With Capital Bikeshare on its way to Montgomery County, local officials are looking at ways to to improve the county’s bike network. White Flint won’t be seeing the bright red bikes anytime soon, but it’s still a good opportunity to look at how the Sector Plan will accommodate bicyclists.
County officials envision the new White Flint as a place where people can get around not just by car, but by foot, bike and transit as well. But for that to actually happen, we need a street network that serves all users, not drivers.
The White Flint Sector Plan calls for a network of new streets, which will give traffic of all kinds an alternative to Rockville Pike. Many property owners have volunteered to give up some of their land for the new streets. However, the plan explicitly refers to a relatively small network of bike lanes and “shared use paths,” which are basically wide sidewalks shared by bicyclists.
In the future White Flint, the only bike lanes or shared use paths mandated by the plan are on major streets, like Rockville Pike, Nicholson Lane, and Old Georgetown Road. Even the future Recreation Loop, which is intended to connect White Flint’s open spaces, will mainly rely on signage to direct bicyclists along regular streets.
The plan’s urban design guidelines list different types of streets that should make up White Flint’s future grid, including “business streets” and “market streets,” but none of them have bike lanes. As a result, bike infrastructure on the side streets will be up to the property owners to create, since they’ll be building many of those streets as they redevelop their properties. It’s important that they’re consistent and connect to one another.
Even if Rockville Pike becomes a urban boulevard as intended, not all bicyclists will want to use it, whether because it’s so busy or because isn’t not the route they want to take. And while shared use paths are ideal on streets where there isn’t a lot of foot or bike traffic, that won’t be the case in the future White Flint. There will still be cars in the future White Flint, enough that there won’t be room for bikes if thy don’t have a dedicated space on the street.
The bike network should have more connections. Cyclists have multiple safe, attractive ways to get from one place to another. More connections mean more destinations that are easily reached by bike, which creates more of an incentive to bike.
We also need to provide real bike infrastructure, whether that’s additional bike lanes or even cycle tracks, which are lanes that are separated by a curb or another barrier. There’s a great example of a cycle track along 15th Street NW in DC. Cycle tracks eliminate one of the biggest safety hazards of bicycling, which is getting doored by parked cars.
On the narrowest, quietest streets, the best option may be a sharrow, a symbol painted on the street that tells drivers that this is a shared space. This is actually an excellent way to calm traffic, since cars and bikes have to share the lane, making both drivers and cyclists more cautious.
We have to look at factors that influence how and where cyclists bike. For many bicyclists, topography is one of the most important considerations, but the proposed bike lane on Old Georgetown Road goes up a large hill, which may discourage some riders. But parallel to it is Marinelli Road, which is not only less steep but less busy, making it a potentially better street for bicycling.
Since the proposed street network doesn’t always make room for bikes, adding bike lanes or cycle tracks will require asking property owners where new streets will go through for a wider right-of-way than they may have agreed to give. Adding bike lanes may mean slightly less room for development, but it means that we can actually fulfill the goals of the plan. Studies also show that more bicyclists can be good for business, which should hopefully make up for the lost space.
More bicycling are a good thing for White Flint, and we should encourage more of it. The key, however, is ensuring that there’s a safe, convenient place for them on our streets.