If it seemed as if there were more than the usual number of bikers sharing the road during Friday morning's commute, it's because there were. More than 1,000 people registered for the region's annual Bike to Work Day, many of them first-timers testing their mettle on fast-moving city and county roads, organizers said.
Fred Shoken is one of the regulars. He's been riding from his home in Federal Hill to the State Highway Administration in Mount Vernon for the past year or so, and he rode downtown to his job with Baltimore City for a few years before that.
He said the ride around the Inner Harbor, which has a marked bike lane, is the most pleasant part. With no marked north-south route, he weaves around City Hall and under the Jones Falls Expressway, sometimes riding the wrong way and occasionally on a sidewalk.
Several riders who met at City Hall for a rally this morning to mark the day said the city has made progress in marking lanes and installing bike racks. They credit Mayor Sheila Dixon, who rides two or three days a week, with starting the change from an all-car culture.
"There have been a lot of changes," Shoken said. "It's great to have a mayor who rides a bike."
The mayor also did some riding Friday morning and attended a rally for Bike to Work Day sponsored by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a coalition of the region's elected officials. Stephanie Yanovitz, a senior transportation planner for the council, said 1,016 people registered for the ride in Baltimore and five surrounding counties - a record number. About 800 registered last year.
Yanovitz said the council would do a follow-up survey with riders to see how many plan to continue commuting by bike and how their trip Friday went. The group has information about biking on its Web site, baltometro.org, and has regular riders who can offer advice on routes, riding in traffic and how to handle logistics such as what to do about work clothes.
"The more riders we have out there, the safer everyone is," she said. "Today shows bikers and drivers can mix."
The city and surrounding areas plan to continue adding bike racks and bike lanes to connect bikers' routes that now exist. There are major stretches where bikers must share regular automobile lanes, an uncomfortable scenario for many.
The merging of bikes and car appears to have contributed to an accident Friday. A person in a parked car on Main Street in Annapolis opened a door into the path of two oncoming bicyclists, according to Ray Weaver, a spokesman for the Annapolis Police Department. One of the riders was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, and the other was transported to Anne Arundel Medical Center, Weaver said. Their conditions were unknown.
In recent years, Baltimore has added 43 miles of bike lanes, which include markings on both sides of the street, and 80 new bike racks. There are plans for 200 more racks by the end of the year and 80 more lane miles, according to Nate Evans, Baltimore's bicycle-pedestrian planner.
Dixon said she'll continue encouraging more people to bike. "There are more people biking than ever," she said. "It's a great alternative."
That's something many bikers already know. Rod Bruckdorfer, who lives near Riverside Park in Locust Point, has been just about everywhere in the city on his folding bike.
"It makes me feel good," he said. "My wife notices when I ride, I'm in a better mood."