Riding a bike can be fun, but it is not just for recreation anymore. Increasingly it is a way to travel to and from work or to run errands. Bike commuting is not for everyone. Being fit, confident about riding in traffic, and having access to a shower at work helps.
It also helps to have a good network of bike trails. Baltimore made another move in that direction recently when it received $4 million from the Maryland Department of Transportation to extend the Jones Falls hiking and biking trail into Mount Washington.
The trail will run from Cylburn Arboretum through Mount Washington and will end at the Mount Washington light rail station. Construction will probably begin in November and is likely to be completed in 12 to 18 months, according to Gennady Schwartz, chief of capital development for Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. Eventually it will link up to a section of the Jones Falls trail that now runs from Clipper Mill to Penn Station, Mr. Schwartz said.
This is good news. Anyone who has traveled the Northern Central Railroad trail in northern Baltimore County or the trail that follows the old Baltimore & Annapolis rail bed in Anne Arundel County knows that pedaling these routes can be a pleasure. You are away from traffic, close to nature and able to see the landscape in new vistas. Moreover, when a bike trail threads its way to the heart of the city, as this new one will, it offers the chance to ride to town on two wheels, rather than four. Traveling by bike saves gasoline, cuts pollution and burns calories.
A well-designed bike trail can get vehicles off the road, and that — as Carol Silldorff, executive director of the group One Less Car, points out — can have positive effects on the entire community.
Already, some 250 folks are commuting each day by bike to the heart of Baltimore. Nate Evans, Baltimore's bicycle and pedestrian planner, reports that these numbers were gathered the old fashioned way, by spotters stationed around town: at Aliceanna and Boston streets, Maryland Avenue and Falls Road, Guilford and Mount Royal avenues, counting cyclists at rush hours. But plans are in place to put more sophisticated bicycle counting devices in the roadbeds on Pratt Street and at Centre and the Fallsway, Mr. Evans said.
Also down the road is a plan is to turn a stretch of Guilford Avenue, from Mount Royal Avenue to University Parkway, into a "bicycle boulevard." That too could increase the number of folks who roll to work or school.
Legislation helps. A number of proposals, such as changing the configuration of storm grates on rebuilt city streets to prevent the grates from grabbing a bicycle tire and throwing cyclists to the pavement, are in committee at the Baltimore City Council. These bike-friendly measures, sponsored by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, need to get out of committee and on the road.
Private enterprise can also take steps. Employers can provide bike racks and showers for their cycling workers. The Washington Nationals baseball team provides free valet service — a staffer places bikes in Garage C adjacent to the stadium — to any fan who pedals to the game. This is an idea that the Orioles, a team we hope is on the move, should try.
As biking becomes a more mainstream mode of travel, attitudes are going to have to change. Motorists and bus drivers should be watchful and respectful of cyclists. The new rule requiring drivers in Maryland to leave a 3-foot buffer when passing cyclists is a welcome one. Bike riders, in turn, should abide by the rules of the road and of common sense by wearing helmets and illuminating their bikes with lights for night riding. The occasional kamikaze — helmetless, clad in black, and speeding the wrong way down a one-way street — does the cycling cause no good.