It was sunny and warm Friday morning, a perfect day to ride to work. And that's what some 1,320 people did on the 13th annual Bike to Work Day, a national event that encourages everyone to share the road.
Regional participation has been growing, with just over 1,000 registered last year and 800 the year before.
And some of the veterans who met at City Hall in the morning for a rally said that they've noticed that change is creeping through Baltimore. More people seem to be ditching four wheels for two, drivers are a bit less hostile and there are more bike lanes used by more people.
"I appreciate the city making an effort," said Keith Shuey, who lives near Arbutus and rides downtown to his job at the Baltimore Visitor Center every workday. "We're still way behind other cities in terms of awareness and consideration. But you just have to go for it."
Shuey said he's faced harassment from drivers, though he says he always follows the rules of the road. Two years ago he said he was even shot in the elbow, as he pointed to the scar. But "I won't let it stop me," he said.
Katie Gore-Traill was riding between Joe's Bike Shop, owned by her husband, in Mount Washington and another in Fells Point. She said following the law and "looking the part, with lights and a helmet," help riders gain respect.
Regional transportation officials say they have been working to make the metropolitan area more bike- friendly, adding bike lanes and bike racks. New laws also are making the roads safer, they say.
One law that requires drivers to give bicyclists a 3-foot buffer isn't well-known to drivers yet, said some riders, who admit to hopping up on sidewalks to steer clear of less-than-friendly traffic sometimes. Eventually, they said, it will catch on.
Amenities and safety laws also may lure more people out of their cars and onto their bikes.
Bike to Work sponsors at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a coalition of the region's elected officials, say more than half of those registered to cycle Friday typically drive. That's some 4,835 miles covered on bikes instead of in cars, according to Stephanie Yanovitz, senior transportation engineer-planner at the council.
Baltimore City and several area counties had rally points for riders to meet up before work, and some companies such as Northrop Grumman in Anne Arundel County and Arbitron in Howard County rounded up employees to ride to work together.
This year, organizers gave away T-shirts and a few folding bikes as prizes. They also handed out bike maps and a bicycle commuter resource guide.
The event caps Clean Commute month in the region, which is organized by the council and transportation and environment officials and aims to educate the public on the tie between air quality and transportation choices.
Nate Evans, Baltimore's bicycle pedestrian planner, said the city has contributed more than 45 miles of bike lanes and 200 bike racks. More lanes are being added, and Evans said two new sections of the Jones Falls Trail will connect the majority of existing bike routes into one citywide network.
Evans said the 2000 Census showed two-tenths of one percent of the city's population commuted by bike, but, "we're definitely more than that now."
He said city Department of Transportation volunteers counted bikes along known routes and reported in September that more than 250 are commuting in the mornings and evenings. Another count is expected in early June and again in September for comparison. Evans specifically cited the Gwynns Falls and Jones Falls trails as growing commuter lanes.
He said the more that people bike, the more safe others will feel trying it out. He said Portland, Ore., and New York both have seen a decline in bike-related accidents as ridership grew.
"I think the signs help make drivers more aware of cyclists, but not as much as seeing cyclists themselves in the road," Evans said. " 'Safety in numbers' really does apply to biking. ... So, we're getting more bike lanes out there to encourage more cyclists."
Nan Tuckett said she was encouraged to start biking six years ago when she met her future husband, William Marker, who bikes from Pigtown to his job at the state office buildings north of downtown every day — about a mile and a half.
She said she runs errands to the grocery, drugstore and library on her bike and is getting more confident all the time. She especially likes the new bus-bike lane on Pratt Street, which she takes to get to the Whole Foods in Harbor East.
"I heard about the bike lane and at first I couldn't see the advantage," she said. "Now, I fly past cars stuck in traffic."
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