By Samantha Powell | April 12, 2011
For Baltimore City resident Anna Ricklin living without a car is the only lifestyle she knows. Instead of having to fill her gas tank, leave early to avoid traffic and search for parking, Ricklin can jump on her bike and arrive in front of her destination.
“I can literally bike door to door from home to office,” she said.
Ricklin has experienced living in cities like Portland and D.C. where there is well developed bike infrastructure. And even though biking in Baltimore shortens her commute around the city, she said it’s been harder here than other cities.
The Baltimore City Department of Transportation has installed over 300 bike racks and 77 miles of bike lanes since 2006. Construction on the Guilford Avenue Bicycle Boulevard and Falls Road. Trail Phase Two begins in early May. These two projects will allow riders to continuously travel from the Collegetown Bike Network to the Inner Harbor.
But even with the latest construction plans, cyclists are still concerned for their safety while on the road.
“I believe there needs to be more enforcement of laws that protect cyclers because too many motorists do not give respect to cyclists,” Baltimore City cyclist Eric Smith said. “I find the benefits good, but I am concerned about my safety while I commute by bike.”
Marcel Haas is another active rider around the city. Like Ricklin, Haas moved from another well known bike city, the Netherlands, where he said bikes rule the traffic and has found the differences in Baltimore striking.
“It didn’t take me long to realize the situation here is quite different,” Haas said. “Almost nobody commutes by bike and the amount of recreational biking, using bikes to go to the bar, shops and so on is very limited. It is not surprising that drivers are not very aware of bicycles.”
Although Haas only commutes about three miles north from downtown Baltimore to the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus, he isn’t satisfied with the shape of the roads.
“The conditions on the road in general are terrible compared to what I am used to,” he said.
Walk Score, which rates communities on how many businesses, parks, schools and other common destinations are within walking distance, ranks Baltimore as 12th in the nation for the most walkable cities.
But even with a high ranking some don’t understand why biking has not become an integrated part of the city.
“Baltimore could so easily be on the forefront of bike transportation,” Light Street Cycles Owner, Penny Troutner said. “It’s small enough [where] people can get around. People are sick of being stuck in traffic. They’re sick of driving around looking for a parking place and they’re often sick of having their car broken into.
Baltimore City Delegate Luke Clippinger said that there is potential for Baltimore to become a better bike city by widening bike lanes, installing more pedestrian and bicyclist crossings and clearly marking bike lanes and paths.
“I think it’s prudent to continually educate the public about the benefits and advantages of making our state more bike-friendly,” Clippinger said. “Many people aren’t aware of the benefits and it is our job as avid bicyclists, as elected officials and as advocates of sustainability to inform them.”
But even as bike lanes and markings continue to be installed there are still dangers cyclists face while on the road because of potholes and bad street conditions.
Harford Rd., which leads to Lake Montebello, is an example of a road that cyclists are concerned with as it is one of the main roads used to access the popular recreational spot.
“It’s difficult to ride in a straight line so it’s unpredictable to the cars,” Troutner said. “The cars wonder what’s going on with you because they don’t understand that you have to dodge all of the potholes and deformities in the road.”
Although obstacles continue to surface for the bike community, avid cyclists still keep in mind the benefits of biking. Smith commutes to and from work a total of 21 miles.
“Since the economy is worse now and gas is not getting cheaper there should be a push to have people who can commute to work by bike to do so for health and economic reasons,” Smith said.
According to the Baltimore Office of Sustainability, 35 percent of Baltimore residents are without automobile access. Increasing the efficiency of bike travel around the city will give those who are dependent on public transportation an alternative means of travel.
“Inviting cyclists and making cycling safe is the one thing the city can do that helps every economic group,” Troutner said. “It helps the low end who simply can’t afford a car so they can transport themselves efficiently.”
Another recent bike project suggested for the city is a bike sharing program. An estimated 250 bikes would be accessible to the public to travel around the city for short-term use of travel.
But Baltimore will not follow in the footsteps of D.C or Boston anytime soon since according to the Department of Transportation, plans are being reconsidered and may be delayed for a year.
“There are certainly people that are working towards [a more bike accessible city] but there are people that are just putting a halt to it because they don’t understand how important it is,” Troutner said.
Cyclists around the city continue to ride and fight for changes as some projects get axed and others begin. And despite the pot holes and detached lanes, cyclists like Troutner seem to find a way to get around.
“Just yesterday I came into work [on my bike], went to the movies in Landmark East went to a potluck over on southwest and then biked south west around the Lauraville area.”
Non-traditional bike shops are sprouting throughout the country and Baltimore continues the trend. Velocipede and Baltimore Bicycle Works offer you the tools and resources for you bike, but come with a little twist.