Progress on Safer Suitland Road Campaign in PG County

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.
Buffered Bike Lane Arlington

Buffered Bike Lane in Arlington. Photo by J Sanchez

Protected Bike Lane

Protected Bike Lane in Arlington. Photo by Michael Schade

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. Click here to sign up for updates on the Safer Suitland Road campaign.

Suitland Road Bikeway Retrofit Feasibility Report

Phill Melton is an active member of Action Committee for Prince George’s County and a WABA Member

Strong Turnout, Great Ideas at Suitland Road Walk April 4th, about two dozen area residents gathered for a community walk on Suitland Road in southern Prince George’s County. We saw a strong showing from the Suitland Civic Association, Dupont Village Neighborhood Watch, Black Women Bike DC, invested neighbors and commuters. Though everyone arrived by different modes – car, bike, train and bus – we all set out together on foot to imagine what a “Safer Suitland Road” could look like. Starting near the intersection of Silver Hill and Suitland Road, the group walked north along the commercial strip to the water tower. Along the way, we took note of challenges to walking, biking, transit and accessibility. Intermittent sidewalks, unpaved walking paths, wide travel lanes, high speeds, debris filled shoulders and some deep puddles made the list. Walking back the group considered solutions to these challenges. With fresh ideas, stories, and new acquaintances, we sat down for a discussion at the Suitland Community Center on what Suitland Road is today and what a safer, more complete Suitland Road might look like. Over the next hour, we catalogued some of the biggest challenges to walking and biking and discussed some solutions, including protected bike lanes, which could make a substantial improvement. Surveys showed some clear trends. Wheelchair access on Suitland Road is very challenging while driving is relatively easy. Priority number one for survey respondents include: “sidewalks and protected bike lanes on both sides”, “continuous sidewalk”, “enforce traffic speed”, “speed limit”, “protected bike lane” and  “bus shelter”. Priority two includes: “crosswalks”, “walking safety”, “better lighting”, “sidewalks”. Priority three includes: “bike traffic signs”, “crosswalks”, “shelter for bus stops”, “lights” and “reduce the speeding” It was terrific to see such a strong turnout from the community and to hear so many great ideas for creating a safer Suitland Road. The WABA Action Committee for Prince George’s will continue working with the Civic Association, neighborhood groups, and state and county officials to push these dreams towards reality.

It wouldn’t cost much to make this Prince George’s road safer for everyone

by Jeff Lemieux  Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington. Suitland Road, a major thoroughfare in Prince George’s County, offers nothing for people who walk, ride bikes, or take the bus. There’s enough room to make the road nicer and safer for everybody, and the cost would be tiny.

Proposal for Suitland Road. Illustration by the author.

Suitland Road is a rural-style, two-lane road that passes through a nondescript commercial patch on the way from DC to the Suitland Federal Center. It has no sidewalks or bike lanes between Southern Avenue in DC and Silver Hill Road in MD, and and its wide traffic lanes (16 feet in some places) encourage speeding. However, it will soon be the hub for new development next to the federal center and near the Metro station.

Suitland Road in its current condition. Photo by the author.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association Prince George’s action committee has made transforming Suitland Road into a bike friendly space a top priority for 2015. The committee published a proposal to repurpose Suitland Road’s wide traffic lanes, center turn lanes, and shoulder space to a street with protected space for biking and walking on either side. There’d be no need for additional asphalt, or even sidewalk paving.

Suitland Road between Maryland and DC. Image from Google Maps.

All things considered, the suggested changes are cheap

Adding the protected bike lanes and walk space that are in WABA’s proposal would cost between $80,000 and $165,000, with annual maintenance costs of less than $10,000. Of course, actual sidewalks, along with bus platforms and landscaping, would be nice. But the idea is to calm traffic and make Suitland Road safer for people on bikes and foot as quickly and inexpensively as possible.WABA’s proposal uses flexposts, a “soft” bike lane protector that’s common in DC, rather than more expensive curbing or a raised roadbed for bike lanes. The cost estimates also cover bike symbols, lane and buffer striping, and changing existing pavement lines.There are two main approaches to lane striping. The first, thermoplastic lines (hot tape), would cost about $165,000 to install. They’d carry an annual maintenance price tag of about $1,200. The other option would be to use white paint for the lane markings. This would cost about $80,000 upfront, with $9,600 in annual maintenance. On a per-mile basis, these cost estimates are considerably lower than most types of roadway improvements. The estimates, meant to provide ballpark figures rather than specifics, are from an engineer familiar with the proposal. The Maryland State Highway Administration, which maintains Suitland Road, recently added road design guidelines that include buffered striping for bike lanes along with curbed protection features. WABA’s proposal uses flexposts, a “soft” bike lane protector that’s common in DC, instead of curbing or a raised roadbed for bike lanes. The Suitland Civic Association, WABA, and local bike shops are planning a community walk to advocate for a better Suitland Road on April 4th.

Towards a Safer Suitland Road

Suitland Road runs 1.6 miles from Southern Ave. in SE DC to Silver Hill Road (MD-458) in PG County. Despite being a crucial step linking nearby neighborhoods, shops,, transit and employment centers, Suitland Road offers a hostile experience for anyone traveling by foot or bike. With 18 foot lanes, drivers easily drive above the 30mph speed limit. There are bus stops, but no continuous sidewalks to get to them. There is ample room for bicyclists, but no accommodations to make them feel safe. Suitland Road is a convenient connection, but only if the trip starts with car keys.  WABA’s Action Committee for Prince George’s County is working to change this imbalance with it’s first campaign: A Safer Suitland Road.

In a county known for its difficulty accommodating and protecting vulnerable road users, Suitland Road is a clear candidate for new infrastructure.  The road’s wide lanes and shoulders offer drivers a tempting opportunity to push speed limits, but they also leave ample room for bike and foot traffic without removing car lanes.  Requiring only design and minimal changes to the roadway, adding protected bike and pedestrian lanes would be a cost effective addition to a roadway with a 10 year history of declining vehicle use.  If completed, these protected lanes will extend the reach of DC’s bike lane and trail network to Silver Hill Road and the Suitland Federal Center offering better connections to nearby neighborhoods, shops, employment centers and transit.

Bike and pedestrian routes along Suitland Road would benefit local businesses, give local residents easier access to transit, help commuters and students get to work and school,  and reduce unsafe speeding — all without removing travel lanes.  We look forward to working with officials from the county and Maryland State Highway Administration to make this corridor a safer place for all who use it.  For more information, please see the campaign page.

Learn more about the campaign

Suitland Road-before (1)

Which street configuration would you prefer to ride and walk? Image from Google Street View