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.

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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.

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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

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Poised to kick out Millennials

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Thirteen million visitors a year come to the Inner Harbor.  The city has much to gain if it puts its physically active young professionals out front on display.  By playing at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore Beach Volleyball helps create a desirable healthy active image for the city. Instead of being celebrated, Baltimore Beach’s millennials are getting kicked off-stage.

The Inner Harbor has been home to Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) for eleven years.  BBV has 2500 weekly participants, plays games seven days a week from May to September. It draws players who are 87% millennials, or adults between 20-34, 88% single (in case you’re looking), and 37% come from outside of Baltimore City, according to Todd Webster, who runs the league. BBV has been touted as the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the east coast, hosted games for the International Olympic committee, and become a permanent stop on the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tour. Baltimore ought to give BBV the proverbial keys to the harbor, instead there are plans to boot the volleyballers from the Inner Harbor to Swann Park. This is an unambiguous demotion to a low visibility location two miles to the south in the shadow of Interstate 95.

 

IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

The city of Baltimore, Waterfront Partnership, and Greater Baltimore Committee recently released  The Inner Harbor II (IH2 ) plan , which looks at ways to improve open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV’s courts and an existing park as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial with a  subterranean parking garage topped by an oval grass lawn and a small sand “destination.” How this lawn will be programmed is unclear.  The plan will cost $40 million, though parking revenues will likely offset some of these costs.

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field needs a refresher.  But the results of a citizen survey say about the area suggest that residents prefer more local retail in the area and want to address the lack of activity in some parts of the harbor. The plan does not ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.

There are good ideas in the plan, like the pool barge. But unfortunately, leaders are rushing to start with Rash Field,  a controversial and expensive part of the plan. How did the architects choose a grass oval lawn and sand lot for the top of the garage?  How is the proposed lawn not redundant with West Shore Park and grassy Federal Hill?

Baltimore and the Inner Harbor planners would benefit if they mixed-in some of the affordable ingenuity demonstrated by Janette Sadik-Khan’s New York City project portfolio.  Her matra: “Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out.”   She loves to talk about how Times Square was successfully transformed with lawn chairs and paint. All urbanists should view her Ted Talk.

Instead of replicating park-like amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things citizens asked for and retain an existing draw, all at a much lower cost. Beach volleyball could be an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, seasonal activities, and tables overlooking the courts. The space could also accommodate other activities like bocce, ping pong, yoga, zumba, stationary bikes, and kayaks.

Meanwhile, the Rash Field garage is not only expensive, but unnecessary with the existing 45,000 parking spaces in downtown Baltimore.  Has the city studied the possibility of valet parking service operating from the visitors’ center as an alternative? A valet service might make better use of existing parking capacity, be more convenient for visitors, and provide jobs. To increase access, extend  Charm City Circulator coverage to more neighborhoods. Creating a safe network of cycle-tracks to serve bicycles and bikeshare, which will launch this July, on the bike-unfriendly roads ringing the Inner Harbor would help.

In addition, building the parking garage will disrupt a public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for locals and tourists.  A parking facility isn’t enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and disruptive effect on the area.

The view from Federal will soon look a lot like this

The view from Federal Hill will soon look a lot like this

This plan also would have an impact on the city’s millennial community.   Many young professionals seek healthy and active social amenities. The data shows clearly that millennials are driving Baltimore’s growth more than any other generation.  For young professionals, Baltimore Beach Volleyball is arguably the Inner Harbor’s top draw.  Unceremoniously kicking them out will not be viewed charmingly by this opinionated generation.

Millennials heavily populate nearby neighborhoods and have brought new life to the city. Why not ask them to help program the harbor?

JL

crossposted at Greater Greater Washington, Rustwire, and Sustainable Cities Collective

Baltimore Bikeshare needs a Tango Partner: Better Bicycle Infrastructure

MDOT is requesting $882,000 for the implementation of “Charm City Bikeshare.”  44 stations and 425 bicycles are envisioned. Great news!  However, it takes two to tango, and Baltimore will still need better bicycle infrastructure to create a beautiful dance in Charm City. Baltimore has made strides, but Bicycle Magazine is probably on target ranking Charm City  48th out of its top 50 US bicycling cities. Baltimore falls right behind Fargo, North Dakota and Anchorage, Alaska on the list.

To leap ahead of our frost covered competition, Baltimore should build a bike friendly infrastructure network, focusing on its destination rich center to complement Bikeshare. Envision a resident or a visitor starting their Charm City Bikeshare experience in Inner Harbor East. “Sharing” a bike to reach the Convention Center, Camden Yards, University of Maryland Baltimore/Hippodrome, or Penn Station, are all indirect awkward bicycle trips. However, these are the kind of bread and butter trips that make for a successful  Bikeshare system.

Construction crews should be racing to build a generous bi-directional bicycle-only cycle tracks on:

  • Pratt Street from MLK to Inner Harbor East
  • Maryland/Park Avenue extending from Pratt Street to Penn Station/JHU/Charles Village
  • Light Street/Key Highway  extending to Ft. Mchenry/Under Armour
Proposed core cycletrack network (yellow) Approximate Jones Falls Trail (green)

Proposed core cycletrack network (yellow) Approximate Jones Falls Trail (green)

Cycle tracks covering the above territory would provide a core network while giving future Bikeshare users the desired infrastructure in the heavy traffic places that should matter the most. The costs would not be inconsequential, but pale in comparison with other transport infrastructure. It is not a whole lot more than barrier curbs and paint. Other cities are creatively funding these types of projects using local and federal dollars.

The quality of Bike friendly infrastructure on Pratt Street is a telling barometer of how serious the city is about making bicycling a serious transportation option. Pratt Street is home to more square footage of office, retail, restaurants, and visitor attractions than any other 1.5 mile stretch in the region.  It is arguably Baltimore’s premier main street.  This corridor is plenty-wide to incorporate a generous (bicycle only) bi-directional cycle track.  A city that has a Complete Streets Law and looking to advance its Bike friendly bronze rating should prioritize its priority streets for bike infrastructure.

Cycle tracks should be designed within the Pratt Street corridor

A bi-directional cycle track should be designed within the wide Pratt Street corridor

Pratt Street-Baltimore's unofficial main street

Pratt Street-Baltimore’s unofficial main street has poor bicycle facilities

Many Baltimore readers might ask, what about the Jones Falls Trail (JFT) along Pratt Street? It is not adequate.  Here are my reasons:

  • The JFT only traverses four of the roughly 18 blocks between MLK and Inner Harbor East.
  • The JFT doesn’t connect the stadiums, UMB, the convention center, Inner Harbor East, etc.
  • The JFT is a confluence of slow-moving humanity. On nice days, the trail is packed with moms, strollers, children, sports fans, tourists…. It is the ultimate bike/ped conflict hazard zone.  In places with this many people, bicyclists need a bike only cycle track.
Too many people crowd the Jones Falls Trail to be bike friendly-notice bicyclist walking astride bike.

Too many people crowd the Jones Falls Trail to be bike friendly-notice bicyclist walking astride bike.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Montreal and use the Bixi Bikeshare and their route verte system for almost every trip we made within the city.  Bixi worked so well that sometimes it was hard to find a bike because so many were in use. Montreal has built cycle tracks all over the city and they function as a real transportation network serving all generations.

Author on Bixi and Montreal Cycle track

Author on Bixi and uptown Montreal Cycle track

Montreal’s cycle tracks:

  • Directly connect the most important places people want to go
  • Avoid crisscrossing back and forth from one side of the street to the other and maintain straight ahead paths
  • Are geared toward bicyclists (separated from pedestrians and car traffic)
  • Include bicycle traffic signals, plentiful bicycle parking, and directional signage

A section of the cycletrack running parallel to the downtown waterfront in Montreal

Baltimore should be applauded for pursuing bike share. Baltimore is an ideal bicycling city  with clustered destinations and neighborhoods like pearls on a string.  However, to meet its potential, an efficient cycle track network starting in the core of the city should be implemented. Bikeshare is not unlike; roads, the internet, sewers, subways, and cell phones. The network is just as important as the bikes and it does not work well when clogged, indirect, or disconnected. What do you think Baltimore needs to be a Bikeshare success story?

JL

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