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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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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