Baltimore, Maryland, has more than 6,000 acres of parkland and public space. But for some Charm City residents, these urban gems are giant unknowns—green placeholders on a map, but unexplored and undiscovered in real life.
Fortunately, one program in particular, Bike Around, is helping to change that. Administered by Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks and funded in part by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Bike Around is getting folks on two wheels and allowing residents to experience their urban parkland from a different perspective.
Here’s how it works: You show up at a predetermined location—one of Baltimore’s fantastic urban parks. You then hand over a photo ID for collateral and hop on one of the many blue cruisers available for loan. Donate a few dollars if you can, and go on your merry way! Whether you return in five minutes or a few hours is up to you!
For beginner cyclists or folks being reintroduced to riding, the program is ideal.
Simplicity is the key to the program’s success, according to Molly Gallant, outdoor recreation coordinator for the City of Baltimore. By choosing simple locations (the paths around the city’s reservoirs are flat and easy to navigate), having user-friendly bikes (the cruisers have coaster brakes that allow riders of any experience level to feel confident) and asking for a small donation, the barriers to getting involved are quite low. “We’re trying to take away all the barriers to riding,” says Gallant.
And the benefits of the program reach beyond the bike fleet. Gallant recounts an exchange that she had a few months into the program, when they couldn’t host enough Bike Arounds to keep up with demand. One evening while Gallant and her team scrambled to facilitate an additional riding opportunity, two women cruised by on matching bicycles with the wind in their hair and smiles plastered on their faces. As they breezed past Gallant, they shouted, “We couldn’t wait for you! We went out and bought our own bikes!”
Jim Brown, RTC’s trail development manager and a Baltimore native, says that the program helps to break down barriers regarding access to parkland and trails. “This program democratizes riding bikes and enjoying the outdoors,” he says. “It’s another avenue that allows people to enjoy all the features of our city and a way to really appreciate where we live.”
In fact, the program is turning residents into supporters of their parks and trails by allowing them to experience their city in a new way. Gallant says when people find empowerment through a bike ride, the city of Baltimore shines in a new light. “When you feel competent and capable, you appreciate your community even more!” she says.
Gallant explains that Baltimore’s program is unique in that it’s not a bike share or a bike rental. The program has been set up in a way to eliminate the most barriers possible and accommodate every resident.
And it’s working. Thousands of people take out the fleet every summer, and while the program’s expansion means that there is no longer a waiting list for bikes at the reservoir, the excitement around the program has only grown. Gallant and her team are ramping up for the summer season and expect folks to be coming out at every opportunity. There are no longer reasons not to Ride Around!