Baltimore Greenway Trails Network

Fact Check: The Greenway Trails Network Plan Is Awesome, Support It.

Bikemore is part of the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition, funded by a Plan4Health grant from the American Planning Association and the Centers for Disease Control. Over the past year, our partner and lead on the project, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, has hosted over a dozen meetings with residents and stakeholders adjacent to the Gwynns Falls Parkway and 33rd Street corridor. At these meetings they discussed using these two streets to connect the Gwynns Falls Trail, Jones Falls Trail, and Herring Run Trail into an eventual 35 mile trail loop in Baltimore City where people can walk or bike safely in a dedicated space separated from mixed traffic.

One of the options proposed for 33rd Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway is a two-way, on street protected bike lane.

The other is a center-running, multi-use community path. The advantage of this option is that it could be used both by people walking and biking, as well as neighbors who just want to recreate outside their homes.

This isn't a new idea. The coalition is building on and supporting existing initiatives, including Parks & People’s One Park Concept, Baltimore City’s Growing Green Initiative, the updated Baltimore City Bicycle Master Plan, the Open Space and Parks Task Force, and a revitalized master plan for the Middle Branch. Going back further, it works to bring the original Olmsted vision for Baltimore's "Parkways" to life.

A Brief History of Olmsted Parkways

The revised Olmsted vision in  The Baltimore Sun,  July 26, 1914

The revised Olmsted vision in The Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1914

The Olmsted Brothers Company is responsible for the design of both 33rd Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway, among other parkways and boulevards in Baltimore City. The original intent and goal of these "Parkways" was to bring "Parking" (of the green—not car—variety) into communities, and connect Baltimore's entire park system via linear parks containing designated spaces for people to enjoy the park system by foot, car, bicycle, horse, or carriage.

Rapid city growth led to push back around the size of the right of way required to implement this plan. The result was the series of narrower boulevards present in our city today. Automobile based planning decisions in Baltimore, since these boulevards' construction, have turned them into high-speed automobile corridors, far from the original intent. Luckily, we can look back at the Olmsted vision for Baltimore, as well as to more successful implementations in other cities to see how we could better reprogram this space to match the true Olmsted intent.

The Olmsted designed Lincoln Parkway in Buffalo was planned with a multi-use, protected trail for people walking, biking, or riding.

Lincoln Parkway in Buffalo today looks much like 33rd Street, albeit with wider medians. While beautiful, it is rarely used by people.

The Olmsted Designed Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn in the 1930's with a multi-use median path for people walking and biking.

Today, Eastern Parkway retains the multi-use median path for people walking, biking, playing chess, or sitting on benches.

The Olmsted designed Brooklyn Ocean Parkway's multi-use path was split to include a "bicycle highway" in the 1890's. 

Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway retains bicycle and walking paths today.

Project FAQ /Fact Check

While this is an exciting project that will serve all of Baltimore, and which has the potential to address a number of health, access, transportation equity, historic preservation, and quality of life issues for the whole city - some residents have expressed concerns about potential changes to the public space. A few others have spread false information about the project. 

This is just one piece of a 35 mile trail vision. If this one stretch fails to materialize like the rest of the trail, the economic, public health, and transportation benefits of the entire trail system are in jeopardy.

We address some of the concerns here:

Some neighbors say this will remove green space

The proposed multi-use path, one option being explored on the corridor, will enhance green space. Currently, the medians serve as a green barrier to high speed automobile traffic. Activating this space with a multi-use path is one step in reclaiming the street for all road users.

The proposed median path would actually add active green space by lengthening medians and closing some of the "u-turn" locations between the existing medians to reduce high speed car traffic cutting through neighborhoods.

In addition to the median path, additional trees, shrubs, and rain gardens would be implemented to control and treat stormwater. Currently, the median has soil that is severely compacted and does not effectively treat storm water. 

But some neighbors said you'll pave the median and kill all the trees

While a paved surface is the most ADA compliant and accessible surface, no decisions have been made about trail materials. There are many options. A "floating trail" can rest on the current median surface, and there are many other permeable paver solutions. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an example of a "floating trail" surface that is permeable and does not disturb existing plantings. A soft surface trail also allows water infiltration without tree root damage. 

The next round of study for this project will include specific planning and specifications for tree care as well as trail surface. There are many examples across the country of trail and path construction coinciding with tree care and maintenance. 

This would be dangerous for everyone

The current design of these roadways is dangerous for everyone. The floating unprotected bike lanes are substandard, the sidewalks have too many street crossings, and the wide travel lane allows cars to drive too fast. 

The proposed redesign would be engineered to the highest safety standards to protect trail users, residents, and people driving along the corridor. All crossings would prioritize the safety of trail users. Traffic calming would be a significant part of the design of the entire corridor. 

This plan isn't historic or destroys the Olmsted Vision

See the above background on the Olmsted vision for these parkways. This plan introduces many elements of the historic Olmsted vision, and will ultimately achieve the Olmsted goal of connecting Baltimore City's major parks via parkways that can be safely enjoyed by city residents by foot, car, horse, or bike.

So, what can I do if I support this plan?

#FillTheRoom for the next
33rd Street Open House

April 25th | 6:00 - 7:30pm
29th Street Community Center

RSVP and invite your friends and neighbors here!



Plan4Health & Greenway Trails Coalition Update

In the Fall of 2015, the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition was formed. Funded in part by a grant administered by the American Planning Association, Baltimore became one of 20 cities to be recognized across the country through their competitive Plan4Health Grant.

The grant has provided capacity building funds to help us do critical coalition building work — to create a collective vision for a 30 mile, multipurpose trail loop around all of Baltimore. The funding has supported staff positions at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Bikemore, and CPHA, technical assistance from national experts in public health and planning, and programming in the Greater Mondawmin area. As our grant funding comes to a close we wanted to both reflect on all that we’ve learned over this 18 month process and what we hope to accomplish moving forward.

The Value of Having a Vision for Trails

The vision for the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network--on street facilities and new trails to fill gaps in our existing recreation trail system that includes the Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls, Herring Run, and Middle Branch trails — is one we see championed in master plans across many different agencies and stakeholder groups.

From the New Auchentoroly Terrace Community Association to the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability — plans have been created that aspire to provide better connections to our park system, improved access to recreation, and increased opportunities for folks to choose biking and walking as their primary form of transportation.

This process laid bare how our communities most in need of increased access and opportunity are often asked repeatedly to be part of a planning process that has no real path toward implementation. Neighbors we have worked with have been asking for things like more traffic calming, better crosswalks, and more trails for decades. This tendency for community planners to inflict community engagement fatigue on our neighbors has to end. We must strive for resources that can be invested in tangible improvements, rooted in the community’s vision.

That is one of the true strengths of the Baltimore Greenway Trails process. It’s a marriage of many existing plans — ones that did countless hours of outreach — and provides a clear path toward construction. Neighbors have become critical partners in refining the plan and helping to create awareness, but it was clear from the beginning that to spend neighbors’ time or grant resources on demonstrating need is wasteful and tokenizing.

Despite sections of the trail being years off from construction, having a clear vision has also allowed us to influence planning decisions that are taking place today. Because of our work along the 33rd Street corridor, we were able to negotiate with Johns Hopkins University to ensure that private dollars being used to reconstruct a block of 33rd street between Charles and St. Paul incorporated many elements of future design plans. The improved block design not only provides state of the art accommodations for people who walk and bike, but improves safety for all users by reconfiguring turn lanes and straightening out travel lanes.

Better Engagement

One of our goals through this coalition building phase was to create improved ways to engage stakeholders in the project. We did that through maintaining an active presence at the Druid Hill Farmers Market:


Supporting artist Graham Coreil-Allen to create a demonstration project:


And creating open houses for folks to have early input into the design process:

This was in addition to ten coalition meetings that drew attendees from across city agencies, anchor institutions, the private sector, and neighborhood groups.

Next Steps

As we move from the coalition building phase into the implementation phase, Bikemore’s role in the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network will evolve. We will be supporting Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s efforts to engage neighborhoods in planning sessions, as well as advocating for continued resources and political support to make this vision become reality.

Rails-to-Trails was able to leverage Plan4Health dollars into an award from France Merrick that will support the creation of 30% designs for all the on street gaps that currently exist in the plan. From there, the City has agreed to use these designs to submit for capital grants, such as Maryland State Bikeways dollars to go toward construction.

Neighborhood engagement is ongoing. If you’re interested in having input into facilities planned for 33rd Street and the Gwynn Falls Parkway, you can participate in the following scheduled events: