- Sign our petition to voice your support
- Join the Prince George’s Action Committee and attend our next meeting
- Register for our Advocacy 101 Training for Prince George’s Advocates on August 27
WABA and BikeMaryland are pleased to announce the release of an exciting report by Jeff Lemieux (our 2016 Advocate of the Year) and Nolan O’Toole. Extending the WB&A Trail from MD450 to Washington, DC provides an economic analysis of the benefits of this critical connection in our regional trail network.
The Washington Baltimore & Annapolis trail (WB&A) is a paved multi-use trail that runs from Maryland Route 450 in Prince George’s County to the Patuxent River at the border of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties. Efforts are underway to extend the WB&A trail north-eastward over the Patuxent River and toward the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
This report provides a preliminary analysis of extending the current WB&A trail in the opposite direction: southwestward to connect with the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (ART) at the Washington, DC border. By 2016, the ART will be a continuous trail system connecting the Washington, DC riverfront with the extensive Anacostia Tributary Trail System in northern Prince George’s County. Extending the WB&A trail to the ART at the Maryland/Washington DC border would provide analogous trail connectivity for a large area of central Prince George’s County serving residents and visitors.
Prince George’s County leads the Washington region in pedestrian deaths, and it’s behind when it comes to trails and streets that are safe and useful for people on foot and bike. To fix the problem, the county will soon hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator and develop a bikeway plan.News of the hire comes from Darrell B. Mobley, Director of the County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T). Mobley says his agency wants to facilitate bicycling. More specifically, Mobley wants to make the county’s bike network more usable. While Prince George’s has a lot of trails and local streets that are perfect for bicycling, they aren’t connected well enough for bicyclists to reach a destination without riding on more hazardous state and county roads. Mobley wants to create a bicycle network across the county using trails, bike lanes and safe streets. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and several county council members have urged DPW&T to hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator since Rushern Baker first became the county executive. The county posted the job this week, specifying that it’s a Planner III position that will pay between $53,000 and $97,000 per year. The coordinator will report to Victor Weissberg, the special assistant in the director’s office who has long been responsible for representing the department on bike and pedestrian matters. According to Weissberg, the coordinator will have frequent access to both Mobley and Andre Issayans, DPW&T’s Deputy Director. Developing a bikeway plan is likely to be one of the first tasks for the new hire, says Weissberg. The county’s master plan of transportation shows where bike lanes and trails should be built in the very long run, but it does not address what will actually done or when. Weissberg says that creating a bikeway plan would probably require supplemental funding. “When the county is ready, we will find the money,” says Greg Billing, director of advocacy for WABA. Weissberg is not sure whether DPW&T will create a formal bicycle plan or something more like an internal work plan. But he promises to share drafts with the bicycle community and others as the plan is formulated. Does the new hire signal a substantive change in county policy, or just an institutional commitment? When Mobley was a top official at the Maryland Department of Transportation, the State Highway Administration (SHA) issued a policy declaring that bicycles would be presumed to ride on all state highways where bicycles are not explicitly prohibited, and that SHA would make at least some effort to make bicyling safer. For example, roads might get signs that told drivers that bicycles may take up the full lane. By contrast, DPW&T has stated that some roads are not part of the bicycle network, that cyclists use these roads at their own risk, and that no “use full lane” signs would go up on such roads because doing so would encourage other cyclists to ride on them. Mobley says that he is not ready to endorse SHA’s approach. He says that it is too soon to say that bicycles are part of the expected traffic mix on all county roads because he has not examined all of these roads. He wants to wait for the bike and pedestrian coordinator to come on board so that the county can adopt a position based on a reasoned analysis. “Give us some time and we’ll work through these challenges,” says Mobley.
Route 1 in College Park is about to undergo a major reconstruction. As long as Maryland’s State Highway Administration doesn’t widen the road’s travel lanes, the project is a chance to make Route 1 safe for people on bikes.Local residents, the University of Maryland, the City of College Park, and biking advocates all want protected bike lanes on Route 1. SHA engineering guidelines now include design specifications for protected bike lanes. But SHA is looking into widening Route 1’s existing travel lanes at the expense of safe, usable bike lanes. Advocates from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association recently measured the existing roadway and lane widths on Route 1 between between the entrance to the University of Maryland and Greenbelt Road. Currently, that stretch is nearly 53 feet wide, with ten-foot travel lanes along the entire segment. Ten-foot lane widths would mean ample room for safer, buffered and protected bike lanes. On the other hand, making travel lanes wider would lead to higher vehicle speeds that’d then make it more difficult to make downtown College Park walking and biking-friendly. Narrow, unprotected bike lanes are unsafe alongside high-speed, high-traffic roads. Route 1 can be a road everyone can use SHA’s original proposal for Route 1 included 11-foot travel lanes plus five feet for bike facilities (a four-foot lane and a one-foot gutter pan). Five feet for bike lanes that run alongside Route 1’s heavy car and bus traffic is not enough space—
Whereas…. SHA proposes to rebuild US 1 with eleven foot wide travel lanes and four foot wide bike lanes, a design which …encourages high motor vehicle speeds,… places high speed motor vehicle traffic uncomfortably close to cyclists properly positioned in the bike lane [and limits] the ability of trucks and buses to provide the legally required three feet of passing clearance…Such an installation…would be more appropriate for a rural, low-traffic situation…Narrowing the motor vehicle traffic lanes would allow … wider bike lanes…and calm the motor vehicle traffic, enhancing safety in accordance with Maryland’s Complete Streets Policy…And the state’s flagship university deserves a design considerably better than the minimum requirements. MBPAC strongly urges the SHA to rebuild the section of US 1 through College Park to the safest design possible, which would, at a minimum, include narrow traffic lanes and at least six foot wide bike lanes, and if possible include a … cycletrack, buffered bike lane, or trail.(Disclosure: I wrote the first draft, which was revised by Greg Hinchliffe, interim Executive Director of Bikemore.) MBPAC and Advocates have struggled to get SHA to update its guidance. Over the last two years, MBPAC has reviewed SHA’s bicycle design guidelines, and urged SHA to make highways safe for cyclists, rather than merely provide narrow bike lanes. SHA’s guidelines provide for 4-foot bike lanes unless the speed limit is 50 mph (or 8% of the vehicles are trucks). With such narrow bike lanes, motor vehicles pass cyclists in a bike lane with less clearance than when they pass a car. For example, a 9-foot truck will pass a bicyclist in a 4-foot bike lane with an average clearance of two feet—less if you consider the mirrors and random meandering within the lane. By contrast, if the truck passes an SUV in another 11-foot travel lane, the clearance will be three feet. Why do SHA design guidelines provide drivers with more clearance than bicyclists? SHA has declined to explain its thinking. When MBPAC pointed out that such narrow widths are unsafe, SHA did not suggest that the bike lanes are safe:
Table 2.1 has been developed to provide simple consistent guidance for engineers to determine the minimum width needed for bicycle lanes. The heading of this table will be revised to state “Minimum shoulder widths” instead of “preferred”. Factors such as density of cross streets and volume of traffic will be considered on a project by project basis to ensure that the most appropriate measures are being implemented.Let’s give SHA the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps it is not cost-effective to build a wider bike lane along a rural highway with few cyclists, and four feet is a reasonable minimum. MBPAC wanted the design guidance to address the more common situation where the minimum is inappropriate, but SHA simply assured cyclists that it would not be bound by the minimum unless providing a safe facility “increases the cost significantly.” What about narrowing the travel lanes? The over-riding concern of both WABA and MBPAC was that the design guidelines start with a given level of service for motor vehicles, and then define how to provide some accommodation to cyclists with the remaining room and funding. MBPAC recommended that the guidance should discuss how SHA defines that level of service —most importantly speeds—given the presence of bikes and pedestrians. SHA responded that it considers the various design documents (designed to promote safe and efficient motor vehicle transportation) and that “It is neither realistic nor appropriate to attempt to include those policies in this document.” There is no need to explain how the presence of bicyclists affects the overall geometry of the highway, because in general, it doesn’t. In essence, SHA declared that it has no intention of developing guidance for a complete streets policy in which roads are designed to balance the needs of all road users. Given SHA’s devotion to 11-foot lanes, perhaps the US 1 proposal should have been expected. But recently some pedestrian fatalities led SHA to lower the speed limit to 25 mph, and send other signals that it wanted drivers in College Park to slow down. SHA usually resists lowering speed limits: many SHA engineers have told me that it is futile to set speed limits more than 5 mph below the design speed. If that’s so, then the only real opportunity to slow traffic is when a road is rebuilt. So why doesn’t SHA want to do that? “Our engineers generally set the design speeds to be 5 mph faster than the expected travel speeds, to keep drivers safe” explained a state employee, who asked not to be identified. With a speed limit of 25 mph and speed cameras set to 37 mph, drivers are safer and more comfortable with 11-foot lanes and a design speed of 40 mph. What’s next? WABA and other cycling organizations will be very disappointed with anything less than MBPAC’s minimum recommendation: ten-foot motor lanes, and six-foot bike lanes (plus a one-foot gutter). Granted: Widening the bike lanes alone would be a step in the right direction; protected bike lanes would be even better. But any design that fails to calm traffic to the 25 mph speed limit would be completely at odds with MDOT’s official complete streets policy. SHA and cycling advocates each have a poor understanding of what the other is trying to accomplish. This situation can be avoided if SHA enunciates clear policies regarding when and how driver comfort, safety, and speed will be compromised for cyclists and pedestrians, just as its bicycle guidelines already are clear about how bicycle facilities must be adapted to motor vehicle service. WABA endorses MBPAC’s call for a meeting with SHA on US Route 1, which should hopefully bring cyclists and SHA staff closer to a meeting of the minds. Jim Titus is a WABA board member from Prince George’s County