January 17, 2018
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.
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.