In the city, commuting by bicycle gains traction

The Baltimore Sun

John Nethercut leaves his car in the driveway two or three times a week, hops on a bike and pedals the seven miles from his home to his office in downtown Baltimore. That, he says, is the easy part.

Things get more dicey once Nethercut arrives at work.

"I would say the two biggest problems bike commuters have are finding a place to park that is secure and the lack of showers," said Nethercut, the executive director of the Public Justice Center.

Baltimore's Parking Authority might have a solution to the first problem. The agency is considering a pilot program to install a secure parking facility on the first floor of its Baltimore Street garage next to City Hall.

With gas prices on the rise and an increasing focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the city is working to make cycle commutes more attractive. In 2006, the city drafted a long-term bike plan, and it has added dedicated bike lanes in several neighborhoods.

Mayor Sheila Dixon has recently drawn attention to the issue by biking to work - and asking that her department heads do the same.

Nethercut and other riders note that many bike commuters have mirrors, lights and other gadgets on board that can be easily stolen. For many, a chain wrapped around a light pole doesn't cut it any more.

"You can park your bike on the street, but it is subject to vandalism and theft," said Nethercut, who started biking to work about five years ago as a time-efficient way to get in some exercise.

The city's parking authority is looking for 20 to 30 people to express an interest in the concept. The agency could then move forward on building a facility that would cost from $5,000 to $15,000 and take up about two regular parking spots in the garage.

"Our name is the 'parking authority,' not the 'automobile parking authority,' " said Peter Little, executive director of the authority. "We are interested in finding ways to park all sorts of methods of transportation."

Contracts for the bike spots would cost from $5 to $10 a month. That would include access to a gated area with bike racks inside, and it would be within view of garage employees and monitored by security cameras.

Little said it might be difficult to replicate the concept at other city garages - many of which do not have first-floor space for such a facility or a safe and easy way for bikers to get up to the second floor.

City officials have been making an issue out of alternative modes of transportation for several years and have had some success in promoting biking. The city's Department of Transportation has added about 20 miles of dedicated bike lanes in the past 15 months.

Jamie Kendrick, deputy city transportation director, said the effort has focused on the "college loop" - connecting the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus, Loyola College and Morgan State University - as well as the Hampden neighborhood. Plans are under way for Park Heights and the neighborhoods around Patterson Park, he said.

The parks department, meanwhile, opened the extension of the Jones Falls Trail this year, a 2.75-mile route through Druid Hill Park.

Several bicycle enthusiasts said the city has made strides but that it still has a long way to go. Richard Chambers, executive director of One Less Car, a nonprofit group that advocates for alternative transportation, applauded the parking and other initiatives.

Still, there are far fewer people riding to work in Baltimore than in most other large East Coast cities. Census data from 2000 indicate that less than 1 percent of employed Baltimore residents use a bicycle as their most common form of travel - less than Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Mark Counselman, who sits on the One Less Car board, said it will take time for people to come around to the idea of eschewing their cars. But he said he believes it will happen eventually.

"The city is making strides to be more bike-friendly," said Counselman, who commutes by bike. "Across the city people have a sense that they see more people out on bikes. That's anecdotal, but we're hearing that."

More information

For more information or to express an interest in secure bike parking, contact Tiffany James at the Parking Authority by calling 443-573-2800 or by e-mailing tiffany.

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