The Elkridgean Cyclist - Joys and Pains of Commuting by Bike

The squeaky wheel is looking for some grease, with a little venting about bike routes, and lack thereof.

I rode my bike to work a couple weeks ago, on one of those rare, low-humidity summer days surrounded on each side by our typical "hazy, hot and humid." We've had a rough few weeks of weather which makes it hard to remember all the beautiful days we had last winter, spring and early summer. A day like that Wednesday is so special that it is impossible not to want to be outside. Even in a string of days like that, I feel sad if I let one go by without getting outside for a couple hours, so I knew I was not going to let this one go. Seeing the forecast, I also purposely made an appointment right after work at the (not air-conditioned) Brumbaugh House to work with the curator on Elkridge Heritage Society (EHS) matters. Then I was regretting it. It was going to be the only day below 90 this week, so the only good day for a bike-ride, AND the only good day to meet at the EHS. At first I was just going to ride to the meeting, but (A) I wanted to bring my laptop, and was nervous about injuring it as it banged around in my pannier and (B) I knew that the meeting would go long enough to interfere with dinner even if I drove, and my boys must be fed! "So," I think to myself, "maybe it is better to just ride to work."

I love being able to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and views of trees, flowers, rivers and streams, at a pace slow enough to appreciate them, without having to battle the traffic on the highway. I chose an extra special route this time. I parked my car at the base of the hill on Ilchester and rode my bike through the park to Hanover, Harmons and work. The only less-than-pleasant part was an industrial section near the airport. Driving just a mile or so to commute by bike in this manner adds two miles to my ride, but they are rather flat miles. If I rode from my home, I'd have 400 feet of elevation to climb and re-climb in the last five miles of my ride, and sometimes that breaks my spirit after a long day. This was the first time I'd ever ridden through Harmons, and I found it quite delightful, with nice residential homes and a peach farm. So passed the first 12 miles. After that, I started to feel like I was running really late, and the road was going on and on.

What I didn't realize was that going through Harmons, which allows me to avoid a particularly nasty stretch through Arundel Mills, would add three miles to my commute. As I said, I had a meeting back in Elkridge after work, and I had to get home in time to take a shower and get my computer, so this was all pretty much ill-planned. I could only work about three hours before having to pedal home again. And then I had to take the shorter, but more traffic-challenged way home, via Arundel Mills Blvd under Route 100. I started to wonder why I even bothered going in to work at all. This got me in a rather bad mood for the ride home, because I was anxious about time, anxious about traffic, and beating myself up. However, I was very glad to arrive in Hanover, past the worst of the traffic, and remember that I did not have to do much climbing, though I still had seven miles to ride. I enjoyed the shade of the park again, and I made it to my meeting in time (and clean).

But this business about Arundel Mills gets me worked up. Why oh why would they take a road like Ridge Road, which was a perfectly good road for cars and bikes to share, and chop it up like that, and build a huge shopping complex (and now casinos), without a second thought about how pedestrians and bike-riders would be able to travel from the other side of Route 100? You can't even walk around the outside of the whole Mall on safe sidewalks. You certainly can't walk from satellite shopping centers (such as where Panera is) to the mall easily. How was this so clumsily contrived? And though I was riding home through there on Wednesday at 2pm, which I thought was well before rush hour, the cars and trucks were buzzing past me, barely giving me my three feet, even though they had TWO whole lanes, and the road shoulder kept going in and out of turn-only lanes and merge lanes for Route 100. It was downright scary.

And why oh why did they build Route 100 without giving a second thought about how bike-riders and pedestrians were going to cross it? Considering all the people who live in Howard County (and Anne Arundel) and work in the industry and government in Jessup, Odenton, Annapollis Junction and Fort Meade, why wasn't bike-commuting added into the plan? When they knew the military base realignment was coming (BRAC), why oh why did they only give us one teeny tiny bike lane on Route 175 that doesn't help a lick in getting through the interchange of death at the BW Parkway? People traveling from Columbia cannot get to Fort Meade and Odenton without crossing the interchange of death on 175, which is also miles and miles out of their way if they are coming from Guilford Road. This could easily be solved for many if a certain restricted-access Connector Road between Guilford Road and National Business Parkway and Fort Meade (so my friends tell me) would allow bike traffic. It was deemed unsuitable (and hence illegal), though it is really perfectly fine, or would be if only a fence were added along the sides. What gives?

Let's think about the ways to cross Route 100 between Elkridge and Odenton by bike. There is the double-traffic circle at Meadowridge Road (what fun!); there is Route 1 (lovely!); there is Coca Cola Drive (puleease!); there is Arundel Mills Boulevard (New Ridge Road) (seriously?); and there is Harmons Road (sweet!). And I just learned about a crossing by Wright Road from Dorsey Road, on the other side of Arundel Mills, which, however, is not a convenient route for me, though I know some bike-commuters who can take advantage of that. But why couldn't they put in a few tunnels like Columbia did under Rt 175 and Rt 32, not to mention the bridge over Rt 29? If you live in Elkridge and work in Columbia, the options are not great either, but at least there is the underpass on Old Montgomery Road. I go through the traffic circle on 104 now and then too, which has the advantage over Meadowridge in that it is only ONE traffic circle. But I wish there was a way straight out from Ilchester, onto Rising Sun, under Route 100 and Route 108, eventually winding up at Hayshed where there is a nice trail head into all of Columbia.

Now lets talk about the BW Parkway (295). You can cross under it nicely enough at Hanover Road, but then you have the Route 100 challenges if you are going that way. You can go through Coca Cola Drive and eventually get to Rt 175 and the interchange of death. You can also take Coca Cola Drive and get to Race Road on the other side of the old Dorsey Road and then take Wright Road over to the Arundel Mills area. Again with Arundel Mills, which is no treat to ride through. Sure Dorchester Road is fine, and there is even a paved trail through a neighborhood there to Arundel Mills Blvd, but what then? You have to get on that busy road for a while sooner or later. It's okay in the morning when the mall is closed, but in the afternoon, eek!

Why does development continue without planning for opportunities for non-motor-powered transportation at all, considering the state of the the traffic, the cost of oil, the quantity of oil, the quality of air, and for goodness sakes, the ozone layer? All we want is safe passage over the highways clogged with fume-spewing cars, trucks and buses, a few more bike lanes and paths, and please! some shoulders on the roads would be nice!

Off soap box. I guess I whined enough for one day. But if the squeaky wheel gets the grease, then I should go ahead and speak my piece, right? You can't get what you want if you don't ask for it.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Concerned Elkridgean August 22, 2012 at 10:37 PM
I agree we need more bike friendly ways to commute to work, since the traffic is horrible. Especially, since the state and the county refuse to address the ever growing traffic problem in the area especially on 95, Rte 1, and Rte 100. I also give pedestrians and bikers the right of way. It is no big deal to slow down for a few minutes.
Concerned Elkridgean August 22, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Forget to add, since mass transit is almost non-existent.. That makes sense anyway..
Nick Yeates August 31, 2012 at 09:35 AM
I have to agree with Christines kind-worded response. I used to bike commute, and I also often go the supermarkets, fire departments, park entrances, etc, that all require me to bike down either Montgomery Rd, or Rt1. Rt1 is insanity. People do 60 and 70 on it and whiz by you honking. After my friend saw a motorcyclist die in front of his eyes on Rt 1 by the spice factory - I stopped riding it. Now I use Montgomery Rd every now and then, and there is often not a choice in using that road. One thing that I find, and that was likely the case with this lady, is that at least those 20 cars behind her did not HIT this lady. I find that if I ride close to the side of a shoulderless road, it is extremely dangerous to me. Car drivers see you, but come within 1 foot of me. Those with distraction could easily hit me. I would rather me and others bike riders take up the entire lane, than a death or accident to occur. As Christine said, it probably slowed the traffic up by 1-2 mins. 3 mins max. Does three minutes in 20 persons commute add up to highly risking a humans life? Why not just everyone slow down and take a deep breath - you will ge there at 5:53 instead of 5:50.
Nick Yeates August 31, 2012 at 09:47 AM
I think that the real answer to the lack of biking thoughts into planning, and partially into lack of respect from motorists is this: Not enough people bike in our area. Not even recreationally, let alone commuters. Compared to other cities, our active biking community is nearly non-existant in the suburbs. Go to Portland and you see tons of bikers, tons of bike friendly options, and lots of respect both ways. A large majority of drivers in the DC/Bmore region are constantly in a rush, and they dont even know why. They rush to work, they rush from work, they rush to pick up their kids, they rush to go get groceries. People literally pass me up in an adjacent lane, when I approach a red light while coasting. They rev their engines and increase their speed towards a red light with multiple cars at the light, and then they press the brakes really hard to stop. Patience needs to be practiced in this region, and Im not too sure how to initiate it, except to point it out to people one by one, and lead by example. I think a lot of the rushing boils down to the fact that many people here have long and miserable commutes. I guess policy could step in here, by making a variety of affordable housing available around all economic and work centers. Too many people commute from Frederick to DC and Bmore to DC and vice versa. Those are horrible commutes and would drive anyone crazy.
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