Feb 052015
 

Developers looking to rebrand the White Flint area with a memorable new name decided to call it the “Pike District”.  Say what?

The White Flint area, up to and including the area around Twinbrook Metro, is being transformed into into a walkable, transit-oriented urban center offering a thriving mix of retail and housing.  I don’t understand why anyone would want to rename it after a congested six-lane arterial road.   To me the “Pike” – Rockville Pike – conjures up visions of endless strip malls, intolerable traffic and anti-pedestrian conditions, an image we should be trying to get away from.  Cyclists avoid the road and pedestrians fear it.  I don’t see anyone renaming Tyson’s Corner after unappealing Leesburg Pike.  Yes, Rockville Pike will serve several modes of transportation, but it will still be one of the least appealing roads in the White Flint sector, not something we want to highlight.

The name “Pike District” seems to violate several rules of marketing.  For one thing, it fails to distinguish the “product” from similar products.  The name is geographically vague and could just as easily refer to any development along Route 355 or even Columbia Pike.  It certainly does not evoke the urbanist character of the development.  It’s confusing too.  People from outside Rockville may think the “Pike District” is a mere 300 feet wide.   Ultimately the name may hinder the project’s intended goals.

Granted, the district presents some inherent naming difficulties, since it includes development as far north as Twinbrook Metro, not just the White Flint area.  It’s unclear how people will refer to the White Flint and Twinbrook halves of the corridor individually.  But there has to be a better name than “Pike District”.

Developers appear to have done their due diligence, hiring the consultant StreetSense and letting the community have considerable input.  Among the builders are Federal Reality and JBG, enlightened supporters of walking and bicycling.  But the naming effort was hindered by disagreement among the developers, some of whom refused to keep the obvious name “White Flint”.   Ultimately they presented the community with ten names at a public meeting where attendees could support their favorite names.  The names were a motley assortment: Rocksy, The Stem, Market District, Uptown, Slate District, Rockline, Quartz District, The Summit, Pike District and Metropolitan White Flint.  Only one, Rockline, conveyed the idea of transit. Perhaps it’s inevitable that selection by community consensus would result in something plain and unmemorable, similar to how home sellers paint rooms a neutral color to appeal to a majority of buyers.  At least the name is authentic – the area is centered around the Pike after all.

One developer reassured me that neighborhoods can continue to use the names they’ve always been using.  There will be no “Pike District” postal designation.  He noted that the name is intended primarily for marketing purposes, like the term “I-270 Technology Corridor”.  But with newspapers already using the name, I think it will become ubiquitous.  A better process (as if we could get anyone to go through this again) would be to hold a countywide naming contest and publicize it through the media and in schools. It shouldn’t take more than a few rounds of public participation to trim the list of submissions down to the best 100 names, then 20 names, and finally 1 name.  Call it an old-school form of crowd-sourcing.

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Jan 132015
 

Montgomery County is looking to construct a cycle track (aka protected bike lanes) on Woodmont Avenue between Old Georgetown Road and Bethesda Ave.  The project would allow cyclists to ride either north or south on Woodmont in some combination of cycle tracks and conventional bike lanes.  See this detailed analysis of the various options.  Much of Woodmont is a one-way street, so any facility allowing northbound travel would be a definite improvement, protected or otherwise.

A key question is what will the rest of Woodmont Ave look like?  What bike accommodations will it get?  I’m referring to the half-mile long stretch of Woodmont Ave from Old Georgetown Road to Battery Lane, which is a two way street.  The future design has to be anticipated by the current project.  No project is an island (unless of course it is).

Woodmont Ave as it looks today:

I came up with three bike options, shown in these representative cross-sections:

Choose carefully!

(Feb. 24, 2015 update. A fourth option, conventional bike lanes, is depicted at the end of this post).

To cut to the chase, the first option among the three above – a two-way cycle track – is the weakest for significant safety reasons and because of ramifications further south.  The second option – a pair of one-way cycle tracks – is the best protected solution, but requires removing two lanes somehow.   The third option, bike lanes on one side and sharrows on the other, is in all likelihood the best solution that only requires removing one lane, but it will intimidate some riders.

The street today

The segment of Woodmont between Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road is 48.5′ wide (including gutters) everywhere I measured it.  It generally has five lanes.  There are two main travel lanes in each direction.  There is a center lane that serves as a turn lane with the occasional median island in the way.  In many stretches, one or both outer lanes are used for parking.

There are several parking lot or garage entrances on both sides.  Within the segment (excluding the endpoints) there are four cross streets on the west side, three on the east side.  Four of the intersections are signalized and three are skewed at a 45-degree angle.  Many people might feel uncomfortable biking there, but I would not characterize riding there as daunting or dangerous.  Traffic generally does not move quickly and blocks are short.  But it’s possible that drivers wouldn’t be able to pass a cyclist right away.  With simple bike lanes, cyclist comfort levels would increase quite a bit.  The county master plan calls for bike lanes on all of Woodmont  (presumably cycle tracks would qualify).

Road diet?

I would imagine the county is amenable to removing one of the five lanes in order to provide bike accommodations.  Removing two lanes would take more lobbying, but would free up space for conventional bike lanes or one-way cycle tracks.  It’s certainly doable, since the turn lanes could be shortened and on-street parking provided wherever there’s no turn lane.  Or the street could be re-conceived to look more like Norfolk Ave (but with parking on only one side), with stop signs in place of traffic signals, reducing the need for turn lanes.  (I can relate two harrowing experiences at intersections there as a pedestrian – both involving drivers ignoring signals but and none involving stop signs.  Does no one stop before turning right on red any more?)

But if only one lane can be removed, there would only be room for either a two-way cycle track or a hybrid of a conventional bike lane on one side and sharrows on the other, similar to the original Woodglen Drive proposal (the two roads have almost identical dimensions).

Comparison of the options

A one-way facility type north of Old Georgetown Road (one-way cycle tracks, bike lanes, sharrows or sharing the road) would allow for a better configuration south of Old Georgetown Road under the current project.  The facility could be one-way all the way from Bethesda Ave to Battery Lane, requiring no transitions at all!  Another point is the fact that the south configuration must be “backward compatible” with the existing north configuration as well as support the future north configuration.  If the existing north configuration and the future one are both one-way bikeway types, the south configuration only has to interface to one north configuration.

But the biggest strike against the two-way cycle track solution is safety. Riders would have to cross a great many parking lot exits and weirdly-angled side streets while riding in the “wrong” direction from a driver’s perspective.  He or she would have to ride very slowly and cautiously, since just one driver who failed to look right as well as left could ruin the cyclist’s day in a big way.

If there’s an upside to the two-way cycle track option (assuming it’s on the west side), it would be that it allows more convenient access to the Norfolk Ave street grid and the Bethesda Trolley Trail, which are located west of Woodmont.

A pair of one-way cycle tracks is a much better option.  Even it has some negatives, however, like the awkwardness of making left turns and the likelihood of pedestrians in the cycle track.  It’s quite possible that the volume and speed of traffic on Woodmont Ave does not justify the impact on bicyclists. But if the goal is a protected facility, it’s the best option.

If the county can’t find a way to remove two lanes from this five lane road, then the bike lane + sharrow solution is the best in terms of safety and speed, even if it’s not the most “protected” or comfortable for some riders.

I haven’t considered the option of providing a two-way cycle track south of Norfolk and standard bike lanes/sharrows north of Norfolk.  It might be acceptable if the transition can be worked out, providing a safer facility north of Norfolk while keeping the better bike access to the Bethesda Trolley Trail associated with a two-way cycle track leading up to Norfolk.

Feb. 24, 2015 Update:

I just want to highlight an additional option, which is to provide standard bike lanes while still retaining continuous parking on one side.

In this case the lanes are quite narrow, but it does meet county width standards and keeps cyclists out of the door zone.  Buses are as wide as 11′ so you’d quickly realize how tight this is.  Striping crews also routinely paint lines 3-6 inches off target, so some lanes might be narrower than intended.

A similar solution is being provided on Clinton Street in Concord, NH, which carries 11,000 vehicles a day.  Some parts of Clinton St. are being striped with a 5’ bike lane/shoulder against the curb, 10’ through lane, 9’ left turn lane, 10’ lane through lane, 5’ bike lane, and 10’ right turn lane against the curb (Woodmont would have a 7′ parking lane instead of the 10′ right turn lane).  According to the bike planner there, it works because there isn’t much turning traffic, allowing left-turning vehicles to encroach into the center lane.  Google maps shows the current but not yet completed configuration.

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Jan 112015
 

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is considering construction of a cycle track, also known as protected bike lanes, on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda.  The project would require removal of one lane (often used for parking) between Old Georgetown Road and Hampden Lane.  The county is suggesting a two-way cycle track on the west side of Woodmont, but this might not be the best option.

Montgomery Co. DOT Woodmont cycle track concept (actual design to be determined) cited in Bethesda Magazine

On a two-way street, one-way cycle tracks are superior to two-way cycle tracks because they make for much simpler intersections and avoid putting cyclists on the “wrong” side of the street (going the wrong direction for the side of the street they’re on, catching drivers by surprise).  On a one-way street, a two-way cycle track on the lefthand side may be suitable, but not in the case of Woodmont due to other considerations.

After some consideration, I recommend that the county:

Any solution must factor in what the bike accommodations will ultimately look like on Woodmont Ave between Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road, even though it’s not part of this project.  The county master plan calls for bike lanes on all of Woodmont (presumably cycle tracks would qualify).  The total width is only 48.5′ wide including gutters, so the county would have to remove 2 of the 5 lanes to create room for conventional bike lanes or one-way cycle tracks.  This is certainly possible, as parking could be removed wherever there’s a left lane, or stop signs could replace the signals so that turn lanes are not required.  But if only one lane can be removed, options are limited.  There would be room for a conventional bike lane on one side and parking + sharrows on the other, similar to the original Woodglen Drive proposal (the two roads have almost identical dimensions).  This would in all likelihood be safer than a two-way cycle track.  But a “protected” facility is desired.  So for purposes of this article, assume there will be a two-way cycle track on the west side of Woodmont Ave north of Old Georgetown. For more discussion of this segment, see this post.

Where to put the one-way to two-way transition?

Assuming that a west-side two-way cycle track is the choice north of Old Georgetown Rd and conventional bike lanes are provided south of Hampden, the problem can be viewed as a question of where to make the transition from a pair of one-way bike facilities to a two-way bike facility.  To keep the cycle track(s) one-way as much as possible, provide straightforward access to Metro, and be backward-compatible with the existing Woodmont configuration north of Old Georgetown, I chose to place the transition at the Old Georgetown Road intersection, shown below.  It can rely on existing signal phasing but does require some extra buffering and a new curb cut at the southeast corner.

If the cycle track isn’t extended north of Old Georgetown Road for some time, northbound cyclists would just follow the blue line above.  So putting the transition at Old Georgetown is “backward compatible” in the sense that until such time as the cycle track is extended, there doesn’t have to be a transition at all.

If a transition at Old Georgetown isn’t workable, the transition from one-way to two-way cycle track could work at Edgemoor Lane, North Lane, or Montgomery Lane instead (not Hampden Lane).  But these three options would force northbound cyclists to ride the “wrong” way for some distance and force them to make two transitions to continue north of Old Georgetown Rd for the time being (until the cycle track is extended north of OGR, which might not happen for some time if ever).  Transitioning at Montgomery Lane has the advantage of being very quick and simple (crossing Woodmont might even be quicker than going straight since there’s only one lane to cross).  But then northbound cyclists trying to get to Metro would have to cross Woodmont again only a block later or else ride on the sidewalk.  (A transition at Montgomery would already need signs and pavement markings to convince bicyclists to turn left in order to go straight, so additional signs telling Metro-bound cyclists to actually go straight via the sidewalk might add confusion).  The transition could be placed at North Lane instead, which is a relatively simple intersection with good sight-lines, but the two-way cycle track segment would still cross multiple driveways on the west side and wouldn’t quite reach Edgemoor, where cyclists might want to turn right.  Putting the transition at Edgemoor Lane would address the latter issue but it’s a more complex intersection than North Lane, possibly requiring signal changes, and it still leaves one dicey driveway to cross (at the gas station) and the compatibility issue at Old Georgetown.  The further north the transition is placed, the less “wrong” way riding is required.  It’s worth noting that northbound riders going the “right” way (on the east side of the street, that is) may catch drivers emerging from the parking garages on the east side by surprise, so safety is not guaranteed.   Nevertheless it makes more sense to put the transition at Old Georgetown Road (and then the transition doesn’t have to be provided at all until the cycle track is extended north of that point).

If the transition is placed at Montgomery Lane, the curb extension should be modified to allow cyclists to easily mount the sidewalk to get to Metro or, if they prefer, turn right on Montgomery towards East Lane and Wisconsin Ave.  A contraflow bike lane would be welcome addition on East Lane which is a one-way street away from Metro.

Here’s the Old Georgetown Road if the transition is further south, but it works well only if the cycle track is extended north of the intersection:

Which side should the two-way cycle track be on?

The other question is which side of Woodmont Ave to put the two-way cycle track on where it is two-way.  North of Old Georgetown Road, I recommend putting it on the west side to connect better to the western portion of Norfolk Ave (the route to the Bethesda Trolley Trail) and other streets in the Woodmont Triangle grid.  South of Old Georgetown Rd, putting the cycle track on the east side would make for some very awkward transitions.  So the west side makes much more sense.

SEGMENT DETAILS

From Old Georgetown Rd to Montgomery Lane

Throughout this segment, Woodmont Ave is 50′ wide including gutters.  There are four southbound travel lanes.  North of Edgemoor Lane, the existing lane widths are 14’, 11’, 11’ and 14’, respectively, and parking is permitted off-peak in the right lane.  South of Edgemoor a bike lane appears and parking is not allowed.  There are various driveways, garage entrances and side street crossings within this segment.  At Montgomery Lane, the two left lanes must turn left.

Here is our first choice – one-way cycle tracks:

Why one-way?  See the discussion above, “Where to put the one-way to two-way transition”.  If any part of this segment is to have a two-way cycle track however, it should be on the west side like this:

The picture below shows what cycle tracks would look like on the east side. This nominally puts cyclists on the “correct” side for a two-way street, but the transition at the south end would be very awkward, so this solution should be rejected.

From Montgomery Lane to Hampden Lane

Most of this segment is 36′ wide, with two southbound through-lanes, a left turn lane, and a southbound bike lane.  A curb extension narrows the road to 28′ briefly before the the left turn lane begins.  Regardless of what’s done north of Montgomery Lane, the clear choice for this block is one-way cycle tracks, shown below along with the bike lanes south of Hampden.  (Note: This shows the one-way cycle tracks continuing north of Montgomery, but they don’t have to; it depends on the solution north of Montgomery).

Putting the cycle track on the west side in this block would force cyclists to cross to the other side of Woodmont at Hampden Lane. Cyclists would have to be protected from oncoming traffic (even cars turning left, which would come too close) with a left turn signal phase, and even then they’d have to be wary of drivers coming from behind and turning left – hardly a “protected” facility. So this isn’t a good option:

Putting the cycle track on the east side would yield this even worse crossover at Hampen Lane, forcing cyclists to cross two streets unless a dedicated bike signal phase were provided. Either way, it would make cyclists wait a long time at what is currently a very simple intersection. This is a poor option:

Hampden Lane to Bethesda Ave

South of Hampden Lane, cycle tracks would be problematic.  Pedestrian behavior tends towards anarchy there so it would be impossible to keep pedestrians out of cycle tracks, which would have to be placed between parking and the curb due to save space.  The intersections are already complicated by frequent turning movements, disappearing turn lanes, very short blocks, a major trail crossing (soon to be a cycle track itself) and odd angles.  The skewed Bethesda Ave intersection is a six-way monster junction.

But the following bike lane improvements are needed:

  • The existing bike lanes are much too close to parking, with a combined 12′ bike lane + parking width on each side.  It’s compounded by high turnover parking, valet use and general hub-bub.  Instead provide a 7′ parking area, 5′ bike lane, and a 3′ buffer in between.
  • To make room for this, the three travel lanes should be narrowed to 10′.
  • The two southbound lanes approaching Elm must be re-designated as a left-turn-only lane and a through/right turn lane, respectively, to eliminate the daunting crossover between the bike lane and the righthand lane.
  • The northbound bike lane should be shifted away from the curb north of Elm to eliminate right hooks, with lots of green paint applied to guide cyclists through the intersection.

Here is the current configuration (dated drawing, not guaranteed to be exact).  Curb-to-curb width is 50′ between Hampden and Elm, 60′ south of Elm:

Below is our proposed configuration south of Hampden. The bike lanes are improved, the travel lanes are narrowed, and the lane designations are changed.

There are many things to consider!

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Jan 102015
 

Statement by MoBike (Montgomery Bicycle Advocates) on cycle tracks:

Cycle tracks, sometimes called separated or protected bike lanes, are one of the most promising new bike facility types to be implemented in the U.S. in recent years. Because cycle tracks physically separate cyclists from car traffic, they appeal to the “interested but concerned” category of bicyclists who would ride their bikes more if they felt safer doing so. The societal benefits of getting more people using their bikes for transportation, as well as the prospect of fewer deaths and injuries, make it worthwhile to provide cycle tracks in many contexts. MoBike enthusiastically endorses cycle tracks as a facility type to be used where warranted.

One-way cycle track on one-way L St NW, D.C.

The distinguishing feature of cycle tracks is the physical barrier they place between bicyclists and car traffic, whether it’s a vertical barrier such as flexible posts or parked cars or a simple difference in grade provided by a curb. The barrier gives many riders the perception that they are safer than they would be in conventional bike lanes or standard vehicle lanes.  This perception is often reality, since the configuration prevents or deters drivers from encroaching into the cyclist’s area and usually increases the distance between cars and bikes. Even experienced bicyclists may think twice before using conventional bike lanes on fast, busy roads, so cycle tracks can make these roads more comfortable for all types of riders. Cycle tracks can also make it possible to ride in both directions along a one-way street.

Cycle track between the curb and sidewalk with painted crossing in Cambridge, Mass.

Cycle tracks are often superior to shared use paths running closely alongside a road. They generally do a better job alerting drivers that they’re crossing a bike facility, by virtue of positioning or special intersection treatments such as green paint and warning signs. A one-way cycle track allows bike travel in one direction only and is located on the same side of the street as vehicle lanes carrying traffic in the same direction. Shared use paths, on the other hand, allow cyclists to ride in either direction on one side of the street, a riskier configuration because cyclists riding against the flow of adjacent car traffic can catch drivers by surprise at intersections. Because cycle tracks are dedicated bike facilities, conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists may be less common than in shared use paths, so they’re often a better choice than paths in urban areas where pedestrian volumes are higher. Cycle tracks are more flexible than paths in that they can be implemented either between the curbs or on the sidewalk side of the curb.

Left turn from one-way cycle track in San Fransisco

Like any bicycle facility type, however, cycle tracks have weaknesses as well as strengths. Their biggest weakness may be that riding in them often takes more time and is more awkward than riding in conventional bike lanes or travel lanes. Executing certain turns from a cycle track can be a time-consuming process, requiring riders to cross an additional street or wait at an additional red light. The barrier that keeps cars at bay may also prevent cyclists from shifting from the cycle track into the travel lanes, a maneuver used when preparing for a left turn or avoiding an obstruction. And while pedestrian conflicts are less frequent in cycle tracks than on shared use paths, walkers do wander into cycle tracks, undermining their utility. Some pedestrians don’t even realize they are standing or walking in a bike facility. Cycle tracks placed between parallel parking and the curb are especially prone to pedestrian conflicts as people load or unload their cars or walk to the curb. Cyclists have to ride slowly to anticipate such conflicts where they’re likely to occur.

Two-way cycle track on two-way 15st St NW in D.C.

Two-way cycle tracks along two-way streets have additional drawbacks. Generally speaking, these facilities are less safe than one-way cycle tracks because, like roadside paths, they put cyclists traveling in two directions on one side of the street (except when the cycle track is in the middle of the street).  This results in half the cyclists riding against the flow of adjacent car traffic, surprising drivers accustomed to looking in certain directions for vehicles. Intersections involving two-way cycle tracks are more complex than those involving one-way cycle tracks and may require special accommodations to guide cyclists through the intersection and minimize conflicts.  Sometimes dedicated bike signals are warranted.  Where a two-way cycle track begins or ends, cyclists heading in one direction must cross the street to continue, requiring similar measures. If due accommodations aren’t provided at intersections or transition points, cyclists are forced to improvise, possibly making the facility less safe than conventional bike lanes.

Two-way cycle track on two-way street in Seattle with dedicated bike signal (click to zoom on signal).  Clueless driver alert.

Cyclists who choose not to ride in a cycle track may face hostility from drivers who wonder why cyclists can’t use the highly visible facility provided specifically for them. Cycle track signs, bollards and paint send the message that cyclists are supposed to stay in their own area. But often the very space that would allow drivers and cyclists to share the road without conflict has been eliminated to create room for the cycle tracks. Riding in the road allows cyclists to take advantage of design features and protocols that have evolved over a century to facilitate efficient, orderly movement of vehicles – things like through-lanes, turn lanes, and well-understood rules of right-of-way.  Cycle tracks can take away this option.

Shared use paths may be more suitable than cycle tracks in some contexts, such as to fill gaps in hiker-biker trails that children and other inexperienced riders are likely to use.  Cycle tracks often require riders to interact with car traffic, obey novel pavement markings, improvise at intersections, be wary of parked cars, and generally be alert and keep moving, whereas paths are more tolerant of mistakes and casual stops.

Two-way cycle track on one-way Penn Ave in Pittsburgh

Ultimately the decision of whether to provide a cycle track instead of another facility type requires an evaluation of whether the benefits relating to comfort, overall safety, and increased bike use are outweighed by the cost to cyclists in terms of travel time and intersection safety. Cycle tracks do not fully protect bicyclists at intersections, a common site of bicycle crashes, and some designs actually increase the risk at intersections, whereas riding in the roadway puts cyclists where drivers approaching an intersection already look for vehicles – in the road. However, perception of safety may be almost as important as reality. Increasing the level of bike use makes cycling safer on all roads, not just roads with bike accommodations, since there is indeed safety in numbers. So on roads where traffic is fast and busy, cycle tracks may be the better solution. On a minor street where traffic is tame, cycle tracks might not offer enough benefit to justify the drawbacks. The facility decision may depend on who is likely to use the street – inexperienced riders or people who bike every day. Increased comfort may encourage cycling among some users, while extra travel time may discourage it among others. On some streets, adding cycle tracks might not be possible without creating terribly awkward intersections or putting cyclists too close to opening car doors. Bad cycle tracks are worse than no cycle tracks, and there are other facility types in the tool kit. In addition, external factors like impact to pedestrians must be considered.

Finally, whenever cycle tracks are installed in the county, DOT and other stakeholders should conduct a “lessons learned” analysis to see what worked and what didn’t and make recommendations accordingly.

So to reiterate… MoBike enthusiastically endorses cycle tracks as a facility type to be used where warranted.

MoBike (Montgomery Bicycle Advocates)
January 10, 2015

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Nov 302014
 

The Montgomery County Council just passed Bill 33-13 entitled Urban Road Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements. The bill makes modest changes to the county’s road design standards to make our streets better and safer places for bicyclists and pedestrians.  It does this primarily by calling for measures to reduce motor vehicle speeds.  County road standards are codified in laws and regulations known collectively as the Road Code. The enacted bill updates relevant portions of the Road Code, either by changing the law directly or directing the County Executive to modify relevant regulations.

Here’s the executive summary of the bill’s stipulations.

  • Through lanes and turn lanes on urban roads must be no wider than 10′ unless next to parking or a curb in which case they must be no wider than 11′
  • Parking lanes on urban roads must be no wider than 8′
  • Curb radii on urban roads must be no greater than 15′ with some exceptions
  • Target speed on urban roads must be no greater than 25 mph
  • 6′ wide pedestrian refuges must be provided at every intersection on all divided 6-lane roads
  • All roads must include “complete streets” features to promote safe use by all travel modes, and all roads must serve bicyclists without exception
  • Two new bikeway types are defined – segregated bike lane (cycle track) and buffered bike lane
  • Road Code language is made more inclusive of non-car modes
  • Various corrections and clean-ups made to Road Code language
  • Note: Many of the provisions may be overridden by the County Executive, County Council, and/or Planning Board for safety or other reasons

State roads are not affected by the standards.

Kudos go to Councilmember Hans Riemer and Councilmember Roger Berliner who sponsored the bill! They worked closely with stakeholders to craft it.

Stipulations of the passed bill are as follows.

Width requirements for urban streets

The bill specifies new requirements for urban roads, i.e. roads in one of the county’s designated urban areas. (All areas of the county are designated as urban, suburban or rural, and roadway standards vary accordingly). These requirements may be overridden by the county executive if he finds that public safety would be impacted. These requirements apply whenever an urban road is constructed or reconstructed. A simple resurfacing or restriping project would not have to follow them, but the requirements would still carry significant weight in that case.

  • Each through travel or turning lane on an urban road must be no wider than 10 feet, except that a single travel lane adjacent to a parking lane must be no wider than 11 feet and a through travel or turning lane abutting an outside curb must be no wider than 11 feet, including the gutter pan.

This means that a lane next to a bike lane would have to be 10 feet wide. Previously the standards called for 14′ curb lanes on some streets, ostensibly to accommodate bicycling among other needs. But 14′ was not adequate for safe bicycling (as cyclists noted when the original standards were adopted).

  • Each parking lane on an urban road must be no wider than 8 feet, including the gutter pan.

Note that 7′ parking lanes already appear throughout the county and are wide enough to accommodate most passenger vehicles.   So 8′ is certainly not a hardship.

  • The curb radius at the corner of each intersection of two urban roads must not exceed 15 feet except where there is only one receiving lane [or] a curb extension is located…”

Bikeway definitions

Significantly, the bill adds two new bikeway types to the definitions in the law – separated bike lane (cycle track) and buffered bike lane – to reflect the latest advances in bicycle accommodations:

  • “Separated bike lane, also known as a protected bike lane or cycle track: a bikeway that is physically separated from motor vehicles and pedestrian facilities.  The separation may be vertical, such as a curb; horizontal, such as a landscape panel or parking lane; or a combination.  A separated bike lane may be in a one-way or two-way configuration.
  • “Buffered bike lane: a bikeway separated from a motor vehicle travel lane with an area of striped pavement.

These definitions aren’t very robust compared to some existing definitions in the code.  For example, the type “bike lane” remains carefully defined as “a portion of a roadway designated by striping, signing, or pavement markings for the preferential or exclusive use of bicycles, and on which through-travel by motor vehicles is not allowed.”  The overarching term “bikeway” is still defined as “any area expressly intended for bicycle travel“.  But it now encompasses five types: shared use path, shared use roadway, bike lane, separated bike lane, and buffered bike lane.  Separated bike lane and buffered bike lane are not meant to be subtypes of bike lane.

Also, the bill updates the definition of shared use path, now saying that it’s “a paved path that is typically 10 feet wide but can vary between 8 feet and 14 feet wide, designated for bicyclists and pedestrians, that is separated from motorized traffic by a curb, barrier, or landscape panel“.  Before the law said it may be 8′-12′ wide (nothing about  10′).

The bill adds the definition of sidewalk, defining it as “a pedestrian walkway that fronts a road.”  (Per the county code, bikes are still permitted on sidewalks except where prohibited by local jurisdictions, e.g. Gaithersburg, Kensington).

Bikeway mandates

Existing county law states that “Bikeways and walkways must be constructed when any County road is constructed, reconstructed, or relocated“. The law previously listed exceptions to this, namely if the facility were determined by the Council or Planning Board to be less safe, not feasible or too expensive for the expected level of use. Bill 33-13 eliminates these exceptions, replacing them with a few limited exceptions that only apply to walkways.

The bill also adds this language to the law: “Each transportation project must incorporate complete streets infrastructure sufficient to promote safe and convenient travel along and across the right-of-way for all users.”  Be aware that “promote” does not mean “ensure”.

Complete Streets Definitions

The bill adds these two definitions:

  • Complete streets: streets that are planned, designed, and constructed to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities, commercial vehicles, freight haulers, and emergency service vehicles.
  • Complete streets infrastructure: any design feature that contributes to a safe, convenient and comfortable travel experience, which may include such features as…

The latter definition goes on to list every feature you could think of that benefits non-motorists, including several traffic calming devices. For bikes the list includes shared use paths, bike lanes, separated bike lanes, bike stations, bike storage facilities, and bicycle parking facilities.  The bill also calls for consideration of new technologies including bike sharing, etc.

Target Speed

The bill requires that the “target speed” for all urban roads be no higher than 25 mph (previously the law allowed for target speeds of 30, 35, 40 or even higher depending on road type). Target speed is defined as the intended maximum safe speed for motor vehicles given the surrounding land use and desired use by each travel mode, with an emphasis on making it a safe thoroughfare for pedestrians and bicyclists.  Target speed dictates design features like lane widths, curb radii, curb extensions, banking in turns, etc.  “Design speed” is the resulting safe maximum speed that’s actually achieved using these features, which if everything is done right should match the target speed.

Pedestrian refuge requirement

The following requirement for a pedestrian refuge island applies to any road in the county not designated as rustic or exceptional rustic.*

  • Every pedestrian refuge must be at least 6′ wide. A pedestrian refuge must be provided at each intersection on a divided highway with 6 or more through travel lanes.

This is the bill’s most detrimental aspect, adopted over bicyclists’ objections. The provision appears to prohibit median width reduction even if it would free up space for bike lanes or wider sidewalks at locations where pedestrians are unlikely to cross.  Our concern is that the provision does not allow for case-by-case judgement.

*Note: Rustic and exceptional rustic are official road designations applied to quaint old roads to keep them looking like quaint old roads, formally exempting them from usual safety standards.  MoBike defines rustic (or exceptional rustic) as scenic (or very scenic) roads that are terrifying to ride on wherever traffic volumes have been allowed to exceed anything ever intended for quaint old roads, i.e. everywhere in Potomac.  See Glen Road.

Curb Extensions Not Required

The initial bill required a curb extension at the end of every permanent parking lane except where a right-turn lane is designated, but that provision was scrapped. There was also talk of a provision mandating that curb extensions be designed to allow cyclists to pass around, over or through them, but that didn’t appear in the final bill either.

Missed Opportunity – Business District Streets

Unfortunately the bill does not modify the existing standards for so-called Business District Streets.  This was needed because the current Business District Street standard lacks any provision for bike lanes. The county can and does create business district streets with bike lanes, but only as a “modified” design, a custom configuration. Without bike lanes in the standard, planners and engineers may overlook the option of adding bike lanes or fail to recognize their importance on these streets, which are often the most useful streets for bicyclists.

Miscellaneous updates

The bill adds some rosy language to make the law more inclusive of non-car modes.  It makes various corrections or clarifications to existing law.

 Posted by at 12:56 pm on Nov 30, 2014  Comments Off
Nov 112014
 

Montgomery County is putting considerable effort into signing new bike routes in the county.  They’ve signed four continuous road routes so far: Tuckerman-Plyers Mill-Dennis AveBethesda/Fernwood RdGeorgia Ave Corridor, and Rt 29 Corridor.  More are yet to come!

Question:  Which of the following four destination formats do you like best for county signs?  The county has used all of these formats lately.  They vary in the number of destinations per panel, total width, text flow and use of the word “miles”.  Overlook the fact that one is a hiker-biker trail sign and one lacks a big arrow.  Image scale is adjusted so you can compare sizes.

Four destination formats (images are scaled to allow size comparison)

To start off with, the county defines a base sign configuration consisting of two panels indicating route type and route direction respectively.  The route direction is shown by a big arrow (a double-headed arrow if you’re coming upon the route):

No destinations given

Destination Format 1

Below is what I call “destination format 1″, which puts all the destinations on one panel.  It’s fairly compact.  These are used on the older Tuckerman/Plyers Mill/Dennis Ave route.  For example:

Format 1 with three destinations

The following example adds a mile marker, making it clear that we’re on a defined route, not just a bike-friendly road.

Format 1 with two destinations and mile marker

The “format 1″ sign assembly consists of a

  • Bike Route panel
  • “Big arrow” panel with an arrow pointing in one or two directions
  • Single destination panel, with an arrow and mileage for each destination
  • Optionally a mile marker (sometimes on the big arrow panel, sometimes on a separate panel).
  • Optional panels that may say “Start”, “End” “Use sidewalk”, etc.

There’s some room for creativity with this format.  The contractor can adjust the text flow to widen or narrow the panels or combine panels to make things more compact.

But format 1 was deemed to be wasteful. For example, why waste space with the word “miles”?

Destination Format 2

So a new destination format that I call “format 2″ was adopted for newer bike routes.  The main difference is that each destination is on its own panel.  The destination panels are wider and matched in width.  Because the panels are matched in width, some will be wider than necessary and the more panels there are the wider the panels will tend to get.  It’s nice that destinations can easily be added or removed if errors are found or the route is extended.

Format 2 with two destinations

With four destinations, format 2 gets really big

I’m not sure I’d want this in my front yard

This post has 10 panels! It starts very low to the ground.

What we didn’t anticipate was that the newer sign assemblies would be so much bigger.   They’re so big that I’ve started recommending fewer destinations on each sign.  If the county adds mile marker numbers or someday route numbers they’ll get even bigger.

I also find format 2 to be, well, ugly.  The signs look “sterile” to me, like they’re cells in a spreadsheet.  I wouldn’t want to see them on a rustic road.

Destination Format 3

It is possible to have smaller destination panels that are still modular, which is how format 3 does it.  It’s sort of hybrid between formats 1 and 2.  Text can be wrapped to optimize panel width and keep them all the same width (though I don’t see why they’d have to be the same width). Including the word “miles” seems to make it a little easier to flow the text as desired (you can have “7 miles” on a line by itself but not “7”).

Format 3 has small yet modular destination panels

Destination Format 4

Finally, format 4 is a hybrid format where the destination panel is broken into multiple sections rather than panels.  This sign was used near Battery Lane in Bethesda:

Format 4 has multiple destinations sectioned off on one panel

What do you think? I’d like new signs to use the older format (format 1) or maybe one of the hybrid formats (3 or 4).  I’d also like the consultant drafting the signs to be flexible with text flow to minimize panel size.

Nov 042014
 

Wouldn’t it be great to air a public service announcement saying why cyclists don’t stay right all the time?  After all, this blog can’t reach everyone.  How’s this?

[Sound of driving]
MAN: Hey, there’s a bicyclist.  Why is he riding so far to the left?  Shouldn’t he move over?
WOMAN: Not if he wants to be safe.  There are a lot of cars parked along the street.  Cyclists should always stay well away from parked cars because a driver might suddenly open his door.
MAN: Even if there’s a bike lane?
WOMAN: You bet.  A cyclist might also leave the bike lane to avoid leaves or broken glass or potholes or to get ready to turn left.
MAN: I get it.  Look, there’s another bicyclist up ahead.  There’s no parking but she’s in the middle of my lane.
WOMAN: That’s because the lane is too narrow for cars to pass her in the same lane.  If she rides all the way to the right, some drivers will think they can pass in the same lane and they’ll come way too close to her or even hit her.  But if she rides in the middle of the lane, drivers won’t pass until they can move over, and everyone is safer.
[pause with more sound of driving]
WOMAN: And one more thing Mike.  Drivers must always keep at least three feet to the left of cyclists when passing.  That’s the law.
MAN: Wow.  There’s so much I didn’t know.  I’ll definitely keep an eye out for cyclists in my lane now.

It should be broken up into a couple shorter PSAs, but you get the idea.  Here are some more topics:  Why aren’t cyclists using the bike path?  What are those funny bike markings with arrows in the middle of the road?

Car doors are not your friend

Nov 012014
 

Woodglen Drive in North Bethesda now features Montgomery County’s first cycle track.  The county Department of Transportation deserves kudos for its willingness to support this type of facility.  The implementation is not without its shortcomings, but growing pains are to be expected as the county begins implementing cycle tracks, also known as protected bike lanes.  Moreover, the cycle track is not 100% complete (it will be by the end of November hopefully).  The primary problems seem to be intersection design and the proximity of parking to the cycle track, creating the potential for cyclists to collide with suddenly opened car doors.  Moving forward, there are steps the county can take to improve this facility and to create better cycle tracks in the future.  It would be good for the county to adopt some application criteria, design guidelines, and a process for implementing protected bike lanes.

Here’s a great drive-by video taken by Monte Fisher.  Note that the signs and street markings aren’t fully complete yet.

Click to play video (it’s a bit slow to load)

WABA is urging the county to provide a cycle track on Arlington Road in Bethesda as well, in conjunction with a road diet to eliminate a travel lane.  This would improve north-south options for cyclists, calm traffic, and help separate pedestrians from car traffic.  WABA could use your help on this campaign!  For information visit WABA’s People First on Arlington Road page.

Woodglen Drive context and history…

The Bethesda Trolley Trail currently runs from downtown Bethesda to the White Flint Metro station, including the entire length of Woodglen Drive.  The original Woodglen design called for bike lanes in the roadway and a shared use path on the west side, creating a “dual bikeway” (on-road + off-road) as called for by the White Flint Sector Plan.  The path would serve as the trail.  However, the bike lanes would’ve come too close to parked cars on the west side, so after much discussion that plan was modified to provide a northbound bike lane on the east side but sharrows on the west side.  Sharrows were considered suitable since the street is relatively calm and cars can cheat into the two-way center turn lane to pass cyclists (as they did before without major difficulty).  There would be a facility for everyone.  However, this plan fell apart when the adjacent neighborhood objected to having 5′ or 6′ wide pinch points in the path to avoid trees and utility poles – poles which could not be removed without prohibitively increasing the cost.  So DOT came up with the two-way cycle track as an alternative solution, ostensibly to serve all types of riders.  Now the cycle track is complete except for some pavement markings and signs.

A few concerns

Probably the biggest concern with the Woodglen cycle track is that half of it is in the “door zone” of parked cars.  Protected bike lanes are supposed to protect cyclists, so they’re not doing their job if cyclists are safer in the street. Intersections are a concern as well.  The transition to two-way bike flow at the north end (at Nicholson Lane) is very awkward, even dangerous, as it’s currently configured.  The transition to the trail across Edson Lane is problematic as well.  Access to side streets on the opposite side of Woodglen is awkward and requires crossing the entire street.  It’s important that cyclists be able to avoid these problems by riding in the roadway without harassment.  Painting sharrows in the roadway could go a long way towards accomplishing that, although DOT believes this would create confusion.

If you haven’t already, go see the cycle tracks for yourself!  It’s great to see the county taking bicycling seriously.  Please use the comment section to express what you like or don’t like about the Woodglen solution.  I’m looking for comments to pass on to the county.

Jack Cochrane, MoBike

Feb 242014
 

Five County Council members have signed on to a letter by Roger Berliner asking for a cost estimate of clearing snow on the Capital Crescent Trail, with an eye towards covering it in the county operating budget this year.  This is something cyclists have been requesting for years, but the requests (like bikes in the snow) never got much traction.   The letter is directed to county DOT and the Parks Department, though the latter department owns the trail.

Also, Councilmember Hans Riemer has asked DOT to draft a plan for better snow removal from sidewalks.  Forcing pedestrians to walk in the street because plows have dumped snow onto sidewalks is unacceptable.  A local pedestrian was killed in recent years doing this.  If they can’t find a place to put snow, close a lane of the street.

Feb 202014
 

The draft 2014 Rockville Bikeway Master Plan is ready for public comment!  For details, visit the plan update site or directly view the draft plan and map at these links:

You can comment on the plan in person at a public hearing to be held on Wed. April 9th at 7 pm in the Mayor and Council Chambers, City Hall, 111 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD, 20850.  You can sign up to speak by calling 240-314-8200.   Individual speakers get 3 minutes; those representing organizations get 5 minutes.  Or you may provide written comments via email, via this form, or via regular mail (to bike coordinator Kevin Belanger, 111 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850).  Planners will formally present the plan to the Planning Commission on March 12 at 7 pm in the Mayor and Council Chambers at City Hall.

The current official version of the plan was last created in 2004.  The city has a strong record on supporting bicycling and most of the recommendations in the 2004 plan were implemented.  It has an effective bike advisory committee (RBAC) on which anyone is welcome to participate.  Among the city’s accomplishments:

  • 34 miles of dedicated bikeways, including the Millennium Trail, portions of the Rock Creek Trail, a dedicated trail bridge over I-270, abundant sidepaths, bike lanes and now sharrows.
  • Mobile and printable bikeway maps.
  • Capital BikeShare stations in and around the city
  • Designated bike routes in the city, marked with color-coded signs

General information about bicycling in Rockville can be found on the city’s bikeway page.

 Posted by at 9:23 am on Feb 20, 2014  Comments Off