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In Towson, Bike to Work Day gathers 'spokes-people' for growing commuter option

Justice SystemDavid MarksInner Harbor

It was part of the normal morning routine for many, but an out-of-the-ordinary vision for many others who came to the County Courthouse plaza in Towson on Friday morning.

Dozens of bikers who work in downtown Towson congregated as a part of Bike to Work Day — an event that advocates said celebrates a healthier, less frustrating way to commute each morning.

"We use this as a way for regular bikers to get together and network, and to get other people to try," said Lillian Bunton, an organizer of the event who lives in Dundalk.

Russ Ulrich, another organizer, said the event grew from a half-dozen people meeting in the Inner Harbor 15 years ago to two dozen events this year — involving more than 1,200 riders across the Baltimore region. The overall event is sponsored by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council of Governments.

Outside the courthouse, tents with refreshments were set up for the bikers, who leaned their rides against the fountain and chatted before their work day began.

Ralph Wheeler, coordinator of the Towson event, said more than 60 people registered for the event, and others were welcome even if they hadn't signed up.

The largest gatherings were students and teachers at Towson-area schools. A handful of Loyola Blakefield teachers brought about 30 students to the event, then led them on a ride to school.

Towson University professor Jay Nelson, of Timonium, said he's been a bike commuter since 1978 when, as a student in Seattle, he saw someone ride by in a poncho while he stood waiting for a bus in the rain.

"I can do that," he said he thought to himself.

Now, he rides in all weather from his home on Timonium Road to Towson University, where he teaches biology. He drove just four days in the fall semester, and two this semester.

On a good day, his commute takes 18 minutes, though it can be as long as 45 when conditions are poor in the winter. "I make it longer than it needs to be, for safety," he said.

He takes back roads until he reaches the Beltway, then crosses at either Charles Street, Dulaney Valley Road or York Road to West Road, Kenilworth Avenue and Bosley Avenue to campus.

Russell Loy, of Cockeysville, and John Russell, of Sparks, work together at the REI in Timonium, and took a "shortcut" Friday morning — which is to say they parked at the Department of Aging on Central Avenue and rode from there.

Russell worked inWashington, D.C., for 25 years and could no longer stand that commute, so when it came time to move, his only requirement was that he could ride a bike to work.

Loy has been a cyclist for 30 years, and said he logs around 5,000 miles per year between recreational riding and racing. He doesn't ride to REI, however, because most of his commute would be down York Road.

Another rider at the event, Jan Cook, works in the county's office of permits, approvals and inspection, and rode his bike through the city from Patterson Park on Friday. He's been a regular participant in Bike to Work day in Towson, and said he typically rides three days a week during the summer.

Fifth District Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, went to a rally in White Marsh on Friday and said he has "been a big supporter of more biking opportunities."

"Our office is working to get more bike lanes in Towson and trails throughout the district," he said.

Cook said that might help assuage one of the biggest concerns for new bikers.

"Most people are just scared of motorists, which you have to keep an eye out for," he said.

With his ride from the city, Cook said he's also glad he has a membership at a local gym, so he can shower after his commute. Nelson agreed, saying, "There shouldn't be a building built on any campus in the United States without shower facilities."

Showers or no showers, Bunton said Friday proved to be a perfect day to lure new riders to try out a commute by bicycle.

"This is one of the nicer days, weather-wise, we've had in several years," she said.

"That encourages a lot of first-time riders."

For more information on biking as a form of commuting, go to http://www.baltometro.org/commuter-options/bike-to-work-day

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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