If you’ve recently visited Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, you may have encountered a long row of orange and white plastic Jersey barriers running along the Druid Park Lake Drive and across the 28th Street Bridge. This is the Big Jump Baltimore shared-use path. Championed by local residents, 7th District Councilman Leon Pinkett, Baltimore City Department of Transportation, and Bikemore, this temporary, grant-funded project counteracts decades of highway expansion with a protected space for pedestrians, wheelchair riders, and bicyclists to connect with green space, school, and jobs. Those of us living in West Baltimore certainly need it as for the past seventy years, walking or bicycling to Druid Hill Park has proven prohibitively dangerous. The Big Jump pathway makes it safer for all people to enjoy the cultural and public health benefits of Druid Hill Park.
Half of residents around Druid Hill Park do not rely on cars for transportation so why does the area feel like a suburban highway? From the 1940s through the 1960s, over the protests of the local NAACP and neighborhood associations, car-focused transportation projects drastically changed the face of the park. Construction of the 1948 Druid Hill Expressway and 1963 Jones Falls Expressway resulted in the widening of Auchentoroly Terrace and Druid Park Lake Drive from two lane, park-front residential streets into dangerous five-to-nine-lane-wide highways equipped with only a handful of crosswalks largely ignored by motorists.
Past urban planning decisions to build highways around Druid Hill Park made it difficult for the existing residents in Auchentoroly Terrace, Mondawmin, Penn North, and Reservoir Hill to enjoy the park’s public health benefits, including exercise, cultural gatherings, healthy food, and clean air. The Health Department’s 2017 Neighborhood Health Profiles shows that the majority African American communities around the park have some of the city’s highest mortality rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Census data also shows that half of neighbors around the park do drive personal cars as their primary form of transportation. As pedestrians, wheelchair riders, transit users, and people who rely on bicycles, neighbors deserve priority access to the park.
The Big Jump project began with a grant from the national organization PeopleForBikes. Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) applied for the grant, with support of Bikemore, aimed at increasing bike ridership and connecting neighborhoods. Reflecting that grant constraint, Baltimore City’s application focused on improving connectivity between Remington and Penn North and Reservoir Hill.
The 2017 beginning of the Druid Hill Park Reservoir project construction made the Big Jump a pressing necessity. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency began the $140 Million dollar project to install two underground drinking water tanks in Druid Hill Park. This project is expected to be completed in March of 2022. The construction has meant that one of West Baltimore’s best recreational assets, the reservoir loop, has been rendered unusable for the next four years. In addition, the project as planned will require removing car travel lanes on Druid Park Lake Drive in each direction in order to move heavy equipment to and from the construction site as well as install new pipes under the roadway to service the water tanks. The Big Jump was seen as a way to mitigate the current and future construction disruptions around Druid Lake and along Druid Park Lake Drive.
The Big Jump path across the 28th Street Bridge and Druid Park Lake Drive is intended as a shared use path, going both directions. This means you can bike, walk, skateboard, use a wheelchair or mobility device, walk your dog, or go for a jog! The lane on Sisson Street is intended as a bike lane, since there is a sidewalk adjacent to it for other uses.
The project was initially intended to be a one year pilot. The city intentionally chose and purchased the water filled barriers to create the path because they are relatively inexpensive compared to other materials, and can be moved and adjusted. While the path is installed, Baltimore City DOT is undertaking a larger corridor study of Druid Park Lake Drive and Auchentoroly Terrace that will result in a menu of permanent options intended to slow down dangerously speeding cars, provide more transportation choices, and increase resident access to Druid Hill Park. Extending the pilot beyond one year is a possibility depending on the outcomes of a larger corridor study.
Starting later in 2019 Baltimore City DOT will be conducting the Druid Park Lake Drive Design Effort. This study will be based on community input and address park access around the entire park, including Druid Park Lake Drive, Auchentoroly Terrace, Reisterstown Road, and Druid Park Drive. The design effort will result in permanent plans for improving park access and replacing the existing highways and Big Jump shared use path with complete streets that balance the needs of car drivers with residents who walk, ride buses, use wheelchairs, and rely on bikes and e-scooters to get to school, work, and family.
Local residents deserve priority access to Druid Hill Park. For the first time ever wheelchair riders and people who rely on bicycles can actually cross the Jones Falls Expressway thanks to the temporary Big Jump shared-use path. More work needs to be done, but the Big Jump is a step in the right direction towards reconnecting our neighborhoods with Druid Hill Park.
Learn more about the Big Jump: https://www.bikemore.net/bigjump
Listen to a version of this story on the Maryland Humanities Podcast: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-cwqjv-9886f5
Click here to see more photos of Big Jump wayfinding: https://grahamprojects.com/projects/big-jump-wayfinding
Group photos courtesy of Brian O’Doherty: https://www.odohertyphoto.com