Baltimore just got bikeshare, and lots of its bikes are electric

A month ago, Baltimore got its first bikeshare system, Bmorebikeshare, and ridership is already high. Forty percent of the fleet is made up of electric bikes that make it easier to go up hills, and as the system expands people are likely to want more of those.

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A bmorebikeshare dock. Photo by author.

 

The City of Baltimore has partnered with Bewegen Technologies to run the system, which cost $2.36 million to set up. Part of the contract includes operations by a company called Corps Logistics. With 22 stations (largely in the flat basin around the harbor) and 175 bikes, Bmorebikeshare has has generated almost 6,000 rides so far.

The system is designed to work for both residents and visitors who need to do everything from commute to run errands to just enjoying riding around. I would add that it’s also great for those who want to reach places where parking availability is tight.

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Phase 1 bikeshare stations (blue dots), Phase 2-spring 2017 (green dots). Photo by author.

 

Electric bikes are a hallmark of the system

Beyond being new, Bmorebikeshare stands out because it has North America’s largest fleet of bikes with an electric motor that helps you pedal (a technology known as pedal-assist-technology, or pedelec).

I tested the electric bikes on an uphill climb on the newly created Maryland Avenue protected bikeway, and it was amazing how helpful pedelec was. The extra giddy up made for a ton of fun whether on a hill or flat land.

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Baltimore’s Maryland Avenue protected bikeway. Photo by author.

 

But since Baltimore is a little like a funnel that generally slopes toward the harbor, the boost was particularly helpful when going uphill. The electric bikes will be a prerequisite for many users who seek higher altitude destinations such as Johns Hopkins University or Druid Hill Park or eventually Hampden and Morgan State University.

This spring, the system is set to grow to 50 stations with 500 bikes. And since many of the new stations will be uphill from where stations are concentrated now, the pedelecs will be in even more demand.

Is expanding the pedelec fleet actually doable?

Liz Cornish, Executive Director of Bikemore, Baltimore’s bicycling infrastructure and policy advocacy organization, said at Baltimore Greenway Trail Network meeting the pedal-assist bikes cost $1300 compared to $1000 for the regular bikes.

If the bikeshare expanded by another 500 bikes and they were 100% electric-assist, it would only be $150,000 more than an all regular bike purchase. This is not much money if the world of transportation expenditures.

Of course, bikes with pedelec may cost more to fix and maintain. But in a hilly city like Baltimore, splurging on the electric bikes to tilt the percentages of the fleet toward the pedelec bikes will likely make sense.

The best step forward would be for Bewegen to track which bikes are being used in order to get data on user-preference. If my hunch is true—that more people in Baltimore will travel to more places by bikeshare thanks to the new pedelec bikes—it’d be great to find a way to make sure that’s what’s added to the system.

This article is cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington

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A shot of Baltimore landmarks you can now take bikeshare to. Photo by author.

Six New Trail Projects for the Next 10 Years: Making Baltimore Competitive to other Northeast Metros

Quality bicycling trails help define a region’s quality of life. They provide health and transportation benefits.  They’re fun and becoming a major tourism draw for the places with compelling facilities. Trails appeal to teenagers, millennials, families, and retirees.  Unfortunately, the Baltimore region’s combination of trails is far inferior to Washington’s, Philadelphia’s, New York’s, Boston’s, and we are falling behind Pittsburgh.  These other northeastern metros have invested far more and have developed networks and high profile trails. Our region should at least try to be in the same league.  The good news is–the six projects identified below, collectively, would cost less than one basic highway interchange and help Baltimore take a giant leap forward.

Other Northeastern Metros are investing in their trail systems.  Here are a few of their investments.

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Right now, Baltimore has a handful of average to good trails, but mostly they are one-offs, with little relation to one another.  Imagine if I-95 didn’t connect to the 695 Beltway and 695 didn’t connect to I-83 or 795.  These highways by themselves would be useful, but the connected network is exponentially more beneficial. Over the next decade, the Baltimore region should connect its primary trails. It should also develop a few marquis trails that show off the beauty of our city, watershed, and region. Here are six projects that would create the backbone of a connected regional trail network reflective of our affluent region.


 

Project 1 (Orange), Project 4 (Yellow), Project 6 (Dark Yellow), Existing Trails (Brown)

Project 1 (orange), Project 4 (yellow), Project 6 (dark yellow), Existing Trails (brown)

Project 1–Gwynns Falls/Middle Branch Trail to BWI/B&A Trail.  (Shown in orange)

Estimated cost and length: $10 million, 10 miles  (7 miles shared with project 6)

Sister trail: Guadalupe River Trail, San Jose, CA

Project 1, from the Middle Branch Trail’s end in Baltimore’s Cherry Hill Park, to the BWI trailhead-at the BWI rail station, is approximately 10 miles.  By completing this missing link, the trail network could continuously reach from Mt. Washington in Northern Baltimore City to Greater Annapolis, a roughly forty mile spine.

There is good news. It’s feasible.  The Patapsco River and Stony Run tributary valleys provide virtually continuous right-of-way, which would make the trail relatively free of street crossings, with little need for property acquisition or easements.

There are more reasons to like this project.  The river valleys provide great scenery of Baltimore’s most significant river. There are marshes, riverscapes, forests and lots of  other features that make for a scenic recreational trail.  If project 1 is completed, the trail will connect job centers, neighborhoods, and the rail transit system.


 

Baltimore Trail "Beltway"-concept by Jim Brown, Rails to Trails Conservancy

Baltimore Trail “Beltway”-concept by Jim Brown, Rails to Trails Conservancy

Project 2–Baltimore Trail “Beltway” 

Estimated cost and length: $10-20 million, 15 miles of new trail to make 35 mile loop

Sister trail: Beltline, Atlanta

This project is the urban trail version of I-695.  It fills in the gaps that would enable a continuous 35 mile loop in Baltimore City.  To complete the loop a little over 10 miles of trails would need to be constructed and some additional upkeep on existing trails would improve the experience.  This project is being spearheaded by the Rails to Trails organization, headquartered in Washington DC.

This project may not be as logistically easy as Project 1 because it loops through neighborhoods and requires cooperation with CSX and BGE in a few places. However, a theoretical right-of-way has been established and with a little cooperation, this project is feasible.

There are lots of reasons to like this project.  It has many of the benefits of Atlanta’s Beltline, but with a fraction of its price.  The Baltimore Trail “Beltway” is a home run waiting to be hit because it covers so many bases. Tourism, health, better transportation, recreation, and economic development are expected benefits of its completion.


Project 3 (Blue), Project 5 (Red), Existing trails (Brown)

Project 3 (blue), Project 5 (red), Existing trails (brown)

Project 3–Jones Falls Trail to Torrey C. Brown Trail (Shown in red (Towson Run Trail) and then blue)

Estimated cost and length: $15-20 million, 14 miles  (This includes Towson Run Trail Project)

Sister Trail: Rock Creek Trail, Washington DC and Montgomery County, MD

Project 3 connects a trail gap between Mt. Washington in Baltimore City and Hunt Valley, Baltimore’s most northern suburb.  The completion of the project would also fill in the missing vertebrae in a trail spine and create a continuous link from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to York, Pennsylvania.

The Torrey C. Brown trail is, arguably, the Baltimore region’s most popular paved trail. It is heavily used and is part of the Rails to Trails Hall of Fame, but it is isolated.

This connecting project would have to bisect suburban neighborhoods and would likely contain some street routes in spots (with buffered lanes). The bad news is there is no obvious path north of Towson, but the good news is there are many possible routes the trail could take.   This project could be challenged by NIMBYism and crossing over the 695 Beltway may be a challenge depending on the course.

There are many reasons this is a good project.  We will start with the East Coast Greenway (ECG). The ECG plan is a continuous trail from Maine to Florida.  Project 3 fills a key gap in the ECG.  Another good reason is access. By extending the mostly rural Torrey C. Brown Trail into the inner suburbs and ultimately the city, far more people will be within reach of a super trail.


Middle Branch Loop Master Plan from Turner Development

Middle Branch Loop Master Plan from Turner Development

Project 4–Middle Branch Loop Trail (Shown in yellow of the Project 1 map)

Estimated cost and length: $4-10 million, 3 new trail miles, 4 total miles  (If a trail right-of-way can be constructed on the Hanover Street Bridge replacement, the trail cost will be on the lower end)

Sister Trail: Lake Union Loop, Seattle

The Middle Branch Trail Loop, if completed, will hug the water and help connect Baltimoreans and visitors to the city’s waterfront.  The Middle Branch is destined to be the new home for Under Armour. A premier waterfront recreational amenity would be a great cultural compliment between the company, the city, and the water.

The challenge is adding a trail facility on a little-used century-old CSX owned swing bridge and the heavily used Hanover Street Bridge. Furthermore, Under Armour would need to be supportive of a public facility and not seek to privatize the space to the water’s edge.

An urban waterfront loop that utilizes two large bridges may be a big attraction because it’s a unique design that’s rarely implemented.  Also, a trail running across a former train bridge adds historical value.


Towson Run Trail would mostly follow the creek between Lake Roland and Towson.

Towson Run Trail would mostly follow the creek between Lake Roland and Towson.

Project 5–The Towson Run Trail (shown in red)

Estimated cost and length: $6-8 million, 5 miles of new trail

Sister Trail: Capital Crescent Trail, Washington DC and Montgomery County

This project would connect the Jones Falls Trail (Shown in brown), the Falls Road Light Rail station, and Lake Roland with Towson University and Downtown Towson and its “bike beltway.”

Building a trail adjacent to the Towson Run stream into the center of the university and to the business district appears to be feasible, but might face some NIMBY opposition in the area between Lake Roland and Charles Street. The trail may need a bridge to cross Lake Roland.

This is a good project because Towson, the Baltimore County government seat and home to over 55,000 people, has few recreational bicycle facilities.  Linking Towson via the valley of the Towson Run Creek into the Jones Falls Trail would help solve that problem, while tying Towson into the regional trail network.  This project could fill a gap in the East Coast Greenway Project and share the first five miles of Project 3.


The 2.5 mile Grist Mill Trail along the Patapsco River

The 2.5 mile Grist Mill Trail along the Patapsco River

Project 6–The Patapsco Trail (shown in dark yellow on the Project 1 map)

Estimated cost and length: $15-20 million, 16 miles of new trail and 18 total (7 miles shared with Project 1)

Sister Trail: Schuylkill River Trail, Philadelphia

This project is identical to Project 1 for about the first seven miles, sharing the Patapsco River Valley at its source in the Middle Branch.  Project 1 makes a southerly turn to connect with the BWI Trail. Project 6 continues northwest along the Patapsco Valley paralleling the river. It will feed into the Grist Mill Trail and then extend into historic Ellicott City.

This project appears logistically easy because of existing public right-of-way next to the river. There are a few places the trail will likely have to go underneath major roads. There will be some wetlands the trail may pass through.

Project 6 is a trail with tourist and transportation benefits. It would connect charming historic Ellicott City with downtown Baltimore, while taking a scenic, flat, and relatively direct path along the river. It would provide a great day trip in either direction.


Regions in the Northeast and across the US are investing in their trail networks and marquis trails.  They know that quality of life amenities are a major component to region attractiveness and competitiveness.  The Baltimore region’s trails are inferior to many of our competitors and the gap is widening. It may be a leap to propose more trails when some of our major existing trails are not well designed and are in poor repair. However, the workforce of the future and tourists will want quality trails. The state, counties, corporations, or even wealthy individuals should help fund it.

It is time for Baltimore to develop a regional trail plan and invest.

Jeff La Noue

Edited by Laura Melamed

 

 

Bicycling Events in Baltimore this summer

Bicycling can provide you a great reason to come to Baltimore this summer. Charm City would love to have you visit. If you like pedals and wheels, come enjoy these events this summer.

Kinetic Sculpture Race: Sunday, June 14

I am not sure Kinetic Sculptures are bicycles, but they are human and often pedal powered. It is too late to build your own land, water, and mud traversing sculpture and enter the race this year, but you can come watch this spectator-friendly event and get ideas for joining the race yourself next year. Bring the kids, or not.

Baltimore’s kinetic sculptures are amphibious, human-powered works of art custom built for the multi-terrain race course. The American Visionary Art Museum is the proud host of the Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Be sure to check out the spectator’s guide and dress code before you come.

By land, sea, and mud...Image from kineticbaltimore.com

By land, sea, and mud…Image from kineticbaltimore.com

Tour Dem Parks: Sunday, June 14

If you prefer to be riding your own bicycle, try Tour Dem Parks,  also on June 14. There are three routes (14, 25, or 35 miles) that pass through Baltimore parks and neighborhoods. It is a great chance to interface with many charming parts of Baltimore you would not otherwise see. The ride is fully supported with multiple rest stops and ends with a barbeque lunch and live jazz.

The ride starts in Druid Hill Park. Proceeds for the ride benefit parks and recreational activities in Baltimore City. Register here.

TDP is great chance to tour Baltimore on your bike-Image from Tour Dem parks website

TDP is great chance to tour Baltimore on your bike-Image from Tour Dem parks website

Bikes and Beers: Saturday, June 20

The 15 miles, Bikes and Beers ride, passes sites such as Penn Station, City Hall, Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Shot Tower, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Maryland Zoo.  The ride begins and ends at the Union Craft Brewing Company at 1700 Union Avenue. Departure times are (9:30, 10, 10:30, and 11am) The start is about three miles from Penn Station for anyone coming by MARC train.

Your registration includes:

Official Bikes and Beers Baltimore event pint glass
Two 5 oz samples at Heavy Seas Alehouse and One pint of your choice at Union Craft Brewing
Post-event festival with live music, food trucks, and games.

Part of the proceeds are being donated to Bike Maryland and Bikemore.

Enjoy and be safe

Enjoy and be safe

Baltimore Bike Party: Friday, June 26, July 31, and August 29…

The Baltimore Bike Party is a fun, social themed ride on the last Friday night of every month. May’s theme was “prom.” It is a mass (meaning hundreds if not a thousand cyclists in close quarters) on a slow paced ride following a different route every month. Meet up is at 6:30pm with a 7pm departure.

Confirm the departure site, but it typically begins at St. Mary’s park in Seton Hill at 600 N. Paca Street.

The ride is free, however donations are appreciated.

Baltimore Bike Party heads through town  Image from bmorebikes.com

Baltimore Bike Party heads through town Image from bmorebikes.com

Tour Du Port: Sunday, September 27

This great ride is part of Indian summer. Tour du Port boasts four bicycle route choices, including one mountain bike option. Pick among these route choices: The Harbor Loop, The Port to Peninsula, The Raven Challenge, or the mountain bike Urban Challenge route and see parts of Baltimore and experience the harbor in a new way.

The ride starts at the Canton Waterfront Park at 3001 Boston Street. Families often do the shorter loop. Proceeds benefit the Maryland statewide bicycling non-profit Bike Maryland.

Resting by the water at the 2014 Tour Du Port. Image by David Choy

Resting by the water at the 2014 Tour Du Port. Image by David Choy

Baltimore would love to have you. These events provide five additional reasons to come!

America can learn from this French city’s complete streets

Strasbourg, France is a beautiful city that takes its complete streets to heart. The roads through the old (and new) city gracefully mix street trams/lightrail with bicycle paths and friendly traffic calmed streets. Pedestrians move easily. Its central intercity train station is housed in a glamorous historic building, sheathed in a chic modern glass shell.

Gare de Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s central railway station. Photo by Cha Gia Jose on flickr

My family moved to Strasbourg when I was 12.  In French school, I comprehended little, and regularly escaped the gates of Le Lycée International des Pontonniers to explore the city by foot and public transportation.  It was liberating to take my lunch money and spend it in boulangeries around town or even into Germany across the Rhine River.  My parents thought I was in school and I may not have been in the country!

Given the quality of its infrastructure, it would be easy to think the French city is quite large. In fact, Strasbourg is a metro area with a population the size of Albany, Little Rock, Colorado Springs and would rank 73rd in US metro size behind Columbia, SC.

6 tramway lines ply this small city

The Strasbourg metropolitan area of 760,000 people is served by six tram lines, 56km (36 miles) of track, 72 stations, and daily ridership of 300,000 (2010) No US city near this size, has this kind of rail system. During the day, trams run every 6 minutes  (M-F), 7 minutes frequency on Saturday and 12 minutes on Sundays. Yearly passes are 456 euros ($620 dollars) with discounts for those over 65 and under 25. Single fare is 1.60 Euro. ($2.18)

Crossing the L'ILL

Tram gliding through town. Photo by Gerry Balding on flickr

(Strasbourg’s trams function as a hybrid of US Street cars and US Light rail. The rail vehicles are similar to streetcars because they are mostly in the roadbed and integrate into the city’s fabric, but unlike streetcars, operate with their own right of way separate from traffic, in this regard more like light rail.)

Bicycle infrastructure abounds

To complement the tram system, Strasbourg has almost 500km (311 miles) of cycling paths, 18,000 bike racks that serve over 130,000 cyclists. Secure bike parking lots and tire inflation facilities are available at bus and tram stops for transit card holders.

Watch Out For Bikes

Streets are for diners and transport of different varieties. Photo by Brisan on flickr

Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and US  far behind Strasbourg

Many US cities have adopted complete street ordinances and individual streets have been retrofitted.  Close by, Baltimore County has been recognized as a national leader for Complete Streets.  Baltimore County ranked 6th among 83 communities in the US with Complete Streets programs. Despite this recognition, the County’s on road bike network is minimal, members of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee are agitated at the lack of commitment to projects, the county has missed the mark on its pedestrian safety campaign, and now it’s county executive struggles to find a $50 million contribution for the $2.4 billion Red Line his administration says it supports.

Future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County

Future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County

In Baltimore City, Council Bill 09-0433 was adopted in 2010 directing the Departments of Transportation and Planning to apply “Complete Streets” principles to the planning, design, and construction of all new City transportation improvement projects.

Despite the accolades and the policies, “complete streets” in Baltimore County and Baltimore City still feel foreign. On the ground implementation remains the elusive prize. High incidences of tragic pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crashes are more associated with user error than engineering design. Complete Street advocates look forward to seeing first rate projects in the city and the suburbs get designed, funded and become reality. In the meantime, please enjoy a few photos of a “complete streets” city that I used to roam.

Similar article crossposted on Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

Strasbourg urban “complete streets” gallery

(All gallery images from google street view)

This gallery depicts regular infrastructure treatments in the heart of the city that help create a safe and user friendly balance of transportation options.

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Strasbourg suburban “complete streets” gallery

Strasbourg’s outer areas have also built extensive infrastructure to serve multiple types of transportation and keep vehicles at safer speeds.

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The Historic Beginning of Baltimore’s Downtown Bicycle Network

In the Enoch Pratt Central Library’s Edgar Allen Poe room, an overflowing enthusiastic audience witnessed history. The Baltimore Department of Transportation (BDOT) planners presented the “Downtown Bicycle Network“, a plan that could catapult bicycling forward in the central business district (CBD) and city. The plan’s signature infrastructure piece is Baltimore’s first ever cycletrack ranging 2.6 miles from near Johns Hopkins University in the north to the convention center near the harbor on Maryland Avenue. Installation is to take place in  fall 2014.

A cycletrack is a leap beyond today’s on-road bicycle investments in the city.  Baltimore bicycle enthusiasts look to DC with both envy and inspiration.  The hope is, the Maryland Avenue cycletrack will prove popular enough to open the door for building a bicycle system on par with the District.

Downtown Bicycle Network Meeting; photo by the author

Downtown Bicycle Network Meeting; photo by the author

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 to the north of the central business district. The cycletrack will get a bicyclist downtown, but for now that is where the network ends.

The proposed Downtown Bicycle Network. Image from Baltimore DOT

The proposed Downtown Bicycle Network. Image from Baltimore DOT

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 and because of its width and concentration of businesses, hotels, tourist attractions, and facilities like the convention center and institutions like the University of Maryland, it remains the grand prize for a cycle track. Bikemore, Baltimore bicycle advocacy organization, is pushing this idea.

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

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

Baltimore Bikeshare

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 water front and made connections to nearby neighborhoods. In a Pittsburgh Magazine article about the steel city’s revitalized river front, 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 was,” she says. “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 and Pittsburgh’s network make us optimistic that charm city will catch the momentum too.

Jeff La Noue

similar article cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

Do Baltimore Magazine’s “Best Places To Work” promote gridlock?

Many employers give us no commuting choices.     Photo by biofriendly,  Licensed under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0 Generic

Many employers give us no commuting choices. Photo by biofriendly, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0 Generic

Area magazines often issue lists of the “Best Places to Work,” but they don’t consider what the commute to those places is like. The real best places to work shouldn’t make employees sit in traffic for hours each day.

Each year, Baltimore Magazine releases its list of the Best Places to Work, based on factors like salaries, benefits, career mobility, and workplace culture.Washingtonian Magazine has a similar ranking.

But when my wife comes home from work, she does not talk about her employer’s 401K plans, her healthcare, or the free gym. Most often, I hear about how long or stressful her commute by car is.

I try to empathize, but my commute is a leisurely fifteen-minute bike ride that I love, or a two-stop light rail ride when it rains, getting me to work relaxed and clear-headed. Shouldn’t magazines talk about those things, too?

“Best Places to Work” rankings don’t talk about commutes

Virtually every rush hour, one or more of our major regional highways is backed up when some unfortunate driver’s car is mangled in a so-called car-b-que. The DC area usually ranks among the highest in the nation for traffic congestion, while Baltimore isn’t far behind.

Beyond causing stress and eating up time, commuting by car can be dangerous. In 2010, Maryland had 493 traffic deaths. 296 were in passenger cars or light trucks vs one fatality in a bus. 383 fatal car crashes were on urban interstates.

Meanwhile, employers on the Baltimore Magazine list highlight commuting options with about the same frequency as company picnics and employer-paid pet insurance. Of the top 25, there are only eight employers with a walkscore rating over 70. A high walkscore can indicate whether an employee can walk to a place to eat, to live, or a central bus or transit line from their workplace.

Six of the eight employers are in downtown Baltimore with lots of amenities and transit within easy reach, while one is in Towson, a walkable downtown in its own right. The seventh, America’s Remote Help Desk, is in Eldersburg in Carroll County, which isn’t a walkable area but earns a high walkscore due to being in a shopping mall with shops and restaurants. The middle seven are somewhat walkable. The remaining 10 companies are in more remote or isolated locations where driving to work is likely the only feasible option.

By walkscore (WS) ranking, Baltimore Magazine’s “Best Places to Work”:

Baltimore Magazine Top 25 Employers (2013) The higher the walkscore the greater the ability to get around without a car.

Baltimore Magazine Top 25 Employers (2013) The higher the walkscore the greater the ability to get around without a car.

Another way to measure the “best places to work”

Some area employers recognize that the best perk might be a variety of commuting options. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore’s largest employer, deserves credit. Its hospital is located at a Metro subway stop and has six bus lines. It runs an express shuttle service connecting its Homewood and medical campuses with Penn Station.

Hopkins is making investments so its community can conveniently live, shop, and play near each campus without a car. As importantly, Johns Hopkins has a robust Live Near Year Work program with downpayment/closing cost grants of up to $36,000, and is investing in the local public schools and business districts near its campuses as part of its Homewood Community Partners Initiative.

Let me tout my employer, the University of Baltimore. It has a 403b plan, comprehensive health and dental coverage, a free, full-service gym and library. But it also offers many choices for where its employees can live and how they get to work.

It’s within walking distance of many types of housing with different price points. Employees can choose to walk to work, and some do. Those who live slightly further out have the option of biking to work with new cycletracks on Maryland Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, as well as the Jones Falls Trail, which I use.

The university offers discounts on Maryland Transit Administration service, meaning employees can take advantage of the 5 nearby bus lines, the MARC Penn Line, the light rail, and the subway, as well as a fleet of Zipcars. Penn Station, across the street, offers Bolt Bus and Amtrak.

If my colleagues want to be on the highways, go to Jiffy Lube, replace the tires, they can. But they don’t have to. Having the choice is a benefit.

There are many ways to get around.  Image source: Jeff La Noue

There are many ways to get around. Image source: Jeff La Noue

As employers and office developers across the region make decisions about where to locate and to build, it is time to give employees choices about transport. There should be no more LEED-rated, “green” buildings in the middle of auto-oriented sprawl that costs employees their time, money, and health.

Greater Baltimore has plenty of available real estate a short walk from transit stations. There are office infill opportunities on or near commercial main streets and within walking distances of where people live. State Farm in Atlanta is one of many big employers who are moving to more transit-friendly locations.

But employers may not feel the need to offer employees more travel choices unless it’s recognized as a desirable feature. Baltimore Magazine, how about adding commuting alternatives in the criteria for your “Best Places To Work 2014” list?

JL

Cross posted on Greater Greater Washington, Sustainable Cities Collective , the American Public Transportation Association’s publication  Passenger Transport and profiled on Streetsblog and Planetizen

Almost Being Able To Bicycle to School

My son is off to start high school as a freshman in three weeks at Baltimore’s Polytechnic Institute (Poly) High School.  I was excited that he would have an easy bike ride to school. The newly created Jones Falls Trail would get him 90% or  0.7 miles from his high school. I thought it would be a bicycling slam dunk.  I went out to inspect and whoa, not so easy and not so safe…. The last leg is comprised of crossing a highway interchange, hyper fast speeding vehicles, and scary street crossings.  As parents, we are going to have to veto this bike route to school.

Trail my son would take 90% of the way to his High School

Trail my son would take 90% of the way to his high school

Getting from the Jones Falls Trail to Poly HS on foot or by bicycle

The last 0.7 miles between the Jones Falls Trail and his high school

If Baltimore, Maryland, and the US gets serious about making bicycling a mainstream transport option the trails are going to need spurs that safely connect to the places we go.  Trails like the Jones Falls should find tentacles that reach schools and neighborhoods that are nearby but not connected.  A safe spur from the Jones Falls Trail to Poly (and Western) under the elevated portions of the expressway (JFX) could probably be built for under two million dollars. The connection would also provide access to neighborhoods (Cross Keys, Roland Park, Medfield) that are currently blocked to the trail by the expressway.  Because of the scarce dollars allocated to bike infrastructure, I am not necessarily arguing here for this specific project . ( “Safe Routes to Schools” funding is regularly on the Congressional chopping block) Unfortunately, bike planners have to make priorities that make ubiquitous safe connected networks seemingly decades away.

Maryland Counties have highway interchanges on their priority list projected to cost $140 million and more.   These may or may not be worthy projects.  The hypothetical two million dollar trail spur connection between Baltimore’s north-south spine trail to Baltimore’s Math and Science High School and three adjacent neighborhoods is probably considered too expensive to build. As I see a highway interchange prevent my son from easily bicycling to school, it does make me wish one proposed highway interchange in Maryland could be sacrificed so dozens of safe networks of trails could be built linking Maryland’s communities and their schools.

(Baltimore City’s Transportation Priority Letter  emphasizes Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects, but lists no bike paths among its priorities.  Ironically, the letter does focus on a TOD adjacent to the Cold Spring Station and interchange. The letter describes the Jones Falls Trail as “value added.” Today, the Jones Falls Trail passes within 70 yards of the Cold Spring Light rail stop, but does not connect.

JL

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