Proposed Cycle Track Along 33rd Street Sparks Debate

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Another proposed cycle track is sparking debate in North Baltimore, this time along 33rd Street.

The Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition is leading an effort to build an urban trail network that would better connect Lake Montebello with neighborhoods to the west such as Charles Village, Oakenshawe, Waverly and Ednor Gardens, using 33rd Street as a circulation spine.

As part of their work, the planners seek to determine the best way to provide a dedicated cycle track along 33rd Street between Lake Montebello and Wyman Park.

The corridor is historically significant as one of the major green spaces created in Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s 1904 vision for Baltimore’s parks system. The median in the middle of 33rd Street is wider than most in the city and has dozens of mature trees, adding to the parkway ambiance. In 2015, Baltimore’s preservation commission gave the corridor landmark status.

The latest planning effort comes as cycle tracks have been installed along Roland Avenue and Maryland Avenue. Residents along 33rd Street say they hope to avoid some of the controversy that surrounded those designs, which require cars to park away from the curbs.

At a recent meeting in Waverly, community residents were presented with two ideas for the cycle track, both of which have drawbacks.

One approach is to create a two-way cycle track on the north side of 33rd Street by eliminating on-street parking in front of the houses along the north side of the street.

The second approach is to create a center path or trail down the middle of the median, a change that would involve cutting down trees and putting in a linear “hardscape” or gravel surface where there is now grass.

Residents at the Waverly meeting were divided over which solution is better. Some preferred the idea of altering the median, because that would keep people and bikes separate from cars, and wouldn’t displace parking in front of houses. But others say they fear the construction of any trail on the median would harm the trees there by damaging their roots, and would change Olmsted’s parkway design for the worse.

“This is a disastrous destruction of significant landmarked green space,” resident Joe Stewart said of the option that would alter the median. “We would all be better off if the sidewalks were shared by both pedestrians and cyclists and nothing was done to the median strip other than to enhance the green space by resodding already damaged grass,” as well as adding Olmsted Parkway markers and picking up trash.

Stewart pointed out that another option would be to create a cycle track on an east-west street other than 33rd, but that was not brought up.

Resident Duncan Stuart noted that putting a path in the median would make it difficult for pedestrians or bikers to go from block to block because they would have to cross streets that run perpendicular to 33rd at points where there are no crosswalks.

Defenders of Olmsted’s 33rd Street parkway have created a Facebook page called Friends of E. 33rd Street Green Space, which highlights many of the landmarks that can be found along 33rd Street, from schools to churches, and provides updates about the corridor.

As part of the planning process, neighbors are going to walk along 33rd Street on Saturday, April 8, from Hillen Road to St. Paul Street (weather permitting). The walk will be led by Kirsch Jones, an engineer and an arborist. His goal is to give participants a chance to evaluate the cycle options by going block by block, rather than just by looking at plans on paper.

The walk will start at 10 a.m. at the east end of the median, where 33rd Street meets Hillen Road. “No need to RSVP,” the planners say. “Just show up.”

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts


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5 COMMENTS

  1. Defenders of Olmsted’s 33rd Street Parkway? More like defenders of the current traffic sewer.

    Olmsted’s intent was a true parkway, far wider than the existing boulevard, and containing separated trail space for biking, walking, or horseback riding.

    Let’s stick with the facts instead of fear-mongering from a single neighbor.

  2. As a resident of Roland Park, I would encourage the 33rd Street neighbors to resist the cycle track. The Roland Avenue debacle has been nothing but a headache and an eyesore and frankly a danger, and at least 90% of the cyclists that I see go by on any given day do not ride in the designated bike lane, but rather ride in the car lane. Take the money and do something worthwhile for the children of Baltimore instead.

    • I thought neighbors in Roland Park were supportive of a median path.

      In any rate, the design for Roland was similar to the boulevards of 33rd and Gwynns Falls.

      It’s a historic tragedy that cars are allowed to park along the Roland Parkway instead of the central garages where they belong.

  3. Fred– having gone to the cycle track neighborhood meetings, I do not believe that the majority of residents are in favor of the path, particularly as it is now. For each positive comment from the group, there tend to be at least ten negative. That’s just my experience.
    Mike– Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough — I agree that bikes have a right to drive in the “car lane.” That was certainly how I was trained to ride a bike — bikes must obey the “rules of the road.” That’s part of my problem with the cycle track. I think, on the one hand, it creates a false sense of safety for young people who ride in it, and aren’t taught the rules of the road, not to mention that the track rests between the parked cars and the curb, which is where all the debris collects, and there is more risk of hitting pedestrians and opening car doors. And I think that the older cyclists (the more “serious” riders who wear cycling gear, etc) realize that the cycle track isn’t safe for them. I support bikes being able to ride in the road. I hope that made a little more sense.
    Again, this is only from my own experience of living with the cycle track as it currently is.

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