Ron Cassie's picture
February 21st, 2014

City to Build Mount Royal Avenue Cycle Track

Baltimore magazine

More cycle track, please.

That was the message from bicycle advocates at a public meeting Thursday evening at the Midtown Academy near the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

It won't be completed overnight, but the Baltimore City Department of Transportation presented the next step in a suddenly expanding downtown bicycle network—the Mount Royal Avenue cycle track.

The dedicated, two-lane bicycle route (cycle tracks physically separate bicycles from auto traffic) will run on the north side of Mount Royal Avenue from McMechen Street, near North Avenue, down to Charles Street.

The design, which is 65 percent complete, officials said, will be finished this fall. Construction is scheduled to begin next spring, with the cycle track opening some time in late 2016. When completed, it will particularly help bicycle commuters in the MICA, University of Baltimore, and midtown corridor link with Penn Station, for example, and the forthcoming Maryland Avenue cycle track project. About 45-50 parking spaces will be removed along Mount Royal Avenue to make room for the bicycle track.

At a standing room-only public meeting at the Pratt Library two weeks ago, BDOT
representatives presented plans for a dedicated, two-way cycle track that will run north and south on Maryland Avenue from 29th Street to Pratt Street. That project, expected to be implemented this fall, also includes several new east-west painted bike lanes.

The Mount Royal Avenue cycle track is part of a broader, $6 to $7 million infrastructure upgrade to Mount Royal Avenue that will include dedicated electrical conduits intended to assist Artscape, water main improvements, street and landscaping, new traffic signals, and enhanced handicap accessibility. 

Currently, the only cycle track in the city is the short, north-south Fallsway bike lane east of Charles Street, which starts near the Inner Harbor and links to the Guilford Avenue bike route. Light Street Cycles bike shop owner Penny Troutner and Chris Merriam, executive director of Bikemore, a Baltimore nonprofit bicycling advocacy organization, as well as others in attendance—while pleased to hear the city is building additional cycle track for bike commuters—also strenuously requested that city officials extend the Mount Royal cycle track three blocks more to Guilford Avenue.

According to the current plan, bicyclists are supposed to use the eight-foot sidewalk between Charles Street and Guilford Avenue when either heading north on Guilford or south on the Fallsway cycle track, which is also part of the larger Jones Falls Trail. But an increase in pedestrian traffic and the speed of cars coming off I-83 in that area will remain a hazard without the extension of a dedicated cycle track, Troutner and Merriam said. They also stressed the benefits of a fully connected bicycle-friendly route that sweeps across a large swath of the downtown commercial area.

"This is such a short distance to go [to extend the cycle track to Guilford Avenue]," Troutner said. "We need to complete the thought."

"I strongly recommend continuing the cycle track down to Guilford Avenue," Merriam said, noting that the bike path in front of the Inner Harbor, which isn't physically separated from pedestrians, hasn't worked for bicyclists because of the heavy foot traffic there.

Still, despite the desire to extend the Mount Royal cycle track by several blocks, as well as concerns about crossing North Avenue and turning onto Charles Street—the planned project, though not yet completely designed—was generally well received.

"I think this is great," Troutner said. "The more cycle track, the better."

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Ron Cassie's picture
February 11th, 2014

New Bicycle Supplier Picked for Charm City Bikeshare

Baltimore magazine

The Charm City Bikeshare project took a hit last month when Bixi, the Canadian company contracted to supply the bicycles and equipment, filed for bankruptcy. Fear not, city officials said at the time, funding for the project remained in place and a new supplier would be found.

At Bike Maryland's annual state symposium in Annapolis on Tuesday, Barry Robinson, Baltimore City's transit and marine services chief, said Social Bikes, a New York-based company, has now been selected to replace Bixi. Although a contract hasn't been signed yet, Robinson noted that Alta, the Portland-based company that will operate Charm City Bikeshare, has partnered with Social Bikes in other cities and that he expects the deal to be finalized soon.

"It's a little like changing horses in mid-stream, if that metaphor makes sense," Robinson said, noting the sudden switch in bicycle suppliers with a scheduled summer launch date for Charm City Bikeshare. "But it might also be a blessing in disguise. This is a much less expensive platform and allows for a flexibility that we didn't really have before.

"The Bixi deal was much more expensive," Robinson said, adding the savings will help defray initial start-up and operating costs. "This will be about a one-third of the cost."

In terms of cost and flexibility, Robinson noted that the Social Bike "stations" look more like traditional bike racks than the heavy duty docking stations that Bixi manufactured, such as the ones used in the Washington D.C. metro area Capital Bikeshare program. And, bicyclists will be able to lock rented Social Bike bicycles for short periods of time to other generic racks, railings, parking meters, and sign posts, for example, while renting and using the bikes. Ultimately, Social Bikes will have to be returned to one of the 25 planned official Social Bike stations around the downtown commercial area. 

Generally, once a bike-share membership is purchased, the first 30 minutes of usage is free, with costs going up each subsequent half-hour. Bike-sharing systems, designed for short urban trips, are now in 650 cities worldwide, according to Bikeshare.com.

Phase I of the Charm City Bikeshare project calls for 250 bikes at the 25 stations, and remains scheduled to launch July 1, Robinson said, to coincide with the new fiscal year. Phase II, which would double the size of Charm City Bikeshare, doesn't have a firm timetable, Robinson said, adding that the city needs to find a lead sponsor, or several sponsors, to support the project before it can move forward with Phase II.

Anne Root, Montgomery County's bikeshare program manager, said the recent expansion of Capital Bikeshare there continues to grow in membership. Overall, she said, Capital Bikeshare now has 308 docking station, 2,600 bikes, 24,000 members—and 6.1 million trips under its belt since launching four years ago. Capital Bikeshare is also expanding to College Park and Prince Georges County.
 

Ideally, said Chris Merriam, executive director of Bikemore, Baltimore City's nonprofit bicycling advocacy organization, Charm City Bikeshare members will be able to use Capital Bikeshare bikes—and vice versa—making travel, whether for work or visit, that much easier between the two metro areas, particularly now that MARC train service is available between Baltimore and D.C. seven days a week.

 

 

 

 

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Ron Cassie's picture
February 7th, 2014

Maryland Avenue Cycle Track On The Way

Baltimore magazine

Bicycle commuting in Baltimore is about to get easier. And safer.

At a standing room only public meeting at the downtown Pratt Library earlier this week, representatives from the Baltimore Department of Transportation presented plans for a dedicated, two-way cycle track that will run north and south on Maryland Avenue from 29th Street to Pratt Street. The cycle track (see above image for an idea what part of the track will look like) is designed to separate bicyclists and cars, in some areas by parked cars, in other areas by flexible posts, as well as painted striped lines, particularly at interesections.

Also included in the plan are several new east-west midtown bike lanes (unlike cycle tracks, bike lanes only include painted lines and symbols on the street without physical barriers to traffic).

The DOT expects the Maryland Avenue cycle track to be completed by fall at the latest, said Frank Murphy, deputy director of the Baltimore DOT.

"This is going to be important because this is going to be the backbone of what we are working toward — a citywide, world-class system of protected bike lanes," said Chris Merriam, executive director of Bikemore, a nonprofit bicycle advocacy organization in Baltimore. "This is not going after one of those things that is just low-hanging fruit." 

Currently, the only cycle track in the city is the short, north-south Fallsway stretch on the east side of Charles Street, which then links to the Guilford Avenue bike route. The new Maryland cycle track will give bicycle commuters a north-south option in a busier, commercial side of town, with the expectation that it will also encourage more bicycle commuting, said city bike planner Caitlin Doolin. She noted that bicycle volume on 15th St. NW in Washington, DC, increased more than 200 percent — and is still increasing — after the implementation of a cycle track there. 

Doolin said that the implementation of the cycle track, the first in the city on a high-volume downtown street, will minimally affect the number of current parking spaces on the street. Approximately 10-20 spaces will be removed, she said, or about one for every 100 on the Maryland Avenue corridor. Doolin added, however, DOT does expect the cycle track infrastructure will slow down traffic exiting south from I-83 during peak hours. "Think of it as a piece of world-class infrastructure in exchange for a couple of seconds of delay," Doolin said.

Murphy and Doolin also talked briefly about the city's planned bicycle sharing system, which will include 25 bike stations around downtown and 250 bikes. The current effort to bring bike-sharing to Baltimore, in partnership with Alta, a Portland-based company which will operate the program, which was to launch this spring, is being delayed, in part, because of financial problems with the Bixi, the supplier of the bicycles.

Capital funding for Charm City Bikeshare infrastructure and implementation remains in place, however, while city officials and Alta search for a new bike supplier. Baltimore City is also looking for a lead sponsor to support the operation of the system. 

Murphy said he expects decisions on the locations of bike stations to be finalized by July.

Merriam said he believes the city is doing its due diligence, in terms of putting together a successful Charm City Bikeshare launch and utllizing its state grant money for the program wisely.

"The mayor [Stephanie Rawlings-Blake] has seen bike-share's effectiveness in other cities," Merriam said. "This is what forward, progressive looking cities are doing."

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Ron Cassie's picture
January 24th, 2014

Jones Falls Trail Extension to Mount Washington Approved

Baltimore magazine

From the Inner Harbor, the popular Jones Falls Trail will eventually stretch 10 miles—all the way to the Mount Washington light rail stop—after funding to complete its final phase was approved this week by the City’s Board of Estimates.

Currently, the bicycling and walking path ends at the Cylburn Arboretum.

While the Jones Falls Trail terrain varies greatly—from rough sidewalks to smooth, beautiful vistas of Druid Hill Park—parts, including the Fallsway dedicated bike lane in East Baltimore and Falls Road area below Hampden, are well-trod bike commuter routes.

Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Department spokesman Gwendolyn Chambers told The Baltimore Brew the hope is for construction to start in September, taking an estimated 18 months to complete the trail.

This trail system follows the Jones Falls stream valley and will ultimately connect 20 neighborhoods, including the cultural and arts districts of Mount Vernon and Station North with the Inner Harbor, Druid Hill Park, and Lake Roland in Baltimore County, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The trail also links with the Gwynn Falls Trail near the Baltimore waterfront area.

A detailed map of the Jones Falls Trail, including local destinations on or near the trail, can be found at www.baltogreenmap.org.

 

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Ron Cassie's picture
January 17th, 2014

Pedaling, Planning, Parties, Pancakes & Parks: 10 Upcoming Winter Bike Events

Baltimore magazine

Don't let the colder temps hold you back, the new year's bicycling season has begun with a full slate of upcoming rides, symposiums, planning forums, bike parties, and swap meets.

Here's a short list of 10 upcoming events in the next couple of weeks. Maybe they'll serve as motivation to get back in the saddle now that the days are getting longer, too. The Bikemore calendar, Baltimore Bicycle Club website, and Biking in B'more Meetup page are good ongoing resources, especially for local group rides.

Jan. 18: Jones Falls Trail Family Bike Party: Meets at 9:30 a.m. at Baltimore Bicycle Works on Falls Road.

Jan. 20: Crank Mavens Ladies’ Night Ride: All women ride through Baltimore, starts at 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 22: Winter Bike Sweats: The antidote for spin class boredom. Ongoing Wednesday night 7:30 p.m. rides, either sprints around Lake Montebello or climbs up Roland Park hill.

Jan. 31: Baltimore Bike Party: Ongoing last Friday of every month recreational urban trek and after-party. This month's theme: Hipsters vs. Lumberjacks. Meets at 7 p.m. at St. Mary's Park.

Feb. 2: Pancake Ride: First Sundays through April, leaving from South Carroll High School for 26 or 42 mile ride—with flapjack breakfast stop along the way.

Feb. 3 Six-Week Bike Maintenance Class: Baltimore Bicycle Works mechanics teach the ins and outs of maintenance and repair on Monday nights at 6 p.m. (There is a fee for the classes.)

Feb. 4: Downtown Baltimore Bicycle Network Public Meeting: 5 p.m. at the Enoch Pratt Free Library to discuss plans for the downtown bicycle network.

Feb. 7 & 8: Canton Club's 24-Hour Pedal for Patterson Park: 6th Annual indoor cycle-thon to benefit Patterson Park.

Feb. 9: 17th Annual Bicycle Stop, Swap, and Save: Carroll County Agricultural Center.

Feb. 11: The 17th Annual Maryland Bicycle Symposium: Presented by Bike Maryland at the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis.

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Ron Cassie's picture
December 31st, 2013

New Year's Day: Resolution Runs and State Park Hikes

Baltimore magazine

Don't wait to put those New Year's promises to work: Patterson Park's annual 5K Resolution Run/Walk gets underway at 2 p.m. Wednesday—that's tomorrow—January 1. With a generous afternoon start, you can even afford to over-celebrate tonight.

Race day packet pickup begins at 12:30 p.m. at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church at 2638 E. Baltimore St. Proceeds from the event benefit Earl’s Place Transitional Housing.

Or, try another New Year's Day tradition if you want to spend more year time outdoors in 2014. Maryland state parks from Assateague to Rocky Gap, including Gunpowder Falls and Patapsco Valley, host hikes New Year's Day. Most are relatively short, family-friendly treks.

More info on the hikes can be found on the Department of Natural Resources website. Most of the hikes start sometime between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.—which should be manageable. And the weather, while cold, should be clear and sunny. Happy New Year!

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Ron Cassie's picture
December 27th, 2013

Baltimore Bike Party: Holiday Hangover Edition

Baltimore magazine

Need more holiday cheer? A little exercise to shake off those Christmas carbs?

The Baltimore Bike Party's annual Holiday Hangover ride (above illustration courtesy of Kate Haberer) takes off tonight for a recreational cruise around town. Meet up—per usual with the last Friday-of-every-month ride—at 7 p.m. at St. Mary's Park in Seton Hill.

The route can be found here. Check the ride's Facebook page for more info.

Weather, actually, should be okay tonight. In the mid-40s with no threat of wet stuff.

The after-party, including DJ, food and drink specials, will be at Little Havana in Federal Hill.

And if hot chocolate and snacks are any incentive to get you to the ride, Light Street Cycles says they'll have treats out at the shop today after 4:30 pm.

 

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Ron Cassie's picture
December 20th, 2013

The Best 10 Bike Rides of 2013

Baltimore magazine

So this is basically my travelogue of the past year. An old bike messenger, I’ve always loved riding city streets — the only way to see, hear, and smell any place as far as I’m concerned. Literally feel it beneath your feet. But I’ve also gotten into riding country roads, getting out weekends with the Baltimore Bicycling Club — and this is brand new — discovering the bliss of bicycling camping. Without further ado:

1. D.C. to Pittsburgh: I bought panniers from Baltimore Bicycle Works, camping gear from REI, and loaded my hybrid commuter bike for a 5-day, 330-mile trek from Washington to the Iron City. Here’s the beautiful part: The C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage meet in Cumberland and I slept out all four nights on the trails. Swam in the Youghiogheny River, chased a coyote on my bike, and rode through the 3,118-foot Paw Paw Tunnel in Allegany County.

2. New York City’s Five Boro Tour: Registered months in advance for a good starting spot, covering 40-plus traffic-free miles from Central Park to all five New York boroughs during a blast of weekend riding in the suddenly super-bike friendly city. Also included: a trek over the Queensboro Bridge to catch The National's six-hour show at MoMA PS1.

3. Monument to Monument: On a freezing morning, I tagged along with a hearty group from the Baltimore Triathlon Club and rode from Baltimore’s Washington Monument in Mount Vernon to the other Washington Monument in D.C. — 103 miles. Having lived in both cities, traversing the distance by bike for the first time was a transcendent experience. As was the giant burrito lunch on the steps of the Library of Congress.

4. Civil War Century: I took the easy way out and did the metric century (64 miles) and not the full 100-mile route. An awesome ride, organized by the Baltimore Bicycle Club, that includes the Gettysburg Battlefield — and fresh peaches at the rest stops.

5. Tour Dem Parks, Hon!: The diversity of the bicyclists, of all ages and abilities, and terrain, makes this my favorite annual Baltimore recreational ride. Joined with the Baltimore Heritage group this year and learned some history along the way, too. Go just to ride and see historic Dickeyville.

6. Major Taylor Club Ride: Jumped in on a Wednesday night summer ride with Pittsburgh’s Major Taylor Cycling Club — and got my rear kicked on the city’s steep hills. A great group, though, that leaves no one behind. Met at the OTB (Over the Handlebars) Bicycle Café and then returned for burgers and beer afterwards. Don’t miss the warehouse-sized Bicycle Heaven museum in Pittsburgh, either.

7. Baltimore Bike Party’s Superheroes and Supervillians Ride: The last Friday of every month rides are always a chance to don a costume and ride with about 1,000 friends. This edition was my favorite. Perfect weather and outrageous outfits — not just talking Batman and Superman here — but Frank the Bunny from the "Donnie Darko," Jack Black’s masked Mexican pro wrestler from “Nacho Libre,” and even then-brand new Pope Francis (kind of a prescient choice) in a towering white mitre.

8. Corn Roast Ride: A Baltimore Bicycle Club event, there’s a bunch of different distances to choose from, all ending at the Union Mills Homestead in Carroll County for the 43rd Annual Corn Roast Festival. Fried chicken, juicy local tomatoes, lemonade, live music — and a truckload of Maryland corn, roasted on the spot. I had to cut myself off at three ears.

9. York County Heritage Trail: Connects to the old North Central Trail (now called the Torrey C. Brown Trail), which runs from Cockeysville to the Pennsylvania border. On one of the warm late winter days last year, I threw my bike in the back of my pick-up and drove to New Freedom for a fast 40-mile roundtrip to York and back. Still remnants of snow in the fields, the trail was wet and muddy in parts, but it all just added to the feeling of a midday, winter blues escape that I needed. Perfect for when you need to get off the concrete for a couple of hours.

10. B&A Trail: In April, for the first time, rode the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail for much of a 50-mile roundtrip to the state capital, reconnecting with an old friend and making two new ones in the process. Sixty-degree temperatures, clear blue skies, and halfway through the trail park rangers at the Earleigh Heights station were handing out big, homemade, chewy chocolate chip cookies. Doesn’t get much better. 

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December 16th, 2013

Report: Baltimoreans Driving Less

Baltimore magazine

Some have called it the end of the driving boom.

Paralleling trends across the U.S, Baltimoreans are driving fewer miles and using public transit and transportation alternatives more, according to a recent report from Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group).

From 2006 to 2011, Baltimore saw a 1.8 decrease, per capita, in vehicle-miles traveled. Over roughly the same period, the number of passenger miles, per capita, traveled on transit increased 12.1 percent.

Also growing in Baltimore — the number of bicycle commuters — as it did in 85 of the most populous 100 urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010.

Interestingly, the study found that cities with the largest decreases in vehicle-miles traveled were not those hit hardest by the recession, according to PIRG. Instead, "the economies of urbanized areas with the largest declines in driving appear to have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment, income and poverty indicators."

The metro areas with the largest declines in the proportion of workers commuting by private car or van since 2000 were New York, Washington, Austin, Poughkeepsie, San Francisco-Oakland, Portland and Seattle — with decreases from 3.6 to 4.8 percent. 

Young adults, in particular, across the U.S. have made dramatic reductions in driving. American "Millennial Generation" drivers from 16 to 34 years of age cut their average driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

“It’s time for politicians in Annapolis to support transportation initiatives that reflect these travel trends,” said Joana Guy, program associate for the Maryland PIRG Foundation in a statement. “Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars continuing to enlarge our grandfather’s Interstate Highway System, we should be investing in the kinds of transportation options that the public increasingly favors.”


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Ron Cassie's picture
December 6th, 2013

Weekend Baltimore-Washington MARC Service Starts Saturday

Baltimore magazine

Not that we think you should leave Baltimore for D.C. on weekends, but if you must, there's a new way get back and forth.

Starting Saturday, MARC trains will run between Baltimore and Washington for the first time ever, marking a significant expansion for the commuter rail line.

The Penn Line service will operate nine round trips on Saturdays and six round trips on Sunday, according to a press release from the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Penn Station departures begin at 7:35 a.m. and run until 9:15 p.m. on Saturdays. On Sundays, Penn Station departures begin at 9:15  a.m. and run to 5:30 p.m.

One-way fares between the two cities will cost $7.

Stations served include: Martin State Airport, Penn Station, West Baltimore, Halethorpe, BWI, Odenton, Bowie, New Carrollton, and Union Station in Washington.

“This is something our customers have been clamoring for,” Robert Smith, head of the Maryland Transit Administration, told the Washington PostHe said MARC expects to pick up many of the 6,000 weekend riders currently using Amtrak between Washington and Baltimore.

More information can be found on the Maryland Transit Administration's website here.

(Alas, only folding bicycles are still allowed on MARC trains, including the new weekend service.)

 

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