Members of the black biking advocacy group, Black People Ride Bikes, prepare to survey West Baltimore neighborhoods ahead of traffic calming measures that will begin in Spring 2021.

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

Baltimore’s Black biking advocacy group, Black People Ride Bikes (BPRB), recently teamed up with local transportation authorities to survey West Baltimore neighborhoods on traffic safety and speed reduction measures.

The organization has little more than a year under its belt, but is already working for the inclusion of Black neighborhoods into the City’s network of bike safety lanes and paths that lead to urban greenways. 

“Typically, we see bike infrastructure in downtown areas, city center areas, or more affluent areas of the city where it looks nice,” said Nia Reed-Jones, co-founder of Black People Ride Bikes. “In the Black communities, for the most part, there is no bike infrastructure.”

Reed-Jones said the work with the City of Baltimore’s Department of Transportation has been for brainstorming purposes, but also to be “a voice for the less affluent areas of Baltimore that have just as many cyclists as the affluent areas.”

BPRB members from Baltimore and beyond came together to get community input ahead of the changes slated to take place in the neighborhoods along Route 40, west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

BPRB members from Baltimore and beyond came together to get community input ahead of the changes slated to take place in the neighborhoods along Route 40, west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The West Baltimore Traffic Calming Survey aims to get “feedback on a network of traffic calming measures planned for Smallwood Street, Stricker Street, Carrollton Avenue, Lexington Street and Hollins Street.” 

The plan will also include intersections where those streets cross Baltimore Street and Fayette Street.

In the survey, residents are asked to identify other streets where traffic calming is necessary and rank a selection of traffic calming measures they would like to see in their area.

“Our goal is to get the community buy-in,” said Reed-Jones. “Often there may be infrastructure placed in these communities but they have no input. It might affect where they can park when they get home from work or different traffic issues might occur.”

Speed humps, enhanced mini-circles, raised or decorated crosswalks, four way stops, and speed cameras are all options. Cyclists looking to traverse West Baltimore could also receive contraflow bike lanes that allow bikers to ride in the opposite direction of motor vehicle traffic for greater visibility.

“The plan that we have proposed for West Baltimore is a bike boulevard treatment,” said Matthew Hendrickson, lead bike planner with the Baltimore City Department of Transportation. 

“It includes speed humps, traffic circles, and signage to make a low-stress network for the area.” 

Hendrickson said the changes will help residents access Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, get to transit hubs in West Baltimore, and in and out of the downtown area.

According to the survey, the new project was “developed in response to neighborhood concerns about speeding vehicles making it dangerous to walk, bike, or catch the bus in the area.” 

West Baltimoreans may have noticed the installation of mini-roundabouts in the past. However, they were not installed properly and no steps were taken to remedy the issue. 

The current initiative is meant to “both fix previous errors and make changes to the design based on neighborhood feedback.” 

The surveys are being done ahead of construction that is planned for Spring 2021.

“We want to make sure we are doing this right and getting feedback is a really important part of this process. It’s logical and it just makes sense,” he said. “We have to do our outreach. We really want to hear from the community to make sure we are serving their needs.”

Hendrickson told the AFRO that having input from stakeholders like BPRB is crucial.

The group was founded in August 2019 with a mission to make “cycling more accessible regardless of socioeconomic background, ethnicity, or experience level.” 

For co-founder Shaka Pitts, it’s personal. 

The youth advocate was riding along Washington Boulevard in 2018 when a motor vehicle drove him off the road into a row of parked cars. He walked away with a fractured wrist. The bike was totaled.

“Things like that are happening all over Baltimore,” Pitts said. “There has always been a toxic relationship between bikers and drivers. If you create a space for bikers to cycle safely, you can alleviate toxic interactions between drivers and cyclists.” 

In a city that is more than 60 percent Black, Pitts told the AFRO there is a trend of leaving communities of color out of plans to connect neighborhoods with major thoroughfares, green spaces, and tourist locations. 

“When you look around Baltimore you see the areas that are being gentrified and part of gentrification is the bike lane. Bike lanes follow the improvement of the city,” said Pitts. “You can see that in various areas such as Canton, Federal Hill, and Locust Point. Those areas are valued, those people are valued, that property is valued.”

“It’s blatant and intentional, which is why our mission and the name of our organization is intentional. We deserve that same value.”

Pitts said when Black communities are left out of traffic calming measures like those addressed in the survey, Black cyclists are put at increased risk when they do everyday tasks like grocery shopping or going to work.

BPRB has done well in connecting members of the Black biking community of Baltimore with each other and with other groups around the country. The group has grown it’s sphere of influence over the last year with apps and social media platforms such as Strava, Facebook, and Instagram.

This year the organization joined the Mayor’s Biking Advisory Commission and BPRB leaders say they look forward to working in the community with more initiatives like the survey.

Residents are encouraged to give input as “all feedback received through this survey will be read and considered as DOT makes changes to the current design.” In addition to the survey there will also be at least one public meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. 

“I’m hoping that we can gather useful data that is honest and accurate. I hope that it will be the start of many projects in the future,” said Reed-Jones. “A lot of times the west side of Baltimore is forgotten because there are so many abandoned homes and such a high crime rate. I hope it can be a place that cyclists want to go- not a place to be afraid.”

If you live in the West Baltimore area and would like to take part in the survey, please visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/WestBaltTrafficSafety 

 

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer