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

 

 

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A Rustwirian Travel Guide: Baltimore in a Few Days

Baltimore skyline

Sunset in Baltimore

By: Jeff La Noue of Comeback City

Baltimore-Charm City, Mobtown, Monument City, Birdland, Crabalot, Land of Pleasant Living,  is a town:

  • whose people repelled a British invasion by land and sea just days after these royal forces left our nation’s capital smoldering in glowing embers
  • whose rise came from the trade made possible by the US National Road and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
  • that required federal occupation during the Civil War to make sure it stayed on the Union side
  • where 70 blocks burned in the span of 30 hours in 1904
  • that rioted in 1835 (bank riot), rioted in 1861 (southern sympathizers), rioted in 1873 (railroad strikes), rioted in 1968 (assassination of MLK), and did not riot in 2013 (Ravens super bowl victory)
  • was once the 2nd largest port of entry for immigrants
  • that is 63% African-American
  • where people lay newspaper down on their patio table, listen to dem O’s on the radio, and spend hot summer afternoons dissecting and devouring Maryland’s famed Old Bay covered crustacean

Just 38 miles to the south of the City on the Bay, is another city, exploding with new growth and local ambition reflecting its national and global power. My city is connected by a rickety 52 minute train that still passes over wooden cross ties, but functions mostly oblivious to the action to the south.  My city is a very different colorful textured kind of place. Welcome to Baltimore. This is not the Visit Baltimore tour or the Wire tour.

Where to Stay?

While I do not regularly book nights in my hometown, but here’s where my list would start.  The Admiral Fell Inn, with architectural features that date to the 1780’s, certainly has ghosts. It’s provided lodging for over 50,000 seamen over its long history, and today it’s evolved into a well-reviewed hotel, sporting a great location at that.

You could also step into the grandeur of the 1906 Baltimore & Ohio Railroad headquarters, built from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1904, and stay at the new Hotel Monaco. The building is a testament to the power of the Era of the Railroad, with sculptural adornments like the Roman god Mercury, a mythological symbol of commerce. You may desire cheaper places than these two, but try and stay in Fells Point, downtown/Inner Harbor East, or Mt. Vernon.

What to do?

Baltimore is a city of 200+ neighborhoods. These eight are the most visitor friendly: Federal Hill, downtown/Inner Harbor/Harbor East, Little Italy, Fells Point, Canton, Mt. Vernon, Hampden, and Station North for the young and edgy.

Fells Point in snow

Fells Point in snow

Don’t be afraid to go into the Baltimore Visitors Center (BVC) to begin your search for the right museum, but be wary that their mandate is to hawk the goods, the hotels, and the restaurants of their subscribing members. The BVC can help you decide among 30+ museums spanning a range of topics from art, railroads, industry, dentistry, to Blacks in Wax. There are many good museum choices to meet the needs of the curious. I won’t completely punt on the museum options-here are a few specifics.

Visit Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine unless you absolutely hate history.  The nerdy rangers and the on-site film help interpret a very distressing couple of days for Baltimore and the country. When 5000 troops and an armada of naval ships attack your city with the intent of burning it to the ground, it makes for a quite a story.  But the outcome turns out in our favor and we are still patiently waiting for Hollywood to make a major motion picture out the very worthy narrative that is the Defense of Fort McHenry and the penning of the Star Spangled Banner. The fort sits at the end of a little peninsula in a park-like setting. It affords great views of different city neighborhoods and the outer harbor. From here, you can imagine naval ships tossing cannonballs your way, or watch the 21st century ocean-going vessels importing and exporting. You can get to Ft. McHenry either by the free Charm City Circulator (banner route) or the harbor taxi (in summer). If you need lunch in the neighborhood, go to Hull Street Blues or consider packing a picnic.

Baltimore Fort

Fort McHenry under siege

The American Visionary Art Museum features the works of “self-taught” artists. I saw an amazing emotional exhibit featuring the art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz. Esther, at the age of 15 had evaded Nazi occupiers in Poland with her 13 year old sister,  pretending to be Catholic farm girls. Esther tells her story of survival through works of fabric art.  More traditional art enthusiasts should go to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum.

Action Oriented

I wish our town had a well-marked sightseeing loop for bicyclists, but sadly we don’t.  Therefore, the best way to see Baltimore by bicycle and not get lost is to time your visit with Tour Dem Parks or Tour Du Port, two well-organized rides that show off a lot of the city. The new Baltimore Bike Party offers riders a short dusk/night-time ride and takes places the last Friday night of the month. It departs from the Washington Monument and generally ends at a brew pub.  Check ahead to see what the theme for the ride is. Bicycles can be rented at Light Street Cycles and Race Pace Bicycles, both in Federal Hill or Twenty20 Cycling in Hampden.

Baltimore Bike Party (Last Friday of every month)

Baltimore Bike Party (Last Friday of every month)

For runners, there are many events that can give you the flavor of the city-from the rigorous marathon down to much easier choices.  Every Monday evening, you can join a friendly group, called the Federal Hill Runners for a nice six-miler covering some interesting parts of town that sometimes ends with a beer at a local tavern. If running or walking on your own, I suggest the Baltimore waterfront promenade or the perimeter of Patterson Park: each offer panoramic city views.

It should be easy to rent kayaks in our harbor city, but our old infrastructure can’t keep the sewage out of the water, so this dream will have to wait.

Creative/Cultural

To quickly jump into Baltimore’s creative scene, (one area in which Baltimore may claim to one-up D.C.), touch base with Station North Arts & Entertainment near the train station or the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown.  More formal options are the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Mt. Vernon) and the performances at the beautifully restored Hippodrome (downtown). Baltimore has festivals on most weekends in the warmer months.  Artscape, Honfest, Maryland Film Festival, and the Fells Point Fun Festival are some of the larger ones.

Eat

You’ve got to eat. I won’t leave you stranded.  Breakfast-(the most important meal of the day) Go to the Blue Moon (Fells Point) and get there before 9:15 on weekends to get a table.  The place is cozy and food is tasty.  Other options are Miss Shirley’s (downtown), Golden West (Hampden), Gertrude’s at the BMA (Charles Village), Spoons (Federal Hill), or on Sunday morning, the Baltimore Farmers Market (downtown).

For lunch, try Mama’s on the Half Shell on O’Donnell Square (Canton). You can eat Maryland seafood while enjoying an outside table and watching the natives. If downtown, get a great crab cake at Faidley’s in the lively 225 year old Lexington Market.

Faidleys Seafood at Lexington Market

Faidleys Seafood at Lexington Market

If you had crab in your omelet and a crab cake for lunch you are off to a good start. But for dinner I’ll offer something different.  The Helmand is a fantastic Afghan restaurant (Mt. Vernon). Order their Kaddo Borwani (baked pumpkin) appetizer. Crème Restaurant Lounge is teetering on my list, but I have a soft spot for it. I love the southern-style food and the cool architectural space, but be wary of the quality of service.   If you are looking to treat yourself to a special farm-to-table restaurant, hop on the light rail for an interesting panoramic ride of the eclectic Baltimore Jones Falls valley, get off at the Woodberry stop, and head to Woodberry Kitchen (be sure to make a reservation). This well-deserved high-ranking restaurant is part of the old Clipper Mill, a former machine shop, iron foundry, and cotton duck mill. Be patient with light rail; it should come every fifteen minutes, but pay attention to the schedule. Other good choices are: Geckos (Southwestern/Canton), Jasa Kabob (Pakistani/Canton), Samos (Greek/Greektown), Café Gia (Italian/Little Italy), and Joe Squared (American/Station North).

For a beer, stop in at the Brewer’s Art. The restaurant and bar sprawl across the first floor and the basement of a grand 19th century Victorian mansion.  Fair warning: their beers are potent. In Fells Point, Max’s Taphouse taps 140 rotating drafts. Draft Magazine agrees with my choices. The harbor neighborhoods have a local watering hole on almost every block, a vestige of Baltimore’s working class past where corner bars functioned as today’s living rooms.

Getting around (w/o a car)

Charm City Circulator

Charm City Circulator

The free Charm City Circulator will get you 2/3 of where you need to go. Use it! The Water taxi is a good way to and from harbor neighborhoods, but can get hot, crowded and sticky during peak tourist season. Unfortunately, our subway is useless for visitors. Light rail is a north/south option from the airport to downtown or further north to Woodberry Kitchen. You can also get to the Avenue in Hampden, by taking a half mile walk from the Woodberry stop.  If you must go to or come from Washington, MARC or Amtrak trains are usually the best bet.

Baltimore is a big enough and interesting enough place, so much so that this post does not cover it all. Charm city is pretty charming. Come to Baltimore and have a great time-just don’t go in the water.

Also Recommended:

Pre-gaming at Pickles Pub before Orioles Game at Camden Yards

The Avenue in Hampden

The Jones Falls and Gwynns Falls Trail

Morgan State marching band

Charles Street 12

Patterson Park

Greenmount Cemetery

O'sd pre-game scene

Orioles and Pickles

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