Plans for a full network of bike lanes and bikeways across Montgomery County cleared a crucial hurdle last week. New bikeways through Downtown Silver Spring and connections to the Metropolitan Branch Trail should be complete within the next few years.
Montgomery County recently unveiled plans a protected bikeway that will run the length of Spring and Cedar Streets around the edge of the Silver Spring Central Business District, but protected cycling on several blocks around the periphery of downtown Silver Spring will not, on their own, create stress free routes for bicyclists to travel from point A to point B in the area.
While Montgomery County is aggressively pursuing a comprehensive countywide bicycle master plan, few other concrete proposals had been made in Silver Spring beyond this bikeway, which would have been the first in the eastern half of the county.
Recognizing this need, County Councilmember Hans Riemer proposed a significant increase in the Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Area funding for the next five years. Last week, the Council’s Transportation and Energy Committee, consisting of Tom Hucker, Roger Berliner, and Nancy Floreen, voted unanimously to fund it.
The new proposal sets aside money for the following:
- In 2016, the Spring/Cedar Street protected cycle track.
- In 2017, a bike lane the length of Cameron Street, plus a bikeway and/or bike lane on Second/Wayne Avenue, west of Georgia Avenue, which is still the interim Georgetown Branch Trail until the Purple Line project is complete. (Note: The Montgomery Department of Transportation is handling the cycle track on Wayne between Colesville and Georgia, the old “Interim Transit Center” by the Discovery Building, as a part of the Silver Spring Green Trail, so those two blocks do not hinge on this plan).
- In 2018, cycle tracks on Dixon Avenue (among many new high rises there), and Fenton Street and Wayne Avenues past Downtown Silver Spring.
- In 2019, Fenton Street from Wayne Avenue to Montgomery College (the length of Fenton Village), to connect with the newly finished Metropolitan Branch Trail.
- In 2020, a bike lane on Blair Mill Road past the newly rebuilt Blairs complex, and a cycle track on 13th Street through South Silver Spring to connect to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
In all, this plan allows ten segments of key bicycling routes to become safer for all users. With a full network of usable routes, virtually all trips within the densest part of Silver Spring can safely be accomplished by bike, and all of the benefits of a robust cycling network can be realized, just as urban centers across our region and nation are now seeing. “Moving these bike lane projects forward will be so important to enhancing the livability of Silver Spring,” said Hucker after the vote.
The plan calls for an increase in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas from $1 Million to $2.5 Million per year. The Silver Spring plan uses no more than $1.75 Million in any year, so remaining funds will be allocated towards other urban centers across the county where plans are not yet as advanced. Grosvenor, Glenmont, and Wheaton were specifically mentioned. This way, as the plans for Silver Spring evolve, and lessons are learned, the successes can be copied elsewhere in the county without having to start the entire process over again.
“I am thrilled we got this done — now we need to apply the network approach to building protected lanes to other parts of the county. We have a lot of momentum — as well as a long way to go — for making biking safer,” said Riemer after the committee approved his plan.
The next step for the bike network is a full council vote in May, as part of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which is expected to pass, as a majority of the council has spoken in favor of it.