Getting around Baltimore without a car

Published on: June 23, 2022 6:00 AM EDT|Updated on: July 11, 2022 11:49 AM EDT

Moving to Baltimore from D.C. meant loading my Peugeot bike onto an early morning MARC train, lugging it through Penn Station, and riding up Calvert Street to a one-bedroom in Charles Village, where I’d spend the next few years without a car.

I wasn’t alone — about a third of all Baltimore households are carless, according to 2020 census data. Reasons vary, but mine were cost, accessible transit infrastructure and a love for the wind in my hair.

I’d moved to Baltimore to cover City Hall at WYPR, a modest-paying gig. Aside from the initial costs of buying a car, associated maintenance, parking fees and gas, Maryland is one of the most expensive places to insure a vehicle. The state’s average cost of car insurance is about $2,400 a year, compared to about $2,000 nationally, according to the personal finance website WalletHub. Drivers in Baltimore pay even more. Eyeing my rent, student loan debt, and a mound of other bills, I eschewed a car payment.

This decision felt possible because of the access to public transit and bike infrastructure my neighborhood granted me. My old apartment was close to the Maryland Ave. protected bike lane and along Baltimore’s high-frequency north-south bus routes, which got me where I needed to go in inclement weather.

Finally — and I cannot stress this enough — biking is fun. I feel connected to the neighborhoods I cycle through, my fellow riders at Bike Party, and the nature along Baltimore’s best trails.

As I dodged cars on Calvert Street on my first day as a Baltimorean, I cursed under my breath and vowed to never ride there again. Here’s the guide I wish I had that day.

Build your confidence by starting slow

State law classifies bicycles as vehicles, meaning riders are supposed to follow road rules. Don’t assume the drivers around you will — bike defensively. Make eye contact with drivers, signal turns with your hands, wear a helmet and affix your bike with front and rear lights. When riding on a street without a designated bike lane, you can take up an entire street lane.

Start slow to get comfortable with varying levels of traffic. Begin with shorter rides down calm streets or protected bike lanes before taking on a busier road during rush hour.

If you don’t have a ride, Baltimore City Recreation and Parks has got you covered: the department hosts free bike rentals at Lake Montebello for adults and youth every Saturday morning April through October and every Thursday evening May through August.

Learn your favorite routes, then build upon them

Figure out what routes you’ll ride frequently, like a daily commute or the way to a loved one’s place, and experiment with your preferred way there. I create my routes by stitching together my preferred north-south and east-west routes. Baltimore’s Department of Transportation maintains this useful map of popular biking routes.

My go-to for riding north-south is the 2.6-mile Maryland Avenue/Cathedral Street protected lane. It stretches from the Inner Harbor to Charles Village. Other streets with non-protected but designated lanes include Guilford Avenue and portions of St. Paul Street.

For riding west-east, a stretch of North Avenue from Walbrook to South Clifton Park hosts a shared bus-bike lane. About a mile south is a protected lane from Mount Royal Avenue to Maryland Avenue. A protected lane on Centre Street/Monument Street runs from Eutaw Street to N. Washington Street.

Do not blindly trust Google Maps’ bike routes. While the app can steer you to protected lanes, it recommends the most direct routes — which likely involve high-traffic streets. For example, when I search for directions in my neighborhood of Remington, the app suggests I take 28th or 29th Streets — roads that connect to I-83 and are locally infamous for speeding and crashes. I recommend avoiding multilane, one-way streets like these; instead, opt for two-way, calmer routes like 27th Street.

Ultimately, route planning comes down to personal preferences. I prioritize protected lanes for my safety and sanity and think it’s worth spending a few extra minutes planning a less direct route that trades distance for less traffic or fewer hills. Others prefer to save time with direct routes.

The more the merrier

Many bikers insist that the more people you bike with, the more joyous the ride. In that case, there is no greater night than Baltimore Bike Party.

On the last Friday of every month, hundreds or thousands of riders gather at St. Mary’s Park in Mount Vernon for a free group ride around the city. The route — about six to eight miles, always biked at a leisurely pace — changes each month. It includes a break about halfway at a large public space such, as Lake Montebello, and ends at a large venue where the party continues with plenty of food and drink. Previous final destinations have included Peabody Heights Brewery, Diamondback Brewing Company and Monument City Brewing Company. The ride, which originated in 2012, has monthly themes that have ranged from Halloween to Flower Mart.

Many other groups hold semiregular rides. Black People Ride Bikes, which advocates for bike infrastructure and Black ridership, hosts conditioning rides at Lake Montebello every Thursday, as well as rides to Black-owned businesses and exploratory rides on Saturdays.

The Baltimore Youth Kinetic Energy Collective, also known as BYKE, hosts bike repair classes and rides for city youth ages 10-24.

The annual Tour dem Parks, Hon! ride is one of my favorite ways to experience Baltimore. Organizers offer 10-, 30- and 40-mile routes that take riders on a tour through Baltimore’s parks and bike infrastructure.

Put your bike on an MTA bus

Even the most fit and seasoned of cyclists will put their bike on a bus to shorten a ride or avoid gasping up Baltimore’s hills.

MTA buses have two bike racks at the front of each vehicle. Only some of the Charm City Circulator fleet’s buses have racks. Putting a bike on a bus rack will require the ability to lift your bike several feet in the air, as demonstrated in this video from the MTA.

The bus operator can also coach you from behind the windshield, or, if necessary, assist you. I’ve also witnessed many riders help.

You can also bring your bike on a MARC train, the subway and Light Rail trains.

Take advantage of Baltimore’s trails and parks

The Jones Falls Trail spans from Mount Washington to the Inner Harbor, passing along the Cylburn Arboretum and Druid Hill Park. Druid Hill is home to a series of trails and plenty of green space to kick back and eat lunch after a long ride.

The 15-mile Gwynns Falls Trail connects more than 30 different neighborhoods in west and southwest Baltimore. It runs through 10 different parks, including its namesake Gwynns Falls Park, and Leakin Park, which contains more than 20 miles of additional trails.

Take a day trip outside Baltimore

I tend to use the bus for any multimodal biking trips within Baltimore and the Light Rail for trips outside.

A quick and easy Light Rail ride to the Falls Road stop will bring you to an entrance to Lake Roland Park just outside the city in Baltimore County.

I have yet to find a bike route directly from Baltimore to Annapolis that I’m fully comfortable with, but taking the Light Rail to Glen Burnie connects you to the Baltimore & Annapolis (B&A) Trail. Exit at Cromwell Station for access to the B&A, which spans 13.3 miles to Boulters Way in Arnold. Riding another 3.5 miles along the Gov. Ritchie Highway takes you to Annapolis. I wouldn’t recommend this route to beginners: you have to ride the highway’s shoulder, which is not for the faint of heart.

Cromwell Station also connects to the BWI Trail, a loop of about 11 miles that circles the airport.

My favorite trail outside Baltimore is the Northern Central Railroad Trail, which spans 20 miles from Hunt Valley to the Mason-Dixon Line. The NCR trail is much farther removed from traffic than the BWI and B&A trails — you’ll feel more lost in nature on this flat, crushed-stone path.

The trail’s entrance on Ashland Rd. is less than ten minutes away from the Hunt Valley Light Rail stop. Riding there will require time on York Road, a busy, multi-lane roadway.

Read more: