A trail expected to connect 75 neighborhoods throughout Baltimore needs more funding and community support before it can be completed.
The 35-mile trail loop called Baltimore Greenway Trails Network will connect existing trails, including the Gwynns Falls, Herring Run and Jones Fall trails, by adding 10 additional miles. The extended trail will welcome biking, scooter riding, walking and other non-automobile travel.
Many in the communities it will touch are excited about the recreational enhancement the trail will bring, but wonder how long it will take to complete. The simple answer: Nobody knows.
Kate Foster, Mid-Atlantic director of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, said trail projects take a long time because there are several stages of feasibility and design. She knows people want to see the project completed already, but it’s a slow process and that’s not unusual.
“We will continue working on it until it is complete, but I just honestly don’t think it’s possible to put any kind of timeline on it,” Foster said.
Foster said there are three major focuses before completion can happen: more engagement with neighborhood residents, getting additional support and prioritization from the mayor and funding.
To complete the rest of the trail loop will cost an estimated $28 million, of which $4 million has been funded, including a recent $2.5 million worth of federal funding, Foster said. There’s a “once-in-a-generation moment” happening with infrastructure funding from the federal government, Foster added, and she hopes they can continue to benefit from it.
The project involves multiple city agencies, nonprofits and other organizations. The city’s Department of Transportation said it did not have an update about the project, but hopes to have one in the spring.
Chris Ryer, director of the city’s Department of Planning, said they’re juggling several tasks in relation to the project. They are buying the last few parcels of land along the remaining miles of the loop. In addition, they’re working on amending the design manual, which includes what the trail will look like, the width, lighting, and amenities like park benches.
Not everyone is excited about the trail. Last summer, red-and-white “no bike lane here” signs appeared in West Baltimore neighborhoods, opposing the project. Some residents fear it is a sign of gentrification. Foster said it’s critical that people who live in the neighborhoods where the trails are being developed are part of the process and feel that it will add value to their neighborhood.
Celeste Chavis, an associate professor of transportation at Morgan State University, said those responsible for building new infrastructure need to ensure that increased mobility is not at the expense of communities. Transportation, she added, has historically gotten that part wrong.
“They [communities] need to be empowered and not just met with. That’s a critical component to providing equitable transportation,” she said.
Scott Johnson, a community schools coordinator with Belair Edison School, said traditionally underserved communities have been marginalized by large infrastructure. He understands why people would be suspicious of the project, but the greenway, he said, has benefits that can change conversations about infrastructure. For starters, he said, students want safe traveling zones to ride bikes around the city and may need to use the continuous trail to get to jobs and other opportunities in different neighborhoods.
Foster said the nonprofit is working with the city to develop an equitable development strategy for the completion of the trails. She hopes people who are excited about the project express their enthusiasm to their local council member or a community group working on a corridor along the trail’s path.