Earth to north county: Bikes aren't going away
It never fails. If the Getting There Monday column deals with bicycles, it inevitably inspires emails lamenting the fact that bicyclists have the gall to actually use the roads. For some reason, it seems that about 99 percent of these messages emanate from northern Baltimore County, where the peculiar notion has taken hold that the roads are for the use of motor vehicles only.
There's one little flaw with this premise: It's not true. From the time Maryland roads were first paved, they have been open to bicycles, farm equipment, buggies and all manner of slow-moving vehicles (except for interstates and a limited number of other limited-access highways).
The variation I hear most on this theme is that bicyclists should not be permitted to use narrow roads without shoulders. Why? Because motorists have to slow down and are dreadfully inconvenienced.
Here's one that came in today:
"Bicyclists should not be allowed to bike on a road that does not have a bike path or shoulder to the road. In Sparks, we have to be on the alert at all times for deer on the road, and there have been innumerable accidents when the deer and a car can't both fit on the road. The deer don't know any better - the bicyclists do. Bicyclists should be limited to bike paths."
I'm sure there isn't a bicyclist in Maryland who wouldn't love to have a wide, debris-free shoulder or parallel bike path along every country road in the state. But it's not going to happen. The cost would be enormous. In many cases these are low-traffic roads where there is no need to add pavement just so a few impatient drivers never experience a delay. Sure, when a road is rebuilt, it makes sense to add a bicycle lane, but retrofitting the entire highway system is a non-starter.
The same correspondent wrote that bikes should be banned from the roads because they surprise her when she comes around a curve or over a hill. Sorry, but drivers are expected to cope with life's little surprises -- not that the presence of a bicycle in Baltimore County is exactly headline news. If a driver is startled by the sight of a bicyclist riding along the road in a legal manner, chances are the driver is going to fast for road conditions. It's not the bicyclist's fault that the driver is surprised.
Sharing the road with bicyclists is a basic driving skill and a legal duty for motorists. People who can't cope with that reality shouldn't be driving. Because bicycles aren't going away. It's a fantasy. You might as well propose banning rain on weekends.
One of the better things about this country is that it's very difficult to take rights away from people. They have a way of fighting back.
So for all those people who harbor the fantasy that bicycles can be banned from their local roads, here's a suggestion: Contact your local legislator and ask that person to introduce a bill curtailing the rights of bicyclists to use whichever class of roads you are tired of sharing.
If you find a politician foolish enough to put in such a bill, head down to Annapolis and sign up to testify at the hearing. It would be great theater, but you'd better get an early start because the capital city would be choked with bikes. Annapolis would be a sea of Spandex. The committee room would be overflowing with irate bicyclists reminding lawmakers thet they pay taxes too. You might even get a chance to meet Lance Armstrong.
Or those folks in the north county could just get a grip, slow down a little and pass bicyclists with care. It's a beautiful part of Maryland, and folks on two wheels have a right to enjoy it too.