Unlike the tens of thousands who creep along Interstates 270 and 495, when Gary Bailey embarks on his 11-mile commute to work by bicycle, he can safely estimate how long it will take. What Bailey is less sure of is if he will arrive safely.
Half of his commute from Greenbelt to Takoma Park has dedicated bike lanes, separated from traffic. The other half he must share with less-than-accommodating drivers and tons of steel. Bailey constantly fears being struck and said he has been hit twice.
"The only thing I see while I am commuting is a lack of concern by motorists," he said. "They figure it's the road; bicyclists aren't supposed to be there."
When it comes to cyclist safety and being bike-friendly in the region, some jurisdictions do well while others lag, failing to provide safe access for cyclists, according to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Montgomery County is somewhere in the middle, recognizing a need to promote bicycling but failing to fully realize plans and implement transformative change, said Greg Billing, outreach and advocacy coordinator for WABA.
"Montgomery County is a challenging district geographically," he said. "There is a lot of space, a lot of the county is just not built on pedestrian or bicyclist scale."
Patrick Sheehan, a member of the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said bicycles have every right to share the road, but lack of education among both motorists and cyclists often make cars and bikes a dangerous combination.
Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said creating a safe bicycle infrastructure in Montgomery County is a work in progress.
Despite a proposed $23.8 million increase, to $82 million, for bicycle and pedestrian projects in County Executive Isiah Leggett's $4.2 billion fiscal 2013-2018 capital plan, and a commitment by the county to develop a bike-share program, some who commute on two wheels feel relegated to the back seat of transportation priorities.
The U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey shows a growing number of Americans biking to work, according to data compiled by the League of American Bicyclists. Silver Spring, the only county jurisdiction that was part of 375 cities for which the bureau released data, showed 0.7 percent or an estimated 282 of the area’s 42,702 workers commuted primarily by bicycle.
Bike lanes in the county are a maze of disconnected routes, some plagued by pitiful design, barely separated from curbs or lanes of traffic, said Jo Reyes, owner of the Green Commuter, a bike shop in Takoma Park and a daily bicycle commuter.
"We have just totally been ignored, unlike downtown D.C. where lot of bike lanes were built," he said. “...When I'm on my commute, there is a bike lane in Takoma Park, but it's like a joke; it's a foot off the curb, it's useless.”
A former bike courier in D.C., Reyes said he is comfortable mixing with traffic, but many of his customers are not.
In Montgomery, some projects for plugging holes in bicycle path infrastructure have stalled, while smaller projects are proposed to advance.
A $10 million, 0.62-mile piece of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which would connect Washington, D.C., to Silver Spring, was delayed. The approximately $3 million Needwood Road bikepath, a 0.8 mile connection between Equestrian Lane and Muncaster Mill Road that would create a safe and continuous path to the Shady Grove Metro Station and the Intercounty Connector shared use path, will only be in a design phase between now and fiscal 2018.
Tied to the Purple Line, the Capital Crescent Trail, with an estimated cost to rebuild of about $100 million, is not likely to see improvements until work begins on the $1.925 billion, 16-mile light rail line that will connect Bethesda to New Carrollton. The earliest estimated construction timeline for the Purple Line starts in 2015.
For bicycle commuters, these trails equate to freeways, and it’s difficult to wait years for improvements, Billing said.
Members of WABA and other bicycle commuters have asked the county council to consider funding construction of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Others have pushed for progress on the Purple Line, which also would advance the Capital Crescent Trail, Madden said.
Even Montgomery’s recent commitment to pursue bike sharing — the county hopes to add 50 bike-share stations with 400 bikes along and around Metro’s Red Line — depends on capital projects, said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.
"You can't have bike share without infrastructure," she said.
Billing likened it to buying cars for the Purple Line before installing rails, stations and power lines.
"Bike share doesn't work if you just put it places," he said. "It needs safe and connected facilities."