Planning Department Unveils ‘Bicycle Stress Map’

Map rates all county and state roadways on how easy or difficult they are to bike


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A bicyclist rides along northbound Wisconsin Avenue near Bradley Boulevard

Aaron Kraut

The Planning Department on Tuesday unveiled a color-coded “Bicycle Stress Map” that rates each road and trail in Montgomery County by how likely it is to be used by a bicyclist.

The online map, part of the Planning Department’s ongoing Bicycle Master Plan, could end up being a key tool transportation planners use to determine where to add bicycle lanes, cycle tracks, off-road trails and other bicycling facilities.

David Anspacher, who’s managing the Bicycle Master Plan for the Planning Department, presented the map during Tuesday’s County Council session in Rockville.

“We’re going to use this tool to help us identify and prioritize changes that are needed for low-stress bike routes in the county,” Anspacher said.

He showed a tool on the map that allows a user to find out what percentage of residents in the immediate areas of Metro stations are connected to those stations on a “low-stress bicycle network,” a term that generally means roads with lower volumes of vehicle traffic, vehicles that are moving more slowly or off-road sidewalks and mixed-use trails which bicyclists can use to avoid mixing with vehicle traffic.

According to the Planning Department's Bicycle Stress Map, only 4 percent of residents who live within the shaded area around the Bethesda Metro station have a completely "low-stress" way to get to the station. Via Planning Department

Only 4 percent of dwelling units within the immediate area of the Silver Spring Metro station are connected by a low-stress bicycle network, for example.

But Anspacher said that rate would increase to about 25 percent with the completion of three planned off-road trails: the Capital Crescent Trail, Metropolitan Branch Trail and Silver Spring Green Trail.

Anspacher said it could expand to 65 percent if the county moves forward with a proposal for separated bike lanes on the northern perimeter of Silver Spring’s central business district. The map could be used to identify where to best make connections between existing bicycle facilities.

The map also includes videos, shot with a GoPro camera attached to a bicycle, showing examples of what the Planning Department considered high-stress, moderate-to-low-stress, low-stress and no-stress roadways.

The high-stress roadway example was Shady Grove Road, a heavily traveled four- and six-lane roadway in Rockville and Gaithersburg without separated bicycle lanes. Vehicles drive by a few feet from the bicyclist at increasing speeds as the 20-second video progresses.

“I was stressed just watching it,” someone at the council hearing remarked during Anspacher’s presentation.

The no-stress example was a video of a ride along the Bethesda Trolley Trail, an off-road walking and bicycling trail that connects downtown Bethesda to the White Flint area.

Based on a methodology developed in a 2012 report from San Jose University’s Mineta Transportation Institute, the Planning Department says the seven stress rating levels used on the map can predict how many, or how few bicyclists are likely to use a particular roadway.

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