Baltimore's 2017 addendum to its 2015 Bike Master Plan would connect existing bike lanes around the city and create a safe network for cyclists. Last week the city released its new budget, but to the chagrin of bicycle advocates, it didn't include funding for the next phase of its separated bike network. Instead, it funnels money into another program and re-proposes projects that should have already been completed.
The FY2020-2025 Capital Improvement Budget shows that Baltimore is shifting the $1 million it originally dedicated to building bike lanes into its Complete Streets program. The much-lauded ordinance, passed at the end of 2018, was supposed to redesign streets through an equity lense and prioritize the needs of people bicycling and walking.
Transferring funds to Complete Streets might not seem like a bad thing, but the proposed bike projects list includes projects that should have already been completed and others that have already been counted in the 2017-2019 plan. Effectively, the city is adding $0 to its new budget for bicycles.
Usually the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (BCDOT) includes a Citywide Bike Infrastructure line in the budget for proposed bicycle improvements over the following six fiscal years. That line has been eliminated in this latest budget, and the BCDOT projects proposed for the next budget cycle are all ones that should have already been completed. Specifically, projects now proposed for 2020-2022 were supposed to be completed this year, and projects proposed for this year were supposed to have been completed in 2017.
As Bikemore, a Baltimore cycling advocacy group wrote, “Delaying projects by anywhere from 3-7 years doesn’t mean you get to count them again.” Many local cyclists are frustrated with the slow progress of the network. Just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a bike lane network is not as useful until it is connected.
The new budget does include important implementation money for Complete Streets. $800k in local funds goes directly to projects, but it is important to note that implementation money for Complete Streets is not the same as building the separated bike lane network proposed in 2017. A Complete Streets project could be improving an intersection for pedestrians.
Baltimore is shifting dedicated bike lane funds to Complete Streets
In order to complete its separated bike lane network, the city needs to put forward $1 million in local money every year for five years. It can then use matching funds from the Maryland Department of Transportation Bikeways and Federal Transportation Alternatives Program to build out the entire network it outlined in 2017 and provide 85% of residents access to low-stress bicycle routes.
Unfortunately that has not happened, and it appears that it won't happen for the foreseeable future. That means Baltimore is missing out on a lot of matching funds from state and federal sources.
Some of the Complete Streets funding goes to ancillary things like updating design manuals—not flashy, but important. However, building bike lanes so slowly leaves cyclists in the infrastructure limbo they've been in for years.
Beyond that, the cycle of grand promises and failure to follow through on them erodes trust in city leaders, both for those who ride and those who don’t. Baltimore has a long history of promising great things for cyclists and failing to deliver; see the Bike Master Plan (2006), Bike Master Plan Update (2015), and the Separated Lane Network (2017).
Some neighboring jurisdictions are doing better
As we wrote last year, Maryland’s suburban jurisdictions are making investments in their bicycle network. Despite the challenges that lower density poses, they are outpacing Baltimore in their quest to provide connected, safe infrastructure.
Montgomery County worked on updating its Bike Master Plan throughout 2017 and 2018, ultimately adopting it in December 2018. Notably, even though its FY19 budget was proposed and adopted in early 2018, the county included a million-dollar bump in its “bikeways minor project fund” in order to jumpstart the planning process for new facilities.
The 2019 budget rationalizes a million-dollar increase to the Bikeways Minor Projects Fund: “Cost increase due to the need to expand the program to meet the increased demand for more low-stress bicycle networks, to prepare for the adoption of the Bikeways Master Plan in FY19, meet the new bikeway industry standards and associated construction costs, support Vision Zero initiatives, and achieve economic development goals where market trends indicate that walkable and bikeable communities are desirable.”
In other words, Montgomery County proactively created a budget that allowed it to immediately jump into funding design for projects proposed in the upcoming Bike Master Plan. Contrast that with Baltimore, which knew this Complete Streets ordinance was in the pipeline but failed to budget accordingly.
Unlike in the City of Baltimore, Howard County, or Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County is not gearing up to build a new master plan; its Bike Master Plan was last updated in 2013. Nonetheless it's investing the second-most per resident of the four jurisdictions, behind Montgomery County.
Anne Arundel is actively funding new trails and installing new bike lanes. In the last three years, the county has added 13 new miles of bikeways, which is how it counts trails and bike lanes. The county is also designing some new significant trails, which will soon increase the mileage count.
But as Jon Korin, the President of the Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County points out, “We still have a lot to do to create a safe, interconnected network.” The key is interconnected, a problem many jurisdictions struggle with.
Howard County has had a Bike Master Plan since 2016, but unlike Montgomery County, it did not follow through with a large, upfront investment to jumpstart development. As a result, many of the projects piggyback off of paving projects or redevelopment. Unlike Baltimore, Howard has not passed a Complete Streets policy and has not updated its design book.
In the last three years, Howard has added 11.5 miles of new bikeways, over half of which were added in FY18 when the county tripled its investment. That's about to increase: FY19 will be the first year that the county funds bicycle infrastructure at $1.1 million a year for three years to build 48 miles in improvements, including 14 miles of new bike lanes.
However, advocates point out that this significantly falls short in fully building the core, connected routes identified in Howard's Bicycle Master Plan and relies on a significant amount of state funding, which is not guaranteed.
Plans are important—follow-through is even more so
Ultimately, jurisdictions like Baltimore need to commit local dollars to build bicycle infrastructure. This allows them to access state and federal grants, which can drastically increase how much a jurisdiction can build and how quickly it can complete connected networks that are useful to residents.
Plans are a fun, flashy part of building a bike network, but they are not the end-all, be-all of creating a bikeable community. Bike plans need sustained investment and commitment.