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Quick and Dirty

Pedaling Influence

Jodie Zisow knows the value of a wide road.

By David Morley | Posted 1/26/2005

As a bicyclist who doesn’t own a car, the 28-year-old Baltimorean has experienced firsthand how frightening busy city streets can be in a town without bike lanes. What’s worse, she says, motorists ignore bicyclists. “It’s really scary [riding] in Baltimore,” she says. “There’s no culture or sense that a bike is legitimate transportation.”

For those reasons and more, Zisow pedaled through downtown rush-hour traffic Jan. 13 to go to the Bicycle Master Plan meeting at the city Department of Planning offices on East Fayette Street.

The Baltimore departments of planning and transportation and the College Park-based Toole Design Group hosted this first of a series of public forums to help develop ways to make city biking safer and easier. The Department of Transportation’s Fred Shoken and the Department of Planning’s Beth Stromen introduced the idea of developing a Bicycle Master Plan in mid-2004, as part of what Shoken calls a “regionwide effort to maintain continuity [of bike trails] that ties in with other areas.”

Toole Design’s Bob Patten, the project manager of the master plan, showed the audience a general list of goals for developing a viable bike system in the city. The firm’s work in Baltimore comes on the heels of a similar project it worked on in Washington. Washington’s master plan is almost complete and includes plans for bike lanes and trails with bathroom and shower facilities along the way. That project, planners say, could take up to 20 years to complete.

At the meeting, more than 100 bicyclists and supporters took highlighters to half a dozen maps of Baltimore; they highlighted places they would like to see bike routes, circled areas they’d like bike-parking facilities, and pointed out ways to connect existing trails with proposed bike lanes.

Attendees told planners that they think the reason more people don’t commute by bike is because they are afraid.

“I know hardly anyone who bikes as their main form of commuting,” says Mike Dominelli, who, in “good weather,”bikes from his home in Washington Hill to his job in Woodberry. “I take alleys whenever I can. There’s no traffic. Otherwise, there’s a lot of dangerous [roads] whenever you commute by bike.”

Andrew McBee, a faculty member at City College high school, says his friends would be interested in biking to work, or for fun, if the roads weren’t so cluttered. “I think the bike lanes are the most important thing,” he says. “People are always telling me they want to ride, but they won’t because of traffic.”

Toole Design’s principal, Jennifer Toole, says the planning process for Baltimore’s biking plan will take about a year; in the meantime, she says, three miles of bike lanes will be added to city streets by summer. “If people see something physically on the ground, they get excited,” Toole says. “Part of the plan is to get lanes on the ground as soon as possible.”

The key to making the Bicycle Master Plan a success, planners and biking advocates agree, is education—especially for motorists. City College’s McBee, who’s says he’s been “riding since the 1972 Arab oil embargo,” says the average bicycle commute is “horrendous, insane,” because of the way motorists react to the average biker.

Jodie Zisow agrees: “People will just try to mow you down.”

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