Bicycling in and Around Frederick

Frederick: A Bicycle-Friendly Community

by William Smith. 0 Comments

In 2010, Frederick mayor Randy McClement, with the assistance of city planner Tim Davis and the newly-created Frederick Bicycle Coalition, formed what was then termed the “Mayor’s Ad-hoc Bicycle Committee”. Numerous people from the area were interviewed for positions on the committee, which was to be composed of people who lived in the city or owned businesses here and were interested and/or possessed knowledge of bicycling. Its first goal was to obtain “Bicycle-Friendly Community” (BFC) status as granted by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB).

LAB grants this status based upon the assessment of several criteria, many of which are encapsulated in “The Five E’s”. These are Engineering (creating safe places to ride and park), Education (educating the public, helping give people the abilities, skills and confidence to ride), Encouragement (creating a bike culture that welcomes and celebrates bicycling), Enforcement (ensuring safe roads for all users) and Evaluation and Planning (for bicycling as a safe and viable transportation option). I’ll address the Five E’s in a future blog. There are four levels of BFC status: Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. A community in its first application, if successful, will likely achieve the bronze level.

The first task of the committee was to apply for the Bicycle-Friendly Community status from LAB. Plans were drawn and work began. Thanks to the support of the city Board of Aldermen (and especially liaison Kelly Russell), Mayor McClement, planner Tim Davis, and the volunteers on the committee, the following objectives were reached and were cited in our application.

Volunteer George Ruszat, who incorporated an idea from longtime Frederick Pedalers member Dan Lufkin, was the major force behind the creation of History Loop Ride. This is an eight-mile route through the city that visits numerous historic places, such as Mt. Olivet Cemetery and the Barbara Fritchie house. One can find a brochure and directions for this ride at the Visitors’ Center and most bicycle shops. It also won an award from the Maryland Municipal League this year. The construction of a pilot program of bicycle lanes and sharrows (shared road markings) on 7th Street between Ft. Detrick and East St. With the assistance of grant money and the Frederick Bicycle Coalition, bicycle racks have been placed in numerous locations in the center of town. Planning and assistance with the annual Bike To Work Day every May. The planning and building of a “pump track”, which is a small structure, made of hard-packed dirt, where cyclists on BMX-type bikes can ride around a track without stopping, by taking advantage of momentum to pedal as little as possible. This will be performed by volunteers at no cost to the city. Planning and design of a Rails-With-Trails project along East Street, along with bicycle lanes and shared road markings, from the MARC station to Worman’s Mill, in a public-private partnership. Three large events also have taken place in Frederick; the committee itself was not necessarily involved, but its members assisted with various duties. They are the High Wheel Race (old-style Penny Farthing bicycles – the only one of its kind in the entire United States), the three-day Tour de Frederick (created by Neil Sandler of Spokes Magazine fame and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Frederick County) and the Grand Fondo National Championship. Plans for educational events/classes for bicyclists.

Our application was well-received and, in 2012, the city of Frederick became a bronze-level recipient of the LAB’s Bicycle-Friendly Community award. Next on the horizon is Silver status.

The committee was formalized in the spring of this year and renamed from the “Mayor’s Ad-Hoc Bicycle Committee” to its current name. In addition, new members were added and pedestrian issues were incorporated into its focus.

You can find the committee on the Internet at these links. Meetings are generally held on the first Tuesday of each month.

Frederick Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee on city web site:

http://www.cityoffrederick.com/index.aspx?nid=695

Frederick Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Frederick-Bicycle-Pedestrian-Advisory-Committee/146686215379530?fref=ts

Others:

Frederick Bicycle Coalition: http://frederickbicyclecoalition.com/

League of American Bicyclists (LAB): http://www.bikeleague.org/

Frederick Pedalers Bicycle Club: http://www.frederickpedalers.org

A Day of Remembrance on A Bicycle

by William Smith. 0 Comments

On Memorial Day, local bicycle shop The Bicycle Escape hosted a dozen bicyclists on the “Memorial Day 2013” ride, which I renamed “Rolling Spandex”, in part due to our one-motorcycle escort and the garment of choice for many bicyclists.

Roger Rinker, the brain trust behind the event, wanted to do a tour of local war memorials. He told me that “the Memorial Day ride was important to me because my father served in World War II where he lost two fingers on his right hand in combat. He also received shrapnel from a grenade and other injuries. Having him there was great. Dad is 91 but he's active and he's ready to go on our next ride.” He described this bicycle ride on the Bicycle Escape's Facebook page as “One part remembrance; One part pedaling; One part history. Our ride had participants from 3-91 years of age and members of three branches of our USA Military.”

My wife and I climbed aboard our tandem bicycle and joined numerous other cyclists, including four generations of Rinkers (youngest Geoffrey, riding in a trailer, father Tom, grandfather Roger and great-grandfather Victor) for a tour of Memorial Park, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, the American Legion and the Laboring Sons Memorial. At each stopping point, Rinker placed a small US flag and spoke, reminding each participant of the sacrifices that were made in order that we could live as we do. I thought of my father and father-in-law, who bravely fought in World War II and Korea, respectively.

Every month or so, Rinker and The Bicycle Escape host a slow-paced ride for all to enjoy. This year's have included a Groundhog Day-themed ride, one for St. Patricks' Day and one that went to the movies.

Rinker says, “I'm so happy to offer these rides, especially since anyone can join the fun. They're designed to be slow paced, usually theme oriented, and sometimes they include a surprise. The Memorial Day surprise was the motorcycle. On Cinco de Mayo we wore sombreros. On the Movie Ride we parked the bikes inside the Weinberg. We've also done a Frederick History Loop ride and the surprise was ringing the bell outside the Frederick Visitor's Center. It's all for fun and it encourage people to get out and ride. That's the best part.”

The Bicycle Escape also offers every Sunday road rides at Utica Park and weekly mountain bike rides. The employees teach classes on bike repair and maintenance. The next two classes (June 5 and 12) are specifically designed for the deaf community and will include instruction on fixing flat tires and a quick tune up clinic. Classes are free and held at the shop.

And to be fair, please patronize all three of our Frederick-area bicycle shops (The Bicycle Escape, Wheel Base and Bike Doctor), where you will not only be able to find reliable, high-quality bicycles, components and accessories, but also fine service and knowledgeable employees. Each offers various types of classes and instruction as well.

Ride of Silence

by William Smith. 0 Comments

A unique event will take place this coming Wednesday, May 15, at 6:45 pm at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Frederick. It is a slow-paced ten-mile bicycle ride which is termed “The Ride of Silence”. It is held in order to bring awareness to the general public of the cyclists who have been killed and injured on the world's roads by motorized vehicles and to illustrate that cyclists and motorists can share the roads safely together.

On the tenth day of January in 1998 J. D. Baggett was bicycling on the shoulder of Maryland route 75 in the vicinity of Linganore High School when a driver ran into him at high speed. This motorist had been observed speeding, driving aggressively and using the road shoulder to pass other vehicles. Mr. Baggett was thrown a large distance from his bicycle. The motorist who hit him stopped for a moment, and then fled the scene. Baggett died on the scene in the arms of a Good Samaritan who had stopped to help him. The motorist left some evidence at the crash site that led law enforcement to him, resulting in a conviction. There was also evidence that he had been consuming alcohol, though I do not know if he was charged. He was sentenced to ten years in prison with all but eighteen months suspended. While eighteen months is not a short time to serve, it does show the little regard that is shown toward victims of hit-and-run killings.

Forty-eight year old Stan Miller was bicycling home from work on the early evening of June 25, 2010. He was on his normal route northbound on Maryland route 27 near Damascus. He was struck from behind by a motorist and killed. The driver, according to Baltimore Spokes, had a blood alcohol content of 0.20. Like Baggett, Miller was riding legally on the shoulder of the roadway. His killer, who did stop and remain at the scene, had two drunk driving events already on his record. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

I had been on bicycle rides with both of these men. They were good people and quite capable of cycling safely in traffic. They were both killed by careless motorists. I have seen many, many accounts of bicyclists (and pedestrians) who have been plowed over by motorists, many of whom flee the crash scene. You will note that I do not use the term “accident” when I refer to these events. These are not accidents, they are crashes. Collisions. They are avoidable. Almost every crash is avoidable. There are rules that govern the roadways for all of us, and when we (bicyclists and motorists) ignore them, people get hurt and people die.

Against a fence, on the side of the road where Stan Miller was killed, is a “ghost bicycle.” There used to be a memorial marker on route 75 where J. D. Baggett was killed.

This coming Wednesday evening, something on the order of twenty-five to fifty bicyclists will ride through the city of Frederick, and in cities worldwide, to commemorate and remember those who have been killed and injured riding their bicycles. No words will be spoken by those on their bikes. Only hand signals will be permitted. The riders will remain together, ride safely, obey every law and make no sound excepting those made by the bikes.

Three weeks in October

by William Smith. 0 Comments

I'm sitting here in front of the television watching the coverage of the pursuit of the suspect in the bombing at the Boston Marathon earlier this week and am reminded of the tight grip in which the Beltway Snipers held us back in October 2002.

John Muhammad and Lee Malvo had everyone on edge as they drove around the Washington DC area over a period of three weeks, shooting people at random. Anyone outside was a possible target. Children, men, women – everyone and anyone. Whether one was pumping gas, going to the store, walking to school or any outdoor activity, there was the possibility that a person, no matter how unlikely, could be the next target.

Being a person who craves endorphins and loves bicycling, I found time in my work schedule to ride my bike on an 18-mile route south of Frederick several days each week during lunch, supplemented by riding to work on the other days. Weather-permitting, I was out there on the roads almost every day. I remember riding along New Design Rd one afternoon. There were no other automobiles around as far as I could see. From behind came a white panel van – if you recall, at that time it was thought that the perpetrators were driving one of those, rather than a brown Oldsmobile, (I think that's what it was) from inside which they were actually hunting us. I thought to myself, “This could be it.” I watched the van in my mirror as it approached. It slowed and passed me very carefully, which set my heart racing. The driver continued on – it was a local electrician. No shots fired, though had there been one, I'd have likely never known it.

The following week I was leading my Wednesday evening “Lights and Pizza” ride, which was attended by about five other riders. On Elmer Rd, as we approached the tunnel underneath route 340, a Frederick County Sheriff's car rapidly approached us. As it passed, the deputy slowed, dropped his passenger-side window, and asked us if we'd seen a white panel van pass recently. I don't recall what our answer was – I think it was “no”. He then sped off ahead in his pursuit of someone, somewhere. If our answer was actually “yes”, then these bicyclists probably made someone's evening a bit scary when the officer caught up to him or her.

My wife and I reassured our children that a little place like Frederick was far from where the snipers were committing their cowardly acts – I don't know how much they believed us, or even if they remember much about it now. But she and I believed that. It was quite a surprise to us when, a week later, Muhammad and Malvo were found at the I-70 rest stop in Myersville, ending their short period of terror in our area – sleeping in a car that bore no resemblance to a white panel van. Upon a visit to our local radio station one afternoon weeks after they were captured, I was told by the receptionist that a man came in a few days before they were caught and asked to use their fax machine. He was denied use of the machine, so he left quietly. After they were captured, she recognized the man as bearing a very strong resemblance to John Muhammad. They were not only in our town, they were on the street where I worked and rode my bike.

As bicyclists, we learn how to avoid being struck by motorized traffic. There are techniques, rules to follow, ways to increase our visibility, and so on. Being shot does not enter our minds. With the exception of the time I was cycling northbound on New Design Rd around 1992, before the expansion and realignment of the roadway, and heard two gunshots from what I now believe to be a deer hunter's rifle. The shots came from my left, through a tall cornfield, passing close enough to me that I could hear the whistle of each bullet as it sailed through the air. Cell phones were uncommon at this time, and I was afraid to yell out in the event that I might have been the target, so I sprinted as fast as I could out of the area. I did not report the event; by the time I reached home it was forty-five minutes later and the hunter likely had left the area, as it was late in the day. About ten years later I asked a Sheriff's deputy how close a bullet would have to be in order for me to hear it in that manner. His answer was, “You don't want to know.”

Any time we go anywhere, there is some element of risk. Crossing the street, riding a bicycle, driving along a highway, watching a movie, being in school, and even running in a marathon. I am relieved that all of our local runners are safe and saddened that some runners were killed and some have had their lives unalterably changed.

But we keep on going forward. We have to.

You Want To Ride How Far?

by William Smith. 0 Comments

Today I would like to put a plug in for one of my favorite bicycle-related organizations.  This is a band of sisters and brothers, many of whom I have known for about twenty years.  The organization is called “The DC Randonneurs” and can be found out there “in the ether” at http://www.dcrand.org. “Randonneur” is a French term.  The DC Randonneurs web site defines it as this:

Randonneuring is going on bicycle rides that are long-distance, unsupported, non-competitive, and time limited.

Long distance: While there are some events that are shorter, the typical randonneuring events are 200Km (125 miles), 300Km (188 miles), 400Km (250 miles), 600Km (375 miles), 1000Km (650 miles), and 1200Km (775 miles).

Unsupported: While there might be some food at the ride start, you should think of what you are doing as going on your own bike ride. You should be prepared to handle any bike repairs that are needed. You should carry clothes to handle any weather conditions that might arise. And you should be prepared to have a friend or spouse come and pick you up if necessary.

Non-competitive: Generally, the only award is your gratification at finishing the event within the rules. You are only "racing" yourself, and likely-as-not you'll finish faster if you cooperate to help fellow randonneurs finish. That's not to say that no one ever tries to finish faster than their friends, and finishing fast may yield some bragging rights. But the randonneuring etiquette is to help your fellow cyclists out when possible so that you can all finish within the rules.

Time Limited: There is a fairly generous time limit of Randonneuring rides. For rides under 375 miles, it is about 9.3 miles per hour. That might sound relatively easy, but that counts not just time on the bike, but any stops to eat, sleep, control, rest, etc. Learning to manage time is a key part of Randonneuring.

This type of bicycle adventure is difficult but rewarding, as the routes we use in the DC area are almost always hilly - even mountainous.  The longer rides (300 km and farther) require lights and reflective gear use for all but the fastest of cyclists.  These rides are also known as “brevets” and go in almost all weather – bad weather does not cancel the event.  Some use these events as qualification for the “Mother of All Brevets” – Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200 km event in France that must be completed within 90 hours.

As an example, recently (Saturday, March 23) I rode a 200k that began in Urbana, across the hills and valleys to Union Bridge (our first control point), then westward into a cold, biting wind to Thurmont, over South Mountain to State Line, PA (the second control point).  The climbing was intense, especially this early in the year when most of us are not firing on all cylinders and are carrying a few pounds of extra winter weight.  I was very slow – when I reached State Line at mile 64 I had a moving average of only twelve miles per hour (less if you include stopping time).  Had I access to a vehicle at that control, I would have been very tempted to quit and take a ride home.  However, I fueled up there (cookies, fig newtons, Gatorade) and pushed on anyway.  I made the pleasant discovery that I was now in the benefit of a strong tailwind, and rode the wave to Williamsport (the next control), then Antietam and back over the mountain to Adamstown and the finish in Urbana.  I arrived with 129 miles, feeling better than I had at mile 64 and with a 12.6 mph overall average pace.  A large reason for this was the tailwind, but I also ate more on the return trip and the temperatures had risen from the low 30s to low 50s.  Awaiting the riders at the finish were large quantities of pizza – I like that.

The whole point of these rides is to savor the experience of the adventure.  I have seen more of this area (and the country) on my bicycle than I have from my car.  I’ve met locals, spoken to Amish and Mennonite farmers, gained new friends on the rides, experienced the joys of conquering mountains, fast descents, breathtaking scenery and the rewards to a person’s soul that a bike ride of hundreds of miles can provide.  One of my most memorable events was a couple of years ago when I finished a 400 km jaunt (in about 22 hours) with a group of eight riders in a heavy downpour that lasted all the way from Gettysburg to Frederick from midnight on through sunrise.  Our entire group rode as a unit, headlights and taillights blazing, each person watching out for the others, pointing out any road hazards and puddles (lakes would be a better term), and generally laughing our way through an experience that, alone, would have been hellacious.  Our finish was a group effort, where we were each part of something bigger than ourselves – we were a unit.  Before I scare you away, this type of weather is not typical – but it happens sometimes.  Usually I wait out the rainstorms, and never voluntarily ride in lightning storms.

If you are a bicyclist who can ride 50 or 100 miles, you can adapt to doing these kinds of rides.  The long miles pass by quickly when accompanied by friendly, helpful bicyclist companions, which is always the case.  The feeling of accomplishment is difficult to describe – it just feels extraordinarily good. 

There is not a lot of difference between 100, 200 miles or more.  Once a person reaches the level of fitness required in order to complete a 100-miler, it is mostly mental attitude and on-the-ride nutrition.  Often I have under-eaten on a ride (such as this last one), only to “stoke the furnace” at a control point, rest a little bit, and then find myself firing on all cylinders once more and feeling great.

Sometimes the DC Randonneurs will offer a shorter version of the longer ride (say, 65 miles) in order to introduce new riders to the sport of randonneuring.  This is a perfect way to enjoy the experience, but in the context of a ride that is less difficult.

I invite you to give randonneuring a try.  Maybe it is for you, and maybe it is not.  It has provided me with adventures, experiences, and friends that will last my lifetime.

Don”t Pass Me Yet, Bro!

by William Smith. 0 Comments

 

Dear Motorist Person,

In your haste the other afternoon to pass me as I was riding my bicycle, you came fairly close to hurting or killing someone. You see, my mom always told me, “Don't start a pass you can't finish.” She was not discussing driving, but the point was well-taken.

You might recall that, at the time you chose to begin your pass, there was a hill just ahead of us that hid the oncoming car from your view, but not mine since I was forty feet in front of you. I imagine that you chose to go completely across into the other lane on this skinny country road in order to provide sufficient room to pass me, which in some circumstances could be quite appropriate and desirable, but not in this case. Your haste to pass me created a situation where, had I not intervened, was going to either

cause you to have a head-on collision with the unseen oncoming car (perhaps killing one or both of you) force the oncoming car off the road into the trees (perhaps killing her), lead to you swerving to the right in order to avoid the oncoming vehicle (crashing into and possibly killing me).

I hope you did not mind that I decided to quickly move into the center of the roadway to prevent you from passing me and that my frantic waving and yelling “NO!” did not alarm you to a large degree. Fortunately for all of us, you chose to take my actions seriously and pull back into line behind my bike. Also pleasing was the fact that you then waited ten seconds for me to signal “clear” and wave you on so that you could pass safely. Not as pleasing was the one-finger salute that followed, despite the likely crash that my attentiveness prevented. A “thank-you” would have been more appropriate. I imagine it was the last token of affection displayed when one realizes that he/she has done wrong and needs to proclaim victory and withdraw.

Sincerely,

Bill

I see this type of situation often enough. With decades of bicycling experience and a fine mirror mounted on my helmet, I can usually spot a potentially dangerous situation brewing and take action in time to avoid the danger. Motorists will unsafely pass bicyclists for various reasons, some of which are: (a) impatience, (b) incompetence, (c) anger, (d) inattention and (e) misjudging the speed of the bicyclist. On every bicycle is a human being such as myself. A motorist's haste to more quickly reach his/her destination does not override the rules of the road, nor the courtesy that we should extend to each other, nor is sufficient reason to put another person's life in danger.

Sometimes I hear the common motorist rant, “He was riding in the middle of the lane!” There is often a reason for this. If the lane is too narrow for a motor vehicle and bicyclist to safely share (think Rosemont Avenue or 7th Street), the bicyclist should move far enough to the left to dissuade the motorist from passing in the same lane. If the bicyclist does not move left, the motorist will be tempted to try to squeeze past the bicyclist, often passing within a few inches, setting up a dangerous situation. In 2012 it became law in Maryland that a motorist must pass a bicyclist with at least three feet of clearance space.

So – please, my motorist friends – be patient and pass safely.

Another situation that a bicyclist must be careful to avoid is called the “right hook.” This is when a motorist passes the bicyclist and then immediately executes a right-hand turn in front of hm/her, causing the bicyclist to (a) get pushed off the road, (b) get crushed underneath a tire or (c) if fortunate, quickly slam on the brakes in order to avoid a collision. To avoid the situation, I will move into the center or center-left of the lane as I approach an intersection where there is a potential for a trailing car to perform a right turn. This persuades the motorist to execute the correct and safe maneuver of remaining behind the bicyclist and turning right behind him/her instead of in front.

The following link shows how these situations can be avoided under the caption “How to Not Get Hit By Cars”: http://www.bicyclesafe.com/ There are ten situations covered here, accompanied by some very good advice on how to ride safely in traffic. Every bicyclist and motorist should read this web page. We would all be safer as a result.

See you out there.  And always listen to your mother.  She also requested that we all use our turn signals.

 

To Helmet or Not To Helmet

by William Smith. 0 Comments

There's no right or wrong answer here, as there is only one answer: wear a helmet. Period.

Here is why. Last July, my wife and I crashed our tandem on a 30-mph downhill near Antietam when our front tire blew out on a piece of gravel that punctured the tire sidewall. We were both ambulanced to the hospital in Hagerstown. I sustained a back injury and a leg muscle injury that kept me on crutches for 2 ½ weeks. I was fortunate enough that my head did not strike the pavement, but my wife was not so lucky. She hit the pavement with enough force to crack her helmet in about eight places. As we both were laying down on the ground moments after the crash, I looked over and saw that her face was covered with blood. She was (and is) fighting cancer, so she is taking blood thinners. This made the blood loss even more severe and dangerous. She experienced memory loss and confusion and, to this day, does not remember the crash. After inspecting her helmet, and taking into account the concussion she suffered, I am convinced that the helmet saved her life.

“ But I am a good rider and never crash,” you say. Maybe you are a great rider. But not everyone is, mechanical failures occur, and you cannot anticipate everything that will happen. Riding your bicycle without a helmet just increases your likelihood of becoming an organ donor.

For a primer on how to properly fit a bicycle helmet, go to this link: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/bike/easystepsweb/

And remember, just wearing a helmet does not make you invincible. It is simply the first step. There is much, much more I can write on the subject of safety, and I will in a future blog post.

What I really want to discuss is Maryland's latest effort to place into law a mandatory helmet use provision for everyone. According to www.safekids.org, currently, the law is written so that people 16 years of age and younger must wear a helmet, though I believe that this only applies to Maryland state roads. The state wishes to change this so it applies to everyone, regardless of age.

Is this wise? I am not sure.

On the one hand, anyone who rides a bicycle without head protection is taking a great risk. I know a large number of cyclists, and many have been involved in a crash. Some of my friends would not be alive today if it were not for the protection provided by the helmet that he/she wore. Should it be made mandatory?

I read recently that our freedoms end when they negatively affect someone else. For example, I am a property owner, but I cannot place a chicken coop on my ½ acre or build a small incinerator in my backyard. There are limits to what I can do with my land if those actions adversely affect my neighbors.

The same can be said for someone who, while riding a bicycle, motorcycle, or driving an automobile, does not use the safety equipment made for that vehicle. If I crash and suffer a brain injury, society is left to assume the cost of my care as long as I live if I cannot pay the costs myself, which is going to be the case for almost everyone. If I choose not to wear my helmet and have a crash that causes me to lose a month of work, my employer is adversely affected as well. Someone else has to pick up the extra work resulting from my absence (note – as a result of our crash last year, I only missed one day of work.).

On the other hand, we face a dilemma. If the wearing of a helmet is mandatory, will cycling decline in popularity? It is healthy for the bicyclist. It is good for the environment. Using a bicycle for transportation cuts down on traffic and pollution. Could forcing a person to no longer ride helmetless cause him/her to give it up?

Take a look on route 40 over by the “Golden Mile” near US 15. Observe the riders on bicycles. Most of them are likely to be lower-income people, possibly Hispanic, who ride their bicycles to their jobs because it is all that they can afford. Most of them will not be wearing helmets and will be riding on the sidewalks (which is actually more dangerous than riding on the roadway in most cases). Perhaps they cannot afford a helmet, were never educated on the protection a helmet provides, or something cultural that causes a person to just not wear one. What will happen to these people when helmet use is mandatory? Will they stop riding? I doubt that very much. Will this be another reason for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office to stop an Hispanic bicyclist in order to determine his/her legal status?

So where is the line drawn? We mandate seat belt use for motor vehicles. We have truck safety inspections at weigh stations. Smokers pay higher insurance premiums. People living on the shorelines are charged more for flood insurance, if they can get it at all. Should a bicyclist be mandated to wear a helmet?

I see both sides of the issue. I wish the discussion were not even needed. There is no reason for a bicyclist not to wear a helmet. The bicycle club that I most choose to ride with, the Frederick Pedalers, does not mandate helmet use. We use peer pressure to influence the rider. I would estimate that we have 99.75% compliance. I can only recall one person in the last ten years who was on a ride that I attended who did not wear a helmet. He is currently a Frederick County Commissioner. He is also a competent rider. It is his choice to go helmet-less. I disagree, but it is still his choice.

I do not believe that a helmet law is needed for adults. It is not necessarily the proper logical conclusion, but it is my opinion. Peer pressure and education can go a long way to encourage helmet use. It has worked very well to reduce drunken driving (yes, I know there are laws against it – the point I am making is that public opinion changed over the years concerning driving under the influence more from public service announcements and MADD than our laws – in my opinion).

We shall see what the legislature decides. In the meantime, just wear a helmet when you ride.

Groundhog Day 2013

by William Smith. 0 Comments

This morning (Saturday, February 2) I tagged along with about 25 other bicyclists on The Bicycle Escape's First Annual Groundhog Day Bicycle Ride. We began at the Clemson Corner shop at nine in the morning under partly sunny skies and a very frosty 19 degrees with a destination of City Hall.

Organizer Roger Rinker's payload included a slightly stuffed version of “Frederick Phil”, a rather cuddly little groundhog, whose future was to include being lifted from a basket by Mayor Randy McClement in the hopes that he would not see his shadow, thereby forecasting an eagerly awaited early Spring for Fredericktonians.

I saddled up alongside Alderman Kelly Russell, who brought along her own tiny mascot, another stuffed fellow that bore a strong resemblance to a smelly black creature with a white streak along its back that I struck on my bicycle on a Winter ride several years ago, leaving an odor which did not fade from my bike for almost an entire year.

Our large contingent rode slowly but jubilantly along deserted Frederick streets for about four miles, finally reaching City Hall at about 9:30, many of us with freezer-burned fingers and toes. We quickly went inside where hot chocolate awaited us. I wrapped my frozen hands around the warming cups as the feeling slowly came back into my fingertips while I dreamed of springtime temperatures.

Then we went back outside as the Mayor read a Groundhog Day proclamation (“Frederick Phil, seer of seers...”) and carefully eased the tiny, furry rodent out of his basket. Within seconds, under a now cloudy sky, Mayor McClement pronounced that Frederick Phil had not seen his shadow, thereby predicting an early Spring, which is music to the ears of any cyclist, especially ones with freezing fingers, toes and giblets.

After a short “meet-and-greet” session with the Mayor and Phil the Prognosticator (and more pictures than a paparazzi invasion of Lindsay Lohan on a driving trip to the 7-11 store), we embarked on our freezing return trip to the bike shop, where more hot chocolate and cookies awaited us. After an hour I was warm enough to ride home.

What a GREAT ride!

I think I'll do it tomorrow. And Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday....And...

What”s New in Frederick Bicycling?

by William Smith. 0 Comments

All work and no play makes Bill a slow bicyclist. Well, it is Winter. Working twelve-hour days is beginning to get old.

What, you may ask, is happening in Frederick? With the assistance of the Ad-Hoc Bicycle Committee and the wonderful and talented planning staff, and the Mayor and Board of Alderman (or is it “Aldermen” or “Alderpersons”?), many exciting events and projects are underway (or will be soon).

When the committee was formed, one of its purposes was to encourage and supply ideas to the city regarding what kinds of road treatments and accommodations could be made to promote bicycle access in Frederick – and do so cost-effectively in order to get the largest bang for the buck.

Last year bike lanes were installed on a slice of 7th Street, between Heather Ridge Drive and Fort Detrick at Miltary Rd. Some asked, “why such a small section of bike lane?” What we have here is a beginning – one has to start somewhere. 7th Street was chosen as a good pilot area because of its proximity to stores, post office, hospital, and its commuting potential for Fort Detrick. It also lent itself well to bike lanes, as there was little parking and the road is wide. I will note that there have been some issues eastbound, as motorists departing the Fort have used the parking lane, which is situated to the right of the bicycle lane, as a through lane. Not only is this dangerous, but it is illegal. I hope that future signage can alleviate the issue. Recently “sharrows” were installed on 7th Street on the roadway from US15 to East St. Sharrows signify a shared-use lane. This reminds motorists that bicyclists are likely to be present and that the lane may be taken by a bicyclist because its width is insufficient for a motor vehicle and bicycle to occupy simultaneously.

Other items being planned or considered include (1) bike lanes for a portion of East St, (2) a bicycle path alongside same where the railroad tracks currently exist, (3) a “pump track” for off-road bicycles, (4) a suitable bike path undercrossing of US15 near Rosemont Avenue, (5) signage to connect the various off-street paths currently existing in the city, as well as a few others. You may have already toured the eight-mile “History Loop” that departs from the Tourism Center on East St. If not, plan on it this Spring when the weather warms.

In addition to better accommodating bicyclists, one of the main benefits to Frederick of these kinds of programs is the tourism component. As conditions improve it is expected that bicyclists will visit, tour the city and county, visit the battlefields and watershed, spend the weekends in our hotels and bed and breakfasts and eat in our restaurants. The tourism component is highly prized. Other areas of the country have benefited greatly from bicycle tourism, such as Bedford County, PA and Hancock, MD.

Events coming this year include the Fourth Annual Tour de Frederick (our only legitimate Tour de France champion, Greg LeMond, attended in 2012), the second Clustered Spires High Wheel Race (last August the historic district was packed with onlookers observing this race on Penny Farthing bicycles) and the National Grand Fondo Championship in the Fall.

Keep warm – it is mighty chilly out there as I write. This is a good time to take your bicycle to one of our several local bike shops for a tuneup. Shop employees are lonely in January and February and would love to see you. Plus, they've more time to attend to your bike and give it the tender loving care it so deserves.

Why Bicyclists Ride Where They Do

by William Smith. 0 Comments

An alert reader emailed me last week with a very good question (I was very pleased, as that indicated that at least one person, other than me, had read my scribblings). It was basically, “Why do bicyclists ride where they do?” In other words, given the choice among various roads, why would a bicyclist choose a more heavily-traveled one than a less-traveled one, or a road with no shoulder over a wider one.

We bicyclists look for the same properties in a travel way that motorists do - good sight lines, direct travel (not too far out of our way), smooth pavement, less traffic - things like that. So we tend to use roads that meet that criteria. Unfortunately, some roads aren't up to snuff, but they go from where we are to where we want to be - or connect us to a road that we really want to get to. So we use what we've got. (Given current budget constraints, it is unlikely that we'll see much in the way of new roads for many years, let alone maintaining the ones we've got.) An example might be Maryland route 80, which is not one of my favorite roads. I've used it to get to Urbana from Frederick because it is superior to MD355 - but that's not saying much. It increases the distance and the time to get to Urbana, but route 355 is much busier. I have, however, used route 355 when I was short on time. There are partial bicycle accommodations in the Urbana area near routes 80 and 355, thanks to the State Highway Administration (SHA), which has been working to add and/or widen road shoulders and bike lanes along state highways – so there is hope on the horizon.

Other reasons for a bicyclist to choose one road over another include better scenery, better crossings over/under major highways, fewer stop signs/traffic lights, wider right lanes, fewer hills (or numerous hills, depending upon how masochistic the bicyclist might be) – and I am certain that my friends could give me twenty more reasons.

About fifteen years ago a new policy came about in Maryland that prohibited bicyclists from using certain roads that were previously available to them – this included US15 north of Frederick City. This caused problems for us, as we needed to use portions of US15 in order to cross at certain points or to reach roads that met route 15 at “T” intersections. Examples of these are Biggs Ford Rd. and Catoctin Hollow Rd, roads that were not possible to reach without riding on US15. A couple of years later, the policy was wisely rescinded. The predicted bicyclist roadway deaths never occurred, of course.

Where is a bicyclist prohibited? That would be in the travel lane of a road where the speed limit is greater than 50 miles per hour (riding on the shoulder in this case is permitted, as well as leaving the shoulder in order to execute a left-hand turn), limited-access highways, and certain bridges.

I've read where people have accused bicyclists of “playing chicken” by riding on major roads, or skinny roads with no shoulders present. This is not true. The decisions of which roads we take are based on a logical evaluation of where we are, where we're heading, how much time we have, the distance, the terrain, the road conditions, the amount of traffic, etc.  The various weights given to these criteria depend upon the overall bicyclist comfort level, which is directly related to the cyclist's abilities.

The roads are public thoroughfares, open to all road users – including cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles. We all must get along and share the public roadways.  As Canadian humorist Steve Smith is fond of saying, "We're all in this together."

Next time I'll discuss some of the enhancements that are in progress in the city of Frederick concerning bike lanes and trails.