`Bicycling: Life on the Street' is this week's drama

May 20, 2006|By ROB KASPER

Inspired by spring sunshine and the flurry of activity associated with the annual Bike to Work Day, which was yesterday, I pedaled around town this week.

I biked to work in downtown Baltimore, survived that, and then rode my bike to an Orioles-Red Sox game at Camden Yards. The Orioles beat the Red Sox 4-3, ending a string of 13 straight losses to Boston. Since my bike obviously brought the team good luck, I guess I will have to keep pedaling to Camden Yards until the O's lose a home game.

The major reluctance I have about biking in traffic is fear. I am afraid I am going to get flattened by one of the vehicles that rocket past me. I know that I have a right to be there, that the streets belong to the cyclists as well as to the motorists. I know that keeping my car off the roads can lessen pollution, ease congestion and can cut back on the purchase of $3-a-gallon gasoline. These are noble motives, but I don't want anyone reciting them at my wake. I don't want somebody saying, "He was righteous, and soon he will be 6 feet under."

Before I took to the streets, I attended a class on the basics of bike commuting put together by One Less Car, a nonprofit biking and pedestrian advocacy group. About 35 cyclists attended the Tuesday lunchtime session, held in a classroom of the Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. Judging by comments from members of the audience, many of these fit-looking folks were experienced commuters.

Darin Crew, 28, led the session. He said he has been biking from his home in Beverly Hills in Northeast Baltimore to his job at the Herring Run Watershed Association in the 3500 block of Belair Road for the last 10 years. In that time he has had two collisions with cars, one that was his fault, one that was the fault of the motorist, he said.

Crew offered a wide range of cycling tips. These included wearing a helmet (a precaution that I find a surprising number of Baltimore riders overlook), positioning your bike a few feet away from the curb of the right lane where motorists can easily spot you and can predict your path, wearing gloves that both cushion the handlebar vibrations and, in case you fall, prevent your palms from becoming bloodied.

Some of the cyclists pointed out that institutional policies could discourage employees from biking to work. Hopkins, for instance, was chided by some members of the audience for constructing new buildings without putting showers in them that cyclists could use, and for assisting employees to get a tax deduction for their paid parking but not offering a comparable benefit to people who bike to work.

For cowards like me, the shortage of bike lanes on area streets has been one of the biggest barriers to biking. This is changing, said Stacey Mink, executive director of One Less Car. A master plan creating an extensive network of shared roadways and bike lanes has been approved by the Baltimore City Planning Commission, she said. First on the list are bike paths linking the campuses of Hopkins, Morgan State, St. Mary's Seminary and Notre Dame-Loyola, she said. She encouraged cyclists to speed the process of getting the paths off the drawing board and onto the asphalt by regularly asking their elected city officials "How's the bike plan going?'"

Crew, the veteran bike commuter, said that "the more you ride your bike, the less you notice the cars." I took this to mean that the more I rode my bike, the braver I would become.

I quickly discovered that the converse was also true. Namely, that the longer you have been off your bike, the easier it is to be scared.

It had been several weeks since I had ridden in Baltimore when on Wednesday morning I dusted off my old three-speed Raleigh and rode to work. My commute from my Bolton Hill neighborhood to The Sun office at Center and Calvert streets is "cake." It is about a mile, mostly downhill, and there is not much traffic, especially after 9 a.m. Nonetheless, I was unsteady at first. The little dog that barked at me as I eased out onto Lanvale Street was on a leash, but it still gave me a start. The large truck that stopped, just in time, as I passed the intersection of Biddle and Guilford made me cringe. But by the time I rolled into the Sun parking lot and stashed my bike in a shed, I was feeling more confident.

So confident that later that day, I biked over to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles game. As Crew had suggested, I planned my route before I started pedaling. I picked a pokey route -- west on Monument Street, south on Eutaw Street. The streets were quieter and the traffic less frenzied than the wide, one-way arteries that were filled with evening rush-hour motorists.

I locked my bike and helmet at the rack near the Sports Legend Museum and having burned a few carbs on the ride over, rewarded myself with a cold beverage or two at the ballpark.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.