Balto. Co. seeks to enhance bike, walking trails

New committee will look at trails network, safety

February 16, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

For years, Red Run Stream Valley Trail in Owings Mills was an abandoned section of Dolfield Road. Now, it's a 20-foot-wide wooded path that runs near the stream.

Baltimore County officials are hoping that a newly formed Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee will jump-start plans for more pathways like Red Run, one of its newest walking and bike trails.

The committee, approved by the County Council last week, will prioritize projects and target resources toward making roads and streets more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians, improving safety awareness and identifying areas for new trails.

Officials have been working since 2003 on these issues as part of the county's master plan for growth and development. The plan calls for enhancing bike lanes and walking trails and repairing or building sidewalks. Studies on improving bike and pedestrian access in the eastern and western parts of the county recommended creating an advisory committee to guide projects, seek funding and review proposals with residents.

Councilman Tom Quirk said he's ready to put more plans into action.

"It's time for the county to promote this much more," said Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat who helped to develop the western county bike and pedestrian plan.

More trails would boost tourism and the local economy, officials said, linking the public to recreational, cultural and historic sites.

Councilman David Marks, who worked on the Allegheny Highlands Trail while on staff at the Maryland Department of Transportation, said towns along that route have prospered. Rural parts of the county and the waterfront would be ideal locations for future trails, he said.

"Those are two areas where you can generate a lot of tourist activities," said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican. "Even in Catonsville, we can be promoting better connectivity between our neighborhoods."

Cycling advocates, including Bike Maryland, cheered the county's efforts.

"This is a way for people to have transportation alternatives, a way to connect neighborhoods in a way that's environmentally friendly and good for people's health and for the economy," said Tom Ajluni, president of Catonsville Rails to Trails. "On the west side, there's so much more we could do. We want to build up an infrastructure that really works for people."

The Northern Central Railroad Trail, which extends from the Pennsylvania line to Ashland, near Hunt Valley, is the county's most popular trail. Others are located in state and county parks, including Gunpowder, Patapsco Valley, Eastern Regional and Banneker.

Quirk said having more trails would promote healthier lifestyles and a greater sense of community.

"People really want to live in areas where they can live, work and play," he said. "As traffic congestion increases, it just makes sense."

The 11-member committee will include seven people selected by County Council members and four appointed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who will also pick the chairman. One of the county executive's appointees will represent a bicycle advocacy organization. Members will serve three-year terms. Various county agencies will be represented, including the departments of Public Works, Recreation and Parks, Education, the Office of Planning and the Police Department.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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