Over the past two years, the Baltimore County Pedestrian & Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) has made an effort to make the county a more walkable and bikeable community. The committee is comprised of councilmatic citizen appointees as well as county agencies representatives from the Office of Planning and Departments of Public Works, Recreation & Parks and Health. Created through legislation sponsored by Councilmen David Marks and Tom Quirk, the committee was instrumental in drafting the county’s Complete Streets policy, which recently won praise from Smart Growth America as one of the Top 10 CS policies of 2013.
Unfortunately, this has been the culmination of the committee’s success. In recent months, the citizen appointees of the committee has faced a major stonewall from county officials.
At the March 11th meeting, the committee heard from the State Highway Administration on how the county could utilize state funds and services to create sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure and trails. In priority funding areas, which cover most of the county inside the URDL, the only obligation for these projects was post-construction maintenance and to provide public notice of the projects. Instead of taking the advantage of this opportunity, county officials offered only excuses as to why this could not be done. Meanwhile, other jurisdictions like Montgomery County are developing world-class transportation trail systems with these same funds.
Following the March 11th committee meeting, the second public input meeting was held to hear what projects citizens would like to see implemented. Other suggestions were submitted to the county before and after the meeting. The list of projects offered by Baltimore County residents included:
- The Star Spangled Banner Trail through North Point
- A Transportation Trail Master Plan which included the Torrey C. Brown/Northern Central Railroad Trail connection to the Jones Falls Trail, Greenspring Valley Railroad Trail, Maryland & Pennsylvania (Ma & Pa) Railroad Trail and the Gwynns Falls Trail connection to the BWI Trail.
- County support for the preservation of an I-70 overpass at W Forest Park Avenue for the Gwynns Falls Trail to connect to the future Red Line Station
- A feasibility study for a tunnel under Bloomsbury Avenue for the Catonsville Short Line Trail
- The Towson Bike Loop “Spokes” project which would add bike lanes and signed routes radiating from the Towson Bike Loop. The original Towson Bike Loop, adding bike lanes and routes to roads around Towson is due for construction in June.
- The project which garnered the most support was the Northeast Trail. The Northeast Trail has been on the county’s drafting tables for nearly a decade. This trail, which parallels Perry Hall Blvd from Silver Spring Road to Lillian Holt Drive, the follows the BG&E right-of-way to Herring Run, has the support of every city and county community association along the proposed alignment.
The April 22nd PBAC committee meeting featured the Office of Planning’s report on which projects to support. The list of supported projects was developed by the Office of Planning after discussions with the Department of Public Works, which oversees roadway improvements and the County Executive’s office. Of all the improvements offered by the community, only two were selected:
- Adding countdown pedestrian signals to some intersections of Bosley Avenue
- 500’ of sidewalk on Rolling Road in Catonsville
All other recommendations have been delayed indefinitely! The most startling indication of the county’s indifference to bicycle projects was the deferment of the Towson “Spokes” plan. This project, which included road diets and utilizing excess pavement for bike lanes, was deferred due to the development taking place in and around Towson. The county wanted to see how vehicular traffic would be affected by these improvements BEFORE adding any bicycle improvements. By this inaction, the county is resigned to plan for more car traffic by NOT planning for or encouraging bicycle, pedestrian or transit traffic.
Citizen members of the committee were visibly agitated by the county’s decision. Carol Silldorff, executive director of Bike Maryland, was first to express her frustration. “This is not enough! Baltimore County needs to support more of these projects as we’re falling farther behind other progressive communities.”
Kathy Schlabach from the Office of Planning answered by stating, “There’s no budget for these projects. The County Executive wants to put every available dollar towards schools.”
When asked who was staffing the bicycle program, Ms. Schlabach indicated she was the only staff and only at a fraction of her time. She also indicated that there was ZERO LOCAL FUNDING FOR BIKE PROJECTS! The Maryland Department of Transportation’s Bikeways Program and the Transportation Alternatives Program could potentially fund the vast majority of the projects suggested, especially if the available state and federal funding was combined to have state funds match the federal funds. However, for almost any project, the county would need to put up at least some local funding as a match and to devote some staff time to project coordination and outreach. Failing to do so leaves available money on the table for projects that have clear public support.
Ms. Silldorff also asked what else could be done for the county to support these projects. Ms. Schlabach replied for committee members and the public to contact their council representatives to help fund these projects.
Laura Cook, the county executive’s appointee at large, made a motion to send a letter to the executive’s office asking for a budget item of $100,000 and a staff position to support these projects. Committee members debated on the exact amount from less than $100,000 to $500,000. Where other communities are dedicating millions of dollars a year toward improving walking and biking projects, Baltimore County squabbles over pennies.
5th District PBAC representative Allysha Lorber offered to produce a list of what other counties and jurisdictions are spending on bicycle & trail projects. Ms. Schlabach then offered to take on that project and report to the committee at the next meeting in the fall. Both Ms. Silldorff and Ms. Cook stated that the fall was too long to wait for these numbers. Ultimately, the committee postponed the motion to wait on the report at September’s meeting.
Other ways the county is showing resistance to the national bicycle movement:
- Baltimore County remains the only Maryland jurisdiction NOT to have the East Coast Greenway signed. Some portions of the route are signed on the Torrey C. Brown/NCR Trail, but not the on-road section between Paper Mill Road and the city line.
- No Bikes Allowed signs are popping up at Robert E. Lee Park
- Baltimore County will not support any trail projects along the proposed Red Line improvements, even though it would connect two regional trail systems: Gwynns Falls Trail & Patapsco Valley State Park