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Baltimore rolls with bike-friendly momentum

Posted by Elly Blue (Columnist) on January 27th, 2009 at 11:13 am

[Publisher's note: This story was written by Managing Editor Elly Blue during her recently completed East Coast Tour. Read more of her travel dispatches here.]


It's not on the annual lists of biking hot spots, but during my recent visit to Baltimore I realized they might just become the next big bike city. They're not quite Portland (yet), but they're gaining fast.

Baltimore bike and ped planner Nate Evans
sets off for a tour of the city.
- More photos below -
(Photos by Elly Blue)

Like many cities, Baltimore's bike-friendliness begins at the top. Bikes are buoyed by the city's Bicycle Master Plan (that was adopted in 2006) that is wholly supported by their mayor Sheila Dixon. Dixon was elected in 2007 and she's an avid cyclist. Dixon leads weekly morning rides (which are open to anyone) and last year she put the city's dollars behind biking with the hire of bike and pedestrian planner Nate Evans.

Baltimore has made some major improvements to their bike network recently, including the marking of 42 miles of bikeways, installation of 70 bike racks in front of businesses (with more requests pouring in every day), experimentation with sharrows and "floating" bike lanes, and the conversion of old parking meters into bike parking.

These efforts garnered Baltimore an honorable mention from the League of American Bicyclists' Bicycle Friendly Communites program. The League was so impressed that they invited Baltimore to apply again this year (cities usually must wait three years between applications).

Bicycle wayfinding signage near
the campus of Johns Hopkins
University.

If the mayor remains in office (she was indicted on corruption charges the day I was there), Evans is confident of earning Silver status this time around.

Listening to his goals for 2009, this doesn't seem all that far-fetched. The city plans to more than double bike parking capacity and bikeway mileage, with an emphasis on connecting routes and neighborhoods; three on-street bike parking facilities are in the construction pipeline; a Sunday Streets "ciclovia"-type event is planned for four consecutive weeks this spring; and the city will also hold two bike summits this year in an effort to create a cohesive bike community.

And there's nowhere to go but up: In the 2000 census, just .034% of Baltimore residents said that biking is their main way to get to work. Evans projects that number will jump to 2% in 2010 if he is able to reach his goals (for comparison, that percentage is 5-8% (depending on where you look) in Portland).

Evans' long term goals for the city are even more ambitious -- and inspiring. He wants the city to have 350 bikeway miles (lanes and sharrows), 2000 bike racks, 30 on-street bike corrals, 10 annual ciclovia events, multi-use paths connecting the region, several carfree plazas in the central city, 15% bike mode share, a bike sharing service, and more.

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Here are some photos I took of bike infrastructure on various rides around the city:

Baltimore's contribution to the cycletrack revolution. This two way path for bikes only lies in between a major one-way arterial and a harborside pedestrian path. Also seen on the cycletrack during my visit: two city trucks, a taxi, a police car, and a family piling into a minivan.
Growing pains: the city has been installing sharrows at a fast pace, but a number have ended up in the door zone during the non-peak hours when parking is permitted on many major streets.
This sharrow functions more as it ought to. These markings send a powerful message in a city where bikes are often invisible.
Trying to access the bike parking in a corner of one of Baltimore's many overfull parking garages. The city is working with local businesses and gyms to find creative ways to ensure access to covered parking and shower facilities for downtown bike commuters.
As the city installs smart meters similar to Portland's, they are converting many of the old coin meter posts into bike parking.

Baltimore is an inspiring example of how a city which has been experiencing extremely rough times since the 1950s is trying to rebuild itself with new parameters for a new era. I'm sure we'll hear much more about Baltimore in the years to come.

-- Read more of Elly Blue's travel dispatches -- including a visit to Washington D.C. and New York City -- on her East Coast Tour page.

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Comments
  • Noah January 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Great to see Charm City getting some press on this issue but Baltimore has been trying to make strides on this forever though. I moved to Portland from Baltimore and it blew my mind how much friendlier towards bikes people are here. In Baltimroe I never really saw others riding bikes outside of my neighborhood by Johns Hopkins and cars really never see you. People in Baltimore will be very reluctant to bicycling around due to congestion, crime, and mean east coast drivers (you know its true.) I was even robbed one time while sitting at a light on my bicycle. Dont get me wrong I love Baltimore and hope that one day when visiting from my beloved Portland I can ride a bike without the worries that I had in the past.

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  • Elly Blue January 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Noah, thanks for writing in -- that was my impression, too -- Baltimore's a pretty hard place to ride. The stories about people having their bikes stolen right out from under them are pretty crazy.

    I think that's partly why all this infrastructure is able to be built -- because bikes are so far under the radar it just isn't an issue.

    At any rate, I have another story coming, some time soon hopefully, about transportation issues in Baltimore generally. It's a really interesting place, especially in comparison with Portland where we have a lot of good things going on but are often in danger of being complacent about them.

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  • Jessica Roberts January 27, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Double their bikeway mileage? Color me jealous. We get a few more miles per year and that's it (from 262 in 2004 to only 274 in 2008).

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  • Paul Tay January 27, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Wat da deal wit all da crooked mayors at da "bike-friendly" cities?

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  • Paul Tay January 27, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Hey, El, whydon'tcha roll Tulsa? We got OVER 1,500 miles of bike lanes, all within city limits. We got Biker Fox. AND, da Mare's still CLEAN.

    Just don't drink da water!

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  • hanmade January 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Innovative use of parking meters. Pleasant to look at, functional, and probably a lot cheaper than the stainless steel ones we are paying for on the transit mall!

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  • Michael January 27, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    That two way path by the harbor, if memory serves, was also a common place for delivery trucks, taxis, and the like to hang out and park. I love Baltimore but it was a pretty rough town to bike in at times. It's great to hear that it's developing a better infrastructure.

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  • bikie-boy-oo January 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    ellie, fascinating stuff! i especailly like the floating bike lanes, what a concept. we'd likely have to tweak the state statutes to make that possible in oregon, but still: anyone got any candidate locations?

    also: their counting sharrows as "bikeway miles" is more than a tad cheesy. not that i don't think sharrows have their use, but c'mon... that's like counting bike route signs, you can put 'em pretty much anywhere. just sayin'.

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  • Wade January 28, 2009 at 7:24 am

    The last time I was in Baltimore the city shut down the outbound highway from the center of the city for cyclists. It was so striking that it almost seemed post-apocalyptic.

    Or perhaps utopic.

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  • The human car January 28, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Some points from Baltimore; OK I will admit that there is sort of a alpha male quality to biking in Baltimore but it really is not all that rough all over, there is some nice riding to be had, if you know where to look.

    Our Bike Master Plan was adopted under the O'Malley Administration and the bulk of what we have came from that administration.

    I'll try to spare you the details of Baltimore's political scene but tensions between North and the South ideology still seem to be a significant undercurrent here, so while we have a Black Mayor under indictment for having a developer for a boy friend, then we have a White Councilwoman accepting gifts from a developer boy friend with no problems.

    Anyway I think it is majorly cool that our Mayor has weekly rides for city employees just to get out and be healthy. No major press, its just a good thing to do.

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  • Kasey January 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    As a former Portlander who was born and raised just outside Baltimore, this was a delightful article to read. I was just visiting my old hometown this weekend and was blown away by how difficult it was to get anywhere without a car. Baltimore has so much potential to be a first rate town, but is so seriously lacking in the terms of transportation options. At times this weekend I feared for Charm City's future due to its inability to keep up with its east coast neighbors (D.C., Philly, NYC). Anyway, I'm glad to see Baltimore is making such an aggressive move to become bike friendly. Keep up the good work Ballmer!

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  • Carrie January 29, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Kudos to Bmore my home city!!! I'm glad it's becoming a safer place to cycle. Now if they can just get people to recycle!
    I'm still staying right here in PDX!!! The best city in the U.S.A!

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  • [...] Check it out here. [...]

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  • Johnny January 30, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Actually, in Baltimore we have single-stream recycling that takes EVERYTHING (all plastics included, even ones with food/oil) in one container -- and it is going to start being weekly. When the new (and optional) recycling bins were unveiled last year, thousands of people waitied hours in the cold to buy them. They were not free, not required. People in Baltimore recycle like mad. Getting all of your recyclables picked up weekly for free without sorting is as good as a recycling program gets, and in my neighborhood, there's not a single house/apartment building that doesn't take advantage of it.

    What's up with all the mis-informed Baltimore-bashing? If you think people in Baltimore don't recycle, you've not been here in years. So what if it's kind of recent? It's here to stay, and that's what matters. People in the surrounding counties may or may have good programs, but Baltimore CITY does, and people really take advantage of it, to everyone's credit.

    I'm insanely happy that the writers of this blog gave us some very good props, and I thank them for it. Cycling here is definitely not like cycling in Chicago, Portland, Seattle, etc. We're making a lot of progress though, and I think it's really nice of you guys to give us a shout-out. I really do. :)

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  • Tom Palermo February 10, 2009 at 10:26 am

    thanks for the coverage. Hope you enjoyed B'more. Our riding scene is great, maybe a little underground, but great.

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  • Mark February 10, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Word, thanks for the coverage! Echoing Tom's sentiment above: most of the great things in B'more are a little underground, and that's what makes it a cool town.

    For the good of the urban environment, I hope we continue to build our biking 'infrastructure' (tho secretly I suspect I'll regret it when our bike lanes are eventually clogged with Sunday riders like the ones I encounter in DC and NY whenever I ride there).

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  • [...] So we were delighted to see that bikers way out in Portland, Oregon were calling Baltimore the “next big bike city.”  It gave us hope.  And then we started to look around and realized that, hey, maybe those [...]

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  • Ron February 17, 2009 at 9:02 am

    what's so underground about the riding scene here?
    i'm not trying to be a jerk - i really don't get it.

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  • Greg Hinchliffe February 18, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Some comments from one of the soldiers in the trenches trying to improve the bikeing environment here in Bawlimer, hon:

    1. Those parking meter post caps are indeed very cool, but not original; I stole the idea after seeing them while biking in Seattle. And they cost about as much a a u-rack!

    2. Our Inner harbor "cycletrack" is a work in progress. It was not designed as a bikeway, but as a counterflow lane for a tourist "trolley" (tarted-up bus), hence its nickname: the Trolley Lane. When the trolley operation folded, the cyclists took over and have been battling the delivery trucks, etc ever since. Recent improvements in signage and fixing the wheel-eating grates have really helped, but later this year construction starts on making it into a real bikeway, part of the Jones Falls Trail, after which we should have far fewer problems with intrusion. The Trail will meet up with the existing Gwynns Falls Trail and be part of the East Coast Greenway (see http://www.greenway.org).

    3. Like a groundhog, cyclists are slowly emerging from underground. I have seen more and more commuters, even in bad weather.

    4. Do all urban bikers have to deal with so much broken glass? It's a curse.

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  • schwinny August 2, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Biking is dangerous in any city. Thats what makes it fun! I don't see what your all talking about. Just ride! The streets are there, what needs to change? Be aggressive, stand up and take the rite of way!

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  • The human car August 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Scwinny, I'll just disagree with your first sentence. Assertive motorists calls for assertive cyclists, hear, hear! And the dangers just melt away to fun.

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