Riding the new cycle track
I’m a privileged Baltimore bicycle commuter.
I usually board the MTA light rail with my bike at Mt Washington station and get off at Convention Center station, then ride about a mile to Federal Hill. I can easily bike the entire ten miles into work – mostly downhill – but a few years ago a coworker left a note on my desk complaining that I was too sweaty. And in the winter it is awfully dark before 7 AM. So I ride in and bike home.
About two months ago, the train limped into North Avenue station, and they announced a delay. Sometimes delays are brief, but other times everyone has to get off and wait for another train. So I stepped off and biked a few blocks over to Maryland Avenue, which has always been a good route into the city. I was surprised to find a dedicated 2.6 mile bike lane, what Bikemore is calling the Maryland Avenue Cycle Track. The reported costs were about $700,000.
Cyclists now have two lanes divided by a parking lane from automotive traffic. Flexible polypropylene posts reinforce the painted lane markings. At that time there were a lot of gaps, and some dangerous gratings, but as of 2017, except for sewer construction blocking everything but the sidewalks at Mt Vernon Place, the track is largely complete. There are also several of the twenty Bikeshare stations along the route. In the mornings, I regularly see one guy get off with me at Convention Center station and pick up a bike for the remainder of his commute.
Over the last seven years I have tried a variety of routes to bike home. I’ve ridden up both Park Avenue and Charles Street to Falls Road, Clipper Mill Road and some actual bike trails, but the traffic was daunting in some places. For a long time I rode Martin Luther King Boulevard, Paca Street or Howard Avenue to Eutaw Street to Druid Hill Park to Greenspring Avenue or Reisterstown Road. Some of my coworkers thought that route would bring me through dangerous black neighborhoods, but I surprised more than a few people by saying I felt more threatened by the territorial SUV drivers on Roland Avenue than the more laid back folk on Eutaw Street, who roll with jaywalking en masse and on Reisterstown Road, who deal with unlicensed motorbiking every summer.
So for the last few months I’ve been taking the cycle track through the busiest part of my commute. It isn’t perfect. Most pedestrians are careful, but some saunter up and down like they’ve got a new sidewalk, and others cross without looking. And some auto and delivery truck drivers use the track for short term parking. But in general, if I am careful at intersections, I don’t have to worry about being sideswiped by a car until I get onto Falls Road. So that’s great.
As reported in Racial Bias Shadows Bike Share Program, projects like this cycle track tend to cluster in the more privileged parts of the city:
A series of maps composed by blogger Ellen Worthing show bike rack locations, bike lanes and bike share stations concentrated in the city’s “White L,” the L-shaped area of Baltimore of primarily White neighborhoods such as Hampden, Federal Hill and Locust Point. Melody Hoffman, author of the book “Bike Lanes are White Lanes,” said that this has been the case in major cities all over the country.
“Baltimore just made a nonverbal statement that Bike Share is for tourists and downtown business people,” Hoffman said. “When they try to expand it, they’re going to have a really hard time getting other people on those bikes because it’s going to seem like it’s not for them because it wasn’t for them in the first place.”
In that same article it falls to Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, to respond. She hints that state funding would not have been available for a cycle track outside the White L, but also brings up safety :
“Because biking and walking does make you more vulnerable to the environment where you are, that’s not a choice or a luxury that all of our residents of the city currently have,” Cornish said. “We have to be mindful when we’re saying ‘everybody should bike’ or ‘we should be putting this infrastructure to make sure it goes everywhere.”
That sounds like a coded response meaning, ‘It is too dangerous to bike in some areas’, which unfortunately can be true. No one has bothered me so far, but I’m a fairly big man. On some bike paths, there have been a few cases of several black youths knocking white commuters off their bikes, and last year there was one sad case of a white waiter killed in Waverly while biking home from the Harbor East restaurant where he worked.
But it is also part and parcel of the reality that the best stuff goes to the richest areas.
Update 20170119: Liz Cornish speaks in greater detail in a CityLab article. (That’s a Bikemore photo at the top, too.)