County Planners to Apply Bicycling Stress Test

Bicycle Master Plan will develop “stress map” to figure out where bicycle lanes, paths and other improvements are needed


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A bicyclists rides along northbound Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase

Aaron Kraut

Montgomery County planners think if a bicycle trip is less stressful, more people will ride.

It’s that philosophy that’s guiding the Planning Department’s Bicycle Master Plan, which Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson hopes will one day provide for more bicycle lanes, cycle tracks, pavement markings and less stress for the typical rider.

“We’re seeing plenty of desire on the part of people, even in suburban areas, to use bikes to get around, to use it as a practical means of transportation,” Anderson said. “The demand has been proven. We need to figure out a way to meet that desire in places where bicycling is not really very safe or inviting.”

Planners will create a bicycle “stress map” on which every street in Montgomery County will be assessed in terms of how stressful it is to bicyclists.

Roads with higher speeds, more vehicles, frequent parking turnover and large or confusing intersections would be labeled high-stress. Others would be designated as moderate, low and very low on the scale.

The stress levels will be determined via data, based on a methodology developed in a 2012 report from San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute.

David Anspacher, who’s managing the Bicycle Master Plan, said that evaluation will be “the foundation” of decisions about where new bicycle facilities are recommended and what kind are recommended.

“Usually in bike planning, it’s been much more of a gut-level exercise where planners will ask bike advocates where they want to see more bike facilities. They’ll look at a map and sort of eyeball it,” Anderson said. “The big difference between this plan and the bike plans that people have done in other parts of the country is it’s going to be less art and more science.”

Anderson said the goal is to create the best bicycle plan in the country.

An initial analysis found that three-quarters of the county’s roads qualify as low-stress for bicyclists. But those areas are mostly “islands of connectivity,” effectively separated from each other by major highways, congested arterials and long distances.

The Planning Department cited a survey that found almost 60 percent of residents fall into a low stress-tolerant group that would be unlikely to bike to many of the county’s downtown areas and Metro stations without a more pronounced network of separated bikeways.

Anspacher said the goal is to have the plan approved by the County Council in the fall of 2017. The planning portion will officially start July 1.

Anspacher will speak at council member Hans Riemer’s 2nd Annual Great Bike Summit June 6 in Silver Spring.

Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation has been active recently in providing new bicycle facilities in the White Flint area.

Woodglen Drive, which runs from the terminus of the off-road Bethesda Trolley Trail to Nicholson Lane, is home to the county’s first cycle track. The two-way bike lane is 8 feet wide and separated from a parking lane by white plastic posts and delineated by road markings.

The pavement was painted green in driveways and intersections where bicyclists might come in conflict with drivers.

Anderson said cycle tracks, which the county is also considering for Bethesda and Woodmont avenues in Bethesda, is an example of a treatment that wasn’t as popular when the Planning Department created its last Bicycle Master Plan in 2005.

Anspacher and his team also will use regional transportation demand forecasting models to decide the best routes for bicycle connections between major employment centers and transit stations that are part of planned projects such as the Corridor Cities Transitway and the Purple Line.

“For example, if you have a North Bethesda Trail and it’s very good from Woodglen Drive down to [the National Institutes of Health], but then you need to put in a better connection from NIH to the Bethesda Metro Station, how much increase in connectivity will you get,” Anspacher said. “It will show the potential of these bike networks and some sort of guidance as to which are the most important to do.”

Potential bicycle improvements and stress levels that will be part of Montgomery County's Bicycle Master Plan. Credit: Montgomery County Planning Department

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