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Catonsville cyclist hopes to set wheels in motion for pedestrian and bicycle safety

An avid cyclist for six years, Laura Cook has had her share of close calls while riding in and around the area.

It's not uncommon, she said, for cars and trucks to whiz by closer than the three feet the law requires as she and her husband of 1.5 years, David Hinman, go on a 20- or 30-mile ride.

Cook said she hopes she can make some changes in her new position as a member of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee.

The committee was born out of a County Council bill introduced in January 2010 by first-term councilmen Tom Quirk and David Marks.

Quirk represents the First District, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus, and Marks represents the Fifth District, which includes Towson.

"We'll have the things that future homebuyers and existing homebuyers want," Quirk said, noting that pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly communities promote healthy lifestyles and increase property values.

The committee issues recommendations to the County Council about accommodating cyclists and pedestrians and finds federal grants to fund low-budget improvements to streets among other tasks.

"I know that we won't be able to make recommendations that are hugely expensive," said Cook, who has worked with the Department of Defense for 30 years. "Driver attentiveness is a big thing and drivers understanding that bikes are vehicles and entitled to the road."

Named to the advisory committee Jan. 17, Cook will meet with the 10 other members at least four times a year throughout her three-year term.

The tenative agenda for the committee's first meeting of 2012, before she was named a member, included presentations on funding from representatives of the State Highway Administration, Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Baltimore City Department of Transportation.

Each of the County Council's seven members named one person to the committee and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz appointed the four others, including Cook.

Quirk appointed Catonsville resident Ray Bahr as he representative for the 1st District.

Cook said she volunteered for the position after hearing about it from a neighbor who works for Kamenetz. She received notice about her appointment from Kamenetz in January.

"As a resident of Catonsville for years and avid cyclist, I thought it was time to give back," Cook said. "I just want to make sure we keep thinking bikes and pedestrians as we address transportation issues in the future."

"We're really fortunate to have a lot of great volunteers," Quirk said.

Cook has lived in Oella for 10 years and called Academy Heights home for the 10 years before that.

"What's so nice about Catonsville is that you can drop down into (Patapsco Valley State Park) into the Avalon Area," she said.

Hinman, who met Cook four years ago, said he rides with his wife two or three times a month, when their different work schedules allow.

"She's a very intelligent woman who will bring good ideas from all aspects," he said. "She's an avid enough cyclist that she understands what our needs are from the standpoints of roads and safety issues."

Once the weather becomes consistently warmer in the spring and summer, they try to ride every weekend.

Both are involved in Team in Training, a group that trains for long-distance races to raise money to find cures for blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Every other weekend, Cook said, they guide less-experienced riders through a workout designed to build the riders' stamina so they can participate in a long-distance race.

Currently Cook and Hinman, 53, are training a group of cyclists every other weekend to take on a 100-mile race at Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California on June 3.

Cook said she won't overlook the needs of pedestrians, though, and understands them well.

As the organizer of a border collie rescue, Cook often walks her dogs because it helps socialize them, she said.

"The main thing for me is the county works through planning new roads or rehabbing roads to be mindful of cyclists," Cook said. "I'm a big on the pedestrian part because walking places is nice, too."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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