Greetings from the greatest city in America! What… you don’t believe it? Well go outside and look for the nearest park bench. I’ll wait….
Is anything written on it? I didn’t think so.
It’s been a full two weeks since we unloaded our U-haul van in South Baltimore. Our temporary home for the next four months while we look for a more permanent dwelling to sink some roots into. Of course moving is a hectic and stressful experience, so D.C. kindly gave me a going away present in the form of a dog bite while I was picking up coffee the morning of the move. Aside from horrendous traffic, that is probably the worst thing that happened to me in four years in the District – do I consider myself lucky?
Crazy dogs aside, I do miss DC – and the chance to explore and get to know Baltimore has been equally exciting and nerve wracking. It helps a lot that the new job is really an excellent fit for what I want to be doing both professionally and personally. And the commute – 2.5 to 3 miles by bike – is a big part of that.
I had been nervous about the bike commute – would I need to dodge bullets and corner boys as if I were in a scene from The Wire? Would cars swerve into me and ignore my right to be on the road? Were the industrial neighborhoods I had to bike though even suitable for bike riding? I think as cyclists we carry many levels of anxiety/fear based on the fact that we are among the most vulnerable road users. The foundation of these fears, or perhaps the baseline level of discomfort seems to be tempered by an understanding of social norms and expectations – once you’ve been in an area long enough you tend to get a feel for how far people roll through stop signs, or how fast they drive, or where to be on the lookout for signs of dangerous people or activities. Above that are layers of concern for the less predictable actions – the types of things that people write off as “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. I think being a comfortable and safe cyclist means that you understand those baseline expectations, and you are alert and act defensively to avoid those other layers.
Even after driving my bike commute route for a week, I felt like a ball of nerves for my first bike commutes. I observed that simple changes in the built environment drastically changed my expectations of driver behavior compared to DC or Boston. After five rides now I am beginning to feel a bit more comfortable. There are a few conflict points where I need to keep an eye out for cars trying to beat a light, there are some train tracks that I need to avoid (lest I find myself waiting in the bitter cold at the crossing for five minutes again this morning), the normal smorgasbord of glass in gutter and potholes, and the apartment building that can’t seem to figure out how to operate the door locks in their bike room. But on the plus side I feel great biking to work (mentally and physically), and there seems to be a small but enthusiastic group of cyclists in the office that I’m looking forward to riding with. If I keep the same job and the same commute – there’s at least 45,000 more bike commuting miles until retirement. I think Rootchopper covers that in about 2 years.
But I’ve got a lot more city to explore than just my commute route. There are a few folks I know that have offered up some great recommendations for routes – and now I need to find a group (or three) who I jive with to share in those rides. I know there are a few out there – one seems just a little too fast for me, but has good routes), and another focuses on slightly too long a distance, but is nice folks. I’ll just have to get faster and build more endurance.
Strangely, Baltimore is a little behind in the bike-organizing social media world. There is no equivalent to #bikeDC that I can find – though I plan on using #bikemore (also the name of the city bike advocacy group) on Twitter. In fact, it seems that most activity is on Facebook – hence my joining of about 5 different groups this week. I prefer Twitter and Instagram, so I’ll have to infiltrate these groups to pressure them to switch to the service. Oh, and I cooked up a great iteration of the #baaw tag (Bike Against A Wall) – #baawltimore. Time to hunt some great walls and murals.
I’m looking forward to sharing more. For now here’s a few more shots from the last week of commuting and exploring.