Bicycle commuting in Baltimore is about to get easier. And safer.
At a standing room only public meeting at the downtown Pratt Library earlier this week, representatives from the Baltimore Department of Transportation presented plans for a dedicated, two-way cycle track that will run north and south on Maryland Avenue from 29th Street to Pratt Street. The cycle track (see above image for an idea what part of the track will look like) is designed to separate bicyclists and cars, in some areas by parked cars, in other areas by flexible posts, as well as painted striped lines, particularly at interesections.
Also included in the plan are several new east-west midtown bike lanes (unlike cycle tracks, bike lanes only include painted lines and symbols on the street without physical barriers to traffic).
The DOT expects the Maryland Avenue cycle track to be completed by fall at the latest, said Frank Murphy, deputy director of the Baltimore DOT."This is going to be important because this is going to be the backbone of what we are working toward — a citywide, world-class system of protected bike lanes," said Chris Merriam, executive director of Bikemore, a nonprofit bicycle advocacy organization in Baltimore. "This is not going after one of those things that is just low-hanging fruit."
Currently, the only cycle track in the city is the short, north-south Fallsway stretch on the east side of Charles Street, which then links to the Guilford Avenue bike route. The new Maryland cycle track will give bicycle commuters a north-south option in a busier, commercial side of town, with the expectation that it will also encourage more bicycle commuting, said city bike planner Caitlin Doolin. She noted that bicycle volume on 15th St. NW in Washington, DC, increased more than 200 percent — and is still increasing — after the implementation of a cycle track there.
Doolin said that the implementation of the cycle track, the first in the city on a high-volume downtown street, will minimally affect the number of current parking spaces on the street. Approximately 10-20 spaces will be removed, she said, or about one for every 100 on the Maryland Avenue corridor. Doolin added, however, DOT does expect the cycle track infrastructure will slow down traffic exiting south from I-83 during peak hours. "Think of it as a piece of world-class infrastructure in exchange for a couple of seconds of delay," Doolin said.
Murphy and Doolin also talked briefly about the city's planned bicycle sharing system, which will include 25 bike stations around downtown and 250 bikes. The current effort to bring bike-sharing to Baltimore, in partnership with Alta, a Portland-based company which will operate the program, which was to launch this spring, is being delayed, in part, because of financial problems with the Bixi, the supplier of the bicycles.
Capital funding for Charm City Bikeshare infrastructure and implementation remains in place, however, while city officials and Alta search for a new bike supplier. Baltimore City is also looking for a lead sponsor to support the operation of the system.
Murphy said he expects decisions on the locations of bike stations to be finalized by July.
Merriam said he believes the city is doing its due diligence, in terms of putting together a successful Charm City Bikeshare launch and utllizing its state grant money for the program wisely.
"The mayor [Stephanie Rawlings-Blake] has seen bike-share's effectiveness in other cities," Merriam said. "This is what forward, progressive looking cities are doing."