The grand houses of Druid Hill once looked out on the park, with only a small two-lane street separating them from the grassy hills and reservoir, says Graham Coreil-Allen, who leads tours of the park.
Like New York’s Central park, the place was set aside in the 1800s for public health and public enjoyment.
But the widening of Auchentoroly Terrace and later Druid Park Lake Drive bifurcated the neighborhood. Today, cars frequently speed down Druid Park Lake Drive, making it difficult, Coreil-Allen says, for some residents to reach the park at all. The Jones Falls Expressway only broadened the gulf to East Baltimore.
On Sunday, city leaders inaugurated a new bike lane that they hope will improve accessibility for residents in Reservoir Hill and Remington. Called the Big Jump, the bike lane eliminates one lane of southbound traffic on Druid Park Lake Drive. It’s part of a nationwide initiative called the Big Jump Project, sponsored by the group PeopleForBikes. Baltimore was one of 10 cities selected nationwide.
“It took away a lane of traffic and it gave space back to the neighborhood,” said Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, an organization that lobbied for the new lane. Cornish said she’s already heard from residents who’ve said they’ve used the new path to get to Druid Hill Park — sometimes for the first time.
It will be a yearlong pilot program, said German Vigil, a spokesman for of the city’s transportation department. Over the next 12 months, his office will seek feedback from pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to find ways to improve it. So far, Vigil said, the lane has been popular with pedestrians, though he acknowledged that there had been some complaints from drivers who objected to the removal of a lane of traffic.
“What it’s doing is connecting communities,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in remarks to the audience at a block party across from Druid Hill Park.
The event featured dance troupes and representatives from various local organizations like Bikemore. The festivities, Cornish said, were meant to spread the word about the bike lane’s existence. With the orange, industrial-looking water barriers shielding the lane from traffic, people thought it was simply another construction project.
Chris Broughton, who regularly leads group rides throughout the city, said he hopes the new lane will make it easier for people in Reservoir Hill and surrounding areas to get around. “There’s a lot of citizens in this neighborhood who can’t afford cars,” he said. For them, biking could be a low-cost alternative to driving.
And the city has many committed cyclists.
Sixty-four-year-old cardiologist David Zimrin rides his bike to work at the University of Maryland every day along with his wife. He said he hopes the city does more to make cycling easier in Baltimore.
“It’s a terrible place for riding in traffic … but the bike lanes are great,” he said.
Another option: the soon-to-launch Lime scooters, electric-powered scooters that residents will soon be able to rent. Keith Warren of Sandtown, 32, tried one out, zipping down the hill and back. “I liked it,” he said.
But the new bike lane isn’t just for cyclists and scooters. Councilman Leon Pinkett III touted the remarks of a wheelchair-using neighbor named Miss D, who now was able to use the bike path to get from her apartment in Reservoir Hill to Remington.
“I’m grateful for it,” said Miss D, 66, sitting under the shade as the smell of hot dogs and veggie burgers grilling wafted over. She had used the new path just the other day to go to the Burger King in Remington for a bacon cheeseburger.