There was an interesting time in Baltimore where it seemed like city government was ahead of bicyclists in the city. Not in the sense of there being awesome smooth roads and tons of cycling improvements and polite drivers and understanding cops, but in the sense of pushing for cycling. Baltimore’s now six-year-old bicycling master plan came less from broad community flexing than from City Hall being at least somewhat proactive, or at least reading the writing spray-painted on the wall by the various young-urban-professional magnets around the country—Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., for example—that’ve successfully gone all-in for cycling. Same thing with Baltimore’s bike and pedestrian coordinator position, what you might consider a first step in a city’s evolution toward full-scale bike friendliness. Relatively speaking, the city’s bike improvements since that master plan haven’t been terribly wham-bam but, hey, motion was attained, and that’s something.
It helped, of course, that then Mayor Sheila Dixon was a vocal advocate for cycling. Which is not something we have so much in the upper reaches of city government anymore. But in a very short amount of time, it feels like the cycling community in Baltimore has raced ahead, gained a new momentum. Hang around the Fallsway bike route at the northern edge of downtown one evening post-nine-to-five and you’ll see it. Over the past couple of years a small explosion of shops and bike clubs and blogs have emerged too: cycling news and thoughts from Baltimore Velo; mobile repair shop Mobtown Velo; women-, transgendered-, and queer-run bike collective Bmore Bearings; fixed-gear stuntists Bmore Fixed; new shops Race Pace, Twenty20, and Baltimore Bike Works; and Bikemore, the city’s shiny, new, fully committed advocacy organization. If you moved here five years ago from, say, Portland, Ore., and found a fairly lonely-ass city for those on two wheels, the difference is striking.
It’s a good time to be a cycling advocate in Baltimore. The city’s gotten away with a fairly passive and cheap bicycling strategy up until now. Typically, bike lanes in the city aren’t even directly paid for in Baltimore; they’re written into contractor agreements for road repairs. Meaning, a bike lane here (usually) happens because a given stretch of road is being worked on otherwise, so said bike lane is limited to whatever couple of blocks are getting treated and whenever the orange cones are coming out anyway—hence the city’s “chopped spaghetti” bike-lane network.
Overall, we’re at the crucial tipping point in Baltimore where cars will have to start giving things up, starting with budget dollars, but also road space. City government caved pretty fast last year when drivers complained about a new bike lane on Monroe Street replacing a car traffic lane, giving back the car lane with nary a protest and giving cyclists the finger. The same might happen on Mount Royal Avenue too, with resistance to the loss of a car lane to bikes coming from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Bikemore, is already fighting that battle (see page 12). And those battles will get more heated in the future as more necessary bike improvements in the city present themselves as things that are not free. The challenge for cyclists is to return fire with the economic (and beyond) benefits of that give and take. That is, cyclists have to demonstrate how we can’t afford to not make those compromises. And then do it again and again and again.