Camden Station.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 21, 2014 10:31 am • linkreport

Now I feel extra confident because my mind thought "why not Pratt street?" before I read exactly that.

by drumz on May 21, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

Which side of the street will the cycle track be constructed on? The link didn't mention it. I would presume the east side, as the west side would create conflicts with bus stops on the #11 line, but given the city, one can never be too sure.

by Lord Baltimore on May 21, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Is bikeshare still slated to open on July 1 with Social Bikes?

by JimT on May 21, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

Comes very close to connecting the Gwynn Falls Trail to the Jones Falls Trail.

Perhaps the expansion of the convention center could fully connect them.

by Richard on May 21, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

Lord Baltimore, on the east side of the street.

Richard, the GFT and the JFT already come equally close to connecting, excluding the shared space from Lee Street and for 1 block on Sharp, albeit with connection shortcomings.

I do take exception with this "Some maps and officials also consider the Inner Harbor Promenade and the Jones Falls Trail adjacent to Pratt Street as bike facilities." Is the JFT overcrowded, and is the Inner Harbor a poor location for mixed use? Absolutely! But there is no debate among people being honest as to whether it's a bike facility; everyone knows that it is a bike facility. That's why all maps and officials consider it one, because that's what it is.

by Adam Hu on May 21, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

Great news! I'll be happy to be able to get to Pratt St. safely, park the bike, and walk from there. As another commenter mentioned, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is close by. So is the football stadium, and all of the attractions of the Inner Harbor. I hope plans include tons of bike parking at the southern end of the protected lanes.

by Joe Chapline on May 21, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

@Adam Hu,

You can call a de facto sidewalk a bike facility all you want, but if you can't actually bike on it, it doesn't seem to be a useful designation. In fact, it often has the negative effect of allowing officials to pat themselves on the back and say, "we've already got bike stuff there, so no need to worry about that area".

by TransitSnob on May 21, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

Good to know; thanks Adam.

This is really pretty promising, and certainly seems to find the best available corridor for biking through the gridded section of North Baltimore to Downtown. From the North End, it is not too involved to then reach the JFT or Stony Run trails, or even University Parkway into Roland.

by Lord Baltimore on May 21, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity: You can't take your bike on the MARC train anyways, so any proximity of the bike lanes to Camden Station shouldn't matter. Unless you have a fold-up bike I guess. I would love to see the day you can bring a standard bicycle on MARC.

by Andrew on May 22, 2014 4:09 pm • linkreport

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