Oct 102011

This is a follow-on story to Way Cleared for Path in Little Bennett Regional Park.

At the October 6th Planning Board hearing on the Little Bennett Regional Park Day Use Area, I testified on behalf of MoBike that the planned trail along Rt. 355 past the park must be built on the EAST side of 355. The Planning Board agreed, sort of. The trail should be on the east side of 355 because that’s the side where the park is and where several other paths connect to 355 (south of the park). It’s also the side with fewer driveways along 355 that the path would have to cross. The previous plan (Little Bennett Regional Park Plan of 2007) had the path going on the east side some some 50 feet back from the road. But the Department of Transportation has called for it to be on the west side because it would be easier to build there. So the Parks Department’s recommendation coming into the Thursday hearing was to build the path only on the west side. On the east side there would be just a sidewalk next to the road, widened somewhat for bike use south of the day use area.

Thanks to bike advocates’ efforts, the Planning Board provided assurances Thursday that the sidewalk on the east side would effectively be a shared use path by making it 8′ wide and safely separating it from the roadway. That’s neither as wide nor as far from the road as intended, but it is a shared use path under most standards. The path also won’t necessarily continue north of the day use area as anything more than a narrow sidewalk, so we have to keep pushing for more width there. The plan to build a path on the west side of 355 (regardless of any sidewalk or path on the east side) is still in place, but building that path could take many years.

A bigger problem is that the county Parks Department has canceled not one but two long paved trails in the park. The reason bicyclists have to settle for the nominal path next to 355 is that the Parks Department canceled the plan to build a trail through the heart of the park where it would be safer, more convenient, and more appealing. The path through the park was called for in the 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan (plan map is here).
It would have been a three mile long uninterrupted paved trail running the length of the park, connecting to Clarksburg at the south end and Hyattstown at the north end. It would have avoided all major roads and not be plagued with unsafe driveway crossings like the 355 sidepath. The Clarksburg Master Plan also called for a paved path running across the park from east to west, but that was canceled as well, never to be seen again. These cancellations were codified in the 2007 Little Bennett Regional Park Plan (map is here). Yes, the county is awash in plans!

There’s been a disturbing trend in the past several years of the Parks Department or Planning Department removing hard surface trails from park plans. Trails that have fallen victim to this trend in the past few years are the Northwest Branch Trail and the lower two-thirds of the Muddy Branch Trail. In those cases the trails were pushed outside of the parks, to be built as inferior sidepaths along streets or never to be built at all. This is a point I’ll be making during the upcoming revision of the Countywide Park Trails Plan.

Jack Cochrane

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