Grab your bike and make city your own trail

April 30, 2005|By ROB KASPER

I WON'T SAY I am a slow bicycle rider, but to get ready for Bike to Work Day on Friday, I started my ride to work yesterday morning.

Bike to Work Day is an annual celebration of bicycle commuting, promoting its benefits for the environment and the body.

On Friday morning between 7 and 9 o'clock, area cyclists will converge at four locations -- Harborplace Amphitheater in Baltimore, Courthouse Square in Towson, Harford County Government Center in Bel Air and City Dock in Annapolis -- to support the concept of wheeling to work. (Details about how to register for the ride and be eligible for winning a bike are available at www.bike2workcentral MD.com).

I am a quixotic bike commuter. I hop on my old Raleigh on nice days, for the one-mile trip from my Bolton Hill home to the downtown Sun office. I do it for the exercise, for the mental health, and some days I do it because the family cars have been spoken for.

On your bike, you notice details of daily life. Some of them are pleasing, like the impressive architecture of the old brick buildings in the 1600 block of Guilford Ave. Some are frustrating, like the double whammy of sewer and University of Baltimore construction projects that have turned the streets around the Lyric into narrow, sandy passages. Instead of traveling on the fast thoroughfare, the ones with synchronized lights, when I bike I search out the quiet side streets.

I am a pokey biker but there are plenty of riders in the area who make good time and travel long distances to their jobs.

One of them is Erin Hayward, 23, who cycles "any day that it is warm." She rides at a pretty good clip, she said. Her trip from her Charles Village residence to the offices of the Lutheran World Relief center on Light Street takes about 15 minutes, she said. The trip home along Calvert Street takes about five minutes longer because she is traveling uphill.

Riding her bike to work is much faster, she said, than taking the bus. She knows because she rides the bus in bad weather. "I am something of a wuss when it comes to weather," she said.

A recent graduate of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, Hayward said, "Big-city biking was much different than biking in small-town Ohio." To prepare herself for rides during Baltimore's weekday rush hours, she first took practice trips on Sundays.

Now she bikes a regular route, 29th Street to Maryland Avenue. One of the benefits of riding a bike to work, she said, is learning the quirks of the local geography. "Maryland Avenue," Hayward observed "is one of those streets that changes names about seven times."

Even when the sun shines, there are hazards along the way, she said. Double-parked cars and rough roadways have given her trouble. She wishes that all MTA buses had bike racks so that she could have a backup in case of a change in the weather. In theory, buses with bike racks are out there, she said, but she has never seen one.

I also spoke with Dave Schott, a retired federal worker, who said he has been cycling for the past 40 years. He rides his bike from his Northwood home all around Baltimore, in all kinds of weather in daylight and at night.

In his years of biking on Baltimore streets, Schott has never been hit by a vehicle. "I sacrifice speed for safety," he said. "If a street gets narrow or dangerous, I am not going to fight it."

Given a choice between taking the straight ride on a street with a lot of traffic, or a more meandering route on side streets, Schott says he takes the slower, more crooked path. "You angle your way around traffic," he said.

He mentally catalogs bike-friendly routes; Guilford Avenue is one. He also notes roads that need work; Loch Raven Boulevard has some serious potholes in the curb lanes, he said. He has taken a few tumbles. But he always wears a helmet, gloves, and at night, he wears a flashing light on his back.

Jim Miller, an architect, is another committed bicycle commuter. He says it takes him about 20 minutes to ride from his home in Anneslie, a neighborhood that seems to be a hotbed of cyclists, to the office of facilities management on Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus. He takes the same route -- University to Roland Avenue to Lake Avenue to Bellona Avenue -- home.

Sometimes it is dark when he makes the return trip, but Miller said his bike is equipped with "a killer headlight" that makes him and the roadway highly visible.

Yesterday morning, I took a roundabout route to work, swinging by the Jones Falls Trail. This is a 1 1/2 -mile paved path along Falls Road between the old Steiff Silver building past the Baltimore Streetcar Museum ending at Maryland Avenue. It is an extremely urban bike trail and has had to cope with many contemporary issues.

For instance, shortly after it was completed last fall, it became part of the fight against Chesapeake Bay pollution. The trail setting quickly changed from one of sylvan solitude to a gritty construction site as giant sewer pipes, part of a system to clean up pollution in the Jones Falls and the Chesapeake Bay, were stacked alongside the trail.

The trail remains open to cyclists and pedestrians during construction of the sewer system. The bordering stretch of Falls Road is closed to cars. But some motorists, a city official told me, have tried to drive on the paved bike trail.

Yesterday as I biked along the trail, I had to dodge a couple of construction vehicles and a machine punching holes in Falls Road. Yet on the whole is was a good ride on a cool spring morning. I got to work in about 30 minutes without incident and with a faint feeling of accomplishment.

That, I gather, is how it goes in the life of a city cyclist.

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