Bicycling in Montgomery County is growing, but without a sustained push for better infrastructure, we won’t be able to make cycling feasible and safe for the majority of county residents.

Next month, planners will kick off a master plan to guide bicycle infrastructure. This weekend, the county is hosting a bike summit to help launch that effort.

Lots of changes are afoot in Montgomery County. Bikeshare is picking up speed and the red bikes symbolize a change in the approach to transportation within the county. Montgomery is now home to some of the region’s best trails and most avid cyclists. The county has a new cycletrack in White Flint and similar bikeways are under consideration in other areas of the county. Yet, we are just getting started in creating a robust bicycle network. 

Planning that focuses on data

What’s different about the new Bicycle Master Plan being launched this summer is that it is based on more rigorous data collection and analyses than previous plans. Planners are reviewing every mile of road in the county to determine whether a segment generates a high, moderate, low, or very low stress level for bicyclists.

Within neighborhoods, there are many bike-friendly streets. But getting between neighborhoods and activity centers and basic services by bike often means crossing or riding on wide streets with high traffic speeds.

An initial analysis of Montgomery County’s bike-friendliness found that while three-quarters of the roadway network qualifies as a low stress environment, these areas form “islands of connectivity” separated by major highways and other high speed roads. 

Rockville Pike in White Flint. Image from Matt Johnson.

Most people are uncomfortable biking in such heavily trafficked environments. These low stress-tolerant groups, accounting for about 60 percent of the county’s population, would be unlikely to bicycle to many of Montgomery’s job centers and transit facilities without a network of separated bikeways and other enhancements.

Planners will estimate the percentage of trips that can be completed on the existing low-stress bicycling network and will propose new treatments that connect the “islands.”

Analyzing traffic stress

The analysis of the stress that cyclists face includes a tool called “Level of Traffic Stress.” The Level of Traffic Stress methodology was developed in a 2012 report from San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute and examines the causes of stress to cyclists.

Stressors include higher volume and higher speed traffic, frequent parking turnover, and bicyclists’ experiences in crossing major roads at intersections.

Lowering the stress that cyclists face will require a sustained commitment to next-generation bicycle facilities, such as separated bikeways, better signage and high-quality bike parking. The new countywide Bicycle Master Plan will reflect these practices in developing a high-quality, low-stress bicycle network and tailor new types of bikeways to specific locations.

As redevelopment occurs throughout the county, the opportunities to accommodate cyclists are immense as older areas are rebuilt and newer transit projects such as the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and Rapid Transit System are implemented. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has already expressed a willingness to consider adding bikeways in addition to what is required in our master plans.

Hosting the second annual Bike Summit

To support this planning process, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), Montgomery County Planning Department (MNCPPC), Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), and County Councilmember Hans Riemer are collaborating to host the Second Great MoCo Bike Summit on June 6, 2015, following the inaugural summit last year. 

This event will be a great opportunity for attendees to interact directly with county planners and leaders to help shape the future of bicycling in the county. The speaker sessions, held from 10 am to noon at the Silver Spring Civic Building, will include panel discussions about the Bicycle Master Plan and a variety of bike-related topics.

Last year’s summit attracted nearly 100 attendees. Learn more and RSVP here.

Hans Riemer is at at-large member of the Montgomery County Council, elected in 2010. Among his accomplishments, he worked to modernize the county’s approach to open government and online disclosure and collaborated with the Planning Department to hold community workshops aimed at improving Downtown Silver Spring. A resident of Takoma Park, Riemer is a dedicated environmentalist and cyclist.

Casey Anderson is the Chair of the Montgomery Planning Board. He has served on the five-member board since 2011. A strong advocate for improving the county’s transit network, Anderson is a biking enthusiast who has served on the board of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. He lives in Silver Spring and has been a community activist on smart growth issues.