Baltimore spending millions to grow cycling infrastructure

Notice more bike lanes on your Baltimore commute? Nearly $7 million of work downtown to build infrastructure.

Yair Flicker commutes four miles through Baltimore on his bicycle every day — but when he visits siblings in Berlin and Tel Aviv, he realizes the city has much further to go to create the modern infrastructure so many millennials like him want.

Standing in a crowd of 200 or so Friday for the launch of Baltimore's bike share program, Flicker said he is hopeful the nearly $7 million being spent on the city's cycling infrastructure will entice more young professionals to live — and ride a bike — in Charm City.

"It makes the difference between a world-class city and one that's not," said Flicker, 33, of Mount Vernon. He owns a software development business in Canton. "It is definitely one of those checklist things you need to be the type of city we all want Baltimore to be."

Work is scheduled to be wrapped up in about a month on the centerpiece of an expanding downtown bike network, a two-way protected track that takes cyclists along Maryland Avenue from the Johns Hopkins University to the Inner Harbor.

The north-south passageway will expand next year with the addition of several east-west lanes in the heart of the city, a half-mile track along Potomac Street in Canton, a protected lane along Pratt Street west of downtown and a 6-mile bike boulevard in West Baltimore.

The burgeoning 140-mile trail and street network also includes protected lanes on Roland Avenue in Roland Park and along the Inner Harbor. The protected track at the Inner Harbor will be dyed green to alert pedestrians of bike traffic.

Caitlin Doolin, bicycle pedestrian coordinator for the city's Department of Transportation, said the goal is to add to the more than 2,000 people who ride their bicycle to work each day — about 1 percent of city commuters. When Washington put a similar emphasis on its cycle infrastructure, the number of bike commuters grew from roughly 1 percent to 5 percent, she said.

For cyclists, Doolin said, "it can't come fast enough, and we agree."

For noncyclists, there have been growing pains.

Meg Fairfax Fielding, 58, of Roland Park said she is not opposed to bike lanes. But she said the city's communication about the track along Maryland Avenue was poor, and its addition has created confusion and safety concerns.

The protected bike lane squeezes traffic, frustrating drivers and adding to traffic jams, she said. Fielding said she also is worried about a lack of signs and signals. And the reconfiguration has created problems for her and colleagues trying to get in and out of the parking lot at her job.

"It's a real problem for us," Fielding said. "I don't object to the bike lanes, I object to the ways they're being rolled out. Cyclists are being given a lot of priority over drivers."

Speaking out on social media, she said, has gotten her "mauled, absolutely hammered."

Ben Smith, a public policy consultant from Bolton Hill, said he wants to ditch his car for a cycle commute, but he is not comfortable riding with motor vehicle traffic. He said wants more protected lanes.

"I have a car, because the bike infrastructure isn't where I need it to be," said Smith, 28. "If the city is going to have a future of multimodal transportation, then folks who use other modes have to support it."

Liz Cornish, who runs the advocacy group Bikemore, said helping more residents, commuters and visitors choose bike transportation will create a stronger, more connected city.

"Biking brings people together," she said. "When you bike, you notice more, you talk to more people, you experience all the facets of our beautiful city up close."

Her comments came at the official launch Friday for the city's $2.36 million bike share program. Rows of 150 bikes — adorned with drawings of Baltimore's skyline on the wheel covers — lined the front of City Hall.

The city will start with 200 bikes at 20 stations and increase that to 500 bikes at 50 stations by the spring. The bikes cost $2 to rent for 45 minutes, and users can buy a monthly pass for $15.

Half of the bikes are eight-gear and the other half are "pedelec," which feature an electric motor assist that kicks in as the cyclist pedals. Doolin said it feels a little like "a ghost pushing you along." All of the bikes come with GPS.

Jon Laria, chairman of the mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission, said future expansions will depend on whether the city can find businesses to sponsor more bikes and more stations.

"Cycling, especially bike share, is economic development, it's tourism, it's transportation," Laria said.

Doolin said the downtown bike network has been growing for the past four years at a cost of $3.1 million. The city paid about $1.9 million, with the rest coming from state and federal coffers.

Work on the Maryland Avenue track that continues along Cathedral Street was slowed by a sinkhole that opened up this month near Mount Vernon Place, Doolin said. Pedestrian signals will be added to every intersection, as well signs directing people traveling northbound by bike to use them. More signs will tell motorists to yield at intersections to people walking and biking.

Adding east-west bike tracks on Monument, Centre and Madison streets is part of the same project. Construction is expected to start on those lanes in the spring.

The two-way protected track on Potomac Street from Eastern Avenue to Boston Street also will begin next year, Doolin said. It will cost nearly $570,000, including $213,000 from the city.

A similar track on West Pratt Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Light Street will cost $375,000. Construction should begin next year.

The West Baltimore bike boulevard will cost $84,000, with work beginning next year. The project on residential streets, including Hollins and Stricker, involves signs, street markings, bicycle-friendly speed bumps, mini-traffic circles and landscaping, much like the one north through the city on Guilford Avenue.

Shirlé Hale Koslowski is trying to get the city to install a bike rack outside her new record store and cafe, Baby's on Fire, in Mount Vernon to accommodate her customers who visit on bike.

Koslowski, 51, of Hampden said the changes coming to the city's roadways have agitated some motorists and forced others to give up parking spots — but ultimately will do a better job of accommodating everyone.

"It's a very, very smart move," she said.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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