Category Archives: Cycling

Why I Ride A Bike

A shorter version also appeared as an Op Ed column in The Capital on May 11, 2016.

Aerial view of Annapolis, Maryland

Aerial view of Annapolis, Maryland (Library of Congress)

Let me get this out of the way: I am a bike guy. I love bikes, all kinds – transportation bikes, off road bikes, racing bikes and classic bikes.

But that’s not why I ride a bike for transportation.

I currently reside in Annapolis, the capital city of Maryland, a smallish city of about 40,000 people. The dominant view of cycling here is that it is an athletic or recreational endeavor. You know, “put the bike on the car and drive somewhere to ride”. However, Annapolis is ideal for getting around by bike. It’s compact, only eight square miles, and you can pretty much get to any part of the city and even the surrounding areas that are experiencing a lot of urbanized growth with a flat two or three mile bike ride.

Annapolis Map

Annapolis is very compact.

This is easily within the ability of most people. I ride my 1972 Schwinn around town because it’s a convenient and economical mode of transportation to accomplish my daily business of getting to the DC commuter bus stop for work, shopping, and socializing around town. But there are too few of us and we often feel like lone voices in the wilderness. Thankfully, many cities around the world and a growing number of cities in the U.S. are proving that bicycles can easily be a part of a modern transportation system. What’s missing here to make transportation cycling appealing for more than just the “Strong and Fearless” – or those who have no other choice – are the connecting off-road paths and bike lanes called for in the city’s excellent, but mostly ignored, bicycle master plan.

Bikes are cheap and save money. Despite this area having a very high median income, many residents in the city pay a disproportionally large portion of their income to own and operate a car, never mind multiple cars. Using a bike for around town trips can easily decrease the number of vehicles a family needs to have and saves wear and tear by using the car only for those trips that require it. Riding a bike for my daily needs saves thousands of dollars per year in my family budget. Relatively inexpensive bikes can easily haul a surprisingly large amount of stuff, require very little maintenance and avoid the city parking costs. And, bike riding if viewed as something regular people do, provides equity of access to our streets as Bike Law’s Peter Wilborn writes about in Charleston SC.

Bike towing a moth sailboat.

Yes, bikes can do real work. Extracycle makes great hauling bikes (I do not own one or have any financial interest in the company) and some awesomeness from a local Moth sailor.

Bikes are cheap for the city, too. A lot of the auto-based traffic here is short trips around town, which can easily be done on bikes. The city is geographically constrained by two rivers and the Chesapeake Bay and as a result land is extremely valuable. While the city is in reasonable fiscal shape overall, it has neither the means nor the land to widen roads for more cars. Development is a hot topic here, and the general opinion is we need to lock the door in the Party Analogy. It inevitably conjures the traffic “boogeyman” as the assumption is that an additional person equates to an addition car. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many small bike projects the city could do that would have a high return on investment in mobility. We often hear that Annapolis is not affordable. With a good cycling infrastructure, we can support additional development and can attract younger people who will likely choose bikes for a significant portion of their transportation needs. It doesn’t take much of a shift to bikes to have a large effect on traffic congestion and amount of needed parking.

And finally, there has been a lot of discussion recently in various forums here about rampant speeding in the city. I believe much of this occurs because people spend so much time in their cars in traffic that they have become chronically frustrated, often expressing that frustration as impatience or even road rage towards other drivers, walkers and bike riders. Spending time on the other side of the windshield brings the perspective of non-drivers into clear focus. Everyday riding makes me appreciate the luxury when I do use the car, especially if the weather is bad or I am tired. As a result, I am much more relaxed and courteous behind the wheel when I drive.

May is National Bike Month and we should celebrate transportation cycling. If you are a recreational rider, throw a basket on your bike and make a few trips to the store; if you haven’t ridden in a bike in a while, dust off that bike in your garage or grab an old beater from Craigslist and give it a try. The more people ride, the safer it is for everyone and the more apparent it will become to city governments that bikes can perform real work.

alex_pline_bike (1)That’s why I ride a bike.

Alex Pline is Chairman of the Annapolis Transportation Board, Vice President of Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and when he jumps out of a telephone booth in spandex, rides with the Annapolis Bicycle Racing Team.

Fixie Russian Roulette

Note: I wrote this back in 2009 and have not ridden my fixed gear bike much on group rides recently, but nonetheless it also applies to riding a geared bike in a group with many stronger riders. Often, it’s not a question of if I will pop, but when…


Question: When is riding a Fixie like playing Russian Roulette?
Answer: When you ride it for the Saturday D’ville group ride.

Yesterday after ACE asked about who was riding today, there were a few exchanges about the possible pace for the D’ville ride. I think I proposed “sane and steady”, whatever that means, but Ian responded correctly with “Give it up, old habits die hard”. Having been riding my fixie a bit, I think sure, I’m ready to give it a try, especially if others are doing the same (Ian, Doug, Greg et al). I’ll just take my chances with the pace – Russian Roulette.

So I show up at the park and ride with my Steamroller. Given that I have a Corolla and no rack, I can only bring one bike, so I am comitted. At this point, I’m feeling like I have a revolver against my head with 1 bullet somewhere in the rotation. I’m looking around and not seeing any other fixies. I try to talk Tom Aga into riding his fixie (he’s smart, he brings 2 bikes). No dice. Uh oh. Luckily Ian and Doug roll in on theirs. Click. Nothing. Whew.

We roll out down the hill and onto Patuxent River Road. Then the pace starts to ramp up with some of the ususal “we have to go at some ungodly power level (for me anyway) beacause that’s what my coach says” types on the front. Uh oh. Then as the gap opens up they go off the front and the rest of the groups sits back, “steady and sane”. Click. Nothing. Whew.

The pace continues sane and steady, even Bill Neumann appears to be enjoying it! Then we get to Brooks Woods; towards the latter part of it, I’m starting to spin pretty hard, some gaps start. Uh oh. After the turn, it slows and regroups, and I make it comfortably to the store. Click. Nothing. Whew.

We leave the store with ACE leading the charge. All of a sudden I realize that I’m working really hard to keep the wheel in front of me. ACE is doing an interval. Uh oh. He finishes before we get to Boyds turn and I catch my breath. Click. Nothing. Whew.

At Boyds Turn, there is some quick talk about who, if anyone, is doing the shorter route. Looks like no one is, so I keep following. The tandem goes by and I’m on the wheel. We start going down the first big roller, I’m spinning at a gazillion rpms and about 37 mph. Uh oh. Big gap. Click. BANG!

I’m gone. Oh well, I made it 4 rounds. I figure its all for the better anyway as it will spare me the indignation of being left for dead over the wall. After the first roller, there’s a cut in the road so I quickly do a 180 and high tail it for Boyds Turn as the north wind alone all the way from North Beach would not be pleasant. I’m enjoying my “sane and steady” pace through Fairhaven, up the horse farm, over the wall and as I come the stop, I see some ABRT jerseys up the road. Sweet, I guess some people DID take the short cut. I work hard to catch them. It’s Ian, Doug, Heff and John. This will really help with the wind. Nice to have some company all the way back.

The “beach crowd” gets back a few minutes after us, so they must have been hauling the mail to make up 6 miles in a little over an hour as we were not lollygagging. All in all, a nice December ride, and I’m better for the bloody experience.

DC to Cleveland – Route Planning

I am finally getting serious about the “riding to Cleveland” thing. I have been jonesin’ about this ride starting in early in 2012 and even more after riding the C&O canal with friends in 2012 and 2013 thinking this kind of off road bike touring would be a lot of fun. Plus there are some trail additions that make this a breeze such as the filling the GAPs all the way into Pittsburgh and the fact that Amtrak finally has the roll on/roll off bike service on the Capital Limited which runs right through Downtown Cleveland to DC which will make the return logistics much easier.

Using the great routing site Ride With GPS I’ve refined the route west of Pittsburgh. I can’t embed an interactive version here, but click through to see the entire route:

dc-cle-overview

The full route is 530 miles and I have been considering how to break it up into stages. I had originally considered trying to do it in less than a week which would mean sequential 100 mile days, but when I am honest with myself, that just doesn’t seem realistic. Something on the order of 60-75 miles a day seems much more sane given that I will be riding often on unpaved trails on a 29er with 10-20 lbs of stuff. I had also considered camping, but that just sounds much more fun than I’m sure it would actually be. Upon further reflection about this, I think 8 days is easily doable. The stops are chosen to facilitate reasonable lodging and food as well as “interesting” places to see while not riding. I am anticipating average speed to be between 10-12 mph which will make for about 6 hrs a day pedaling time.

dc-cle-elevation

Route/Itinerary

Annapolis to DC

While I wanted to ride out the door of my house to start this journey, I have done this ride enough on a bike to say screw it, I’m taking the early morning commuter bus with the bike in the cargo hold. Easy to do. Ride the 2 miles to the bus stop.

Leg 1 (3 days): C & O Canal Towpath

The C&O in this direction is all “uphill” at a steady 1% grade if you look at the profile, however in reality it’s basically flat with a series of steps at the locks.

Day 1: DC to Harpers Ferry WV – 65 miles. Hotel: Econo Lodge, 25 Union St

Day 2: Harpers Ferry WV to Hancock MD – 60 miles. Hotel: America’s Best Value Inn, 2 Blue Hill Rd

Day 3: Hancock MD to CUmberland MD – 60 miles. Hotel: Fairfield Inn right on the trail.

Leg 2 (2 days): Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail

The GAP is all uphill to the continental divide on the first day, but its a stead 2-3%, not hard but will be a bit slower. The packed cinder surface of the GAP is awesome and I have actually ridden up this section on my road bike, which makes for an awesome 20 mile FTP test because its a rock steady big ring hill.

Day 4: Cumberland MD to Confluence PA – 65 miles. Hotel: Confluence B&B, right off the trail

Day 5: Confluence PA to Homestead PA – 80 miles. Hotel: Courtyard Pittsburgh, right off the trail.

Leg 3 (2 day): Transit to the Lake Erie Watershed

Day 6: Homestead PA to Stuebenville OH – 60 miles. This is now “uncharted territory” for me. I want to detour through downtown Pittsburgh so I can see the GAP all the way to the terminus and will do this first thing in the morning (+10 miles). After the detour, make my way out of the city and make my way on surface roads through the southwest suburbs and connect to the Panhandle Trail in Collier Township. That will be the fist 15 miles that is not on trail. Just after the PA/OH border, the Panhandle Tail bends north, so the route exits there onto surface roads into Steubenville, about another 10 miles of non-trail. Hotel: Microtell Steubenville.

Day 7: Stuebenville OH to Massilon OH – 80 miles. This is the longest non-trail section. However, a lot of the roads between Steubenville and Jewett are chip and seal or packed gravel and there is a 15 mile section called the Conotton Creek Trail though Jewett OH. I might also stop by Atwood lake where there is a big Lightning fleet just to see it. In Zoarville OH, it’s back off the road using the Zoar Valley Trail and finally onto the Ohio&Erie Canal Towpath that goes into Massilon OH. This section ends up being about 50 miles on-road. Hotel: Hampton Massilon

Leg 4 (1 day): Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath

Day 8: 80 miles. This section uses the all rest of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath all the way into downtown Cleveland and is primarily downhill in a similar fashion to the C&O and will be fun to ride through the scenic Cuyahoga Valley and into Cleveland through the Flats. There are a bunch of new trails that Bike Cleveland has written about recently that will be fun to see.

Of the total 530 miles, 450 miles are on trails. Pretty neat. More trail could be added by exiting the GAP south of Pittsburgh and using the Montour/Arrowhead Trails as I originally had routed, but I really wanted to go into Pittsburgh so am willing to accept a little more distance on the road.

Once in Cleveland I am sure I will spend a few days with friends and then get on Amtrak at 1:30 am for the ride back to DC.

Trish Cunningham Memorial Rally and Ride

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information contact: Alex Pline, alex@teampline.org, 443-­‐510-­‐7297 https://www.facebook.com/events/557691114304692/
Media Kit

Trish Cunningham Memorial Rally and Ride for Bicycle Safety Awareness Saturday September 28, 2012
7:00am Rally Start at Annapolis High School – 8:30 Bike Ride Start

Annapolis, MD, September 28, 2013 -­‐ On Wednesday August 21 at 5:30pm, 50 year-­‐old mother of three Trish Cunningham was riding her bike lawfully southbound on Riva Road in Davidsonville. As she was cresting a blind hill, a minivan attempted to pass, crossing the double yellow line. As the minivan was passing, an oncoming vehicle forced the driver to swerve into, strike and kill Ms. Cunningham. The driver was declared at fault by the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

Ride And Rally Details

This rally and following ride is to raise awareness of the Maryland 3-­‐Foot Law and to encourage all users of our city/county/state roads to respect the presence of bicycles on the roads as well as to pay tribute a life cut tragically short.

The rally will begin at Annapolis High School in the school parking lot at 7am with an area for interviews with the Rally spokesperson, area cyclists, the Anne Arundel County Police Bike Unit and Trish Cunningham’s family.

Following, the rally, a large group of cyclists will leave AHS as a group and travel down Riva Road escorted by the Anne Arundel County Police Bike Unit. A brief pause will be made for a moment of silence at the site where a Ghost Bike will be located. From there, the ride will continue to Riva Park, a distance of 4 miles from AHS. Riders wishing to return to AHS will be escorted back immediately after arriving at Riva Park. Riders wishing to participate must be able to cover the 8 miles under their own power.

Over 200 cyclists are expected to attend the ride in addition to members of the Annapolis running community, the Annapolis High School Track Team of which Trish was assistant coach, and supportive friends and family.

Maryland 3-­‐Foot Law

Maryland law states that the driver of a vehicle passing another vehicle, including a bicycle, must pass at a safe distance and leave plenty of space. Additionally, the driver of a vehicle must not pass within (3) feet to a bicycle if the bicycle is operated in a lawful manner. This is known as the “3-­‐ Foot Law”.

The Ghost Bike Tradition

A ghost bike is a bicycle set up as a roadside memorial in a place where a cyclist has been killed or severely injured. Apart from being a memorial, it is intended as a gentle reminder to passing motorists to share the road. Ghost bikes are usually junk bicycles painted white, sometimes with a placard.

Trish Cunningham

Trish Cunningham was a loving mother of Morgan, Ben and Avery, and husband Jerry as well as a respected cross country coach at Annapolis High School.

Thoughts on the AA County Public Meeting for the Draft Pedestrain/Bike Master Plan Update

It had a flavor typical of these public meetings. George Cardwell from the County Planning and Zoning did a good job at setting the context for the plan.  I really do think he “gets it” about the need for a more balanced set of transportation options in the county.

For the most part, people who were there came either to listen and gather information or to air a particular issue in their local area. Since this meeting was at Broadneck, a number of people talked about issues with the (under construction) Broadneck Trail, College Parkway, access to AACC and crossing Ritchie Highway (MD 2) to get to the B&A Trail. Councilman Dick Ladd was also there advocating the County prioritize a ped/bike bridge over Ritchie Highway at College Parkway – something that has been discussed for many years.

These are all valid concerns for that area and to a certain extent are being addressed as projects in the plan, although not to the degree (in scope and timeframe) that locals would want. The projects in the plan really don’t contain much detail and are in there nominally to indicate that a particular area needs improvement (indicated with a few keywords like “sidewalk” or “multiuse trail” etc). It is always the case that people who know the local area intimately have *very* detailed ideas of *how* the projects should be implemented. I know that is true in my case with the Parole area that I know very well.

One thing to consider is that projects identified in this plan (or the Annapolis Bicycle Master Plan) still have to undergo the standard implementation process if/when there is a decision to move forward and a funding source is available. This process always includes some kind of public input during the design and permitting phase. In my opinion, *this* is the time that members of the local area should work very hard to input their solution ideas to the county during the public review process since this is where the rubber meets the road and the understanding of the local context will have the most impact.

One of the things I have learned about advocacy with local government through my wife’s involvement with Bates Middle School, Annapolis High School, Annapolis Education Commission and the county Board of Education, is that it is a long term proposition. As frustrated as it is as a *user* – we want things to be better NOW – the reality is the wheels of government turn slowly and deliberately in this country; I don’t think bike issues are going to trigger a coup d’etat…  For those of us who are, uh, more mature in our years, we are really effecting change for the next generation.

With that, one long term part of the plan that I think any land use, developer, planner or architecture professionals (or psuedo professionals) in the crowd can comment on is the proposed changes to the county documents that guide development (section IV):  Anne Arundel County Design Manual,  Anne Arundel County Code (Subdivision and Development Regulations,  Zoning) and the Anne Arundel County Landscape Manual. These documents will determine the long term viability of the transportation (and recreation) biking in the County. If we keep doing what we have been doing for the last 50 years, we are going to end up with the same result. Remember, the first thing to do when you are in a hole is to stop digging. So if you have this expertise, please review this section and provide comments.

It also occurred to me that one advocacy piece that is missing is input from the upcoming generation(s) that research is showing are driving less according to a recent report (http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/new-direction). We need to engage these folks to demand that non-auto transportation modes are viable and this should be a focus. The county needs to hear that upcoming generations are willing to trade auto-based for bike/ped (or transit) infrastructure. Until the county officials understand this is the direction the (at least urbanized) population wants to go, change will be slow.

George Cardwell said he is keeping the public comment period open for another week so everyone still has time to get the plan, review it and provide comments via e-mail to George at PZCARD44@aacounty.org

Again for reference, here is the link to the plan: http://www.aacounty.org/PlanZone/Resources/DRAFT_2013PedBic_MasterPlan.pdf

Capital Article about AA County Transportation Cycling

Allison Bourg wrote a good article about the county’s update to the Pedestrian and Master Plan. The purpose of the article was to publicize the public meeting on June 11, 2013, but it did feature yours truly because I met Allison over at Parole Towne Center for her to snap a few pictures for the article. Read the article on the Capital website: http://www.capitalgazette.com/cg2-arc-d8851555-052d-5942-a28b-b81587d6b1f4-20130610-story.html

Or view the PDF (page 1 and page 2) which is a slightly different version with a picture.

Parole and Mobility

Annapolis as portrayed on the city web site, is for the most part, a very walkable city: 

 “Take time to walk in our city and peer over the garden gates. Visit our many shops or relax on a water taxi in our harbor.”

However, once you leave the historic downtown core and head out the major arteries out of the city which connect to the greater Anne Arundel County area, things begin to change. In this series of posts I am going to concentrate on the West Street corridor because of the stark difference between what can be and what could be. I am going to discuss each segment of this corridor all the way out into the County because it does connect with the important retail in Parole. In this blog post, I will describe the bits and pieces to set the stage and follow up with additional posts and videos that describe the experience in this corridor. Not that anyone who drives down here doesn’t knows it gets horrible the farther out you go, but the experience for the perspective outside the car needs to be shown for people to understand really how bad it is. And finally, offer some options that I think the city, county and state should look into.

West Street can be broken up into three distinct sections: Inner (between Church Circle and Westgate Circle), Mid (Westgate Circle and Chiquapin Round Rd) and Outer (Chinquapin Round Rd and Solomons Island Rd).

Inner West Street is fabulous, don’t really need to say anything about that. The city has rightfully spent considerable effort to promote this area to great effect. There has been revitalization of businesses, mixed use, slow traffic and even a new residential complex near Westgate Circle (while not mixed use, has appropriate zoning for it in the future). That’s all good.

Mid West Street has a variety of uses, both commercial and residential and while it could use some “spiffing up” in places it is not too bad. My only real complaint is that the road is narrow (one travel lane in each direction with a center turn lane) and does not leave much room for bicycles. However, there are alternatives such as the Poplar mixed use trail so, I can’t really complain.

Where things really go down hill FAST is in the quarter mile before you get to Chinquapin Round Road, not so much because of the surrounding businesses or the homes, but because the road widens to four lanes (two travel lanes in each direction). It’s “full throttle” when leaving and a bottleneck when entering. The street view shows the transition from a 25 mph street to a 40+ mph “stroad”, making pedestrian crossing and cycling very risky. Once you get to the Chinquapin intersection, we get to “full on” AASHTO compliance with multiple turn lanes, signals etc. and beyond that all the way to Solomon’s Island Road (MD 2), it is four fast travel lanes, with lots of businesses, turning vehicles, and cub cuts, in other words, the classic “stroad” (street/road hybrid). Go watch the Ted Talk describing stroads, it’s enlightening; they are the futon of transportation, they do nothing very well. It’s dangerous for autos, pedestrians and bicyclists and it doesn’t move traffic very fast. There are some interesting features near and down outer West Street that provide hope, but it will take some political will and cooperation between the city, county and state to make it happen. I will concentrate on this area and the next segment to Parole.

Once you get to Solomons Island Road, you come to Annapolis Towne Centere at Parole, one of the recently built “Smart Growth” (infill) projects around the Annapolis area in addition to 1901 West Street, and the old downtown hospital site). The Parole development is a huge improvement from the decaying Parole Mall that it replaced, and it is a walkable “neighborhood” with first floor retail, apartments and big box stores, however, it has one very significant flaw – mobility in and around the area is extremely limited. In essence it is an island of walkability. While located in a highly urbanized area containing many kinds land uses from single family, suburban type strip shopping centers and some apartments, walking and biking in the area is unpleasant at best and ultimately very dangerous at worse. Until that fatal flaw is corrected, Towne Centere is nothing more than a suburban mall with the storefronts on the outside and vertical parking.

Until this corridor is more amenable to cycling and walking, people will drive to Towne Centre if they can or take their lives in their hands to walk as there have been several deaths in the area over the last year. It is my hope that pointing out the details of the problems with this area will help spur action by the city, state and county begin discussions about near term actions they can take. Cooperation will be imperative because of the multi-jurisdictional nature of the area. Each has a piece of the pie to fix.