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Cyclists Make Tracks to RetailAlice Storm Jones

I love the location of the Floura Teeter office – Charles Street in the heart of Mount Vernon above a great local coffee shop. My daily commute to the office finds me on major north/south city arteries where I can observe a microcosm of current urban life. One particular phenomenon I’ve noticed is a growing population of hardy bike folks with bands around sensible pants and messenger bags hooked to cargo racks pedaling to work.

In the early months of October, Maryland Avenue and Cathedral Streets were transformed to accommodate a 2.6-mile, two-way, protected cycle track. The construction was remarkably fast and efficient; requiring only painted buffers, new striping and a row of flex-posts. After only a few weeks, Cathedral St. had one travel lane, dual parallel parking and a dedicated, protected two-way bike lane…cool. This cycle track is part of Baltimore’s inaugural bike share program, connecting to Baltimore Bike Share’s initial 20 stations and 150 bikes, launched Friday October 28th.

img_3326This is “the city’s first attempt at establishing a coordinated network of bike lanes“, says Liz Cornish, Executive Director of the advocacy group Bikemore.*  The Maryland Avenue Cycle Track is part of spending approved by The Board of Estimates in July, it will extend to other bike improvements on Centre, Monument, Madison, Preston and Biddle Streets.

There are grumblings. The cycle track delays commutes, impedes school drop-offs and services only a small population. However, personal observations and online accounts of first-hand experience suggest a noticeable increase in the number of cyclists and significant traffic calming in just a few days.

As a landscape architect focused on retail and urban design, I wonder how this new ‘transit corridor’ could impact adjacent development. In March 2016 The Urban Land Institute (ULI) published Active Transportation and Real Estate, The Next Frontier; exploring the impact of pedestrian and bike infrastructure on our communities; a relatively new and unexplored idea. Inspired by Baltimore’s recent implementation of cycle tracks, inauguration of the Baltimore Bike Share program, and ULI’s study, I asked a few dedicated bike commuters how adjacent retail impacts their daily biking. Here’s what they said.

Does daily biking impact your retail habits?

  • Yes, I shop ‘smarter; buy less, closer to home and more often.
  • Bike parking is easier, I tend to shop places I wouldn’t go with a car.
  • I spend less money commuting (gas, parking), but splurge on local items (coffee, lunch).
  • Biking provides a larger retail/restaurant radius I can easily frequent in a typical lunch hour.
  • I schedule doctor’s visits during the day if I can bike, cutting down time out of the office.
  • I’ve converted to using only bike shops adjacent to my commute route; convenience & ease.

What could businesses offer to benefit bike commuters?

  • Bike racks in prominent, well-lit locations.
  • Racks need to be thoughtful; located to allow racking and locking and sized appropriately.
  • Reasonable changing spaces with the potential of showers.
  • Company subsidized discounts for bike repairs and services.
  • Indoor storage for bikes or secure, rentable spaces inside parking garages.
  • Water bottle filling stations.

Not surprisingly, retail habits related to bike commuting need to be convenient and safe.

From dependency on foreign oil to the cost associated with obesity to economic and retail benefits, there’s no shortage of biking benefits; many found on the Statistic Library at peopleforbikes.org.

The jury, however, is still out regarding Baltimore’s contribution to this growing trend. I have no doubt with success, bike infrastructure could benefit local retail and inform new development trends. It will take time, continued advocacy, safe bike options servicing all Baltimore City residents and creative planners and landscape architects to ensure success.

And hey, wouldn’t a bike-through coffee shop be great?

*Baltimore Brew; Monday October 11th 2016. By Fern Shen

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