Montgomery County Bike to Work Day ride by Montgomery County Planning Commission.

At the end of last month, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to approve a new Bicycle Master Plan. It calls for more than 1,000 miles of trails, paths, and separated bike lanes; expanded bicycle parking near transit and in commercial areas; and bicycle-supportive programs and policies.

“This plan raises the bar for bicycle infrastructure planning and design in North America,” Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson said in a press release. “It positions Montgomery County to be among the leading bicycling communities in the country.”

More than a quarter of these bike paths and trails already exist, and the county would build them out futher over the next 25 years. One of the goals of the plan is to prove that great biking isn't just limited to cities and urban areas. The improved bicycle infrastructure should also help the county with its Vision Zero goals.

This plan also places a larger emphasis on biking for transportation—rather than recreation—than previous ones did. About half of the county's trips are under 3.5 miles, and many of the commute trips are to Metrorail and MARC stations. Planners see this as an opportunity to capture a larger percentage of those trips by bicycle.

Proposed Montgomery County Breezeway Network by Montgomery County.

The plan represents paradigm shifts around bicycling

The Bicycle Master Plan is a comprehensive overhaul of the 1978 Master Plan of Bikeways, 2005 Countywide Bikeways Functional Master Plan, and all bikeway recommendations in past master and sector plans. It represents a paradigm shift in both the way the county views biking and in the way bike facilities are planned, designed, and built.

Planners first evaluated the stress level of every road and facility in the county and determined that 14% of potential bicycling trips can be made on a low-stress bicycling network. This plan aims to increase the mea­sure of low-stress connectivity to 55% by 2043.

Utilizing the county's stress map, they defined an 1,100-mile network of bikeways includes 573 miles of sidepaths, 172 miles of trails, 128 miles of bikeable shoulders, 99 miles of separated bike lanes and 48 miles of neighborhood greenways. This would more than triple the current system. (For some reference, BikeArlington says the county about 50 miles of bike trails, and Prince George's has 85 miles of multi-use trails.)

It also calls for more bike parking, a standardized design toolkit, more outreach, new ways of measuring bicycle demand, regular reporting and bicycle-supportive programs, and a legal and policy framework.

The plan represents a shift in the kinds of facilities intended for cyclists. Gone are wide outside lanes and “Share the Road” signs. In their place are facilities intended for, or primarily for, cyclists and other types of active transportation. Cyclists will eventually find bicycle parking stations at every Red Line Metro Station and at high-demand MARC, Purple Line, and CCT stations.

Planners have called for creating innovative “breezeways,” which are high-capacity routes of arterial bikeways between major activity centers such as Rockville and Friendship Heights. These breezeways, built in the same corridors as highways, railroads and utility lines, will form the backbone of intra-county active transportation.

Now here comes the hard part—funding

Bike advocates have expressed concern about the sidepaths and said they prefer protected bike lanes, but planners countered that the kinds of sidepaths they have in mind will be of much higher quality than the kind built in the past.

Some advocates are also concerned that the plan doesn't adequately support biking to school, particularly for elementary and middle school-age students. Planners point out that few schools have “bicycle connectivity” on paper because the standard is so high. For example, neighborhood sidewalks are not considered bikeable by children, and many schools sit alongside high-speed roads that wouldn't be considered safe even with bike lanes.

The plan will be updated to include revisions from the County Council it received on November 27, 2018. They will be posted as the Approved and Adopted Bicycle Master Plan by Spring 2019. Then the task becomes one of funding it.

The fiscal impact statement set the total cost of the 25-year plan at $3.1 billion, which doesn't consider “substantial” land acquisition costs. Many of these facilites are unfunded lines on a map, and that may be how some of them remain.

Developers are expected to pay around $500 million for work over the years. Another $1.8 billion represents dual-use facilites, such as bikeable shoulders which are also highway safety improvements, that would be done in conjunction with other projects.

Finding the money to fund these projects—and making sure that state and federal projects include the faciliites laid out in the plan—will be critical to achieving its goals.

The county hopes to create a transportation network that connects the county with convenient and low-stress bicycling routes, encourages more people to bicycle, provides equal access to low-stress bicycling for all members of the community, and improves safety for cyclists. It's a noble vision—the hard work will be making that vision a reality.