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Monday, December 23, 2013

"Greening" Howard County's transportation

   While Howard County has gone "green" in many ways.  Using hybrid vehicles for for the County fleet, recycling waste and installing solar panels on County facilities are just a few of the ways we are a greener County.   This leads me to discussing an area where the greener County seems to be stuck in a pre-green mentality.  At the County Executives public budget hearing he indicated that there would be some funding in the FY15 budget to hopefully implement some of the elements in the Bike Master Plan that has been worked on by the County Office of Planning and Zoning.  The planned public input to that plan looks to be scheduled sometime around March 2014.  This plan is one that bike advocates would have been long since implemented as part of move to a more energy saving effort.
      Howard County is fortunate that in the 1960's planning for Columbia the Rouse Company designed one of the most extensive bike path systems seen anywhere in the United States.  While much of the thought was to allow school age children to walk to local schools and the general population to have easy access to neighborhood and village centers it has given us an extensive system for biking around our community.  Unfortunately the County planning for bike lanes on County roads has never used the Columbia bike path system to provide a more extensive bike routing system. At many points the Columbia bike path system leaves bikers to have to negotiate heavily traveled roads with no clear bike markings.The pictures below that I have used before show that many roads in Columbia are designed to be wide enough to have lines for shoulders that don't serve a clear purpose.

     These lanes could easily be redrawn to show clear bike lanes like in the picture below.

     By examining the existing Columbia bike lane system the County could tie together an integrated bike path/bike lane system for Columbia.  Biking would be encouraged and made safer by this type of integrated system that recognized that biking is an important component of any green planning for Howard County.  Hopefully these considerations will be addressed in the upcoming bike master plan.

      One feature that is also missing from our present bike path system in Columbia are long connecting bike paths that serve as main biking arteries that quickly move bikers from one side of Columbia to the other.  Our present route utilized the bike bridge over Route 29 from Oakland Mills to Town Center.  While better than nothing it only accessed on the east side by riding on roads that carry heavy traffic.  The Middle Patuxent Branch trail would greatly improve the biking route to connect the east side of Columbia with the west side.  The County didn't put any money in this year's budget for the feasibility study of this trail but the Columbia Association has some plans to possibly do this study even though most of the trail is on County land.


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