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Friday, April 27, 2012

Can Columbia ever become "bike friendly?"

       On Wednesday evening I attended a presentation sponsored by the Columbia Association and Bike Maryland on making Columbia more bike friendly.  We all know that we have a great bike path system in town but it was designed as a recreational system primarily to allow kids to walk safely to their school.  It can be used as a bike commuting system but many times it has some missing pieces to be a true commuting system.  There are still some areas that need curb cuts and areas where the path leaves you at a sidewalk or a busy street that is not designed for bikes to safely travel.

      Jennifer Toole, a Columbia resident and bike system consultant, spoke about how some other communities became bike friendly.  She explained that the miles driven in a car per capita in the US has actually peaked in 2006.  This was the first time this happened since the invention of the car.

      Jennifer highlighted Boulder Colorado because it has about the same population and demographics as Columbia.
      As you can see above the community has changed its road structure to include bike transportation in addition to auto transportation.  Not surprisingly 10% of commuting in Boulder is by bike. The city of Boulder website explains it this way:

"Bike paths criss-cross Boulder County like spiders’ webs. If you can’t find a road to get where you’re going now that has a big, fat shoulder — or if there isn’t a dedicated multi-use path to lead you where you want to go — there will probably be one in the near future. The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, which outlines the vision for how the county should be developed, calls for a network of regional trails connecting all the towns to one another. Check out more information on the regional trails at and check out a map of the city of Boulder’s bike paths here."

  Boulder has even closed off some of its streets downtown and made them walking mall areas.
   Wouldn't it be nice if this concept could come out of our Town Center redevelopment efforts?

Portland Oregon was the second city profiled as bike friendly.
As you can see above the bikers in a heavily traveled street have designated "green areas" that permit safe separation from the cars.  Bike safety can be designed into heavily traveled areas, such as our Town Center and Route 175.
       Above is  the Prospect Park West Bicycle Path in New York City.  One lane of the road was converted to a 2 directional bike path.  I bet most drivers in the cars were going slower than the bike traffic.

     One of the reasons many of us are afraid to ride on our roads is the closeness  of the cars passing us. Having a car pass you at 45 or 50 miles per hour with inches separation is a scary experience.  Some cities like San Francisco have created a buffered area for some separation.

  So how do you take our existing road layouts and create bike lanes?  One way is shown in the following picture.
   Taking a 4 lane road like the picture on the left and converting to a single left turn lane for each direction as in the picture on the right creates space for bike lanes in each direction.  We have many of these types of roads in Columbia.  Does Brokenland Parkway, Twin River Parkway, Dobbin Road and Oakland Mills Road need to be four lane just to accommodate left hand turns? The traffic volume on these roads could be handled by one lane traffic in each direction.

So where does this leave us in Columbia?  As you can see much of the changes need to be done to our road system.  Roads are the turf of Howard County government so that is where these changes need to be championed.  The County has plans this year to develop a Bike Master Plan in conjunction with the Columbia Association "to identify barriers and prioritize projects for implementation." Having our community develop what you have seen in the communities above would greatly enhance our community as "a great place to live."  Maybe we could give Eden Prairie Minnesota something to think about next year.


Jess said...

I think there is hope for every city, if there is a collective will among the council. And bike lanes are so important in getting people to ride more. Until about a year ago, I was driving half my commute (no bike lanes) and riding once the bike lanes started up (I kept a bike that folds in my trunk just for this). Once bike lanes extended to my neighborhood, I was able to ride the whole way to work, and leave the car at home most days. And I see a lot more people riding too.
It's just about getting people on board with cycling as a real transportation alternative.

Karen Lynn said...

We have some bike lanes in our area (Stevens Forest), but they disappear along the way, usually at the most critical places, e.g. near the intersections and in front of the school! To me, that almost seems worse than no bike lanes. I haven't gotten up the nerve to use them. I would really love to see this become a priority, along with Bridge Columbia.

columbia20something said...

I think that we can. I see a lot of public support for a more bike-friendly, people-friendly community. Between the popularity of CA's speaker series, well-attended events like the Columbia Bikeabout, and new policies that support bicyling, I can see significant momentum building. But we still have a long way to go. Broken Land Parkway at the intersection of Hickory Ridge Road, and Little Patuxent Parkway at Vantage Point Road are a staggering EIGHT lanes wide! Even though these are main roads, it baffles me that they have the same number of lanes, and almost the speed, of an interstate highway. I see a lot of potential for these streets to go on a bike-friendly "road diet."