Cycling on U.S. 1? HOWARD COUNTY

January 22, 1993

If you saw Willa Scott pass through Howard County last weekend, you had to ask yourself two questions: 1) Why is a 60-year-old woman riding down the road on a mountain bike bulging with enough provisions to resemble a marketer in a Mideast bazaar? 2) Why would anyone cycle along U.S. 1 in the first place?

The answers: 1) She is trying to spread a message coast to coast to save the ozone layer. 2) She had no choice.

The grandmotherly Californian has been riding across the United States for the better part of three years, she says, stopping at media outlets and college towns to urge people to bicycle more and drive motor vehicles less. She was passing through Maryland to be in the nation's capital in time for inaugural week, to spread her message at the wellhead of power and publicity. Her mantra is either well-received, as it was by a desk clerk at a Maryland motel who Ms. Scott says paid for a night's stay, or with derision, as was displayed by a Philadelphia police officer who arrested her for riding where she wasn't supposed to.

When she peddled into northeast Maryland, officers who spotted her informed her she couldn't ride along U.S. 40, or any of the higher-speed interstates.

In fact, the only north-south route that a cyclist can legally take in Maryland is U.S. 1, because it's the only road where the posted speed is mostly 50 mph or less. Could there be a more uninviting route for a cyclist than U.S. 1? The shoulder is a snake's width in many places; on some stretches, it's non-existent.

Ms. Scott's vision of a world in which many people cycle as a means of transportation, with bicycles trailing wheeled carts to carry groceries and the like, is either extremely visionary or an idea that time long ago whizzed past.

This state, and others, have their eye on bullet trains and car-pool lanes to get people to travel faster (if more ecologically), not slower. A system of bikeways and greenways is slowly taking shape across parts of Central Maryland, but more for recreational use, not the utilitarian purposes some futurists might envision.

For now, and likely for a long time, cross-county cyclists will be restricted to a road with a narrow bed and heavy traffic: Talk about an inhospitable planet.

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