Picture it: You live in Mount Washington and work downtown, but instead of queuing up with all the other stop-and-go cars on the Jones Falls Expressway, you pedal the five-mile commute along a rolling bike trail.
An urban bike trail through the heart of Baltimore has long been the dream of local environmental and biking groups. The first significant step in that direction is scheduled to be considered today by the city Board of Estimates, which is expected to approve a $100,000 contract to begin planning the trail.
If approved, the contract would be awarded to the RBA Group, a Columbia-based planning and design firm, which would then work with the city's greenway coordinator, Beth Strommen, of the Planning Department.
Strommen said the goal is to create a trail that runs from Lake Roland in Robert E. Lee Park just over the Baltimore County line, south through the city along the Jones Falls watershed to the Inner Harbor.
Most of the trail would be a paved swath accessible only to bikes and pedestrians. The southern end of the trail would likely consist of bike lanes that run along city streets.
Ultimately, the Jones Falls Trail would be part of a greenway system that links up with the 14-mile Gwynns Falls Trail, which is one-third completed, and the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail that runs between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Annapolis.
Strommen said she and RBA officials would begin meeting this summer with residents and property owners to determine the best route. She said there are many public rights of way that could accommodate the bulk of the trail.
"The goal is to have the trail be in a generally public location and not have it run beside somebody's house," Strommen said.
A 1 1/2 -mile segment of the trail is being designed between Penn Station and Druid Hill Park under a $1.3 million federal grant obtained by the city in 1998. Groundbreaking on that segment is scheduled for September.
While groundbreaking on the rest of the trail is probably years away, supporters of the idea welcomed the prospect of beginning to design the trail.
"I think it's a great step forward," said Michael Beer, co-chairman of the Jones Falls Watershed Association, which has been working toward a broader master plan that seeks to turn the Jones Falls watershed into a recreation area.
"The Jones Falls Trail will bring people to a lot of scenic sections in the city which really remain hidden," Beer said. "There are other cities, like Seattle, that are bicycle-friendly, and they are happy cities. I'm happy to see us providing an alternative to the car. I think it's a healthy move."
The bike trail would fit into the broader vision of the Jones Falls' future, which is being sketched out by Alfred W. Barry III of AB Associates, which was hired - with a combination of public and private funds - to develop the master plan for the Jones Falls.
Barry said the idea for a ribbon of green through the city has been discussed since the 1970s, and the city has been discussing the bike trail for two years.
While he's happy to see the project moving forward, he said, "I'm not sure what took so long to get to this stage."