Bike Commuting from UMBC to West Catonsville

Once every year or so, I have occasion to bike commute from UMBC to the western part of Catonsville, MD, during afternoon rush hour.  I’m still trying to find a route I like, that doesn’t require dealing with really heavy traffic.

The first time I did this, I took this route:

  • Exit UMBC via Hilltop Rd to traffic circle
  • Proceed through circle and follow Hilltop straight through to Bloomsbury Ave intersection
  • Proceed through Bloomsbury intersection onto Mellor Ave.
  • Follow Mellor to Frederick Rd. light and turn left
  • Turn right onto Winters La. and follow to Edmondson Ave. light.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.
  • Follow Edmondson to end.

This was OK, but there’s a lot of hill climbing at the beginning of the ride.  Traffic is really bad at the Hilltop Rd./Wilkens Ave. traffic circle leaving UMBC, and at the intersection of Edmondson Ave. and Rolling Rd.  Traffic backs way up at the light, and due to the lane configuration, there’s no way to “filter” past it.  You just have to sit in it, and it’s an uphill grade to boot.

This year I tried the following alternate:

  • Exit UMBC via Walker Ave. and turn left onto Wilkens Ave.
  • Turn right onto Rolling Rd., then make an immediate left onto Collegiate Dr.
  • Go about ½ mile and turn right onto Campus Dr.  then make another left to stay on Campus Dr.
  • Turn right towards McCurley Ave.  There’s a paved path here that leads from the CCBC campus to the end of McCurley Ave. in Catonsville.
  • Follow McCurley to end and turn right onto Hilton Ave.
  • Ride through Oak Forest community to Montrose Ave.  Follow Montrose to Frederick Rd.
  • Cross Frederick and turn onto the No. 8 Streetcar Path.
  • Follow the trail until it ends at Dutton Ave.  Turn right onto Dutton.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.  and follow Edmondson to end.

This route seemed OK on paper, but was a net loss.  Leaving UMBC via Walker is better than taking Hilltop, because it avoids all the traffic queued up at the circle.  However, you still have to cross the circle from Wilkens, which is a pain.  A better alternative might be to turn right onto Wilkens and then left onto Valley.  Westbound traffic on Rolling Rd. is just horrible, even for the minuscule distance I’m on it.  Taking the lane here is mandatory, or you’ll be sitting forever waiting to cross.  I was hoping cutting through CCBC would avoid some of the up-and-down hills on Hilltop Rd., but Collegiate Dr. is just as hilly, if not more so.  The trail out of CCBC also has a steep grade.  The traffic at the Frederick Rd. crossing at Montrose is really bad too.  And to top it off, the route doesn’t avoid the Edmondson Ave/Rolling Rd intersection either.  The route does have a couple bright spots:  the stretch from Hilton Ave. to Montrose Ave. is a nice ride, and the Streetcar Path, though a bit bumpy, is pleasant and bucolic.  Unfortunately, these aren’t enough to overcome the negatives.

Rolling Rd. and Frederick Rd. are the two big trouble spots on both of these routes, and there’s no way to get through Catonsville without riding on them or crossing them.  Next time I do this (likely in another year) I’m going to try the long way, and ride through Patapsco State Park to Ilchester/River Rd., and then up through Oella.  This takes me 5 or 6 miles out of the way, but I think it’ll be a much better ride.

Catonsville Route Tweak, Revisited

Unexpectedly summer-like weather for the ride in this morning.  It wasn’t hot, but the humidity was out in full force, and I worked up a good sweat.  A front is supposed to sweep through today and drop the temperatures.  I brought a rain jacket because there’s a 50% chance of showers later, but now I’m wondering if I’ll need it more to keep warm than to keep dry.

For the past several months, Bloomsbury Ave. in Catonsville has been closed off between Frederick Rd. and Mellor Ave., open to local traffic only.  This has been great for me, because I could ride past the barrier and get from Mellor Ave. to Asylum La. pretty easily.  Bloomsbury Ave. is normally wall-to-wall cars in the morning, and the closure has cut down on 99% of the car traffic.  Well, it seems that the inevitable has happened, and the road is now open again, meaning, I once again feel like I’m risking my life making a left onto Bloomsbury from Mellor, due to the limited sight distances in both directions.  So, the next couple times I come through here, I’m going to evaluate a couple of alternate routes that avoid this intersection:

Alternative 1.  From Mellor, make a right onto Montemar Ave.  Follow Montemar to Bloomsbury, and turn left.  Hopefully this intersection will have better visibility, allowing for a safer left turn.  I’ll then have to proceed straight through the Mellor/Bloomsbury intersection, but I’ll have the right-of-way.

Alternative 2.  Avoid Mellor Ave. altogether.  Take Magruder Ave. all the way through to Bloomsbury, turn right, and then make a left onto Asylum.  I’ll have to ride in traffic for a bit on Bloomsbury, but I think that’s preferable to crossing against the same traffic with an inadequate line of sight.

I’m hoping that one of these two alternatives will work out, particularly on school days, when traffic on Bloomsbury is heaviest.  The real solution to the problem is to redo the Mellor/Bloomsbury/Hilltop Rd. intersection, with either a traffic circle, stop light or 4-way stop.  But I’m not holding my breath.

First Day of Classes

So today, I rode the upper Grist Mill Trail through Patapsco State Park, took River Rd. to Ellicott City, then rode up Oella Ave. and into Catonsville via the No. 9 Trolley Trail.  No issues at all until I went to turn from Bloomsbury Ave. onto Asylum La. to cut through Spring Grove.  Asylum was blocked by a large fallen tree, and apparently they’re not in a big hurry to clear it out.  No way around it on either side, so I had to drag the bike through a bit of foliage, but it was passable.  There was a small section that looked more beaten-down than the rest, no doubt from other riders doing the same thing, so I did my part and helped tamp it down some more.

Other than the tree, there was not much to report.  There was a big fallen power line on Oella Ave. right near the Oella Mill complex.  I’m guessing some people there are still without power.  River Rd. was clear and dry, with no mud, and only one little area with a bit of runoff.  Lots of friendly riders, walkers and joggers out in the park.

Today is the first day of fall classes at UMBC.  Traditionally during this week, I’ve always come onto campus via Poplar Ave.  However, ever since they started the new zoned parking plan last year, the traffic on Hilltop Circle has increased quite a bit, particularly early in the semester.  Today I decided to try coming in via Walker Ave. instead, and it wasn’t too bad.  There was a bit more traffic on Wilkens Ave. than in the summer, but the traffic light at Wilkens and Valley Rd. does a good job of metering the traffic.  When I come in this way, I don’t have to ride on Hilltop at all.  I just cross it, then take the access road behind the library parking garage, and follow the trail over to the Engineering/Fine Arts building area.  It looks like Walker will be a viable way to come onto campus, so the only route I’ll need to avoid is Hilltop Rd., which I’ve been riding less and less anyway.

Catonsville Route Tweak

Today was my last day at the office, and my last bike commute, until November 15.  Lest I go into serious withdrawal, I’m going to try to work a couple of recreational rides in over the next couple of weeks.  Come the 15th, my afternoon rides will be in the dark again, so I’ll need to remember to load my bike up with even more flashers than it’s already sporting.

I switched back to the road bike today and rode out Landing Rd., down Beechwood and Bonnie Branch Rds. and then out to Oella Ave. via River and Frederick Rds.  I tried an alternate route to get from Catonsville to UMBC, and it looks like a winner.  In the past, starting at the intersection of Mellor Ave and Bloomsbury Ave., I would go straight onto Hilltop Rd.  Then at the Valley Rd. 4-way stop, I would either continue straight and go into UMBC via the Wilkens Ave. traffic circle, or turn left on Valley, right on Wilkens, and left on Walker.  I always hated taking Hilltop because of the terrain, traffic, and nonexistent shoulder.  Last time I rode it, I noticed another biker cutting through Spring Grove, and I figured I’d give it a shot.  From Mellor, I turned left on Bloomsbury, then right on Asylum and into Spring Grove.  The roads in Spring Grove can be confusing to navigate, but I just kept bearing right and ended up coming out the entrance onto Valley Rd.  I made a left on Valley and then right on Wilkens, and left on Walker.  It was much, much, much nicer than taking Hilltop, so much so that it may inspire me to come in through Catonsville more often.  The only real downer to this route is crossing Bloomsbury at Mellor Ave., where you can’t see very far either to the left or the right.  I’ve always thought there should be a 4-way stop there.  I have a couple ideas for ways to avoid this intersection, which I’ll try out and report back on soon.


No sooner do I brag about a “perfect April,” when the dream is crushed.  Had a late-afternoon emergency at work, coupled with a hard deadline of 5:30 to get home, so I had to call for a ride.  Then the next day, I had to take the car so I could retrieve my bike.  So not only is April now tarnished, now my ride log is saddled with a one-way ride, so I’ll have to go around saying “I rode to work 154½ times in 2010.”  That’s the last time I’ll make the mistake of blogging about a perfect month until after the fact.

Took the road bike this morning, and rode through Catonsville for the first time in over a week.  It looks like Thistle Rd. is going to be closed for awhile.  There are semi-permanent-looking “road closed” and “Thistle Rd. detour” signs all over the general vicinity of Frederick, River and Ilchester Rds.  Hopefully whatever they’re doing to it will involve resurfacing.  After several years of cycling through eastern Howard and western Baltimore counties, it’s been my observation that the back roads in Howard are consistently in better shape.  Howard’s not perfect (Bonnie Branch road is a bit rough in spots) but some of the roads in Catonsville are like minefields.  On the other hand, Baltimore County’s busier roads seem more bike-friendly than Howard’s — Frederick Rd through Oella is a great ride, while Montgomery Rd through Elkridge feels like a suicide mission.

Enough rambling for one day.  The weather looks nice for the ride home this afternoon…

This morning’s ride

Being that this may be my last ride for a week or so, considering the weather forecast, I decided I’d depart from February tradition and try to do a longer morning ride.  I took the fixed-gear and rode out to the park entrance at Ilchester Rd, but the Grist Mill Trail was still too snow-covered to attempt on road tires.  So instead, I rode up Thistle Rd. and through Catonsville via Oella Ave.  This is a hilly route and is not my favorite to do with only one gear, but I don’t have many other options for a longer ride when the park is snow-covered, and it’s still too wet to take my geared bike, which lacks fenders.  A mountain/cross bike with studded tires would really fit the bill here.  Maybe next winter..

The chain on the fixie was getting a little floppy, so last night I tightened it up.  I also remounted my back fender so that the front of it extends all the way down to the chainstays.  The bike doesn’t have a chainstay bridge, so I wrapped a zip tie around the stays and attached the fender with a second zip tie.  It actually stays in place better than I expected.  The back of the fender also fits better this way..  previously it extended down a little too far, and the tire was too close to the mud flap even with the struts adjusted out as far as they could go.  As a result, mud and other crud was always getting stuck there.  Tightening the chain (by pulling the wheel back) would have made the problem worse.  Now there’s lots of tire clearance all the way around the fender, so rubbing shouldn’t be a problem.

Never a dull day..

You never know what kind of weather you’re going to get in winter, and this morning was a perfect example.  We got a “surprise” light frosting of snow/sleet/rain overnight.  No mention of it whatsoever in yesterday’s forecast.  By the time I had to leave, the system had moved out, but the roads were still wet, so I switched to the fixed-gear bike (with fenders) for today’s ride.

I rode through the park today, and River Rd was almost completely coated with a light, slightly crunchy glaze.  No traction problems though.  There were bike tire tracks on the Grist Mill Trail, but none on River Rd until I came through.

The second half of my ride was through Oella and Catonsville.  I exited the park at Ilchester Rd and took River Rd to Frederick Rd.  This was the first time I had ridden River Rd for a while, and there were obvious signs of past flooding (lots of mud on the sides), but no problems getting through on the bike.  In Catonsville, instead of taking Edmondson to Melvin Ave as I’ve always done in the past, I turned right on Smithwood, then left on Summit, then right on Beaumont.  This brought me to Frederick Rd at a stop sign instead of a light, and I didn’t have to wait as long to make my left onto Frederick.  The pavement on Summit and Beaumont is in bad shape in spots, but all in all I think this is a better route.


I dusted off the road bike for the start of the work week.  I hadn’t ridden it in two weeks.  Yesterday I tightened up my rear derailleur cable.  It took a full turn and a half of the barrel adjuster to get it to shift onto larger cogs without hesitating.  Anyhow, it paid off – no “surprise” shifts this morning.

I still get an annoying squeak when I shift sometimes.  It’s kind of like a bird chirping.  It typically doesn’t happen until about 15-20 minutes into a ride, then it pretty much squeaks the rest of the way every time I shift.  No amount of lubing the derailleur, cable, or chain seems to make it go away.  Research on the ‘net has revealed that it might be coming from the derailleur pulley(s).  Oiling them doesn’t seem to help, so I’m wondering if after 6000+ miles, they might just be wearing out.  A new set is under $10, so I may try replacing them and see if that helps.

Biked through Catonsville again this morning.  Typically, when I have to make a left onto Frederick Rd heading east, I’ve turned at the Melvin Ave light.  But lately that light has not been turning green for me.  It’s kind of hard to follow the rules of the road when the traffic lights will only turn green for cars.  There’s a ped signal there, but to use it I have to cross over to the wrong side of the road to get to the crosswalk.  Catonsville purports to be bike friendly, but it’s unclear to me whether I’m supposed to act like a vehicle or a pedestrian in these cases.  To avoid the issue, I think I’m just going to avoid the light and make the left turn at a street with a stop sign.  When I initially planned this route, I expected Frederick Rd to be bumper-to-bumper at this time of morning, but it’s really not that bad that I can’t make a left onto it at a stop sign (providing I can see OK in both directions, of course).