Two-wheel transportation gets rolling on Bike to Work Day [Commentary]

Necessity, it's said, is the mother of invention. It moved Jason Orndorff to reinvent his look to resemble something from "Star Trek."

As he wheeled into Friday's Bike to Work Day event at The Mall in Columbia, a red light flashed from the back of his head. What at first appeared to be a cybernetic implant actually was just a blinking bicycle light he had hung from the rigging of his helmet.


"If I hang it on my wedge bag, it points downward. If I put it on the back, my pannier gets in the way," Orndorff said. "Now I know they can see me."

"They," of course, are you, me and everybody else who sends an infernal combustion vehicle screaming along the roadway.

Orndorff was one of about 60 cyclists, myself included, who rode to the parking lot next to Sears on an overcast morning to hear a couple of thankfully short speeches, scarf some free doughnuts and pick up a bag o' swag including a patch kit, a Columbia Association water bottle and a wicked wicking T-shirt.

Two weeks prior, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council had postponed Bike to Work Day events in the region upon the approach of a nasty weather system. This is the sixth year in which the council has staged one in Howard County.

Chris Tsien, from Bicycling Advocates of Howard County, urged his fellow riders to lobby their lawmakers to do more to make it easier and safer for cyclists and pedestrians to get around, thus getting some automobiles off the roads. Tsien reminded the crowd that it's an election year.

"Now is when they listen," he said.

John Powell, administrator of the county's Office of Transportation, was a step ahead. He told the assembled that County Executive Ken Ulman's recently passed budget includes $900,000 to improve bike access.

"Next year, instead of having to look at my ugly puss," on Bike to Work Day, Powell said, "You'll hear from our bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, which will be a full-time position."

Bikes have been largely an afterthought in local transportation planning until recently, but now the county has a master plan specifically for self-powered two-wheel transit.

As the event was winding down and the riders began taking off to complete their commutes , Tsien told me the master plan will ensure that pedestrian and bicycle traffic will be part of the equation in future development. He recalled his reaction recently when he visited a new development off Gorman Road.

"There was no provision for bike access at all," he said, noting that county design standards up to now have never required it. "Now Planning and Zoning has a check box for it."

Just being aware of cycling as a viable, desirable transportation option constitutes a big hurdle for a lot of folks. It's still outside the realm of everyday experience for most adults. That's where events such as Bike to Work Day come in handy.

Michael Sapp, of Hickory Ridge, said he rides to his job in the Gateway office park maybe once every other week or so. When I asked him how he first got into that practice, he initially couldn't recall what exactly prompted him. But then he looked at riding buddies Bruce Cohen and Jason Bahan.

"Actually," Sapp said. "The first time was Bike to Work Day five years ago."


I'm working at home these days, but I run a lot of errands — grocery shopping, doctor's appointments, that kind of stuff — on my bike. Usually, I try to stay on the Columbia pathways as much as possible. In addition to being a generally more pleasant route, going through the trees and all, it's also safer most of the time.

On this day, however, I did a little consciousness-raising of my own. My route between my house in Long Reach and the mall took me along Tamar Drive and Route 175 on into Town Center. The shoulder of Route 175 is plenty wide, but crossing its off-ramps at rush hour was a bit hairy, and once it becomes Little Patuxent Parkway, the shoulder disappears and I began pressing the "share the road" point with drivers.

My prayer was that at least some of them would see me and remember, "Oh yeah, it's that Bike to Work thing today."

And just maybe one or two would get a notion to try cycling to their jobs, or even just be a little more aware that — whether they ride or not — it's in everyone's best interest for biking to be more commonplace.