By

A Protected Bike Lane Loop for Bethesda

Provided the Council supports the funding, new protected bike lanes will soon be coming to downtown Bethesda. The County has unveiled a new plan to build a “low stress” bike loop in the downtown, running to the west on Woodmont Ave, to the south on Montgomery Lane/Montgomery Avenue, to the east on Pearl St./Maryland Ave, and to the north on Cheltenham Drive.

The loop will help provide safer connections to Metro, Capital Bikeshare, the interim Georgetown Branch Trail and future Capital Crescent Trail, the Bethesda Trolley Trail, nearby neighborhoods, local businesses, and many activity centers in Bethesda.

Construction could begin as early as Spring 2019.

Protected Bike Lane Loop in Bethesda

The loop is essentially an advance and initial implementation of the plan outlined by the Council in our new vision for Downtown Bethesda. Thanks to projects such as the Silver Spring and White Flint protected bike lane networks, the County has a growing expertise in building this infrastructure and now has the know-how to move quickly from concept to implementation.

The bigger vision we have is to make our roads safe for bicyclists of all ages and all skill levels. We know that more people will choose to ride their bike for trips to work, shopping, recreation, and transit if we provide “low stress” connections to their destinations. Indeed, this message was amplified by the public through hundreds of letters to the Council and their participation at community meetings, public hearings, and our Great Montgomery Bike Summits.

The closing of the Georgetown Branch Trail for Purple Line construction, however, brought great urgency to improving the safety for bicyclists in an around Bethesda. I heard from a number of residents including Anna Irwin,Tom and Barbora Bridle, Andrew Forsyth, and others, about the urgency of acting to improve biking in Bethesda, along with some specific requests to build protected bike lanes on Woodmont Ave among other streets. In response I organized a community meeting on November 1, 2017 where, joined in sponsorship by Councilmember Berliner, we discussed bicycling in and around Bethesda. With over 100 community members in attendance, MCDOT, MNCPPC, and WABA gave presentations and led a discussion on how to improve bicycling in the downtown. MCDOT presented a concept for a Bethesda loop built upon the master plan recommendations and their work on the interim route for the Georgetown Branch Trail. The concept was well-received by the community and bicycle advocate groups.

I followed up the meeting by writing a letter (pdf) with Councilmember Berliner to the County Executive requesting that he include funding for the loop in his recommended Capital Budget. The community followed up by raising a powerful voice. A new group, the Bethesda Bike Now Coalition, organized along with WABA to push for the infrastructure. They even did an awesome video that went viral. See below.

The County Executive agreed with us and included $3 million in new funding for the loop in Bethesda. While we must press on to keep the funding in the budget here at the Council, this is a great step forward, and I salute the County Executive for moving so quickly.

The residents, employees, and visitors of Bethesda will be well-served by building this bicycle loop, and we are all are eager to see tangible benefits from the master plan process.

By

Advancing Vision Zero in Montgomery County

There were forty traffic deaths in Montgomery County in 2014, the last year for which we have complete data. That includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists and hundreds more are injured. While we have come to accept these tragedies as a fact of life, many crashes are preventable. In recent years, we have also seen a spike in pedestrian and bicycle deaths. As more people walk, bike, and use public transit to get around in our County, warning pedestrians and bicyclists to use crosswalks and wear reflective clothing is simply not enough. Education is a key component of any safety initiative, but we need to reengineer our built environment so that mistakes are not deadly – drivers and pedestrians are people, and people will always make mistakes.

To reorient County government around this paradigm, I joined with Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich to introduce a Council resolution to establish a Vision Zero program in Montgomery County, which passed unanimously in February. Vision Zero is a commitment to use data and all available tools to reduce traffic deaths to zero by a specific date. This commitment helps is a very useful tool to focus our conversation and resources, and similar programs have drastically reduced crashes and fatalities in numerous jurisdictions abroad. Over the last few years, Vision Zero has been widely adopted by American cities. When we passed the resolution, we hoped that an Executive Branch Task Force would produce a report and recommendations by October 1, 2016. The County Executive has embraced the initiative and the Task Force’s is proceeding.

While the Task Force completes its work, including setting a date by which our County aims to reach zero deaths, I continue to look for ways to make our streets safer. One of the clearest ways to improve safety is to lower travel speeds. One 2011 study showed that while the risk of serious injury is only 10% when a pedestrian is hit by a car going 16mph, it rises to 25% at 23mph and 50% at 31mph. While investigating a constituent request to improve safety on a neighborhood street, I found that state law does not allow the County to set speed limits on County roads lower than 25mph and that the “default” speed limit on any residential road that does not have a posted speed limit is 30mph. There are limited exceptions that allow lower speeds, for example in school zones. For many residential streets, this is already far too fast. That floor also limits the ability of Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation to design new roads more safely or add traffic calming to existing roads that would reduce speeds lower than 25mph, since DOT’s criteria for whether traffic calming features are warranted (for example speed bumps) are based on the speed limit of the road.

I worked with District 20 Delegate David Moon to develop state legislation to address these issues, and Del. Moon has introduced three bills that would give Montgomery County more flexibility to lower speeds on our neighborhood streets. All of these bills would be authorizing only; the County would still have to act in order for any changes to go into effect. Our hope is that, if the State grants us this flexibility, the Vision Zero task force can consider and recommend appropriate changes to County policy that might result in lower speed limits, in addition to giving DOT the ability to make changes in individual situations.

MC 22-17: Default Unposted Speed Limit in Montgomery County

Introduced by Delegates Moon and Korman

This enabling legislation authorizes Montgomery County to lower the “default” speed limit on residential and business district roads that do not have a posted speed limit. The current default speed limit on these roads is 30mph. This bill would authorize the County to lower that limit as low as 20mph. Passage of this law would not implement a speed limit change; the county would still have to act.

MC 23-17: Lowest Posted Speed Limit Allowable in Montgomery County

Introduced by Delegates Moon and Korman

This enabling legislation authorizes Montgomery County to lower the speed limits on certain County roads to 15mph. The current floor is 25mph, with certain exceptions. Passage of this law would not implement a speed limit change, as the county would still have to take action and in most instances perform a traffic study before making the change. This change may be desirable in urban pedestrian zones or other areas with pedestrian safety issues, especially when engineering changes for pedestrian safety would accompany the lower speed limit.

MC 24-17: Speed Limit on Walk to School Routes

Introduced by Delegates Moon and Luedtke

This bill eliminates the requirement that Montgomery County conduct a traffic study before lowering speed limits on county roads within a walking radius of Montgomery County Public Schools and allows speed limits as low as 15mph. This change would allow MoCo’s “Safe Routes to School” program to more quickly implement engineering changes to improve safe pedestrian and bike access to public schools.

Make your voice heard

The Montgomery County Delegation will be holding Public Hearings for these (and all other) local bills on the evenings of Monday, December 5th and Wednesday, December 7th at the Council Office Building in Rockville. Sign up to testify here.