Last week, the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that a total of more than $17 million will go toward improvements to bicycle and pedestrian safety and connectivity across the state. This is great news for Maryland and for Baltimore’s trail vision.
Included in the announcement was a $250,000 grant awarded to the City of Baltimore DOT to support the development of a key segment of the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network, located along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River between the Gwynns Falls Trail and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor!
Closing a Key Gap in Baltimore’s Trail System
Through its work with the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition, RTC worked closely with several local partners—including the Baltimore City departments of Transportation and Planning—to secure the grant, which comes from a larger $14 million state pot via the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)—the largest source of federal funding for trails, walking and biking in the United States.
When complete, it will connect what is now a disjointed collection of sidewalks and on-road bicycle facilities into a seamless off-road trail linking Gwynns Falls Trail and Middle Branch Park to the Westport Waterfront. This new trail segment will provide scenic views of Baltimore’s skyline—and direct access to one of the last undeveloped shorelines in Baltimore—as well as a safe multimodal route to navigate from downtown to Middle Branch Park in South Baltimore.
“For generations, the neighborhoods of South Baltimore have been needlessly divided from one another, as well as from the precious waterfront that is on their doorstep,” said Brad Rogers, executive director of the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, which is helping to lead the Middle Branch trail project as part of their mission to support community development and foster equitable investment in South Baltimore. He continued, “This trail is an important step in reconnecting neighborhoods, giving them access to the shoreline, and helping them reach the rest of the city without an expensive car.”
Building Upon the City’s Infrastructure to Improve Connectivity
The Middle Branch trail connection is part of a larger collaborative effort led by RTC and the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition, whose vision is to connect the city’s existing 25 miles of trails into a continuous 35-mile loop linking major parks, anchor institutions, shopping areas, employment centers and over 60 neighborhoods throughout the city. An RTC TrailNation™ Project, the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network is a key feature of the city’s Green Network Plan (which also was just formally adopted by the Planning Commission last week!) to redevelop vacant land, and connect natural areas and community corridors, in an effort to revitalize underserved neighborhoods throughout Baltimore.
While these federal funds will support the completion of the design phase of the Middle Branch trail project, the timing is right for the project to complement a larger vision for this section of Baltimore’s waterfront as well. Currently, our partners at the Parks & People Foundation are working toward a broader goal to improve the entire 11 miles of waterfront along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.
Improving Connectivity and Mobility in South Baltimore
The TAP award adds important connectivity as part of that larger vision, making it easier for people to connect from residential neighborhoods to the quickly changing Middle Branch and the economic center of downtown Baltimore, just to the north. The designs will build upon the existing Gwynns Falls Trail—which connects Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks, to Middle Branch Park along the city’s western side—establishing an improved 0.8-mile trail connection north to the Inner Harbor Promenade, highlighting Solo Gibbs Park in the city’s historic Sharp-Leadenhall community along the way.
“This portion of the trail will not only improve connectivity to South Baltimore, it will provide new access for many residents to the hidden gem that is Middle Branch Park,” said Liz Thorstensen, vice president of trail development for RTC. “The park has tremendous potential, and we look forward to supporting the Parks and People Foundation as they spearhead the development of a master plan.”
This effort to build upon existing infrastructure also supports other ongoing local efforts to improve the Gwynns Falls Trail, including the development of new trail signage by Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP), and the Sharp-Leadenhall Improvement Association’s work with local architects and the BCRP to enhance Solo Gibbs Park along the trail.
One Step Closer
Through a generous grant from the France-Merrick Foundation, RTC collaborated with our partners in city government and local communities to move this project from an idea to implementation. Using France-Merrick grant funds, RTC conducted extensive community outreach, developed concept plans and worked with trail designers to produce preliminary design plans, which Baltimore City was then able to use as part of the local match to secure TAP funding.
This innovative collaboration demonstrates the impact that RTC can have working with philanthropic groups, city government, state government and the private sector to advance trail planning. RTC and its partners will continue to support Baltimore DOT in completing this project!
The recent TAP award is a major milestone toward completing the 35-mile Baltimore Greenway Trails Network. RTC is excited to be collaborating on some of the city’s key revitalization strategies—and we continue to acquire and strengthen our partnerships daily, as evidenced by the more than 20 letters of support from community groups, anchor institutions and elected officials that we included in our TAP application for the Middle Branch design project.
We look forward to seeing and experiencing the meaningful impact the new trail—and the completed network—will have on mobility and active transportation, accessibility, health and economic development, particularly for the underserved neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Stay up-to-date on the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition at railstotrails.org/Baltimore.