Thursday, January 23, 2020

here's a list of all the bike projects coming to silver spring

Silver Spring has seen a big expansion of bike lanes in recent years, but it may only be the beginning. This week, transportation officials gave an update on several new projects in downtown Silver Spring that could make it safer to bike and walk in the area.

Silver Spring has a bunch of new bike lanes, including this one on Wayne and Second avenues. (Check out that little red bus lane too.) Image by the author.
Once home to the “Stupidest Bike Lane in America,” Montgomery County has started taking bike infrastructure seriously. Downtown Silver Spring now has over a mile and a half of protected bikeways, which have a physical buffer from motor vehicle traffic. It’s also home to the first “protected intersection” in the Mid-Atlantic, at Second Avenue and Spring Street, which slows down drivers while giving bicyclists a dedicated space to turn or cross the street. The county’s efforts to measure how stressful streets are for bicycling have won national awards.

As Channel 9 noted in its report about the meeting, these projects have taken on added urgency in recent months, as drivers have killed several county residents while walking or bicycling. Three people have died walking or bicycling on Montgomery County roads since New Year’s Day, and a driver hit a fourth person Tuesday afternoon.

Big plans for walking and bicycling in Silver Spring

Tuesday night, a standing room-only crowd filled the cafeteria at East Silver Spring Elementary School for a presentation from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation on several projects designed to make Silver Spring safer for walking and bicycling, including:

  • Redesigning the intersection of Fenton Street and Route 410, also known as Burlington Avenue and Philadelphia Avenue. Once an industrial neighborhood, this intersection is now home to Montgomery College, a growing number of apartment buildings, and a community garden, but retains large, wide “slip lanes” that encourage drivers to speed through the area while turning right. County planners want to remove both slip lanes, replacing them with green space, and create a protected intersection similar to the one at Second and Spring. This project could start construction as early as next summer.
  • Testing ways to slow down traffic on Grove Street, a narrow, residential street next to downtown Silver Spring where drivers speed and there aren’t any sidewalks. Transportation officials will track how many cars travel on the street and how fast they’re going before installing temporary traffic calming devices, like speed humps or bumpouts, which allow the county to change or add things based on community feedback. This could start in the coming months.
  • Adding bike lanes along Planning Place, an alley between Fenton Street and the cycletrack on Spring Street, and Dixon Avenue, a short street behind the Silver Spring Metro station. While Planning Place could begin construction this fall, Dixon Avenue is on hold while the Purple Line is built, since it’ll cross that street.
  • Building a bike parking facility by the Silver Spring Metro station where people can park up their bikes while going to work or catching a train or bus. It’ll be a covered, secure room like the College Park Bike & Ride, located at the College Park Metro station. That could be built either this fall or in the spring of 2021.
Fenton Street could get separated bikeways

The biggest project in the works is a mile-long, two-way separated bikeway along Fenton Street, running north-south through all of downtown Silver Spring between Cameron Street and King Street. Fenton Street is one of Silver Spring’s main streets, home to Montgomery College, dozens if not hundreds of shops and restaurants, the library, a future Purple Line station, the Silver Spring Civic Building, and a connection to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. It’s a busy street, with a lot of foot traffic, bicyclists, buses, and cars, but it’s also a relatively narrow one. For most of the corridor, there’s only one through lane in each direction.

Montgomery County started looking at this a few years ago, but put it aside due to pushback from residents who claimed bike lanes would take away parking spaces and push truck traffic to side streets. Since then, an underground garage with room for over 160 cars opened just off of Fenton Street, and now county planners are looking at ways to build bike lanes and retain on-street parking.

A map of where a new bike lane on Fenton Street would go. Image by Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
Right now, county planners are looking at building a two-way bike lane on the west side of the street, with a curb separating it from cars, trucks, and buses. North of Colesville Road, Fenton Street is wide enough that they can make room for the bike lanes by narrowing the existing traffic and parking lanes. Between Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue, where there’s a short segment with two southbound lanes, bike lanes could replace the curbside lane.

South of Wayne Avenue, things get complicated. Fenton Street gets a little narrower, but also has a third lane for turning. Planners are looking at six different alternatives for this section: four keep the on-street parking on both sides, two only have on-street parking on one side, and three shift the curbs on one side of the street two feet over to gain space.

At intersections, existing bumpouts that narrow the street even more could shift to make room for the bike lanes. Instead of a continuous left turn lane, there could be a smaller “turn pocket,” though county planners are also looking at restricting left turns at some locations.

There's still a lot to figure out

There were some vocal opponents at the meeting, who raised concerns about parking and deliveries to local businesses. But most residents appeared at least open to it, if not supportive. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has a petition with over 500 signatures supporting the Fenton Street bike lanes, 400 of which are from Silver Spring and Takoma Park residents.

For now, there aren’t a lot of details about this project. The drawings shown were very conceptual; Matt Johnson, a bicycle planner for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, was explicit that the county is only exploring how a bike lane would work on Fenton Street. County planners will study this through January 2021, he said, before selecting a configuration to pursue further and spending 18 to 24 months to actually design it.

A two-way bike lane on Woodglen Drive in North Bethesda, which is similar to what's proposed for Fenton Street. Image by the author.
Montgomery County has money in its budget to design and build the bike lanes, but the very earliest we’d see construction start is summer 2022. Peter Gray, a resident and WABA member, asked if there was any way the project could happen sooner.

“We want to do it right, not quickly,” said Johnson. “We want to build a gold standard facility, and for it to work well.”

Better walking and biking support Montgomery County's goals

Montgomery County has several good reasons to invest in making Silver Spring safer to walk and bike. 60% of downtown Silver Spring residents do not drive to work, while East Silver Spring, the neighborhood where Grove Street is located, has some of the county’s highest rates of walking and biking to work.

These projects also align with the county’s own policies. Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gases in our region, and making it easier to walk and bike supports the county’s efforts to combat climate change. In a majority-minority community where one-third of residents don’t own cars, walking and biking infrastructure is key to the county’s emphasis on racial equity, ensuring that everyone regardless of race or income level has access to safe, affordable transportation.

If you’re interested in learning more, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation has a website for the Fenton Street and Grove Street projects, including the drawings and maps that were presented at the meeting.

No comments: