Feb 082014

The Maryland Department of Transportation just issued its new Twenty-Year Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.  According to MDOT:

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan establishes a 20-year vision to support cycling and walking as modes of transportation in Maryland. The Plan provides guidance and investment strategies to support cycling and walking, both on-road and off-road, as part of Maryland’s multimodal transportation network.

It’s not the kind of plan that stipulates which streets will get bike lanes and where paths will be built.  Instead the plan describes the current state of affairs, identifies objectives, lays out strategies and discusses implementation.  It presents a lot of useful facts as well.

The plan was released January 15, 2014.

 Posted by at 3:19 am on Feb 8, 2014  Comments Off
Feb 072014

On January 15th, County Executive Ike Leggett released his recommended 2015 Capital Budget and 2015-2020 Capital Improvements Program (CIP), aka the 2015-2020 Capital Budget.  It identifies capital project funding over the six year period starting with Fiscal year 2015 (which begins July 1, 2014).   The first two years of the budget, 2015 and 2016, are the ones to watch.  The other four years are “out-years” which represent intentions or best guesses but may change significantly.  The capital budget is re-crafted every two years.  It is amended during the other years or any other time as needed.  “Capital” projects essentially involve building, creating or designing things – as opposed to operating and maintaining things which is the purview of the Operating Budget.

Helpful hints

Most bike and pedestrian projects are identified under Transportation in the capital budget.

However, parkland trails usually appear under M-NCPPC in the budget (on the M-NCPPC page, note that some projects are listed only on the CIP230 form).

Each capital project has its own Project Description Form (confusingly abbreviated PDF) describing the project and its funding profile year by year.   These forms are very useful.

Facility Planning is a useful budget item to examine.  The Facility Planning-Transportation PDF (see the last page) identifies projects that the county plans to study in coming years.  Facility Planning is the phase of studying and doing preliminary engineering (up to 30% design) on a project before it’s allowed to move on to the next step with dedicated funding of its own.  Road, transit, and bikeway projects undergoing Facility Planning are grouped together for budget purposes under Facility Planning-Transportation.  The PDF for Facility Planning-Transportation gives insight into the future of bike projects in the county.

The Projects

The following dedicated bikeway projects are identified in the budget (not counting projects only scheduled for Facility Planning, or road projects with significant bike components):

  • Bikeway Program – Minor Projects.  This county program covers selected small projects up to about $500K each.  It was previously called the Annual Bikeway Program.  The program is flexible and allows individual projects to be approved fairly quickly by DOT working with bicyclists.  The fund may also be used to study larger projects.   Funded at approx. $500K year, it will receive an additional $500K in 2015 from the state’s Maryland Bikeways Program.
  • Bethesda Bike/Pedestrian Facillities.  Remaining work consists of upgrading the Capital Crescent Trail non-tunnel route through downtown Bethesda for about $1 million.
  • Capital Crescent Trail.  Completion of the CCT as a hard surface trail from Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring in conjunction with Purple Line construction.
  • Falls Road East Side Hiker/Biker Path.  A path along 4 miles of Falls Road in Potomac.  No money is allocated because it’s so expensive it will likely never be built (though a sidewalk may someday be built on the west side).  Likely cost of $15-20 million.
  • Frederick Road Bike Path.  A $7.2 million, 2.5 mile long shared use path along Rt. 355 in Clarksburg.
  • MacArthur Blvd. Bike Improvements.  An almost completed $8.7 million project improving a 2.6 mile path and widening a shoulder along MacArthur Blvd.  This project is the first segment of three to be improved (the next segment is in Facility Planning).
  • Metropolitan Branch Trail.  Extension of the Met Branch Trail over Georgia Ave. and into the Silver Spring Transit Center by 2018.  Funding estimated at $12 million
  • Needwood Road Bike Path.  Construction mainly of a 1.7 mile path along Needwood Road linking the ICC Trail to Lake Needwood.  Cost is $4.2 million, but much of this will be covered by the state’s Maryland Bikeways Program.
  • Seven Locks Bikeway & Safety Improvements.  This 3.3 mile new path & shoulder upgrade is prohibitively expensive at $27 million and no funding is allocated.
  • Silver Spring Green Trail.  Extension of this sidepath east of downtown Silver Spring in conjunction with Purple Line construction.
  • North Branch Trail.  The Executive’s budget provides no funding for this important M-NCPPC trail.  The park trail would extend the Lake Frank Trail northward across MD 115 and the ICC Trail until it reaches Olney.  In all, 2.2 miles of trail for $4.3 million by 2018 if funded.
  • Trails: Hard Surface Design and Construction.  M-NCPPC work on miscellaneous new hard surface trails, approximately $300K per year.
  • Hard Surface Trail Renovation. M-NCPPC trail renovation work, up to $800K per year.

The most critical concern is lack of any funding for the North Branch Trail (see map and PDF) in the Executive’s recommended budget.  M-NCPPC requested funding to complete the trail by 2018.  In fact the trail is already in the design phase.  The Executive cited “affordability” as the reason not to continue funding the trail.  It’s up to the County Council to make sure the trail is funded in the final budget.  Stay tuned.

Thanks to Jon Morrison for the original Share the Budget sign!
 Posted by at 3:35 am on Feb 7, 2014  Comments Off
Jan 272014

Good news…  An arrangement to fund and build the Fishers Lane Trail, which will connect Fishers Lane to the Rock Creek Trail near Rockville, has been approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board. Fishers Lane (the road) in turn connects to Twinbrook Metro and is relatively bikeable (in the roadway).  While ultimate construction of the trail depends on funding that has not been allocated, the major issues that jeopardized the trail appear to have been largely resolved.  The superb web page created by Monte Fisher (no relation) covers the trail project and its recent history.

The main issues facing the trail were:

  • The originally intended alignment became impossible due to a new plan to put Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the shoulder of Veirs Mill Road
  • Resolving that problem by moving the trail off the Veirs Mill Road shoulder would greatly increase the project cost.

Under the new arrangement, the developer JBG and the Parks Department have agreed to build the trail away from Veirs Mill Road.  While JBG was originally required to fund the entire trail as a condition of developing NIAID, now it’s only required to pay $900K and the Parks Department will cover the rest, though it may take some time for Parks funding to be available.  The Planning Board just approved this arrangement.  Everyone benefits.

The new alignment of the segment parallel to Veirs Mill Road will be located on parkland owned by MNCPPC.  This poses some technical challenges, but the Parks Dept. believes these can be resolved.  Also approved by the Planning Board is a minor change to the trail route south of Veirs Mill Road so the trail can cross Rock Creek on a bridge perpendicular to the stream rather than at an angle, reducing cost.

The original alignment is shown as the pinkish-purple line below (crossed out where canceled) and the new alignment will follow the red line (subject to some small changes since this map was drawn):

Original and new alignment

Unfortunately, the BRT plan precludes construction of a segment of the Veirs Mill Road sidewalk, shown in yellow, which would have been a vital connection for pedestrians and bicyclists.

For more about this trail, see Monte’s page.

 Posted by at 9:09 am on Jan 27, 2014  Comments Off
Jan 182014

County Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer have introduced a council bill to change county road standards in urban areas to better serve pedestrians and bicyclists.  Bill 33-13 seeks to 1) reduce car speeds, thereby making pedestrians and bicyclists safer, 2) stipulate certain road features to improve pedestrian safety and access, especially at crosswalks, and 3) better accommodate new technology including bike sharing.  Roger Berliner briefly summarizes the bill here.

Whenever roads are rebuilt or in some cases resurfaced, engineers can choose from a toolkit of improvements designed to make urban areas safer for biking and walking.  The tools include everything from curb extensions (aka bulbouts or neckdowns) that make crosswalks shorter to HAWK beacons that blink when a pedestrian wishes to cross the street.  One of the most effective things designers can do to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety is simply slow cars down.  One way to do this is by reducing the speed that drivers perceive is a safe maximum driving speed, using techniques such as narrowing lanes, making turns sharper, and reducing side banking on curves.  The “design speed” of a road refers to the speed it’s designed to accommodate, which is closely related to the speed drivers believe is safe.  County standards stipulate a target speed for each roadway type, indicating the prevailing car speed designers seek to achieve by adjusting the design speed and using other techniques.

With that in mind, Bill 33-13 was introduced to modify the county’s road standards governing urban streets as follows:

  • Reduce the widths prescribed by the standards for travel lanes, turning lanes, and parking lanes
  • Reduce the “target speeds” specified in the standards for various urban street types
  • Limit the size of curb radii in urban areas (i.e. make turns sharper)
  • Require curb extensions (aka bulbouts or neckdowns) at the end of parking lanes.
  • Require 6′ wide pedestrian refuges in the median of 6-lane divided roads at intersections
  • Require construction of curb ramps, curb cuts and sewer grates that are not hazards to bicyclists or wheelchair users and meet ADA standards
  • Require designs that facilitate future accommodation of technology such as bike sharing, car-sharing, electric car charging, intelligent signals, smart meters and way-finding systems
  • Permit the County Executive to contract with developers to share the cost of such technology

The Road Code

Montgomery County road standards are codified in a set of regulations commonly referred to as the “Road Code”.  To view the regulations, go to Chapter 49 of COMCOR here or open them in PDF form.  Chief among the Road Code’s stipulations are rules governing roadway target speeds, dimensions of various street elements (such as travel lanes, bike lanes,  shoulders, medians, sidewalks and tree panels), and stormwater management.   In 2008 these standards were substantially updated to make them more specific to their surroundings (context sensitive) and generally more accommodating of walking and bicycling than the old standards.  I served as the bicyclist representative on the Road Code Work Group, a task force of stakeholders tasked with coming up with new Road Code standards.

Designers and engineers do not have to blindly follow the Road Code.  Engineers can seek exceptions to the standards.  Planners have wide discretion to follow, extend, or deviate from the standards (the Planning Department has its own policies and interpretations) but the Road Code carries great weight and serves as default rules.  In any case all designs must be approved by the relevant bodies or officials (Planning Board, County Council and/or County Executive).

One of the guiding national manuals on context sensitive design is Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach sponsored by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.  This guide helped inspire some of the Road Code changes.

Travel Lane Width

The bill calls for travel lanes (not bike lanes) on some urban roadway types to be considerably narrower than what’s specified in the Road Code today.  The bill calls for the outside curb lane (the rightmost travel lane if it’s against the curb) on all urban streets to be 11′ wide including the gutter, and for other travel lanes to be 10′ wide including any left-side gutter.  Compare that to the templates in today’s Road Code which call for outside curb lanes in urban areas to be as wide as 14′ and inside lanes as wide as 12.5′ (and never less than 11′) depending on context.  Reducing lane widths in the Road Code could free up more space for bike lanes and other street elements as well as lead drivers to slow down.

Target Speed

The county designs its streets with a particular vehicular speed in mind, referred to as the target speed.   Target speeds for various contexts are officially specified in the Road Code. On all but the smallest streets (where target speeds are already 25 mph or less) and freeways, the bill would reduce target speeds on county roads in urban areas to a flat 25 mph.  Target speeds in urban areas in today’s Road Code are: 30-40 mph for Parkways, 25-40 for Major Highways, 25-35 for Arterials, 25-30 for Minor Arterials and Business District Streets and 25-35 for Industrial Streets, as specified on PDF page 24 in the text portion of the Road Code.

Bicycling Implications

MoBike and WABA are in the process of weighing in on the bill.  Certainly we welcome any reduction to automobile speed on county streets.  Allowing narrower lanes leaves more room for bike accommodations.  I thank councilmembers Berliner and Riemer for paying attention to pedestrian safety.  As a bike advocate and a parent and a fellow vulnerable road user (and indeed often a pedestrian myself), I feel cyclists have to stick up for pedestrian safety.

But there is a possibility here of unintended consequences, because making some roadway features larger can take away space utilized by cyclists.  Preliminarily, here are some concerns:

1. Most of the bill appears to modify only county laws (County Code), not regulations.  The Road Code is specified as a set of regulations. Thus the requirements added by the bill could possibly supercede the Road Code, in practice if not in theory.  If the bill simply directs the county to adopt new regulations then this is not such a concern.  It’s important to understand that the Road Code attempts to balance different uses of limited roadway right-of-way.  Not all street elements of desired width can fit on every road, and the Road Code suggests ways to balance the elements with one another, whether it’s sidewalks, bike lanes, tree panels or medians.  Would the bill upset the balance by putting the new standards into the County Code rather than regulations?  This needs to be addressed.  The County Code and regulations (COMCOR) can both be viewed online.

2. The amendment stipulates a curb extension at the end of every parking lane.  However, extensions can cause problems for bicyclists, who often ride in the parking lane to stay out of the flow of car traffic.  It would be better to recommend the extensions on a case by case basis based on context.  The new standard should mention curb extension designs that are more bike-friendly.

3. Pedestrian refuges are important because they protect pedestrians crossing wide streets, but requiring by a 6′ refuge at every intersection could preclude other elements that may be more important in some contexts, possibly including bike lanes.

4. The existing Road Code also has some oversights that should be rectified either in this bill or a later one.  None of the four templates for Business Streets (aka Business District Streets) in the existing Road Code make any provision for bike lanes, yet these streets are very common in sector plans and are vital for bike connectivity.  The oversight tells planners and designers that bike lanes are not so important on these streets.  Getting bike lanes on Business Streets can require street-by-street advocacy by advocates rather than being widely planned as a matter of routine.  If bike lanes are to be on equal footing as other street elements in the allocation of limited space, they at least must be an option within the existing templates.

5. On some street types, the Road Code templates call for a combined bike lane + parking lane width that is less than 14′.  While there may be situations where this is necessary, the templates should specify 14′ as the default.  This is the minimum needed to provide adequate separation from car doors.

The bill is a step in the right direction.  It also sets the precedent of making modifications to the Road Code, which bodes well for fixing its bike-related problems.   It remains to be seen how all the stakeholders in the Road Code development process including MCDOT, MNCPPC, environmentalists, MCPS, the fire department, the police department and AAA will respond to the proposal and to the idea of making changes through legislation rather than consensus.

Jan 152014

Trail advocates have recently been pushing the county to study the idea of building hiker-biker trails in the rights-of-way of major Pepco power lines.  These strips of land can be ideal sites for trails because they are generally free of development and forest cover, consist of many miles of continuous straight segments, and cut directly from community to community to create excellent connections.

Montgomery County’s Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee  (PBTSAC) has commissioned a working group of public officials and stakeholders to explore the issue.  The PBTSAC may then make a recommendation to the County Executive and/or County Council.  The working group met with Pepco and presented its findings to the PBTSAC last week.

To sum it up, Pepco is very resistant to the idea.  The utility argues that it’s their land and cites everything from wanting to be good neighbors to fearing that people might light bonfires under their lines as reasons not to allow the trails.  In response to the well-supported argument that the extra eyes and ears of trail users would improve security in the corridors,  Pepco asserts that they already watch the lines.  Yet they claim that numerous security problems would arise despite their observation if trails were built, so clearly their observation has shortcomings and more eyes and ears would help.  It’s not unreasonable for Pepco to claim that they can do whatever they want with their own land, but as a utility they already have a mandate to use their resources to serve the public.  These resources include their power lines and the land under them.  If there’s a public benefit that can be gained through a second use of the land at virtually no expense or risk to the utility, Pepco should be required to allow this use.

John Wetmore of Perils for Pedestrians has compiled a gallery depicting trails under power lines that exist today around the country.

To elaborate on Pepco’s rationale against power line trails:

1. Safety.  Pepco says it’s safer not to have anyone near their high tension lines and that safety is their number one priority.  But we can point to a large number of trails along power lines that have not had any safety issues.

2. Private property.  Pepco does not even want us to use the term “right of way” because that might imply they only had an easement, whereas they own the land fee simple. They use the analogy that asking for a trail on their land is equivalent to asking for a neighborhood dog park in someone’s front yard.  Yet Pepco used condemnation powers (or the threat of condemnation) to take private property to assemble their utility corridors.  Shouldn’t the public get something back in return for allowing Pepco to condemn private property?  In any case, public use of these corridors should be considered part of Pepco’s mission to serve the public.

3. Liability.  Pepco feels they have the least liability when they post No Trespassing signs and forbid anyone to be on their land for any purpose.  But to address this concern, all 50 states have passed recreational use statutes.  Let’s ask Pepco what the shortcomings are in the Maryland recreational use statute that could be changed to address their liability concerns.

4. Good Neighbors.  Pepco says they have an obligation to their neighbors not to allow any activity on Pepco land that might disturb them.  Yet consider that many quality trails built in the county were initially opposed by immediate neighbors but embraced by communities they pass through.  If neighbor opposition always stopped trail construction, we’d have very few trails indeed.  Moreover, utility corridors are wide enough that the trails could be located considerable distance from rear lot lines.  The types of activities that tend to draw complaints, such as motorized ATVs, would remain illegal even with a trail there. 

Pepco does not talk at all about trails as a way to give back to the community  (“We’re connected to you by more than power lines” is Pepco’s registered trademark).  Allowing these trails could have a greater impact than all the other ways they give back to the community.

 Posted by at 9:04 am on Jan 15, 2014  Comments Off
Sep 232013

Montgomery County DOT is proposing to add bike lanes to Marinelli Road in North Bethesda.  The bike lanes would be added between Executive Blvd. and Rt. 355 and would be at least 5 feet wide.  Adding bike lanes would be accomplished by narrowing the existing travel lanes to as little as 10 feet (sometimes called a “lane diet”) as follows (click on photo to zoom):

MoBike requested this improvement after reviewing the White Flint Sector Plan, a template for the massive redevelopment occurring the White Flint sector.  The plan calls for far too few bike lanes on streets in the White Flint sector, including Marinelli Road.   Ironically it’s much easier to add bike lanes to an existing street in the sector than to a street that hasn’t been built yet, because for new streets the plan is very specific about pavement width, number of lanes, sidewalk features, etc.

It’s crucial to add these bike lanes now before redevelopment creates pressure to add or remove lanes or add parking or modify sidewalks in ways that could forever prevent bike lanes from being built.  The best window is right now, since the roadway is going to be resurfaced in the next few months.

The following diagrams show cross-sections and mock-up photos of the proposed changes.  Section “AA” (see satellite view) is relatively easy to restripe to include bike lanes while keeping the existing travel lanes:Google Maps shows the current section “AA” configuration:

View Larger Map

Kudos to DOT for their willingness to narrow the travel lanes to 10 feet.

But section “BB” is a challenge.  That’s because there isn’t enough room on the south side of the concrete median to provide two travel lanes and a bike lane.  DOT’s solution is to simply end the bike lane (with an “open” end) while the right-hand travel lane flows into the straight/right turn lane.  The straight/right turn lane would be 12′ wide.  DOT would paint sharrow symbols near the curb.

Unfortunately this forces cyclists to merge into right-hand lane traffic at the end of the bike lane or else get forced into the curb.  The cyclist has nowhere to go if he can’t merge in time.

If the DOT solution is adopted, the sharrows must be placed be in the center of the lane, not near the curb, because cyclists are safer taking the lane. (The sharrows may be accompanied by Bikes May Use Full Lane signs).  As far as lane width, a 12′ lane is too narrow to share side-by-side safely but too wide to make that fact obvious to drivers and cyclists alike.  A lane of that width leaves it unclear to some drivers whether they can pass a cyclist in the same lane, leading to driver anger when the cyclist takes the lane.  An 11′ lane is much less likely to have that problem, so DOT should make the right-hand lane 10′ or 11′ wide.  However, some cyclists prefer 12′ over 11′ (it is physically possible to share a 12′ lane with smaller vehicles).

It would be far better to remove the median which would allow the bike lane to continue all the way to the intersection.  According to DOT, removing the median would only cost on the order of $10K, though it would remove an unsanctioned pedestrian refuge. However, it’s unclear whether the bike lane could continue across the intersection.  If it absolutely cannot, removing the median is not an improvement.

Another solution is to change the travel lane configuration approaching the intersection with Rt. 355.  The new layout would have the left-hand lane of eastbound Marinelli flowing into the left turn lane, while cyclists and right-hand lane drivers would sort themselves into the two rightmost lanes  after the bike lane line ends.  Sorting could happen in a long stretch without lane lines (first graphic below), or the transition could be made more explicit (second graphic below or something similar).  Drivers would feel they have to merge into the flow of bicyclists, not the other way around.  It’s inferior to removing the median, but surprisingly it works on some other roads.

Possible Marinelli/355 intersection restriping - open mixing area

Possible Marinelli/355 intersection restriping - second option (rough idea)

This does however require drivers in the left lane to change lanes if they want to continue straight, something DOT will probably oppose.

Here’s the Google street view of the section BB (the reverse angle shows a better view).

View Larger Map

Whatever happens,  cyclists must tell DOT what they want soon, because the resurfacing project is scheduled to start in month or so.

 Posted by at 11:51 am on Sep 23, 2013  Comments Off
Sep 222013

The Montgomery County Parks Department is seeking public comments on  its new Rock Creek Trail Signage Plan and Trail Signage Design Manual.  Comments must be submitted to the Parks Dept. by September 30th.  The Rock Creek Trail Signage Plan identifies a comprehensive set of signs to be posted along the Rock Creek Trail.  The accompanying Trail Signage Design Manual will be used as a standard for future hard surface trail signage projects.   To submit comments or ask questions, contact Lucas Bonney, Project Manager, at Lucas.Bonney@MontgomeryParks.org or 301-495-2572.

According to the Parks Department, the effort is 50% complete, and…

Community comments on the proposed signage types are being solicited during the month of September 2013 in anticipation of briefing the Montgomery County Planning Board on the status of the project in October 2013.  New signage is planned to be installed along the Rock Creek Trail during late Fall 2013 / Winter 2014.

Question:  Do you prefer green signs or brown signs?  The Parks Department hasn’t decided yet (some diagrams show both).  Existing bike route signs along roads are green.

Not all signs are available for review yet, nor are the full documents.  When this goes before the Planning Board I will let them know that the community needs to be able to review all the material.  Just the images of the most important signs are available for review:

1. Trail gateway signs.  These are placed where users enter a particular trail.  The signs available for review at this time are:

2. Wayfinding signs – Indicate direction and mileages to important destinations.  If placed at intersections, they indicate destinations in each direction.  If placed between intersections, they indicate destinations ahead.

3. Trail warning signs – Alert trail users to sharp turns, steep slopes, limited visibility, dangerous crossings, etc.

4. Signs at road/trail intersections – Alert drivers to trail crossing, etc.

5. Regulatory signs

Not available for review yet are:

  • Mileage markers.  These are proposed for every one-half mile along the trail.
  • Trail etiquette signs.
  • Trail detour signs.

I generally like these designs.  The wayfinding signs are very similar to the signs MoBike and MCBAG worked out with MCDOT for bike routes on roads.. Great minds think alike!

More information, including schedule, is on the project web page at http://www.montgomeryparks.org/pdd/cip/rcreek_trail_signage.shtm .  To submit comments or ask questions, please contact Lucas Bonney, Project Manager, at Lucas.Bonney@MontgomeryParks.org or 301-495-2572.

 Posted by at 4:43 pm on Sep 22, 2013  Comments Off
Jun 132013

[Updated June 19th to reflect additional research]

Montgomery County is in the process of redeveloping the White Flint area, a 430-acre planning division located a few miles south of Rockville.  Under the White Flint Sector Plan, the area will be transformed from a hodge-podge of strip malls, commercial buildings and parking lots into a walkable mixed use community centered around the White Flint Metro station.  The plan’s vision is in part:

…transforming an auto-oriented suburban development pattern into an urban center of residences and businesses where people walk to work, shops and transit. Offices and plazas are full of workers during the day. At night and on weekends people attend the theater, visit galleries, and eat out… Rockville Pike will be transformed from a traffic barrier dividing the center into a unifying multi-modal boulevard…

The plan even states:

All streets must have ample space for pedestrians, bicyclists, and street trees.

This isn’t just an objective.  It’s a directive.  But the plan falls well short of meeting it.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation is trying to modify the plan by removing bike lanes and eviscerating a shared use path planned for an important road (Old Georgetown Rd) so they can retain more lanes for cars than the adopted plan stipulates.

Bike Elements – The Good

The plan talks about the importance of walking and biking.  It calls for the state to designate the area as a Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Area which allows for state funding of certain bike/ped improvements.  It calls for shared use paths or bike lanes along some streets, including currently hostile roads like Nicholson Lane, Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike.  The sector will serve bike through-traffic better than it currently does.  Car speeds on many streets will be lower than they are currently.

Bike Elements – The Bad

But the plan leaves several key streets with no accommodations for bikes — no bike lanes, no shared use path and no wide outside lanes.  The plan will make it awkward to ride a bike to some very important destinations in the sector, including the White Flint Metro station and Wall Park.  The plan will make it difficult to travel by bike along certain axes and force riders to go well out of their way to use parallel routes (or they’ll just use the sidewalk).  Roads without bike accommodations will include many new roads and some existing roads that are currently bike-friendly but will be rebuilt.

Here are the roadway and bikeway plans for the sector, respectively (click to enlarge):

Comparison of roads to bikeways in the final White Flint plan

The plan changed…

In 2009, MoBike provided input on the initial sector plan draft presented by the Planning Board to the public for comment.  Among other things, we asked for certain paths to be replaced by bike lanes, which is appropriate given the urban environment.  The Planning Department made some welcome changes in response to our input.  But it also inextricably removed important bikeways from the plan, including bike lanes and a path on Marinelli Rd (an important route to Metro) and bike lanes and a path on Executive Blvd.  The resulting draft was approved by the Planning Board and then by the County Council in 2010, despite objections by MoBike.

Compare the initial and final versions of the plan to see what was taken out:

Bikeways were lost between the initial and final versions of the plan

It’s unclear what happened.  There may have been confusion on the part of planners.  Or maybe bike advocates didn’t go to enough meetings.

Business Streets Are Our Business Too

So-called business streets (aka business district streets) are the bread and butter of urban plans, fanning out from arterial roads to connect to destinations and smaller streets.    They are shown on the map of planned streets as blue lines.  Business streets are highly useful for cyclists, since 1) they are more direct and convenient than lesser streets, 2) many destinations are located along them, and 3) they carry fewer cars than arterials.  Bike lanes, wide outside lanes or perhaps cycle tracks are usually the best way to accommodate bicyclists on an urban business street.   Shared use paths are typically not recommended due to high pedestrian volumes.

But at most a third of the business streets in the White Flint Sector Plan will have any sort of bike accommodations (bike lanes or shared use path).   Some business streets will have two travel lanes, some will have four.  Without bike accommodations, cyclists will either have to ride single file with cars or use the right lane of a busy multi-lane street (or use the sidewalk).  Lack of bike accommodations will deter the type of cyclist we need to attract if we want to increase bicycle mode share.  Without special accommodations, less aggressive riders will ride on the sidewalk or not at all.

The root of the problem may be that the White Flint Design Guidelines define business streets to include no bike lanes.  In fact, none of the configurations for business streets (business district streets) defined in countywide “Road Code” standards (specifically these) include bike lanes.  It tilts the field against us when new roads are planned.

It’s galling that a lot of these streets will be new, so there will be no existing curbs, poles or trees standing in the way of creating bike space.  But no foot goes uncontested.  Developers want to maximize space.  Urban planners want street trees.  Businesses want on-street parking.  Restaurants want outdoor seating.  So we end up with a car lane, a parking lane, a “tree lane”, a “cafe table” lane, and so on.  Where are cyclists supposed to go?

Local Streets

At least the streets called “local streets” in plan terminology  (thin dotted pink lines in the map of planned roads) will be more suitable for cyclists due to their slower, tamer nature.   There may yet be opportunity to add bike lanes to some of these streets, since the plan appendix states, “The secondary grid [of local streets and alleys] is not an explicit element of the master planned street network“.  These streets are designed to “improve the permeability of the network for pedestrian and bicyclists” among other things.  But these streets will not connect to every destination.  Moroever, sticking to such minor streets often means having to cross larger streets, wait longer at signals, and zig-zag from block to block.  Too often that’s how cyclists have to travel in the county — dodging furtively from side street to side street.

What’s Needed

  1. Various roads need better bike accommodations than what’s planned (see below).  One-way or two-way cycle tracks may be suitable alternatives to bike lanes and shared use paths, respectively.
  2. Business streets without bike accommodations should incorporate dramatic traffic calming measures like brick pavement treatments, speed tables, etc.
  3. Drivers must be put on notice that White Flint is a bike-priority area using sharrows, signs, or obnoxious handouts if that’s what it takes.

Consistent with MoBike’s prior requests, the following streets need greater bike accommodations than what’s called for by the plan:

  • Marinelli St. (B-6) – Critical need.  Needs bike lanes or (less preferred) another bikeway type.  This road leads straight to Metro.  The road currently has four lanes.  Cut it to two and add bike lanes.
  • Executive Blvd. and its east extension (B-7, B-15).  Critical need.  Needs bike lanes or (less preferred) another bikeway type.  Lack of this route leaves few bikeways in that part of the sector, especially north south.  Some segments are planned to have wide curb lanes which could possibly be expanded to suit bicyclists, but others segments are not.
  • B-4, B-12, and B-16 – These need bike lanes or (less preferred) another bikeway type.  These business streets were recommended as bikeways by MCDOT.
  • Nicholson Lane (A-16) – Cyclists who aren’t of the “hard-core” variety have requested a shared use path in addition to bike lanes.  Cycle tracks (buffered bike lanes) might address the problem.
  • Woodglen Drive north of Nicholson Lane (local street) – As an extension of the existing Woodglen Drive, it should have the same accommodations (bike lanes + shared use path instead of just a path), depending on the character of the street.
  • Market St. (B-10) – This leads to Metro.  It should be designed so bicyclists are comfortable riding in the street (in addition to having the planned shared use path).  Cycle tracks are an option.

Prospects for Change

Unclear.  MoBike and other parties are insisting on bikeways over and above what the plan specifies.  Whether this means amending the plan, tweaking road designs during implementation, or finding creative ways to get around the plan, something needs to change.  Sector plans carry the weight of regulations.  Developers abide by them and expect the county to abide by them.   But that hasn’t stopped MoCo DOT from trying to modify the plan by scrapping the bike lanes and all but scrapping the shared use path planned for Old Georgetown Road so they can add extra car lanes.  But unlike DOT’s desired road changes, improving bike accommodations will bring the sector closer to its mode share goal of 50% and allow the sector to better realize its own vision.

Apr 252013

The Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring is a contraflow bike lane.  My question: Is it safe to ride the wrong direction in this one-way bike lane?

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A cyclist I rode with last week did exactly that.  A contraflow bike lane is one that provides for cyclists riding against the flow of car traffic on a one-way street. If you’re riding in the same direction as cars, you’re supposed to use the travel lane.  If you’re riding against the flow, you’re supposed to use the bike lane.

But the cyclist I was with, unfamiliar with the contraflow concept, rode the wrong way in the one-way bike lane despite the directional arrows painted there.  I urged her to move into the travel lane so she’d be going the right direction, but she was baffled as to why she should have to.  She didn’t want to share the travel lane with cars, though it’s a minor street and this stretch is only about a block long, so many cyclists wouldn’t be intimidated by this.

Here are what I see as problems with riding the wrong direction in the bike lane:

  1. The bike lane isn’t wide enough for two cyclists to pass each other head-on.
  2. Drivers might not expect cyclists going against the arrows (though honestly, they probably wouldn’t expect cyclists going with the arrows either).
  3. There is parking adjacent to the bike lane, and people getting out of their cars might not see a cyclist coming up from behind them (and the bike lane isn’t wide enough to pass an open car door).
  4. At the end of the bike lane, wrong-way cyclists would find themselves in an awkward position, left of car traffic (similar to a sidepath in that regard).

So is this a problem or not?

This is relevant because two-way cycle tracks are proposed for Bethesda Ave. in Bethesda for one block (as the Capital Crescent Trail).  This is similar to the Cedar St. bike lane except that both the travel lane and the bike lane allow two-way traffic.

FYI, the Cedar St. bike lane was originally only 20 feet long!  Neighbor opposition had left it in limbo.  Thus it won an award from Slate Magazine as the “stupidest bike lane in America“, which goaded the county Department of Transportation to finish the bike lane quickly.