Maryland Ranks 11th in Bike Friendliness

By Carrie Madren

We’ve all been that driver, cruising along and then suddenly bearing down on a cyclist who is slowing us down to an unbearable speed. Many of us have been that bicyclist, hugging the white line for dear life, all the while trying to maintain a decent speed and keenly aware of the two tons of metal machinery tailing us.

Cars are king of the road, but motorized vehicles — though usually the fastest and easiest way to get from Point A to Point B — contribute to traffic, pollution and a sedentary lifestyle. Bicycles, on the other hand, emit nothing, use nothing but human energy, can replace a car for many needs and increase exercise. Unfortunately, many roads are dangerous for bicyclists, and riders who want to stick to bike paths must go out of their way to safely make it to their destination.

In a watershed with more than 16.6 million people — and growing by about 157,000 people per year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program — how we get around deserves serious thought and planning. Transportation affects our quality of life, environment, finances and resources. With our numbers set to increase to nearly 20 million neighbors by 2030, getting more people on bicycles could be one answer to transportation problems. And if people are willing to take to the bicycle, let’s make that easier.

Currently, dare to bike to work and you’ll likely encounter cement curbs keeping you in busy traffic lanes, sense impatient drivers riding your back wheel or have to weave through traffic to make a left turn. If you’re lucky enough to find a dedicated bike lane, you may find it coming to an abrupt end well before your destination. Though brave bicyclists do take to the roads in city and country — and regularly defend their right to be there — more would use bicycling as a transportation option if our road network were more bicycle-friendly, laws were more widely known and if bike racks abounded.

Each year, the League of American Bicyclists ranks every state in terms of bike friendliness. In 2010, Delaware dropped one rank to 10th with Maryland ranking 11th; Virginia dropped to 18th, New York dropped to 36th and Pennsylvania fell way behind at 42nd in the country. In each of the Mid-Atlantic States, however, bicyclists are banding together to advocate safer roads, bike paths and better laws.

As more cyclists take to the roads, safety is key; teaching drivers, as well as law enforcement officers, the nuances of law would help keep roads safer. Motorists misjudging the space required to pass a bicyclist and motorists turning into the path of an approaching bicyclist are two of the most common causes of bicycle crashes. Sadly, it only takes a slight swerve to end in a fatality. Municipalities, developers and cities should work together and invest in bike paths (bonus points for permeable surfaces) that run alongside major roads or create shortcuts to major areas, and are connected in a way that makes cyclists feel less like they’re playing Frogger and more like they’re commuting in a legitimate way.

Creating laws to make roads safer, as well as to fund bicycle-friendly projects, is the job of state legislators. In Maryland, the General Assembly just passed rules that require vehicles passing a bicyclist to give the rider at least a three-foot buffer (a similar law failed in Virginia’s General Assembly, and a four-foot buffer law stalled in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly). Maryland legislators voted to require cars turning across a marked bicycle lane to yield right of way to cyclists. Because bike theft is a huge problem for people who use their bicycles to get around, New York state government is considering legislation that would establish a bike theft prevention awareness and education program.

There are more glimmers of hope on the horizon from local governments and groups: In both Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C., a new bike sharing system will provide 1,100 bikes in some 100 stations in DC and 14 stations in Arlington to members; memberships will cost $80 annually or $5 daily plus usage fees. In New York, the Capital Region Bike Rack Program now provides free bike racks to public and non-profit organizations, up to a $1,000 value, a 50% cost-share for bike racks for the private sector. And in Philadelphia, Pa., bikers finally get some love with the Philly Pedestrian and Bike Path Plan, which will expand the bikeway network and help promote a wider acceptance of bicycling as a transportation mode.

Carrie Madren writes about environmental issues, Chesapeake life and sustainable living. She lives in Olney, Maryland. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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