Representatives of Baltimore's biking and hiking community gathered Saturday for a "state of the trails" summit to set a course for creating more opportunities for recreational users and commuters.
Despite a sluggish economy and a tight budget, the city is continuing work on several projects, said Fran Spero, an official with Baltimore's Recreation and Parks Department. Extending the Jones Falls Trail 2.5 miles from the Inner Harbor to Pennsylvania Station continues on time, as does planning for the $5.9 million segment that will connect Cylburn Arboretum to Mount Washington. Within two years, the trail is expected to be 10 miles long.
Also in the design pipeline is the $4.1 million Herring Run Greenway Trail that will connect Morgan State University and nine neighborhoods. Construction is expected to begin in early 2013 and conclude before the year is out, she said.
At the request of advocacy groups and the city, the International Mountain Bicycling Association is conducting an assessment of Gwynns Falls and Leakin Park and surveying its users to help decide how to restore trails and build new ones.
"Gwynns Falls is an amazing place right in the middle of the urban landscape. The city is fortunate to have it, and it's a shame more people don't know about it," said Dan Hudson, a trails specialist for the association who has worked on projects in North Carolina and California.
He said the 1,200-acre park would be enhanced by a network of loop trails geared to different levels of fitness and skill. Family-friendly trails could be built close to parking and other amenities while more rugged paths could be designed to create a backcountry experience.
Hudson also suggested creating entry points in neighborhoods and using the Interstate 70 commuter lot as a trailhead. More signage is needed, and trails should be made more inviting, Hudson said.
"A lot of things in the park aren't up to snuff. We want to try and put the landscape back the way it was, using native plants and closing bad trails," he said. "We can do that with volunteers and youth programs, the Maryland Conservation Corps and grants."
Advocates for the East Coast Greenway — a 2,500-mile path linking cities from Maine to Florida — continued to push for a commitment to ensure that Maryland's 166-mile segment will have a gap-free route through the Baltimore area.
Summit participants agreed that in addition to recreational trails there is a growing need for bike commuter routes.
A bike count conducted this month by the city Department of Transportation at seven sites showed commuting had more than doubled over the same period last year. During morning and evening rush hours, volunteers tallied 1,466 people pedaling on major routes.
The busiest site was at the intersection of Pratt and South streets, where 122 bikers passed through from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 12.
"We know anecdotally there are more people out there, but this gives us actual numbers," said Patrick McMahon, a city bicycle and pedestrian planner, adding that Baltimore will count bikes again in May.
The city is working with Under Armour to create the Fort McHenry Trail, a greenway between the company's Tide Point campus and the national park that juts into the Patapsco River. Also in the works is a sidewalk trail to replace a crumbling brick walkway from State Center to Camden Yards along the west side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun