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Proposals seek to encourage more cyclists and to make Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun: Proposals seek to encourage more cyclists and to make Baltimore streets safer for them

By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com
December 27, 2009

Boson Au commutes from his Charles Village home to his downtown office by bicycle. He rides his bike to the grocery store and, with a group of cycling friends, to bars on weekends.

Traveling by bike allows Au a more immediate and intimate experience of Baltimore than driving a car. "It makes the city seem smaller and closer," said the 32-year-old Web developer. "I’m seeing the streets. I’m feeling the bumps. It’s made me more involved in the city."

But Baltimore’s congested and pothole-ridden streets pose many hazards to cyclists. Au has been hit by cars twice - once while waiting at a stop light in Mount Vernon and once while riding in Harbor East during his lunch break - although he was not seriously hurt in either accident.

"I’m one of the lucky ones," he said, showing a mangled red rim - a memento from one of his crashes - that hangs from the ceiling at Velocipede, the Station North bike shop, where he is a collective member.

A passel of laws proposed recently by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is aimed at encouraging more people to travel by bike while making streets safer for riders.

"Cycling is great for the environment, great for health, and it attracts a lot of young people to the city," said Clarke. "The more that Baltimore is a bicycling city, the more young people will come and stay here."

The initiatives include creating lanes exclusively for bikes, installing sewer grates that won’t catch bike tires, requiring bike parking facilities at workplaces and new buildings, and adopting a "complete streets" philosophy to include the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in road projects.

The measures were inspired in part by the death of John R. "Jack" Yates, 67, who suffered fatal injuries when his bike became entangled in the rear wheels of a truck not far from the Velocipede workshop. Yates, an activist who counseled young people, and Clarke became friends after years of collaborating on community projects, the councilwoman said.

At a hearing in the fall, cyclists and city transportation officials offered suggestions that led to much of the proposed legislation.

The measures, which will be the subject of City Council hearings in February, dovetail with the city’s 2006 bike master plan, said Nate Evans who oversees bike and pedestrian planning for the transportation department and helped craft the bills.

One of the easiest changes that would most benefit bicyclists is changing the orientation of grates, advocates said. When sewer grates run parallel to the flow of traffic, bike wheels can become caught in the gaps and flip riders. The law would require the openings to run perpendicular so that wheels can roll over them.

Although the city has added miles of bike lanes in recent years, many are shared with cars and buses and used for parking. The new law would prohibit parking and would designate lanes that could be used only for "nonmotorized vehicles."

Prompted by concerns about stolen bikes and wheels, Clarke also introduced a measure to require businesses with more than 10 employees to provide bike parking. The law includes incentives to encourage developers to add bike parking when renovating or building a new complex.

"The availability of bike parking really increases the amount of cyclists you see on the road," said Evans, adding that business owners can obtain free bike racks from the city.

More cyclists make the roads safer for everyone, said Au. "It’s definitely a matter of safety in numbers," he said. "When drivers get used to seeing us, they’re more likely to share the road."

Inspired by ecological concerns and high gas prices, an increasing number of young people in the city are using bicycles as their primary form of transportation, said Noah Bers, 26, another Velocipede collective member. "Bicycles are transforming from a recreational device that people pull out of the garage on weekends to a legitimate mode of transportation," he said.

Riding his bike has helped, Doug Barclift, 24, a recent transplant from Philadelphia, meet friends and get to know the city. "When a car is not protecting you, it makes you aware of what’s really on the streets," he said.


Copyright © 2009, The Baltimore Sun