Jul 032018
 

The new draft of the Montgomery County Bicycle Master Plan is about to go before the County Council.  Please let the Council know you support the plan and tell them how it can be improved.   Express your support at the hearing or in writing by July 10th.   The draft plan is an excellent template for the future, representing a paradigm shift towards “low stress” bikeways like protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), shared use paths, and bicycle boulevards.  The proposed network of low stress bikeways will attract more people who want to bike but are afraid of riding too close to cars.  This will increase the number of people out there on bikes.

BUT WHERE ARE THE SHOULDERS?

It’s an excellent plan.  We should all support it.

But it does have a few issues that should be addressed by the County Council.

Notably, the plan omits a great many bikeable shoulders and conventional bike lanes that are used by cyclists in the county today.  The plan ascribes too little value to these so-called “striped bikeways” on busy roads, because it does not consider them to be low stress (they’re called “striped bikeways” because a real or implied stripe rather than a physical barrier separates bikes from cars).  In a sense, the plan marginalizes confident cyclists who want both safety and efficiency – the “power users” of the bike network – who are often best served by striped bikeways.  In most cases the plan doesn’t call for existing shoulders to be retained – even when it’s feasible to retain them AND provide a low stress option.

Pedestrian in the county’s newest protected bike lane

Many experienced cyclists rely on shoulders (and conventional bike lanes) because they provide some separation from busy traffic, but are often faster and more convenient than protected bikeways and sidepaths. They allow riders to maintain continuously higher speeds, maintain right-of-way at intersections, and ride where they’re more likely to be seen.   Protected bike lanes, on the other hand, can make it harder to exit and re-enter the bikeway, which cyclists may want to do to get around pedestrians and obstacles, make quick left turns, avoid right-hooks at intersections, or avoid cars with their noses sticking out, among other reasons.  When placed behind parked cars, protected bike lanes invite pedestrian conflicts and reduce visibility, making it dangerous to ride too fast.  Yet they still expose cyclists to traffic at intersections.  Sidepaths are even more problematic at intersections, and most importantly, they must be shared with pedestrians.  Path cyclists must keep speeds down and always be concerned at side street and driveway crossings.

County planners point out that the plan doesn’t explicitly call for the removal of existing shoulders or conventional bike lanes, but the plan obviously intends to remove these bikeways on a vast number of roads, and planners aren’t willing to provide assurances for other roads.  Where these facilities aren’t explicitly called for by the plan, they are at risk of being removed or narrowed (intentionally or inadvertently) the next time the street is modified or resurfaced.  This can happen when:

  • travel lanes are added
  • intersections are upgraded
  • the road is rebuilt during redevelopment
  • traffic-calming curb extensions or median islands are built
  • curb and gutter are added
  • the shoulder is blocked with bus pads or drainage
  • lines are repainted without consideration for bikes

Shoulder was pinched when an island was added (Seven Locks Rd)

Not specifying existing shoulders in the plan also makes it less likely they’ll be improved (by filling in short gaps, for example).

THE SOLUTION: PROVIDE BOTH

It’s still very important to provide low stress bikeways.  So the solution, wherever shoulders have value, is to provide both shoulders (or conventional bike lanes) AND a low stress bike facility along the same road.  The low stress element would likely be a sidepath or a two-way protected bike lane on one side.  In some cases the shoulders may allow parking.

This “dual bikeway” treatment isn’t needed (or even possible) on every street. But it’s generally appropriate for roads which meet these criteria:

  • Already has shoulders or conventional bike lanes
  • Not located in dense areas
  • Frequently used by bicyclists today

Dawson Farm Rd is an example of a dual bikeway, having both conventional bike lanes and a sidepath:

The Planning Department’s primary objection to dual bikeways is that providing shoulders or conventional bike lanes could make it more difficult to implement the low stress bike accommodation.  But I’m recommending dual bikeways where they’re likely to be feasible.  For some other roads I’m asking for what I call a “qualified dual bikeway”, meaning that if both bikeway types can’t be feasibly implemented, then just provide the low stress bikeway.  This idea was rejected by planners, who seem afraid that any mention of the striped bikeway option could lead implementers to choose that and only that.  The resistance to dual bikeways seems rooted in distrust of DOT — a belief that DOT will disregard the plan and use the dual designation as an excuse not to build the low stress component.   My response is that I don’t trust DOT to do what’s NOT in the plan — because, after all, it’s not in the plan.

The Bicycle Plan notes that bikeable shoulders or conventional bike lanes “can” be provided as long as they do not substantially detract from the accompanying recommended low stress bikeway.  I’ll work to make sure this becomes the policy of Montgomery County DOT and Maryland SHA.  But it’s a weak guarantee.  The plan should still stipulate these elements road by road, so it’s clear to everyone from DPS supervisors to DOT engineers to the next round of planners that these facilities are worth providing.  I don’t see how this could be interpreted as a green light to ignore the plan’s low stress mandate, repeated over and over in the document.

Below are my recommendations of what needs to be added to the plan.

First Priority – Essential shoulders and conventional bike lanes

Here’s a prioritized list of the high priority roads where shoulders or conventional bike lanes should be explicitly specified in the plan in addition to a low stress bikeway.  All of these roads have shoulders or conventional bike lanes already.  (I’ve omitted roads where the Bicycle Plan already recommends shoulders or conventional bike lanes).

  1. Tuckerman Lane (Old Georgetown Road to Falls Road) – A vital and popular route for road cyclists. Planners propose to replace the shoulders with protected bike lanes, when the best option is to add a sidepath and keep the existing shoulders.  DOT is already designing improvements.
  2. MD 28 (Darnestown Rd/Key West Ave) (Seneca Rd and Shady Grove Rd) – Plan would remove shoulders from two segments – here and here – or about 3 out of 6 miles.   This rare road route to Darnestown already has both shoulders and a sidepath.  Planners want to eliminate the shoulders to widen the grass buffer, which would not actually increase the distance between the path and cars.
  3. Briggs Chaney Road/Norwood Rd (Automobile Blvd to Layhill Rd) – An important road biking route connecting the Rt. 29 corridor to the Olney area. It includes a short segment of New Hampshire Ave.  Shoulders may need a few improvements.
  4. Knowles Ave (MD 547) (Beach Dr to Summit Ave) – This connects to the very popular Beach Drive and also forms part of a signed bike route from North Bethesda to Wheaton.  At least provide a shoulder going uphill (a climbing lane).
  5. Kemp Mill Rd (Arcola Ave to Randolph Rd) – DOT specifically striped this as a shoulder bikeway and there appears to be room to add a path as well.
  6. Bells Mill Rd (Gainsborough Rd to Falls Rd) – These bikeable shoulders are needed to fill in for the Democracy Blvd shoulders that would be difficult to improve.
  7. Ridge Rd (MD 27) (Brink Road to Damascus High School) – Good shoulders with pocket bike lanes already exist for a significant length of this segment, and there appears to be room both this and a path.
  8. Dufief Mill Rd (Travilah Rd to Darnestown Rd) – Currently has bike lanes and it and links to MD 28.
  9. Gainsborough Rd (Seven Locks Rd to Bells Mill Rd) – Currently has unmarked shoulders shared with parking

Tuckerman Lane:

Second Priority – Keep shoulders if possible (“qualified dual bikeways”)

This list specifies roads where both the existing shoulders and a low stress bikeway should be planned, but with a note saying that if both don’t fit, at least provide the low stress bikeway.  I call these “qualified dual bikeways”.  If the plan doesn’t specify the shoulders, DOT may needlessly remove them.  In priority order they are:

  1. Fairland Rd (Old Columbia Pike to East Randolph Rd) – Has fast shoulders that get frequent use, but space may be tight.
  2. Plyers Mill Rd (Lexington St to Amherst Ave) – This is part of a signed cross-county road route (along with Dennis Ave, Tuckerman Lane and Knowles Ave).  Protected bike lanes may work where shoulders aren’t adequate.
  3. Grosvenor Lane (Cheshire Dr to Rockville Pike)
  4. Massachusetts Ave (MD 396) (Goldsboro Rd to Sangamore St) – Good shoulders but space is tight; at least provide path and uphill shoulder (climbing lane).
  5. Montrose Rd (Seven Locks Rd to Falls Rd) – Already has shoulders, needs a path.
  6. River Rd (MD 190) (Ridgefield Rd to Norwood School main entrance) – This already has bikeable shoulders, with the portion east of I-495 marked as bike lanes. It would benefit from better striping near I-495.

Fairland Road:

Roads that are no-brainers

The following roads already have both conventional bike lanes and a shared use path that fit together comfortably.  It’s unlikely that either bikeway would be removed, especially on the state roads, but it’s safer to recognize them in the plan:

Stringtown Road:

Roads that need more than a sidepath

For the following roads, shoulders exist and only a shared use path is recommended in the plan.  Either keep the shoulders (and fix pinch points) or provide protected bike lanes, but above all, a path should not be the only bike facility.

Plyers Mill Road:

Long upcounty state roads…

Some segments of the following state roads have existing shoulders or wide lanes that could be narrowed to make room for shoulders.  But each road is long and complex.  It’s late in this planning process to be studying each one. Therefore advocates may want to work with SHA, which has a good record of providing shoulders or bike lanes where they fit, regardless of county master plans.  The general segments are:

Wide lanes on Georgia Avenue:

A special case: Little Falls Parkway

  • Little Falls Parkway south of the Capital Crescent Trail crossing has existing shoulders but isn’t planned as any kind of bikeway in the Bicycle Plan (because the CCT is parallel, more or less). The plan should just recommend what’s already there (shoulders) but remain flexible.
  • Little Falls Parkway north of the Capital Crescent Trail crossing is likely to be reconfigured due to the crossing fatality. The bike facility should include a shoulder on the northbound side. The temporary southbound configuration is a sidepath transitioning to a de facto two-way protected bike lane, which seems to work given the unique layout. But the trail intersection is being redesigned, so the Bicycle Plan should be flexible.

Little Falls Parkway:

Shoulders that ARE in the Bicycle Plan

Fortunately the plan recommends shoulders or conventional bike lanes on several roads.  Here they are, excluding roads in rural areas (sorry if I’ve missed any):

  • Bradley Blvd (MD 191) (Persimmon Tree Rd to Fairfax Rd) – Bike lanes and path
  • Calverton Blvd (Gracefield Rd to P.G. County line) – Bike lanes
  • Carroll Ave (University to Long Branch Pkwy, Flower Ave to Tulip Ave) – Bike lanes
  • Democracy Blvd (Seven Locks Rd to Falls Rd) – Bike lanes and path
  • Homecrest Rd (Longmead Crossing Dr to Bel Pre Rd) – Bike lanes
  • Gateshead Manor Way/Aston Manor Dr/Sheffield Manor Dr (Briggs Chaney Rd to Shady Knoll Dr) – Buffered bike lanes
  • Goshen Rd (Lochaven Dr to Odendhal Rd) – Bike lanes and path
  • Greencastle Rd (Old Columbia Pike to Greencastle Ridge Terrace) – Bike lanes and path
  • Jones Mill Rd (Jones Bridge Rd to East-West Hwy) – Shoulders
  • Layhill Rd (MD 182) (Glenallen Dr to the ICC) – Bike lanes and path
  • MacArthur Blvd (Falls Rd to D.C. line) – Shoulders and path (ongoing project)
  • Midcounty Hwy (Shady Grove Rd to Montgomery Village Ave) – Shoulders and path
  • Muncaster Mill Rd (MD 115) (Norbeck Rd to Muncaster Rd) – Shoulders and path (where they don’t already exist, shoulders will be difficult to add)
  • Norbeck Rd/Spencerville Rd (MD 28/198) (Layhill Rd to Old Columbia Pike) – Shoulders and path (shoulders and two paths, one on each side of the street, west of New Hampshire Ave)
  • Old Columbia Pike (Tolson Place to Tech Rd)
  • Redland Rd (Muncaster Mill Rd to Needwood Rd) – Path plus shoulders that would very difficult to add
  • Riffleford Rd (MD 28 to MD 118) – Shoulders
  • Second Ave (Seminary Rd to 16th St) – Bike lanes
  • Seminary Rd (Forest Glen Rd to Second Ave) – Bike lanes
  • Seven Locks Rd (city of Rockville to Bradley Blvd, I-495 to MacArthur Blvd) – Shoulders and path
  • Stewart Lane (Old Columbia Pike to Lockwood Dr) – Bike lanes
  • Westlake Drive (Tuckerman Lane to Democracy Blvd) – Shoulders and path
  • Wexhall Rd/Ballinger Dr (Greencastle Rd to Robey Rd) – Buffered bike lanes

Westlake Drive:

In rural areas, the plan proposes bikeable shoulders on several more roads.  It does this almost casually, covering many roads where there’s little hope of adding shoulders, like Seneca Rd or rural Clarksburg Rd.  Rural Montgomery County can be a conundrum for road cyclists who don’t want to “take the lane” on fast roads – full of missing links and few comfortable ways to get there by bike.  At least the plan calls for retention of what shoulders already exist in rural areas.

A parting thought

Sometimes I feel as if there’s a defensive posture in bike planning circles due to resistance planners must have received from avid cyclists when protected bike lanes were first proposed — resistance based on the notion that cycling is easier and safer when you’re not trapped along the edge of the road, possibly going in the wrong direction.  Years of being told to “get on the bike path” can make bikers grumpy, and then to hear it from bike planners, well, that couldn’t have gone over well.  Defensiveness can lead to fear of any messages that could be construed as distracting or mixed — messages like shoulders have value or dual bikeways are a good option.  In the new draft Bicycle Plan, neither the objectives,  metrics nor road-by-road recommendations pay much heed to the value of facilities that aren’t defined as low stress.  But I shouldn’t be too critical.  The plan authors did add a nice statement in the plan that truly acknowledges the value of shoulders (a statement I submitted by the way), which I appreciate.  But I’m concerned that this plan (and almost every plan I’ve seen touting protected bike lanes) characterizes research data in a way that dramatically understates the percentage of likely cyclists who are confident riding in shoulders.  That’s a sign that people might be trying just a little too hard to push for their favorite facility type.  But then, we’re all zealous from time to time or we wouldn’t be good bike advocates!

Jul 022018
 

The County Council is now soliciting public comments on the new draft Bicycle Master Plan, which will chart the future of biking in the county for years to come.  The plan includes a main document and appendices (see the “Download” links on that page).  See also the handy map of planned bikeways on that page.

The Council will make changes to the plan in response to comments they receive.  So it’s important to weigh in now!   The public hearing will be on Tuesday, July 10 at 7:30 pm at the Council Office Building (100 Maryland Ave, Rockville, MD, third-floor hearing room).  Sign up online to testify or call 240-777-7803 by 10 am on July 10.  The Council will begin deliberations on the plan in the fall.

If you prefer, you can submit written comments instead of (or in addition to) speaking.  Email comments to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Speakers are encouraged to email a copy of their testimony 48 hours before the hearing, and are encouraged (but not required) to bring 15 copies of their testimony to the hearing.  The hearing will be streamed online.  To learn more about the County Council, see their web page.

The goal of the Bicycle Master Plan is to make Montgomery County a place where anyone can get around by bike.  It does this by calling for many more “low stress” bikeways like protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), shared use paths, and bicycle boulevards.  This is an important paradigm shift that will get more people on bikes.

There is some concern that the plan is omitting shoulders and conventional bike lanes used by cyclists today.  Low stress bikeways don’t have to be an either-or proposition.  Montgomery Bicycle Advocates (MoBike) requests keeping several shoulders and conventional bike lanes in addition to provision of low stress bikeways.  That will make this a truly great plan.

See the Bicycle Master Plan home page for more information on the history and process behind the plan.

Nov 282017
 

Not long ago, there were no protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks) in Montgomery County, but now there are three, with more are on the way.  As a result, county bikeway designers are faced with many decisions they never had to make before. How should PBLs be separated from the street?  How can cyclists make left turns?  And so on.

One question that I find especially important is this:

What should protected bike lane crossings look like?

I’m referring to the green areas where a protected bike lane crosses a street or driveway.  There’s a growing push across the country for what I call the “floating bars” design, which resembles a ladder consisting only of rungs.  This is very similar to “continental” pedestrian crosswalks that are the new standard in Montgomery County.  The bike crossings are colored green (using thermoplastic paint in high-wear areas) whereas pedestrian crosswalks are white.  Here’s a protected bike lane crossing a driveway in Rockville:

Protected bike lane crossing on Nebel Street in Rockville

For comparison, here’s a solid painted crossing:

Protected bike lane crossing in Davis, California

Concerns about “floating bar” crossings

Montgomery County has decided to use the floating bar design for all new protected bike lane crossings.  But I believe solid painted designs are far superior in most contexts.

My first concern is that floating bars do not visually define or declare the crossing as well as a solid area does.  Solid crossings aren’t merely visible; they are bold and conspicuous.  A solid area literally resembles a path crossing the street.  So a solid area does a better job alerting drivers that they’re coming to a bikeway, and drivers who see it as a bikeway are more likely to look for rapidly approaching cyclists.  Drivers who see it as a bikeway are more likely to stop before the crossing rather than on top of it.  Drivers are often hesitant to stop on top of large painted areas in any case, based on my observations.  The edges of solid crossings are better defined, less “permeable” so to speak.  We all know that drivers don’t take barred crosswalks seriously enough, often pulling across them before stopping if they stop at all.

My second concern is this:  Intersections with protected bike lane crossings also typically have crosswalks, which can result in a virtual flotilla of floating bars.  All the bars can be difficult for drivers to decipher in a few seconds.  One barred crossing by itself might be easy enough to process, provided the bars aren’t too far apart.  But when there are lots of bars belonging to multiple bike and ped crossings, it gets hard to pick out one from another, like a herd of zebras.  The bike crossings might not form a simple square around the intersection like crosswalks do, but may form more complex arrangements, with some closer to the intersection, some further away, and some that don’t even reach the curb (ending at another crossing).  So it’s crucial to make each crossing as visually clear as possible.  Solid paint would go a long way towards helping drivers disentangle the bike crossings from each other and from the crosswalks.

This what the intersection of Nebel Street and Old Georgetown Road looks like to a driver:

To a driver turning left, the further green bars are hard to distinguish from the white bars, as seen below (look at the bars under the white SUV):

That’s a lot of bars!  And this is just a small intersection with a three-way stop.

Curiously, “Nebel” is the German word for “fog”.

Solid paint examples

Below is the Millennium Trail (a shared use path) where it crosses Henslowe Drive in Rockville.  The crossing is very clearly defined, with red pavement and white lines on each side.  The red pavement even has a stamped brick texture, adding to the effect.  Visually it looks like a path.

The effect is more striking when bright green paint is used, like on Woodglen Drive (where the protected bike lanes predate the county’s switch to floating bars):

This is further north on Woodglen Drive:

Compared to disconnected bars, this solid green crossing has more “weight”.  Drivers are more likely to interpret this as a bikeway, and less likely to turn across it without looking for bikes.  Compare that side by side with the Nebel mishmash:

Side by side comparison

Bar dimensions and spacing

If floating bars must be used for cost reasons, the bars should at least be close together.  But as the county builds more protected bike lanes, the bars seem to be getting further and further apart.  On Nebel St., some look like they’re 2′ apart, equal to the width of the bars themselves (similar to pedestrian crosswalk dimensions), but most of the crossings on Nebel appear to have a 3:2 gap to bar ratio (equivalent to 3′ gaps and 2′ bars) or a 2:1 ratio (equivalent to 4′ gaps and 2′ bars).  Here’s a view of Nebel showing what looks like a 2:1 ratio on one side of the street and 1:1 on the other side:

Bars in foreground are more widely spaced than bars in background

I didn’t actually measure the widths (I eyeballed it) but on some crossings the bars appear to be less than 2′ wide.  The distance between bars isn’t always constant from bar to bar, as if the road crews eyeballed it.  The actual width of the bars isn’t as important as the relative width — i.e. the ratio of gap width to bar width.  So I’ll cite ratios here.

In any case, the county is now adopting a 3:1 standard, equivalent to 6′ gaps between 2′ bars.  This can be seen in the newest protected bike lanes, on Spring Street in Silver Spring.  Here the bike crossing is barely noticeable compared to the crosswalk:

Spring St/First Ave. bike lane crossing where the gaps are three times as wide as the bars

This is really not enough to visually define the crossing.  But there’s more.  Some driveway crossings along the Spring St. bike lanes appear to have a 4:1 ratio, possibly 6′ gaps between 1.5′ bars.   This is the exit from the MNCCPC parking garage:

MNCPPC garage exit onto Spring Street

A lot of drivers exiting the garage will simply see three isolated green rectangles, not a bikeway crossing.  The bars are too far apart to define a line.  (Update Feb. 2018: Due to grit that’s accumulated in the crossing, one of these bars is very difficult to see at all).  Some commercial driveways on Spring are even worse, with just one bar in the path of drivers.

So if a floating bar design is to be used, the bars must be close together.  Spacing must be 1:1.  Spacing of 2:1 or higher completely ruins their effectiveness.

Other bar styles

The county might also look at changing the bar style.  For example, more of each bar could be white – like one or two feet at each end, not just a few inches.  The white ends of the bars would almost resemble the parallel rows of squares in this Dutch example (but with green bars instead of a solid red background).  With less green paint per bar, the bars could be brought closer together without adding cost.  The crossing would look less like a crosswalk, but might be confusing in other ways, so I don’t know if that particular design would help.  But my point is that other designs should be explored.

Pros and Cons

There are perhaps three good arguments against solid painted crossings:

  1. They might not alert cyclists to the fact they’re crossing a street or driveway.
  2. They could be mistaken for things like bike boxes and queue boxes, which also use solid green paint.
  3. They are more expensive to build and maintain.

It’s not a problem for me, but I could see where some cyclists might not realize they’re crossing a street when the crossing is solid green without additional cues, especially if the non-crossing portion of the bike lane is also solid green.  But there are a variety of ways to let cyclists know they’re crossing a street, in particular dashed edge lines to markings alongside the crossing like these in AmsterdamVancouver, and our own North Bethesda.  Stop signs can be used at some locations.  Another solution is the hybrid style of crossing I propose below.  Floating bars may still be appropriate in special contexts, like turn lane crossovers, where drivers might not be sure they can cross the bike lane, justifying a more “porous” appearance.

Differentiating solid bike crossings from other uses of solid green paint like bike boxes and queue boxes is an issue as well.  Some intersections use quite of bit of solid paint for these elements.  Of course these elements may be mistaken for crossings even when the real crossings use floating bars.  The problem is compounded by bike emblems in bike boxes showing a cyclist (or a little parade of cyclists) riding from right to left, suggesting it’s a perpendicular crossing.  Distinguishing between solid areas may come down to using special edge lines or the hybrid crossing style I propose below.  Such ergonomic issues have been studied and resolved in countries like Denmark, so solutions using solid paint are possible.

Cost is important of course.  I believe it’s the single biggest factor driving the push towards floating bar designs.  Some arguments for floating bars seem to be rationalizations in service of saving money.  Green thermoplastic paint is very expensive.  When the paint wears out, barred designs allow for easier replacement of just the worn sections. But at some point the savings do not justify putting cyclists at greater risk.  Why provide protected bike lanes at all if we skimp on the protection at intersections, where riders are already less protected?  There may however be ways to use somewhat less paint without impacting safety.

Note that European countries often mix the color into the pavement when the road is surfaced, which is something to consider here.

Here are the weaker arguments in favor of floating bar crossings, with my responses:

  1. In driver thinking (and designer thinking), dashed lines are okay to cross and solid lines are not.
    • This is a weak argument given the many other uses of solid lines that may be crossed, including older style crosswalks that have edge lines.  If anything this argument supports solid crossings, since drivers should think twice (and look carefully) before driving over a bike crossing.  Often the drivers are supposed to stop.  The white lines bordering the crossing can be dashed in any case.  Barred crossings could still be used in certain contexts, such as turn lane crossovers.
  2. Foreshortening makes barred crossings appear dense when it matters most, to drivers who approach at higher speeds (i.e. parallel to the crossing, then turning across the crossing).
    • Nevertheless, 2+ ton vehicles approaching from the perpendicular direction are still very dangerous.  There’s no such thing as a safe collision, and the vehicle could run over the cyclist or push him into traffic.  Drivers pulling out and turning right are particularly hazardous in the case of two-way PBLs and sidepaths, something known to all bikeway designers (but unfortunately not to all cyclists).  Moreover, vehicles stopping in the bike lane are quite a nuisance, obstructing the lane.
  3. Stripes are more conspicuous than solids.
    • If you’re looking at wallpaper, yes.  But solid bike crossings can be very striking — more so than floating bars usually — because they add a lot of color.  Just look at the examples in this post.  Bars on the other hand, when viewed by a driver perpendicular to the crossing, look less like stripes and more like small rectangles.  In any case, the important thing is how drivers process and interpret the crossings, in which case solid crossings are the much better choice.  Also the value of striping rests on the contrast between light and dark areas, but I theorize that green isn’t all that different from gray in terms of lightness, like in this photo. (That bike crossing is oddly labeled a crosswalk by NACTO — if they can’t tell a crosswalk from a bike crossing, who can?)

Where is the research?  Industry experts seem to defend one standard over the other without studies to back it up.  Yet in the Netherlands and Denmark, solid bike crossings are widely used, so in the absence of any research, it seems reasonable to do as they do.  This is in Copenhagen:

Solid bike lane crossing in Copenhagen (photo by Keith Hauser)

Here’s a video of an interesting Dutch roundabout.  Note the borders of the crossing areas:

Hybrid crossings

To address concerns about both floating bars and solid crossings while saving paint, I propose what I call a hybrid crossing.  It’s neither solid nor striped, but rather consists of a pattern of smaller shapes, like a solid area with a visual (not physical) “texture”.  Some might call it a patterned crossing.  It would have the perceptual impact of solid paint but would clearly be distinguishable from areas that must be solid, like bike boxes.  It also wouldn’t be hard to pick out among pedestrian crosswalks.  A surprisingly solid feel can be achieved with just 25% paint coverage, equivalent to the 3:1 bar design (2′ bars and 6′ gaps).  Even better is 40% coverage, equivalent to 2′ bars with 3′ gaps.

Consider the following design, which has 50% paint coverage:

Checkerboard style

The following pattern has only 25% paint coverage:

Floating diamonds

Possibly the rows of diamonds in the above design might look like stripes when viewed from a distance.  To fix that, the shapes could be staggered (25% coverage):

Offset floating diamonds

If it works better, the edge lines could be dashed instead of solid.

Below is a more complex design (I’m guessing 33% paint).  Feasibility may depend on how hard it is to paint these odd shapes:

Floating semi-circles

And of course there’s polka dots (50% coverage as shown):

Polka dots

Some jurisdictions install artistic crosswalks that convey some local theme.  This might be popular in Maryland, with the added benefit of taking days to paint, keeping road crews fully employed:

Go Maryland!

Let’s innovate…

The national consensus on many PBL design issues is far from settled.  There is certainly room for local planners to experiment and improvise.  I think Montgomery County is in a good position to try innovative solutions like hybrid bike crossings.  National consensus seems to be coalescing prematurely around an inferior solution.  It only takes a few influential consulting firms to spread such a consensus across the country, creating an environment where cyclists pushing for alternative solutions at the local level face an uphill battle.  So the county should act now to try new things.

 Posted by at 12:40 am on Nov 28, 2017  Comments Off on Green bike crossings – solid, stripes or polka dots?
Aug 142017
 

Suburban Hospital in Bethesda is undergoing a large expansion, doubling the size of its footprint.  The expansion should allow the hospital to provide more care to the community.  I’m grateful for the hospital’s presence, since members of my family have received excellent care there.

But the expansion removed a block of Lincoln Street that provided an important bike connection between Old Georgetown Road and Grant Street.  Grant St. is a major north-south bike route one block west of (and parallel to) Old Georgetown Rd.  Old Georgetown is the site of the Bethesda Trolley Trail, which is implemented as a sidepath on the east side of the road.  The National Institutes of Health, a major destination for cyclists, is located on the east side Old Georgetown across from the hospital.  So the Lincoln connection was crucial.  This map shows the removed segment of Lincoln, with the hospital in gray:

Lincoln Street closure

So to replace the closed segment of Lincoln, county planners stipulated that the hospital must build a bike detour route on its property. But inexplicably the planners didn’t require the detour to actually reach Old Georgetown Road!  The hospital is providing a detour path that only reaches Southwick Street.  Here is the hospital site plan with the detour shown in blue:

Hospital site plan with detour path highlighted

Cyclists can still ride on Southwick (as they always could) but there’s no signal or break in the median at Old Georgetown and Southwick, so cyclists can’t cross Old Georgetown there.  The whole point of having a detour is to get riders to the BTT and NIH on the east side of Old Georgetown Rd.  Cyclists need to be able to get to the signalized intersection where Lincoln previously connected to Old Georgetown, which is now the hospital’s main entrance.

Planners also failed to require wider sidewalks along Old Georgetown or Southwick next to the hospital.  These sidewalks, built (or rebuilt) as part of the expansion, are only 5′-6′ wide, not wide enough to be reasonably shared by pedestrians and cyclists.  If these sidewalks had been constructed as a 10′ wide path, it would have extended the detour path to the signalized intersection, allowing cyclists to cross Old Georgetown safely.  The following diagram depicts that option (widened sidewalks shown in magenta):

Detour path if key sidewalks were widened (widened sidewalks shown in magenta)

But although the expansion project completely built (or rebuilt) these sidewalks, it did not widen them!

Without any sidewalk improvements, the best detour route for cyclists – if they can find it – is to use the hospital’s internal street to get from the truncated detour path to the light at the main entrance.  It’s not ideal, but if it were signed as a bike route, it would solve the detour problem.  Here is that detour:

Detour that uses hospital internal street

ADDITIONAL SIDEWALK

As a related issue, the county should widen the next block of sidewalk to the north (on the west side of Old Georgetown from Southwick to Greentree Road) to provide better access to the Capital Bikeshare station in that block.  This is approximately 120′ of sidewalk.  See more discussion below.

BIKEWAY CONTEXT

The following map shows the various bike routes for context: The Grant Street bike route to downtown Bethesda; the Bethesda Trolley Trail; the closed segment of Lincoln Street; and a spur route to the Capital Crescent Trail:

Click here to see this map in Google.

The Grant Street bike route is important for cyclists in its own right, linking Democracy Boulevard to downtown Bethesda.  Obviously the Bethesda Trolley Trail is important.  Moreover, there’s a hybrid route that follows the Bethesda Trolley Trail north of Lincoln and the Grant route south of Lincoln.  The BTT south of Lincoln is quite arduous because it’s narrow and full of pedestrians.  Grant south of Lincoln is more direct and comfortable to destinations like Bethesda Row, Bethesda Metro and the Capital Crescent Trail.  So BTT riders may cut over to Grant.  Lincoln was the most convenient way to do so.  Lincoln also linked NIH to neighborhoods to the west.  So Lincoln had bike route signs and was designated in county planning documents as a “shared roadway” bikeway (number PB-22).

PLAN FAILURE

In 2013 the Montgomery County Planning Department recommended (and the Planning Board approved) the hospital’s site plan.  On page 3 of its approval recommendation, department staff recognized the Lincoln bikeway and stated that a detour path must be built to replace it.  Specifically, the approval required:

…A 20-foot wide public access easement for a pedestrian path through the subject property between the Grant Street/Lincoln Street intersection on the west and the intersection of Southwick Street and the proposed driveway near the northeast corner of the site, as a replacement for the master-plan-recommended shared-roadway bikeway section along existing Lincoln Street that will be abandoned  between Old Georgetown Road to the east and Grant Street to the west.

This language contradicts itself, calling for a full detour but requiring only a partial detour.  Didn’t planners know cyclists need to get to Old Georgetown Road and cross it?  Did they expect cyclists to use the hospital internal street?  I don’t hold the hospital responsible for this mistake.  It’s the Planning Department’s job to make sure bike accommodations actually serve cyclists.

NARROW SIDEWALKS

Cyclists who use the detour path can legally ride on the new sidewalks along Southwick and Old Georgetown to get to the hospital main entrance (formerly Lincoln) in order to cross Old Georgetown at the signal.  Many cyclists were already using the Old Georgetown sidewalk there due to the Lincoln closure.  But as noted above, the sidewalks are too narrow, despite being (re)built in a vast grassy area.  Putting cyclists on narrow sidewalks is bad for both cyclists and pedestrians.  If widened, the sidewalks would’ve extended the detour path to the signal cyclists need to get to, as shown in the diagram above.  No one seemed to figure that out.

Here is the rebuilt sidewalk along Old Georgetown Road:

Here is the new sidewalk on Southwick, only partially complete in this photo:

There appears to be plenty of room to widen the sidewalk to 10′ (as asphalt, because it’s a path) or to build a separate 8′-10′ path in addition to the sidewalk.  Adding a separate path might be best, as it would tend to separate bikes and pedestrians, would be further from the street, and would not require tearing out a brand new sidewalk.

DETOUR THROUGH THE HOSPITAL

Fortunately cyclists can still physically ride through hospital property, starting on the detour path and transitioning to the hospital internal road, to emerge at the hospital main entrance, as shown above.   The question is: will Suburban Hospital sanction the internal road as a bike route?  It would require two or three bike route signs in each direction, in addition to whatever signs are posted on the detour path.

The county must sign at least one connection between NIH/BTT and Grant.  Two alternative connections are 1) Greentree Road, and 2) Sonoma Road.  But Greentree is a busy narrow road, and westbound cyclists might have to stop in the middle of the lane to wait to turn left from Greentree onto Grant, which is potentially dangerous.  Sonoma is another option, but it lacks a signalized crossing of Old Georgetown Rd.  It’s already a bike route and certainly better than Southwick, since Old Georgetown has a protected median at Sonoma.  But it’s hard to imagine a sign on the Bethesda Trolley Trail directing cyclists to leave the trail mid-block and cross to Sonoma.  Our goal is to provide a detour that can be signed.

By the way, here’s an artist’s rendition of the expansion site plan, highlighting the detour that uses the internal street.  Click to enlarge:

Illustration highlighting the internal street detour

TIMING: URGENT!

As soon as possible, Suburban Hospital should consider widening its sidewalks along Old Georgetown Road (north of the main entrance) and Southwick Street.  Narrow sidewalks have already being built, but trees haven’t yet been planted.   It may be best to add a new 8′-10′ path parallel to the new sidewalk rather than just widening the new sidewalk, as discussed above.  Of course in reality, neither the hospital nor the county will want to touch the site plan again.  As simple as it would be to widen a sidewalk, the legal issues associated with hospital expansion over the past few years mean changing plans would be difficult if not impossible.  It would be easier to rebuild a sidewalk that’s been in place for years (like the one in front of NIH across the street) than deviate from such a contended development plan.

If that isn’t done, the hospital should allow bike route signs along the detour path and from the detour path to the hospital main entrance (via the internal hospital street).  Sign design and installation could be handled by the Planning Department or by county DOT — the Planning Department because it’s responsible for the detour problem, or DOT because it has considerable experience with bike route signing.

An added wrinkle is that the Planning Department just approved the hospital’s signage plans, which didn’t include any bike route signs (though I asked the department to pursue signs over a year ago).

ADDITIONAL SIDEWALK

There is a Capital Bikeshare station on the west side of Old Georgetown Road just north of Southwick St., but it can’t be reached from the north, south or east without riding on the sidewalk.  Presumably the county’s intent was for many Bikeshare riders to cross Old Georgetown Road at Greentree Road to get to this station.  To do that, riders must use the narrow sidewalk on the west side of Old Georgetown between Greentree and Southwick.  So this block of sidewalk should be widened.  This would mean rebuilding an actual 120′ of sidewalk, presumably leaving the BikeShare station as-is.  There appears to be room to do this.  Here are some photos:

Widening this sidewalk segment could also provide another Lincoln detour option, but it’s not ideal for that given the proximity to the street and possible conflicts with the parking lot, bus stop, and Bikeshare station.  Such a detour would consist of Southwick, this segment of sidewalk, and the Greentree crossing of Old Georgetown.

 Posted by at 2:08 pm on Aug 14, 2017  Comments Off on Suburban Hospital Expansion – What about bikes?
Mar 222016
 

Wow, it’s been more than ten years since I started poring over bike budgets.  I still remember analyzing the 2005-2010 budget.   That’s so long ago that some of the projects in that budget are actually complete! (but many aren’t).  It’s so long ago that two-way cycle tracks were still called bike paths.

Seriously, the County Executive’s recommended 2017-2022 Capital Budget (technically the “FY17 Recommended Capital Budget and FY17-22 Capital Improvements Program”) is a solid improvement over budgets from ten years years ago.  Support for bicycling has never been stronger in the county, thanks to growth in ridership and attitudinal shifts in county government.  But the county still has a long way to go.

The capital budget covers six years but is rewritten every two years, and can be amended in the in-between years.   The County Executive submits a recommended budget in January of even-numbered years.  In the spring the County Council votes on the budget after making whatever changes it deems necessary.  County Council committees are tasked with reviewing the budget details in their area of purview and advising the full council.  The council T&E Committee has already sent its advice regarding bike projects in the CE-recommended budget (except MNCPPC projects) to the full council.

The county’s Operating Budget is a completely different budget that covers ongoing expenses like road maintenance.  I’m not discussing it here.

I like to group bike-related funding in the capital budget into four categories:

  1. Bike-related projects and programs that are standalone budget items (except MNCPPC projects).  These are projects big enough to be treated as separate items in the budget, plus programs that may include several smaller projects.
  2. Bike-related projects under “Facility Planning – Transportation”.  This budget item lists projects slated to begin Facility Planning (initial study and design) during the next 6 years.
  3. Bike components of other transportation projects.  Many road and bridge projects include bike components like sidepaths or bike lanes that aren’t recorded as bike expenses.  There’s a partial list of such projects on PDF page 228 (p. 21-2) of the capital budget document.
  4. MNCPPC bike-related projects.  These are projects that fall within MNCPPC’s purview, mainly park trails.

See below for brief project descriptions.  I gathered this information from the capital budget website, which is easy to use.  There’s also a 654-page PDF version.  Note that some of the web pages distinguish between the CE-recommended budget and the CC-approved budget.  Be sure to look at the CE-recommended budget, since the CC-approved budget is two years old.


BIKE-RELATED PROJECTS AND PROGRAMS IN THE CAPITAL BUDGET (EXCEPT MNCPPC ITEMS)

These are the bike-related items that are individually budgeted in the Transportation section of the County Executive’s recommended 2017-2022 budget.  All the transportation budget pages are here .  Below are the bike-related items.

  • Bethesda Bikeway and Pedestrian Facilities – Provides $2.4M over the next two years to carve out the surface route of the Capital Crescent Trail along Bethesda Ave, 47th St and Willow Lane. Bethesda Ave will get a two-way cycle track on the north side.  The Bethesda Ave/Woodmont Ave intersection will be modified to shorten the trail crossing distance.
  • Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Area (BPPA) Improvements – The program pays for targeted bike/ped improvements in the 28+ “BPPAs” (shown here). The County Executive requested $1M per year in his recommended budget, but the County Council is deciding whether to set funding at $2.5M per year in order to provide a robust network in Silver Spring as soon as possible.  The Silver Spring network is estimated to cost $6.2M during FY17-FY20.  Also scheduled (tentatively) are improvements in Grosvenor (FY17), Glenmont (FY18), Wheaton CBD (Fy18) and Viers Mill/Randolph Rd (FY19).  Already funded is the Spring Street cycle track project.
  • Bikeway Program Minor Projects (previously the Annual Bikeway Program) – This is budgeted at $530K per year, though in practice additional funds may be provided if necessary.   It’s intended for projects under $500K and studies of larger projects as well as bikeway signs and bike racks.  The program gives DOT and stakeholders discretion to choose smaller projects on a streamlined basis.  Projects planned by DOT over the next six years include:
    • An 0.4 mile Avery Road sidepath from Muncaster Mill Rd to the Lake Needwood entrance – $475K
    • A 550′ sidewalk widening to complete the path along MD 355 from Strathmore Ave to Tuckerman Lane – $750K
    • An 0.3 mile cut-thru path from Crabbs Branch Way to Brown St – $400K
    • A mile-long path connecting MD 108 and Fieldcrest Rd to Zion Rd, to be built in the PEPCO right-of-way – $300K for study/land acquisition only
    • Possibly (per Council staff recommendation) an 0.2 mile Emory Lane sidepath between Muncaster Mill Rd and Holly Ridge Rd, which would complete a link from the Lake Frank Trail to the ICC Trail and Bowie Mill Park in Olney – $260K
  • Capital Crescent Trail –$96M is budgeted over the next 6 years to complete the CCT from Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring, including grade-separated crossings of Connecticut Ave and Jones Bridge Rd. It will be built in conjunction with the Purple Line, so the schedule is dependent on the Purple Line schedule.
  • Falls Rd East Side Hiker/Biker Path – This would be an 8′ wide sideepath from River Rd to Dunster Rd, roughly 4.2 miles. Due to the high $25M cost it likely will never be built, but it lingers on in the budget, getting delayed with each new budget.   A sidewalk on the west side is still needed however.  A parallel route on minor streets is availble (though hillier and 30% longer).
  • Frederick Rd Bike Path – This sidepath would be built along MD 355 between Stringtown Rd and Milestone Manor Lane (near Brink Rd) in Clarksburg, roughly 2.5 miles.  Some sections already exist.  It’s slated for FY17 and FY18 and costs $7M.
  • Life Sciences Center Loop Trail – Slated to cost $400K over the next 2 years.  This is a 3.5 mile loop consisting of 10′ to 12′ wide sidepath.  It will widen existing sidewalks along Omega Dr, Fields Rd, Decoverly Dr, and Medical Center Way as needed, and be built along streets west of Great Seneca Hwy that are yet to be built, presumably with developer help.
  • MacArthur Blvd Bikeway Improvements – $9M over the next six years (in addition to $9M already spent) to complete the 4.7 mile long sidepath + shoulder project along MacArthur Blvd between the D.C. line and the Beltway. This improves the path and nominally improves the roadway.  One of the three segments to be improved has been completed, though unfortunately the completed shoulder appears to be narrower than what the design specified.
  • MD 355 BRAC Crossing – Slated to cost a total of $72M through completion in FY19 but it keeps getting delayed. This is a tunnel crossing of MD 355 at Medical Center Metro.  It’s being promoted as a bike/ped facility, but there must be 10 other grade-separated crossings in the county that are just as useful to cyclists and any 5 of them could be built for the cost of this one tunnel.
  • MD 355-Clarksburg Shared Use Path – A $3.3M, 0.7 mile sidepath/sidewalk along the east side of MD 355 in Clarksburg, to be completed by FY20. It would extend from Stringtown Rd north to Snowden Farm Parkway, but the southern two thirds would just be a 5′ sidewalk.   Together with the Frederick Rd Bike Path and proposed Little Bennett Park Trail Connector, this would create a sidepath over 4 miles long, but 0.4 miles in the middle would be just 5′ wide.  That’s not acceptable.
  • Metropolitan Branch Trail – This is slated to cost $13M over the next three years, in addition to $5M that will already have been spent.  The project consists of an 0.6 mile segment of the trail between the end of the existing Met Branch Trail and the new Silver Spring Transit Center, including grade-separated crossings of Burlington Ave and Georgia Ave.  The budget calls for completion in FY19 but there are dependencies that could change this.  Here’s an article from last year.
  • Needwood Rd Bike Path – For $5.8M this includes a shared use path along Needwood Rd from Deer Lake Rd (near Redland Rd) to Muncaster Mill Rd, providing a crucial link to the ICC Trail. Total distance is roughly 1.7 miles.  $860K was provided by a state grant under the Maryland Bikeways Program.  The project also includes 450 of sidewalk on Muncaster Mill Rd (from Needwood Rd to Magruder HS).
  • Seven Locks Bikeway and Safety Improvements – This would provide both bike lanes and a shared use path along Seven Locks from between Montrose Rd and Bradley Blvd, roughly 3.3 miles. The project would also include a connecting path along Montrose Rd to I-270.  The cost is so high that the whole thing seems unlikely to happen… cost is listed as $28M through FY22, and “$50 to $60 million” for the full project.  The current shoulders aren’t terrible.   What’s really needed is a sidewalk between Tuckerman Lane and Bradley Blvd.
  • Silver Spring Green Trail – This urban “trail” (actually a sidepath) runs along Wayne Ave, currently from Colesville Rd to just past Fenton St.  This project will extend it all the way to the Sligo Creek Trail, adding about 0.8 miles.   Total cost is listed at $4.2M (with some already spent) and completion is set for FY19, but the project is entangled with the Purple Line so I wouldn’t trust the schedule.   Ultimately the trail is supposed to be extended west along Second Ave for some distance.

The following projects are being considered by the County Council for inclusion in the capital budget:

  • Bradley Blvd Bikeway – Council staff recommended that this dual bikeway project be put in the budget for completion by FY24.  Facility Planning Phase 2 (35% design) has been completed and the cost is estimated to be $18M.   The treatment would consist of bike lanes, a shared use path, and an additional sidewalk, along Bradley between Wilson Lane and Goldsboro Rd (with the path purportedly extending to Glenbrook Rd to get closer to the CCT).  I don’t know if the Council will add it.
  • Bowie Mill Rd Separated Bike Lanes This project would provide cycle tracks on Olney Mill Rd, which is master planned for bike lanes.  The Council T&E Committee recommended that funds be provided to plan the project (Facility Planning Phase 1?).

BIKE-RELATED PROJECTS UNDER “FACILITY PLANNING – TRANSPORTATION”

This budget item lists transportation projects to begin Facility Planning during the next 6 years.  It represents a sort of project pipeline.  Facility Planning includes two phases – an initial study and design phase and a 35% design phase.  Based on cost estimates from the first phase, the county can decide whether to continue the project.   According to the Facility Planning budget description page, the bike-oriented projects include:

Facility Planning underway or scheduled for FY17-18

  • Goldsboro Road bike lanes (MacArthur Blvd to River Rd)
  • MacArthur Blvd bikeway segment 1 (Stable Lane to I-495)

Facility Planning scheduled for FY19-22

  • Capitol View Ave/Metropolitan Ave sidewalk/bikeway (Forest Glen Rd to Ferndale St)
  • Falls Road sidewalk – west side (River Rd to Dunster Rd) – Not actually a bike project but I note it here because it’s the likely substitute for the Falls Road bike path

BIKE COMPONENTS OF OTHER TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS

Many road and bridge projects include bike components like sidepaths or bike lanes that aren’t recorded as bike expenses.  There’s a partial list of such projects on PDF page 228 (p. 21-2) of the capital budget document.


MNCPPC BIKE-RELATED ITEMS IN THE CAPITAL BUDGET

Below are bike-related projects in the recommended budget that fall under the purview of MNCPPC (whose budget is detailed here).  MNCPPC is the agency that includes the Parks Department, so the projects are mostly park trails.  I’m not including natural surface trails.

  • Trails: Hard Surface Design & Construction – This provides for new hard surface trails that aren’t carved out as separate budget items. The budget provides $600K for the first year and $300K per year thereafter.  Additional funds can be sought from developers or grants.
  • Trails: Hard Surface Renovation – This provides for renovation of hard surface trails, which can often turn a bad trail into a good one.  The budget recommends $1M in each of the first two years, with $300K per year thereafter.
  • North Branch Trail – Listed as $4.4M in the budget, including $2M in federal aid, with completion scheduled for FY20. This 2 mile trail will have two parts, one connecting the Lake Frank trail to Muncaster Mill Rd at Emory Lane (plus parking), and another short segment connecting the ICC trail to the Preserve at Rock Creek neighborhood.

Funding for the the following trail was requested by MNCPPC but not included in the CE-recommended budget:

  • Little Bennett Park Trail Connector – A $2.8M project  to provide a mile-long paved sidepath on the east side of MD 355 from Snowden Farm Parkway north to the planned Little Bennett Park Day Use Center.  It would extend the planned MD 355-Clarksburg Shared Use Path further north.   But the CE did not include the connector in the budget.
 Posted by at 3:14 pm on Mar 22, 2016  Comments Off on Bikes in the 2017-2022 Capital Budget
Apr 222015
 

According to Monte Fisher’s website, the Fishers Lane trail in the Twinbrook area is moving forward.  This came from M-NCPPC in March 2015:

JBG received bids from contractors on this project. Parks staff met with JBG representatives and went over the bids together two weeks ago. We agreed on the implementation strategy and JBG is working with the low bidder to clarify certain bid items. Hopefully they can finalize the contract soon. In the meantime, JBG and the Commission need to enter into an agreement to build the trail. We hope the construction can start this summer to take full advantage of the prime grading/construction season.

The developer JBG has been supportive and proactive on this project.  While the company is required to make area improvements as part of its construction of the NIAID building on Fishers Lane, the trail project had to pass muster with M-NCPPC and other agencies, not a sure thing without developer support.

The diagram below shows the Fishers Lane trail alignment.  The trail will end at the approach to the Rock Creek Trail bridge over Veirs Mill Road.

Trail alignment (bridges and boardwalk shown in red)

For more detail, see the final approved Forest Conservation Plan (dated October 2014).

The official name seems to be the Parklawn North Trail, but since it connects to Fishers Lane and not Parklawn Drive, we’re calling it the Fishers Lane trail.  The name is unrelated to Monte Fisher, but since he’s the number one supporter of the trail, it’s a nice coincidence!

 Posted by at 11:03 pm on Apr 22, 2015  Comments Off on Fishers Lane trail update
Apr 222015
 

As I described earlier, developers have chosen the name “Pike District” for the White Flint/Montrose/Twinbrook corridor along Rockville Pike.   The name makes me think of traffic congestion, but I realize it’s hard to come up with alternatives.  The developers include Federal Realty and JBG, among the most progressive supporters of smart growth and bicycling.  So I won’t hold the name against them.  They should be applauded for involving the public in the naming process.

The developers crafted a logo for the Pike District, shown below.  It’s rather clever, really…

Official logo

But for me, the name “Pike District” conjures up an image of bumper-to-bumper traffic, strip malls and car dealerships.  Parts of Rockville Pike (beyond the Pike District) will continue to be unpleasant for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike.  To be honest, the following logo seems more in keeping with the selected name:

The Pike indeed

Also the name “Pike District” isn’t very precise geographically.  Which part of the Pike is it?  Is it even Rockville Pike?  The Pike District as described to me is shown in red on this map I created (Rose Flint?) but I think it should also include the yellow area to reach Twinbrook Metro.  We always talk about “sense of place”, so here’s a name that emphasizes geography…

Place-based name

North Bethesda could fit in there too. Twinrockrosenobethflint?

However, a better name would promote the mixed use, transit-oriented vision of the corridor.  The name “Station District” might fit the bill (it reminds me of Pittsburgh’s Station Square).  Here’s a logo that evokes the Metro Red Line:

Station District logo

The sign below emphasizes bicycling and walking too, using a lot of clipart I don’t have the rights to:

Station District logo with all modes

Other Station District sign variations are here and here.  I always try to put my money where my mouth is, so I spent over $6 to reserve the domain stationdistrict.com.

Of course the best name of all would emphasize bicycling (this is a bike blog after all)…

Bike district logo incorporating “b” and “d”

An alternative Bike District design is here.

Lastly, here’s a logo that emphasizes zero-emissions transportation…

Zero-emissions vehicle

I realize now more than ever that coming up with a good name and logo is difficult.  I believe developers could’ve staged a public contest to generate lots of name ideas, then held a few meetings where attendees could pick the best one.  Maybe the county can still do that to choose a name for the entire corridor from Twinbrook Metro to White Flint Metro.

In the mean time, I’m calling it the Bike District.

Apr 012015
 

Montgomery County DOT convened a public workshop on the Bradley Boulevard Improvements project on March 23, 2015.   The open-house style workshop allowed people to view project plans, ask questions, and make comments to DOT staff.

Project Details

The project would improve the segment of Bradley Blvd from Wilson Lane to Glenbrook Road , including the Wilson Lane intersection:

Extent of the project

The project would convert Bradley into a “dual bikeway” having both bike lanes and an 8′ shared use path.  But it’s not just a bikeway project.  It would make major drainage improvements and add an additional sidewalk, representing a significant share of the cost.  For additional information, see the MCDOT official project description.

Typical cross-section of the project, provided by MCDOT.  The eastbound bike lane width may be different than shown.

The completed cross section would include:

  • 5′ wide bike lane on the north side, 5.5′ wide bike lane (including gutter) on the south side.  Only the south side would have a curb/gutter.  These are the minimum required widths to comply with county standards.
  • 8′ shared use path on the north side.  County standards call for 8′ – 10′, with 10′ preferred.
  • 5′ sidewalk on the south side
  • A wide swale as part of a new drainage system that complies with the county’s new stormwater management standards

The project would also improve the Wilson Lane intersection by adding proper turn lanes.  The easternmost block of the project, east of Kennedy Drive, would not get bike lanes.  That section currently has no shoulders or bike lanes, but the road abruptly widens to five lanes as you approach the section (six if you count the westbound lane used for parking) so it’s fairly comfortable for cyclists to “take” the lane.  That stretch is an ideal candidate for mid-lane sharrows.

Currently, most of the Bradley segment to be improved has 12′ travel lanes, no sidewalk or path, a very wide shoulder on the north side (typically 8′) and a narrow shoulder on the south side (in many places unsafe for biking). This section is typical:

Stormwater Management Improvements

The reconfigured road would have to adhere to the county’s newest SWM standards, which reduce the flow of sediment-laden, warmed-up water into county streams by filtering it through the soil instead of dumping it into storm drains.  But such systems take up space — in this case a wide swale between the roadway and the path.  Such drainage improvements are required for projects that significantly alter a road, but are justified here anyway due to existing drainage problems.  The improvements are included in the cost estimate for the project.

Project Status

The one mile project is nearing the end of Facility Planning Phase 2, at which point design will be 35% complete.  Then the County Council must decide whether to fund the full project.  If the project doesn’t happen, cost may be the culprit.  The latest rough estimate is $11 to $12 million for one mile of improvements.

Other Alternatives

The project is rather expensive.  If full funding can’t be obtained, here are some less costly alternatives to the proposed design:

  1. Provide the bike lanes and shared use path, but not the sidewalk on the south side — Instead of building two walkways on Bradley, use the money to add a sidewalk along a road that doesn’t have one yet.  But then accessing eastbound bus stops may require crossing the street where there’s no crosswalk.
  2. Provide the bike lanes and one sidewalk but not the shared use path – Reduces expense, but saves only 3′ of pavement compared to a single path while failing to serve off-road cyclists.  If sidewalk is on the south side, it might eliminate the need for expensive drainage changes, but would have other drawbacks.
  3. Provide the bike lanes and two sidewalks but not the shared use path – Saves only 3′ of pavement compared to the DOT solution while failing to serve off-road cyclists.
  4. Provide a one-way cycle track on each side instead of bike lanes, as well as a single sidewalk but not the shared use path – Due to the buffer, cycle tracks would require an extra foot on each side compared to bike lanes, but create a more comfortable on-road cycling experience, possibly alleviating the need for a full path.
  5. Provide only shoulders having the same dimensions as the proposed bike lanes, without any path or sidewalk – This can be achieved at vastly lower cost by just restriping the road, possibly with a few spot widenings at pinch points.  Marking them as shoulders rather than bike lanes allows pedestrian use.

Because many cyclists use the Bradley shoulder now, the street must continue serving on-road cyclists but under safer conditions.  Thus all of these alternatives have bike lanes or shoulders.

DOT was considering only three options as of October 2010, shown here.  They selected the third of their three options, but with slightly wider bike lanes.

Public Reaction

The public workshop was attended by some opponents (mainly homeowners living along Bradley) as well as supporters.  The opponents I spoke with were willing to accept some but not all elements of the project.  Here are my responses to some opponents’ arguments:

“It’s too much pavement” — The street itself would not be widened.  The sidewalk on the south side would add only 5′ of pavement, and the path on the north side would be far from the roadway.

“It will take up too much of my yard” — All the improvements would be placed in the state right-of-way, even if residents consider it part of their front yards.  Front yards on the south side are very small, so if any part of the project were canceled due to residential impacts, it should be the sidewalk on the south side.

I won’t be able to back out of my driveway because of all the cyclists and walkers” — This is tantamount to saying arterial roads lined with homes shouldn’t serve all travel modes because all the cyclists and pedestrians (but not the thousands of fast-moving cars) would make it too hard to back out.  Realize that many cyclists using the new facilities would otherwise be driving.  To the extent there would be path/driveway conflicts, surely it’s the path users who merit our concern.  To help cyclists avoid such dangerous conflicts, it’s important to provide bike facilities besides shared use paths along roads that have numerous driveways and cross streets, which is why the project includes bike lanes.

“Bike lanes are bad for bicyclists” – See below.

On Vehicular Cycling

One cyclist cited vehicular cyclist arguments against bike lanes or equivalent shoulders (cycle tracks must be an abomination then).  He said it’s better for cyclists and drivers to travel collaboratively on Bradley and he proposed 3′ or 4′ wide shoulders instead of bike lanes to reduce car speeds.  He said cyclists who don’t like it can use the shared use path.

But I find Bradley to be good candidate for bike lanes because it’s a long roadway where cyclists are not likely to be making many turns, yet traffic is not so fast that a physical barrier is required.  Traffic is fast and heavy enough that total lack of shoulders would deter all but the boldest cyclists, and 3′ – 4′ shoulders would be unsafe yet do little to reduce car speeds.  3′ – 4′ shoulders are a problem given the 11′ wide buses that ply the road and the fact that striping inaccuracy and edge deterioration can easily take away a foot. This would force many cyclists onto the path to deal with the driveway conflicts likely to occur there.   If Bradley had no shoulders at all, with just enough pavement for two buses to pass each other,  speeds might drop by a few miles per hour, but many drivers would still speed in their Autobahn-ready sports sedans with little time to react to cyclists encountered around blind curves.  The idea that drivers and cyclists can happily get along on a commuter artery without any way to pass is a highly doubtful, if the long history of driver-cyclist animosity on MacArthur Blvd is any guide.  (MacArthur is also a cautionary tale about 3 foot shoulders).

More cost estimates needed

I support the full solution proposed by MCDOT, but cost estimates should be developed for the other options in case the full solution can’t feasibly be funded.

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Mar 302015
 

The Carl Henn Millennium Trail along East Gude Drive is a notably unsafe and unappealing section of that well-used trail.  But it would be much improved if the county could convert it into a legitimate two-way cycle track with a separate sidewalk (like on Woodglen Drive in White Flint).  More realistically, it could be reconfigured as a sort of pseudo-cycle track that permits pedestrian use.

Two problems contribute to the lack of safety on the Millennium Trail between Rockville Pike and Norbeck Road:

  • Lack of a safety buffer or barrier between the trail and the street
  • Many busy driveway crossings, often in very close proximity to each other

As shown here, there simply isn’t enough separation between the trail and the street:

Multiple driveways to the same businesses could be combined:

Gas station entrances could be made safer through better pavement markings and signs:

The Millennium Trail is an important route for cyclists riding north and south through upper Rockville but want to avoid Rockville Pike.  It’s especially useful for riders coming from Gaithersburg via Crabbs Branch Way who want to reach downtown Rockville or use the Rock Creek Trail to continue south.

Perhaps the most feasible option is to upgrade the trail to look like a two-way cycle track (though still a shared use path), borrowing key features that generally make two-way cycle tracks safer than sidepaths.  Those features would include:

  • A barrier or buffer between the trail and the street
  • Prominent green painted crosswalks
  • Reduced number and width of commercial driveway crossings
  • Possibly a center line
  • Prominent signs and markings

Separating bikes and pedestrians would be ideal, but then you’d have to figure out where to put the sidewalk.  It would be difficult to find room for a buffer between cars and bikes, let alone a separate pedestrian facility.  In any case, possibly part of the roadway could serve as a safety buffer from cars, by adding a shoulder or even relocating the curb.  At one point the county was considering a road project to improve East Gude Drive, which would provide a good opportunity to make changes of that nature.

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Feb 052015
 

Click for Google street view

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

(April 23, 2015 update: The Pike District now has a logo, discussed here).

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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