Bike lanes and bike boxes are in green at the intersection of Cedar Street and Ellsworth Drive. Photo by Mike Diegel.
The completion of a project to create separated bike lanes on Spring and Cedar streets is at hand as the Planning Department continues to work on an updated bicycle master plan.
“The purpose of the plan is to create a bicycling network that is comfortable for most people, from young kids to older adults,” said David Anspacher, the plan’s project manager, who has been working on it since 2015.
The last time the bicycling plan had a comprehensive update was in 2005. It included recommendations for bike lanes on the two streets, though not specifically separated lanes.
Since then, “so much has changed in how we plan for bicycling, how we implement bikeways, and how we think about people who bicycle,” Anspacher said.
One of the major components of the plan is a bicycle stress map, launched in April 2016. The map shows streets with one of six stress tolerance levels from “very low,” defined as “everyone will bicycle” to “very high,” where “very few adults will bicycle.”
“The purpose of this digital map is to understand impediments to bicycling and to identify and prioritize the changes that are needed to create a low-stress bicycling environment for people who say they would be interested in bicycling, but do not currently bicycle because they have safety concerns,” according to a Planning Department press release.
The sections covered in the Spring-Cedar project are rated on the stress map from “moderate low” (many adults will bicycle) to “moderate high” (some adults will bicycle).
“[The project] is consistent with the approach of the whole bike plan,” Anspacher said. “It’s adding separation from traffic to reduce the stress that people feel when they’re riding along the road.
“This is the first segment of what is considered a comprehensive network that is envisioned in the master plan,” Anspacher added. “Ultimately, it’ll connect to bikeways on 16th Street, the Capital Crescent Trail once completed as part of the Purple Line project, and bikeways on Wayne Avenue, on Second Avenue and others.”
Matt Johnson is the project manager with the county’s Department of Transportation, which is implementing the plan. The $1.4 million project, which included street repaving that had already been planned, goes beyond the 2005 recommendations by building separated bike lanes.
“Separated bike lanes are separated from traffic by some form of vertical barrier. In this case, that will mean flex posts, which are about three feet high, white plastic tubes,” he said. “They’ll sit in a buffer that’s two to three feet wide at least—sometimes it’s wider than that—and those on their own will separate cyclists from vehicles, and along most of the project corridor, there’s also parking along that buffer.”
Johnson said the flex posts are expected next week and pointed out some of the other safety features being installed. Many of these are based on national best practices and in use in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Vancouver, among others.
“At conflict zones, which are locations where drivers are likely to cross over the bike lane for turns, or for driveways or cross streets, we’re using green pavement markings,” he said. “Green pavement markings are the national standard for marking bike lanes.”
The green dashed areas show where drivers are allowed to cross over the lanes.
“In areas where drivers are not supposed to drive at all, we use solid greens,” Johnson said.
“Another feature we have are what are called bike boxes,” he said. “A bike box is a waiting area for bicycles that’s between the [white] stop bar where vehicles stop and the crosswalk at intersections.
“It serves several purposes, one of which is that cyclists, when they approach from the bike lane, it gives them a chance to spread out in the intersection,” Johnson explained, “which makes them more visible to drivers who are less likely to turn right into their path or across their path.”
Cyclists can start side-by-side in a bike box and merge back into the lane, which speeds up clearing the intersection, and auto traffic thus moves faster as well.
Other boxes are designed to assist cyclists to turn left via either a box in the left lane or a two-stage queue box on the right side of the roadway.
Turning cyclists wait for a green light, then proceed into the box, out of the way of other cyclists. When the light turns green for the cross street, they’re first in line to make the turn.
This project is the first of several separated bike lanes project the county is considering. The next one planned to run from Second and Spring streets across Colesville Road onto Wayne Avenue to its end on Georgia Avenue, where it will connect to the Silver Spring Green Trail. That project should get underway in the summer of 2018.
The department is also studying bike lane possibilities on Fenton Street.
“There is a lot of demand for connecting Montgomery College to Silver Spring, and also to connecting the Metropolitan Branch Trail to downtown Silver Spring,” Johnson said. “[Fenton Street is] really the only connection, and Georgia Avenue is too wide and fast for people to feel comfortable riding on.”
While the department appreciates the patience that’s been shown during this project, Johnson said a little more would be needed as people learn how the changes affect parking and traffic patterns.
In the meantime, planning staff expect to present the master plan’s working draft to the Planning Board in late fall, and the public will have another opportunity to weigh in on the recommendations.