by Phill Melton and Garrett Hennigan
Since we launched our campaign for a Safer Suitland Road in Prince George’s County last winter, we’ve been listening and gathering input from Suitland residents, community activists, and interested citizens about their hopes for what Suitland Road could be. So far, the consensus has been clear: we all want a safe street where walking and biking are easy. Since it has been a while since our last news, here is an update on where we are in this campaign.
Following our April community walk, we worked with community leaders and local organizations to find a shared list of priorities — issues like speeding traffic, crumbling or missing sidewalks, hostile riding conditions and poor lighting. In July, we shared our priorities and vision with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) which owns and maintains the road. In a joint letter, we expressed the urgent need for reducing speeding and creating safe, protected places to walk and bike. Read the full letter here (pdf).
Our initial research showed that with the road’s width and low traffic volume, installing a protected bike lane would not be very costly, especially where repaving and restriping was already necessary. Indeed, since 2015, SHA engineers have been conducting a feasibility study exploring low cost improvements to walking and biking on this same stretch of Suitland Road. That report is finally complete, marking a major milestone in this campaign. This first look shows some encouraging possibilities. Read the full report here.
In the report, SHA found that by repurposing existing shoulders and narrowing wide travel lanes, buffered bike lanes can easily fit between Southern Avenue and Silver Hill Road. While not the protected bike lanes we were hoping for, buffered bike lanes, in which bicyclists are separated from travel lanes by a wide painted buffer, are an enormous improvement from the 18 foot lane speedways in place today. If implemented, this will be the first use of buffered bike lanes on a Maryland state road since SHA updated bikeway guidelines earlier this year. If designed well, buffered bike lanes can easily be upgraded to protected lanes in the future once maintenance-related concerns over protected bike lanes are resolved within SHA.
The study also explored options to add sidewalks along Suitland Road. Currently, sidewalks run less than half a mile of the 1.5 mile road, but block-long gaps, crumbling curbs and uneven ground force pedestrians into the street. Under any of the options proposed, existing sidewalks would be upgraded and repaired to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, but the study also showed that building sidewalks the remaining mile is possible, though expensive. To include expanded sidewalks in the project, the Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) needs to commit to assisting in right-of-way acquisition and 25% of construction costs. Thanks to SHA’s Sidewalk Retrofit program, the county has a terrific opportunity to make Suitland Road more walkable. We urge DPWT to step up and commit to making this road work for all users.
We are glad to see the SHA’s commitment to buffered bike lanes in this project and hope to see good walking options included as this project moves towards design and engineering. We look forward to continuing our work with the SHA, the DPWT, and, most importantly, the residents of Prince George’s County.
Phill Melton is an active member of Action Committee for Prince George’s County and a WABA Member