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

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If Investing: Move Baltimore’s Downtown Prison

Land just south of the Baltimore jail facility-What is the highest and best use of the jail and nearby land?

Land just south of the Baltimore jail facility-What is the highest and best use of the jail and nearby land?

Baltimore’s downtown prison complex is a physical barrier between the City Center and impoverished neighborhoods desperate for investment. Could moving the prison help heal the city?

Sprawling over 27 acres, the forbidding penal facility consumes a vast amount of acreage on potentially lucrative real estate. Surface parking, blight, bail bonds, and strip are the complex’s pitiful neighbors. It does not have to be this way forever.

Many cities have sensibly relocated their prisons away from their economic centers. Baltimore has yet to do so, but may have that opportunity.  Taking steps to move the penal complex from downtown was a pie in the sky idea until the state began publicly planning to sink over a half a billion dollars into demolishing and rebuilding the facility in place. Alternative locations exist nearby.

The penal campus is in the red box.  The shaded area is the impact area of the prison.  Mt. Vernon is directly west.  Johns Hopkins Medical campus is to the east. Downtown and the Inner Harbor are to the south

The penal campus is in the red box. The shaded area is the impact area of the prison. Mt. Vernon is directly west. Johns Hopkins Medical campus is to the east. Downtown and the Inner Harbor are to the south

City Marketing 101 says don’t put your prison complex as the welcome mat to your downtown or your top research hospital. By doing so, Baltimore sends the thousands coming to visit, to work, or to invest a grim reminder that Baltimore houses lots of dangerous people.

There are many questions. What could the land yield over time if the prison facility was not there to repel more promising development?  What new synergies could exist between downtown and the number 1 hospital in the nation?(2013)  How much new development could take place?  What is the potential for new tax revenues?  How many jobs could be created in addition to retaining existing prison jobs in a different location? Could a different future jump start Jones Town and the long stalled Old Town Mall redevelopment? Could the Mt. Vernon neighborhood expand east? Could a badly needed park to serve downtown residents be created? Could a portion of new tax receipts from future development support jobs for youth?

We should be cautious about building costly new prisons.   America must find a way to reduce its world leading incarceration rates, while preventing violent crime.  Locally, Baltimore’s recent prison issues are certainly as much about management as with the aging physical facility. Improved training and wages for prison guards and personnel would be astronomically cheaper than constructing new facilities. However, at some point, new facilities are going to be built. As these dollars are allocated, good money should not be spent on a misplaced location.

The current prison location may be convenient for visitors and employees. Furthermore, criminal courts are nearby.   By this narrow prism, the prison is well located. By considering the land’s far greater potential, relocating prison facilities to Jessup and or abandoned industrial zones are better options.

Many other cities have moved their prison out of their downtowns.  Baltimore has this chance.

Many other cities have moved their prison out of their downtowns. Baltimore has this chance.

Relocating large prison facilities from downtown is not only unprecedented, it is common.  Atlantic seaboard neighbors; New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and Boston have all done so.  New York City’s main prison is an island in the East River.  In the Midwest, Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard is now leading a plan to relocate its jail out of downtown.  Noted urbanist Aaron Wrenn explains the benefit of moving the Indianapolis jail in his article “My Plan to win the war for Indianapolis Government Buildings.” The argument for Baltimore is similar.  

Maryland is projected to add a million people by 2040. Baltimore needs to position itself to capture a portion of this growth.  Adding dozens of acres available for development adjacent to the city’s most prominent employers, as well as I-83 and the subway, is a promising opportunity.

Top City and State decision makers don’t need to follow the narrow agenda of bureaucrats at the State Department of Corrections. There are innovative ways to reduce incarceration, provide opportunity, and remove barriers to Baltimore’s economic potential.  Rebuilding a prison campus in place should not be a rubber stamp.  If other cities understand this, Baltimore should too!

JL

crossposted at Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

Red Line: an Alternative to Scarce Parking

State transportation funding is coming down to the wire and Baltimore’s Red Line is at stake. Losing out on this $2.5 billion injection into Baltimore’s economy is one of the many reasons outlined nicely in this commentary. However, it’s also worth talking about the many ways the Red Line will help your parking situation especially if you live in or visit Southeast (SE) Baltimore.

Premium street parking in SE Baltimore

Everyone who has driven to downtown, Harbor East, Little Italy, Fells Point, Canton, and Greektown knows street parking is beyond a precious commodity and garage parking is expensive.  When there is an event like the Fells Point Fun Festival, parking is a nightmare. Everyday parking is no piece of cake either and has created regular tension between residents, businesses, restaurants, and retailers. The Red Line will help in a major way.

If a meager four percent of the Red Line’s projected 50,000 daily users who would otherwise be parking on downtown/Southeast neighborhood streets are riding the Red Line instead of driving, it would free up 2,000 street spaces.  That translates to over thirteen acres of parking.  To build the equivalent amount of spaces in new parking garages would cost in the ballpark of $40,000,000 and would likely cost far more than a transit ticket for users to park. As an added bonus, Red Line users will generally bypass another Baltimore problem, traffic congestion, by speeding under the most congested intersections.

For many in SE Baltimore, parking is their number one headache. Of note, much of the Red Line opposition in SE Baltimore comes from those with their own parking spaces. The Red Line is not going to solve parking scarcity in SE Baltimore, but it will be darn nice to have an another way to get around and an alternative to giving up a space that you may have worked very hard to find.

Canton Parking Baltimore Sun

Increasingly scarce parking in Canton                Image source: Barbara H. Taylor, Baltimore Sun

Fells Point Fun Festival

Where do people park at events like the Fells Point Fun Festival? Red Line will help.  Image source: City Data

baltimore-md traffic

The Red Line would go underneath this congestion         Image source: Business Insider

tight-parking-space funny

The future of street parking without the Red Line         Image source: signature 9

Savings from not owning a car

According to Consumer Expenditures in 2006, released in February of 2008 by the US Department of Labor’s US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average vehicle costs $8,003 per year to own and operate. Meanwhile, an annual MTA pass costs $768. Zipcars also provide an alternative to car ownership.

Let’s presume 20% of the 50,000 Red Line daily riders decide they don’t need a car (or a second  or third vehicle in their household). Assuming they all purchase a monthly MTA pass, that 20% of riders would collectively save more than $72 million per year.

Of course, if you don’t own a car you don’t have to park it.

Summary

If you don’t like:

  • searching for scarce parking
  • paying for parking
  • the cost of owning and maintaining one or more vehicles
  • having a landscape devoted to surface parking or garages
  • traffic congestion at intersections
  • having federal infrastructure dollars being spent outside of Baltimore

then the Red Line might be exactly what you need!

JL

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