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Goodbye, Goodnight, Thank You

TheOpenRoad-long goodbyeThis will be my last post on Car Free Baltimore. I’ve accepted a city planning position in Dallas and will be relocating there this week.

I wasn’t quite sure how to end this blog. I was just going to list things I hoped Baltimore would accomplish in the future, but then I realized I did that in almost every single post. I was also going to say something about how living car free and becoming a vulnerable road user changed my perspective of city planning and what constitutes good street design, but you can search the archives for that stuff.

This decision didn’t come easily. Even though I’m a transplant and lived up and down the east coast, Baltimore became my home for 6 years. Growing up in the suburbs and going to college in small towns, moving here was my first experience living in a “big city”. Living car free for the first time in my adult life also made me revisit a lot of assumptions and misconceptions I had about transportation planning and what constitutes livability.

While I’ve kept my professional life separate from this blog, a quick search will tell you that I worked as a transportation planner for Baltimore City Department of Transportation for the past 6 years. Some of the things I’ve written about here served as foundations and brainstorming sessions for actual projects. I was lucky to work with some of the most professional, dedicated planners and engineers during my time at BCDOT.  My experience in Baltimore will serve as a foundation for my future planning work. I also owe thanks to the people who took a chance on a kid from the sticks, brought me on board and challenged me with interesting, visionary projects.

I want to give a few shutouts to people who made Baltimore a big chapter of my life at the risk of leaving a lot of people out.  I won’t use full names since I’m sure the last thing these people want is to have Google searches for them land on some dude’s blog about not having a car.  Nate, you kept the wheels going even when I got discouraged.  Jessica, that first tour of Baltimore where the only things you pointed out were “form stone” and “Natty Boh” pretty much covered it.  Mr. Kramer, the statesman who fixed my furniture.  Jamie H., rap star. Kevin, the new Keith Richards. Sarah, for teaching me about dissonance. Scott, orange never bleeds (or something). Madeleine, you were right; I walk like a Velociraptor. Victor, your globetrotting inspired me to get off my ass. Lisa, just go with it when I give aliases at Starbucks. Patrick, get your PhD.  Helen, for keeping everything running. Jeffrey, bring that cowgirl caravan with you when you visit. Finally, a shoutout to Streetsblog who have sent a ton of traffic my way over the years. They carry the flame.

And every single person who has read Car Free Baltimore.  I’ll see you in Texas.

Sincerely,

Mark

**Update 12/2/2013: I’ll be writing at Car Free America with more of a focus on traffic safety, injury prevention research, and other public health aspects of transportation planning.  Since this site is still (surprisingly) regularly visited, the archives will remain up indefinitely.

A Concept for a Thames Street Cycletrack

Thames Street. Wide enough to land an airplane one.

Thames Street. Wide enough to land an airplane on.

It’s argued that Thames Street in Fell’s Point is a major gap in Baltimore’s waterfront promenade. I happen to agree. While the cobblestone street looks great, narrow sidewalks and a complete lack of bike infrastructure creates a bottleneck for pedestrians and cyclists.  Thames Street is about 80 feet wide through the waterfront section; wide enough to create a more complete street while not effecting through traffic. Simply widening the sidewalks could be a possibility, but that’s too easy (and relatively expensive given drainage, utilities, cobblestone and ADA issues). Though not as simple as Pratt Street, a cycletrack along the Thames Street waterfront could reduce bike/pedestrian conflicts on sidewalks and entice more (future) bike share users and tourists to visit Fell’s Point businesses.

I’m a proponent of high visibility cycletracks on major commercial corridors despite the engineering challenges. They’re good for local businesses. They’re a great way to showcase progressive complete street infrastructure, and they “sell” cycling to everyone who uses the street. Thames Street’s primary challenge is the cobblestone, which is not ideal for walking or biking but gives the street an old world charm. Paving the cycletrack with grout while leaving the rest of the cobblestone alone could be a solution. While green paint would be way too gaudy for a historic district, tasteful lane markings with bike icons on the grout could be a possibility. The buffer between the cycletrack and parallel parking bay could be lined with inexpensive movable planters to spruce up all the hard scape.

Parking is the second big issue. Because there are wide 90 degree parking bays on the street to maximize the number of spaces, adding a cycletrack and buffer means something has to give. One side of the street will need to be converted to parallel parking. While I haven’t bothered to calculate the number of spaces which would be lost, I think it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.  The handful of lost parking spaces will be replaced by hundreds of cyclists a day traveling through Fell’s Point’s front door, and research shows cyclists spend more than drivers on local retail.

Concept for a Thames Street cycletrack (click to view PDF)

Concept for a Thames Street cycletrack (click to view PDF)

The third challenge is connecting the cycletrack to streets to the north. Broadway would have new grout bike lanes on the cobblestone sections with signs (and enforcement) to prevent trucks from parking on them, and there would be a connection to Ann and Lancaster Streets. Cyclists would still have to travel over cobble between Broadway and the Thames Street cycletrack, but that’s only for a short distance.

Awesome water views to the south.  A thriving Main Street to the north.  It’s time to complete the scene and transform Thames Street into a complete street.

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Reference: Four ways protected bike lanes help local businesses, Green Lane Project, Michael Andersen

A Concept for a Pratt Street Cycletrack

Pratt Street Cycletrack Crosssection

Pratt Street Cycle track Cross Section

Have you ever biked through downtown Baltimore and thought to yourself, “I can’t believe I survived that”? While riding in traffic is fine for low speed residential streets, downtown arterials require bike infrastructure to get more novice and intermediate cyclists out on the streets.  Just like in transit planning, direct cycling routes are best, and nothing is more direct than Pratt Street. With restaurants, retail, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the MARC station, the awesome bike parking at University of Maryland garage and easy access to the harbor and the Jones Falls Trail, there’s demand for a dedicated bike route on one of the most visible streets in the city.

NYC has shown the world the benefits of cycletracks on high volume streets. Here’s one study:

 The New York City Department of Transportation implemented a bicycle path and traffic calming pilot project for Prospect Park West in Brooklyn in 2010 and published their results in early 2011. It created a two-way bicycle path with a three-foot parking lane buffer and the removal of one lane from motor vehicles. They found that weekday cycling traffic tripled after the implementation; cyclists riding on the sidewalk fell to 3% from 46% (the count included children who are legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk); speeding dropped from 74% to 20% of all vehicles; crashes for all road users were down 16% and injuries to all road users were down 21%. – NYC DOT 2011 Cycletrack Study

Like most good things, there are trade offs. A full lane of traffic will need to be removed on Pratt Street between MLK Jr. Blvd and Light Street. While this may not have a big impact where traffic volumes are lower between MLK Jr. Blvd and Paca Street, higher volume segments east of Paca may see a minor increase in delays (measured in seconds, not minutes). Also, at intersections where traffic turns north from Pratt Street, bike signals will be needed to reduce auto/pedestrian/cyclist conflicts, but this type of infrastructure has been installed in DC and NYC with success.

Pratt St. Cycletrack Concept

Pratt St. Cycletrack Concept (click to view full concept as a PDF file)

These are minor issues compared to the benefits of a Pratt Street Cycle Track:

  • Reduction in auto speeds
  • Increased retail sales from bike traffic
  • Fewer pedestrian/bike injuries on corridor
  • Completes a critical bike network link between neighborhoods east and west of downtown
  • Increased number of novice cyclists who prefer to bike on protected lanes

As for the Grand Prix, the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide doesn’t have a chapter on incorporating 200 mph race cars into bike networks, but if you have any ideas, let me know.

______________

**Reference: New York Times, September 10, 2013: In Bloomberg’s City of Bike Lanes, Data Show, Cabs Gain a Little Speed

 

How To Revive Little Italy

The image some people have of Little Italy

The image some people have of Little Italy

Reports of Little Italy’s death are premature, but with several major restaurants closing in the past few months, the neighborhood needs a shot in the arm.  Tucked between downtown and the glimmering Harbor East, Little Italy has an enormous location advantage along with an image problem.  Do you like wood paneling, 3 piece suits, Robert Goulet and 1970s style plaid carpets? Didn’t think so. This is the image some people have of traditional Italian restaurants. While the quality and diversity of eating establishments will need to improve, Little Italy itself should become more of a destination for Baltimore residents and tourists.  Here are a few ideas to add spark to the area.

  • Restaurants: Having just been to Vapiano in DC, a high-quality, casual cafeteria-style place in Little Italy would pull some foot traffic from Harbor East and appeal to a broader customer base than trend-chasing places like Milan. Larger dining spaces and multi-use venues would create a buzz in the neighborhood and an alternative to traditional Italian restaurants.
  • Visibility: I’ve met a few tourists in Harbor East who didn’t even know Baltimore had a Little Italy. An iconic, brightly lit sign on the Pratt/President Street parking garage would do wonders to make visitors aware of the neighborhood. Better pedestrian way finding from downtown and Harbor East would also help.
  • Street Life: Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. The Bocce court and summer outdoor movies are great, but most of the time the streets are empty. This wasn’t always the case – I’ve read accounts from long time residents that Little Italy’s streets used to be the front porch of the neighborhood.  Times have changed, but buskers, more outdoor dining spaces, and small public plazas would increase the sense of neighborhood safety and vitality.
  • Little Italy’s Front Door: This ties into visibility. People’s first impression of the neighborhood is often the President/Pratt St. parking garage or the parking lots near Fawn St. The parking garage itself is probably the worst gateway to any neighborhood in the city, but until it can be torn down and replaced with a neighborhood-appropriate mixed use project, we just have to deal with it. The Fawn Street parking lots offer an opportunity to create a true neighborhood gateway which brings in foot traffic from downtown and Harbor East.  Somewhere between the development density of Little Italy and Harbor East, potential mixed use projects on these lots could reflect Little Italy’s architectural character while providing modern floor plates for new neighborhood restaurants and services.

In the mean time, go check out the Bocci court and let the locals show you how it’s done.

Car Free Personal Safety in Baltimore

Before I moved to Baltimore 5 years ago I mostly lived in small towns and suburbs. I read a bit about Baltimore’s crime issues before moving here, but didn’t think it would affect me. A robbery headline in the paper was some other guy. When 5 teenagers attacked a bunch of cyclists this spring, myself included, I wondered what I could have done to prevent the attack. In my circumstances, not much. But I will say that ditching my car and being more exposed to Baltimore’s streets has changed me. We adapt to our environments, and city life is fundamentally different than living in a cul-de-sac in Iowa City. Despite all the wonderful things Baltimore has to offer, we still have a crime problem. Accepting this fact is the first step in protecting yourself.

We can’t prevent all crime, but we can do some things to make ourselves appear as less of a victim.  This is a part of personal responsibility. Some people may bemoan the fact that I’m telling them they should change their style or behavior because of where they live. That’s fine. You can wear headphones and play on your IPad on MTA all you want. Something may never happen, but know that you’re dealing yourself a hand with a few extra Jokers thrown in.

So here are a few things I’ve done to adapt to the city and improve my personal safety while I’m out on the street. This stuff isn’t meant to scare you, but make you aware:

  • Ditch the headphones. I used to love listening to music on the bus. I’d get lost in it. Those new ultra-high-quality-ear-muff headphones are temping, too. After witnessing a few grab and runs and seeing joggers with headphones get robbed, I stopped that.  I’d say this is the most important thing you can do to decrease your chances of being robbed. Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but it also gives you a chance to interact with more people while you’re out.
  • Walk with a purpose.   I see a lot of people float apologetically through the streets, eyes focused on nothing in particular and hands in their pockets. Walk like you mean it. Walk like you just came back from Europe after WWII, victorious.
  • Get In Shape.  You can still be a hipster and not look like a light breeze will blow you over.  For dudes: Going to the gym regularly will build your confidence, get you ladies, and make thugs think twice about messing with you.
  • If it’s late, go in groups or get a cab. Notice the time of day a lot of street robberies happen? If you biked somewhere on the other side of town during the day, stayed later than you thought (because that bourbon is good), and have a long bike ride home by yourself through a rough area, think about getting a cab.
  • Stop talking on the phone, txting, or playing with your iPad on the bus. I witnessed several grab and runs on MTA this summer. Most of them involved people txting or reading stuff on their IPad. If your friend just txted, I’m sure they’ll understand if you wait 10min to get back to them. You are not a slave to your phone.  Having to replace a stolen phone with your entire life on it is not something I’d wish on my worst enemy.
  • Bike route choices: In Baltimore, you often have a choice between comfortable cycling routes in iffy areas (Guildford Bike Blvd, Jones Falls near JFX, MLK Jr. Blvd side path), or less comfortable routes in safer areas (Charles St., St. Paul St.). Know your options. Lately, I’ve been choosing the latter.

Living without a car in Baltimore is a struggle, but if you’re able to adapt, it’s still ten times better than the alternative. Especially when you see something like this on your bike ride home.

 

Baltimore Still Needs The Red Line

This is a critical month for the Red Line. With FTA’s Record of Decision issued in February, and Governor O’Malley’s recent plan to raise $800 million a year in transportation revenue, some of which will be used as the local match for the Red Line’s federal funds, there is light at the end of the tunnel for many of the bureaucratic and financial hurdles the project has had to overcome. But it’s not a done deal yet.  Solid support for the Red Line in Baltimore and Annapolis is imperative at this stage. If you support the project, write our mayor and state legislature to let them know.

If you support more transit in Baltimore, but not necessarily this project or light rail alignment, hold your nose and understand that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Maryland isn’t exactly a progressive state when it comes to transit, and another rail project may not come to the Baltimore region in your lifetime. The design challenges of constructing rail systems in old, post-industrial cities are many. Right of way issues, utilities, historic buildings, and narrow streets require compromises. Because you’d rather have a station two blocks west of where it’s proposed doesn’t mean the entire project should be shelved.

If you don’t support any new fixed rail transit in Baltimore, you’re on the wrong side of history. Cities across the U.S. and Europe are making enormous strides with new light rail systems, metros and streetcars and seeing substantial economic and livability gains as a result. Here’s a blurb about Tempe, Arizona’s new light rail line:

Onnie Shekerjian, Tempe councilwoman and chair of the Council Committee on Technology, Economic and Community Development, says she never anticipated a $4 billion economic boost for Tempe.
Shekerjian admits. “The light rail was a very expensive form of transportation, but the fact that it cleared up a blighted area and brought in immense economic development is something that made me very interested.”

On Denver’s FasTracks light rail system:

FasTracks funding will pay construction workers almost $1.2 billion throughout the design and construction period. The direct and induced jobs generated across the community will create another $1.7 billion in wages and salaries. In total, the jobs created by FasTracks design and construction will pump $2.9 billion into the metro Denver economy. Operations and maintenance of the FasTracks system is estimated to be $1.258 billion for the period from 2017 through 2025. A total of 2,573 jobs each year are due to the direct, indirect and induced impacts of FasTracks expenditures on operations and maintenance after build out. This will add over $150 million annually in wages and salaries to the metro Denver economy, most of which will be spent locally.

[But] the impact of FasTracks to businesses in metro Denver and the state of Colorado is far bigger than the jobs and spending created by the construction, maintenance and operation of the system. As John Huggins, Director of the Denver Office of Economic Development succinctly puts it, “FasTracks is much more than a transportation proposal – it is about building on our existing investments to make us the kind of community that can succeed and thrive in this new century.”

This isn’t even counting the economic benefits of giving more Baltimore residents alternatives to driving.  In Jeff Speck’s book, Walkable City, he estimates 80% of the money spent on automobiles leaves the local economy. Not surprising. When you pay for gas, you line the pockets of wealthy Saudi Arabians. When you pay your insurance, Geico’s profits sure don’t stay in Baltimore. Sure, there are local and regional taxes, but these don’t compare to spending money on dinner in Greektown or buying a bike at Joe’s Bike Shop.

And if you weren’t paying attention the last 15 times I’ve said this, a new generation of city residents are driving less, or not at all, and value quality pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, street life, and comprehensive transit systems way more than congestion-free, level-of-service-C-or-better streets. Traffic engineers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to shave 2 minutes off of car commutes. This does absolutely nothing to entice a new generation of residents to move to Baltimore.  You can sell a city through better transit. You can’t sell it through speeding cars through neighborhood streets, even if they are designated as “arterials”.

Critics mention that our existing metro and light rail systems didn’t spur promised development.  Some argue that certain neighborhoods on these lines are worse than they were 20 years ago. They’re right, but not for the reasons you think.  Most of these neighborhoods began their decline before transit construction began, and both the light rail and metro never had a critical mass of riders (except on game day) because their alignments missed a lot of major trip generators while leaving huge access gaps in most parts of the city.

But the tide is changing as the economy improves, and developers now recognize the value in our existing rail transit system, incomplete as it may be. Recent transit-oriented developments like Owing Mills Metro Center, Woodberry mills, EBDI, and the Social Security Administration’s new HQ on Reisterstown Road are in construction, and a high quality transit line which connects the light rail, metro, and MARC systems with stops in booming waterfront neighborhoods takes things to a new level. Struggling neighborhoods in West Baltimore also benefit from the Red Line through reduced auto expenses and more investment, as these areas suddenly become closer to downtown through convenient transit service on a more comprehensive system. I’ll also mention that the Red Line is undergoing a more comprehensive planning process than any other capital project in the history of Baltimore.

While we’re still decades out from a DC-style metro system, the Red Line is one large step towards an interconnected transit system.  In layman’s terms, when the system is built, you’ll be able to get from Bayview Medical Campus to Woodberry Kitchen with one train transfer. Or, from Canton Square to Mondawmin Mall. Or from Mt. Washington to Harbor East.  Or from BWI to Edmondson Village. You get the idea.

In the mean time, MTA needs to step up its game in improving the existing system so when the Red Line is operational, there are no weak links. This means better service on every level with a focus on user experience. Little things like transparent windows on buses, renaming light rail stations so they reflect more relevant trip generators, real time arrival kiosks and innovative bus maps make life easier for all riders. These things build MTA’s user base, so when the Red Line is ready, more people in the city accept transit as a viable transportation alternative.

That’s what it comes down to; making transit a part of everyday life for a larger percentage of people. Building the Red Line is one more step in that direction.

 

Get Back On The Bike

Last month I replaced the freedom of cycling with bus schedules and being on the passenger side of cars as friends tote me around town. While riding down a hill in wintry weather, my bike slipped out from underneath me. I fell and broke my arm. 1 surgery and 2 metal rods later, I’m relearning how to hold a coffee cup with my left hand.  This isn’t sympathy bait, though. The accident could have been a lot worse, the care I got was top notch, and the hospital food at Johns Hopkins was actually pretty good. The worst part of my stay was accidentally watching 5 minutes of the local news in my hospital room.

I suppose a certain amount of hubris is involved in my accident. After cycling almost every day for the past 2 years in Baltimore, I barely had a close call. I’ve been lucky, especially considering I don’t follow the rules. I weave between cars. I run red lights when it helps me get ahead of traffic and take the lane. I yell at people using their phones while driving. Admittedly, I’m not a model cyclist, but my lack of fear is what helped me get on a bike in this city to begin with.

I was wearing my helmet during the accident, though. This is non-negotiable and probably saved me a concussion or worse.

So my people tell me to be more careful when I get back on my bike this spring. Some even suggest I buy a car. I suppose after something goes wrong, the knee-jerk reaction is fear. To contract your boundaries. If you have a close call with an undertow, you avoid the beach. If a relationship doesn’t work out, you second guess the next one. You hit some crazy turbulence and cancel your European vacation next year. This kind of subtle, spiritual atrophy can go on for awhile until you’re living in a metaphysical box.

At this point, it helps to remember the original things that inspired me to take the journey. I gave up my car to improve my health, spend less time and money on a depreciating asset, and discover a city as it was meant to be seen; outside of 3000lbs of steel. To an outsider, to someone who doesn’t get it, it’s just a bike ride. To a regular rider, it’s a new way of seeing a place. As Kasey Klimes says:

On a bicycle, citizens experience their city with deep intimacy, often for the first time. For a regular motorist to take that two or three mile trip by bicycle instead is to decimate an enormous wall between them and their communities.

Yes, the bicycle is a marvelously efficient machine of transportation, but in the city it is so much more. The bicycle is new vision for the blind man. It is a thrilling tool of communication, an experiential device for the beauty and the ills of the urban context. One cannot turn a blind eye on a bicycle – they must acknowledge their community, all of it.

To someone who has experienced at least a few weeks on a bike, the effects of auto-focused land use and transportation systems on what should be people-focused places becomes painfully clear. You don’t really notice the deleterious effects of 40mph traffic on what should be 25mph streets until you become a vulnerable road user. You don’t understand how a few trees and pedestrian lights can make a walk 100% more comfortable until you walk that street. You don’t understand why being able to bike to work safely is a basic human right until, as a novice cyclist, you have to go 10 blocks out of your way to find a low-speed, bike friendly street.  I didn’t start off as an anti-car zealot. Getting out of American car culture made me this way. It completely changed my personal life and professional aspirations.

And that’s too important to give up because of a few broken bones. The undertow didn’t take you all the way down. That ex may of broken your heart but not your spirit. The plane eventually landed safely. I’ll see you on the streets this spring.

 

Ways We Can Make Baltimore More Livable Right Now

Bellingham, WA. Small changes, big impact.

While we wait for the Super Block, a new arena, and a handful of other big projects which promise to change the face of Baltimore, here are a few smaller things we can do right now to make people say, “Hey, this place is alright”.

Low Cost Transit Improvements

Eric Hatch’s ideas are gold, so I don’t need to repeat them here. I especially liked his points about extending transit operating hours to 3am, adding light rail infill stations, and inter-neighborhood shuttle bugs. Having lived in Hampden for a few months now, I can say the neighborhood is a transit desert and needs better connections to Johns Hopkins and downtown. Baltimore has been car-focused for so long that we have to make transit twice as good to attract more choice riders. Small improvements which show MTA cares about quality are a first step. Also, may it’s time to rethink the entire bus network like Portland did in 1982.

20 MPH Neighborhood Zones

Drivers in this town love 2 things: Speed, and messing with their cell phones while driving. Neighborhoods and speeding/distracted drivers don’t mix. NYC has had huge success with their 20 mph zones, and for good reason. This often cited pedestrian fatality chart, Dan Burden’s case studies, Donald Appleyard’s research, and a plethora of other projects show the huge benefits which accrue when traffic is tamed to reasonable levels. Fewer and less severe auto accidents, fewer pedestrian injuries and fatalities, more opportunities for positive street life, and less traffic noise. It’s literally all upside and no downside. 20 MPH zones mean reducing posted speed limits and targeted enforcement, but also include…

Complete Streets

This includes everything from building out our bike network, adding pedestrian lighting so our streets look less post-apocalyptic at night, road diets/traffic calming, street trees, and everything else I’m forgetting to mention. Most of these things don’t even require full reconstruction – they can be done in strategic ways at minimal cost.

Small Public Plazas

Have you been to Pittsburgh? I talk about this place a lot. I guess you could say I have a crush on the town. They’ve mastered the art of small public plazas. Where vacuums between buildings used to exist, now there’s interactive art, educational kiosks, people eating their noodle salad, real children and overgrown children playing hopscotch, and lots of green space. Baltimore has to get over its fear of creating comfortable, fun public spaces. By making plazas attractive for all people, you create a critical mass of positive activity, and the “feel” of the street shifts from something abandoned and dangerous to something inviting and full of life. This all ties into an overarching goal, which is:

Positive Street Life

Everything I’ve said up to this point supports this final thing. Getting off the train from DC into downtown Baltimore is disheartening and a buzz kill.  Aside from the sorry state of Penn Station, most of this has to do with how abandoned our streets are, even during lunch and dinner hours. Streets are people’s first impression of a city, and when they’re filled solely with cars rushing by on wide one way streets at 45mph, it says something negative about our city. Go to NYC. Go to Philly. Go to DC or even parts of Pittsburgh and see how their streets are also outdoor performance theaters, playgrounds, cultural conduits, window shopping opportunities, and bicycle skyways. A quality street does more than one thing well. A street that does many things well becomes magical.

Street Art

And finally, more of this.

One City – Eight Artists – Seven Days: Baltimore from XXIST on Vimeo.

Car Free in Hampden

As if you needed one more picture of that thing they do on 34th st.

So I moved to Hampden last month. After living in Canton for 4 years, it’s a sea change. Instead of drinking at sports bars talking football, I’m drinking with hipsters talking Beach House records. Soon I’ll be wearing tapered jeans and rolling my eyes at the band you like because they’re just too popular.

I was a bit concerned about being car free in Hampden before I moved. Hemmed in by parks on either side and a behemoth elevated highway to the west, the choice of bike routes into the neighborhood range from OK to less-than-great. Sisson St. is crazy fast.  Wyman Park Dr. is alright, but a dedicated off-street bike path would help.  Remington Ave. is good until you get to Howard. If you’re going across town, 28th and 29th streets, which could of been direct routes into Hampden from downtown, are pretty much unbikable due to fast one way traffic.

I haven’t used MTA since moving up here, but I know the Hampden shuttle and the #27 are pretty much it. Just looking at MTA’s maps gives me a headache, so I’m not going into the intricacies of bus access in Hampden here.

A few initial observations:

  • Hills. It seems I’m going uphill everywhere I go. This isn’t logical. I became spoiled living near the waterfront. Now I have to work for my commute. It’s alright though since biking the extra uphill miles will help maintain my Greek god-like physique.
  • Housing variety. Instead of monotone blocks of rowhomes like in Canton, there’s an interesting variety of housing here. Check out Hickory Ave. Reminds me of my former stomping grounds in Asheville, NC.
  • Bright lights. Stumbling out of Golden West at 1am is a glorious experience. The Avenue is lit up like the sun.  We need this kind of pedestrian lighting on more city streets.
  • The inverse of the above point.  Sometimes I bike Charles St./St. Paul St. on my commute. Long stretches of these streets are almost pitch black at night, especially between 20th and 25th streets. You may not notice this if you’re in a car, but it hits you on a bike.
  • Street life. Not just on The Avenue, but throughout the neighborhood.  It seems more people hang out outside of their homes here. Jane Jacobs would be proud.
  • Shoutout to Sixteen Tons on the Avenue, one of the best men’s clothing stores I’ve found in the city. Timeless styles and contemporary stuff. I walk out of there like Brando.

In other news, we’re taking it to the next level and will be starting monthly meet ups to discuss bike/transit/car free issues in Baltimore. Specifics will be announced on our new Facebook page, so “like” us. Or don’t, but don’t say we didn’t tell ya.

Peak Car Use and Burgeoning Cycling Volumes in Baltimore

Ever get the feeling that people aren’t driving as much as they used to? CEOs for Cities compiled national Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) data which shows the usual post-recession “bounce back”  is not happening this time. You can see their graphs here. With a struggling middle class which was hit especially hard during the last recession, fewer people can afford to keep paying for gas, insurance and repairs on a depreciating asset. Even if you’re living in a place which requires a car, maybe you’re driving less and making shorter trips to cut costs. It makes sense.

Driving is falling out of fashion (click to enlarge).

On a local note, State Highway data shows flat and gradually declining VMT levels in Baltimore City, depending on what types of roads you look at. According to SHA’s data, on average, Citywide VMT has grown 0.08% annually over the past 15 years and is up a total of 1.09% during that time. Non-Freeway VMT (which makes up about 95% of our street network) has gone down an average of 0.47% annually over the past 15 years and is down a total of 6.5% during that time. Assumed VMT growth rates used in traffic models is usually 1%-2% annually, but according to SHA’s data, this assumption wildly over estimates future volumes.

The State Highway data may not be completely accurate, but their numbers are showing volumes in the City to be consistently flat or declining, especially on neighborhood streets. This clearly isn’t representative of all communities or intersections within the City, but it may be representative of VMT citywide.

 

On the other hand, from all measures bike ridership is growing dramatically. Bike counts at Guilford & Mt. Royal and Aliceanna & Broadway show ridership up 100% and 60% since Spring ’09 and Fall ’10 respectively. Bike to Work Day registrations are up 347% over the past five years, and Census data shows bike commuting in Baltimore up 228% from 1990 to 2011, and up 104% from 2005 to 2011. The absolute numbers are still relatively small, but the increases have been dramatic and consistent.

So, if someone is looking for empirical reasons to invest in more biking infrastructure, complete street alternatives, and transit, there you have it.