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Peaceful Coexistence?

Annapolis tries adding bicycles to its traffic flows and woes

      I was an outlier back when I commuted around St. Louis on my one-speed, thin-tired bicycle. This step up from my childhood Schwinn Starlet was a Francophile affectation. I’d been to Paris, and that was the look for me. So in my early 20s, I wore a belted blue trench coat and rode my bicycle to work and errands. 
      This was urban riding in the old midtown of the city, over short distances on roads free of today’s congestion. My only problem was riding across street grates on those narrow tires. 
      Today, my younger son — not yet born in those far-away days — works with LimeBike to convert my old hometown to dockless bikesharing.
      So I watch with curiosity as Annapolis joins the wheeled parade of cities inviting shared bikes to join the congestion of modern streets.
      Pace, the dockless arm of the for-profit bike sharing company Zagster, is the company that owns and maintains our bikes.
      Not that Annapolis streets are modern. Historic District streets, where most of the 50 new blue-and-white bikes begin their journeys, are 18th century relics of a foot, horse and carriage age. Cars, trucks and buses squeeze into them like sausage into its casing. 
      Horses are absent from city streets except in parades, but people still walk in 21st century Annapolis, just as their 18th and 19th century counterparts did. Bicycles were not yet invented when our streets were laid out.
      Beyond the Historic District — and this is not news — newer streets, roads and highways are straining their carrying capacity. All those thoroughfares are open to the new bicycles, for their renters can take them wherever they like. They are asked only to lock them at journey’s end to a stationary support able to be spanned by the bikes’ retractable locking cord.
      Adding more and more bikes into that mix — and that’s what both Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley and Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh say they want — will be a challenging integration. 
      As well as issues of space are issues of safety. Bike-sharing does not include helmet-sharing, so riders are as vulnerable as I was back in the days before we took account of head injuries.
      Of course the whole bicyclist is vulnerable on roads where cars, trucks and buses are used to being king. We all know the stories of cyclists killed on the road.
      Walking and riding trails are pretty abundant, but for getting where you want to go, roads are the way. Yet our roads have few bicycle lanes. Much of Rt. 2 in Southern Anne Arundel County makes a notable exception. 
      Sharing the roads is so dangerous that our long-time contributor Steve Carr, a dedicated bicycle commuter, advises all but expert cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. 
      It’s going to be a job to integrate bicyclists into the flow. It’s going to take a shift in culture and in physical infrastructure.
     As a highly visible commitment to that shift, Mayor Buckley pretty much unilaterally converted the south parking lane of Main Street to a downhill bike lane. The month-long experiment has caught people’s attention, supplying a steady flow of reader letters, mostly complaints, to the Capital. Let’s hope the debate raises our awareness of bicyclists among us.
      If Buckley’s goal — improving carless connectivity throughout city and into county — is going to work, it’s going to need many more disruptive bicycle lanes. 
      This evolution is going to be interesting to watch.
      Get your bearings by reading Shelby Conrad’s feature this week, Pedaling Annapolis’ New Bike-Sharing Plan.
       Then read on through a paper full of stories to keep you connected to the life of your times.