At Westminster bike shop Race Pace, a few employees were waiting for cyclists to join their Wednesday evening road ride in mid-July before learning impending rain was cause to cancel.
The cyclists said they need to be careful when planning the road rides, taking rush hour into consideration and where most people feel comfortable.
“We all know the area,” said Michael Johnson, an employee who used to host the rides. “You want to research your route before you go out. … You need to give it thought. Is it a heavily traveled road? A commuter road?
“We go mostly north and west from here,” he said. “To the south, there’s a lot more traffic and not as many good roads to take.”
But aside from organized rides, some of the shop’s employees and patrons also commute — and it is not as easy to curate a trip to work or to run errands as it is to curate a trip for recreation.
Race Pace Manager David Binns lives about a mile away from the shop and rides to work as often as he can.
“Everybody’s had a bad experience where somebody passes you way too close,” said Binns, “but as far as road riding, I try as much as I can to stay on as many back roads as possible — just because you don't see a lot of traffic compared to designated bike routes.
“Some people feel more comfortable with a wide shoulder, but back roads have no shoulder space and not as many cars,” he said. “And some people don't feel comfortable with a shoulder.”
Although there are shoulders on the numbered roads — Md. 97, Md. 140, Md. 27 — making them designated bike routes, Peter Childs, the current leader of Race Pace’s road rides, said there is often debris on the side of the road and the speed of traffic can make cyclists feel unsafe.
“There’s lots of tires, trash and wire [on the shoulder],” Childs said. ‘There’s gravel. It’s a slightly perilous place to ride… For there to be a bike path on [Md.] 140, there would have to be guard rail or a barrier that is not going to have debris.
“Plus,” he said, “the high-speed ‘swerve arounds’ [cars perform to get around cyclists] are not safe for anybody. The majority of people in cars, they either get really worried or go as fast as possible to get around a cyclist. I think it’s important that everyone knows what to do.”
This conversation comes as the final draft of the Carroll County Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan is nearing completion.
When it is done, it will serve as a guide for municipalities across Carroll to make their roads more bike- and pedestrian-friendly and better prepare the county to request grant funding, according to Planning Department Acting Director Lynda Eisenberg.
“Bicyclists do have a right to the road,” said Comprehensive Planner Nokomis Ford at a meeting earlier this summer, “and they’re going to be there. So what we’re recommending is a safety campaign going forward just to help educate everyone — drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians — to look out for each other and learn how to use the road together.”
Binns said many of his shop patrons are looking for just that —a synergy between cyclists and motorists and an understanding of the laws that protect cyclists.
“Safer riding, dedicated bike paths, shoulders make a lot of sense,” he said. "What people really want is a bike network — paths, greenways. That's what the majority of the people who come here want to see. More local places to ride their bikes.”
Eisenberg said the key to improving the systems is to ensure consistency.
Her department found about 143 miles of “bike-ped” projects across the county — either existing, under construction or planned — which include a variety of bicycle lanes, paths and designated routes, shared-use-paths, sidewalks and crosswalks. When considering potential improvements to and designs for future structures, Eisenberg said consistency will be provided through the Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan.
Traffic calming measures — so people adhere to the speed limit — and advisory shoulders to protect cyclists are just a few of the ideas detailed in the plan, which is available on the county website.
Also included in the plan is information on “Complete Streets” and transportation alternatives.
Complete Streets — a transportation policy and design method to enable safety for all road users — is included in the plan, Ford told the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission earlier this month, because it could help address safety issues common to the county’s rural roads.
It would also “address safety issues that are common to walking and biking to school, reduce traffic by reducing vehicle travel for short trips, and work with the state’s newly established Complete Streets program,” she said.
According to Smart Growth America, a national nonprofit dedicated to neighborhood development, “a complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes [or wide paved shoulders], special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more.”
“The towns have expressed interest [in Complete Streets],” Eisenberg said. “This gives guidelines for them to follow.”
Planning and Zoning Commission member Alec Yeo said he was concerned about what would happen if more cyclists were encouraged to get on the road, and if the county’s accident data was in areas that don’t already have bicycle-friendly infrastructure, or if there is risk regardless.
“Because statistically we are going to put more people on the roads,” Yeo said. “You're going to have a greater number [of accidents]. Maybe less percentage, but a greater number of accidents.
“There’s going to be some other concern,” he said. “If you put two vehicles at different speeds in an area, there’s going to be a problem. I spent quite a few hours going through [Complete Streets]; it seems like a great initiative. I just want to make sure we are not just following it without making sure it’s safe.”
But cyclists have a right to access the road anyway, Ford said, and the statistics show the measures taken to make streets “complete” have been shown to make bicyclists more comfortable, and signage helps make vehicles more aware.
“Little improvements here and there could make an impact,” she said.
Commission member Eugene Canale agreed that although the ideas sounded good, they might not be suitable for roads in Carroll County on which motorists drive so quickly. He said he wants to see more bike-only infrastructure suggestions in the plan, like what exists in Anne Arundel County around the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
“In my opinion we will never see the integration of bicycling, walking and running on roads where there’s major vehicles going 55 miles per hour,” he said. “I see that as probably too hard to resolve, or almost impossible to resolve… I don't think we will see this integration in our lifetime.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission is slated to approve Chapter 6 at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. this Wednesday, and the entire draft is expected sometime in September.
Latest Carroll County News
More information on the Carroll County Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan can be found online at the Carroll County government website.