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Baltimore Getting Serious About Bikes

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Thanks to the announcement that Baltimore will have a Ciclovia, some in the livable streets movement already know that Baltimore is changing, that there is more to Charm City than is seen in crime dramas such as "The Wire" and "Homicide."  A recent visit showed me that the Ciclovia is only one of several bike improvements underway.

Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry gives most of the credit to the new mayoral administration, which began early last year: "Between Mayor [Sheila] Dixon's 'Cleaner Greener' Campaign and the other sustainability efforts that she's worked on with the council, Baltimore's main streets are quickly becoming far more comfortable places for people in the community to walk and bike, not just drive."

Baltimore completed its Bike Master Plan in 2006 -- when Dixon was, in title, City Council president, but was basically acting mayor while Martin O'Malley campaigned for governor -- with the goal "to enhance and promote bicycling." The plan was divided into two parts, an "introductory" plan to be completed by 2010 and a more long-term plan to guide the city for decades to come.

The good news is that it looks like the short-term plan is well on its way to completion.

Since I last visited in September of 2007, a series of bike signs and street markings have been added throughout the city. One of the highlights is a network of bike lanes connecting the colleges and universities. In gaps where there are no bike lanes, sharrows and new signage remind drivers that there will likely be cyclists along the route.

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New lanes were also painted to many of the city's attractions and local gathering places. For example, bike lanes have been added to and through "The Avenue" in historic Hampden, the setting and inspiration for the writings of John Waters. As recently seen in Sacramento, parking meters along The Avenue have been converted to free parking for bikes.

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To promote the lanes connecting the colleges, the city tapped the Baltimore Collegetown Network, which has all 16 area colleges as members, to help promote the trails. Collegetown Network director Kristen Campbell credits Baltimore DOT for the lanes and notes how they will help Baltimore's colleges have better access to each other.  Campbell tells Streetsblog, "We worked with the city to cross promote between campuses to students to help them get out and about without using cars."

The signage along the bike routes does more than remind drivers that cyclists are present, it also points the way to bike trails and other attractions, similar to street markings one might see along a bike boulevard.

And the best news of all: it seems to be working. I lived in and around Baltimore for almost a decade, and I saw more people riding bikes in three days last week than I would see in entire months while I lived in the city. Nobody's going to confuse Baltimore with Portland, at least not yet, but it provides a great example of the immediate impacts that a good bike plan with good follow-through can have on the way people think about local transportation.

Photos: Damien Newton

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