I got off work early on Monday because sometimes my life is incredibly blessed. After grabbing lunch in downtown Baltimore I got back on my bike and headed out for a ride before heading home. I headed west on Lombard and zig zagged up to Mulberry to see if that new bike path on Franklin runs up the other side of the Highway to Nowhere too–and it does. I got on and rode it up to Monroe and then walked my bike on the sidewalk the couple blocks down to the fancy new(ish) West Baltimore MARC station, because I don’t ride on the sidewalk and I didn’t feel like crossing over yet, and of course the trail can’t go far enough to connect to the train station and make a real multimodal option out of the thing.
The place might not be built for bicyclists, but it sure is made for cars–sort of. The MARC parking lot is huge, and the multiple lanes running up and down the sides of Route 40–the Highway to Nowhere–underneath offer serious capacity for drivers. Because I know little about the area I also know that this capacity is directly to blame, partly, for what the neighborhoods around it look like.
And they look abandoned, disinvested from, like they are positioned close to downtown and major arteries but somehow are not places where lots of people live, even though that would make sense; Harlem Park, for example, has a 45% vacancy rate. But people live here, and they used to live here, before urban renewal threatened to build a freeway through here, and the threat and the one mile that was built were together enough to drive people away. It’s a more complicated story than that, but the scars from it are what I saw on this bike ride, alongside the steady reminders that yes, people live here.
Because they do. As I zig zagged my way home I saw lots of people sitting on stoops enjoying the warm weather, walking kids home from school, gathering on a sidewalk to watch a giant TV someone had set up outside. I turned onto Lanvale to see if the street I often ride on the east side of town looks the same as on the west side, and if it would go all the way through. I stopped to snap a picture of this outdoor theater that’s been set up on the corner of Monroe, a different version of the TV-on-the-sidewalk a few blocks back. People like to gather and watch things together, if my bike rides all over the city are proof of anything.
Turns out Lanvale doesn’t go all the way through. If it hadn’t been interrupted by Harlem Heights elementary/middle school it would have been interrupted by one of the inner square parks all over this neighborhood, and ultimately by I83. Infrastructure for cars cuts West Baltimore off from the rest of the city, and Route 40 cuts east and west in half again. The train tracks leading to that West Baltimore MARC station make another barrier. Blocked in on all sides. And then I hit the new Maryland Avenue cycletrack and thought about the transformative powers of infrastructure–what the transformation feels like depends on where you live and where you’re going.