Jones Falls Trail: Part One Improvements

This is the first of our three part overview for making the Jones Falls Trail (JFT) better.  Imagine you are a tourist and you walk into the Baltimore Visitors Center at the Inner Harbor and you want to learn about bicycling trails in the city.  I am no tourist, but I did go into the Visitors Center and ask the docent for information on Baltimore trails. The docent quickly went behind the concierge desk and produced the Gwynns Falls Trail map and the Baltimore Bicycling map out of a cardboard box. That appeared to be the extent of what was available. After touring the Visitors Center, it is clear that (bicycling) trails have not made it to tourist level attraction.  Trail improvements will help a lot, but a little marketing can go a long way as well.

Adding something like this MTA kiosk that focused on Baltimore trails and the bike network would be great at Penn Station and the Visitors' Center
Adding something like this MTA kiosk that focused on Baltimore trails and the bike network would be great at Penn Station and the Visitors’ Center

In this section, we will cover part one, between the Baltimore Visitors Center and Penn Station. Here’s our list. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.

  1. The Jones Falls Trail starts right out front of the Visitors Center, but how would you know?  Make it easy to find information about the Jones Falls Trail at the Baltimore Visitors Center.   The first step is to create a readily available handy JFT map.  A second step is for Visit Baltimore to promote the heck out of events like Tour Dem Parks and other bicycle events. Lastly, and probably most importantly, there needs to be an easily visible sign and map at the start of the trail. The front of the visitors center is where the Gwynns Falls Trail and the Jones Falls Trail come together. This warrants a good sign, map, and wayfinding.

    Where the Jones Falls Trail and Gwynns Falls Trail come together directly in front of the Baltimore Visitors Center. A trail head map and directional wayfinding should be added here.
    Where the Jones Falls Trail and Gwynns Falls Trail come together directly in front of the Baltimore Visitors Center. A trail head map and directional wayfinding should be added here.
  1. Help separate pedestrians and bicyclists where the trail follows the harbor. The trail is for both walkers and bicyclists, but less comingling would be better here. A physical separation between trail and sidewalk would benefit both pedestrians and bicyclists. Signs that encourage walkers to use the sidewalks and bicyclists to use the trail would help, especially during the crowded summer season.

    Encouraging walkers to use the sidewalk and bicyclists to use the trail in the crowded harbor would benefit both groups.
    Encouraging walkers to use the sidewalk and bicyclists to use the trail in the crowded harbor would benefit both groups.
  1. Don’t allow parking in the trail. This happens frequently at the harbor area. Not much elaboration is needed.
  2. When the trail doesn’t look like a trail, more and better wayfinding is needed.  The trail is a shared sidewalk for much of the way and makes a number of turns.  It is not always easy to discern what is the trail from all the other sidewalks. More demarcation is needed. There should be signs on both sides of every intersection. The trail should not get people lost in the first mile!

    The trail makes turns at Market Street and Baltimore Street with minimal wayfinding. Even on the shared sidewalks, wayfinding is needed.
    The trail makes turns at Market Street and Baltimore Street with minimal wayfinding. Even on the shared sidewalks, wayfinding is needed.
  3. Keep the trail on the east side of the Fallsway. The trail runs from the east side, crosses the street to the west side of the Fallsway, and then crosses the street back to the east. This is difficult to follow and involves crossing busy intersections back and forth. Keeping the trail on the east side of the Fallsway doesn’t have to be expensive. Paint and flex posts could do the job.  The parking lane would have to move 10 feet, but the Fallsway is wide enough to accommodate both sufficient parking and ten feet of trail on the east side. Furthermore, having the trail stay on the east side would help cyclists and tourists avoid crossing intersections and bisecting a homeless tent camp that currently straddles the trail.

    The Fallsway is wide enough to to keep the JFT on the east side of the street, which would prevent several irritating street crossings and from having the trail pass directly through a homeless camp. Picture here: trail on west side of the Fallsway.
    The Fallsway is wide enough to to keep the JFT on the east side of the street, which would prevent several irritating street crossings and from having the trail pass directly through a homeless camp. Picture here: trail on west side of the Fallsway.
  4. Combat the ugliness and improve the crosswalks. The Fallsway is arguably one of the ugliest places in Baltimore.  There are a lot of creative people who could find affordable ways to add vibrancy to the area.  Artists could paint colorful street crossings at each intersection.  This would double as a safety feature, because crosswalks in this area are often faded or non-existent.  The crosswalks should be improved all the way to Penn Station and beyond.

    Crosswalk art would make street crossings safer and add some vibrancy to the ugly part of the trail. DOT would have to cooperate.
    Crosswalk art would make street crossings safer and add some vibrancy to the ugly part of the trail. DOT would have to cooperate.
  5. Have the Department of Transportation and the Department of Recreation and Parks work together. The trail is under the domain of Recreation and Parks, but the trail often uses the street bed. One senses there may be confusion over whose domain is whose  that leads to paralysis or less than optimal solutions.  The trail is used for both recreation and transportation. This should be a joint effort.  Collaboration on improved signage, street crossings, and doing things like keeping the trail on the east side of the Fallsway will require the two agencies to be cooperative.
  6. The blazes are great, but….they are not a replacement for good wayfinding and they will fade over time.  I talked to a family using the trail.  They told me the painted blazes help them find their way.   The blazes were put in by a volunteer (thank you) who may not repaint them forever.  The blazes will wear away if not maintained and they are hard to see at the crowded harbor.
  7. Add signage at Penn Station. Lots of people wait for buses on St. Paul Street.  While they are waiting, they should be looking across the street at a Jones Falls Trail wayfinding sign and a map sign.  This spot, along with the Baltimore Visitors Center, Maryland Zoo, and the Cylburn Arboretum should have signage that provides lots of valuable information.

    Across from this bus shelter at Penn Station is a great location for a trail map and wayfinding.
    Across from this bus shelter at Penn Station is a great location for a trail map and wayfinding.

Thank you for reading. These are our suggestions for Part One. Please read our Part Two and Part Three analyses. Here is our article “Improving Signage on the Jones Falls Trail.”  Of course, please add your comments.

Jeff La Noue

(edited by Laura Melamed)

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