Story: Erika Shych
Multimedia: Jack Rosin
A passion for biking hasn’t always been in Chris Merriam’s blood, but within the last few years, he’s become a bike advocate.
“Instead of waiting two hours for three buses, you get on your bike and go,” Merriam said.
Growing up in the Towson area, Merriam lived the average suburban life. He rode his bike up and down his street as a child. He didn’t think twice about getting his driver’s license as a teenager.
However, when he reached his mid 20s, he noticed that owning a car was expensive.
“I sold my car and started taking the bus around,” Merriam said, “and then I got really tired of waiting for buses and would see people speeding past on their bikes, looking like they were having a grand old time, so I started riding a bike around everywhere.”
Merriam, a 2012 Open Society Foundation Fellow, is now spending his time expanding the biking community in Baltimore as a part of his organization Bikemore.
“In short, it’s about getting more people on a bike, period,” he said.
Realizing that the dominant Baltimore biker demographic is athletic white men, Merriam is dedicated to get all types of people out cycling.
“I want to get more women and people of color,” Merriam said. “I want to get people who are younger and older to feel comfortable on the street.”
But besides getting beginners on bikes, the organization is dedicated to making the streets safer for even experienced bikers, or the “hardcore spandex-clad folks who ride to work every day” as Merriam refers to them as.
Currently, most city streets are engineered towards cars rather than accommodating bikers and pedestrians.
“Cars can go up to 50 mph on streets that weren’t designed for that and it can be very intimidating for people who are trying to ride a bike on those kinds of roads,” Merriam said.
With a background in urban planning, part of Merriam’s plan with Bikemore is to make sure that streets are designed with both bikers and drivers in mind. Merriam commented that what most people are afraid of is getting hit by a car, which is not that common.
“The biggest thing is you not wearing enough reflective clothing or lights or if you’re looking out for yourself and you don’t see the big pothole in front of you and you fall into it and crash,” Merriam said.
Bikemore’s goal is to help residents feel safe on the streets whether it’s creating the infrastructure with the bike lanes, the smooth pavement or the road markings that make people feel more comfortable.
“If you see young people riding on the streets and then you see a Grandma riding on the streets, then you know the streets are safe,” Merriam said.
Merriam, who recently became a cycling instructor, would love to see everyone ditch their cars and grab their bikes. But he realizes that is not a reality.
Although one third of Baltimore residents do not own a car, only an estimated 5 percent use bikes as their main transportation. Merriam said many residents use public transportation to get around, which can take a lot of time out of a commuter’s day.
“I’d like to find people who would like to save a couple hours out of every day and get on a bike and do at least part of their commute with a bike,” Merriam said.
Merriam said he’s no Lance Armstrong, just a guy that rides a bike. When speaking with others, he can relate to them by being scared of ditching their cars at first and solely relying on a bike but in his words “If I can do this, so can you!”