Baltimore has always been a city of neighborhoods, and a massive new project is underway to finally connect them. The Baltimore Greenway Trails Network will create a citywide trail system, totaling 35 miles and linking some 75 communities across the city.
“Baltimore is one of the greenest cities of our size, with more than 4,000 acres of greenspace for a population of 600,000,” says Ethan Abbott, the Greenway’s project manager. “Why not capitalize on the natural resources we already have, and by doing so, benefit the city in terms of equity and inclusion?”
Launched in 2015 by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and local advocacy organization Bikemore, the effort will utilize existing city trails to create one large multi-use loop between the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, and Herring Run trail systems, requiring only 10 miles of new construction. The blueprint is tapping into a century-old vision by the Olmsted Brothers, legendary landscape architects and urban planners who envisioned one large city park system bolstered by the three stream valleys, blending the natural and urban environments—old plans that can address modern-day challenges.
According to a 2020 report, the project has social and economic benefits, from improved health of residents, to increased transportation access and recreation opportunities, to adjacent business activity.
“We need to make sure this project is more than just a trail,” says Joe McAndrew, vice president of the Greater Washington Partnership, a Greenway partner. “We can look at communities that have historically been underinvested or displaced by transportation decisions, like the ‘Highway to Nowhere,’ and see decisions were without consideration of the folks who would be impacted. It’s important this be done in an intentional, inclusive way. It’s ultimately a system that connects people.”
Through a combination of grants, both public and private funding, and prioritization by Mayor Brandon Scott, the $28-million project is currently in planning, design, and community engagement phases, with construction expected to begin in 2024. Once complete, students at Johns Hopkins University could walk to Lake Montebello, cyclists could cruise between Druid Hill and Leakin Parks, or Bayview residents could take their dogs to the Canton Waterfront. If all goes well, the Greenway could keep rippling outward—north into Baltimore County, south through Anne Arundel.
“There really is a lot of potential, and that is one of the coolest things about this project,” says Abbott. “It’s part of this much larger vision for what trails can do for cities, counties, and entire regions.”