Proponents of pedaling Maryland's streets and trails say they've covered a lot of ground in their efforts to increase bicycling opportunities, but there's also much more to do.
"I'd give the city a B-plus and the state a B," said Carol Silldorff, executive director of Bike Maryland, the Baltimore-based cycling advocacy group. "Progress takes time."
In Baltimore, where a survey shows bike commuting has increased 50 percent over the past four years, city transportation officials are beginning to connect popular downtown routes and update the 2006 master plan. Bike lanes will be added to Fort Avenue, Guilford Avenue, South Street, Briarcliff Road and Greenwich Avenue.
Baltimore County is using a $100,000 state grant to create a "Towson Bike Beltway" to tie retail and government centers with Towson University and Goucher College. Dedicated bike lanes are expected to make up 75 percent of the route.
Howard County is at the halfway point in a one-year effort to develop its first Bicycle Transportation Master Plan. The idea is to incorporate the county's 183 miles of natural surface trails and paved pathways and new bike lanes to bring residential areas closer to schools, recreational areas, transit hubs and employment centers. The County Council will hold hearings in April and May before adopting the plan.
At the state level, transportation and parks officials have recruited volunteer and community groups to enhance off-road trails and create new ones. Maps and online services are being upgraded to supply more real-time information to mobile devices.
"We're getting close to producing a map of every single trail in Maryland," said Steve Carr, a planner for the Department of Natural Resources.
At one level, the work appears to be paying off.
In its annual survey of states, the League of American Bicyclists ranked Maryland No. 8, up two notches from 2011. The state got very good grades for legislation, enforcement, policies, education and planning.
But infrastructure and funding remain weaknesses, the survey said.
A 2009 study commissioned by the state concurred, noting an analysis of trails and major population centers revealed that many communities "remain underserved. ... Not only do these communities lack trails as a local transportation option, but they are not linked into the larger statewide transportation trails network."
The study listed 44 communities, including Westminster, Crofton, Ellicott City, Glen Burnie and Laurel.
In 2010, Gov. Martin O'Malley called a trails summit to establish priorities. The governor then launched the Cycle Maryland program and set aside $10 million for local projects to improve bicycle access to schools and jobs or provide the missing link between trails.
Nate Evans, Baltimore's bike and pedestrian planner, said updating the master plan will allow officials to fill in the trail network by looking at the needs of city neighborhoods individually "so we can get input at the grass-roots level of what people will use."
The review also will allow them "to look at what other cities have done, address some of our growing pains and do a little bit of temperature-taking so that we can become better stewards," he said.
The biggest accomplishment during the past 12 months, Evans said, was securing more than $400,000 in state and federal money to expand the city's 40 miles of bike lanes and 39 miles of trails.
Those projects include cycle tracks that place a bike lane between the curb and a row of parked cars to provide a margin of safety for riders. Maryland Avenue, Cathedral Street and Park Avenue could be prime candidates, Evans said.
Bicycle advocates say they will continue to make rider safety a priority in their outreach programs and with the General Assembly. A 2012 report by the Alliance for Biking and Walking that ranked the combined pedestrian and cyclist fatality rates for states and cities placed Baltimore 15th out of 51 major cities and the state 39th.
Silldorff said the organization will launch a $40,000 safety education effort next spring aimed at young riders and will push for a statewide campaign to educate motorists about sharing the road.
State transportation agencies and the Department of Natural Resources are upgrading the online Trail Atlas, an inventory of federal, state, county and municipal routes, Carr said.
"Right now, there are maps by individual agencies. They're all not well labeled and they don't always show what connects to what. We hope to integrate all of that, with standardized symbols and markings, by the end of 2013," Carr said.
Elsewhere, the 20-mile Western Maryland Rail Trail will be extended another 4.7 miles from Pearre in Washington County to Little Orleans in Allegany County. More than 135,000 cyclists last year pedaled the trail, which begins near Fort Frederick State Park.
DNR has allocated $300,000 for the design of a mountain bike trail system at Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls state parks with connector trails to Deep Creek State Park and Savage River State Forest and has enlisted the support of volunteer groups such as Garrett Trails and the International Mountain Bike Association to help with the projects.
Locally, members of the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts are working with staff to improve Patapsco Valley State Park's mile-long Valley View trail, which runs on the ridge above the Patapsco River, said state Superintendent Nita Settina.
Said Settina, "It's not an exaggeration to say that we have transformed the trails ... from eroding mudslides into rolling, water-shedding, fun trails."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun