Try Capital Bikeshare yourself. You’ll like it!
1. Spend a week driving your car with a bike helmet with you. To make it easy, you don’t actually have to wear the helmet. Of course wearing the helmet might call attention to the irony of not requiring helmets for the biggest cause of head injury deaths in the U.S. (driving) or to the mussed hair problem. But for this challenge, you just have to keep the helmet with you in the car.
2. But when you get to your destination, you can’t leave the helmet in the car. You have to take it with you. You don’t have to have it with you at every moment… if you’re at work you can keep it in your office and still walk to lunch. But then it has to be stowed in a safe place that’s not in your car. And you can’t drive anywhere, not without the helmet.
If you lead a typical suburban lifestyle, you’ll discover pretty soon that you have to carry your helmet into the grocery store, into the mall, on the train if you drove to the station, into restaurants, to the movies, and on and on. You’ll have to hold it, wear it, lay it on the ground or attach it to your backpack or purse while shopping for clothes, browsing books at the bookstore, ordering at Chipotle, wherever.
What irks me is that people who casually think mandatory helmet laws are a good idea don’t understand this hassle factor. They think of biking as as set of joy rides you take whenever you have the time, not as transportation. Transportation means making a lot of purposeful trips to places where you spend more than a few minutes but less than a day. And unlike seatbelts, a helmet isn’t attached to your vehicle. It has to be toted around. You can’t leave it on your parked bike in most places because the helmet could get stolen.
I accept the hassle because I am an ardent helmet wearer. But the hassle changes the formula that guides the decision of whether to wear a helmet or not. Even I might leave my helmet at home for a short trip, whereas I barely drive my car out of the driveway without my seatbelt on (after all, the seatbelt hassle factor is almost zero).
To understand this, supporters of mandatory helmet laws should take the Bike Helmet Challenge.
These two bills were rejected by the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee, which means they’re effectively dead for this year:
- House Bill 445, which would have removed the “narrow highway” exception to Maryland’s three-foot safe passing statute enacted in 2010 (interpreted by some to mean that drivers don’t have to give three feet if it would mean crossing the centerline). See the CycleMoco discussion of this bill here.
- House Bill 160, which would have legalized riding bikes on sidewalks in localities with no local laws on the subject. Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties and Baltimore city all have local laws. Some jurisdictions, including Gaithersburg, have local laws prohibiting sidewalk riding and this bill wouldn’t change that.
Jim Titus provides details about what happened to HB 445 on WashCycle.
These are the six points made in the 5-page statement (my paraphrasing):
- Make a complete network: The statement recommends connecting bike lanes to major destinations and completing facilities such as the Bethesda Trolley Trail, Capital Crescent Trail, ICC Trail and routes parallel to arterials like Georgia Ave.
- Be context-appropriate: It recommends providing a context-appropriate variety of facilities such as bike lanes, sharrows, cycle tracks, bicycle boulevards and grade-separated trails.
- Provide comfort: It recommends providing multiple route options, wayfinding signs, secure bike parking, meeting plazas and good trail maintenance.
- Safety: It recommends facilities that are well-lit, well-designed, well-maintained and visible from public areas to enhance security.
- Engage the public: It recommends making community members part of the bike planning process and showing that bicyclists are valued by the county.
- Education: It recommends educating the public about bike rules, responsibilities and safety through the driver licensing process and youth education in schools.
Thank you Sierra Club! The organization plans to hold an event introducing the statement soon.
The Maryland legislature is considering House Bill 445 which would strengthen the flawed “three foot” law enacted
last year in 2010. The flaws in the existing law make it important that the law be fixed. Briefly, here are the main problems:
- Drivers often won’t know if they have to give three feet or not. The three foot law doesn’t apply if the cyclist isn’t where he’s supposed to be in the roadway (in the bike lane, to the right, wherever). But the rules governing where cyclists are supposed to be within the roadway are complicated, dependent on conditions, and not fully understood by anyone except bike advocates (if even them). How are drivers to know what they’re not allowed to do? In fact a driver should never pass dangerously close to any cyclist if at all possible, not be granted an exception for unlawful cyclist behavior.
- The law could be construed (by some) to mean drivers have to give three feet unless it would require crossing the center line, and then they don’t have to. On roads without room to pass with 3 feet clearance, this essentially this means the driver has to provide three feet unless he wants to pass — which is of course meaningless. (I believe you’re still not allowed to actually hit the cyclist).
There is a third exception to the three foot rule – when the cyclist is failing to ride in a steady course. That’s okay in theory but the language needs to be more precise. An exception for erratically weaving cyclists is reasonable. But cyclists who are “taking the lane” may legally shift position within the lane (say to avoid a pothole), so for that case there should be no exception to the 3′ law.
So clearly a fix is needed. The new bill introduced by delegates Jon Cardin, Luke Clippinger, and Maggie “Make ‘em Wear Helmets” McIntosh would do this:
- Add “safe distance” (without specifics) as a precondition for passing of any vehicle (not just bikes).
- Remove the exception to the three foot rule for when the road is too narrow to pass with 3 feet of clearance.
The bill unfortunately would not change the law to allow drivers to cross the center line (when safe to do so) if needed to pass a cyclist safely. Drivers pass cyclists that way every day (on Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park for example). Maybe that could be added to the bill before the end. The General Assembly website has more information about the bill and its status.
I hope and pray this bill was not secured as a sort of package deal with the Bikeshare-killing bill that requires adult cyclists to wear helmets all the time. That’s a devil’s bargain. The flawed three foot law is a problem. But a mandatory helmet law would be disastrous, and quite likely could never be repealed.
By popular demand, here is the City of Cyclists video showing bicyclists in Copenhagen!
Most cyclists in Copenhagen do not wear helmets, yet fatalities on a per rider basis are much lower than in the United States. The Danish are concerned that requiring bike helmets would only discourage cycling. In Copenhagen, 36% of all commuting trips are by bike. The more bicyclists there are, the more drivers learn to expect (and respect) them.
Unfortunately, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would require all cyclists to wear helmets. This would surely kill BikeShare in Montgomery County as well as reduce the level of bike use overall, especially trips to transit.
A bill before the Maryland House of Delegates would require everyone riding a bike to wear a helmet, no matter how short their trip. If the bill passes, it would probably kill BikeShare and do a great deal to discourage cycling. Capital BikeShare, now coming to Montgomery County, is inducing the county to invest in more bike infrastructure and will allow many more bike trips. The county’s transit oriented communities (including Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas designated by the state) rely on bicycling and walking to reduce traffic. But this bill would undermine it all. Update on April 25 2013: The bill did not pass.
Do Maryland legislators really think they know more about bicycling than the Danish and the Dutch?
In Copenhagen, 36% of all commuting trips are by bike. In Amsterdam, 29% of trips across the city are by bike, 43% in the city center (more here). These are large cities. Yet very few Dutch and Danish riders wear helmets, which are seen as seen as inconvenient and discouraging to cycling. And there are far fewer bike fatalities per rider in those countries than in the U.S. See the Danish City of Cyclists video, which says it all.
Mandatory helmet laws are a BikeShare killer. Who is going to plan a half day ahead and bring a helmet in case they might use BikeShare for an impromptu lunchtime trip? And you’ll have to carry your helmet at your destination. A lot of BikeShare users (or other riders) aren’t going to lug around a helmet for 30 minutes in order to make a 5 minute trip to the store.
Consider this scenario. A rider lives in a smart growth community developed to support biking, walking and transit. He or she lives one mile from a Metro station, most of which is bike path or sidewalk. At a 4 mph walking pace, that’s 15 minutes. At a 10 mph biking pace, it’s 6 minutes. So you bike, right? But if you board Metro with a helmet, you double the things you have to carry on a crowded train, assuming you have a purse or briefcase, so you give up the 9 minutes savings. However, that makes driving 9 minutes more attractive relative to transit. So you drive to work.
The Washington Post cites statistics that are either misleading (percentages are a tricky thing) or based on poor studies. I’m upset that I have to point this out. I want people to wear helmets, not send them mixed messages.
According to a much better New York Times article:
A two-year-old bike-sharing program in Melbourne, Australia — where helmet use in mandatory — has only about 150 rides a day, despite the fact that Melbourne is flat, with broad roads and a temperate climate. On the other hand, helmet-lax Dublin — cold, cobbled and hilly — has more than 5,000 daily rides in its young bike-sharing scheme.
And Piet de Jong, a university professor in Sydney, Australia states:
Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities.
The same article notes that the European Cyclists’ Federation says that bicyclists in its domain have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled.
Three decades ago, a very close friend of mine went for a long bike ride on a sunny morning in Florida. Later that day he was involved in a vehicular crash where he received a serious head injury… subdural hematoma, two weeks in the hospital, 6 lost months, and some lifetime effects. He was not wearing a helmet — because he wasn’t on his bike, he was driving a car. Where are the car helmets?
WABA has provided many detailed arguments against the bill. MoBike and WABA need your help to push hard against the bill. Legislators need to hear many many voices against this bill! You can testify Tuesday in Annapolis, or you can write to your state Delegates and/or Senator: determine your district, identify your delegates and senator, and get information on bills (and specifically House Bill 339).
Montgomery County DOT has finished mapping out where bike route signs will go on its upper Bethesda route. Much of the work was just identifying the route. The county is officially calling it the “Montgomery Mall to Downtown Bethesda route”. They’ve already completed the design task for two other signed routes, running along the Georgia Ave. corridor and Rt. 29 corridor respectively, and signs are expected to go up this summer. These routes will likely get route numbers if the county adopts a bike route numbering system.
Below is the list of turns, or see the map.
- Start at Bethesda Avenue/ Woodmont Avenue intersection (a block west of the Capital Crescent Trail)
- Head west on Bethesda Ave
- R on Clarendon Road (reverse route uses Exeter Rd)
- L on Elm Street (reverse route uses Exeter Rd)
- R on Exeter Road
- Bear L on Battery Lane
- Bear R on Battery Lane
- Bear L on Park Lane
- Merge onto Custer Road
- R on Moorland Lane
- Straight on cut-through path
- Straight on Grant Street
- L on Sonoma Road
- R on Lindale Drive
- L on Wilmett Road
- R on Kirkdale Road
- L on Marywood Road
- R on Fernwood Road
- Straight on Westlake Terrace
- R on Westlake Drive
- Arrive at intersection of Tuckerman Lane and Westlake Drive
There are some faster variations, but this route has fewer safety issues.
The route signs will look like this one, more or less, with appropriate arrows and destinations:
Destinations named on signs along the route include:
- Downtown Bethesda
- Capital Crescent Trail/Georgetown Branch Trail
- Bethesda Metro
- Bethesda Trolley Trail (multiple points)
- Fernwood Road
- Democracy Blvd
- Montgomery Mall
- Cabin John Regional Park (Westlake Drive entrances)
There were some destination questions, like what do you say on the signs at the start of the route on Bethesda Ave? There are faster ways to get to NIH or Tuckerman Lane (depending what part). Cabin John Park has multiple entrances miles apart. A good destination to post would be Rockville (the western side at least) but the signs don’t take you that far.
Southbound, downtown Bethesda is expansive and the Capital Crescent Trail has multiple access points. The signs don’t actually reach the CCT but they will clearly direct you to the Woodmont Ave. access point (and somewhat less clearly to the Glenbrook Rd access point). Signs at the Woodmont access point are another ball of wax (or can of worms?) and are a task for the future.
The county is funding this signage project as well as the others via a new state bikeway grant program.
The planned North Branch Hiker-Biker Trail will zig-zag north from Lake Frank nearly five miles to finish within kissing distance of Olney. The Montgomery County Parks Department will construct the trail under the ICC and a bit further north, where it will connect to a trail to be built by private developers. I’ve created an annotated map based on information from MoParks and documents filed by the developers with the County, shown below (version with notes is here):
Blue = new trail to be built by the Parks Department
Green = existing trail
Fuchsia = new developer-built trail
Yellow = my suggestions
Below are the routes of our seven North Branch Trail exploratory hikes (all shown in blue):
Below is the Parks Department’s map of their proposed trail route (shown in red), excluding the portion to be built by the developer:
A map of the planned developer trail appears later in this post.
Information about MoParks’ trail project can be found here, especially this nice slide presentation (8 MB) that was shown at the public meeting in September 2012. Longtime Lake Frank visitors are especially happy because the project will finally remove the long-unused decrepit parking lots and closed roads on the south side of the lake, replacing them with a paved path and indigenous plantings:
At the September meeting, a neighborhood resident pointed out the need for more trail parking, in addition to the new lot going in on Muncaster Mill Road, because otherwise people will continue to park on narrow Trailway Drive (which apparently sometimes gets out of hand). I agree there should be more parking access; I’ve shown three alternatives on my map.
The new trail will follow the existing natural surface hiker trail (the eastern part of which is a WSSC access road) that runs from Lake Frank along the east side of the North Branch of Rock Creek (hence the name of the project) up to Muncaster Mill Road. Here are shots of the existing trail:
MoParks is considering building a connector trail to cross the North Branch to connect to Meadowside Lane, providing access to the Meadowside Nature Center as well as to the sidepath that runs along the south side of Muncaster Mill Road. That sidepath terminates eastbound at Meadowside Lane, and continuing it further eastbound would be difficult, so the connector trail is criticial, in my opinion.
The new proposed (paved) North Branch Trail will diverge from the existing (currently dirt) trail alignment to connect to a trailhead parking lot to be built at the site of a former residence just east of the existing trail, which can be seen in this aerial shot. MoPark’s initial design shows the trail skirting the northeast side of the parking lot and then crossing the driveway to head southeast toward Emory Lane; I’ve suggested it will be safer to have the trail skirt the southeast side of the lot, so hikers and riders will not have to cross the driveway.
The trail will run east along Muncaster Mill Road briefly, to cross at Emory Lane, likely with a button-triggered traffic light. A new sidepath will be built along the east side of Emory, to connect to the existing Emory sidepath at Holly Ridge Road:
From the Emory sidepath, trail users can get onto the ICC trail heading west (by taking the underpass path on their right) or east (by staying on the sidepath). Going west, the ICC trail crosses a bridge over the Rock Creek North Branch, at which point the new path will swing down and pass under the bridge:
MoParks’ part of the project terminates at a trail to be constructed by the developers of The Preserve at Rock Creek. I extracted the site plan and highlighted the hike-bike trail:
The route the path will take will be quite lovely:
Emerging from the woods, the developer-built trail will snake around the eastern edge of the development, around the extant woods and trees planted by the developer to comply with County requirements:
This plan shows the area where new trees have been or will be planted (called “afforestation”):
Much of the land east of the new trail is private but is being “dedicated” to the County to become part of Rock Creek Regional Park.
Finally, the trail will run up to the woods at the edge of the parkland, and just… stop:
This is a shame, in my opinion, because by just jumping across the Creek and connecting to one of the residential streets on the other side (Kirk Lane or Ridge Rd), the trail would allow cyclists access to Olney and points beyond. Without such a connection, the only way for cyclists to get from the trail to Olney (and vice versa) is by riding on Bowie Mill Road, a very scary prospect for most riders (it’s a hilly, narrow, and winding 2-lane road with no shoulders and speeding cars). Were MoParks to add just 0.15-to-0.3 mile of trail to cross Rock Creek and connect to one of the roads there (as shown on my map above), the North Branch Trail would become a vastly more useful resource for the County and its cyclists. Also, that area of the Park is very nice, though the only pictures I have were taken in winter:
You can see many more pictures of my sojourns for this project on my webpage.
Below is a report from community/bike advocate Steve Friedman on a meeting held Monday to discuss details of the Wisconsin Ave. “Green Mile” sidewalk (sidepath) project in Chevy Chase. The meeting was hosted by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance (LFWA) and attended by project staff from the Maryland State Highway Administration as well as the public.
Also check out the article in the Bethesda Patch reporting on the meeting. (The Patch erroneously states that without the new facility, cyclists must ride against the direction of traffic in the roadway. But cyclists certainly can (and must) ride in the same direction as car traffic if using the street, with or without the project).
We are referring to the proposed facility as a sidewalk rather than a shared use path because that is the state’s designation and because many portions lack the 8′ width recommended by AASHTO for shared use paths. This is due to lack of right-of-way on the east side of Wisconsin Ave. But nevertheless it’s a vitally important project for both pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists may legally use sidewalks in Bethesda and Friendship Heights.
The project plans as of August 2012 are as follows. These may have been revised somewhat and may be revised further.
So this is yet another worthy path or sidewalk being opposed in the name of protecting the environment. If every trail or sidewalk were canceled whenever opposed by groups claiming impacts to stream quality, stormwater management, street trees, neighborhood trees, interior trees, native species, invasive species and homeowner plantings, not to mention fear of careening cyclists and criminals, we wouldn’t have half the paths the county has today (but still lots of roads). Fortunately in this case, large numbers of nearby residents support of the new sidewalk. The state has made many changes to the project to reflect public concerns, even conducting a walking tour of the route with interested citizens.
The project is expected to cost between $1.2 and $1.5 million.
Here is Steve’s report:
The Little Falls Watershed Alliance (LFWA) hosted a public meeting with the Maryland State Highway Administration at the Somerset Town Hall regarding the proposed sidewalk along Wisconsin Ave in Chevy Chase. The sidewalk would run for 0.7 miles along the east side of Wisconsin (Rt. 355) between Bradley Lane and Grafton St., or most of the “Green Mile”. It would be located adjacent to the Chevy Chase Club (a country club) as well as a small number of residences at Grafton St. and Hesketh St.
There is an existing sidewalk on the west side of Wisconsin opposite the proposed facility, but it’s only about 3 feet wide and the pavement is uneven in several sections. This renders it inadequate to satisfy ADA regulatory requirements. It lacks the width to accommodate multiple users and can be particularly hazardous if a cyclist is involved. A cyclist riding on that sidewalk has little room to navigate around other sidewalk users, and given the narrow width, uneven sections, and large tree roots close to oncoming traffic on Wisconsin (related to the major source of objection to the project by LFWA) this has the potential to cause a serious incident. SHA asserts that it’s unable to widen that sidewalk because it would mean acquiring right-of-way from all the residences on the west side of Rt. 355 between Cumberland Ave. and Nottingham Dr.
Residents of the Chevy Chase West neighborhood have put their support behind the new sidewalk because it would provide a continuous and easily accessible pedestrian route between Friendship Heights and Bethesda for residents living east of Rt. 355. The width would reduce the potential for conflict between bicyclists and other path users compared to the facility on the west side. This is an important consideration as the county begins participating in the bikeshare program. Both Bethesda and Friendship Heights are slated to get multiple bikshare stations, which will result in more cyclists traveling between the two communities. High volumes can be expected during rush hours, at lunch time and during the nice weather months.
LFWA’s main argument against the proposed sidewalk is that it would require removal of trees along the curb. The initial plans drawn up did indicate the removal of all mature trees along that stretch of Rt. 355 which totaled 53 trees. Based on feedback from various stakeholders, SHA is redoing the plans in order to minimize the removal of trees. In an effort to press this issue, LFWA invited SHA to meet the public for a presentation and Q&A session, hence the Monday meeting.
Councilmember Roger Berliner opened the meeting, providing some background surrounding the project. He indicated that after all the assessment done by SHA, which incorporated the ongoing expertise of arborists, he was still supportive of the project. He opened the floor for Q&A, and several attendees expressed their opposition to the project. Tree removal and cost (projected $1.2-1.5M) were the main issues raised. Some attendees also claimed that the sidewalk was strictly a bike trail and wouldn’t be utilized enough to justify the effort needed to make it happen. Several questioned whether cyclists could use the sidewalk legally (this stretch of 355 has a “Bikes May Use Full Lane” sign); these attendees needed multiple reminders that nowhere in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area are there restrictions against sidewalk use by cyclists. Other people asked questions about other SHA projects that were unrelated to the topic of this meeting.
At this point Councilmember Berliner left and SHA was left to attempt to give their planned presentation in the 15 minutes provided for them. However, the presentation never really got off the ground as they were constantly interrupted, so no real information flow out from SHA to the attendees could occur. SHA did convey that during the initial review of the trees by the arborist, it was determined that five were to be taken down immediately and have since been removed. SHA also informed the attendees that there were still ongoing discussions to move the fence line further back away from the curb. A final rendering of the plan incorporating the revised assessment and any concessions on moving the fence line (the project moves the existing fence line which is currently on SHA property back to the property line) will be released when completed.
Several residents of Chevy Chase West spoke up in support of the project and applauded SHA on their due diligence in minimizing the environmental impact which including the stakeholders in this process. SHA had conducted multiple walk-throughs to receive questions and consider factors raised by residents. Around this point, the meeting reached its time limit. Berliner’s policy analyst encouraged residents to provide comments to his office for consideration. SHA will continue to move the process forward to develop a final plan for consideration.
Note: To contact Councilmember Roger Berliner about the project, call his office at 240-777-7828 or send him an email. To provide input to the State Highway Administration regarding the project, you can call the District 3 office at 301-513-7300 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.