As state reviews Wheaton bike path project, some disagree on efficiency, safety

A pilot bike lane project on University Boulevard from Amherst Avenue to Arcola Avenue was completed in December. Many members of the Kemp Mill community have expressed concern about lane safety and the removal of a turning lane on Arcola Avenue.

The Maryland State Highway Administration will host an online meeting Wednesday to share details about a recent bike lane usage trial in Wheaton.

For six months in 2021, bike lanes were used on a 1.35-mile stretch of Md. 193 from Amherst Avenue to Arcola Avenue. The pilot project finished in december.

Although there was support, not everyone was convinced of its effectiveness.

Residents of Kemp Mill are concerned about the overall safety of the bike paths, as well as how the project has removed a right turn on Arcola Avenue on University Boulevard near the eastern terminus of the project.

Ira Ungar, former president of the Kemp Mill Civic Association, said in an interview that he was not against cycle lanes. But the pilot project caused major disruption by eliminating the right-turn lane on Arcola Avenue, he said.

Ungar said this route helps many Kemp Mill residents connect to the National Highway, which brings them to Wheaton and many parts of the western part of the county.

Proponents, however, believe the pilot project did not cause much disruption along University Boulevard and that the project significantly expanded access for cyclists, pedestrians and others along the corridor.

Tina Regester, a spokesperson for SHA, wrote in an email that the pilot project was primarily intended to inform officials and give them an idea of ​​how this and other similar projects would work in the future. .

“As we move forward with future accessibility projects for vulnerable users, a key takeaway is to better balance any security risks created with enhancements,” Register wrote. “Temporary modifications made during the pilot project on Arcola Avenue have been implemented to ensure the safety of motorists and multimodal users in coordination with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT).”

Ungar, however, believes that many residents did not believe the lanes were safe for cyclists or pedestrians.

A local engineer suggested heavier plastic barriers for the lanes – perhaps filled with water or sand – and wrote a letter to SHA officials last May, but got no response, said said Ungar. The barriers used in the pilot project were flexible plastic posts separating the bike lanes from the vehicle lanes.

Peter Gray, co-chair of the Montgomery County Family Advocacy Group for Safe Streets, is one of the proponents of bike lanes.

In an interview, he said the lanes acted as more of a buffer between cyclists, wheelchair users, pedestrians and others, compared to motorists on University Boulevard. In the past, those not in motor vehicles had to share a limited space on the curb of the road, he added.

Gray and Ungar also took issue with how often the lanes were used – Gray thought the usage was extensive, while Ungar said he barely saw anyone using them. Regester wrote in an email that data from Wednesday night’s meeting would help answer that question.

Apart from usage and safety, Ungar said, the tracks needed to be better designed and the Kemp Mill community needed to be alerted that such a project was being implemented.

“We need to be consulted before anything is done that affects our traffic patterns,” Ungar said. “And that affected a lot – every day thousands of people were wasting time.”

State Deputy Bonnie Cullison (D-Aspen Hill) said in an interview that she was disappointed that SHA officials did not alert her and other state lawmakers in District 19, the tracks were under construction.

Cullison stressed that she supports the call for more protected bike lanes throughout the county. She said Kemp Mill voters wanted more bike lanes, but were disappointed with the lack of communication from state officials and the way the lanes were implemented.

Security was also an issue, she said.

“The pilot was problematic because it wasn’t really safe for cyclists and walkers because those poles wouldn’t stop any cars coming into that lane,” Cullison said.

Of the. Jared Solomon (D-Chevy Chase), who represents District 18, said in an interview that he understands the concern of Kemp Mill residents, but sees room for compromise between supporters and opponents.

“From my non-technical perspective, from what I’ve seen, I think it helped with safety on University Boulevard,” Solomon said. “And the people I talk to, without the valid concerns that Kemp Mill [residents] high, I think people enjoyed it.

Regester wrote that the early stages of COVID-19 made it difficult to hold in-person meetings, but there were virtual meetings on the proposal before the pilot began, with the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee and the Kemp Mill Civic Association.

“In addition, we met several times with pedestrians and bicycle safety advocates before and during the project. Going forward, we will make sure to improve advance communications and gauge community interest before moving forward with projects like this,” she wrote.

SHA officials should arrange a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to publish data on the use of bike paths last year and to obtain feedback from residents. Comments can also be submitted in line.

Regester wrote that SHA officials encourage comments on this and suggest future bike lane pilot projects. These requests can be sent by e-mail to: [email protected].

Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]

Sara H. Byrd