New bicycle, pedestrian committee launches

With a goal of making Baltimore County more bike and pedestrian friendly — and also setting the wheels in motion for state and federal funding for projects — the county's new Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee held its inaugural meeting Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Towson.

Carol Silldorf, executive director of the advocacy group, Bike Maryland, called the committee's formation a "groundbreaking" step, and said, "Baltimore County can really start to move ahead in its bikeability and become an example for other counties."

The agenda was modest for the first meeting — topics included approving by-laws and setting a meeting schedule. But the 11-member group, which consists of appointees from each of the seven council districts and four members appointed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, showed zeal for its mission.

Instead of waiting until March for their next meeting, members insisted on adding a session in December to allow them to coordinate efforts to raise funds in conjunction with the state legislative session that begins in January.

Such efforts to seek and obtain federal grants and other outside funding are in line with the suggestion of 5th District County Councilman David Marks, who co-sponsored the legislation that created the panel, with 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk.

Marks, who worked for 15 years in the transportation industry and served on the state's Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, told the committee that several agencies that could help fund projects in the cash-strapped county.

"One of my frustrations is that the county sometimes does not go after these grants that are available," Marks said. "It's free money that we're missing out on."

Budgetary restrictions hung over some of the more lively discussions about projects that members would like to see.

Some of those included efforts as simple as painting bike lanes when roads are repaved and others that are much more ambitious, such as connecting all of the county and city's existing trails and bike paths.

"You really have to push for the low-hanging fruit, and paint is cheap," said committee chairman Sheldon Epstein, chief of the storm drain design section of the county Bureau of Engineering and Construction.

Ray Bahr, the representative for the 1st District, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus, said he had conducted his own personal study in which he added the cost of all the trail plans in the county's 2030 master plan and divided by the mileage — coming up with an estimate that it has cost roughly $1 million per mile of trail built.

At the Dec. 13 meeting, members said that hope to devise a plan to pursue funds from the Maryland General Assembly, and also work on federal funding— one of the eight stated objectives of the committee.

Other objectives include preparing a "six-year pedestrian and bicycle plan program" that will coincide with the county's six-year capital improvement plan; develop a policy for requiring bicycle parking at government buildings and recommending new bike and pedestrian standards for road construction and reconstruction projects in the county.

The committee was born out of a County Council bill that was introduced by first-term councilmen Quirk and Marks in January.

"My first piece of legislation was to create this committee, because I think it can help advocate for a safer, more inclusive transportation system," Marks said. "Most people will choose to drive a car, but we still need to give residents the opportunity to ride a bike or walk to destinations if they choose."

In his part of the county, Quirk is pushing for the completion of the Western Bike Plan, which is in its last phase of county review. A public hearing on that plan could be held as early as January, before the Planning Board and County Council vote on it.

Quirk has also worked with the county and Catonsville Rails to Trails on transferring ownership of 2.2 miles of unused railroad track to Baltimore County for conversion to bike trails.

"I think there's a lot of things we can do, a lot of which aren't very expensive," Quirk said. "The time has come. Baltimore County needs to do more for walking and biking trails."

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