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?

View Larger Map

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.

Apr 232013

WTOP radio aired a news story last week that made an astonishingly incorrect statement about bicycling laws in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.:

D.C., Maryland and Virginia law states bicyclists can ride the center of the travel lane only if they’re going the speed limit.

Even worse, it attributed this assertion (with respect to Maryland) to the Montgomery County Police Department and said bike advocates are wrong on the point.

“Cyclists can’t necessarily always go as fast as traffic, but the law does give cyclists the right to use the road,” says [WABA Executive Director Shane] Farthing.  But Montgomery County Police Lt. Bob McCullough, deputy director of the traffic division, says that’s not the case.  Slow-moving bikes need to move to the right-hand side of the roadway particularly “when they reach a point that they are impeding traffic.”

I’m fairly confident that the police are aware of the law and that the reporter failed to paraphrase the lieutenant correctly.  Despite sometimes using terms like “impeding traffic”, MCPD has shown better understanding than this.

I replied to WTOP with this letter:

To WTOP Radio:

The recent WTOP news story, “Drivers, bicyclists relationship must be a 2-way street” is grossly incorrect in its description of what cyclists are permitted to do under Maryland law (as well as Virginia and D.C. law).  Maryland law does not state, to quote the article, that “bicyclists can ride the center of the travel lane only if they’re going the speed limit.”  The law allows cyclists to ride in the center of the lane in many more situations, because the right edge of a lane is often the most dangerous place to ride according to the Maryland Driver’s Manual.  For example, riders are allowed and advised to ride in the center of the lane when the lane is too narrow for the cyclist and driver to travel side-by-side within the lane.  That’s because keeping right in a narrow lane invites drivers to try to squeeze by in the same lane instead of changing lanes to pass or waiting for a safer place to pass.  Cyclists may also ride in the center of the lane if there could be pavement hazards (which drivers often can’t see), if there are cars parked to the right, if it’s a one-way street, and many other conditions.  Laws in Virginia and D.C. are similar.

The Montgomery County Police Department has taken the time to work with the cycling community on this and other issues, so I’m confident the department knows the law.  Nowhere in the story is Lt. McCullough directly quoted as saying that cyclists must always move to the right.  Let’s not put words in MCPD’s mouth and perpetuate the dangerous myth that cyclists have to move over if they’re not as fast as cars.  I would like to see a follow-up story that corrects this piece of misinformation.  Thank you.

I hate it when news organizations misstate the law. It’s simply irresponsible.

Apr 222013
There’s a great line about bike trails in the Washington Post article this weekend about high demand for close-in homes of elderly homeowners…
…The prospective buyers weren’t interested in the ­three-bedroom, 1,092-square-foot ­house, which Cloud and her husband purchased for $5,000 in the 1940s. They wanted her lot, which sits next to a bike trail on a street within walking distance of the Metro and great public schools.
Who knew!  Trails that NIMBYs fight against are actually good for property values.  When advocates were pushing for the Matthew Henson Trail in Aspen Hill, I collected real estate listings in Bethesda touting proximity to the Capital Crescent Trail, and there were many.
 Posted by at 10:34 am on Apr 22, 2013  Comments Off
Apr 142013

The Mont. County Bike Action Group (MCBAG) meets Thursday 10/18 from 7 to 9 pm at MCDOT’s Gaithersburg office.  The location is 100 Edison Park Drive, Gaithersburg on the 4th floor. Check in with the security guard in the lobby (you may have to buzz in).  Security is very tight and you might not be allowed to take your bike to the 4th floor.

Dialing in is welcome since it’s not an easy trip for downcounty cyclists!  Dial in at 240-773-8120 (pass code is 498265).

Meetings are held at 7 pm on the third Thursday of the month during most months.  The location rotates between Gaithersburg and Rockville.

This month’s topic will be a review and discussion of potential projects to be submitted to the Maryland DOT’s Bikeways Program for 2014.  Under this program, the state is providing over $4 million statewide “to fund design and construction of projects that enhance bicycle access to transit, increase bicycle safety, extend shared-use paths, and improve facilities and wayfinding for bike routes that connect key destinations, such as work, school and shopping.”  The county must submit projects for consideration to the state by June 5, 2013.  Last year (for 2013) the  state awarded grant money to two projects now underway:

  • Clopper Road Shared Use Path from Steeple Road to Hopkins Road and from Village Fountain Drive to Little Star Lane in Germantown
  • Woodglen Drive bike lanes, sharrows and sidepath (Bethesda Trolley Trail) from Edson Lane to Nicholson Lane in North Bethesda

Grant money is provided for construction and/or design (or both).  The county applies for the funds and the state evaluates the projects based on the merit of each. Here is the full statewide list of funded projects approved for 2013.  The grant is usually under $100K for each project.  Montgomery County DOT will begin evaluating and prioritizing projects for this year’s project application submissions over the next few weeks and is looking forward to receiving your input.

Apr 142013

The Sierra Club is kicking off its bike initiative with a bike ride on Saturday, April 20th at 10 am.  The bike ride, with discussion, will loop through Silver Spring and Takoma Park.   The ride assembles at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring near the skating rink.  It’s a great way to show your support for bicycling in Montgomery County.

Dan Reed (blogger for GGW) and Jack Cochrane (MoBike) will be leading the ride.  The route includes the Metropolitan Branch Trail, Sligo Creek Trail, and a few city streets, exploring a variety of semi-urban biking landscapes.  Stronger riders can continue on to Wheaton.

Along the way the Sierra Club will discuss its new Bicycle Statement, filled with ideas to make biking a safe and common activity for everyone.  The ride includes points of interest related to the statement.

Rain date is Saturday, April 27.  It’s free and open to the public. For more information and to make a reservation (optional), contact Ethan Goffman at ethan.goffman@maryland.sierraclub.org.

Hope to see you there!

Jack Cochrane, MoBike

 Posted by at 3:43 pm on Apr 14, 2013  Comments Off
Mar 292013

The AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, 4th Edition is the definitive, nationally recognized set of standards governing key aspects of bikeway design, including bicycle facility design, planning and maintenance as well as bike parking.  It was released in 2012.  Please contact me if you want to view or borrow my copy.

The document costs $144, even for individuals.

The guide is used by thousands of government agencies across the U.S. to guide design and planning efforts.   However, citizens looking to review the document in order to participate in government decisions must either pay $144 for their own copy or find a hardcopy owned by someone else (or view the online version on the owner’s computer screen).  It’s unclear how many words of the guide you can quote (in a letter written to your local or state officials, for example) before running into copyright restrictions.

AASHTO allows you to view the table of contents at no charge.  Guide errata are viewable for free, just not the correct parts.

If you quote any parts of the document, consider sending between 1 and 14,400 checks for one cent each (according to the percentage of the document quoted) to:

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
444 N Capitol St. NW, Suite 249
Washington, DC 20001

The guide has some weaknesses.  For example:

  • It provides no guidance regarding protected bike lanes (or cycle tracks) an important new facility type.
  • It specifies dimensions for bike lanes and sharrows without making it clear that these should be treated as absolute minimum values, not default values (see photo).  This is likely to result in too many bike lanes and sharrows in the “door zone”.

Photo from 2012 AASHTO guide depicting bike lanes. Door zone issue is not noted.

Increasingly, designers are referring to an alternative set of standards called the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, which is free.  It avoids some of the shortcomings of the AASHTO guide.  The guide is published by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).  There is an online version of this guide as well as a print version (print version consists of two files, a base document and Annotated Plans).

The other essential guide at the federal level is the 2009 Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices or MUTCD, which governs signs, pavement markings and signals.

You can also review the previous version of the AASHTO guide, published in 1999, here.

See also this overview of all state and local standards relevant to Montgomery County.

 Posted by at 3:07 pm on Mar 29, 2013  Comments Off
Mar 262013

Converting a four lane road into a three lane road with bike lanes

According to FABB, the road diet on Lawyers Road in Reston was a success for cyclists and made the road slower and safer for everyone.   VDOT took a road that had two through-lanes in each direction and converted it to a three lane configuration with bike lanes.  The road now has one through-lane in each direction, a two-way left-turn lane (TWLTL) in the middle, and bike lanes.  Would this make life better for cyclists on Montgomery County roads like Arlington Road in Bethesda or Redland Road in Rockville?

MoBike and WABA have already requested the same 4-to-3 lane conversion with bike lanes on Arlington Road north of Bradley Blvd in Bethesda. It’s an important road for cyclists because it serves north-south travel in downtown Bethesda. Woodmont Avenue is a good parallel route but it’s one-way southbound north of Hampden Lane.

Arlington Road. View Larger Map

If you’re comfortable riding in traffic, you might not object to Arlington Road’s current configuration since most drivers don’t go fast (25-30 mph) and they can easily change lanes to pass. But less assertive cyclists are surely going to resort to riding on the sidewalk.  The situation only gets worse in rush hour.  Even experienced riders have to be concerned that drivers will change lanes without looking for cyclists, and it’s nerve-racking to make left turns on a bike because you have to stop in the middle of the left lane until you can turn.  So with the advent of BikeShare (and its slow bikes) in the Bethesda area, bike groups requested bike lanes.

Redland Road in Derwood is a busy suburban arterial that can be daunting for cyclists.  The section where a lane diet is most feasible, from Rt. 355 to Crabbs Branch Way, has four lanes with no median.  The half mile long segment passes by the Shady Grove Metro Station so there will be riders using the route.  But the county decided about 10 years ago not to change the road configuration for the adjacent section (east of Crabbs Branch Way) to make room for bike lanes because they wanted to allow two lanes of cars to use it in the prevailing rush hour direction (and neighbors strongly objected to a “Georgia Avenue” style reversible lane).

Redland Road. View Larger Map

At least there is (or will be) a shared use path on the north side (the side with Metro) to accommodate bicyclists. So it’s probably not worth the stress to fight a master plan that doesn’t include bike lanes and was specifically changed to eliminate bike lanes on the adjacent section.

Another segment of the same road (called Redland Boulevard west of Rt. 355) has four lanes but a very different dynamic.

Redland Blvd. west of Rt. 355. View Larger Map

This segment induces drivers to travel more slowly because it’s in a more urban setting (King Farm), has fairly narrow lanes, has a median and in some places has on-street parking.  Traffic volumes are much lower here than they are east of Rt. 355.  Parts of it have no left turn lanes at intersections, causing drivers to be more cautious.  Some sections allow parking in the right lane.  Nothing makes drivers more expecting of slow moving vehicles in the right lane than cars parked in their lane.  The only problem with this is that cyclists have to use the left lane to get around these cars, but there are long gaps between parked cars.

So where no extra space is available on a four lane road, elements like parking and medians and lack of turn lanes can make a big difference to cyclists.  That said, bike lanes would have been preferred on this and similar roads in King Farm.

Thai Farm Restaurant on King Farm Blvd is a supporter of bicycling (and owned by my in-laws).

 Posted by at 6:19 pm on Mar 26, 2013  Comments Off
Mar 242013

The Montgomery County “Road Code” is the set of standards that governs every aspect of road design on county roads, including the widths of things like travel lanes, bike lanes and sidewalk buffers; the design of stormwater management; and less interesting things like curb height.  This matters a lot to cyclists.  Officially called the Context Sensitive Road Design Standards, the Road Code is actually a set of county regulations.  It can be viewed in PDF form (in the relevant County Council resolution) or viewed online (go to Chapter 49 of the code called COMCOR).  I’ve broken it up into convenient PDF files below.

The county has defined fourteen or more street types.  It’s also defined three area types (land use types) which are urban, suburban and rural.   Street type, area type, total right-of-way width and presence of features like parking or bike lanes determine the recommended widths of each part of the street.  There are 64 resulting “templates” representing different combinations of these factors, which engineers can apply to streets in the county.

The templates are meant only as guides, however, and it’s expected that they’ll be tailored based on available right-of-way and other factors.  The text portion of the Road Code provides much additional information including general guidelines for each element (including preferred width of bike lanes), desired target speeds, tree placement, and stormwater management standards among other things.  The text portion indicates preferred widths that are often greater than what the templates specify.  For example, most templates for arterial streets call for 14′ outside lanes, whereas the text states that 14.5′ “may be appropriate”.  So planners and engineers have options.  In practice though, it seems that road designers go by the templates more than the text.  There is a great deal of difference between 14′ and 14.5′ to a cyclist, but designers are under pressure to choose the smaller value.

I have diagrams for all the templates but didn’t scan them all in.  Here’s an example:

Urban arterial with 4 lanes and bike lanes (elements with no dimension specified are omitted from the template)

Here are the 64 templates used in the Road Code, digitized from the official version (or you can see the whole set at once):

Where next to a curb, a lane’s width is measured from the vertical part of the curb to the midpoint of the lane line, i.e. it includes the concrete gutter if present.

There is certainly room for improvement in the Road Code.  Most problematic is the fact that none of the business district street templates provide any space for bikes (see below).  Bike space is also lacking for secondary streets, tertiary streets and country roads, though these are often minor streets (industrial streets have wide outside lanes).  One of the templates for primary streets has a door zone problem.

Street Types

Below are the street types defined in the Road Code.  To get a rough idea of what they mean, see this unofficial map (though it doesn’t distinguish between arterials and minor arterials). The following text, abridged and with my own additions in italics, comes from the Road Code:

  • FREEWAY – A road meant exclusively for the through movement of vehicles at a high speed. Access must be limited to grade-separated interchanges. (I-270, I-495)
  • CONTROLLED MAJOR HIGHWAY – A road meant exclusively for the through movement of vehicles at lower speeds than a Freeway. Access must be limited to grade-separated interchanges or at grade intersections with public roads. (Great Seneca Highway, Rt. 29 north of New Hampshire Ave)
  • MAJOR HIGHWAY – A road meant exclusively for the through movement of vehicles at a moderate speed. Access must be primarily from grade-separated interchanges and at grade intersections with public roads, although driveway access is acceptable in urban and denser suburban settings. (most of Connecticut Ave, Veirs Mill Rd, Georgia Ave, Old Georgetown Rd)
  • ARTERIAL – A road meant primarily for the through movement of vehicles at a moderate speed, although some access to abutting property is expected. (Woodmont Ave, Parklawn Drive, Muncaster Mill Rd, Fairland Rd, Arcola Ave, Wayne Ave)
  • MINOR ARTERIAL – A Minor Arterial is a two-lane Arterial meant nearly equally for through movement of vehicles and access to abutting property. (New designation)
  • PRIMARY RESIDENTIAL STREET – A road meant primarily for circulation in residential zones, although some through traffic is expected. (Tilden Lane, Greentree Rd, Notley Rd, Jones Mill Rd, Brookville Rd in Chevy Chase, Franklin Ave)
  • BUSINESS DISTRICT STREET (or BUSINESS STREET for short) – A road meant for circulation in commercial and mixed-use zones (equivalent to a primary street in a business district). (Bethesda Ave, Marinelli Rd, Amherst Ave, Cameron St)
  • PRINCIPAL SECONDARY RESIDENTIAL STREET – A Secondary Residential Street meant to carry somewhat more through traffic.
  • SECONDARY RESIDENTIAL STREET – A road meant nearly exclusively for access to abutting properties in residential zones. A road meant to provide access between a residential development with fewer than 200 dwelling units and one or more higher classification roads.
  • TERTIARY RESIDENTIAL STREET – A road meant (exclusively for access to abutting property in residential zones) to provide direct access to a residential development with 75 or fewer dwelling units.

Here are the less common street types:

  • PARKWAY – A road meant exclusively for the through movement of vehicles at a moderate speed. Access must be limited to grade-separated interchanges and at-grade intersections. Any truck with more than four wheels must not use a Parkway.  (Montrose Parkway)
  • INDUSTRIAL STREET – A road meant for circulation in industrial zones (equivalent to a primary street in an industrial zone; seemingly inaccurately called “industrial street/office park street” in template tables).
  • COUNTRY ARTERIAL – A Country Arterial is an Arterial that is typically in the County’s agricultural reserve. (Partnership Rd, Whites Ferry Rd east of Poolesville, Sundown Rd east of Laytonsville)
  • COUNTRY ROAD – A Country Road has the function of a Primary Residential Street, typically in the County’s agricultural reserve. (Additionally, the county may designate rural roads as “rustic” or “execeptional rustic” to limit improvements).

Land Use Types (Area Types)

The Road Code defines three area types:

  • URBAN – Includes central business districts, town centers, and dense commercial areas.  The county decides where they are.
  • SUBURBAN – Vary widely in character.
  • RURAL – Pretty easy to identify.

As described above, the street type of a road and the area type of its locale determines the templates that apply to it.

Business District Streets

There are four templates for business district street (aka business street).  None of these call for bike lanes or wide outside lanes, so it’s important for planners to look beyond the templates when it comes to these streets.  Business streets are highly useful for cyclists, since 1) they are not as fast as arterials, but 2) they are more direct and convenient than lesser streets, and 3) many destinations are located along them.  Furthermore, business streets are common in plans for town centers, urban districts and mixed use areas, which are prime areas for bike transportation.   Every business street should either be very slow (slow enough for cyclists to be comfortable “taking the lane”) or have some provision for cars and bikes operating side by side (bike lanes, wide lanes, or in some cases just extra lanes). When the Road Code is amended at some point in the future, templates for business streets with bike lanes should be added.

Here are visual depictions of the four business street templates.  Elements with no dimension specified are omitted from the template.

Business street – parking on one side

Business street – parking on both sides

Business street – 4 lanes, parking on both sides

Business street with median


In 2007, the County Council sought to change county road standards in order to reduce traffic speeds and foster a more pedestrian-friendly street environment, particularly in urban areas.  Many desired an approach of narrowing streets to calm traffic and provide more space beyond the curbs, while bicyclists were concerned that narrowing roads might become the default solution.  At the same time, environmental stakeholders wanted to incorporate new stormwater management techniques to reduce stormwater runoff into sewers and streams.  So with urging from bike advocates and water quality advocates and others, the council established a work group of 20+ stakeholders to create the new standards by consensus.   I represented bicyclists on the work group, while other group members came from organizations as varied as the Coalition for Smarter Growth, AAA and WMATA.  Government members on the work group represented DOT, the Planning Department, Montgomery County Public Schools, MCFD, MCPD and various other agencies.  Over several months the work group discussed the issues and hammered out details until they’d crafted a new draft set of design standards.  The county adopted the standards with a few tweaks, creating the Road Code that’s in effect today.

The resulting standards were generally a compromise.  The recommended bike lane widths are acceptable (mostly without door zone issues).  Most street types in the guide have bike lanes as an option (except for one key type).  Wide outside lanes are recommended on fast roads, though the stipulated width is less than what’s desired.  Wide outside lanes on slower city streets are generally a thing of the past.

 Posted by at 4:26 am on Mar 24, 2013  Comments Off
Mar 122013

WashCycle has been reporting on this fatal crash, which occurred at the intersection of Fenton St and Silver Spring Ave in Silver Spring on Sunday evening.

From the Montgomery County Police Department press feed:

Detectives from the Montgomery County Police–Collision Reconstruction Unit (CRU) are investigating a fatal collision that occurred last evening in Silver Spring.

Last night (March 10) at approximately 9:08 p.m., 3rd District officers and Fire & Rescue responded to the intersection of Silver Spring Avenue and Fenton Street for the report of a collision.  Preliminary investigation by patrol units indicated that the bicyclist was northbound on the sidewalk of the southbound side of Fenton Street and was approaching Silver Spring Avenue.  A 2004 Toyota Corolla was traveling westbound on Silver Spring Avenue and was approaching Fenton Street on a green light.  The bicyclist entered the intersection on a red light and collided with the Corolla.  The bicyclist, who was not wearing a helmet, was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.  The driver of the vehicle was transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The bicyclist is identified as Jesus Antonia Hernandez, age 23, of the 100 block of  E. Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring.  The driver of the Corolla is identified as Maria Inciong, age 79, of the 18000 block of Branchwood Lane in Sandy Spring.

The circumstances surrounding this collision remain under investigation.  Investigators are asking anyone who witnessed this fatal collision to contact the Collision Reconstruction Unit at 240-773- 6620.  Callers may remain anonymous.

 Posted by at 3:18 am on Mar 12, 2013  Comments Off