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.

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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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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 Posted by at 12:21 am on Jan 11, 2015  Comments Off on Woodmont Ave cycle track options
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.  However, they are not completely without drawbacks, as noted below, so their suitability should be determined on a street-by-street basis.  To summarize, 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.

Cycle tracks may require more space than conventional bike lanes, depending on the street configuration.  However, it may be possible to place the cycle track on the sidewalk side of the curb where it doesn’t compete for space between the curbs as a conventional bike lane would.

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

Two-way cycle tracks along two-way streets have some 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.  Also, two-way cycle tracks can reduce access to one side of the street if the rider must make a U-turn and double back on the side without the cycle track to reach his or her destination.

Two-way cycle track on two-way street in Seattle with dedicated bike signal (click for Google street view).  The driver is disobeying the red arrow signal.

Cyclists who choose not to ride in a cycle track may face hostility from drivers who wonder why cyclists can’t use the obvious 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 undermine 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.

Providing both a shared use path and conventional bike lanes – a so-called dual facility – can be a good alternative to cycle tracks on some streets.  Experienced cyclists who would benefit from a faster facility may use the bike lanes while riders who prefer greater separation from car traffic may use the shared use path.

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