The medical case for safer cycling in Baltimore | GUEST COMMENTARY

John Hardesty, of Priceless Industries, uses a torch to apply a decal to a new bike lane along Central Avenue at Fleet Street last November.

As a Washington D.C. resident for the better part of a decade, Baltimore has always been near enough to envision a move there, and being in the medical field, training at one of the city’s fabled institutions has long been a personal dream. Now that I’ve started my internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins, it’s been such a pleasure experiencing many of the unique qualities that give Baltimore its charm. From the raucous energy in Camden Yards to the bustling Lexington Market, there is both a sense of community and city pride that I never felt in the District. But Baltimore needs better methods of connecting its many neighborhoods, and addressing this city’s dearth of bike lanes would be an excellent start.

I picked up commuter cycling during my third year of medical school, traveling up to 60 miles a week to get to clinics and hospitals across D.C. It started as a form of exercise, but biking also was a better way to get in touch with the local communities than in the isolation of an automobile. But after a road defect caused a tumble into moving traffic, sticking to streets with bike lanes became a priority.


I was hoping to keep my commuting habits in Baltimore and cycle to work in order to make my 5 a.m. shift at the hospital. There is practically no biking infrastructure to get there, however. This trend is reflected across the city, and that makes biking in Baltimore exceedingly dangerous. It also explains why most of my co-interns live within a 15-minute bike ride to the hospital, but only two of us commute by bike.

There are myriad reasons why the city of Baltimore should devote more resources to biking infrastructure. First and foremost: It’s cheap. One estimate puts the cost of adding bike lanes to existing roads to be as little as $5,000 a mile. Also, with its urban density roughly the equivalent of the walkable city of Budapest, amenities like grocery stores, restaurants and workplaces can be close enough that biking is a feasible method of transportation. If equitably implemented, adding bike lanes would also support lower-income residents because it could reduce the need to own and maintain a costly car. It would also better support the 1 in 10 households that don’t own a car in Baltimore. There is also national funding to support these initiatives. The Safe Streets and Roads for All program set aside $5 billion that cities can apply for to make multimodal forms of transport like biking more feasible.


As a physician, the main reason Baltimore needs more bike lanes is because they can make people healthier, and the data behind this is clear. One study of thousands of people with diabetes found that cycling alone can reduce all-cause mortality by 35% in a five-year period. In a city where 13% of the population lives with diabetes, any changes that can support a healthier lifestyle should be implemented. Additionally, the data show how much the local environment can dictate health outcomes. From the food that is available to the opportunity to recreate, where we live has a sizable impact on health. Around the country, a little over a third of Americans meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention physical activity guidelines. If physical activity is not integrated into the busy lives of most people, such as in a commute to work or the grocery store, there is a low likelihood it will actually occur.

Many conversations I have with patients on the topic of longitudinal health revolve around diet and exercise. I would love to counsel patients to meet their physical activity needs by biking in Baltimore, but until the city commits to building the right infrastructure, I’ll continue to hesitate. That’s why the city needs to take action and put more protected bike lanes across the city. Other residents want this too, as evidenced by advocacy efforts from organizations like Bikemore and BPRB. While the city responded with ambitious goals of creating 77 new bike miles in 2017, only seven miles have been built.

Dedicated bike infrastructure is a cost-effective solution that can help residents achieve their healthiest potential while offering more opportunities for multimodal transit. Even though I am a new resident, I have found so many reasons to love Charm City. Hopefully, I can soon add the city’s friendliness to bikers to the list.

Wyn Dobbs ( is a resident physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital.