Baltimore should be biking

Editorial Notebook

June 21, 2008|By Erich Wagner

With gas prices topping $4 a gallon and a growing awareness of carbon footprints, a search for alternative means of transportation is under way. So why aren't more people riding bicycles in Baltimore? It's cheaper than driving or taking mass transit, and it's a good way to get exercise without sacrificing much time from busy schedules. Still, there are fewer bike commuters in Baltimore than in other East Coast cities, census numbers indicate.

The city has been trying to encourage more residents to use bicycles to commute by adding bike lanes to some city streets and extending the Jones Falls and Gwynns Falls trails - two bike paths that aim to connect residential neighborhoods with the city's urban core. Recently, the city's parking authority announced it was considering installing bike parking facilities in a parking garage adjacent to City Hall.

These efforts are definitely steps in the right direction when it comes to making the city more bike-friendly, but there is still much to be done.

The main obstacles officials face as they try to improve Baltimore's bike appeal are safety and security. Some people opt not to bike to and from work because they are afraid of riding in hectic rush-hour traffic on the city's relatively narrow streets. The condition of the pavement on some streets can deter cyclists who worry about popping a tire going over a bump or pothole. And people aren't going to ride their bikes to work or to shop if they can't park them securely, without fear of returning to find a missing wheel.

The city should continue to extending bike paths and add more dedicated bicycle lanes on commuter arteries throughout the city. If the proposed pilot bike parking program is successful, similar facilities should be installed in other parking garages as well. The city could also encourage bicycling through better maintenance of commuter routes, fixing potholes and ensuring a smoother ride.

Local businesses and commercial landlords also can help promote biking by providing workers with secure and dry places to store their bikes while at work. Businesses could provide employees with showers and a room to change into dry clothes, which would be a boon to bikers - and those who work with them - on grueling summer days.

Most importantly, the city must educate residents about bike safety, both for bicyclists and drivers. If drivers are more careful, particularly when cyclists are around, people will be more likely to consider riding their bikes in the city.

Making Baltimore more bicycle friendly could pay big dividends, not just in energy savings but in the health of its biking citizens. For riders gliding down the bike trails and city streets with the wind in their faces and a fast-changing landscape flashing by, biking in Baltimore can be an exhilarating adventure.

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