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Policy Makers Talk About “Boosting Bike Culture” In Suburban MoCo

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 4/7/2014, 12:35pm  ET

Councilmember Hans Riemer arrives after a group bike ride to the first annual Great MoCo Bicycle Summit on Saturday in Chevy Chase WABA Executive Director Shane Farthing talks about boosting bike culture in Montgomery County About 70 people attended Saturday's first annual Great MoCo Bicycle Summit in Chevy Chase About 70 people attended Saturday's first annual Great MoCo Bicycle Summit in Chevy Chase

Montgomery County officials hope to see a lot more people riding their red Capital Bikeshare bikes this spring and summer.

But even with the introduction of the “bike-transit” system last fall — a significant moment for a mostly car-oriented suburb — it’s clear the county has a long way to go before biking is put on a higher footing.

“I’d think we all would like to see biking grow and grow and grow until it is as popular and as respected a mode of transportation as any other,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer, who organized and led the first-ever Great MoCo Bicycle Summit on Saturday in Chevy Chase. “But we have a lot to do.”

Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association advocacy group, said it will take 60 percent of the county’s population (about 600,000 people) to be comfortable with biking before the county can truly be considered “a win” for bike supporters.

Judging by the roughly 12,000 county residents who are WABA members, have signed up for a ride or taken action on a piece of proposed bike infrastructure, Farthing said he figured advocates aren’t really close to that scenario.

About 70 people showed up to the summit and about 35 took part in a pre-meeting group bike ride from Silver Spring to the Jane E. Lawton Community Center in Chevy Chase.

It’s from this core group of bike supporters, what Councilmember Roger Berliner sheepishly labeled “the spandex crowd,” that Riemer, Berliner and fellow Councilmember Nancy Floreen said they want to grow biking.

“Our job is to make it less scary,” Berliner said.

In the presence of a number of Montgomery County Department of Transportation officials, Floreen joked that she would be game for putting down bike lanes whenever and wherever, even if those lanes hadn’t exactly been approved by the county.

“My offer stands. Anytime you want to go out with a bucket of paint and put down some bike lanes, let’s do it,” Floreen said.

Bruce Johnston, chief of the county’s Division of Transportation Engineering, threw his hands in the air. He later explained to attendees how road widths, vehicle traffic and other competing interests make implementing bike lanes, sharrows, cycle tracks and other facilities a complicated deliberation.

Floreen would like to see those deliberations result in more bike facilities sooner rather than later. In the fall of 2012, Floreen asked the State Highway Administration to consider bike lanes and bike markings in its repaving and road improvement projects.

Riemer described the negotiations for bike facilities on state roads as “a shell game.”

“We need to push through that,” he said.

County officials revealed a number of bike-centric additions coming to the Bethesda area. Anne Root, who’s running the Capital Bikeshare program for MCDOT, said crews would be installing a station at River Road and Little Falls Parkway (just off the Capital Crescent Trail) this week.

David Anspacher, a transportation planner for the County Planning Department, said planners were using grant money from the Council of Governments to perform a case study of biking facilities as part of the Bethesda Downtown Plan. Anspacher said the obvious missing link in downtown Bethesda’s bike infrastructure is a bike lane of some sort on Woodmont Avenue, one of the main north-south connectors of the area.

“We need to look at our urban areas and think about how to make biking much more adopted for those short trips into town,” Riemer said. “We need to make some changes in our urban districts, which were designed long ago for a different lifestyle.”

Lifestyle was at the center of Farthing’s message. Beyond feeling safe and comfortable riding a bike next to cars, Farthing described the challenge as changing mindsets.

The decision between driving and biking to work could be over something as mundane as having a cup holder to hold a cup of coffee, Farthing said.

“Infrastructure is really important. But do we really think there are 590,000 people right now walking around this county thinking, ‘Man, I wish I was on a bike?’ Probably not,” Farthing said. “The fact in this county is that most people, when they get up in the morning, don’t actually think about how they’re going to get to work.

“The first thing you have to get through isn’t, ‘Do you feel safe biking?’ It’s, ‘Do you think of biking as an existing thing that you’re allowed to do as a grown-up that you’re allowed to do on the street as a way of getting from point A to point B,’” Farthing said. “That might take some work.”