Baltimore Officials: Bicycles Will Relieve Traffic Congestion

Baltimore’s NBC affiliate WBAL ran a story this morning about Charm City’s plan to integrate cycling into the city’s transportation grid.  Local officials anticipate a reduction in congestion as a result.  In some ways, the Baltimore plan is not unlike similar plans in other cities from coast to coast.  Even so, it’s a significant departure for a couple of reasons that I want to share with you.

Baltimore from above.  Urban density makes this a great tableau for cyclists.  By Fletcher6 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Baltimore from above. Urban density makes this a great palette for cyclists. By Fletcher6 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It’s Defensive

Up until now, most cities that have integrated cycling initiatives have done so proactively to pursue some altruistic end, be it cleaner air or healthier lifestyles.  Baltimore officials admit that they are feeling pressure to become bike friendly because they have seen the success that peer cities like Washington DC and Pittsburgh have had with their bicycling initiatives.  This is a game changer.  Going forward, other cities will feel pressure to do more to accommodate cyclists.

It’s a Big, Bold Move

Baltimore isn’t talking about incremental commitment.  Their bike share program is launching with 500 bikes over 50 stations.  As with Pittsburgh’s Healthy Ride bike share program, stations will be scattered throughout the city.  This makes the program more viable in terms of being a transportation resource than programs that have limited station reach.  Baltimore is also building six miles of protected bike lanes in the urban core.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  Lots of bikes, including bikeshare bikes.  No cars.

It’s a Transit, not a Tourist, Initiative

Maryland’s transit authority (MTA) is partnering with the city of Baltimore on bike share.  The focus is 100% on using it as a transit resource.  This is no small thing.  When bicycles are viewed as utilitarian transit vehicles rather than sporting goods, mindsets change more quickly.

It’s Ambitious in Terms of Desired Result

Baltimore officials want to raise bicycle load share from the current 1% level to a whopping 8% by 2020.  Those are Portland/Minneapolis type numbers, and so I suspect it’s overly ambitious.  So what?  I like the fact that they’re thinking big.  Even if they only make it to 4% it would be phenomenal.

Takeways

I’m absolutely ecstatic that we’ve arrived at a point where cities feel that they have to have cycling resources to compete.  We should never underestimate the impact of competition.  I suspect we’ll be seeing more stories like this as time goes on.  In the meantime, I will watch Baltimore’s progress with a keen eye.

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