“Of all the things we do, safety is our top priority,” Greg Slater, deputy administrator at the State Highway Administration, said at a press conference Wednesday promoting Bike to Work Day and the SHA’s year-old “We’re on this Road Together” campaign. “The weather is warming and we can expect to see more cyclists on the road.”
In the immediate future, that warmer forecast includes predictions of 74 degree weather and sunshine for Friday’s 19th annual Bike Work Day celebration, which organizers hope will break last year’s record regional registration mark of 1,553. “It keeps growing every year,” said Laura Van Wert, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, which organizes the event. “Our goal is to reach 2,000.”
In Baltimore City, tomorrow’s Bike to Work Day will include 13 local “pit stops”—offering coffee, bagels, T-shirts, small giveaways and camaraderie—and more than 30 events throughout the region. Generally running from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., pit stops in the city range from Baltimore Bicycle Works on Falls Road to City Hall to Zipcar’s offices in Fells Point. Bikemore, the city's bicycling advocacy nonprofit, will also be hosting a stop at its Maryland Avenue location.
Multiple events are also scheduled for Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, including pit stops in Catonsville, Owings Mills, Timonium, Towson, White Marsh, Annapolis, Arundel Mills, Davidsonville and Odenton. Other stops will also be organized in Columbia and Westminster. Pre-registration closes at midnight Thursday.
A post-Bike to Work Day party, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., is slotted for World of Beer at McHenry Row, with a 10 percent discount offered to patrons wearing a Bike to Work Day 2016 T-shirt. A full list of events can be found here.
In his presentation, Slater, who is also a bicycle commuter, noted that while bike commuting is on the rise in Maryland, and the U.S. more broadly, the number of fatalities has increased as well. In Maryland, that number jumped from six deaths in 2014 to 11 last year. Over the last five years, the state has witnessed 34 bicyclist deaths and 3,127 bicyclist crashes resulting in injury.
Statistics collected by the State Highway Administration also reveal that more than 60 percent of bicycle crashes occur between May and September, and 47 percent between the evening rush-hour commute between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
“We’ve got to look out for each other,” said Slater, stressing that both drivers and bicyclists need to follow the rules of the road.
Bike Maryland interim executive director Steve Miller added that texting and talking on the phone while driving has become a dangerous hazard not for only for automobile drivers, but especially for bicyclists who are unprotected.
“Distracted driving has become the new DUI,” Miller said. “And it’s willful and intentional.”
To help encourage more bicycle commuting as well as protect those who ride bicycles in the city as a means of transportation, the City of Baltimore will also be adding additional bike infrastructure in coming months, including the launch of a long-delayed bike-sharing program. That effort, scheduled for the fall, will place 50 stations and 500 bikes around the city for short-term rental and will include 200 electric-pedal assist bikes.
Also in the works is the construction of a dedicated cycle track on Maryland Avenue, running from 29th Street to Pratt Street, as well as six miles of new bike lanes—many connecting to the new cycle track.
In terms of the percentage of people who indicate that bicycling is a part of their commute, the U.S. Census reported a 62 percent increase nationwide from 2000 to 2014. Portland at 7 percent, Minneapolis at 4.6 percent, San Francisco at 4.4 percent, Washington D.C. at 3.9 percent posted some of the highest bike commuter rates in the country, with Baltimore ranked 38th among the 70 largest U.S. cities at .7 percent.
Ultimately, Baltimore City officials would like to see the percentage of bike commuters reach 9 percent over the next 15 years.
Some of the cities experiencing the biggest bike commuting increases over the past several years are Pittsburgh, where rates have more than tripled, and St. Louis, Chicago, Oakland and New Orleans, where rates have doubled.
“Biking is really important for a lot of reasons,” Caitlin Doolin, bicycle and pedestrian planner for Baltimore City, told The Sun. “It’s a huge part of our urban fabric, making transportation more sustainable, more healthy. People who bike tend to have higher attention spans at work, take less sick days, and have better health ratings from their doctors. And also, it’s fun.”