The search for common ground Bicycles: Traffic hazards increase for cyclists and motorists who must share the road despite sometimes different philosophies about nonpolluting commuting.

Intrepid Commuter

June 10, 1996

YOU'RE STUCK IN traffic or, better yet, driving along at the speed limit minding your own business.

Suddenly, a bicyclist whizzes by, sharing the lane for a few seconds before breezing down the road. It's a situation played out daily on Maryland's streets and main thoroughfares as more adults give bicycle commuting a try.

But it's also a safety hazard when those commuting on four wheels clash with the driving philosophies of the two-wheelers.

Move over, Harley Hawgs, the newest irritation on the road is of the 10-speed persuasion. And the problem is becoming so acute, a state panel is studying ways to establish common ground between both modes of transportation.

Legally, bicyclists have the same rights as motorists. They also must adhere to the same state vehicle laws and are subject to the same traffic fines as motorists -- if the police can catch them.

In reality, a huge problem exists, says Harvey Muller, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the state Department of Transportation.

The problem is education and respect. It's a constant point of discussion for the Maryland Bicycle Advisory Committee, a 13-member panel formed in 1991 by the state legislature to study issues relating to bicyclists. The panel, composed of cycling citizens and state transportation bureaucrats, is expected to release a report by early summer.

The lack of respect between drivers and cyclists often has had tragic consequences, Muller said. About 50 percent of fatal bicycle accidents each year occur at night and at least half of those nighttime fatalities are the cyclists' fault, Muller estimated.

Cyclists -- children and adults alike -- are particularly vulnerable when they don't adhere to traffic signs. Many accidents happen after children steer their bikes out of driveways without looking first, or when adults or children run stop signs on their bikes.

What is needed is an educational campaign, Muller said. It couldn't come at a better time, because bicycle commuting is getting easier. The Mass Transit Administration has launched a six-month experiment in which bikes are allowed on light rail and Metro cars at all times except two hours before and after Orioles games at Camden Yards.

"We need to make the bicycle community aware of the rules of the road so that they gain the respect of the motorists. I think that also it's good for the motorists to understand that the bicyclists have the same rights to the road."

Organizations such as the League of American Bicyclists in Baltimore exist to help with the thorny issue of road etiquette. (190 W. Ostend St. Baltimore, 21230, phone 539-3399.)

A state hot line offers bicycle safety tips: (800) 252-8776.

A checklist to sustain the health of your car

When was the last time you checked your pressure? Tightened that belt or cut down on the exhaust?

This isn't an inquisition from your doctor, banker or spouse. It's a checklist to sustain the health of your car. Last year, inspectors hired by American Automobile Association (AAA) found that almost half of 4,400 cars examined nationwide had worn or underinflated tires, 33 percent had bad hoses and belts and 18 percent spewed excessive exhaust.

The informal survey showed that car neglect is just another result of the overall time crunch afflicting most of us today. While we run daily treadmills to get up, get to work, get home and get an hour of quality family time before going to bed, experts say there is a growing trend toward ignoring our wheels -- until they break down. Then, the tears flow like windshield wiper fluid when towing and repair bills come due.

To help prevent such automotive and fiscal tragedy, your Intrepid One has compiled a car maintenance guide offered just in time for the hot summer weather and vacation season (with thanks to Jim Mullin and Lea Gilpin of AAA): For starters, pop open the hood and check for cracks in the hoses and belts. If these blow out, you're stranded. Look at the battery cables -- if the connectors are dirty, they won't fully carry juice to the car. Check brake fluids and the air filter. Then, carefully check the coolant level.

Outside, check tire pressure and inspect the treads for unusual wearing and any sign of the steel belts peeking through the worn rubber. Make sure that the spare is inflated and ready to roll.

Consider carrying a stash of spare parts in the trunk, small items such as windshield wipers, fan belts, a quart of oil and duct tape for patching busted hoses. Emergency flares are helpful, too.

A cellular phone is handy if a breakdown occurs. If you can't afford one (or haven't been willing to plunge into the thicket of pricing schemes) you may have to rely on a pay phone, so stock some change in a plastic 35-mm film container for emergencies.

Falls Road bridge closing, and 'no-zone commercials'

Shortcuts: The Falls Road bridge over the Beltway in Brooklandville will close June 17 for eight months as part of a $55 million expansion of Interstate 695. A $95,000 federal grant will pay for television commercials about "no-zones" -- the blind spots that prevent drivers of large trucks and buses from seeing motorists. In response to Intrepid One's request last week for solutions to make safer the disastrous Lutherville intersection of Charles Street, Bellona Avenue and Nightingale Way, reader George Jacob suggests a traffic roundabout. Intrepid still is seeking nominations for the area's worst ticket traps.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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