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The Dripby Fern Shen9:30 amFeb 15, 20120

Q&A: City cyclist Rev. Andrew Foster Connors

Above: Rev. Andrew Foster Connors revs it up to his Bolton Hill church.

Turns out the intrepid bicyclist in our recent story about the Mt. Royal Avenue bike lane is none other than Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, senior pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill.

Very impressive! Saving souls and saving the environment as well as money on gas! He’s also co-chair of the community organization, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD).

Connors said he was heading up the hill toward his church, when we snapped his picture. It appeared in a piece about the controversy over a proposed dedicated bike lane on Mt. Royal – a post that elicited tons of intense cyclist commentary on The Brew. People speculated about whether Connors was following proper procedure, whether he was in good shape, you name it.

Anyway, we thought we’d give one of the featured characters in the piece a chance to have his say with this emailed Q&A . . . and also remind those interested in the bike lane controversy that there’s a Town Hall Meeting about it at 2:30 today (Feb. 15) at Maryland Institute College of Art’s Main Building, 1300 W Mt Royal Avenue, Room 110.

Is this your standard commute to work, and how often do you ride?

I usually drive to work, especially in the winter. But during warmer months, I aim to bike-commute to work two days per week. Sometimes my plans are foiled, especially if I need to go anywhere other than the church. Many days in Baltimore, I need a car.

What route do you take? Why did you choose it?

I live in north Baltimore, so I basically come down Roland Ave. on the bike lane, through Hampden, all the way to the Fallsway. Then to Maryland Ave., up past UB, onto Mount Royal, then up into Bolton Hill. I love the ride by the Jones Falls. Like so much in Baltimore, it illuminates the contrast between promise and reality – the polluted mess mars the natural beauty beneath. The elevation change is perhaps the biggest surprise. I think I climb 500 feet from Fallsway up to Roland Park.

Why do you ride a bike?

I started after an Earth Day celebration at church many years ago. Car emissions are a significant contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming. I had a few friends at church who ride to work, so I started asking around. I bought a standard bike and started the trek. It’s been great not only for the environment, but also for my heart, lungs, and legs. Plus, it’s a great way to experience the city from a different vantage point.

What has your experience been with Baltimore drivers and others you encounter on the road?

It’s like anything else Baltimore – you can find anything and everything. On balance, Baltimore drivers have been courteous and safe. If there’s any criticism I’d offer, it’s simply the speed. Baltimoreans speed a lot.

Have you had any close calls? Bad experiences? Great experiences?

I’ve had a few close calls with people passing too close, or honking and yelling because they think I have no right to be on the road. I haven’t been hit on a bike since I was a kid.

What’s it like biking on Mt. Royal, and and do you think a dedicated bike lane there would be a good idea?

It’s one of the busiest roads I encounter on my route, especially during rush hour. I think bike lanes are always a good idea, but I recognize that there are challenges in where to put them without disrupting traffic and such. Longer term, I support efforts to reduce the volume of traffic through smart development, increased public transportation options, and yes, bike lanes.

Frankly, I wasn’t aware of the controversy until the article. With the expansive median, there’s plenty of real estate space there, so I’m hopeful they can find a way to put one in.

Do you think bike safety is an issue for Baltimore and, if so, what do you think should be done about it?

It’s always an issue. I think those of us who cycle have a responsibility and I try to learn as much as I can about bike safety. It’s staggering to me the number of cyclist who don’t wear helmets, for example.

As a former fire fighter/first responder in N.C., I’ve seen the cost of that. I never ride without a helmet. Also, I have seen cyclists make some stupid moves on the road, putting themselves in danger. So we definitely have a responsibility.

But drivers also have a responsibility, first, to really share the road. And second, to slow down and not take chances around cyclists. I think the kind of culture of mutual forbearance has and is changing in a positive way, but still has a long way to go. I fear that more cyclists will be injured or killed, before drivers really understand that cyclists have a right to be there, too.

Have you ever worked things you’ve seen over the handlebars into your sermon?

On Earth Day several years ago, I did a sermon with PowerPoint images that I took from the handlebars all along the Jones Falls. A group of us biked to church that Sunday morning, then “processed” with our bicycles down the main aisle of the church. It was pretty cool. Our youth have cleaned up the Jones Falls a number of times. It’s amazing how many bags of garbage they’ve pulled out of that stream.

Some critics took you to task (in Brew comments) for not “taking the lane,” i.e., riding out in the middle of the road where the cars are. Do you ever do that?

I don’t recall ever “taking the lane.” I think I would stop and wait before practicing that kind of aggressive move. However, when I bike up from Fallsway into Hampden (can’t remember the name of the street), there’s not enough room for me and the cars and the cars have to wait while I huff and puff up. So, I suppose that’s “taking the lane.” But not in the situation that appears in the picture.

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