A group of local organizations recently coalesced to devise a plan to revitalize the cultural fabric of Baltimore with a “trail network” that will make life more convenient for some of the city’s underprivileged residents while addressing inequities in access to transportation.
A $250,000 grant was awarded to the City of Baltimore Department of Transportation to support the development of a key segment of the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network – seeks to create a 35-mile world-class network of urban trails that link together the diverse neighborhoods, cultural amenities and outdoor resources that make up the landscape of Baltimore City – located along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River between the Gwynns Falls Trail and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Jim Brown, manager of trail development for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), is one of the leaders of the project.
RTC, according to its website, serves as the national voice for more than 160,000 members and supporters, 31,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails, and more than 8,000 miles of potential trails waiting to be built, with a goal of creating more walkable, bikeable communities in America.
The conservancy’s national office is located in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Brown says the grant was awarded to the City of Baltimore in September this year and funding was used to finish the design and make the trail project construction-ready in South Baltimore. The Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition and RTC worked closely with several local partners to secure the grant and develop preliminary design concepts for the South Baltimore portion of the trail project, and will continue to work with the city government and local communities to complete the design.
Brown, a Baltimore native and resident says the completion of the 35-mile trail network is expected to be complete in the next five to seven years. Only about 10 miles of the trail needs to be completed in four different corridor gaps. The grant, Brown added, will help complete the South Baltimore gap between the Inner Harbor and Middle River sections.
“The idea being that it will open up a number of communities in South Baltimore to be connected to the downtown area and to the city’s waterfront. It won’t just be a biking and walking tool, but will be a real community development tool— a transportation tool that opens up opportunities for residents to get downtown and residents to get to parks nearby,” Brown said.
The Sharp-Leadenhall, Westport and Cherry Hill neighborhoods are three predominately black neighborhoods in South Baltimore that are located close to downtown and are part of the overall project. The transportation options are inadequate for the mostly low-income and disadvantaged members of these communities and the trail network is working to address the issues that persist in that regard, prioritizing those areas as part of the project to give people better access to the amenities and establishments close by that otherwise may not be easily accessible through local transit.
“It’s an opportunity to start connecting businesses to customers, workers to their job sites, just to fill in some of the last vital issues in the public transportation system. And it’s a way for Baltimore to celebrate some of its outdoor spaces at the parks that make up the city,” Brown continued. “[These linear paths will allow] residents to really experience the city in a way that selects the diversity of the landscape and the people of Baltimore.”
When complete, the trail will also connect what is now a disjointed collection of sidewalks and on-road bicycle facilities into a seamless off-road trail linking Gwynns Falls Trail and Middle Branch Park to the Westport Waterfront, according to Patricia Brooks of MatchMap Media.
The new trail segment will provide scenic views of Baltimore’s skyline and direct access to one of the last undeveloped shorelines in Baltimore, as well as a safe multimodal route to navigate from downtown to Middle Branch Park in South Baltimore.
“An RTC TrailNation™ Project, the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network is a key feature of the city’s Green Network Plan to redevelop vacant land, and connect natural areas and community corridors, in an effort to revitalize underserved neighborhoods throughout Baltimore,” Brooks said in a statement.
The project, which is largely community-driven, is also designed to highlight Baltimore’s history, and will provide easier, safer routes to light rail and metro train stations in addition to creating and enriching the cultural, recreational and economic opportunities for Baltimore residents and visitors.
Theoretically, the RTC will be spearheading a plan that may transform Baltimore into a more productive place with the implementation of much-needed community assets.
“As a community, we need to come up with better solutions to transportation problems, because transportation leads to access of opportunity for everybody,” Brown said.
“And the trail network can be a piece of that puzzle when we are thinking about holistic ways to adjust some of these very serious problems.”